Aff Yer Heid

"Ah'm telling you, the head rolled along the road at my side of the car!" claimed Ally.

"Ye'r aff yer heid." This had been the usual unbelieving remark the boys had used to each other since childhood, normally when one of them came up with a crazy idea.

Special friends from childhood, Alister and Norman's paths had run in a similar direction throughout their twenty-eight years of life. School days had been pleasant and fulfilling and parents were proud and happy when they each chose to study engineering at university. Having gained excellent results they both succeeded in gaining well-paid jobs in the oil industry in Aberdeen.

Their tolerant partners understood their love of sport and followed their own social pursuits when the young men snowboarded in winter and golfed in summer.

Life had been good for the two couples until Alister had been struck by a massive heart attack less than a year earlier. However with his strength of character and support of the other three he had made a complete recovery, and was advised by his doctors to enjoy a sporty lifestyle.  

Snowboarding conditions had been excellent at Glenshee and both had been in high spirits as they returned to the car park. They were frustrated but not surprised to find Norman's old car was not with the freezing weather and refused to jump-start.

After half an hour of tinkering under the bonnet with frozen fingers they were glad to see the police car drive alongside, performing their routine of checking cars that were there without climbers. "A bit of bother, mate?" asked one of the friendly officers.

 After further useless attempts all four agreed a professional was required.  

"Nobody will come out on a night like this," said the officer, obviously knowing the local but distant garages. "Tell you what, we'll drive you to the hotel at Braemar. They usually have vacancies in the winter, and we'll try and get a mechanic to have a look at it at first light. We'll take your mobile number and contact you in the morning."

The officers obviously knew every turn on the frozen roads, but Norman and Alister felt the journey was quite hair-raising at the speed of the car on sharp turns. Suddenly there was a massive bump and the car slithered to a halt.  

"God Almighty! It's a blasted deer. We'll need to go back and check if it's alive." The officers both ran back along the icy road, having difficulty in keeping upright on the treacherous road. At that, with an unbelieving shake of his head, Alister made his statement.

 "It couldn't possibly be alive. I saw the head rolling past the car on this side."

 "YOU'RE aff YOUR held! How can a head with big antlers  sticking out roll along a road that's covered in ice and snow?"

The expression on the officers* faces confirmed the animal was dead. They looked shaken but confirmed only that they had dragged the poor beast to the side-without mentioning a missing head.The warmth inside the hotel was very welcoming and the young men were surprised to see every chair in the lounge was occupied, mostly by elderly visitors.t              fc                                             V

  'They'll be singing. "Here come the clowns”  muttered Alister, referring to their multi-coloured bulky clothing as they made their way to Reception,

"'Sorry, we don't have a room left. We have three coach parties in." The pretty young receptionist looked quite dejected at having to turn away these two handsome lads, but at that moment the manager was at her side, whispered something in her ear, and said,

 "Look, boys, there is a room that we don't normally use, but if it's O.K. with you you I'll reduce the price." With one voice they said,

 "You're on," and Alister, looking shattered, continued, "Anything's better than the bothy."

 After a delicious hot meal they were given instructions by the manager. "After the last bedroom on floor three, number 345, there's a door marked "NO ENTRY". It's locked."   He rummaged in a box somewhere and produced a large rusty key that looked as if it hadn't seen the light of day for a long time.  

"Here's the key. Through that door and up a stone staircase. Go along the short corridor. There's only one room with a toilet adjoining. I'm sorry about the rust on the key, but no-one goes up there. The light should  be working."

The young receptionist looked at her boss with a strange expression as she handed over a smaller key marked 346A* "The room might not be locked," she said, almost in a whisper.

Following the manager's instructions and despite having some bother with the rusty key and leaving that door unlocked, they entered a dusty room 346A *

 "Welcome to the Ritz," laughed Norman, shivering at the freezing cold air. "No wonder he reduced the price. I'm sleeping in all my gear. I'll leave the light on in the hall." He would have been happy to reflect on the day's events, but Alister was already sound asleep clad in full snow-boarding gear.  

Despite expecting to follow suit and feeling utterly exhausted, Norman felt restless. He found himself constantly opening his eyes to watch the strip of light under the door, then turning to see the wall of snow against the window, wishing he could be bothered to go and close the curtains to deaden the rattling of the window-frame in this freezing musty room.

Not wishing to disturb his good friend, to whom he always felt protective, he seemed to toss and turn for hours but sleep would not come.

His eyes were constantly drawn to that shaft of light beneath the door. The dim glow seemed to flicker occasionally as if there was a shadow floating backwards and forwards over the bulb, but without regularity, outside Room346A. Despite heavy clothing he shivered  

"I'm sure there's a prowler about out there," Norman decided.

 "I'll be ready the second that handle turns. He's picked the wrong one if  he thinks he can steal anything from me. Probably after our  boards and gear and expects us to be sound asleep. I'm waiting" Feeling aggressive now the normally easy-going Norman was prepared to use force to protect his expensive snow-boarding gear.

At that moment his already cold body seemed to turn to ice. The handle did not turn, the door did not open, but a shape, the only way he could describe it, drifted through the closed door. A grey shape in what appeared to be bulky clothing, but with one important vital omission, its head. Willowy arms and legs seemed to propel it along and Norman tried to call out but discovered he was as silent as his new room-mate. It halted at the foot of his bed momentarily, then drifted towards Alister's bed. Still feeling protective but unable to move a muscle, Norman watched in disbelief as the shadowy figure moved slowly towards Alister's motionless head and bent down and touched him.) lingering several seconds,, Still feeling in a trance-like state, Norman watched in further disbelief as the figure floated towards the snow-covered window and moved shoulder-first through it.

His next move was to try and make sure Alister was all right.Shaking with shock he rolled out of bed and tried to rouse his Friend but got no response. After several attempts he knew something was wrong, and with his knowledge of First Aid, essential on the mountains, he recognized the signs of a further heart attack.

No ambulance would get through to save him.Amazingly Norman's mobile phone still had a signal, and realizing time was all-important he contacted the ever-ready helicopter service. With modern expertise Alister's life was saved. It was some months after his friend's recovery that Norman broached the subject of their last night in Room 346A. 

"I remember a terrible  nightmare. I'm sure that was what must have caused the heart attack," and Alister continued to relate his nightmare version of exactly what Norman had experienced.

Feeling compelled to return to the hotel they were greeted guardedly by the manager who reluctantly told them, "It happened a hundred years before you arrived. A student put his head out of the window to speak to a friend below in the yard. Unfortunately a faulty rope caused the sash window to clatter down on his neck and killed him. The headless ghost has appeared occasionally in the presence of young men. No local tradesman would ever agree to repair it so we have blocked off Room 346A for ever."

"And to this day the ghost that's "aff his heid" might still be floating around Room 346A," laughed Alister. We'll leave him to it!"