Hey everyone, I hope you had a lovely weekend! For the latest edition of Inspired, my series of collaborative short stories, I have collaborated with the incredibly talented John Watson. John is a print maker from Edinburgh, Scotland, who uses linocuts and wood engravings to make his stunning, one of a kind images. If you love his work as much as me, you can check out more on his website or Instagram.
Because he is from just across the water in Scotland, I was inspired to create a story featuring the Giant’s Causeway. For those of you unfamiliar with Northern Ireland, The Giant’s Causeway is a world heritage sight in Antrim, made up of a collection of hexagonal rocks created by a volcanic eruption 50 to 60 million years ago. It’s a beautiful natural wonder, steeped in legend. According to the legend, the causeway was a road built by a giant called Fionn Mac Cumhaill (pronounced Finn McCool), creating a bridge across the North Channel, between Northern Ireland and Scotland in order to allow him to fight a Scottish giant called Benandonner. It is said, that when Fionn realised his foe was much larger than him, he hid from him, disguising himself as his own baby. When Benandonner sees how large Fionn’s baby is, he flees back to Scotland and destroys the Causeway so Fionn can not follow. I hope you enjoy my spin on such a well loved story…happy reading.
In Northern Ireland there is a legend; the legend of the Giant’s Causeway. It is said, that these geometric rocks used to cross the Sruth na Maoile all the way to Scotland, creating a bridge between the two Gaelic lands. The story goes, that the causeway was built by giants, but really, a volcano created them, millions of years ago, long before either shore was claimed by man. Beth sat on one of the rocks now, tracing the hexagonal edges with her finger. She wished the bridge did exist, and she could simply walk off the land’s edge, away from this place, away from her life. But her body betrayed her dreams, and she remained stuck, stranded, alone.
She was allergic to almost everything. Some things brought her out in rashes or made her sneeze, others hospitalised her, or almost killed her. Ordinary household items were like weapons against her, and she lived in constant fear. Growing up, to prevent her becoming sick, her Mother would clean obsessively, washing every surface with bleach until her hands were raw. She could smell it on her clothes even now. She felt caged, by her body, and by her mind.
It was beginning to rain, tiny droplets forming all over the surface of her coat. She stared out at the water. She wondered if there was another girl, sitting on the same rocks, on the other side. Perhaps she wished to come here, escape Scotland and her own troubles. Maybe they could swap places, this girl and her.
It was her Mother calling from the pathway. She pretended not to hear, continuing to stare out at the water.
“Beth. Beth are you deaf?”
She sighed, before pushing herself off the cold rock. She stood a moment, a foot in a separate hexagon, and marvelled at how nature could create such perfect shapes, like the honeycomb in a bee hive or the smooth curve of a bird’s egg. She read once, that bees made their perfectly formed honeycombs in the shape of hexagons because that was the most compact and efficient shape, and used the least resources to build. She liked the idea of a bunch of bee scientists and mathematicians getting together and experimenting with different shapes, trying to work out which was best.
“Beth, for God’s sake, hurry up.”
Her Mother sounded shrill now. She began to walk towards her, watching her step as she went. It would be a long car journey home, and she didn’t feel like listening to her Mother ranting. They walked in silence up to the tourist centre, where her Mother would browse the pointless knick knacks in the gift shop and inevitably buy something pointless. She loved her very much, but sometimes she wished she could have a holiday from her and her good intentions. Her Mother was determined to take care of her, and often her version of ‘taking care’ was tantamount to suffocation.
Her mother browsed while she read the exhibits about how the causeway was formed. It seemed bizarre to her, that something could have been there for so long. Humans had such a finite amount of time on earth, and her time could well be shorter than most if she were to come into contact with the wrong thing. These perfectly formed shapes had been here for 60 million years. They had seen animals now long extinct, and would be around to watch humans meet that same fate.
Her Mother stood beside her, gift bag in hand.
“Got myself a lovely wooden spoon and tea towel set. It will be a nice reminder of our day.”
She wondered why her Mother wanted to think about rocks while she cooked, but thought better of asking. The car was stuffy, and the air conditioning smelled musty as it blew tepid air into her face. Generic pop music filled the car from the radio, disguising the sound of the engine. After a few miles, she felt her head bobbing, and her eyelids becoming heavy. She could hear her Mother singing along to the music as she drifted away.
There was fog, all around her, so thick she could see nothing beyond her own nose. It felt cold on her skin, her hairs rising up, it almost muffled sound. She felt like she was under water. Her coat and shoes were gone, and she was wearing a simple silver dress, knee length, with straps. Her bare feet rested on the cold hexagonal rock, worn almost smooth by the elements and it’s many visitors. She was afraid to step forward or backwards, unsure where on the causeway she now stood, nor which direction she now faced. One wrong step and she could fall, breaking her bones, opening her skin like a ripe orange, or perhaps she could fall into the cold waters and drown. So, she just stood there, entombed in the mist, praying it would clear.
Time passed, but the fog remained. She yelled out, but no answer came. She began to feel panic rising. It was then she realised she was not alone. A figure stood beside her, taller than any man she had ever seen, in fact he was so tall, she could not see his head through the thick fog. The feet beside her were so big, instead of shoes, they wore rowing boats secured with rope. She was surprised to find that she was not afraid. It sat down with a thump, the very rocks shaking under it’s weight. She could now see his face, staring down on her, smiling. He had pale green eyes, and long hair tied back into a pony tail. He was surprisingly handsome for someone so huge. When picturing giants, she had always imagined them as grotesque, something to fear, inhuman, but he simply looked like an ordinary man who had been enlarged.
His voice was booming, but friendly, and had an almost melodic quality to it.
“What’s your name?”
“Beth, what’s yours?”
“Are you the Fionn from the story?”
“That I am. That I am.”
“Is it true then? Did you really dress up as a baby to avoid a fight with another giant?”
“I did, outsmarted him. Sometimes you have to fight, stand your ground, but the rest of the time, you have to use your head; live to fight another day.”
“That’s good advice.”
“Thanks. Why are you here all by yourself?”
“I don’t know, I just sort of found myself here. I had been visiting, and I wanted to stay. Perhaps that’s why I came back.”
“Perhaps. Why would you want to stay here? It’s fearsome cold.”
“I don’t want to go home. I’m sick of it there. I hardly ever get to go out, because there are things which make me sick. I want to leave.”
“That’s not right. You can’t stay hiding all the time.”
“But I might get sick.”
“And you might get struck by lightening. No point dwelling on the what mights and what ifs.”
“No buts neither. Like I said, sometimes you have to fight. No point living another day, if you never live at all is there?”
“No, I suppose not.”
He reached down to her, something contained within his massive fist. She held both her hands together, forming a kind of bowl, fearing it would be something huge, but it was simply a thistle flower, the purple petals providing the only colour in their foggy blanket.
“It’s to remind you. Thistles, are fragile things really, just a plant which can be picked or chopped or eaten, but it protects itself, see? It doesn’t stop growing, afraid of these things, it just grows. It even finds ways to grow in the barren places, where other plants are too weak to survive. And if it does fail, and wither, it just grows somewhere else. You got to be like it.”
“Thank you. It’s lovely.”
“You’re welcome Beth. Better be getting back now, can’t be staying here too long, it’s no place for your kind. Swallows you after a while.”
“I don’t know how.”
“Yes you do, you just wake up.”
Beth awoke, slouched awkwardly in the car seat, her neck stiff from the position she had been in. She looked at the moving landscape around the car, and realised they were almost home, she had slept most of the way.
“Hey there sleepy head. Thought you’d never wake up. Been out cold for well over an hour. Are you feeling ok? Should we ring the GP maybe?”
“I’m fine Mum, just tired.”
“Well, let me know if you start to feel ill won’t you. You know we have to catch these things early.”
“I know Mum.”
They pulled into their driveway, her Mother continuing to tell her all the symptoms she needed to look out for, as if she was unaware of her own body. She went to get her phone from her pocket, and felt something stab her finger. She smiled, as she pulled out a thistle flower, purple and lovely.
“Oh God Beth, why would you pick that? It’s a weed and it’s probably covered in all sorts of germs and pesticides. Give it here, I’ll chuck it out.”
She turned away from her, protecting the flower within her cupped hands.
“But Beth, it’s a weed.”
“No it’s not. It’s a fighter, like me.”