Pete Alex Harris
“And now the shipping forecast, issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Thaumometry Agency at 12 pm today.”
Lighthouse-master Carson fiddled with the crackling radio, trying to get a clearer signal. It had been making a weird, low, warbling noise all morning, so that he knew what it was about to tell him. All he needed to know now was how bad it was going to be.
“There are warnings of gales in Rockall, Bailey, Hebrides and Southeast Iceland, and arcane storms in Cromarty and Fair Isle.”
Aye. No surprise there.
“… Cromarty potency 7, widdershins, purple, inverted…”
The forecast continued through the warnings and on to the merely meteorological minutiae.
“… Viking, North Utsire, North-Easterly 4, moderate to good.”
Lucky for some. Carson sighed and turned off the radio. He didn’t need to hear any more, and with an inverted storm coming in, he’d better not leave it on too long. He took out the batteries and packed them in dry sand.
There was a lot of work to do around the lighthouse. He locked and sealed the door, and lit seven candles in a ring on the floor just behind it. Just for safety he dropped a pinch of salt in the middle of the circle. Unlike the candles, the salt had no real scientific basis, but old sailors tend to be a bit superstitious. And nobody keeps a lighthouse safely through as many storms as he had if they got careless. Better safe than sorry.
For a force seven, he’d need to shutter and batten all the windows up to at least forty feet, but he did them all the way up. You never knew.
The wind was gusting, and carrying backward echoes of the cries of gulls, bending the dirty yellow storm-light leaking under the cloud layer into ripples on the wall, as though the lighthouse was already under water.
Nobody would be out on the sea in this, or at least nobody should be, but there was a duty to be done. The light must stay on.
Carson pocketed a bunch of wolfsbane from the stores and headed up the stairs. He hadn’t had a bout of storm-induced lycanthropy for a few years now, but it was always inconvenient when it happened.
In the kitchen he paused to make a sandwich. He’d have to finish it before the wind started picking up stray curses from the surface of the sea over the graves of the hundreds of ships wrecked on these rocks, and flinging them against the walls. Even small wisps of curse misting through a crack in the shutters would tend to spoil uncovered food, not to mention his appetite. When he had gathered everything he needed, he ascended to his quarters and sealed down the hatch in the floor.
The safest thing to do was stay inside and engage with the supernatural element of the storm as little as possible. As the wind rose, he heard the roar and rumble of waves, the very slight shake of the lighthouse on its foundations. He also imagined he heard voices on the wind, voices calling out senseless words.
He didn’t listen to the words. He didn’t try to hear them clearly, nor let himself carelessly form the unfamiliar shapes of them with his lips. And he would definitely not be writing any of them in his log after the storm had passed. When he’d taken on this lighthouse from his predecessor, he’d had to tear out several of the pages of the old log book and throw them in the sea before sending it back to the mainland to be archived.
Every so often, he looked up at the hatch to the light room, to see the yellow glow sweep around the crack between the door and the frame. It was a comfort, a sign of order and normality, and as long as he could see it, he could stay down here with his pipe and his book.
Around three hours into the storm, the light went blue. Then it went out.
Carson swore under his breath. The first thing was to see what had happened. He made his way carefully to the top of the stairs and unbolted the hatch, raising it just enough to peer around the light room.
If the bulb had broken, or melted, or was now shining dark instead of light, there was a spare. But there would be no point putting it in unless whatever safeguard had failed could be restored to stop it happening again.
The bulb was… gone.
He took a deep breath, pushed the hatch all the way open, and climbed up. Immediately, he felt the tug of the storm on his mind. He forced himself to attend to the matter at hand, ignoring the wailing wind, the blustering rain on the windows. The voices.
The bulb was not really gone. It was faint, transparent. The light coming out of it was a dark, indigo glow. He held up a hand, and the brownish shadow came off it at right-angles to the light from the ghostly bulb.
This was not too bad. The storm had twisted the bulb slightly out of position, and it only needed to be turned back, that was all. The only problem was it needed to be turned back in a direction that didn’t make sense, and there wasn’t anything safe to grip it with that could turn it that way.
He checked the earthed copper mesh around the light housing. It was intact. The runes written on the floor around the inside of it were scuffed, probably need repaired with a drop of molten sulphur, but he could do that tomorrow.
But he had to turn the bulb back, and if he was quick, if he was really quick, he could do it by hand. If there was a lull in the storm soon, that would be the best time. If the storm died away soon, the light would probably go back to normal by itself, like his old joints clicking back into place after an uncomfortable sleep.
As he reached out, ready to regret it, the sound of the wind dropped to a heavy silence, and he stopped still. He couldn’t help glancing to the side, and saw the violet crackle of a lightning blot ripple slowly up from the surface of the sea, to disappear out of sight above. The waves rose slow like green syrup, held for a heartbeat, frozen like clear glass, magnifying the shapes of terrible, impossible fish below, then clouded and blew away like mist. Over and over, in silence.
The eye of the storm was directly above.
He could feel its stare, a crawling of the scalp at the top of his head. An itching on the top of his eyeballs. Look up. Look up.
NEVER. LOOK. UP.
He closed his eyes tight, reached for the bulb. Being unable to see where it wasn’t helped him feel where it was. He grabbed it, felt the biting cold, turned it, felt the sudden burning heat and brilliant, white, normal light blasting against his eyelids.
He stepped back, peeked quickly to see his way to the hatch, and closed it firmly above him. When he was back in the dim light of his quarters, watching the crack of yellow light sweep round the walls, he let out a breath, that was nearly a laugh, mostly a shudder.
After another couple of hours, the wind had died down naturally. Carson lit his oil lamp and pulled out the old log book.
He picked up a pen carefully in his lobster-clawed right hand and poked in into the inkwell. Dry. Oh well. He carefully squirted some new ink into it from the gland under his tongue. At least he had come out of this storm relatively unscathed.
He settled down to write his log.