Tha Dia Gad Dhion. Gibberish to most, but to the Northern Scots these Gaelic words hang heavier in the air than their morning fog: “God Protects You”. Our young lovers Emma and Cully, unfamiliar with this native tongue, spend their “baby-moon” gallivanting across the highlands in search of the last thrill before their bundle of joy arrives. Friendly locals, including a dear Bed & Breakfast owner, impart their wisdom on these two about the haunted lands they are to see, but like most in their situation, it’s played off as mere fairy tales to get a rise out of visitors. One fateful hiking trip leads these two down a dark and winding road where even the reader is left in the dark until the very last panel. In Double Walker, we see a monster take shape, but maybe not one from the hills, but rather from the deep recesses of one’s mind.
Before diving in further, it’s important to unveil my own relationship to this particular narrative. My Grandmother was 5 years old when they sent her up to the highlands as a safety precaution during the air raids of World War II. Her knowledge of the area was limited to tales her own uncles would tell her after their trips to Speyside for the finest single malt scotch whisky. Unlike the Pevensie children of the Narnia series who languished in an estate, her lodgings were in a modest house on the outskirts of a village with two of her sisters. She didn’t relay much information to me, as even she states she was too young to remember it all, but her time in the highlands left her something she did choose to impart. “The land is old up there, but there are things up there that are much, much older.”
My love for horror may only be outweighed by my love for Scotland. Suffice to say, I was engrossed before I even lifted the first page. The dreary, yet can’t look away illustrations from Noah Bailey gives the readers hesitation to turn the next page, not due to contempt, but rather due to fear. From the faces filled with horror to these creatures that go bump in the night, the artistry grabs you and doesn’t let go. The limited color palette, heavily leaning on greys, still gives us this contrast of the beauty of Scotland and the bleakness of the unfolding story. This is where writer Michael W. Conrad cements his name as a prolific storyteller and one whose name will become synonymous with terror in the near future. He shapes relatable characters from the first few panels, one whose story you want to hear, and futures you are vested in.
There are moments where the reader will have to collect their thoughts, and breath, as we uncover more, yet still feel left in the dark. The highest praise I can say is it reads like a classic King tale; the story grips you and drags you through the emotional gamut, unrelenting, uncompromising, and unsettling, but you absolutely love it.
Conrad and Bailey did not disappoint as this is my top recommendation right now especially to those who are looking for something to read on one of those summer nights where the thunder is crashing down, the rain is pelting the window, and the only solace is a blanket. So pour yourself a cup of tea, or perhaps even a glass of the good stuff, as you venture to a place where the line between the worlds is thinner than most. As you’ll soon find out, there aren’t many happy endings in Scottish Fae Tales.