The Bothy: A Short Story by Niki Valentine

Words: Niki Valentine
Illustrations: Judit Ferencz
Monday 31 October 2011
reading time: min, words

Niki Valentine - formerly Monaghan - releases her fourth novel, The Haunted, this October, just in time for Halloween. The tale of a couple holidaying in the Scottish Highlands that takes a turn for the worst, this bonus extract not available in the novel is just a taster...


The fire was growing the grate, its flames licking the air and making shadows dance. Anna noticed flickering movements in dark corners of the room. This place gave her the creeps. There was something off about it, she’d noticed the minute they’d got here. She had always had a sense about these things.

Daniel was pouring hot milk into mugs of hot chocolate. He turned to smile at Anna. The fire made his face glow red and he looked demonic. She stared at him for a moment, then made herself remember that this was Daniel, her boyfriend, and not something evil. The atmosphere she felt in the bothy was influencing everything. He brought the drinks over and, away from the fire, he looked like himself again, not frightening at all.

‘We should tell ghost stories,’ he said. ‘Around the camp fire.’

‘No,’ Anna said quickly. ‘I don’t think I want to do that.’

But Daniel grinned and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll start.’

Anna sipped her drink and tried not to get mad. This was so typical of Daniel. So often he would ignore what she wanted and do what the hell he liked. Like coming here. He’d been so determined to camp out rough in a bothy, an old shepherds’ hut deep in the Scottish highlands. Daniel had stayed in bothies when he was younger, on outward bound trips. On the same trips, though, he’d slept on hillsides in bin liners. None of that was particularly romantic. None of it was anything Anna wanted to re-enact.

Daniel poked the fire. Anna felt very cold. ‘It was a dark and windy night,’ he said.

‘Oh please. What a cliché!’ She was trying to put Daniel off but he grinned and continued.

‘It was a cold and rainy night,’ he said. He came back and climbed under the covers with her. ‘At a girls’ boarding school in the North of England. The girls were getting ready for bed, when they saw lights in the window.’

Anna shivered. She clung to the heat from her mug. She refused to be scared by a stupid story.

‘The lights were strange. At first, the girls thought they were headlights of a car in the distance but they realised, after a while, that they couldn’t be. They were moving in the wrong way. Instead of drifting up and down, the way they would have floated over hills, they were moving, up down left right, in perfect curves and spirals, always the same distance from one another. The girls speculated. Was it some kind of plane or helicopter? They crowded the window. They were misting up the glass with their breath, standing close and staring at the lights in the distance.’

Daniel stopped then. He looked right into Anna’s eyes in a way that unsettled her. She put down her drink and tutted.

‘They were so close to the glass.’ He was whispering now, leaning in close towards her, their noses almost touching. ‘When one of the girls suddenly screamed. She jumped back from the glass. “They’re not lights in the distance,” she told them, breathlessly, “they’re not lights at all, not in the distance. Eyes, just the other side of the glass.”

Despite Anna’s best efforts, the twist made her heart beat faster. She half-heartedly slapped him. ‘Heard that one before,’ she said. She was acting offhand but the truth was, she hadn’t heard that story.

‘Your turn,’ Daniel said, tucking himself in closer to her under the quilt.

‘I don’t know any ghost stories,’ she said. She refused to be drawn into this game.

‘You must know ghost stories.’ Daniel kissed her then pulled back. ‘You’re scared,’ he said. ‘You believe in this stuff.’

‘Of course not.’ She tried to sound light hearted but could hear the strain on her voice. She kissed Daniel again to shut him up.

‘You do, though,’ he said, moving back and examining her face. ‘I can tell.’ He was getting up from the nest they’d made on the floor.

‘Where you going?’ Anna said.

‘Just for a wee, love.’ He turned and smiled at her, pulling on his coat. ‘Don’t let the bugs bite.’ He winked, and left the hut.

It felt cold in the bothy now he’d gone, despite the fire. The story and the mood and the weird, bad place were getting to Anna. She kept staring at the window and into the corners and the shadows. She tried to stop. What was she expecting to see? The lights that Daniel had described? Or something else? Like the dog that used to visit her when she was a little girl. She hadn’t liked to be left alone in that back bedroom at her grandma’s house. She had screamed and cried. She didn’t remember it that well but she remembered the gnashing of teeth and the claws, the fear that she’d felt when her mum closed the door. All of a sudden she wanted to rush after Daniel so she wasn’t on her own. She closed her eyes.

When Anna opened her eyes again, she could see lights in the window. They were moving around as she watched. Not in quite the same way Daniel had described; they were more random than that. She laughed. What an idiot her boyfriend could be.

‘Knock it off, Daniel,’ she shouted.

The lights in the window kept moving, though. She stood up, giggling, and walked over. She banged on the glass. ‘Stupid idiot!’ she shouted. But the lights kept moving. She pressed her face to the glass but couldn’t make out Daniel’s face, or his arms or legs. She couldn’t see him at all, just the lights. She banged on the window again and was about to sit down when she noticed the mist from her breath on the glass. This small detail brought back the unsettled feeling she’d had at the end of Daniel’s story. She was clenching her fists. And that was when it struck her. They only had one torch. She had no idea how Daniel could be making two lights dance in the window. 

‘Daniel, it’s not funny anymore!’ Anna ran towards the door. She pulled it open and stared out. She looked around. She couldn’t see anyone. No lights, no boyfriend, just the loch to one side and the woods to the other. Somewhere in the distance there was a bleak animal sound. She recognised it right away. It was a dog. Not a wolf or a fox or a woodland animal but a dog. Not just any old dog, either. She heard the door of the bothy creak behind her, and remembered her mother, closing the door at grandma’s house. She could smell tooth, and claw and shaggy coat. She could smell her own fear.

She would not wait for the thing to come. She would not stand lie and let it find her, like she had when she was three.

Anna let the Bothy door swing in the wind and ran, coatless and barefoot, into the wood. Her feet tore on the rough ground and she stubbed her toes but she just ran and ran, all the way into the dark.

The Haunted, published by Sphere, is released on 13 October. The author will be reading extracts from the book at the Broadway Cafe Bar as part of the Mayhem Festival on October 31

Niki Valentine website

We have a favour to ask

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion

Please note, we migrated all recently used accounts to the new site, but you will need to request a password reset

Sign in using

Or using your

Forgot password?

Register an account

Password must be at least 8 characters long, have 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, 1 number and 1 special character.

Forgotten your password?

Reset your password?

Password must be at least 8 characters long, have 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, 1 number and 1 special character.