1967. In a quiet village in the wild lands of the Scottish borders, disgraced academic Cordelia Hemlock is trying to put her life back together. Grieving the loss of her son, she seeks out the company of the dead, taking comfort amid the ancient headstones and crypts of the local churchyard. When lightning strikes a tumbledown tomb, she glimpses a corpse that doesn’t belong among the crumbling bones. But when the storm passes and the body vanishes, the authorities refuse to believe the claims of a hysterical ‘outsider’.
Teaming up with a reluctant witness, local woman Felicity Goose, Cordelia’s enquiries all lead back to a former POW camp that was set up in the village during the Second World War. But not all Gilsland’s residents welcome the two young women’s interference. There are those who believe the village’s secrets should remain buried … whatever the cost.
Transcript 0007, recorded October 30, 2010
He were standing by the church. Had to be, didn’t he? Smoking a cigarette, he was, under the branches of the big evergreen by the gate.
“What yer running for Mam? Yez’ll hurt yer self.”
He looked so pleased with himself. Looked like a bad lad. If he weren’t my own I swear I’d have been frightened of him. Too cocky for his own good, curling his lip and smirking at me in his vest and his jeans and his boots with the laces undone. He looked like he were made of bone. Pure white, he seemed, like a statue come to life.
“Why’d you run” I asked, and my voice sounded like a penny whistle; all high and trembly and out of tune.
“”I never ran. I said I were off. Thought we’d finished talking.”
“You know that’s not how it was.”
“No? Ah well, I’d stopped listening then.”
12-years-old and talking to me like that? My dad would have given me a wallop for it and I’d have had no cause to complain. Maybe I hadn’t walloped Brian enough, or maybe too much. Or maybe all the wallops in the world would have made no difference.
“You should have been at school,” I said, and it sounded proper pitiful.
“Aye,” he smiles, all swagger. “And then you’d be flat under the wheels of that Paddy’s truck.”
“But why weren’t you?” I asked, and I felt the tears stabbing at the backs of my eyes again.
He ground out his cigarette on the damp trunk of the tree and turned to me as if I were wasting his valuable time.
“I weren’t feeling well,” he said, like I should have known. “I had one of me headaches.”
“Did you tell the nurse?”
“That bitch? She couldn’t care less. Just wants to put her fat hands on you.”
“So you just walked out?” I asked.
“Aye. Got an early bus. I only missed a bit of spelling and I can spell good enough.”
I felt a sudden stab of pain down the side I’d landed on. It showed in my face and suddenly his whole self changed.
“You hurting?” he asked, and though he didn’t come toward me he did move aside to allow me under the protection of the branches. Up close he smelled different to how he used to. It used to be biscuits and soap and that earthy scent you get when you’re pull back the bark from a silver birch. Now he smelled like them. A man. Cigarettes and sweat and a rancid, unscrubbed tang that caught the back of my throat.