The Last (Human) Lightkeeper

Submitted into Contest #240 in response to: Set your story in a lighthouse surrounded by powerful gale-force winds.... view prompt


Drama Horror Science Fiction

The storm continues to rage unnaturally. My hope of dawn as a respite from the chaos has yielded only a slight brightening of the nearly opaque, torrential sky. With the storm shutters closed and bolted on every window, the living quarters of the offshore lighthouse feel timeless. The room is so black that day and night have no meaning. I am blinded by the blackness of unpredictability and without means to adapt. Eyeless, the sounds of the storm become ever more acute and more intense. Waves slam the pylons, rain assaults the metal roof, and the sustained gale-force winds tear at the siding. Each gust of wind is like a banshee digging her fingernails into my skin, searching for a weak-spot to tear open my flesh. Only the greasy, dim light of my oil lamp keeps my depraved thoughts at bay as I suffer involuntary solitary confinement.

“I better have a hazard pay check coming my way for this,” I grumble to myself as I take a swallow from the last bottle of wine.

My partner and I work the lighthouse in rotating shifts. Two weeks offshore, two weeks in the mainland communication office. I have been in the lighthouse for eighteen days - the water taxi is four days overdue without explanation. The electricity is still operational, and I continue to dutifully keep the lighthouse bulb in continuous use around the clock due to the storm. What has me puzzled is that I have not seen a boat or ship in days. This lighthouse guards a heavily trafficked channel for both pleasure and commercial vessels. To not see any traffic for an hour is unprecedented - for days is catastrophic.

There is a door on the leeward side of the lighthouse. This door faces the mainland. I have rigged a rope around the door handle and lashed it to a heavy chair to prevent the door from being ripped open by the wind. I test the rope system by cracking the door just enough to peak out. Pale, anemic light-of-dawn pierces the uniformity of the otherwise black room. A wilder sight I can neither remember nor imagine. It is as if the ocean is filled with hot tub jets, and the sky is a dome of violence. Through the small crack in the open door, I position the spotting telescope and look through the lens. The beach is devoid of people which is not surprising given the storm.

“Even if someone was on the beach, would they see my flare gun from this distance?”

I look down through the floor grate of the catwalk and watch hopelessly as frothy waves relentlessly pound the lighthouse piers. The lifeboat has been at the mainland marina dock for months awaiting repairs. We never needed it before, and never thought we would. A moot point not worth considering, because to attempt a lifeboat launch in this hell-inspired wash would be certain death. Above me, the lighthouse bulb soldiers on flawlessly.

Darkness once again envelopes me as I close and bolt the door. Returning to my oil lamp, I decide to try the phones again. First the land line - five rings and then the lighthouse office voice-mail system.

“Jim. It’s Tom again. What the hell is going on over there? I’m still at the lighthouse. Call me back ay-sap!”

The satellite phone has strong reception, but the battery will fade quickly if the lighthouse loses electricity. I only know one phone number by heart. My mom’s house in Omaha, Nebraska. I light a cigarette and puff it slowly and deliberately as the line rings incessantly for two minutes. I end the call and cut the satellite connection. In the flickering light of the oil lamp, I look at the cigarette between my fingers and notice that my hand is quivering. My hand never quivers. When the wind gusts, it’s as if the air inside of the room shifts as an invisible block. The tobacco smoke curls around my nervous fingers. I drop the cigarette butt into the empty wine bottle. There is enough food and water in the lighthouse kitchen to last a month at least, but cigarettes and wine…

“Why didn’t we stock cigarettes and wine? What a blunder.”

I take a book from the shelf and look at the cover. A book of famous quotes - a birthday gift from my ex-wife. 

“I probably still had hair when she gave this to me.”

I thumb to a random page and read:

The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator. Science brings men nearer to God. - Louis Pasteur

“Well, Louis old boy. I guess you’re right. This storm has brought me nearer to God in all the wrong ways.”

The intensifying moaning of antique bolts under barrage by crashing waves jolts me upright. I hold my watch up to the oil lamp.

“5:30pm. I slept all day. I shouldn’t have fallen asleep. The sun will be setting soon.”

I crack the leeward door and peek out. The storm is more intense than ever, and the tide is unusually high. Two waves collide and the explosion of foam nearly reaches the bottom of the catwalk. Dusk is rapidly descending upon me. I once again poke the spotting telescope through the crack in the door and train it on the beach. A person! There is a person on the beach! I load a shell into the flare gun and fire, returning immediately to the spotting scope desperately hoping to see the person’s waving his arms in recognition of my flare.

“Wait. Is he…naked?”

It is a man on the beach, and he is naked. His medium length hair whips wildly about his head, and he is completely naked. His posture is odd. One shoulder is hunched downward, as if dislocated. He stands motionless as if lost in thought. He is not looking at me, but rather, his gaze is fixated up the beach. I load a second shell into the flare gun.

“Why do they only put three shells in the gun box?”

There is a second man now.

And a third!

Just as I am preparing to fire the second flare, I realize that the third man is crawling rather than walking. I focus the spotting scope intently on him. He is wearing some sort of white jumpsuit like a scientist would wear.

“Is that a gas mask dangling around his neck?”

One of his arms is missing, and his leg is broken so badly that I can see that the fractured has torn a large hole in the jumpsuit.

“I have to try. I don’t have a choice.”

The second flare rips a burning jet of flame through the rapidly darkening sky.

“They still don’t see me. They are too focused on something else.”

A horse is walking slowly down the beach. It is still bridled and saddled. Its head droops low and its gait is tired and defeated. The banshee wind tosses the horse’s tail, and strands of wet hair stick to its back and haunches. The men move toward the oncoming horse. They are walking not as a man normally would, but in a broken, slouching, labored sort of foot-dragging walk. The crawling man is slow to catch up, but the three men manage to awkwardly take hold of the horse.

“My God. Are they biting the horse’s throat?”

The horse collapses in the sandy wash of the beach rollers, and the three men plunge their faces into the horse’s belly. The beach rollers pound the horse’s panicked, flailing body. The horse’s intestines dangle greedily from the mens’ mouths as they slurp bloody guts like a plate of Sunday spaghetti. A wave crashes atop the equine scene. and in the melee, a chunk flesh sloughs away from the crawling man’s chest and hangs down over his lap as he eats.

The whirring of the rotating lighthouse gearing system suddenly goes silent. The lighthouse bulb fades to black. The lighthouse has a dedicated power line running directly to the main power plant in town. If the lighthouse is off-line, then the entire grid is off-line. I close and bolt to door, then slump down in the chair beside the oil lamp and rock back and forth nervously. I absentmindedly thumb back the hammer of the flare gun, then release the hammer to the safe position. The wind gusts so hard that it manages to blow out the oil lamp, regardless of the window shutters protection. I continue to thumb the hammer of the flare gun over and over as I stare blankly into the blackness of the room.

I don’t bother to relight the oil lamp.

March 05, 2024 00:39

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Paul Simpkin
14:15 Mar 18, 2024

Very dramatic. Full of tension. The story works well.


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Alexis Araneta
09:28 Mar 10, 2024

Cliff, this was stunning. The descriptions are so well-written. Great job !


Cliff Sowers
12:15 Mar 10, 2024

Thanks so much for your support, Stella!


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