Tangled Tales: Lighthouse

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short Story Sunday: The Child

The Child (A Short Unspectacular Vampire Story)

“I don’t get them at all. What is it about the obsession with things like Proust and his stupid cookie or that German guy who kept shoving his cat into a box then pondering if it was dead or alive. And what is up with Hamlet? To be or not to be? Really? He needs some serious counseling. And don’t even get me started on Little Women.”

“Schrodinger. He was the guy with the cat,” I said.

“I hope it bit him,” said my partner (and best friend) Jayne.

We drove for a few more miles, lights off, but not in silence. There is never silence with Jayne along. She talks non-stop for hours on end, and endless stream of consciousness, a dialog of rambling thoughts and opinions.

“They’re all so stupid, you know, people who think they’re smart and profound. An it is usually guys. Idiots.” Jayne was scowling now. I don’t blame her.

“I know. I’m going to stop here.”

“Sounds good.”

We got out of the car, both in black from head to toe except for a shock of blonde hair coming from Jayne.

The sidewalk smelled like urine and barf. I love my job but only because I know I’m doing the right thing, not for the depravity I run into each and every day.

“Where’s Max this weekend?”

Of course she had to ask. I didn’t want to talk about him. I hated him. I loved him. I wished she’d just leave it alone. “Family stuff. It’s his mom’s birthday.

“You know the guy is just using you.”

“End of story Jayne. I don’t want to talk about it.”

We walked along for a few more blocks, checking out ally ways and what looked like mostly abandoned buildings. Not a street light was in sight or many lights in the windows of the buildings.

“Urban decay at it’s best,” Jayne said. “Remember when it was a big deal to live in a city. Everyone wore hats and gloves and men were always in suits. I don’t get it. Now they just sit around in jammie pants and sweats and everyone looks like slobs. It kind of turns my stomach. I mean, packaging and presentation mean so much. It is like nobody cares. That is why everything is going down into the deep black hole of…Mehitabel, are you listening?”

“Yes. We’re getting close.”

“When people ask me what I do for a living I never say I hunt monsters.”

“I know.” I had to smile.

We came to what looked like an 19th century factory or warehouse building. The windows were broken out or painted over with black. The brigs looked like they’d sagged from 100 years of gravity.

“Let’s do this,” said Jayne.

We checked our weapons.

I smiled at Jayne and we entered the building and silently walked towards the scent of our prey.

We didn’t need to talk. We knew what the other was thinking. We knew what needed to be done.

At the end of the hall was a light. The door flew open. They were there, hovering over a bed where a frightened child cowered in the corner.

They spun around looking shocked to see us.

“Give us the child,” I demanded. “She’ll die if you keep her. You don’t know how to take care of her.”

“She’s already dead,” one of them said.

“Oh give me a break. What an asshat.” Jayne always had something interesting to say, especially when she was pissed off. She drew her gun out and pointed towards the group.

“Don’t look them in the eye,” yelled one of the men.

Jayne chuckled under her breath. I drew my weapon. “Give us the child.”

I knew what the men were thinking. They’d been paid a half a million dollars for the girl. Yesterday she was happy in first grade learning how to read and write. Tomorrow she’d be a prize for the highest bidder on the pretense of scientific study.

There were three men, youngish, frightened. “Give us the child,” I said, “or I’ll let Jayne here talk you to death.”

Jayne laughed and walked towards the men, gun up and ready to shoot. “Back off gentlemen and let us take the child. Honestly imagine if someone had taken you from your mommies when you were this age. Scary scary stuff if you ask me. And look at you. You’re all so young with a full life ahead of you. You need to go to graduate school or join the Peace Corps or do something with your lives besides taking money to steal children from those who aren’t like you. Make something of yourselves. Learn to hula dance or tap dance or ballroom dance. Or you could just go to sleep. Go to sleep and dream of warm fires and gentle ocean breezes and the wind through the palm trees and white sands and ….”

Jayne’s hypnotic voice had put the three men into a deep slumber.

“I’ll have you know,” she said, “I don’t do this when I’m out on a date.”

I had to laugh.

We approached the small girl who threw her arms around my neck and held on tight. “You’re alright Holly, dear child. We’re going to bring you home. Are you hungry? You must be.”

The child nodded yes so I took the limp arm from one of her captors and held the wrist up to her mouth. The little Vampire teeth sunk in. “Not too much too fast or you’ll get sick.”

On the car ride home Jayne talked about growing up as a Vampire and how she couldn’t imagine anyone stealing her from her parents. They were tough and eccentric old Vampires. I loved going to visit them in their wild house full of insane fun.

My parents had been dead a long long time, as I wasn’t born a Vampire. But all the same, they would have been heart broken if someone had taken me.

Over a hundred years have passed and I think that maybe one day I’ll have my own family, but until then, I’ll do what I can to keep the children of my world, and any others safe from harm.

 

 

Note: The Child was first posted here in October 2013. So if you think you’ve read it before you probably have. ~ Juliette