Nothing matters but the chase

Karen Barbour is seen here receiving her prize from Ann Burnett of the Ayr Writers' Club who assisted with the judging process. Picture: Karen Stewart
Karen Barbour is seen here receiving her prize from Ann Burnett of the Ayr Writers' Club who assisted with the judging process. Picture: Karen Stewart

The Carrick Gazette was pleased to sponsor the Creative Writing Competition as part of this year’s Ballantrae Smugglers’ Festival.

The judges identified winning stories in the 12-18 year old and Adult categories. In addition they identified two Highly Commended stories in the adult category.

Over the next few weeks we will be publishing the stories in the Gazette. The first story – in the Highly Commended category - is by Karen Barbour seen here receiving her prize from Ann Burnett of the Ayr Writers’ Club who assisted with the judging process.

The Chase by Karen Barbour

Jack strained into the collar as a pasty sun shuffled from east to west. He trudged up and down, tilling the soil into narrow, relentless seams.

William made sure he had enough to eat and a good rest every night. But Jack’s dreams were not of fields and furrows.

At dinner time, William lingered in the stable, stroking the blaze that sprung from flashing eyes. Offered up sweet feed from a weary hand.

“Good lad,” he whispered, “Good lad. There’ll be plenty more o’ that if McCulloch’s men outfox the Revenue again the night.”

He pulled his cap down tight against an unseasonal chill, brows creased. The Excise Men had ample flint and steel at their disposal and he’d heard the patrols along the Ayr road had doubled. Jack nibbled his master’s sleeve, sensing his unease. William left the door unfastened, his stooped back retreating into the low turf house.

A watchful moon guarded the empty yard as hobnail boots approached the stable. Jack gave the door a gleeful nudge, welcoming his accomplice with a playful whinny. William stirred in his sleep.

“Here boy, time to go.”

They caught up with the others mustered at Barrhill Bridge, bracing themselves with beakers of buttery ale and crawing about outrunning the Agents. Empty pockets anticipated the weight of the half guinea that would soon lie snug between thick layers of rasping wool: the going rate for the perilous night ahead. A final swig and they were off.

The caravan skulked along the coast in ghost-like formation till it reached the bay. The batsmen were already in place, flanking the spot as the tubs came ashore. Pistols and cudgels at the ready. Snorts and grunts mingled with the clink of saddle and bridle as oilskins were hefted onto broad backs. A wind was getting up, whisking the waves into spumy peaks,

Jack felt the gathering storm as the tubs emptied their illicit cargo. Pricked ears snapped round, straining to hear the distant rumble. The rider yanked him back, an urgent kick in the ribs.

“Come on boy, we’re not done yet”.

Jack bucked his indignation, pulling tighter on the bit. He tried to rear but the rider held fast and the rein peeled back his lips and forced his head down.

Too late, the others now heard the rumble rushing towards them, and the cry went up,

“The agents are coming!”

The rider sprung forward, fastened to Jack’s neck. Muscles squeezed frantic air from his lungs, driving headlong up the shore. Tail a rod of matted hair and brine, Jack’s heart beat out a terrific tattoo as they hurtled inland. The thunder was upon them now, scattering the gang as clashing metal split the air. Jack’s nostrils filled with gunpowder, the rider’s breath screaming in his ear. A final wail and all at once Jack was flying on his own. But that didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore, nothing but the chase.