I’m the last lighthouse keeper in Scotland. And something calls to me from beyond the waves. - Chap 5
The air shimmers like a pool of liquid glass as I sail madly through the Door. Golden-yellow light washes over and through me and I pass as a lone captain from one storm to another. The wave I ride carries on and crashes down into new yet no less choppy waters, shining silver in place of the familiar blue-black, and frothing beneath a foreign sky. I stare up into it; it’s a sky of amber bursting with full, heavy clouds of gold; clouds that swirl like a whirlpool in the heavens, thinning and paling ever so slightly into shades of lime as they edge towards the horizon.
“By the brine and blazes blue”, I mutter to myself; “Into what fathomless realm have I intruded?”
I glance behind. There is nothing there but the Door, and the rolling waves that stretch off towards the horizon.
Ahead, however. Ahead, there lie more wondrous curiosities. In the distance stands a long, high cliff of shiny black stone that crumbles into the sea. There are no stacks, no arches nor cracks or caves to be seen, but instead, floating spheres… floating spheres of stone that hover close to the cliff’s edge, shining and sparkling with salt, like golden specks under the strange and shifting yellow light from the sky above.
And what do I see to the cliff’s right? Standing alone on an island of the same black stone?
A lighthouse not altogether unlike ma own, though the light on this one is out cold. Dead dark.
“Well now, I suppose that’ll be ma destination then!” I bellow cheerfully, grunting and gripping the ropes and adjusting my course through the shiny, silver-grey waves.
Through the angry tides I dutifully sail, the boat rising and falling and rocking with the swell of the sea.
But a sudden change in the world above gives me cause to glance up from these churning waters.
A burst of black, like an ink stain, is spreading across the amber sky. I watch as it starts to flow, to leak in all directions overhead, the shining tips and highlights of the clouds shining bright like rivers of gold against the darkening canvas.
The closer I draw to the lighthouse, the darker threatens the sky.
“Come on”, I mutter to ma vessel, my heart a-race. “Nearly there old girl, nearly there”.
But enough distance lies between me and the lighthouse. Heavy shadow falls across my surroundings, and the curs-ed, twisted distortion of the ocean makes one last desperate attempt to keep me back.
…These threats and temptations alike are proof enough that I am set on the right course; the notion burns bright within me. I hold tight to it. The flame of my flare may have been extinguished, but my own inner-fire blazes on.
An enormous and barnacled boulder from the bottom of the sea now rises up a wee distance ahead, pushing aside the roughened white-grey surface with froth and blasting spout, it groans and grinds and rolls in place as it ascends, held in a torso comprised of twisted seaweed, black and writhing… and endlessly flowing and cascading water… Like a waterfall in all directions at once, the spray flying like rain as it catches in the winds of the storm, I shield my eyes as my boat tips away from the entity, and I grab and pull at the rigging to keep myself upright.
The boulder spins around in place, and two hollowed cheekbones of rock become visible, beneath two bright and fearsome eyes of icy blue. And still, it ascends. Twice ma height, then thrice. Rock is drawn from the ocean floor and swept up its body, held tight by the wraps of the dark sea-foliage.
“Light-hoouuse keeep-er…” it groans in a voice like thunder, water spilling impossibly from its stony jaw.
I pride myself on my constitution.
As I told you at the beginning, I’ve seen things most men would’nae have ever dreamed of.
But this… this thing… The voice sends through me shards of an ancient terror and I cry out in alarm.
Worse than the singing of the myrted monks, worse than the bells of that damned cathedral… The voice reverberates around and around in my head like a calamitous whirlpool.
I have to get away. I have to get away.
So I grab the ropes and alter my direction of course at once, riding the waves of the surging storm, eyes fixed on the monster’s: blue and terrible. Her icy gaze bores brutally back into mine.
And I hear a voice from behind me.
“You don’t want to go that way, old chap. Trust me on this one!”
“FUCK!” I shout in panic, stumbling and swivelling to the voice’s source.
I recognise it, of course. I just don’t believe it.
The boat rocks dangerously from side to side on a rising wave, but the owner of the voice stands firm, his sea legs as good tonight as they were on the day that I first met him, all those years ago.
“Jack…” I murmur in disbelief.
‘Mad Jack’ Candles. Hands behind his back and boots firm on the wood of the deck. He stands as a ghostly spectre, pale and glowing in the enshrouding darkness, his coat almost as torn and as tattered as mine, but colourless now, billowing in the gale.
He looks back at me. He winks with his good eye, and his eyepatch of course, covers the other.
“Good to see you again Douglas!” he chortles loudly, and he suddenly lunges forwards. I stumble back in fear but he only laughs in response, bracing his shimmering boots against the deck and the side of the boat, grabbing the nearest rigging and looping it round his arm, pulling and yanking it tight and drawing the boat in the opposite direction, back towards the beast.
“WHAT ARE YE DOIN’ YE MAD OLD ENGLISH BASTARD!?” I bellow, “YOU’LL GET US FUCKIN’ KILLED!”
“Little late for me, Douglas!” Jack laughs, then nods to the sail. “Sharp turn this one! Give us a hand, would you?”
I grimace and swear and do as he says. No time for much else, now. I turn from the ghost of my mentor to the monster from the depths. The idol of the sea. She roars with the winds as the boat alters its course. My salt-peppered beard bristles wild.
“Look over to the left lad! You see what you were headed right for?” Jack shouts from behind.
I glance over, and my eyes go wide when I see the glimpses of void-black rocks that the rapidly rising and lowering waters provide. Jutting out from the sea like great teeth, ready to bite into the hull of any vessel foolish enough to stray too close.
The monster roars, she throws out two great arms of churning silvery sea-water as the boat hammers towards her on the crest of a wave.
“We’re going to crash right into her, Jack!” I cry out above the clamour.
“Nonsense Douglas! Look at her chest! What do you see?”
“I was always taught it was rude to look at a lady’s chest, Mr Candles!” I shout back, and the Englishman laughs heartily in reply.
“Look Douglas, LOOK! The rock ends there! Below her chest is nothing but water, and we’ll sail right through! SO BRACE!”
I roar out a battle cry; defiant in the face of this enemy of the deep; her eyes flash bright in surprise, and with an icy shock we plunge right through her middle. For several long seconds I know only the rush and the pour of a death-cold swirl, soaking me through to my skin. I slip and stumble, crashing down to the deck, but the boat nonetheless makes it through to the other side.
“FUCK!” I shout, spitting a mouthful of spray out over the side. Cupping my hands and hastily scooping out as much of the water as I can from the embattled little boat as Mad Jack guides the steering.
I grab the pole of the sail and rise to a stand. “Sea-legs don’t fail me now!” I command, and I cup a hand round my mouth and shout to the watery witch of the sea as she turns to look at us over her great shoulders of writhing seaweed: “The sea might very well take me one day, lass! I must admit, it would come as no great surprise… But at the very least, my dear, it won’t be today!
“It won’t be today!”
And with a wail and a strike of lightning upon the ink-stained horizon, the monster swells with a surging wave… She rises higher up into the air, then the lights of her eyes go dark. With a ferocious scream that shivers across the surface of the sea, her form collapses. The grooves and lines of her stony face once again appear as no more than natural cracks and dents in the rock and the various materials of her being cascade back into the water. The force of this collapse sees the boat pushed faster and further away.
The lighthouse is close now.
I turn to Mad Jack, my chest still rising and falling with the shock of the icy water. “Thank you, Jack. Always saving me from bouts of panic, eh?” I look the man up and down. “So, pray, tell me… what are you then pal? A ghost, of sorts?”
Jack flashes a grin as the spray of the sea flows right through him. He grunts as he tugs on his rope one last time, then ties it off to the side of the boat with his ethereal hands.
“Not quite old sport”, he replies. “I’m not trapped here, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m not even ‘here’, in any of the traditional senses. Not in body, and neither in spirit. To call myself an echo, would be more accurate, I should think”.
I grunt and shake my head. “What happened to you, Jack?” I ask him as my beard drips. I wipe the last of the stinging salt from my eyes. “Why did you go?”
“I’m sorry it had to be so sudden, truly. I had more pieces of the puzzle revealed to me than you, lad. And I was under similar duress. So I seized an opportunity I was not sure would come again, and it demanded immediacy”.
He pushes his wild-blown fringe from his working eye.
“The twin beams must be manned, Douglas”, he solemnly says, his coat whipped wild about his shoulders.
*Rule number three. The twin beams….*I look up to the lighthouse ahead, its bulb dark and dead.
“Aye Jack”. I reply. “Aye, I hear ye. And it was good to see you again”.
The man nods. He dissolves at once as a mist and disappears into the whirling winds, and just like that, he is gone.
I turn to face back towards the lighthouse. Not far now, not far at all.
But the storm… This surging storm…
I hold the boat back as I approach, riding the crests of the waves and waiting for a necessary lull, sufficient to see me bring the boat onto the stony shore without smashing it, and myself, to pieces in the process.
The thunder rolls.
The waters churn.
And I see my chance.
I bellow and pull tight to the rigging, bringing the boat round through the sea. It’s far from still, quite far indeed, but it should be enough… It should be enough.
…The spray blasts high and I bring the boat into the shallower waters of the little island’s immediate coast. It’s much like my own, though the stone here is smoother, and much darker. I stretch out an arm and when the moment strikes, I grab ahold of the rusted metal of the wee island’s surrounding rails.
I cry out in pain as my arm feels fit to pop from its socket, but I hold firm and with all my might, I bring the boat to a rough and jarringly chaotic halt upon the rock with a scrape and a grind.
“Fuckin’ hell!” I grunt as I stumble, hopping out from the side of the boat, grabbing it tight and hauling it in as close to the lighthouse as I can, arms burning with exertion, hands shaking and raw from my efforts with the ropes across the sea.
But I’m here. Wherever ‘here’ is, I’ve made it. This is where the Door wanted to send me, I’m sure of it, and old Mad Jack practically confirmed it to me himself.
I pull my collar tighter around my neck, not that it’s doing me much good now. The wind is arctic in its assault against my sea-soaked skin and clothes. I grab the handle and make to barge right in, but what would you know, the bastard’s locked.
I try again, rattling the door with full force.
I sigh and click my tongue, preparing to kick the thing down. Before I do so, however, I decide to knock. Loudly and firmly, just in case.
…I’m no barbarian, after all.
And what would you know. There comes a response.
Difficult to hear above the wind and the surge, but it’s a woman’s voice. Sounds like she’s asking who I am. She sounds frightened, and hell, I don’t blame her.
“Name’s Douglas Bannerman!” I shout through the wood. “I’ve come from the twin of this here lighthouse of yours! If my understandin’ is correct, you’ve a wee problem with your light! Ye fancy lettin’ me in?”
There is a pause.
The storm rages.
“Douglas?” comes the voice.
“Aye! That’s right! Douglas Bannerman! I man the lighthouse…” I struggle with how to describe its location relative to my current position. “…The lighthouse on the other side”.
I knock again. “Now come on! Are ye gonnae let me in or not? I’m freezin’ ma fuckin’ balls off out here! I can assure you I’m on an errand of the utmost importance! I’ll kick down your door if I have to, lassie!”
The door swings open, and a woman a similar age to myself stands before me, illuminated orange in the glow of the lamps she keeps around the walls.
And for a moment or two, my heart stops dead. I cannot believe what it is that I’m seeing. I cannot comprehend. My mind struggles with the sight. I stutter in surprise, and the woman speaks.
“Ye won’t be kicking down any doors of mine, Douglas Bannerman”, says my wife. “I only bloody painted the thing last week, I’ll have ye know”.