Recently a friend challenged me to consider a story in which the main character commits a crime. His message was that, on occasions, the reader can empathize with a villain and that I might be curtailing my creativity if I only invest in “good” heroes. The following story is my first attempt at answering his challenge.
Angus Bruce was pleased when his wife suggested that they rent a croft on the west coast of North West Skye. It was a remote sheep farm where they could also raise a few chickens and dairy cows and be miles away from children. Angus was a hard-working, law-abiding, church-going, loving husband, who appeared to all to be an outstanding pillar of society, and yet he had a dark secret.
North West Skye presents a clean rugged landscape with white coral beaches, black sandy shores, steep cliffs and secret wind protected coves. The natural beauty of this wind-driven, remote, sparsely populated, place seemed to offer a God given curative retreat where Angus might face and overcome his obsession.
Angus’ secret was that he was a child molester. Over the years he had molested a number of his nieces and even a few of his best friend’s daughters. His actions disgusted him and when one of his nieces accused him he confessed to the girl’s family and to his wife. She didn’t believe him at first but when she heard the evidence she helped him talk to the girl’s family. Together they hushed everything up. They rationalized that this would save the child additional trauma. To protect further children Angus’s wife committed to help Angus face his problem and to keep an eye him while they both moved to a remote location away from children. Angus was full of remorse and speculated that the best cure for him was to a complete removal from temptation.
Angus found peace in their new remote home. He lived his normal pillar-of-society, moral life, and experienced a period of contentment. Sheep farming on a rented farm is a meager living so when someone at the kirk suggested that Angus could augment his income by letting the occasional vacationer camp in one of his fields with direct access through the sand dunes to a secluded beach and the ocean he agreed that it was an excellent idea. His wife was skeptical but rationalized that if any children come with the vacationers they would be strangers and unlikely to attract Angus. She told herself that, should the need arise, she would keep a watchful eye on her husband. Angus himself had come to believe that he had overcome his obsession and that all would be well.
For several years all was well. North West Sky is damp and not very warm so even in the summer only naturalist diehards wished to camp on its remote shores. But then, one summer, a little family with a caravan arrived. They parked in the field beside the dunes and each day the father accompanied by his daughter drove up to the farm to buy fresh milk and eggs. The little nine year-old girl, Amie, took to the farm animals and Angus took to the girl.
On the sixth day of their two week holiday Amie began to act strangely. While she was eating her breakfast cereal and milk she announced that she didn’t want to accompany her father to the farm to get milk and eggs. When her father pressed her she said without looking up from her food, “Daddy, I just don’t want to go any more.”
Her mother leaned over the table to touch her hand, “But why, dear, you like the farm animals, don’t you?”
“Yes, I like them.”
“I like the animals but I don’t like the way that Mr. Bruce looks at me.”
Her parents looked at each other, one of those knowing looks that parents give each other and her mother asked again, “Surely that’s not enough reason. He doesn’t hurt you does he?”
“No…but he smells bad.”
“He smells bad?”
“Yes, when he comes up in the dunes and hugs me.”
“He comes up in the dunes and hugs you? When did he do this?”
“He just pops up. He comes when I’m alone. Mummy, he is big and he smells bad and I don’t want to be hugged like that.”
“You should have said something before, dear. Of course he shouldn’t hug you. Of course you don’t have to go to the farm.” Amie’s mother looked very concerned and she pronounced to both husband and daughter, “From now on you are not, I repeat not, to go anywhere alone. Daddy or I will always be with you.”
Angus Bruce was frustrated to find that the child no longer came to the farm and even by the shore was always accompanied by a parent. Initially he watched from a distance but as time went on he took to the dunes where he sat in secret excitement and waited. Somehow the dual emotions of his desire and relief that he was unable to satiate his longing in a deed that he knew he would enjoy and regret gave him a level of satisfaction. The days passed in a mixture of sea sun and sand. Then, one day, the day before the young family was to leave, the parents had become relaxed and less vigilant and the child walked through the dunes to the beach alone. Angus was there waiting as he had waited every day. He emerged from the dunes and walked beside her. He took her hand and slowly swung her around to embrace her. He wanted his action to be tender but he immediately saw fear in Amie’s eyes. She yelled, “Mama.”
Angus put his big callused hand over her mouth and spoke to her, his voice husky with emotion, “Don’t cry, little girl. I like you.” He could see fear in her eyes and she struggled in his grip. His whole body trembled along with hers and he lifted her effortlessly off the ground. Before he could reach cover in the dunes beside the path, to the place where he had already laid out a towel on the ground, Amie’s mother appeared.
She ran up to him shouting, “What do you think you’re doing?”
Angus put the girl down. He removed his hand from her mouth, and patted her on the head. “We were just playing,” he said as he retreated into the dunes.
Amie’s mother knelt before the stunned child and put her arms around her. Amie was clearly shaken. “I’m sorry Mama. I don’t want to play with him. I don’t like his smell. I don’t like the way that he hugs. It hurts.”
Angus went back to the farm house. His wife was in milking the cows and so he sat at the kitchen table and put his hands together to pray. “Oh Lord, save me from myself. Only you can do it. Tell me what I must do.”
As he prayed he saw a flash of lightning and heard a distant clap of thunder. A storm was brewing in the west. Angus knew that his God was communicating with him not a still small voice after the storm but a loud voice in the storm. He knew that he had to get closer. First he wrote a note to his wife – four words: “I am sorry, Angus” He placed it on top of his bible in the middle of the kitchen table, then he put on his bad weather slicks and went outside. He strode quickly to the small cove where he kept his sailing boat. By the time that he got there and stiff land breeze was blowing towards the dark black clouds over the ocean. He could see flashes of sheet lightning and hear thunder above the roar of the waves. He launched the small craft, set his sail and let the wind carry him out to sea, out towards the storm.
“Oh Lord,” he prayed, “your will be done. Lord, I answer your call, do with me as you wish. Cure me or take me.”
Copyright © Jane Stansfeld, August 2013