Morgan meets the Old Man.
The Old Man of Hoy
Morgan Beckley stood for a long time, gazing at the object of his quest. Here, at the western edge of the Orkney Isles that littered the sea north of Scotland, the weather was often cold, wet and miserable, just as it was at that moment. This added to the drama of the scene, however, the misty atmosphere softening the severe outline of the sea stack before him. The towering finger of rock, separated from the main island by the abyss at Morgan’s feet, stood alone in the greyness, like some accusation from the land to the lowering sky. This, then was the Old Man of Hoy that the hiker had travelled so far to see.
It was true that, from certain angles, the stack looked like a man standing apart from the sheer cliffs he had once been a part of, gazing out to sea as if awaiting some visitation from other climes. But, in this murky light and at the point where Morgan stood, it was merely a tall spire of jagged and layered rock with a slightly sloping but flat top. Years of erosion had eaten away at its connection to the cliff on which the hiker stood and the sea still boiled and swirled at its foot.
After his long hankering to visit this remote and iconic creation of weird geography, Morgan was a little disappointed. In the end, it was merely a pile of rock that erosion had carved from the island of Hoy and left, for a brief geological time, at the western edge this little known land.
He turned away and chose a camp site on a well-turfed patch of the rolling landscape behind him. The day was drawing to an end and the light becoming ever dimmer and damp in the mist. After pitching his tent and a simple meal warmed over his little portable stove, Morgan snuggled into his sleeping bag and drifted away.
That night, he dreamed of an old man that shook him awake and led him out to the cliff edge again.
“You have come a long way to see me,” said the man, his voice creating swirls in the mist and making the tall stack behind him appear to shake and shiver as though alive. “Were you going to leave without speaking to me?”
Morgan tried to answer but found his mouth was sealed shut. He could do no more than make muffled noises in reply.
The old man regarded him for a while in silence, then turned and walked away. His voice, ghostly and thin in the frigid air, came back to Morgan, “Well, I must see to whatever welcome can be prepared for you. In the morning we can speak again.”
With that, the hiker awoke, still in the tent and unable to see in the pitch darkness. He fumbled for his watch and saw that it was only a few minutes past midnight. The dream had unsettled him so that it was a while before he could get back to sleep. And, when he did, it was in the form of interrupted short spells of dozing.
He woke late and found the world outside his tent was still smothered in a grey blanket of mist. Standing outside in the morning dimness, he was surprised to notice that the ground beneath his feet had a perceptible slope to it. Normally he would have chosen a more level spot to pitch his tent and he did not remember there being a discernible slope anywhere near his campsite.
He took a few steps forward and found himself at the edge of the cliff. Inches before his feet, the ground fell away in a sheer drop to the waves beating against the rocks far below. Surely he had not chosen to camp so close to the edge. He stepped back from the edge and followed the cliff along to his left.
To his puzzlement, he found himself walking in a tight circle around his tent. He was surrounded by the cliff, as if somehow he had been transported to the top of the Hoy stack. Checking regularly over the edge, there was no doubt of it; he was camped on the Old Man’s head.
Morgan realised then that he must be dreaming still. He stood quietly, closed his eyes and tried to compose himself. Surely he would awake and this dream be over.
Opening his eyes only reinforced the reality of his situation, however. The same grey world surrounded him and, as the mist cleared slightly before his eyes, he saw the opposing wall of the main cliff emerge from nothingness. Somehow he had been stranded upon this sandstone stack with no escape but a terrifying climb down a sheer cliff of crumbling rock with a troubled sea lashing at its base. Even if he were to make it down, he would then be faced with the equally daunting climb up the main cliffside facing him.
He could hope for rescue by a passing helicopter but, in this mist and bad visibility, that seemed a remote possibility at best. In the end, fear of heights or not, there was no alternative but the attempt to climb down from this lofty height and risk a fall to the jagged rocks beneath.
Morgan slumped down to the wet rock beneath him and closed his eyes to the prospect of the task facing him. This was some welcome the old man had prepared for him.
Word Count: 913
For SCREAMS! January 19 2021
Prompt: Weird Geography.