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The Dark Side Of The City

Today was foggy, a mist swirled into town from the sea, and it was so dense you couldn’t see more than a few metres in front of you. The cars and buses on the street seemed to materialise out of the white cloud.

It reminded me of something that happened when I was a kid, probably about twelve years old. I was on a school trip to the Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street, we went there to see the stuffed wild animals in their glass cages. It was during winter and by the time we left the museum it was already dark outside. Our teacher wanted us all to go to the bus stop together. But I knew it would be quicker for me to just walk home, and so I convinced her to let me go off by myself.

In that part of town, you get different levels of streets. George IV Bridge goes over the top of Cowgate, and it’s difficult to get from one level to another. When this part of the Old Town was built in the middle ages, there were regular outbreaks of the plague, and when people died their houses would be bricked up and new houses built on top of them.

I walked away quickly to get away from my annoying teacher. But I somehow ended up walking along the bottom of Cowgate, underneath the street where I was supposed to be. It was even darker down there, and the fog was thicker than ever. Every now and then a yellow street light would loom out of the midst or a car headlights would sweep by. But I soon realised I couldn’t see any street signs. I was lost.

I must have wandered up and down that street for about half an hour although it felt much longer at the time. I couldn’t see anyone else to ask for help.

Eventually I noticed a bright light outside a building. It wasn’t sign-posted but it looked vaguely official, and I thought it might belong to the council, so I opened the door and went in. There was a man at a desk, like you get in police stations. He looked rather surprised when he saw me.

‘Where am I?’ I asked him.

He hesitated a moment before he answered, ‘The city morgue.’

I was too young to know what a morgue was, so he had to explain it to me. The door opened again and two men wheeled in a trolley with a long black bag lying on top of it.

I don’t go down that street anymore.