A WOMAN ALONE IN A LIGHTHOUSE
The light is going out.
From your concrete room in the base of the lighthouse, you hear the fizz of electricity, the static hovering in the blank space in the air as it swells and surges. Across the inky water, the beam of light wavers, distorted, a self-conscious flicker.
Before you know it, you’re flying up the stairs as fast as your skirts will allow, taking them two at a time. Through the tiny windows you see snatches of yellow light as it blinks. Once, twice.
The bulb--no, the whole lot of them--must be faulty. This is the second time this week you’ve replaced them, when they’ve always lasted two weeks or longer before. You don’t dare think of the alternatives. The things Charles would know how to mend, back when he was still alive.
There are so many things you don’t know how to do on your own.
The toe of your shoe catches the lip of a step, and you tumble forward. A sharp pain shoots through your wrist. You stay like that for a moment, adrenaline crashing over you. The world lurches and swirls out of focus. You breathe, steadying yourself in the darkness, willing your body to stand.
You scramble up the last few feet, your hands gripping the walls to guide your way. Pain pulses in your knee, but you can’t think about that now. The light needs you.
Moonlight pours in through the glass dome windows as you push aside the magnifying lens and extract the bulb with the hem of your skirts, still singeing the tips of your fingers despite the thick fabric. The filaments are blown. The thin, curly-cue of wire is snipped as though by a pair of delicate scissors.
Below, the tide crashes into the scraggy coast, washing in; out. Come. Follow.
There, in the distance. Is that a silhouette? You blink and it’s gone.
In the foot locker you find the box of bulbs. The first one you retrieve slips from your shaking fingers and shatters on the ground. You curse and try again, willing your hand to steady. Slow and deliberate, you screw it into the threads and turn the mechanism on. Electricity crackles between your ears, filling your head with a dull hiss. It pushes further into your head, growing louder like the ocean, driving in and out and crashing against the stone wall of your skull.
Come. Follow. Come. See.
It roars louder, faster.
Follow see, come follow.
The words blur together. Your head is pounding, throbbing. You press your hands into your ears to make it stop.
An arc of electricity lights up the room with the sound like a whip cracking.
And then it stops.
You open your eyes to find the ground close to your face. Splinters of glass dig into your legs.
It’s not the bulbs.
No matter how hard you peer into the bowels of the light fixture, you can’t find what’s broken. You were never taught what to look for, how everything worked. You only know how to change the bulb and focus the lens. If Charles were here, or his dad before him…
No. It doesn’t matter now.
In the morning, you’ll travel into town and...and what? Ask the shopkeep to take over a family trade now that the family’s gone? And what should happen if a ship arrived in the night?
A shadow streaks across the dome windows like a smudge, its shape changing with the ebb and flow of the water. If it’s a watercraft, it’s headed straight for the lighthouse.
You grab your lantern and make the descent. With a bright enough light, can you warn it to turn away?
On the coast, you squint against the salty spray. The shadow is nearer, yet still so far away. The wind whips furiously, whispering in your ears.
It’s louder now. You call out to the empty air, but your words get swallowed by the churning water. But still, the voice responds.
Come to me.
A flash of something in the distance, like a flashlight. It flickers a pattern, morse code you cannot read. Or maybe it’s just a light, with no mind or meaning.
You take a step forward, eyes focused on the light. Yes, you want to see. Foam froths at your ankles as the water carries you away.
Amanda does the writing thing in Louisiana. Her fiction has appeared in The Rumpus, The Toast, and recently in the R.L. Stine tribute anthology, 'It Came from Beneath the Ink!' by ELJ Editions.