A week after they drained the reservoir, the dead returned to the glen. The first reports came from contractors hired to dismantle the old dam. They spoke to the local paper about corpses in the glen, walking the newly exposed roads and sifting through the silt where crofts had once stood. These early reports were hard to take seriously because the dead looked like ordinary people. There were no missing limbs or eyes or off-putting smells, and though the transition from death to life was a little disorientating they showed no clear signs of mental degradation. The dead, as it turned out, were no more unpleasant than the living. They might have been mistaken for tourists, but their accents were regional and once they appeared in the glen nobody could get them to leave.

A month after they drained the reservoir, the dead began to complain. Many went to the contractors, asking where their homes had gone and demanding compensation for their missing cattle. The workers told them this was beyond their paygrade, and suggested the dead should bother the council instead. One of the temps showed them how to work the phones, and after an hour on hold they got through to the Highland Housing Register. The assistant on the other end said he was sorry, but since the land had been sold over a hundred years after the dead had died, they had no legal grounds for compensation from the Scottish Government. Dejected, they returned to the loch-bed. Some took to harassing passing lorries, others sought work at the dam, but the majority stuck to what they knew, huddling in the ruins and sleeping on the pebbles where their beasts had once grazed.

A year after they drained the reservoir, the dead were still there. In the spring the grass grew back, bristled into heather, and soon the silt was starred with pink campions and hare’s-tail and tufts of sweet-scented myrtle. The dead watched on from their ruins, as resistant to these changes as they were to the flood that swept away their homes. They still walked the roads, which were now speckled with lichen, and spoke to anyone who cared to listen about the old days, when this land was theirs and the hills echoed with the lowing of cattle.

George McComas is a fourth-year English student living in Stonehaven, Scotland. He has been writing for as long as he can remember, hopes to pursue a postgraduate degree in creative writing and spends far too much of his time wandering the beaches of the North-East, coming up with new and exciting words to rhyme with ‘seagull’.

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