Someone had left the gate to the Covenanters Prison open.
It was a chilly, late afternoon. Greyfriars Kirk stood quietly in Edinburgh’s Old Town under the shadow of the castle that reigned over the city. The sound of good cheer from the pubs and restaurants in the Grassmarket rolled over the top of the wall and floated above the kirk like a noisy, life-filled cloud. If one ducked down below that cloud, or sat on one of the stone benches, it was all silence.
A trio of teenagers looking for “Greyfriars Bobby”, that famous yet slightly fictional dog, wandered past, giggling albeit nervously over the mood of the kirkyard. Joggers did their thing, huffing out their conversations. Even other tourists like herself meandered their way between the headstones, determinedly doing at least one circuit of the impressive stone jungle before slipping out to less ominous surroundings.
She looked at the gate again. It was supposed to be locked but it had been clearly left ajar. A chain was slung around the bars but the padlock seemed to be missing. As far as she knew there were no daytime tours of the Covenanters Prison section of the kirkyard and it was far too early for the ghost tours to start but maybe they were setting up. She knew that they often employed ghostly theatrics to scare the thrill-seekers if there were no actual ghosts to oblige them.
She hesitated a moment longer, looking quickly at her watch and then up at the sky. It was starting to get darker but she might be able to have a quick peek before the light was gone completely. And there was something she desperately wanted to see.
Mackenzie’s tomb. The Black Mausoleum.
The big, domed mausoleum stood at the south end of Greyfriars. It seemed almost comical in place up against the tenement buildings which had been constructed right up alongside the kirkyard. To anyone who didn’t know the history, it might have been just another gaudy, ancient tomb but she knew what was supposed to be there. She’d heard enough of the stories.
With no small amount of bravado, she approached the sold black doors and peered in through the tiny windows. Without the aid of a torch there was nothing to see. Just darkness and her own rippled reflection peering back at her. She reached out and tested the handle to those massive doors. It was locked tight, just as it should be but as she began to pull away she felt a breeze race around from behind the structure.
The wind swept over her but did not pass by as she expected. Instead the icy chill hovered – closed in – pressed her in closer to the door until she realised she was flat against the wood panels. Pin-pricks of cold darted into her clothes, tickling her arms and back before finally receding.
It dawned on her then that whatever she was supposed to be frightened of was not inside the mausoleum.
“Ok, I’m leaving now,” she said quietly and stepped back, breaking the physical connection. At the same time, the breeze seemed to recede and calm settled over the kirkyard.
She wanted to run but she forced herself to walk back through the prison graveyard. The smiling, dancing skeletons all seemed to be watching her as she moved amongst them. Or were they watching something else?
With darkness – or something infinitely more frightening – snapping at her heels, she slipped out of the gate to the Covenantors Prison and out of Greyfriars Kirkyard entirely.
The hostel just across the road offered a bright, warm respite from the approaching evening but she couldn’t help that sensation of someone peeking in through the windows at her whenever she cast her gaze outside.
“So, did you see Mackenzie?” Asked her friend who had absolutely no interest in the supernatural at all.
“Not as such…” She answered at length, drawing a hand up over her arm to rub away the memory of that chill and the odd sensation of numbness that remained. “Though I’m pretty sure he’s there.”
The proof of that – three long and angry red welts – remained hidden for the time being under her sleeve.
“Bluidy Mackingie, come oot if ye daur, lift the sneck and draw the bar!”