I woke sometime after dawn from nightmares wet heat and frosty air. Stumbling to my feet on sore legs, I trudged up to the washroom to scrub the sweat from my hair and the dark stains from my hands. I stared into the cracked mirror, seeing a patchy beard flecked with gray, cheeks sunken with exhaustion and hunger, eyes of black coal in a blue sky; the face of an old man I did not know.
My knee ached as if commanding me to leave this place, to return to the sea, to wade out into its surrendering waters and stay there forever. I shook the pain aside, remembering the many duties still before me. I needed to find Jack and bury the rest of his corpse, go to town to report the tragedy, collect more supplies, but, above all, I must attend the lighthouse with constant and faithful attention.
With a groan of resignation, I stood, barely feeling the cold through my numbed skin. I donned my service dress, work clothes being covered in the filth and stink from the previous night, adjusted the cap with what dignity I had left, and ascended the stairs to the light room.
Swinging the trapdoor open on protesting hinges, I saw the weights move about the light room like gears of a great clock, while the fire behind the Fresnel lens in its perch above burned bright.
I locked the weights and shut off the kerosene, stopping the lens and quenching its flame. Unwilling just yet to look at the eye, I mopped the floor, checked the fire buckets, and scrubbed the windows, anything to delay the inevitable, but my final chore must be done and would be done as promised.
Grabbing a clean rag, I climbed the metal steps, letting the railing guide me to the lens. There I stood, hand frozen mid-air, not daring to touch it, unable to look away from the infinite gaze of that clear, green glass.
The lens swirled in a spiral before my eyes, as if pulling me deeper and deeper into the dreadful depths of my own soul. I stopped breathing but could hear the hideous drumbeat of my heart as it tried to burst out of my chest. The swirling slowly resolved into the mangled shape of Jack’s corpse, laying on the cliff, covered in flies and carrion birds, his gaping throat pooled with sea water. I looked down on him, hands trembling with deep-seeded anticipation, dry lips moistening with carnal delight, teeth inching down, down toward my meal ripe for the feasting.
The vision ended, leaving me staring at nothing more than green glass, but the palpable taste of blood and flesh was clear in my mind. I took in a deep breath, smelling the salt air and feeling the ache in my knee.
Not wishing to look back but not daring to look away, I let the eye take me again.
A party of men carrying lanterns and torches as they thundered through forest shadows, calling out for a voice they would never hear. One man broke off from the group, wandered deep into the forest, and there, hidden in the darkest shadows, I would take him, clubbing him to a bloody pulp before dragging him away. Meat for the winter.
I gasped for breath, the cold salt air of the bountiful sea on this cold, clear winter morning, filling my lungs. Blood rushing in my ears, diminishing all sounds to distant whispers, heart pounding in my chest, I gripped the railing, felt the sweat bead on my forehead, then, with a scream of tortured agony, looked back to the eye.
Melting snow, growing grass, sunshine through blue skies, yet the warmth of spring provided no comfort for the hunger gnawing inside. The sound of boots crunching in the last of the forest snow, and I, silent as a cat, bounding through the foliage to see, through twigs bursting with budding leaves, Old Tom. The beast in me growled with delight as the old man walked toward the lighthouse.