“The Stone of Sacrifice” by Jeff Mann from The Touch of the Sea (Lethe Press, 2012). Edited by Steve Berman.

American Ewan McDonald has come to Scotland’s Outer Hebrides to do research, work on some writing, and get in touch with his ancestors. He has no idea what that last will entail. Oh, and he’s also looking to get beyond his “long, intense affair with Thom”, a recurring motif in the author’s work.

Behind the place Ewan has rented for the summer, out on the beach, is the center stone of what once was a sacred circle. He has a few beers, pours a libation for the approaching solstice, and settles at the base of the stone, exhausted from his journey. When he stirs awake a little while later he thinks he sees a man bobbing about in the ocean, but once he blinks the image is gone. He convinces himself he was only imagining it.

Until, that is, the young man turns up at the base of the standing stone, weak as a kitten, apparently half-drowned. Ewan never seems to make the connection the reader does, that his encounters with the younger man, Johnny, always follow slumber (or at least efforts to sleep that he thinks were unsuccessful). Were they, though? Is anything that happens between the two real, or are all of Ewan’s interactions with the handsome stranger merely lucid dreams? It’s true Johnny completes him in a way only a being crafted by the psyche can. Then again, this is a tale about myth and magic, so who can say for sure?