The Lighthouse (A short story by Brett de Montaigne)

Jack dropped his backpack full of food, clothes and other assorted necessities with a thump on the old wooden floor boards of the cabin.  A small, thin burst of dust blossomed up and out from the impact of the backpack on the floor; it’s been a long time since anyone visited this tiny cabin, tucked away in the mountains of Washington State.  The one-room cabin is snuggled back in the tree-line about 200 yards away from a cliff with a sheer drop off several hundred feet, culminating downwardly into large, black rocks jagging out of the ocean below. In the area between the tree line and the cliff there is nothing but rocks and short grass and an old abandoned light house that appears to Jack to be one strong gust of wind away from total collapse.  Although, of course, up here the wind blows constantly, so the lighthouse must be significantly sturdier than it appears, Jack thinks to himself.  

He is here alone for a couple of weeks to clear his head and escape the depressing monotonous slog that his life has become.  He knows that he is running away from something, he just hopes it isn’t his Self, because he has had to drag that up here with him.  But determined to live simply for a fortnight, he ventured up here over the course of a full day, driving as far as he could, then leaving his car behind for an hour hike to the summit of this particular cliff: Valiance Peak. The land, and cabin, had been his grandfathers and was subsequently passed down to his father, and then to him upon his father’s untimely death.  He can’t recall his father ever coming up to this cabin, certainly not with Jack at least. So this is the first time he has ever been here, and thanks to an old map his grandfather passed down along with the land and cabin, Jack didn’t get lost on the treacherous and trail-less hike up here.  But now, standing on the small front porch of the cabin, peering out over the cliff and into the eternally blue Pacific Ocean, he felt a small sting of optimism.  Jack hadn’t felt optimistic in a long time.

The sun was setting, darkness descending, and the fog was creeping up over the cliff and towards the tiny cabin perched atop Valiance Peak. Inside, Jack unfurled his sleeping bag onto the floor, lit a few small candles he had brought, slinked into his bag and began reading his copy of Stephen King’s “The Shining” until his eye lids became too heavy to lift and Jack faded off into a dead, dreamless sleep; the book softly falling onto his rhythmic chest.  

One by one the candle’s flames, dancing gently atop their wicks, fizzled out into miniscule puffs of ghostly smoke. The night outside got deeper and blacker as Jack slept a dreamless sleep inside his late grandfather’s cabin.

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Jack suddenly rocketed out of his slumber, sitting up frantically, his heart racing.  The sound that had awoken him was so violent his initial thought was that the cabin was collapsing on top of him. It took a couple of seconds of shaking off the confusion of sleep for him to realize that everything in the cabin was as it should be, at least as far as he could make out in the candle-less dark. He checked his back-lit wrist watch, and it was 3:27am.  The cabin had not collapsed, at least; he knew that much. It was so silent and still now, though, that jack began to think the noise had actually taken place in a dream, or in that bizarre space between deep sleep and wakefulness where you are never quite sure what is real.  In a state of startled bewilderment Jack decided to grab his flashlight from his backpack’s side pocket, and go check the outside of the cabin, thinking perhaps a tree might have fallen on or near the outside of the cabin.  

Still in a state of confusion and with some significant anxiety, Jack turned on his flashlight and staggered out of the front door of the cabin spilling onto the porch where he composed himself with a deep breath and an eye rub in the cool, salty air.  Fog had engulfed Valiance Peak entirely, and even with the flashlight it was hard to see further out than a few feet in front himself.  Jack placed his left hand on the side of the cabin as he stepped off the front porch, shined his light down the side of the building and started walking, dragging his left hand alongside the structure as he investigated. As he walked around the back of the cabin, it became increasingly clear to him that nothing had fallen on it.  Everything was as it should be, both inside and out. He turned the final corner and was back on the porch, more confused now than when he had woken up startled.  His heart rate was back to normal, but he couldn’t come up with a convincing theory to explain the noise to himself.  “What the hell was that” he asked himself out loud as he sat down on the single step that bridged the 10 inch gap from soil to porch. He turned off his flashlight and let his eyes adjust to the foggy darkness.  The moon was up in the sky somewhere, and its light provided enough illumination for Jack to make out the silhouette of the old lighthouse about 150 yards out from the cabin. He looked down at his watch, it was 3:36am. He began to shift his weight with the intention of standing up and heading back inside to try and get some sleep before dawn.  But as he looked up from his watch he felt a sharp sting of fear grip him by the throat and he lost his breath; there was now a solitary figure standing beside the light house. All Jack could see was a silhouette, but it was almost certainly the silhouette of a person, just standing completely still, although jack could not make out which way it was facing.  He was certain it wasn’t there a moment before, when he was observing the light house. A cold, tingling chill crept up Jack’s spine, and scurried up the back of his neck and head, making him shiver slightly. He was frozen; simultaneously too scared to approach, but also too scared to retreat. So he just stood there, stupefied, staring into the fog.  Suddenly, it appeared as if the fog was gradually getting thicker, because Jack had to squint to maintain visual contact with the ghostly figure and the light house. Over the course of a minute or so, the fog became increasingly dense and opaque, and before he could summon up enough logical thought to react appropriately, he could no longer see anything but milky fog lit delicately by dim moonlight somewhere up in the sky.

Jack backed into the cabin, locking the door from the inside.  His mind was racing.  He thought about what weapons he had, and realized he had none, other than some small rusted garden tools in the corner of the cabin that were so weathered and brittle they were useless in the garden, let alone in combat.  He shook off the silly thought. It was ludicrous to think whatever he saw out there was going to charge his cabin and engage him in armed conflict; he needed to calm down and get pass the fear and think rationally about what was happening. Had he even seen something out of the ordinary? Perhaps it was a bush or a large rock out by the lighthouse that he had simply failed to notice before.  Mired in a thick fog, and with his senses being distorted from only recently emerging from deep sleep, it was likely that what he saw was simply a perceptual error on his part. Surely that made far more sense, he thought to himself. His initial reaction now seemed laughable from his new found rational perspective. Jack chuckled to himself and shook his head in slight embarrassment.  He sparked a match and re-lit the handful of candles from earlier, crawled into his still-warm sleeping bag, and slowly fell back into a black and mysterious sleep.

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The next morning, Jack awoke refreshed and feeling good.  He recalled the action from the night before and smiled to himself for being so easily spooked.  He walked out onto the porch and glanced out at the light house by the edge of the cliff.  He saw that there were, indeed, various rocks and little bushes spread out around it.  He felt his theory was vindicated, the fog had merely stretched and distorted these pedestrian natural objects into pseudo-human shadows, and Jack’s imagination did the rest. Plus, he thought to himself, there is no way anyone else could possibly be up here.  There is only one road that leads to this area, and then an arduous hour hike on top of that. Additionally, there is nothing up here except for this small, empty cabin and an old abandoned light house that nobody has used for probably half a century or more. It made Jack feel good to have figured it all out and to trumped primal fear with simple logic. He resolved to eat a small breakfast in the cabin, and then go investigate the light house. He was curious what it looked like up close.

The sun was out and it warmed Jack’s skin as we walked towards the lighthouse. A beautiful ocean breeze was floating up off the Pacific and gently spilling, wave-like, onto and over the cliffs of Valiance Peak, pushing gently against Jack as he approached.

The lighthouse was made of brick, and although it was clearly old, it seemed to have been built well.  The entrance into the lighthouse was guarded by an eroded wooden door that was locked, but which easily gave way when Jack forcefully pushed his shoulder into it.  He wanted to see if he could get to the top and look out over the ocean.  When he walked in, he carefully ascended the spiral staircase, noticing some of the steps had cracked and crumbled to various extents, forcing him to sometimes jump to the next available stair.  The railing was sturdy, though, and the lighthouse wasn’t terribly tall; so it was with relative ease that Jack arrived at the top and gazed out over the sublime ocean stretched out infinitely before him. He turned around and looked back at his cabin from his new perch, admiring its quaintness and feeling truly at ease.  Jack reflected on the fact that he hadn’t felt this content in years, and nodded in internal approval at his decision to come out here alone to relax and get away from the rat race that felt more and more like a maze without an exit each day he participated in it.

After a while, he descended the spiral staircase, emerged from the entrance of the lighthouse, and strolled, satisfied, back across the open landscape to his cabin. “I could get used to this” he thought to himself.

——————————————————————————

That night, as constellations crawled across the sky, Jack lit his candles for illumination, and sat down on his sleeping bag to read more of the novel he had brought with him.  After a few chapters, he slithered into his sleeping bag for the second night, feeling completely at ease. He made plans for the following day as he waited for sleep to overtake him. He wanted to see if he could hike down, someway, to the small, rocky beach at the bottom of the cliff.   He anticipated, excitedly, the prospect of seeing those big, black jagged rocks up close.  Jack had no idea how, or even if, he could hike down there, but figured it worth trying; this sort of curious investigation gave him something to do out here.  He contemplated possible hiking routes as his consciousness dissolved seamlessly into the coffin of deep sleep. He did not dream.
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The pain was excruciating. Jack felt as if he were on fire; as if he were being burned alive. He leapt out of his sleeping bag, fell into the wall violently, and crumpled onto the ground, writhing and squirming in agony.  He was sweating profusely.  He was scared.  Jack had no idea what was happening, and he wondered if he was having some sort of seizure or if had been bitten by some exotic insect.  He lay on the dusty floorboards of the cabin, scrunching himself into the fetal position, trying to overcome the pain long enough to think clearly. But just as quickly as it had come, it left. Within a split second he suddenly stopped feeling hot and nauseated and all the pain dissipated. He returned to feeling normal finding himself sprawled out on the floor now, looking up at the ceiling, trying to collect his thoughts and figure out what had just happened.  He wondered if he should seek medical attention, but immediately realized he could not hike back to his car in the dark woods.  He checked his watch: it was 3:27am.  He was exhausted, frightened, and disoriented. He decided to get up and go outside to catch his breath and try to calm himself down. He stumbled out into the foggy night, and sat down on the single step leading up to the porch.  Jack took a few deep breaths; in and out.  The moon back-lit the fog just like it had the night before, and he peered up and out towards the lighthouse. The sight struck him immediately.

There it was again.  

A figure standing next to the lighthouse, obscured by fog, but definitely there.  Remembering his discovery of rocks and bushes by the light house earlier that day, and physically drained from the strange sickness that had just overwhelmed him back in the cabin, he didn’t let himself get scared. He just stared at it, noticing its complete lack of movement.  There was a solid breeze coming off of the ocean, and the trees and bushes around him were waving gently in the wind.  It must be a rock, he thought to himself.  But he noted that it seemed taller than any of the rocks he had seen earlier that day.  The more he stared at it, the less it seemed like it could be anything other than a person; just standing there. A slow, apprehensive dread began to bubble up in his stomach as he strained his eyes to peer through the fog and focus on the object.

After a couple of minutes of intense looking, scanning for any movement, Jack resolved to stand up and approach the object.  He was not going to let fear get the best of him, his rational mind knew it couldn’t actually be a person and he was determined to prove that to himself.  His glare unwavering, he lifted himself off the stair and proceeded across the open terrain toward the figure. As he walked, however, something strange began to happen.  Every step he took seemed to be accompanied by a noticeable thickening of the fog, almost as if he were actually retreating from the object he was walking towards. Determined, however, Jack kept walking in the direction of the lighthouse; each step dramatically reducing visibility until he could barely see his own hand in front of his face. Jack felt his heart rate increase, and the dread that had been bubbling up in his stomach came to a full boil. He stopped, turned around, and tried to find his way back to his cabin.  After what felt like several hundred steps he stopped again, turned 90 degrees to his left, and began quickly walking in that direction.  The more he walked, however, the more lost he felt, and the more intense the fear became, until he eased into a scared jog, and then burst into a desperate sprint. The fog thickened. Jack searched frantically for the lighthouse or the cabin or the tree line, anything by which to orient himself, but he only seemed to get deeper and deeper into fog and into his own fear; he began crying and screaming out for help. Now he could not even see his hand in front of his face anymore, and upon realizing this he collapsed onto the ground sobbing uncontrollably.  Sprawled out on his back, he stared wildly into the thick, viscous fog, screaming. He felt like a madman.

Suddenly, out of the milky fog directly above him flashed a black rock which descended with lightning speed and brutal force onto Jack’s face.  He lost consciousness; the hazy white fog giving way instantaneously to a profound black oblivion.

——————————————————————————

When Jack awoke, he was disoriented and in extreme facial pain. He could barely see anything, and had no idea where he was. He touched his face, feeling what he assumed was dried blood. His whole head was throbbing in agony, and when he slid his fingers across his lips he noticed, horrified, that he had several teeth missing.  He groped for something to grab onto that might assist him in getting to his feet.  He managed to stand up and assess the situation. To his surprise, he realized he was in the top of the lighthouse, looking out over the ocean.  It was still night, but the fog had almost entirely cleared away.  He tried to recall how he got up here, but couldn’t.  The last thing he remembered was walking toward the figure by the lighthouse and then getting hopelessly lost in the fog.  He turned around and peered out through the glass towards his cabin just in time to catch a glance of something, or someone, walking into it. His eyes adjusted to the darkness of the inside of the lighthouse, and he oriented himself to the stair case, remembering the treacherous nature of the crumbling spiral stairs, but overwhelmed with a growing sense of white hot anger at whatever was harassing and attacking him. He cautiously darted down the staircase, steadying himself by holding tightly to the sturdy railing as he descended. Once at the bottom, he made a beeline out of the lighthouse and toward his cabin; running as fast as he could, eager to end this nightmare and the mysterious figure at the center of it. As he approached the cabin he bounded up off the grass, over the stair, and into the cabin.  Jack was heaving with his shoulders slumped forward aggressively and a look of madness in his eye.  The cabin was pitch black except for whatever moonlight was able to flood in through the open door. He squinted and scanned the room, seeing nothing and no one. He screamed “who the fuck are you?! What do you want from me?!”, but no response.

Suddenly the door behind him slammed shut so violently loud that Jack flinched, turn to face the door, and while retreating out of fear, tripped over his sleeping bag and fell straight onto his back.  He groped for the wall behind him without taking his eyes off of the door, and managed to sit up against the wall just in time to see the door slowly open back up with an eerie creak. Jack glared out of the cabin doorway and could again see a figure standing next to the lighthouse. He staggered to his feet and bolted toward the figure across the field. As he got within 10 yards of the thing, he stopped and sternly demanded “who are you? Why are you doing this?” The ghostly figure, still cloaked in the dark shadow of the adjacent lighthouse, simply turned away from Jack, walked calmly towards the cliff’s edge, and leaped off the side letting out a horrific scream as it fell to the jagged rock strewn beach below.  Jack ran to the edge of the cliff, baffled and horrified, and looked over to try and get a glimpse of the body.  But as he looked over the edge and scanned the beach with the aid of the moonlight, he could see nothing but rocks and the ocean.  As far as he could tell, there was no body. There was no sound. Nothing. He stood at the edge of the cliff, completely bewildered.

He impulsively checked his watch, hoping to anchor himself psychologically in the concreteness of time: it was 3:27am.

“Impossible!” he whispered to himself aloud.

Had an entire day passed since he woke up in that strange fever and got lost in the fog? True, the fog was gone now, and judging from the pain in his face he deduced that he might have been rendered unconscious from a fall or something.  But that doesn’t explain how I got to the top of the light house, he said to himself inwardly. He turned to face the cabin, his back facing the ocean and the jagged rocks in the surf below.

Just then he glanced up from his watch and found himself face to face with the figure; but it was no longer shrouded in darkness and silhouette, its face was long and pale and grotesque, and its eyes the deepest, darkest black that Jack had ever seen. It let out a murderous scream and shoved Jack violently back off the edge of the cliff. Jack sprawled out, looking up at the figure as he fell, unable to form an emotion or a thought before his body slammed forcefully into the black jagged rocks below. The sound of Jack’s body hitting the earth was drowned out completely by the riotous sound of the ocean lapping up onto the rocky shore.  

Jack fell into an eternal sleep, never to awaken again.  
He did not dream.

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2 thoughts on “The Lighthouse (A short story by Brett de Montaigne)

  1. Otto Rosales says:

    Do you still have this print? Would you be wiling to sell this image? I would love to have a print of this. Thank you in advance.

  2. Gripping story; very Lovecraftian. I could the feel the suspense and terror building and the horrifying climax was quite satisfying. Nice job.

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