Statement of Nathan Watts, regarding an encounter on Old Fishmarket Close, Edinburgh. Original statement given April 22nd 2012. Audio recording by Jonathan Sims, Head Archivist of the Magnus Institute, London.
This all happened a couple of years ago, so I apologise if some of the details are a bit off. I mean, I feel like I remember it clearly but sometimes things are so weird that you start to doubt yourself. Still, I suppose weird is kind of what you guys do, right?
So I’m studying at the University of Edinburgh. Biochemistry, specifically, and I was in my second year at the time this happened. I wasn’t in any sort of university accommodation at this point, and was renting a student flat down in Southside with a few other second years.
To be honest, I didn’t hang out with them much. I took a gap year before matriculating, and my birthday’s in the wrong part of September, so I was nearly two years older than most of my peers when I started my course. I got on with them fine, you understand, but I tended to end up hanging out with some of the older students.
That’s why I was at the party in the first place. Michael MacAulay, a good friend of mine, had just been accepted to do a Master’s degree in Earth Sciences so we decided a celebration was in order. Well, maybe ‘party’ isn’t quite the right word, we just kind of invaded the Albanach down on the Royal Mile, and drank long enough and loud enough that eventually we had the back area to ourselves. Now, I don’t know how well you know the drinking holes of Edinburgh, but the Albanach has a wide selection of some excellent single malts, and I may have slightly overindulged. I have vague memories of Mike suggesting I slow down, to which I responded by roundly swearing at him for failing to properly celebrate his own good news. Or words to that effect.
Long story short, I was violently ill around midnight, and made the decision to walk the route home. It wasn’t far to my flat, maybe half an hour if I’d been sober, and the night was cool enough that I remember having a hope the chill would perk me up some. I headed for the Cowgate and the quickest way to get there from the Royal Mile is down Old Fishmarket Close. Now, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that there are some steep hills in Edinburgh but Old Fishmarket Close is exceptional, even by those standards. At times it must reach a thirty or forty degree angle, which is hard enough to navigate when you don’t have that much scotch inside you. As I have mentioned, I had quite a lot, so it probably wasn’t that surprising when I took a rather nasty tumble about halfway down the street.
In retrospect, the fall wasn’t that bad compared to what it could have been, but at the time, it really shook me up, and left me with some nasty bruises. I picked myself up as best I could, checked I hadn’t seriously injured myself, no broken bones or anything, and decided to roll a cigarette to calm myself. That was when I heard it.
“Can I have a cigarette?”
I was startled out of my thoughts by the words as I thought I had been alone. Quickly trying to compose myself and looking around, I noticed a small alleyway on the opposite side of the street. It was very narrow and completely unlit with a short staircase leading up. I could see a light fixture a little way up the wall at its entrance, but it either wasn’t working or wasn’t turned on, meaning that beyond a few steps the alley was shrouded in total darkness. Stood there, a couple of stairs from the street, was a figure. It was hard to tell much about them as they were mostly in the shadows, though if I’d had to guess I would have said the voice sounded male. They seemed to sway, ever so slightly, as I watched, and I assumed that they, like me, were probably a little bit drunk.
I lit my own cigarette and held out my tobacco towards them, though I didn’t approach, and asked if they were ok with a roll-up. The figure didn’t move except to continue that gentle swaying. Writing it down now, it seems so obvious that something was wrong. If I hadn’t been so drunk, maybe I’d have noticed quicker, but even when the stranger asked the question again, “Can I have a cigarette?” utterly without intonation, still I didn’t understand why I was so uneasy.
I stared at the stranger and as my eyes began to adjust I could make out more details. I could see that their face appeared blank, expressionless, and their skin seemed damp and slightly sunken, like they had a bad fever. The swaying was more pronounced now, seeming to move from the waist, side to side, back and forth. By this point, I had finished rolling a second cigarette, and gingerly held it out towards them, but I didn’t get any closer. I had decided that if this weirdo wanted a cigarette, they were going to need to come out of the creepy alleyway. They didn’t come closer, didn’t make any movement at all except for that damn swaying. For some reason the thought of an anglerfish poppe