In the middle of 18th century, a lighthouse was built along the country’s western coast, a coast with its turbulent sea and many shipwrecks. To build a structure like that was not an easy task as it might have been the first such structure in the world.
Soon tenders were put out, inviting engineers and companies to put in their bids. Most engineers were reluctant to undertake such a risky and untried undertaking and only some fool- hardy engineers applied. These were the innovators and had full confidence in their abilities.
Most of the year the sea around the coast was stormy and often gale force wind blew. Who would be foolish enough to build a lighthouse structure there? It would soon be swept away with all its foundations. Everybody was curious to know as how an engineer would go around to build the foundations. Everybody was ready and waiting for a laugh when the whole lighthouse would come tumbling down thus making the company go bust loosing all its investments in that gamble.
An engineer thought of a clever plan of building. Not the solid foundation but a floating platform on which he would try to build the lighthouse structure. It could stand the gale force wind and turbulent sea, just like a small ship anchored heavily in rough seas. He would design it with floating weights to keep it in one position, by calculating with strength of materials to be used. It took that engineer nearly two years to construct the lighthouse and many difficulties had to come over. He must have full confidence in his abilities to stick to this new task in spite of hostility and mockery from the public and expert alike.
When it was finished, it had to be tested by the state experts and they sent in their experts to stay there for few days to gauge its strength in operation. It did work well when the sea was calm and weather was good but it was another story when it became somewhat stormy. The tower began to roll and sway around and the people on it felt sick due to violent motions and which induced giddiness. The matter was duly reported and the engineer had to cough out extra cash from his own pocket to put anti motion devices and which in the end stabilised it but with an extra six-month’s delay for the lighthouse to be in full operation.
Lighthouse helped ships to stay away from dangerous shorelines and the rocky cliffs. This meant that it had to throw penetrating light rays which could be seen from a long distance warning ships as not to stray too close to the dangerous shores. That meant that the lighthouse keepers had to live in the most dangerous spots in the body of treacherous waters. The dangerous times were when the storms approached with high winds and driving rains, the high waves in angry moods pounded any solid structures with fury and smashed the weaker vessels to pieces.
With the warning of a storm approaching, the ships had a chance of leaving the danger zones but the poor lighthouse keepers had to stay put and made sure that the lights were kept burning all the time. The main light source was at the top of the structure and one had to reach it via flights of winding stairs, which could be a claustrophobic act in itself,
mixed with the sounds of howling winds and the swaying of the whole structure.
After the completion, they had to put an advert in the local papers for recruiting the keepers. Although employment prospects were not so good in those times yet they still got about fifty applications for the two vacancies available for keepers. There must be two people to keep the lighthouse in operation and also to look after each other in case of emergencies. Due to loneliness and being cut off from the world, were enough to drive a single soul mad. All the applicants were interviewed- for their endurance and for their courage in the face of adversity. They were wilted down to ten for short listing. To carry out their job for which they had to stay long time away from home, it was wise to choose only bachelors as the married men were bound to feel home sick in their periods of isolation and thus feel depressed. Interfering with their day today duties.
Patrick and Andrew were the two people chosen for the jobs and then trained about the rudimentary of their work. Their duty rotor was designed and a copy was pasted in the living quarters. In the evenings when visibility was bad or during the stormy weather, one person went up through the through the winding stairways and lighted up the lamps surrounded by 12-sided rotating lenses which cast their beams across the water and could be seen from 25 nautical miles away.
One day it was the duty of Andrew to light up the lamps and there were signs of an approaching storm, he thought to perform his work immediately before the storm was upon them. It was a tough physical job as he carried the heavy oil containers up the 70 steps through the winding staircase to the tower. Faithfully he refilled the lamps inside the massive lenses, trimmed the wicks and pulled the great clockwork chains to rewind the revolving structure.
He hurried down to take shelter in his living quarters as the storm force wind was increasing but as he was nearing the bottom, the whole stairway structure shook with a sudden jolt and threw him hurtling downwards. Blood was pouring across his face as he touched it and felt his head had been gashed somewhere from where the blood was oozing out. He gave a scream and fell flat unconscious, hitting the ground with great thudding noise. Patrick new that something had gone wrong and he hurried and found Andrew sprawled across the floor. Somehow he dragged him to his bed and tried to clean his wounds and then bandage his head as much as he could. On his own, under that great shock, he lost his nerve and his hands became jittery. He put his ears to his heart to see weather Andrew was breathing or not. He heard a faint and irregular sound.
The storm was now in full force and he felt like an inhabitant of hell with a smashed body of a man beside him. He sat there numbed and tried to make some hot soup for the injured man. He put his head in his lap and tried to force spoonful of hot soup down his throat but could not open his mouth as his tattering teeth were stuck together. Outside great waves of water were rising and hitting the quarters with whistling screams. He just sat there motionless frozen out of his wits. In the morning he found Andrew already dead, stiff in his bed.
He did not know what he should do and until the storm subsides, no one from the main land was going to call. The people must examine the dead man’s injuries and do not suspect him any foul play. He could not leave the corpse lying in the living quarters due to its horrible sight. He must shift it out of sight but somewhere safe from the sea. He built a sort of make shift coffin on the top of the tower and dragged the stiff corpse all the way up the winding stairs to put into the coffin. It was a job beyond his endurance and it took him whole day to drag up the stiff corpse. It seemed to be staring at his face with an astonished gaze.
He came down and slept a night of nightmares and went up again to the top, to lighten up the lamps but stopped midway due to a pungent putrefied smell travelling downwards. The corpse had begun to rot emitting a rancid foul smell. He nailed the coffin to stop he smell and dragged it to he small balcony outside jutting from the tower, under the biting winds and lashing rain.
Another night in hell--someone kept calling him to come down and to sail away in the boat, which was just waiting for him outside the landings. Andrew was sitting in it and a sinister dark figure was piloting the boat and beckoning him to come over to the boat.
‘Patrick! Come and join me, I cannot go alone.’ A sound reverberated and the wind screamed
‘Come and join---come and join.’ repeating itself.
He woke suddenly drenched in perspiration.
He heard sounds of knocking coming from up the tower. He was terrified and shivering but a hidden force drove him up to the tower to see and through the misty glass, he saw a withered hand knocking at it, from outside.
The cover of the coffin had detached itself and the arm of dead man was knocking at the tower glass. He came down screaming, covered himself with sheets and hid himself in the bed to drown out all the screaming cries.
After a couple of days the storm blew itself out and a provision boat arrived. They found scattered remains of human body with broken pieces of wooden coffin just outside the landing place and inside a horrible spectacle greeted them. Patrick had gone completely insane and was howling like a beast.
Durlabh Singh © 2009.