Short Story Sunday: Lighthouse

Today is Sunday and time for another Tangled Tale. Last night my husband and I saw the 2019 movie The Lighthouse. The movie is about two lighthouse keepers, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), left on an isolated lighthouse on a rock in the 1800’s. It is part art house film beauty, part horror, and a lot of twisted weirdness.

For today I’m rerunning my own Lighthouse story. I posted it back in July but that’s ok. I’ll post it again today.

Lighthouse

A story I’ve told before. I will tell it again tonight.

1880

He’d been found in the ocean, wearing a formal jacket with tails and clinging to the top of a grand piano. Underneath the man was a large gray wolfhound.

The captain of the ship that had picked him up said that he didn’t seem to remember much, or maybe did not want to remember. The dog, named Delilah, wouldn’t leave the side of her master.

At first they thought it was a ship wreck but it ended up being a complicated and strange mystery. The ship, a 200 ton brigantine had left Port of Talcahuano, in Chile three months before the mysterious man had been found in the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco. Not a soul was on the ship, except the Captain who’d been found with a gun in his hand and what looked like a fatal self-inflicted bullet wound in his head. The life boats were still on the ship, as well as a cargo of wine and explosives, and the personal belongings of the few passengers and crew.

A break in an unusually strong and violent series of storms allowed them to dock and drop the man on the piano lid and his wolfhound off at the home of the lighthouse keeper’s family.

The lighthouse keeper checked in on the man who was sleeping in his guest room, dog curled by the bed. He could tell the stranger was wealthy by the quality of his clothing, the expensive watch and ring, and the formal refined way he’d spoken. His locked trunk had been recovered from the abandoned ship and now was at the foot of the bed.

The stranger said his name was Maxwell. He told them to call him Max. The first night there he’d drawn exquisite pictures for the light keeper’s wife of palm trees, and of beautiful women in fashionable dresses, and native women of South America with unusual hats and full colorful skirts. Over brandy he told them that he was 31 years old, born in 1849 when his pregnant mother had come out with his father for the California Gold Rush. Now he resided in San Francisco.

“What is your occupation? “The lighthouse keeper’s daughter Jayne asked the stranger,  fully well expecting him to say he was involved in a rich family business, or lived off of the wealth of his forebears.

He looked at her with hazel eyes, that she would have sworn were dark brown earlier that evening. “I am in law enforcement of a sorts, like detective, or a marshal. I seek out those who are particularly evil. I had apprehended a ruthless and violent fiend in South America and was on my way home. Unfortunately on the ship…” he paused and glanced up for a second, then back at the family of the lighthouse keeper. “On the ship I found myself taken by surprise and overwhelmed. It is a story I will tell you later, but now I must sleep, or I’ll end up under the table here.”

So he retired for the night. That was two days ago. He still slept as quiet and cold as death, but not dead. The dog lay by the foot of the bed thumping her tail whenever anyone came near.

A storm raged outside. The weather didn’t allow anyone to go get a doctor. His wife assured him that the man called Max just needed to rest. It made sense considering the man had been clinging to a piano lid and floating in the freezing ocean for days before he was picked up.

Despite the storm Lighthouse Keeper’s wife climbed up a ladder to fix a shutter that was almost ready to fly away with the wind. As she reached the window the ladder fell and she crashed to the ground below. All went black except the feeling of being carried inside.

Max put her down in a large chair by the fire and took her broken arm in his icy hands. “Close your eyes,” he whispered. She could feel his hands heat up and warm her wrist. The pain turned to numbness. She opened her eyes and could see a look of pain on his face, then he smiled and kissed her forehead.

“You’re arm is still broken, but the bones have started to mend enough for you not to need a splint.”

“You? You healed me,” she said.

“Yes. It is a gift. Keep the knowledge to yourself or people will think we are both insane.” He then touched a forming bruise on her forehead, making that pain, along with the bruise go away as well.

During the night the storm broke up. Sunshine came out between the clouds. Jayne convinced Max to walk down to the docks to pick up some fish for the night’s dinner.

She held his arm as they strolled along the road.

“Your glasses are so dark. I noticed your eyes turned from hazel to brown when we went outside,” said Jayne.

“My eyes are sensitive to the sun. I have three younger brothers, and a younger sister. Two of them have eyes that do the same as mine, that is change color,” he said, then changed the subject. “Do you like living here Jayne.”

“I love my family. I love the ocean. I don’t being in a small town with nothing but fish and lumber. I’d like to see more of the world before I’m expected to find a husband.”

“Do you want to be married Jayne?”

“Maybe,” said Jayne, “I can move to Utah and take two husbands. Women can vote in Utah and Wyoming. Why not here?”

“Because men are ignorant and barbaric my dear Jayne. They’re afraid that if you vote you’ll be smarter and more just than they are. The don’t want to give up their power to someone who might do a better job. By the way, men of a certain faith may have more than one wife but I do not believe a woman is allowed two husbands in Utah. You would have to go to Tibet for that.”

Jayne laughed. “To be truthful, even one husband would be too many for me right now. I don’t need anyone to own me right now.” She tugged on his arm. “You’re so different.”

“How am I different? I’m just like any other man.”

“You healed my mother’s arm. You survived almost a week in the icy ocean’s water hanging onto a piano top with nothing but the clothes on your back and a dog. Your eyes change color. Your skin feels like ice. You are unbelievably attractive. I am stating a fact about your looks. But I only want your friendship. Even with the oddness I like you. I feel as if we have been friends for a long long time. Where are you really from Maxwell? Who are your people?”

He smiled and took off his glasses. His eyes were hazel again. “Where I come from men and women are equal. We live quietly. We live honestly among each other. What I am about to tell you will sound strange, but we live on the edge between life and death. We walk in the world of sunlight, but also walk in the land of the shadows and do not fear death or God.”

“I would like to go there with you. I would earn my way. I could be a lady detective.”

“It is not easy to live in my world Jayne.”

“No world is easy Max,” she said then smiled and pulled the comb out of her hair letting it blow in the wind. “Do you have a sweetheart at home?”

Max hesitated then spoke. “There is a woman I have a strong connection with, but I will never love her.”

“Is she married?”

“No. It isn’t like that. We met when I was at the University. So was she, which is odd unto itself. She knows my thoughts. She knows my desires. But she is not the one. What about you Jayne?”

“I was engaged to a man who knew neither my thoughts or desires, and had no intention on learning either. He thought I belonged to him body and soul, not in the way of love, but as property to be owned and controlled. He was jealous to the point of rage if I would speak with another man. He was even jealous of the boys I teach at the school and demanded I quit my teaching job. I would rather die than live a life where someone else controlled my body, my thoughts, my job, and my every whim. That is why I am no longer engaged to him.” Then laughed and ran to the end of the pier and let the wind blow through her hair and laughed some more.

Max marveled at the way she was so free thinking and full of life. He saw so much death and sorrow in his line of work that now with Jayne he felt renewed. She was sunshine in his dark world of shadows and night.

Hours later in the quiet of the night, the wind died own, and the moon hung in a thin crescent in the sky. Max walked along the beach with his dog Delilah. The taste of fresh blood and wine was in his mouth and the cold comfort of the night had settled into his soul. Delilah ran ahead, then the dog started to bark. Ahead of him Max saw a bloody figure crumpled on the rocks. His heart sank. It was Jayne.

Max picked her up and carried her home. He knew what had happened. She’d gone out to look at the stars and was attacked by a man she’d jilted. She’d spoken briefly about it when they’d walked earlier in the day. She had turned away the advances of a hot headed man who wanted her as his own. In the afternoon the man had walked past them, giving Jayne a look like a mad dog when he saw her holding Max’s arm.

He put her on her bed as her parents and brothers gathered around. As still as death, and as cold as the sea, they watched life drained out of her.

Jayne’s mother put her hand on Max’s arm. “Can you heal her, like you healed me?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “If I do she will never be the same, not like she was before. She won’t be crippled or lose herself, she will be… she will be like me.”

“Save her, then find the man who did this to her,” said the Lighthouse Keeper.

“You do not know what you ask,” said Max.

“You put a spark back in her eyes I have not seen in ages. Please save her if you can.”

“Let me be alone with her and she will not die.”

In the morning a man’s body washed up on the beach. It looked as if dogs had torn out his throat. His face was a mask of fear.

Two weeks later Jayne kissed her family good-by and went with Max on the next ship to San Francisco.

2017

Max stood in his living room with a glass of wine in his hand as he looked at the view of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge. He couldn’t imagine getting tired of it. He glanced over to see Jayne, wearing a short black dress and looking gorgeous as always, coming towards him. He kissed her cool cheek. She smiled with just a touch of fang showing.

“Are you staying with Pierce tonight?” Max asked.

“Of course I am. I take it Mehitabel is staying here,” said Jayne.

Max glanced at a small pretty woman across the room. He suddenly thought of what he’d told Jayne about her so many years ago on the walk to the docks. Odd that when he was out in the ocean, clinging onto a piano top of all things, he had thought of Mehitabel. He might ask but he was never sure what she would say. No, he wouldn’t ask, he’d just wait to see what would happen, but he was sure she’d stay.

“I’m sure she’ll stay,” he told Jayne.

They talked for a while longer, about work, about friends, and about how the sunset sparkled on the ocean. Max wasn’t always one for words, but he knew that Jayne knew that they’d always be friends. Maybe even before they had ever met.

Then Jayne laughed. “I still can’t believe you were clinging to a piano lid.”

And Max had to laugh along.

~ End

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

Tangled Tales

Juliette’s Monday Book Club: Ecotopia

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Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach

On Christmas morning I found my stocking hung by the chimney with care with a copy of Ernest Callenbach‘s Ecotopia.

The back cover description: Ecotopia was founded when northern California, Oregon, and Washington seceded from the Union to create a “stable-state” ecosystem: the perfect balance between human beings and the environment. Now, twenty years later, this isolated, mysterious nation is welcoming its first officially sanctioned American visitor: New York Times-Post reporter Will Weston.

Skeptical yet curious about this green new world, Weston is determined to report his findings objectively. But from the start, he’s alternately impressed and unsettled by the laws governing Ecotopia’s earth-friendly agenda: energy-efficient “mini-cities” to eliminate urban sprawl, zero-tolerance pollution control, tree worship, ritual war games, and a woman-dominated government that has instituted such peaceful revolutions as the twenty-hour workweek and employee ownership of farms and businesses. His old beliefs challenged, his cynicism replaced by hope, Weston meets a sexually forthright Ecotopian woman and undertakes a relationship whose intensity will lead him to a critical choice between two worlds.

Written in 1975 this novel is still relevant, especially today.

I haven’t read Ecotopia, but I’ll start today.

As a life long resident of California, and explorer of the West Coast and American West I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of California and maybe a few other states breaking off and seceding from the Union. I’m not one of those State of Jefferson folks, but the idea is fascinating (especially in today’s toxic political environment.)

So read along with me. Let me know what you think. My daughter told me that when she found the book at the used bookstore near the University she thought of me.

So happy reading, and wishing you a wonderful 2020 and many, many, many books well worth reading.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman 

The Travelers A Tale of Mystery, Love and Hope

A Christmas Tradition at Vampire Maman

The Travelers

A Tale of Mystery, Love and Hope
from Juliette Kings aka Vampire Maman

The night was falling on the travelers, Daniel and his son Tad and daughter Ada. They had to stop before the dark of night and freezing snowfalls. The father and his children were finally going home, from the broken dreams of gold to the city where Daniel had found a job in his profession of typesetter and reporter. When his wife had passed on he followed his dream to the California gold fields taking his teenage children with him. For good or bad they’d made the new state their home.

As the snow began to fall they came upon a cabin, the door boarded up from the outside, the windows shuttered. It looked deserted and like shelter for the night. Dan and his son pried the nails off of the boards, which secured the door and went into the two-room structure. Inside was a cozy room with a fireplace, comfortable chairs and a wall full of books. Dan sent Tad out to bring in firewood.

Ada went to the bedroom and called her father. On the bed was a man, still as the night, cold and pale as the snow. In his arms, wrapped in blanket was a tiny girl in a red velvet hat, a scarf covered up most of her small face. She was also still and pale.

Ada’s heart sank. The poor souls in the bed looked to have passed on. But why were they trapped in the cabin? Had they been sick? Why were they not buried with a prayer and the proper respect? The man’s coat was obviously expensive and of the finest materials. His boots were of the most beautiful leather and style. His face was handsome and refined. Ada took off her glove and touched the back of her hand to the man’s face. He was indeed cold as ice and still as death. She called in her father.

“I know this man.” He said. “A fine man. A poet. I heard him read when I was in San Francisco. What a tragic pity to find him here with his child.”

The looked upon the bodies of the father and child when they saw the slightest movement and the man opened his eyes.

“My daughter, please help her,” whispered the man on the bed.

Ada took the girl in her arms. She weighed almost nothing. The child let out a sigh. Ada brought the girl into the other room and sat in a rocking chair by the fire Tad had built. The girl started to move and put her face against Ada’s warm neck. Ada soon fell asleep with dreams of flowers and all things good.

In the morning the poet and child were gone.

The travelers found box covered with red paper. In the box was a golden heart and a note to Ada.

Dearest Ada,

This heart belonged to my dear wife who was murdered by villains of the vilest kind. Please wear it knowing that you will always be loved and you will always be a part of us.

TK

On the table in the front room was a bounty of food. Where had it come from? There were fresh baked goods, milk and juice, exotic fruits, sausages and chocolates. Under small quilted cozies were pots with fragrant tea and coffee. Another note was slipped under the teapot.

Daniel read the note aloud to his children.

My heart thanks you for your generosity.

You saved our lives.

You never questioned who had trapped us or hurt us.

You never judged us.

You never feared us.

The love between parent and his children is burned into your heart like the fires that burn in the heavenly stars.

My daughter and I will never forget you.

Your children and their children and their children will always be safe and watched over and kept from the harm of wicked men. I owe and promise you that.

Never fear the night or the darkness for we will always be watching your back.

Wishing you a Happy Christmas.

~ Thomas Kent

As the travelers ate they talked of the sweet dreams they’d had the night before, along with stiff necks they had that morning. Daniel and his children  spoke of Mr. Kent and his precious daughter and wondered why they’d been trapped in the cabin.

Many many years later after a long and wonderful life full of romance and adventure, Ada fingered the heart, which she still wore. As she took her last breath she said, “I have never known fear, only love”.

An ocean away Thomas Kent felt an icy wind, then hope and gratitude in his cold Vampire heart.

~ End

 

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~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

The Quiet Beauty of the Dead: Colma Part 2

A few years ago (2016) I visited the city of Colma, where almost everyone is dead. Seriously, over a million graves are there with less than 2,000 living in residence. There are no cemeteries in San Francisco – they were all moved to Colma. People and pets are still buried there to this day.

The photos were taken by my friend Amelia who joined Clara and I for the day. Thank you Amelia. These are lovely.

Click here for Part 1.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

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Colma: Part 1, City of Angels – A Photo Essay

Colma: Part 1, City of Angels – A Photo Essay

No cemeteries are allowed in San Francisco. The town of Colma has become the official cemetery spot and now hosts over a million graves. The photos are from The Italian Cemetery, Cypress Lawn, and a pet cemetery.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

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Children's Area Italian Cemetery, Colma, CA

Children’s Area Italian Cemetery, Colma, CA

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Small Ghosts – St. John the Baptist Cemetery – and my weird brother

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You never know who you are going to run into. Last Saturday morning we went out to the Farmer’s Market in Folsom. It wasn’t the usual California Certified Organic Farmer’s Market we usually go to, but one that was closer to home. We thought we’d give it a try.

By we I mean my daughter Clara and my elder brother Max. Of course Max complained that he wasn’t a morning person. I told him it would be just like when we were kids. He wasn’t impressed but enough prodding and cajoling got him up and into his usual black shirt and jeans. I always tell him that a visit to my house never guarantees he will get any sleep.

Yes, that is what this Vampire family does every once in a while. For those of you who are new here…we don’t live in the dark shadows or crypts or old black houses or castles. Our world is the same as yours… only we’re not quite like everyone else.

He wasn’t impressed by the market either. It was small compared to the larger Certified Organic Farmer’s Market we’ve been going to since the kids were babies. On the bright side there was a wonderful tea and spice seller I’d go back for. We also picked up some wool for a friend who spins.

The crowd wasn’t large. Maybe it was the biting cold wind. Despite that Max still got more than his fair share of looks. There is something about him that attracts people – a magnetism that oozes out of him even when he is at his grumpiest. A smile from him can warm and chill like death depending on what kind of mood he is in.

“Your friends are so weird,”Max said out of the blue as I was exploring the spice and tea booth.

“Tell me something I don’t know. At least they’re interesting.”

The night before we’d been out and about doing Vampire stuff (you know – Vampire stuff) and ran into my old pal Foxy Mendoza (aka Mitch aka Jonathan.) Foxy is pretty annoying and an acquired taste like fermented shark or unripe green oranges or dog food on toast. Foxy is always fun and flashy and for some reason he can charm those warm-blooded ladies unlike most Vampires. Women are attracted to Max like they’re attracted to chocolate or shoes. They like Foxy like … I have no idea. Last night Foxy was wearing red pants (something nobody should wear over the age of five) with a blue and green vest that he wore over a black shirt. This was topped with a pork pie hat with a peacock feather in it. None of it went with his strawberry blonde hair and pale complexion. He was talking about how cheese and mustard pairs up and the historic… anyway, it was annoying – but fun to watch. Plus Foxy is always so glad to see us.

So back to the Farmer’s Market. I saw a few parents from the school so we had to chat. Max was charming as I introduced him.

By the time all of the booths had been viewed and we’d visited with our friends Max and Clara were ready to go.

On the way home I decided to stop by the old St. John the Baptist Catholic cemetery (this is really an old-fashioned graveyard.) You’ll find no lavish crypts here. It is a small plot of about two or three acres and a small church founded in 1853. Yes, this was the Gold Rush Era in California. Irish emigrants came here to find their fortunes, make a better life and for many, die before their time. Unfortunately like many cemeteries of that time a high number of the graves are those of children and young people in their teens and twenties. Deaths at a young age were not unexpected, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t tragic or heartbreaking to their families and friends.

Max walked alone for a bit while Clara and I looked for stories in the headstone inscriptions.

A few were born around the same time as us or born before we were. We remembered places like this as a child, but so many are now gone or moved. Maxwell was born in 1849 on a ship in San Francisco Bay. I came along ten years later with three more brothers in-between us. We thought such practices of burying folks was odd, until we were told that we were not like others. If we were lucky and smart we’d be around long after the white stones turned gray with age and wind wore the names down to a faint scratch.

We didn’t feel any ghosts in this place. We never have. Everyone had moved on or moved elsewhere. Maybe under a full moon or an anniversary there might be the spirit of one of the occupants, but the place has never felt overly haunted like other places of the dead. You might find them (ghosts) walking the banks of the lake or sitting on the edge of the bluffs, but not here where they were laid to rest so long ago.

That isn’t quite the entire story. In the back, along the fence is the lone grave of a small child. She didn’t live during the Gold Rush but a much later addition. Her name was Julie Ann and she lived from 1975 to 1983. Over the years her grave has been visited by strangers but there is no sign of anyone around who loved or cared about her. Her stone is covered with dirt, lichen and leaves. She is alone, far from the family graves of children who lived in the nineteenth century.  I hope she was loved. More than anything I hope she isn’t there.

As a rule I hate ghosts, but the small ones are sad little things that need to move on and have their peace.

Clara jolted Max out of his revelries by bumping on his arm and asking, “So, Uncle Max, how long do you plan on having the squirrel on your face?”

“Excuse me?” Max looked annoyed.

“The beard. I think it looks good,” I told him. It does looks good – short and neat, not one of those shaggy things.

“You should shave it off. But I like the glasses,” said Clara. Like a lot of teenage girls, Clara thinks glasses on good-looking guys is ultra hot. She wandered off to look at more stones and find things to tell her friends about.

Max stopped by one of the older stones and smiled. The inscription was of a 21-year-old women from Ireland who died in 1862. She’d come all the way to California only to quickly die.

My brother glanced at me. “She isn’t there.”

“Tell me more,” I said leaning against him in that funny way siblings lean on each other.

“Mom turned her.”

I almost said HOLY SHIT, but let him continue his story.

“The lass was in an abusive marriage. As a Vampire she could have freedom she never had as a young wife with a husband who thought it was his duty to beat her. So with the help of our dear mother she escaped and a stone was placed on an empty grave.” Then he gave a low laugh. “She lives in Seattle now.”

“You know her?”

“Yes, I know her. Oh don’t look surprised. She seduced me when I was sixteen.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You were only six – just a kid.”

We looked up to see Clara looking at more stones as she made her way back up to the car. I was not going to tell her about Max’s friend. She could learn about that later – much later.

Anyway, for those of you who are traveling around Northern California or in  the Sacramento area and looking for something to do on a Saturday or Sunday check out Folsom. You can visit St. John the Baptist then talk a walk down historic Sutter Street, have lunch, shop or stop by and have a beer at one of the many fine pubs. Walk down to the old Powerhouse or across the old footbridge and get a first class view of the beautiful Rainbow Bridge and Lake Natoma. Then have a picnic at Negro Bar State Park and feed the geese and ducks at the beach. Bring your bicycles and ride around the lake on the American River Bike Trail. Or head over to the Folsom Zoo where you can see the most amazing assortment of wild animals (from tigers to hawks to monkeys) who have been rescued and can no longer survive in the wild on their own. Then take a drive over to Folsom Dam. There used to be water in the lake before the drought (really, I kid you not.) You can also see the famous Folsom Prison which is right next to the lake. Maybe you’ll hear the ghost of Johnny Cash singing in the hills (I doubt that too but it sure would be cool.)

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

First published in 2015
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On the American River Bike Trail near Negro Bar.

On the American River Bike Trail near Negro Bar.