Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Coldharbour: The Big Gallhoolie

It was an ancient village that was for sure, and on some days Jake found it to be the middle of his universe and on others - well, he could take or leave it. He wasn’t that bothered. 

His family had all been born, lived and died in Coldharbour, as far back as anyone could remember. His father had been the black sheep of the family, as had his father before him, so there wasn’t much hope given for Jake’s success in life either. Jake found this fact unfair – after all he wasn’t his father, now was he?

His father had been taken away by the local police when Jake was a boy. To be really truthful, his father was always being taken away by the police. The first time Jake remembered that kind of thing happening was the night his father painted a slogan across the walls of the village hall. It had said:

“Capitalism needs people, people don’t need Capitalism.” 

The church minister on the following Sunday, had told the congregation that Jake’s father had meant well, but that using day-glow pink had been a mistake of taste. Something, he said, that we all succumbed to from time to time, and then the minister went on to give a sermon on taste – moral or otherwise, for the next forty-five minutes. This was always the time that Jake would look out of the church window and dream of other things.

On one particular month in the summer, Jake had been sent to his grandmother’s home in Glasgow. This was for two reasons (as his mother had told him) – one reason was his father and the other reason was Jake. As his mother had said, she could only deal with one idiot at a time – so Jake was sent packing to the big city.

He never behaved at all bad when he was with his grandmother. There was always so much to do in Glasgow and his grandmother was always ready and willing to show him new places. One of the best had been was the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery. Jake had never seen so many brilliant and amazing things in the one place.

That summer there was a special exhibition on at the Kelvingrove called ‘Mystery Beasts of the World’. It covered everything from the Loch Ness Monster (which, by the way, Jake knew existed as his Dad had told him that he’d seen it), then there was the Yeti, and the one which really caught Jake’s imagination was Big Foot. A stupendously big hairy thing that seemed to roam about the United States but which no one could catch. Apart from in real shaky photographs.

This gave Jake an idea.  

When he got back to Coldharbour, Jake thought that spreading a story by word of mouth might be enough. He’d thought up the whole crazy idea in his head on the bus journey back to the West Highlands. When he got home, he said ‘hello’ to his Mum, kissed her on the cheek and then ran upstairs to write it all down in his extremely secret book which he kept under his bed. The monster needed to have a name, and he remembered his grandfather telling him about a creature he’d met on the way home from the pub – he’d said it was called the Big Gallhoolie – and it was a friendly enough monster, if a bit shy. It usually only talked to folks in the hours of darkness and usually only when they had been drinking at the time. When Jake had asked his grandfather to describe it, he’d basically just described ‘Big Foot’. Jake wondered if maybe they were related. His grandfather told Jake that the Big Gallhoolie had grabbed his wallet and run off with his wages for the week. Well his wages minus the money he had spent in the pub. When his grandfather had told his grandmother that a monster had stolen his wallet on the way home from the pub she hadn’t spoken to him for two whole months.

So the following Sunday after Jake came up with the crazy idea – and after all the kids had been sent to the Sunday School room while the adults remained where they were and talked about grown-up things - Jake took this as a chance to tell the other kids about what he’d seen. Angela Mclarey – the school teacher who also taught in Sunday School had asked if anyone had ever seen an angel. Several had put their hands in the air and against her better judgement, she had asked Jake to tell his story.

Of course, he completely ignored the topic and went straight into the mystery of the Big Gallhoolie. He began to elaborate on the story so much that when he got to the bit about the Gallhoolie eating children and biting off their heads, both Sarah McTollin and her brother wet themselves and had to be taken crying from the room. Mrs McLarey made Jake sit in a corner facing the wall until he accepted that he had been a naughty boy and had told lies to the Sunday school. As he was facing the wall, Jake could be heard to mumble that it wasn’t a lie - his granddad had seen one, and anyway his Dad had seen the Loch Ness Monster. 

By this time, no one was paying him any attention as they were too busy listening to Nancy Smith’s story about the angel she had seen in her garden. Jake snorted in disbelief – and wondered why Mrs Mclarey didn’t make Nancy face the wall, too.

When he was released from church, Jake decided there was only one thing to do and that was to show the world that the Big Gallhoolie did really exist.

Every night after his mother had gone to bed and his father had been arrested by the police, he would sneak out of the house with an old camera that he had found in a drawer. Then he would sit waiting and listening for the Big Gallhoolie. And night after night as he sat there staring into the dark, he saw exactly that - nothing. Added to this was the fact that he kept falling asleep every day at school. Yet Mrs Mclarey felt it was better not to waken Jake as having him asleep usually served the class better.

Not one to be defeated by facts, Jake decided to speed things along. At the village dump on the edge of town, he’d found an old moth-eaten fur coat. It smelled of terrible things but Jake was willing to put up with it, if it meant his story would be believed.

He stitched the old coat and a Halloween mask together and made a suit which he could fit in; quite comfortably as it happens.

The following night he took a photo of himself in the suit and not one to boast, he felt that it was a brilliant picture. He sent it to the Coldharbour Gazette anonymously and put a note in with it, indicating that it was from a tourist in the area who had caught a strange creature on film.

Much to Jake’s surprise they published it and even started a competition – five pounds to anyone from the village who could take a photo of the Big Gallhoolie.

Jake thought that he could really do with the money and wondered that if he submitted another photo he could claim the five pounds – but if Jake claimed it, everyone would probably think that it was all just one of his jokes.

The only way to proceed, Jake decided, was to dress up as the Gallhoolie and run around the woods during the day. That plan worked a little too well since there were at least twenty photos submitted to the paper. Three of those printed weren’t even of Jake – some other rascals had been up to the same thing and had created their own monsters just for the money. Some people are disgusting thought Jake (still too young to see the irony in that statement).

The following week a television news crew turned up in the area looking for the monster. The Provost of Coldharbour was very happy because the story had brought in a lot of visitors and much needed tourists. With travel being so much cheaper these days, people tended to go to the sun drenched beaches and miss out places like Coldharbour.

Jake knew the woods and forests the way he knew the back of his hand, and could hide when he needed to - and show himself as the monster when he wanted to.

What a summer it was. Everyone in Coldharbour was talking about the Big Gallhoolie. All the hotels, and bed and breakfast establishments were full (and then some). Anyone with a spare room, or spare floor was ‘accommodating the strangers’ at a not so accommodating price. This was the summer of the Big Gallhoolie when everyone made money.

Jake had even been interviewed on television to tell his story about his grandfather’s encounter with the monster.

Then one evening a strange thing happened. The daylight was just beginning to turn to dusk and Jake was ready to stop his monstering in order to go home, when he looked up and there was a beast – right in front of him. It wasn’t a beast like he’d pretended to be, or a beast that some of the other folks in the village had dressed up as, looking for the money. No, this was a real breathing, living hairy monster just like his grandfather had described.

This was the real Big Gallhoolie. Yep, it existed all right. The beastie turned its head to the side, as if to wonder (just like Jake) what this weird thing was standing in front of it.

It sniffed the air a few times, probably realised that this wasn’t one of its own, and growled so loud that Jake almost wet himself as he ran off down the path, throwing away his fur coat as he went.

Jake was sure the beastie was chasing him, just like he was also sure that he could feel his heart bumping against the wall of his chest.  He wondered for a second if maybe this beastie was going to eat him – at that point Jake tripped over a tree root and went flying.

As Jake’s face lay pressed into the mud, he could see a shadow cast over him and he knew that it could only mean one thing – the beastie was going to have him for dinner.

But all that actually happened was that Jake felt something bouncing off the back of his head and then the shadow disappeared. After what Jake thought was a safe amount of time – he turned his head around to see that the coast was clear.

And do you know what was lying next to his head? Why if it wasn’t his grandfather’s wallet – okay, it was a bit chewed and wet with saliva but it had his grandfather’s name on it and there was some money inside.

A week or so later, as Jake sat on the bus to Glasgow, he wondered what his grandmother would say about it all.

bobby stevenson 2015


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