Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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The Lighthouse

by David Ames





I

The beach spread out before me like so many nights previous... shadowed in the dark of the craggy rocks which led to the only source of time and space on this ill-begotten island; the lighthouse. The light shimmered and circled, perfectly in time, covering the world in a fluorescent flash that was there and gone in less time than I could blink. The lighthouse, forever spinning in its unobtainable perch, circles me like so many vultures, passing the time until their prey departs.

God knows how long I've been here. I can scarcely recall the moment I awoke but for some time now I have been trying to reach the lighthouse.

I splay my legs apart, digging my bare feet into the damp, course sand, hoping to feel anything other than never ending beach. I had been awash in this landscape for so long that a break in the monotony would have been a Godsend.

I don't think he's listening anymore...

Fiddler crabs scatter as my feet dig further in, disturbing their home. I feel akin to them. I can remember the days before all of this. My loving wife, my patient parents, my home at the edge of town. The place we lived was alive with good will and petulance seemed miles away. It was the place you'd see in a 1940's sitcom about the perfect nuclear family. The close together houses, the waving neighbors, the dutiful congregation...

The congregation... yes, that's right. I came here with them. We landed softly, exploring the territory when I fell hard into the surf. The salt burned my eyes and when I recovered myself, gauged my bearings and reclaimed my feet... they were gone and I was alone. Shoeless and wearing only dress pants which, once a fine grey, now hang shredded at my calves. I cut strips of the fabric into bandages to conceal the wounds on my hands which I had received on my first attempt to reach the rocky summit. Since then, I have devoted myself to other, less painful approaches; all with similar, failed endings.

Still, I would press on. If the lighthouse was the high point, I would reach it eventually and recapture the attention I had lost from my flock.

Night begins to set in again... another night trapped here, and I could swear that for the life of me, someone is out there, silently watching... staring... straight through me. I can feel their eyes pierce my skin; fillet my soul for the world to see. Occasionally I will see a shadow move. Nothing too conspicuous... just enough that it breaks away from the dark and moves on its own. Those shadows appear more and more frequently as the days wear on.

I move back towards the rocks, same as the night before, and the night before that. The rock shelf behind me offers my only shelter, my only protection from the wind and weather. Each night has been the same. The dark comes quickly, sweeping over the barren landscape. I huddle against the shelf for warmth, not from the outside air as it has taken a constant tropical feel, but from the emptiness and cold I feel inside. It is like someone has removed something so vital to my survival that I can scarcely maintain life without it.

Once the moon has registered itself at peak point, what I gauge to be near midnight, the sounds from the lighthouse begin.

The billowing horn blares its low, senseless rumble into the night and across the barren sea, calling to anyone to find us here. The ground reverberates with the sound, sending vibrations through my body, as if the lighthouse is speaking to me. That pillar of light has become a friend to me, a distant relative to which I will someday be united. The sound calls to me and sometimes I call back, screaming into the wind along with my pearly white friend. Hoping for someone to make an appearance and tell the both of us that we are not alone... that we are not crazy... that we are not lost.

We... are... not... lost...

The sound, It drags on into the night and early morn, never ceasing until the first streaks of light are breaking the horizon. Once again, I pull myself up from the sand and prepare myself for the attempt on the summit of this rocky shore.



II

While I bandaging my hands, I have decided to take a reverse approach to the lighthouse, circling around the rock shelf and tracing the beach to what must eventually lead to an opening or path. There must be some way to scale this small summit without injuring myself further.

As I walk with the lighthouse at my back, I hear something. A skitter across the sand. Nothing too noticeable... might be a crab...but something sounds off about it. I twist suddenly, not sure what I will find, but uncover nothing; a blank beach staring at me like so many days before. The sun is beating down but there is a breeze rolling in off the ocean, cooling me as I walk. The beach seems to stretch on for miles and after what feels like hours of walking, I stop to rest. As I plant myself into the sand, I turn to look back, to see if I can still view my lighthouse.

It has not moved...

It... it has not moved from where it was this morning. I look up at the sky; the sun is far overhead, signifying that at least three hours have passed. How is this possible? How is it that I moved on for so long to only be back where I started? My heart begins to race, my head foggy with thoughts. The sweat is beading off my forehead. This doesn't make any sense. This doesn't... this can't be happening. I stand up and sprint the same direction I have been walking all day, making sure to keep the ocean to my right, to move along a straight path away from the lighthouse.

I don't know how long it has been before I collapse, frothing from the mouth, breathing too hard to focus my vision. I lie in the surf and let the water wash over me. When I finally calm myself, I look towards the lighthouse again.

It is still there, still the same distance...

What do you want from me! I scream at my pearly friend. What do you... but I can't finish because I am sobbing. The tears come to me and I fall back into the surf. Let the water baptize me in my anger and sorrow. The lighthouse remains ever vigilant.

Stoic in its individuality... in its separation...

I let the water drift me out into the tide and pull me under. The world goes blue and then white, the salt stings but not so much that it causes me to close my eyes. Finally, as the shade begins to close over me, I see the shadow of something looking over... something small... and then the world goes dark.

It is night when I awake. The light from the lighthouse is circling in its tower, showing me the same beach I have seen for God knows how long.

Strike that... God doesn't know--or he doesn't care.

Suddenly, I hear something harsh and high pitched, screeching from the darkness. I have seen no animals other than crabs and I have noticed no tracks in the sand. Something is in pain. Something is hurting and I'm not sure what it could be. I flee for the rock shelf and slam myself, back first against its steadfastness. This is my only protection but from here, the moon's gaze, barely visible, sheds an eerie lowlight on the area.

Something moves in the dark more conspicuous than before, dancing gracefully, just beyond the reach of the moon. I am not entirely sure that I can see anything, but I sense that something is there; watching me. I press myself as tight against the shelf as possible and hold my breath, secretly hoping that whatever is beyond the moon won't see me, knowing in my heart that it does.

The sound of the lighthouse jars me back. The rocks and the sand around me vibrate as the sound spreads through the island. I jump away from the rock and into the moonlight, screaming my fear into the dark along with the lighthouse song. I see a flash of something white, just a glimpse; a glimmer of something in the dark... is it... could it be...

...teeth?



III

My nights seem to drag themselves ever onward as the sound of the lighthouse drones on. It is less soothing to me as each day comes, grating on my nerves. Each night I hear the screams and cries of the shadow dancing in the dark, occasionally catching a glimpse of whatever shiny object flashes in the moonlight. It always seems to stay just out of eyesight and every time the siren sounds, the shadow vanishes into the darkness. I can never truly see anything but it feels as though one minute there is something watching, and suddenly it is gone, and I am again alone.

Each day, I have walked steadily or ran in the opposite direction of the lighthouse, but at each day's end, I am not a step further from when I started.

A few days ago, I walked backwards and as I did, the lighthouse began to vanish from my sight, slipping behind the rock shelf which has been my protection and, for all intents and purposes, my home for these many days. I cheered, I laughed, the tears slipped slowly from my eyes. I turned away to look at the beach that lay before me. It looked relatively the same as the way I had come.

The screeching stopped me dead in my tracks.

Never have I heard it during the day. I froze where I stood, eyes forward, and focused on the area from which the sound had emanated. Readying myself, I turned quickly to see...

Nothing... again, nothing...

But there was something. The lighthouse had regained its normal position in the sky, the same distance as always. I fell to my knees, defeated, and collapsed into the sand. The tears had finally overtaken me and I wept like a child, uncontrolled, until there were no more left to cry.

He had abandoned me.

I had prayed for so long and with no answer, yet I continued. He should have listened... he should have answered.

"You should have answered!" I screamed into the sand, but the only answer I received was that of the ocean with its rolling waters and crashing waves; nature's waltz, but to me it just sounded like loneliness.



IV

I have, for the last few days, stayed right here near the shelf, abandoning all hope of ever reaching the summit... of ever being united with that once loved symbol of light. I let myself drift in and out of consciousness, blurring the lines of reality with those of the dream world. My hate for the lighthouse has grown so that now, when it sings, I scream in fury, chastising the pillar with every insult I can muster. If it wants to sound off, I shall as well.

I push myself back against the shelf and slide down onto the coarse ground. My head comes to rest on my knees and I know that I am alone.

Completely and utterly alone...

I am startled awake by the feeling of something on my feet. A tight grip as though someone was holding onto me for dear life. I shake myself awake and immediately try to move but my feet won't budge.

My feet are buried in the sand, above my ankles, much like always when I sleep, but something is different this time. Something is not letting go.

A sudden jerk pulls me further into the sand, up to my shins. The pain is starting to break through my shock and I feel for the first time in days, something other than sorrow. The sand jerks again, and my knees disappear. I begin to shout for something, anything to help, but all I hear is the lighthouse, droning on and on, like a record that is set to repeat itself for all eternity.

Panic has a tight hold on me and my heart feels as though it could burst at any minute. I claw at the sand around me, trying desperately for a handhold but nothing presents itself and the next jerk buries my thighs. I twist hard as the sand jerks again, up to my waist. I see something in the close distance...

Teeth...

I scream and fight, thrashing as much as I can, but now all I hear is the screeching. An audible bellowing, mimicking the sound of nails on a chalkboard, echoes across the rocks and beach, but there is something different now. There is more than one voice... more than one shadow and I see them dancing in the dark as I am being pulled under.

The sand hits my chin and I make one last lunge towards the rock, snapping a fingernail off on the hard surface as the sand passes my mouth. I can't breathe... I can barely see... I can only smell sand, mixed with the blood of my hand. One final jerk takes me just below surface and through a thin layer of sand I see them... seven pairs of teeth glinting off the moon light...

Smiling...

I scream, jerking up from the rock wall. I quickly check my feet, my ankles, all intact. I still myself, but something is different about this night. I do not hear the lighthouse... I do not sense its song across the sea. I listen as hard as possible, closing my eyes and opening my ears, hoping that canceling one sense will heighten the other. All I hear is the sound of bees... a buzzing sound.

My eyes fly open and look to see where the new noise is coming from. It is the sand, vibrating off of the rock. I place my hands against the shelf and feel the familiar vibration. I can hear nothing but the vibration of the horn is still present. Why can I not hear the song?

I glance angrily toward the lighthouse which is showering the rocks in its beautiful white light.

"So..."I say half to myself, "you have abandoned me as well."

I hear a click... a snap... and then I see them. The shadows. They are more visible than ever before and as the light from the pillar moves on, they materialize. I still cannot quite make them out but their shapes, roughly my size, some slightly bigger, some slightly smaller, stand in a semicircle just outside of the moon's gaze. They make no sound, but suddenly I see a smile across what I can only guess is the center shadow's face. It spreads broad, revealing the same grin I have seen so many times now.

The other six follow suit until they are all smiling in my direction. No sound, no movement... just staring...

And that is how we stay until the dawn breaks.



V

The next few nights are each a clone of the one before. I feel the vibration but hear no sound. The smiles, motionless in the night, surround me and wait for me to make a move. I do no such thing and every night is as tense as the previous. My nerves are shot and during the day I proceed to sleep. The sun bakes me and even the water does not have its cooling, calming effect anymore.

I... am broken.

I stare into the sea, the waves crashing inland and rolling back out. They beckon to me. Ask for me to join them for a swim. To bathe in their waters. I turn to look at what was once my greatest and only friend in the world... the lighthouse. Still that beautiful pearly white. Pure in its simplicity... in its purpose. The light however, has led me the wrong direction.

I turn away from the lighthouse one last time, sensing that for once, it knows I am there. I feel nothing but emptiness now. The water runs up over my bloodied, bruised feet and washes over my hands as they stay stationary at my sides. I move them finally and let them skim the surface of the water, playing in the crests of the waves heading home to their beach.

I take one more step and the water washes into my face. I don't shake it off, I don't spit it out. I stand motionless for some time like this, staring blankly into the sea. Then I hear it...

A single screech... far off on the shore that I have left behind.

I turn to see nothing as I have been accustomed to doing but there is something. A figure on the shore.

I squint hard to determine what it is. I see grey strips hanging about its middle, brown hair billowing in the breeze. I focus my eyes as hard as possible, searching the creature for distinguishing features. I see that it has no shirt on but that it looks... human... As my eyes trace the body from feet to head, I stop.

I see its face... it is a face I have seen before... in every mirror I have ever looked, that face has stared back at me, yet the grin it wears is nothing like I have ever produced.

I turn my head back to the sea and take one more step...

The water washes overhead and I hear, through the sea, a muffled cry of joy. It is my own and only the bubbles make their way to the surface to escape.


THE END


2013 David Ames

Bio: Mr. Ames is a 29 year old English teacher at Ada High School in Ohio. He lives in Delphos with his wife and daughter. Mr. Ames does not list any previous writing credits, so a broad welcome is offered to him from the brotherhood of now-published authors.

E-mail: David Ames

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