April 29, 2015

The Lighthouse - Soumalya Chakraborty




















The line was deftly cast and the hook and sinker went under the water immediately. Two pairs of eager eyes watched closely as it shivered for a while with the impact of hitting the surface and then slowly grew still.


Jeremy was one among the fifty odd fisher folk who’d arrived at the abandoned lighthouse this morning to try their luck. With the onset of summer, water dried up near the shore and fish moved deeper. For those who could afford to buy a fishing boat and necessary equipment, life was much easier. They would sail far into the sea at sunrise and get back as dusk settled, with their holds full of fresh catch. For Jeremy and others like him, the farthest they could manage to come was the lighthouse. They would pool in their meager earnings and hire a boat, get to the lighthouse as early as possible with fishing lines and containers and get back with their catch earlier than the people who had boats. Their only advantage being they would be early to the market and cater to people who would be shopping for fish at that time.

The lighthouse was a relic from the days when Gleason was a bustling port and a popular stopover for commuter as well as cargo ships sailing from Trekkys to Arakorn. Business was great with the sea shore always crowded with tourists, sailors and townsfolk moving around, haggling with shop owners and catching a few relaxed moments by the sea. Apart from selling his wares, Jeremy always made it a point to snatch a few conversations with the visitors, learning about the places they came from and those they were going to. Later, he would come home and tell the same stories to James, his two year old son. He would make it a point to end every story by telling James that someday he would grow up and see these places in person. That never failed to bring a smile to the little boy’s face.

However, the discovery and opening up of a shorter, more convenient route between Trekkys and Arakorn spelled doom for Gleason. Ships became scarce and so did people. Trade and commerce declined rapidly, townsfolk began leaving for other islands and it appeared to Jeremy that everything was drying up. The town emptying, the port wearing a desolate look and now even the water and the fish in it.

Jeremy couldn’t remember the last time he had seen the lighthouse alight. Ever since the ships stopped coming, the lights had been removed and rooms locked up. Now, with years of neglect, the staircase, windows and railings were rusted and crumbling while creepers covered the walls which were sporting cracks already. Looking up at the structure, Jeremy wondered when it would all come crashing down on them.

Just then James let out a cry of excitement. “Dad, aren’t those ships heading our way?”

Jeremy turned and spotted three ships, heading towards the lighthouse rapidly. As he watched them come on, his happiness turned slowly to apprehension. If these were carrying passengers or cargo, they would surely head for the port. However, they were about to bypass it and come straight at the fisher folk camped around the base of the lighthouse.

Snatching the spyglass from his toolbox, Jeremy focused his attention on the leading ship. The tall figure standing at its deck sent a shiver down his spine. Dropping the spyglass, Jeremy shouted, “Antonio!”

Antonio Beretti was the most dreaded pirate prowling the southern seas where Gleason was located. Jeremy had heard a lot about him from sailors when they frequented Gleason and seen enough pictures to recognize him. Also, the red swords painted on his ships made identification that much easier.

The fishermen had nowhere to go. Their puny boat would never outrun the ships bearing down on them, and they were outmatched and outnumbered. The pirates were on them in an instant. Jeremy held James by the hand and ran for the lighthouse, only to find the door locked. Picking up a stone, he desperately attempted to break the door down when something hard smashed against the back of his head. Looking at the sky, the last thing Jeremy saw was the face of a smiling pirate. Holding a screaming James by the neck as he brought his sword down with his other hand.

When the massacre was over, Antonio surveyed the killing ground. He made a disgusted face as he went through the belongings of the men he had killed. 

“These were just poor fisher folk”, he grunted. “Hardly anything of value on them”

“It’s hard to come across ships these days on this abandoned route, Captain”, said Hugo, his first mate. “Some of their spyglasses and equipment could come in handy”.

Gathering what they could find, Antonio and his ships headed for Pesi, the nearest port which was on the busier route. Fortifying themselves with food from an inn and a few flagons of wine, they proceeded to patrol the route. Looking for cargo ships to plunder.

A month later, one of Antonio’s spies brought him word of a ship bringing in gold and silk from the port of Skibben. It would pass over Pesi on its way to Arakorn. On asking about the source of this news, the spy mentioned a little boy had handed him a piece of paper and ran off.

Not taking any chances, Antonio disguised his ships that night. Covering up the red swords painted on their hulls and appointing double the number of watchers, the pirate fleet set off in search of the Skibbenese treasure trove. A storm was blowing that night and navigation was difficult. The ships slowly drifted away from Pesi, the sailors trying to fight the wind.

Antonio quickly ordered his generals to abandon the search and return to Pesi. It would be too risky trying to attack and board a ship amidst such a storm. The ships regrouped and altered their course. Soon enough, the welcome glow from a lighthouse greeted Antonio’s vision.

“There’s Pesi! Quickly, steer for the port”, shouted Antonio as the oarsmen put all their strength into propelling the ships forward. As they neared the lighthouse, the port appeared different. It was deserted, there was nobody manning the docks and the familiar inn was nowhere to be seen.

“Wait a minute”, thought Antonio. “This can’t be…”

“Captain, we’ve come the wrong way! This is Gleason”, Hugo screamed above the howling winds.

“But...how could we? The lighthouse…”

“It’s the lighthouse of Gleason, Captain. We must swerve away. We are heading straight towards the sharp, rocky shore at full speed”

“Hugo, who is operating the lighthouse? It’s been abandoned for ages”

“I wish I knew, Captain”, said Hugo.

Antonio watched helplessly as his sailors desperately attempted to turn their ships from the shore. However, the wind had them and their frantic rowing had taken them too close before they realized where they were. One by one, the ships dashed against the rocks-wood splintering, sails tearing and the screams of sailors drowning in the wind. As Antonio struggled to stay afloat, he looked up at the lighthouse and thought he saw someone there. A man holding a child’s hand, looking on.


The light went out.

Get in touch with Soumalya here.
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