On the Island of Iona there lived a girl named Netta with frizzy black hair and sea foam colored eyes. She lived with her grandfather in a tiny cottage on the shores of Loch Staonaig, near the spiraling path up Sithean Mor. Though Netta was an orphan, she was happy with her grandfather, and he was happy to have someone to share his stories with.
Every evening, after supper, they carried their folding chairs up the winding path, and watched the sun fall into the Hebrides Sea, waiting for the stars. As the night came on, he’d consult his old tin watch, and when he was certain the time was right, he would tell tales of sea monsters, fae folk, and brave St. Columbus.
“This is a special place,” he would say. “It’s where the world is thin and, if you look closely, you can see the other side.”
“I only see stars.”
“Look between the stars, Netta.”
And, though she would strain her eyes and squint and stare, she only ever saw the traces of distant galaxies swimming through the Milky Way.
One night, after checking his watch many times without telling any stories, Netta asked, “What are you waiting for?”
“The golden moment,” he said.
That night, the moment did not come, there were no tales of monsters or fae, and they folded up their chairs and walked quietly down Sithean Mor to their cottage on the loch. In the morning, her grandfather did not rise for breakfast. He had passed in his sleep, and Netta was alone.
Mrs. McRay and her husband Nigel were kind enough to let Netta come stay with them in their home on the other side of the island. They lived near the ruined Abby of Iona that St. Columbus built after slaying the great sea beast, but Mrs. McRay didn’t know anything about that.
Netta was grateful to have a place to live, but she missed her grandfather immensely. She kept his old watch and, though it was too big for her wrist, she wore it anyway. His watch and his stories were all she had to remember him. Despite the hospitality of the McRay’s, a terrible loneliness came over her, compelling her to the heights of Sithean Mor.
Mrs. McRay was sympathetic to her sorrow. She bought Netta a kick scooter so that she could travel quickly cross the island. Every day she rode the scooter along the shoreside road, past the ancient abbey, and beyond to the lonely cottage at Loch Staonaig. Each evening she carried her folding chair and scooter up the hill and watched the sun sink into the sea, waiting for the stars.
She consulted the watch, though it made no sense. It had a thirteenth hour on its face that the hand always skipped. Still, she checked it often as she diligently watched the spaces between the stars. When the dew began to set and the golden moment did not come, she would fold up her chair and kick her scooter down the spiral path.
Then, one evening, dark clouds crept over the Hebrides Sea and threatened to blanket the sky. Netta kicked faster along the shoreside road as if she beat the storm to Sithean Mor, it would have no choice but to go away. She raced up the hill, set up her chair, and checked the tin watch. The storm moved in unabated and the sun went down through churning black clouds.
Then, as the first drops of rain fell, a peculiar tingle traveled up her arm. The tin watch was now renewed and gleaming gold. The wandering hand had stopped on the thirteenth hour and the sky began to change. The storm was gone, the sky was translucent silver and the stars were black. It was like a shimmering curtain covered everything, separating this world from another.
The distinct roar of rushing water echoed up the hillside, as if a great and violent river was just below her. Taking her scooter, she turned it down the hill to investigate. As she rode over what she thought was a knot in the hill, she went careening into nothingness.
She found herself on the banks of a swiftly flowing river. Behind her, the grassy slope of Sithean Mor was visible behind a shimmering veil. Waves of mist splashed off the rocks of the rapids, from which the curious faces of the fae stared back at her. They flowed against the current, swirling in and out of sight. Netta followed them a distance upstream, dragging her scooter across the rocky shore.
She came to a wooden bridge that crossed to a flower strewn meadow at the edge of a forest. There, in the center of the span, resting on his folding chair and watching the river flow, was her grandfather.
“Netta! I’ve missed you so much, but you shouldn’t have come.”
With tears, she threw her arms around him and kissed his cheek.
“This is their place and I’m afraid that you haven’t been invited, not yet.”
“Ah, my old watch,” he said lifting her wrist. “Oh my, it’s late! You must hurry!”
The hand of the watch had nearly passed through the thirteenth hour.
“I’m happy to stay, it’s all right,” said Netta.
“I’m sorry, but this is not your moment!”
Her grandfather lifted her up, scooter and all, and tossed her into the rapids. Before she could sink, she was taken by watery hands, held above the current, and placed atop her scooter. Down the river she went, gliding over boulders and sailing through the mist. Beside her the misty bodies of the fae, guided her downstream toward the shrinking veil between worlds. With a final thrust, she found herself tumbling down the dew-covered slopes of Sithean Mor.
She woke to Mrs. McRay wrapping a blanket around her and brushing the wet frizzles of hair from her eyes. The stars were fading and light was creeping back into the edges of the world.