The Lighthouse, a short story.
Tulpa: “magic formations generated by a powerful concentration of thought.” Alexandra David-Néel.
Tulpa: A physical materialization of a thought, resulting in the creation
of a being or object. Pad of Definitions (1.17 Hell House)
Inspector Macintyre squatted next to the body at the base of the lighthouse, taking a last close look before the paramedics took over and coaxed it into the dull green body bag lying next to the corpse. He was grateful for the strong westerly wind coming off the grey Atlantic, for it helped to disperse the sweet sickly smell of decay that came from the body of the famous author that lay there. His fans would have difficulty in recognising Philip Preston now thought the inspector; the gulls and gillimots had been at work on his face leaving little that could be recognised as human.
He looked up at the lighthouse towering over him, up to where far above he could see the narrow walkway around the lamp house, from where the man had obviously jumped or fallen. Suicide was his guess; there was a four-foot high railing around the walkway, making it difficult to imagine an accidental fall. And then there was the question as to why he was there in the first place, not many people in their right minds would relish being abandoned alone on a tiny outcrop, fifteen miles out into the Atlantic. But then writers were artist types, and in inspector Macintyre’s opinion artist types were notoriously unstable and irrational.
He stood up and nodded to the paramedics to do their business and looked to where constable Finch was emerging from the door into the tower.
‘All done Finch? Got everything? Nothing untoward up there?’
‘All cleared sir, just this, found it under his bed. No sign of a manuscript though.’ He walked over to Macintyre and handed him what looked like a child’s exercise book.
‘Looks like diary I’d say sir. Might throw some light on things.’
Macintyre thumbed briefly through the pages. It was about half full; neat well written for the most part, but getting a bit rough towards the last few pages. It didn’t look like a manuscript, he thought, and that was what seemed to interest the fellow from London who had been contacted when the body was discovered a couple of days ago. He was the dead man’s agent he said, and seemed very anxious to locate the manuscript the man had been apparently working, on once he had recovered from hearing about the demise of his investment. Well, there was no time to go hunting around the island for the thing, the tide was turning and the boatman waiting by the jetty was anxious to head back to the mainland. The paramedics had already taken the body on board and all that remained was to lock up the place and leave.
The tiny police station in Loch Inver was deserted when Macintyre arrived back that evening. He made himself a mug of strong tea adding a measure of Scotch from the bottle he kept in the safe, and settled down behind the empty desk to read through the diary before making up his report.
It was on an impulse i decided to make this ‘diary’ or ‘account’ of my little adventure. I had the idea while waiting for the train in Glasgow, and all I could find in the station kiosk of ‘Smiths’ was a kid’s exercise book. Still, it will do the trick. I could have typed it on my old Remington Portable on some of my A4 paper, but it felt more, how shall I say, genuine, writing it in longhand in an exercise book. I’ve not written longhand for many a year now, but I’m quite looking forward to it.
Let me just clarify, as much for myself as for any future readers, what my little adventure is all about. Six best selling novels in a series, ‘The Crawford Chronicles’ has established me as a very successful writer. I have to qualify that; financially successful, for I was always unsure about any literary talent I might have. The seventh was due, promised even, by the end of June. It is now the tenth of May, and nothing has been written.
I’ve never had what’s called writers block before, never really believed in it, hell, all I had to do was sit down, concentrate, and it would come. And it always did, page after page; like printing money. But I’ve been trying now for six months, and not written a thing worth keeping. It’s gone, whatever I had before, and I don’t know if it will come back.
‘Just relax Philip.’ Tom, my agent told me, all the time counting the weeks before the publishers deadline and the triggering of the none production penalty clause. The nearer the deadline came the further away the ideas slipped, until there was nothing left, just a scary empty space in my head.
Try getting away from it all was my wife’s suggestion; a complete change might do something. But a country cottage didn’t appeal, a villa in Spain would have too many distractions, nothing seemed right until Annie, the agents secretary suggested ‘Armin Stack’, an abandoned lighthouse off the northwest coast of Scotland. Apparently her brother had stayed there with a party of bird watchers a year or so ago. It was on a minute island, a turbulent two hour sail from the nearest harbour, inaccessible for long periods in winter due to the weather, but now, in early summer reachable on most days.
Now I am there…or here. The boat has left, disappearing in the troughs of the grey Atlantic rollers on its way back to Ullapool. It will not return for three weeks, unless that is I have some sort of emergency, when I will use the battery operated short wave radio to call for help. I am alone now, more alone than I have ever been in my life before.
Island! It is not an island, just a bunch of black jagged rocks sticking up out of the North Atlantic. No vegetation of course, no buildings except the tower, no helicopter pad as there’s no room. The tower, my home for the next few weeks, has been stripped of its light, although the glass lenses and the walkway around the lamp room remain in place. The ground floor contains mainly discarded paraphernalia from the mechanism, storage tanks for drinking water and oil for the lights, and a large wooden rowing boat that looks as if it hasn’t touched the sea for years. The second floor is where I will live. There are several bunk beds, a table, cupboards for storing food etc., and a desk that I shall use to write on. Just one small window allows a little light into the room. Once it was home to three keepers, who lived here for months on a time, a test of sanity if ever there was one.
The boatman helped me carry my stores; bedding, clothing, and Portable Remington, into the ground floor then quickly took his leave. Didn’t like the look of the weather he said. He’d needed a hefty wad of cash to make him bring me here in the first place, claiming it was dangerous even on a quiet day like today. Looking at the rocks awash with white foam all around I have come to believe him.
I need to spend the rest of the day getting organised, have to explore the lighthouse and the ‘island’ later.
(Later) Getting dark now, although this far north it’s lighter than back in London. I have unpacked my stuff and stowed it all away in the various cupboards. Lit a couple of the oil lamps, not exactly bright but I’ll get used to them I expect. The walls of this place are several feet thick, but I can still hear the noise of the wind and the waves. Not explored any higher yet, leave that to tomorrow. Will try to sleep now.
Not a great nights sleep. Kept waking up, unused to the noises and the general unfamiliarity. Kept one lamp burning all night, not sure why, just felt safer somehow. Had a bit of breakfast, so time to take a breath of sea air and look around my watery domain.
Just back from the grand tour, took all of ten minutes. Wind blowing hard from northwest, white caps on sea, cold.
Nothing to see on the horizon today, the distant coast lost in the general grayness. I’ll get my writing desk organised now, Reminton in position with new ribbon, stack of virgin A4 paper on my far right, mug for coffee near right (keep it away from finished work I’d learnt!), and a space for the growing pile of completed pages (I hoped) on the left.
Later. It’s the end of my first whole day here and although I’ve not managed to write a word, well not one I’ve kept, I feel that I’ve made the right decision to come here. It is totally lacking in external distractions. No phone will ring, no one will knock on my door asking if I want to go out or have a cup of tea or sit in the garden, no kids asking for help with homework, no noise of traffic, or distant voices. Just the sound of the wind and the sea, muffled by the walls, continuous, unending. I feel that if I persist, stick at it, it will happen again, like before, when I could write page after page as if taking dictation. It’s just down to mental effort. I’ve got the imagination I know; I just have to apply it. They are all there, the characters, all from the previous books, standing in the wings of my subconscious, waiting to be called. I feel I know them all so well: Julian, calm, aristocratic, intellectual, Diana, darkly beautiful, sensual, imaginative, deeply in love with Julian, and Freddie, the joker in the pack, not very smart, bounces around like a big puppy dog, always laughing, in awe of Julian and secretly obsessed with Diana. They just need the call, I have to find it.
I’ve not gone up to the second floor yet, let alone all the way up to the light, must be a magnificent view from there on a clear day. Maybe tomorrow. I’m tired now, have a bite and then an early night. Hope I can sleep a bit better than last night.
Slept until about two am last night then woke up. More wind and sea noise than yesterday I think. Made myself some cocoa and found that I was talking to myself! Starting to feel a bit strange this lack of human contact, beginning to wish I had brought a radio with me. But that would defeat the whole purpose. Must stick at it.
Later. Feeling tired and lethargic, I’ll sit at the desk with my hands on the Remington and see what happens. Just realised I didn’t have breakfast, just not hungry, maybe later.
Lunchtime and nothing yet. Heated a tin of beans and sausages on the gas ring, forced the stuff down with a can of lager that I enjoyed, think I’ll have another later. Still no progress, starting to wonder why I ever agreed to a seventh book, money I guess. This will have to be the last though, can’t stand the idea of going through all this again. I’ll tell Tom when I get back that it’s the last of the Crawford Chronicles, he’ll have fit I think. Just have to make this last one a goodun. But how?
Thought I’d have a siesta after lunch and fell asleep on the bed, and when I awoke I had it, an idea at least. I’ll finish them off, literally, at least the main characters, kill them somehow. No good doing away with just one, has to be them all, or at least the three main ones, otherwise Crawford Hall could live on, newly peopled, can’t stand that idea. Now I’ve just got to find a way, a nice juicy plot that ends with them all well and truly and permanently dead. Joy oh joy! Feeling great now…to work!
Wrote until nearly dark, twenty pages at least. Never done that much before. This place works for me. It was only when I stopped for a bite that I noticed the silence. There was no wind, and no sounds of waves either. I left my desk and made my way downstairs. When I opened the heavy, reinforced door to the outside world I found the air still, even a little warm and the sea calm. At least that was what I first thought. The sky was a tempest of reds and yellows to the west where the sun had just set at the end of a ribbon of gold laid across the sea. Then I noticed the movement. There were no waves, but the sea was slowly, very slowly, rising and falling. All around the island a delicate fringe of white showed where the edges marked the silent approach and retreat of the water. There must have been a rise and fall of twenty feet I thought. These were waves, but slow, huge, silent waves, coming from the west, the open Atlantic. Something was happening out there.
I came back inside, shutting the door securely behind me. I’ll have my bite to eat then get stuck into work again. It’s coming on well, I’m quite excited about the various possibilities of doing away with those three, maybe I’ll write a horror or crime piece next! It’s like taking dictation…something’s going to happen to them, soon, and it won’t be good news for them I’m afraid.
About three AM. I was working, completely absorbed, lost in the doomed world of Crawford Hall and it’s inhabitants, when noticed the noise was back. The sound of the wind. It was coming from up above me, from the light at the top of the tower. I’m guessing that there are openings there for the wind to get in. I seem to feel a cold draught coming from down the stairs. I should go and investigate, but the oil lamps I have give out a miserable light, and I don’t relish the thought of a fall on those stone steps. Tomorrow I must explore.
Now I’ve stopped working I feel tired, I’ll try to get some sleep. Sixty pages in, incredible, I’ll finish the bugger in a week at this rate. Just realised I’m talking to myself all the time now, hope the old brain box holds out, been feeling a bit strange, mustn’t overdo it. Finished all the lager by the way, wish I’d brought more.
8am. Just been outside, couldn’t sleep after all, too much going on in my head. But my god what a sight when I opened the door. At first it looked like the horizon had come closer, but it was an illusion caused by the height of the waves, marching in long regular rows running from north to south. They were smooth, glassy, greeny-black hills with just a small white fringe along their tops where the wind was catching them. The sea around the island would retreat, exposing yards of black streaming weed covered rocks, then slowly the water would rush back, covering all, climbing higher and higher towards the tower, swallowing the little jetty and the steps and stopping just a few feet from the base of the tower. It had the quality of a wild animal, a monster, taunting its prey before striking.
About a hundred yards away from the lighthouse I saw the wreck of a ship, just a brown skeleton, water streaming through its open ribs, the remains of its rusting bow pointing accusingly towards the tower.
The wind was still moderate, but the sky was covered with black, racing clouds that seemed to be almost scraping the top of the light as they swept eastwards. I stayed watching the spectacle, fascinated by the awful power of the forces at play, until the wind suddenly increased I felt spray on my face and saw the first of those mountains of water steepen, totter, and break with a distant hollow boom. I retreated to my tower thankful to climb the solid stone steps to my gloomy lamp lit room.
11pm. I have given up trying to write or sleep. The noise is fantastic. A discordant symphony of shrieking wind and roaring sea, punctuated by the percussion of mighty hammer blows as waves explode against the walls of the tower and the surrounding rocks. I have no means of telling if this is an exceptional or a common event but the trembling of the walls and floor seem to indicate it is not a normal storm.
I was working well until about 8 pm, just coming to the murder, and this will trigger a series of events that will show all three of them in a different light, a side to their characters unsuspected, a dark side. It feels right what I’m doing, I can see them so clearly, every detail of their lives is stored away in my head, I know them better than their own mothers, better even than their lovers. Looking back I can see that there was always this darkness in them, tucked away, hidden from others but not from themselves. Perhaps an echo of something in me, why not? After all I made them, way back in book one, created them out of nothing, nearest thing to god I was. So now its only right I should destroy them, their story is told, their time has come.
Day 5. 1am.
I’ve just been outside. The weirdest thing has happened. Maybe it’s lack of sleep but I seem to have problems in thinking straight. But this is what happened. About an hour ago, I was lying on my bed trying to doze, when the sound of the wind suddenly died away, that is over a couple of minutes, I think. Just as if someone had turned down the volume. The noise of the waves too seemed to diminish.
I got up and taking a lamp made my way downstairs. The floor was wet and cold to my bare feet from water that had come in under the door. I carefully unlocked the door and peered out. In effect there was no wind at all, absolute stillness. The sea was still running high but nowhere near turbulent as before, and looking up I saw the sky was crystal clear, carpeted by a river of stars stretching across from horizon to horizon. A brilliant crescent moon hung low over the west, lighting up the island, the sea, and the tower, that shone with a ghostly pallor against the black sky. I walked a few yards to the edge of the jetty, glad to be able to stretch my legs and breath the fresh sea air after the damp claustrophobia of my room. I was in the eye of the storm I realised, soon the wind would return and with it the waves.
I was about to return to the tower when looking up I saw a faint greenish glow surrounding the light at the top of the tower. As I watched it intensified, expanded, sending streamers of brilliant blue-green light down the walls, forking and joining again to form a living web encasing the building. At the same time I felt the hair on my head standing up, my scalp tingling, and looking down saw the ends of my fingers glowing with the same cold green fire. St.Elmo’s Fire! That was it, I remembered reading about it somewhere. Like a child I laughed, lifting my hands up and watching the light flicker across from one finger to another. It lasted no more than a minute or two I think, then gradually faded, creeping back up the tower towards the top before disappearing.
It was as I watched it disappear that I saw something; a light came on in the window on the second floor. The floor I didn’t use. I stared at it in shock, refusing to believe, accept, what I saw. Then, maybe my eyes deceived me, or maybe I hallucinated through lack of sleep, I don’t know, but then, I seemed to see the silhouette of a head and shoulders in the window, as if someone was looking out, looking out at me. Then the light went out, and I felt the first gust of wind as the storm returned.
I haven’t ventured up the winding staircase to the floor above me yet. I tell myself that I must wait until dawn, for a better light, but I know that actually I’m afraid. I don’t know why, but I’m afraid of what I might find in the room upstairs.
For the first time I’m thinking about leaving here, after all I seem to have cracked the block that sent me to this place. I’m fairly sure I could finish the book back in London now, quietly and comfortably at home in my study. I keep casting glances to the cupboard where I’ve stored the short wave radio. But even if I called no boat could approach the island in this weather, and I remember the grumpy boatman telling me on the way here he wouldn’t be back unless the sea was flat calm. Could be days or weeks I think…who can tell.
I must try to sleep, and I must stop talking to myself, maybe I’m becoming deranged.
Day Six, (and I had to look back in my diary to verify that.)
Seem to be loosing track of time. Didn’t sleep I think last night but I dozed a bit because I had a sort of half dream, some vague unformed horror that woke me with my own cries, but I can’t remember any details.
It’s morning and the storm seems to be blowing itself out. I peeped outside and saw the sun was breaking through the clouds from time to time, the sea less chaotic. The tide must have been low because I could see the wreck, half exposed on the rocks. The water churning through its ribs and about its bows gave the impression it was advancing towards the tower, a skeleton ship with a skeleton crew, and I wondered how many sailors had perished with it in those awful waters.
No appetite for breakfast, I’m going to climb the tower now, see what’s upstairs, have a look from the light. Here goes…
I have to get this right, put it down on paper. If I see it on paper it might make sense, or even stop my heart beating so hard. I’ve never known fear before I realise, not real fear, not fear like I have just experienced. Fear that dries the mouth, that turns limbs to lead, that takes over the mind with a silent unending scream…
It was all right going up, once I got used to the stairs. They spiral around the walls, stone up to the floor above and iron after that. I was a bit worried about the iron, looked a bit rusty here and there, shook a bit too as I climbed. The room above me was nearly empty, just three bed frames stacked on top of each other, a long wooden table, three rather cheap and nasty wardrobes containing a collection of various wooden and metal hangers. On the table were couple of oil lamps like the ones I used and a large tin box of matches. The single narrow window was rusted shut, the outside of the glass heavily crusted with salt and bird droppings.
It took me several minutes to climb to the light housing at the top, but the view when I stepped out onto the walkway running around the light was breathtaking. Miles of green and blue and black churning water surrounded the lighthouse, white breakers showing here and there where the water shoaled or rocks pierced the surface. The sun, breaking thought the clouds, played a giant searchlight over the sea, and on the far eastern horizon I could make out the faint shadow of the mainland.
I think that was when I realised just how alone I am here, how completely cut off and inaccessible the island is. Until the sea calms I am stuck here no matter what happens. If I fall ill, or have an accident, I could die here, alone; and nobody could help me in any way. That moment I knew I was going back the moment the sea was calm enough, I was going to radio as soon as I came down.
I hurried to descend, clattering down the iron staircase, across the empty room, and down the stone stairs to my room.
Three people were standing in the room. I froze in mid step. I registered just three people, two men and a woman. They were quite clear, but sort of transparent, like an etching on glass, or a double exposure on a photograph. They were grouped around my desk, and they were looking down at my manuscript. Then as I watched they slowly turned toward me, but disappearing before I saw their faces.
I’m going to radio to get picked up as soon as they can. Don’t know when that will be but the wind has all but dropped and I guess the sea will calm down soon too.
I can’t stay here any longer, I know that now. Stress, the lack of sleep, overwork, it’s all played a part in giving me these illusions, these hallucinations. I don’t feel I have the same grip on reality as I had before, something has slipped, something is out of kilter. I’ll probably laugh about it when I get home, but right now I’m concerned that I’m loosing it.
It’s a combination of two things I’ve decided, first the book and the story line, just too much obsessing, too much concentration without a break or distraction. And then this place, the solitude, the unfamiliar surroundings and events, but above all the atmosphere. I felt it the moment I came, but ignored it. It’s somehow un-natural, unhealthy, a place with what my kids would describe as ‘bad vibes’. I don’t know if something bad happened here once, I don’t think I believe in that sort of thing, but there is a feeling here, and if I was forced to put a simple word to it I’d have to say it was evil. Badness, moral sickness, whatever you care to call it, it’s here. It permeates the walls, lurks in the corners of the darkened rooms, whispers in the wind, watches from the light. The sooner I’m gone the better.
In the meantime I’ll make that call and try to push on with the story.
Somehow I wasn’t surprised, should have been, I had checked it the day after I arrived and it was fine. Now, I’ve just flipped the switch and it’s dead. And it’s dead because the battery has gone, taken by someone or something. I know that it’s impossible, there’s no one here except me and a few seagulls, but it’s gone. That leaves me with just the one possibility, that I’ve taken it without knowing, that I am in fact loosing my mind.
I’ve tried to think this through, analyse what’s going on in my head, tried to follow through the last few days and see if I can’t remember something, touching it, unscrewing the cover, taking out the battery, but I can’t. I remember quite clearly putting the thing away after I had switched it on to check it worked, thinking about the battery life and how I’d been told it should last for months, which band to transmit on, what call sign to use. But I have no recollection of touching it since…but I must have.
My mind keeps drifting back to those illusions I had about the silhouette at the window, the three people around my desk, they are all part of my problem I think. Illusions, reality, it’s all mixed up in my head now.
End of my first week here. Seems like a year. Thinking less and less about home, family, work and the rest, seems like this here is my reality now, everything else is just a dream. I talk to myself all the time, nothing wrong with that, after all there are different people inside all of us, might as well communicate.
Woke up to a thick fog. Sea calm, but no one will come for me. Sat down on the jetty for a while watching the wind make shapes in the fog, all sort of shapes, they form and dissolve, drift towards me or away, float above my head. I’m quite relaxed about seeing them, I don’t mind if what I see is real or imaginary, I can’t tell the difference any more.
When I awoke this morning, awoke from a brief troubled sleep, they were standing over me. Just standing, looking at me. Julian, Diana, and Tommy. They were quite solid, firm, real, I could even smell Diana’s perfume, ‘Air du Temps’ , it was I who had chosen it for her after all. It was their eyes I didn’t like, cold, hard, angry even, what did they want of me? I closed my eyes on the nightmare, and when I opened them they were gone.
I’ll play the game to the end. No point in stopping now, and it might be my only chance. I’m going to sit down and finish the business, write them out, kill them off. Already they have changed somehow. Did I do that? Changed into killers themselves. Julian – the mastermind, Diana – scheming, manipulative, depraved, Tommy – the foot soldier, sadistic, obsessed, the laughing killer. The island had changed them, and me too. I shan’t take long, I know exactly what to do, exactly how each one will die, and I won’t make it easy for them…I feel giddy with the power of the word.
The fog. Its here. It seems to have seeped inside the lighthouse. There’s a definite mist in my room, must have seeped in under the door downstairs or drifted down from the broken windows in the light room. I’m trying to concentrate on the manuscript, not look around, I’m afraid they are back, standing watching me as I write. I can smell them too. I notice my hands are very white, shaking as I type.
I heard them before I saw them. Heard first the steps on the stairs, descending from the room above me. I didn’t look, just stopped typing, stared at the paper in front of me until I felt them close behind me, around me, their eyes watching me.
‘What exactly are you doing?’ It was Julian’s familiar cultivate arrogant voice.
I heard a sob that seemed to come from someone else but came from me.
‘It’s not on old boy, just not on.’ Tommy’s obscene chortle.
The Remington and the desk dissolved in a blur of tears as my bladder voided.
Then Diana’s voice, soft like a rose petal, deadly as a stiletto.
‘Philip, I’m so disappointed in you. You’ve been a bad boy haven’t you? A very bad boy. What happens to bad boys Philip? I think you know, I think you know that bad boys have to be punished.’
Then silence. Only the sound of my panting breath. I slowly turned to face them, but they were gone. Only three faint misty outlines remained, and soon they dissolved, leaving only the scent of ‘Air du Temps’ to show they had been there. They had gone, but knew they would be back. They were making me wait for their punishment, as I had made them wait for their deaths.
It’s done. The word is written. The end of the story and the end of them.
I’m going up to the light now. They might try to stop me, but I think I can get through. I don’t think they can have any power over me now. Once I’m there can shut the trapdoor, there’s only access, I’ll find a way to block it, maybe just stand in it. I’ll take the manuscript with me. Keep it close, and safe. They have to realise that they are finished, they have to go. They have had their lives. I made them, now I have unmade them. At least that is my hope.
God help me.
Macintyre closed the thin red exercise book and poured a further measure of scotch into the remains of his tea and shook his head. He thought about the phone call from the man in London, Tom somebody. He was looking for a manuscript, and it had to be this. Shame about the ending he thought, unfinished. The poor deranged fellow must have cracked before he finished it, no surprise there. Those artistic and imaginative types were always a bit unstable in his experience. The island was no place anyone in their right mind would want to stay, it had a bad reputation ever since the loss of the Hermes with sixty seven people before the light was built, and then the business of the first two keepers found dead there at the end of the last century.
Suicide his report would confidently say, there was no other possibility. The problem of the missing boat would have to be shelved as unsolved. The boatman who had taken them to the island knew all about it, old but perfectly sound, kept there for emergency use. But it would have needed at least three people to move it down to the jetty, far to heavy for one the old man insisted. But it was gone, god only knows where.
In any case Macintyre had no time to chase after any solutions to that mystery. He had more than enough to do trying to find the person who had committed the four motiveless murders in the area in the last couple of weeks. There were few leads so far, just the possible sighting of three strangers walking on the road to Ullapool. Probably tourists, but he’d have to check them out.
He stood up, stretched stiffly, then slipped on his coat. His dinner would be cold by now, Bethany would be mad at him for not phoning. Just as he was about leave there was a soft knocking on the door. With a muttered curse he lent and peered out of the window. A woman was standing in the lamplight, a stranger to him, a pale face, long dark hair, strikingly beautiful. As he looked she turned and saw him, and smiled. Macintyre smiled back, not seeing the two other forms standing quietly in the darkness behind her until he had opened the door.