The Darkhouse, pt 5


16th June, 184__

Damn these men and their ways! Damn them all in turn! Dearest sister, I am at my wit’s end! I cannot bear another moment with them!

Am I too different from them to be accepted? Have I not worked as hard as any man or woman might in these circumstances? Have I not given nor earned sufficient respect?

Bill cannot come soon enough, for when he does, I will be leaving this isle! I will have him bear me back to society and discard all memory of this place in my wake. 

I curse their stubborn ignorance and their dull manners! 

I should explain – 

I took a measure of Alan’s bottle to calm my nerves after I wrote my last letter and, once adequately composed, I took to find one of the men. I found Thomas considering the supplies in the new store and, on persuading him that his chore might wait a moment, I took him to the trapdoor so he could see what lay beneath.

As we made our way there, I tried to explain what I had found – I spared no detail! I warned him of the peculiar sensations I had experienced, of the too-long descent, and of the second trapdoor I had located far beneath the sea level. I spoke of the great darkness to be found down there and of the closeness of the tunnel that one must navigate; how the rust bit at my palms, how my jaw ached with the weight of the lantern between my teeth, of the great and fearsome feeling that had swept over me as I touched the means of entry to whatever lay beyond!

By the time we arrived, he was gripped by excitement and insisted we bring the others.

Eager to share, I allowed him a moment to call upon the Skipper and Alan – neither of whom, it must be said, were happy to have been removed from their duties.

Thus we gathered around the trapdoor as I relayed – once more – what I had found. With great flourish, I cast open the portal!

And there – oh darling Pip, I can scarcely bring myself to write it! I am so embarrassed and enraged!

There, not thirty feet beneath us, lit by some dim reflection of the sun, was a lapping, turgid mess of North Sea foam! There was no darkened pit! There were no rungs! There was nothing! Nothing at all!

Quite infuriated by my perceived deceit, the Skipper set upon me. He did not use force, Pip, but his hard words wounded me nonetheless. I pleaded my case, directing his attention to the tears on the sleeves of my shirt, to the rawness on my palms – but he would not listen. I was accused of wasting their time, of wasting resources, and – most offensively of all! – of immature notions that were somehow indicative of my upbringing!

I had no opportunity to respond to his accusations, for all three men turned their backs to me and left. Over the sound of their movement I discerned their chiding of Thomas for indulging me in such ‘ridiculous notions’ and of being complicit in the distraction.

They have barely spoken to me since. I have been left to my own devices, not called upon to work, nor to offer some explanation as to what happened. There is an unpleasant and queer sort of pressure at work that prevents even kind Thomas from meeting my eye. 

It should come as little surprise that I could not sleep last night.

I was, as I am now, filled with a seething fury. How can they possibly know of my upbringing when they have not given me the opportunity to speak of such things? How can they possibly judge me as irreverent when all that I have learned would span the lives of all three of them! I am simply without words!

Curse them, curse them! Whitcliffe Cove, its lighthouse, and all its people can go to the sea for all I care!

I shall find that passage once more and I shall stun the ignorant words back into their ignorant mouths. And then I shall leave them to find another poor fool to chide and mock, for it certainly will not be me!

Ever thickening clouds and the sea have both begun to swell. It is most fitting for my mood.

 

Philippa

After school, when I travelled to find some sense of purpose to my life, I had cause to encounter a most interesting group in London. I cannot quite recall the details as I met so very many people during that time. Regardless, a phrase I heard them speak keeps echoing and echoing within me: ‘As above, so below’. As the Lord’s Prayer might state, ‘On Earth, as it is in Heaven’.

It is in this situation that those words have never felt more true.

After writing last, I walked back and forth across the ‘auld store’, kicking at wood in spite and tearing at my hair in agitation. I began throwing my tools back into the boxes I had conveyed them across the Pennines in, muttering to myself all the while. 

I was made sufficiently angry that, in a fit of fury, I threw open the trapdoor preparing to throw my curses to the sea foam below. 

To my surprise – or, perhaps, with no surprise at all – the water had gone. In its stead, the dark, taunting pit which I had first discovered laughed back at me. I laughed down at it as though the two of us had shared some great joke! But I was not amused. Not at all. 

Once more, I found myself filled with the need to bring the crew to see – how I wanted them to be humbled! But, no. I did not. For I somehow knew, with great clarity, that the moment I reunited the dull audience to look upon it, the pit would revert once more to a short drop into the sea.

I cannot speak to where this knowledge came from, but come it did: The hole did not want to be borne witness to by anyone other than me. There was something exceptional to be discovered here, and only one with intelligence enough to understand it could be shown.

Not thinking about anything more than the desire to leave those simple cretins behind, I clamped the lantern once more between my teeth and commenced the descent.

This time aware of the unsettling sensations I would experience, I trusted in the hardiness of the rungs to bear me safely to the bottom. I did not permit myself to be distracted by the feeling of my insides twisting, nor my thoughts becoming addled. With fierce determination, I concentrated only on movement, casting any misgivings to one side as superstition. I plunged deeper and deeper down with utter focus until – after long enough that my arms and legs became hot with effort at the ceaseless motion and sweat beaded upon my skin – I reached the bottom.

Fearing that I might be too overwhelmed by the dread I had been seized by the last time I had touched this new, lower trapdoor, I wrapped my handkerchief around my fingers and immediately pulled upon the hatch’s handle. It opened upwards without a sound.

What revealed itself to the soft light of my lantern was a set of stone steps descending further into the ground. Angling myself within the narrow space at the pit’s bottom, I stepped down and into this new area.

The steps circled away from me – down, of course – in a wide, anti-clockwise fashion around a wide, circular room. The only illumination in the otherwise pitch black space came from my sturdy light. What little I could discern showed blank stone walls – brick, so clearly created by some knowledgeable hand – as dark as the rock upon which Whitcliffe Lighthouse stands.

No – that is not quite accurate.

The walls did bear features of a sort, but they were ill defined. There were three shallow niches that offered no purpose; opposite the steps on the far side of the chamber was a much larger alcove, similar to the sort of space where one might expect shelves to be set in a reading room. The floor was bereft of clutter.

Most strange of all, however, there were hazy structures jutting from the ceiling through which I had emerged. Their shapes were somehow familiar, but I had not – at that point – realised the full truth of where I was. If I had, I might have recognised them, as poor-a reflection of the objects they mimicked as they were. 

Eager to continue my exploration though aware of a growing fear, I moved downwards, carefully navigating the curved staircase.

I came to a miniscule landing. Here was a door that I pushed open. Again, the room beyond was circular. As with the first, the ceiling was clustered with a collection of vague objects, like stalactites that had no answering form upon the clear floor. 

There was nothing here for me to do. I attempted to reach the objects, but they were just beyond my fingertips. Or, perhaps it was the case that my fingers passed through them? The thought did not occur to me at the time. 

I proceeded.

Here now was a second landing and door, and here was where a fearful sort of understanding came to me. For when I opened this second door, the shapes beyond were unmistakable: There – on the ceiling in the centre of the room like a hideous chandelier – was the vague, nigh ephemeral imitation of a table and three chairs. The form was too perfect to be mere coincidence: Two chairs were pressed beneath the table, whilst the third stood – or rather hanged – to one side as though some figure had neglected to tuck it away after use.

Their placement, though mirrored, were identical to the arrangement in Whitcliffe Lighthouse’s kitchen far, far above me! I had noted the position of things on my walk to the ‘auld store’ mere hours before. As the kitchen of Whitcliffe Lighthouse occupied the third floor, so too did this mockery of shade! The room before, therefore, had been the primary storage area, and the chamber into which I had first stepped was some dark reflection of the auld store!

What is this place! I cried aloud, a profound terror seizing me. Only my words echoed back to me, as strange as the space around me. Is this some prank? Is this part of the crew’s plan to isolate me? To terrorise me? To drive me from the lighthouse and laugh at my expense?

I fled the room and continued downwards, gripped by a madness to see yet more. I would not – I could not believe – until I had more evidence of the impossible! A third door greeted me, beyond which – upon the ceiling – were two squat bunks of shade, the huddled shapes of mismatched furniture and – precisely where I had left it! – a humped object resembling an open trunk. 

I needed to see this madness through!

I staggered to the door and recommenced my journey. 

Next was the tall chamber containing a facsimile of the oil-carrying mechanisms; there were the shadowy forms of empty barrels of oil that had yet to be taken back to the mainland for re-filling, and there were the buckets and rags used for cleaning.

Here now was the watch room, its windows sealed and opaque – little more than indentations in the stone – and the door I would expect to open onto the gallery utterly absent, save for an alcove matching that of the first chamber I had entered.

Finally, there was the great lamp. How I wish there had not been the lamp!

It was the only point of light in that dread place that was not my own. In all other chambers was darkness. It was not as bright as the one I had spent so much time polishing nor drawing inspiration from: Rather than a bold, white light, it glowed a sickly, marsh-green. I could not begin to guess what fuel it might burn with. The parody of the mirrors I had become so intimate with were dim and small, scarcely functional, though what function they could serve I did not know at that moment.

The vile lamp offered little in the way of guidance within this sunken tower. For, unlike the rest of the inverted tower – this darkhouse – this chamber had windows and it was through these windows that the beam – such as it was – was directed. 

And oh, what a sight there was beyond those panes!

There was – my God, Pip – there was nothing! And yet there was something! My eyes and mind fought with one another as my sight settled upon things that were not there! My mind perceived only a great blackness so thick and impenetrable that I knew if I reached out and touched it, it would be solid. It was a pure, sable void with such a weight of presence that I dropped to my knees.

And yet – and yet! – as though some malign intelligence were imparting its wisdom upon me, I knew that there was more out there! I knew that beyond what my fragile mind could grasp, there existed something beyond the very point of sanity. The more I gazed out into that emptiness, the more I could believe that there were things moving and shifting at the point the sickly lantern’s light faded to nothing. I fancied that I could hear noises at that moment, scratching, slithering, and whispering against the outside of the structure. As the sea might lap against Whitcliffe Lighthouse, the shadows beyond this place rasped against its stone. 

As odious as the darkhouse’s lantern was, it held them – whatever they might be – at bay. As the lighthouse’s lantern was a beacon to the living, this darkhouse’s lantern was a deterrent against whatever lay in the void. I knew this – I know this! I cannot say how, but the knowledge is as sure within my mind as it is within my very soul! It is as true and real as the pen with which I now write! It is as true as the inexplicable knowledge that, had I sought to show the descent to the lighthouse’s crew, it would have vanished. Some mysterious, terrible forces were at work upon this place, and then upon me!

I believe then that the enormity of my discovery overwhelmed me. I fainted, welcoming oblivion to take me from that place.

When I awoke, I had no concept of time or location. I was cold, shivering so deeply that I bit my tongue. 

Through some small mercy, my lantern had survived and lay at my side, my fingers firmly gripping the handle. I thanked God for that souvenir of the world above even as I wept for whatever sins I must have committed to be there in the first place.

I had hoped that when my vision cleared, I would find myself – somehow – back in my bedroom in Lancashire, perhaps anticipating some dour lecture from father on how I was spending my time. I fancied for a moment that I could smell roses at the window – that I could hear the strains of music as you and mother sat at the piano in the parlour!

But, no. The strange room – the unholy reflection of where I had spent so much time in the lighthouse – was still very much present.

I sat there. I cannot say for how long. I was transfixed by all that I saw around me. I alternatively clutched at my head, trying desperately to make sense of all I had experienced, and staring out of the windows. Periodically I would clasp my lantern to my breast to reassure myself of its presence though I could see its sallow light across my tattered clothes and pale skin.

‘As above, so below’, darling sister. These words echoed through me like a prayer. 

When at last the strength returned to my legs, I stood and staggered from the darkhouse’s lamp room. I ascended the spiral staircases that at once felt so familiar and alien. I trailed my fingers across the stonework with the wrong hand, feeling the reflection of each familiar chip and dent as I did so.

With no small amount of relief, I reached the base – or, rather, the top – of that sunken tower whereupon I fell over my feet in a final rush to the hatch that would take me away. There I passed the shapes I had puzzled over on my arrival. With knowledge – or, at least, some measure of understanding – as to what this place was, I now recognised them now as the shadow of my own equipment.

Why, there carved out of shade in strange, nonsensical struts was my easel – there was my basket of paints! Beside it, a mere black lump upon the ceiling, was the box I had been packing my brushes and charcoals into mere hours prior. 

I choked upon a laugh as I hauled myself through the trapdoor. I closed it behind me and wasted no time in ascending, ascending – rising back to normalcy! As a man might kick and lash his way through water to break its surface, I burst into the ‘auld store’ and drew a breath as huge and delicious as any I had taken before.

It is here, my darling sister, that I write. 

And it is here, dear Pip, that I will now sleep for I do not have the strength to move again. I will stay here a while.

J


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