Welcome to our regular Friday feature, 1000 or so words of slightly weird story, with a smart new button I made in honour of our Challenge guru, Chuck Wendig. Since Chuck hasn’t emerged from hibernation yet, I’ve gone back to the list that gave us the Orichalcum Library and picked…
The Horse-drawn Lighthouse
The lighthouse blinked steadily on the promontory. Three flashes, pause, one long flash, pause, three flashes, and on, and on.
For the villagers of Mousetail, the light was one of the few constant things in their lives. The sea was restless, ever-changing, although of course it was always there. The cliffs couldn’t be trusted, since landslips occurred when they were least expected – and usually least wanted, causing death and destruction on many occasions. Above all, the neighbours couldn’t be trusted. They were constant in their untrustworthiness.
Bedworth shuffled down the alley that rambled between the stonebuilt cottages. Water dripped off the black granite, slithering over the occasional fern that strove to exist in a crack in the wall. It seeped into the moss then ran out again at the bottom, the moss as sodden as a sponge. Something dripped off Bedworth’s nose. It might have been rain. It wasn’t sweat, since it was as cold as sin.
He slid across the paved road to the sea wall. The waves were plunging against it, throwing up spume, but the wind was whipping it away from the village, turned by some force that bounced against the eerie vastness of The Point. He sucked on his teeth, calculating the high tide, and wondering whether there would be any passing traffic tonight. In Bedworth’s life, the only traffic worth considering was afloat or, preferably, nearly aground.
A shadow crossed the street behind him, slipping into crannies as it followed Bedworth along the harbour wall in the direction of the inn. It hid behind an apology for a streetlamp as two men accosted Bedworth outside the fish and chip shop.
“Evenin’, Bedwor’,” the first one said.
Bedworth nodded at him, and glared at his companion.
“Got any business afoot tonight?” asked the second.
Bedworth shook his head, spraying water from his hat at the other two.
“Could be a profitable night for you, if you look sharp.” The second man slurred the ‘r’ in sharp.
“Trader, comin’ round the Poin’.”
“Should be here in about an hour,” the second emphasised. “You have to act quickly.”
“Why should I worry?”
“You know yoursel’ bes’, bu’ I reckon there’s profi’ fer alluvus, if you ac’ quick.”
Bedworth looked from one to the other. He’d worked with them both before, but never the pair together. Why had they joined up tonight? And why get him involved?
“Why do you two need me? You don’t usually need a third.”
“This is speshul.”
“You’re the right man for the Point in this weather.”
The pair spoke at the same time. Bedworth believed neither.
“The usual. Take ’em over Hollerton way.”
“I can’t do that and fix the lighthouse as well, not at such short notice.”
“We’ll sor’ tha’ ou’. You jus’ do your bi’.”
Bedworth shrugged and turned back towards the alley. He’d have to get a move on if he was to get his pony out, rigged up with a lantern or three, and lead the trader a dance towards Hollerton. He puffed as he ran up the steps, and then slowed to climb the track up the cliff behind the village. He paused a few times, wheezing. He was getting too old for this lark, he thought, but then again, anyone who lived in Mousetail ought to be fit enough to climb out, so what was his trouble?
Near the top of the track, he turned aside and went along a wide ledge to a shack. Bedworth felt his way through the shack, grabbing a lantern as he went through an opening into a cave. The storm lamp set in an alcove illuminated enough for him to greet his pony, saddle her up, and prime the reflecting lantern that gave out so much extra light in one direction. He led the pony further into the cave, stepping carefully over the boulder-strewn track to get to the landward exit. The pony picked her way nimbly through the tunnel, sometimes pushing Bedworth aside in her haste to get a taste of freedom. They emerged on the grassy slope to the east of the Point less than half an hour from Bedworth’s departure from the harbour. Time enough, he thought.
The wind tore at Bedworth’s oilskin coat and threatened to rip his close fitting hat from his head. He pulled it down further, tightened the chinstrap, hugged his coat closer about him, and set off with the pony towards Hollerton. He never glanced back at the lighthouse on the Point. The others had said they’d fix it. That was all he needed to lead the trader astray, for it to think he was the Point, and to smash into the reefs at the base of the cliffs sheltering Mousetail.
He wondered what the trader was carrying; what would be his cut for tonight’s work?
A silver thread raced through the wind, wrapped itself round Bedworth’s legs and tossed him over the cliff. The pony ambled on.
Behind, on the Point, the two men sheltered in the lee of the lighthouse wall.
“You’re sure he said eleven?”
“Where is he, then?”
“Here!” A shadow slipped behind the second man, drew a wire round his neck and pulled it tight. The second man slumped to the ground.
“Wha’…?” The first man’s question was cut off with a gurgle.
The shadow dropped his blooded wire and whistled through his teeth. Two huge black horses approached him. He waved them in the direction of the lighthouse and they took up their positions. A silver thread left the outstretched hands of the shadow, wrapped itself round the base of the lighthouse and returned to loop itself around the horses’ chests. The horses strained against their eerie harness.
Slowly the lighthouse began to move. It groaned as it moved away from the edge, away from the promontory, and reached the smooth grass of the clifftop. It headed west.
Wherever Bedworth’s pony wandered was of no consequence. The lighthouse itself would send the trader off course tonight. The shadow would pick up the spoils.
(c) J M Pett 2014