The Lighthouse in the Fog.
A short story by Kasimir Zierl. Written 2014
And then you see…..
A lighthouse in the fog, you’re on a small inflatable raft driving towards the lighthouse island. You have a box in your possession that you were told to bring to the lighthouse, but no other instructions.
You round the rocks, the waves splashing you wet, the motor purrs and your torch searches the rocky bank of the island for a dock, but there is none.
The ocean is rough here, it is intimidating.
“why couldn’t they send a courier here? why did I get assigned? why couldn’t they send me in summer at day time not now at night in the fog? why does the lighthouse need this box? what is this box?”
A stream of light shines over you from the tower high above.
“The lighthouse works fine without this box, I should just go home.”
But home is far away, and the danger is as acute upon leaving this place as it is upon arriving here.
You spy some stairs leading into the depths, the waves play rough games on these stairs but they are the only way you can find to go up onto the island.
“I just want to go home” - you say
-to go home turn to page 70
-to climb the stairs turn to page 3
Page 3- There’s no rope
to moor your vessel, and nothing to tie it to either.
The boat, even though it is filled with air, is too heavy to heave up onto land.
That leaves only one option of course, take the box and leave the boat, you’ll work it out from here.
It is tug of war you play with the waves as you attempt to climb onto the stairs without being swept to sea. Each wave fills your inflatable boat with water and threatens to take you into the sharp rocks and further, to the depths.
You grip the box tightly in your arms, it is not heavy, it weighs as much as half a brick.
But it couldn’t be half a brick, because…. well, surely they’d want a whole brick instead, or more bricks than just a half brick.
The stairs are wet, drenched in salt water, the boat rocks and turns, the waves crash and recede. Now is your chance!
You leap high onto the stairs…
… and land with a small worrisome slip on the high steps.
Quickly you scamper up as the next wave tumbles over.
You made it and you are barely even wet.
There’s a path to your right that leads you to a wooden, green painted door with a rusted handle, a pair of boots stand at the threshold, they are drenched.
You turn to see your boat, orange, inflatable, with a light for attracting attention, and a whistle.
it turns away from you and descends deep into the fog.
“does that mean…
the box is a first aid kit? full of bandages and ointments?
the lighthouse keeper is injured and needs medical assistance?”
“but I’m no doctor, I can’t help him if he has a broken collar bone or a split skull. only if he has family issues and problems in his daily life that need solving.”
“And finally, lighthouses are all run by computer these days, there is no lighthouse keeper here.”
But that’s not true, is it?
because there are two boots standing, drenched, at the threshold to the lighthouse.
You come closer to the door and knock three times with your hand.
It is too quiet, the waves mask your thumping.
Instead you press the buzzer,
but the sound is a muzzled grizzly crackle, the hardware must have short circuited in the storm.
There’s only one other way to see if someone’s home….
You open the door
and peer inside.
Your eyes adjust slowly to see a round room, an empty chamber, an old couch, the place where a refrigerator was, but was removed probably once the lighthouse man was replaced by a machine.
The stairs wind upwards, lit dimly by an upstairs light.
You place the box at the doorstep, inside so it doesn’t get wet in the storm.
“I’m no courier, I don’t need to get the parcel signed, there are no neighbours to leave it with, ‘when he gets back please give this to…’ wait… “
The box is wrapped in brown paper, it is probably wooden inside, heavy, but it doesn’t rattle when shaken, and most importantly
it doesn’t have a name of the recipient written on it, only the words: Uncle Brown’s paper.
“Maybe the box is filled with paper, like the printer is out of paper, the printer in the lighthouse computer. I have this problem at home.”
That’s it you think, you found the solution, you had to deliver paper to a printer.
You put the parcel down and step for the door happy with your successful mission.
But you were wrong, it isn’t paper,
why would a lighthouse need to print anything?
all it does is shine a light around at night.
That stops you,
well, what is it then?
There’s only one
way to find out,
you’ve got to see what’s inside.
You grab the parcel in your hands and look it over.
“I can’t leave until I know what it is”
You scratch at the sticky tape with your fingernails and peel off a corner of the brown paper.
A cough from upstairs stops you.
There’s a man here, a gruff one, with a cold.
This box is for him.
Your voice comes out like a squeak, you’re petrified of the man upstairs, who is he? why is he here? a squatter in the lighthouse perhaps? a sailor searching for a warm, dry place to sleep?
You put the sticky tape back on the parcel and make steps slowly for the stairs.
Riling up your courage you say aloud
“Hi, I… um… have your box here… I’ll just leave it at the door.”
You wait for an answer.
The response booms down
“Bring it up”
You climb the stairs
one at a time.
They are steeper than regular stairs, and narrower so you feel odd climbing them.
“Who is this man? did he know I was coming? is he waiting for the parcel, or maybe he kidnapped the man that this box is meant for, it could be precious, this parcel, valuable, like marriage papers or jewellery, like heirlooms of grandparents, or antique artefacts.”
“does that mean I can’t trust this man?”
The stairs creak under your steps and it is not long until you reach the top floor.
You peer into the room up here, it is brightly lit, a large machine hums and whirrs, the lights are on and actually, it looks complicated, you’d better not touch anything.
But where’s the man?
Your eyes flick around the room.
He isn’t here…
“Maybe he’s hiding, ready to ambush me, preparing an assault. I’m unarmed, defenceless, standing on the edge of a long staircase”
You put your back to a wall and reach for a weapon in defense,
the only thing that is there is a pencil.
“I can stab him if he comes at me.”
But he hasn’t showed himself yet, he’s still hiding somewhere.
“Up here” - bellows his voice.
A ladder leads up from the machine room to another storey, higher up.
The man’s voice came from there.
Gripping the pencil in one hand and the parcel in another.
“I’m just down here” - you yell up.
“Then come up, I’ve got my hands full” - comes the reply.
You grit your teeth and take tentative steps towards the ladder.
“I have the box” - you say.
“Good, I need it” - comes the response.
It is clumsy
climbing the ladder with both hands full, the pencil weapon is a nuisance.
And as you prepare to poke your head up you feel as if the dagger of Damocles will finally drop, the guillotine will fall onto your head and the firing line will fire.
The room is
bathed in light
for a second,
and then it goes away.
It is the small room with a light that gives the lighthouse it’s name. A burning oversized lightbulb is shrined in the centre of the room and a rotating mirror beams the light in different directions.
Quickly you clamber up and stand in attention, at the far end of this small room hunches the man, he is bent over and is scraping something.
It’s the only sound to escape your lips.
The man turns, he grips in his right hand the wooden handle of
His face is obscured by a heavy beard and unruly hair.
The light beam shines on his face and reveals that he has a slight smile.
He grabs the pencil from your hand with a gruff grunt and
signs his name on the brown paper of the box.
You stand there spellbound, unable to move.
“um, is this yours?” - is all you manage to say.
The man unwraps the paper from the package and reveals a wooden box is inside.
He sits down on the floor next to where he was working and pulls a sandwich out from inside and chomps on it pleasantly.
“I forgot this at home, thanks for bringing it” - is all he says.
You turn to see that he has been cleaning the bird poo out of the places where it has gathered.
You smile with relief.
“Your shoes are wet from the rain” - you tell him.
He wipes his lips - “they were muddy, I didn’t want to bring them inside. Here…”
He hands you an apple.
“You look hungry.”
You help the man
cleaning a bit, and when the sun rises that morning he gives you a lift back to the mainland on his boat.
You can’t quite tell him what relief it was, because it is hard to tell him how scared you were.
All you can muster is a smile which you hold proudly,
but mostly to yourself.
For my beautiful Mum.