The Darkhouse, pt 6

CW: As this is the last part, I should probably advise of gory descriptions. It’s a horror story, after all.


17th June, 184__

Dearest Philippa

The easterlies have surged and with them, an expansive storm swells on the horizon.

We do not have enough oil to keep the lighthouse’s lamp burning until it has passed.

They – the cretinous crew – knew what I was doing. They knew that I was working in the auld store. They knew I was sorting, that I was disposing of anything I considered unfit or unuseable. The Skipper granted me permission to do what was required, and so I did! None of this is my fault. I refuse to carry the burden of their blame!

They must have noticed that I cast those old barrels into the sea. They must have! I cannot believe otherwise!

They have been watching me so carefully. They have been studying my every movement – so quick are they to pass judgement or make comment. I know they talk amongst themselves. God knows they will not speak to me! I cannot believe that they had failed to notice their precious barrels were missing. This is clearly a part of their plan to isolate me and drive me away. 

I told them that the one barrel I checked had been filled with some vile substance. I tried to tell them that – for my own sake as much as theirs – I had used my best judgement to extend the same logic upon the remaining two that seemed equally rotted. Why would I uncork each in turn and expose myself to its contents when the first had been so poisoned? Why would I think to inflict that upon them? All I ever wanted was to be useful!

How could I have possibly known that one of those barrels contained reserve fuel?

Was it malice that made them hold their tongues? Were they deliberately waiting for a time such as this to confront me with this blame?

For all they had told me, the items in the auld store were naught but rotted surplus. I did what I had to!

Darling Pip – I fear for my life. The building ire of the sea is naught when compared to that of the crew. I believe the Skipper would have cast me into the frothing grey waters after those accursed barrels had he not been held back!

“Don’t mek ye’self a murderer!” Thomas cried as the three of them confronted me in misplaced rage. He fought against the old man’s strength, gripping his shoulders as he pleaded for my life.

“It i’nt worth it,” Alan spat as he fought against the old man’s strength. His mouth was twisted in a yellowed snarl. 

I cowered and retreated away from the Skipper, so terrified was I of the maddened glint in his pale eyes! I looked wildly to his fellows for some semblance of sympathy, but there I found none. There was only loathing in their stares. They hated me. I had already grown to understand they disliked me – rejected me! – but now it was plain to see to what depths they would see me suffer. 

In me they saw those negligent crew of thirty years past who had failed in their duties and let Whitcliffe Lighthouse go dark. In me, they saw an infection that would mark them with the same sin.

“If so much as a single man dies, it’ll be on your soul,” the Skipper said at last as he shrugged away from his restraints. He pointed a finger at me, spittle flecking his chin as he did so. “On your soul!”

With that, he strode away with his cronies in tow.

I heard them soon after discussing their options. I was hidden within a nest of blankets in the bunkroom while they paced the mechanisms directly above.

“We should only use t’ lamp at night.” said Thomas. “We keep t’ oil for when it’s needed most.”

“Can’t d’ that,” replied Alan. I could imagine him shaking his head, his stubbled jowls rasping against the collar of his shirt. How he sickened me. How they all now sickened me. “The day’s are too dark. ‘Least ‘til the storm passes. We could use ‘alf the wicks.  The light’ll be dim if any fools stay out when the storm breaks, but it’ll be summat.”

Thomas spoke once more. “If we let ‘em get with’n a mile or two of t’coast when the gale’s about at night, they’ll be dashed to t’ rocks afore they know which way’s which.”

Feet shuffled in the silence that followed.

“The days are getting dark, aye, but not dark enough to risk folk getting close to t’cliffs when it’s too late for ‘em to adjust course af’er sunset. We use the lamp at night. Only at night,” said the Skipper finally. The tone of his voice left no room for argument. 

Alan made some grudging noise of assent. I can only assume they agreed.

Their footsteps grew loud and fast as they moved into their various positions, presumably acting upon the Skipper’s orders. I could envision them crawling their way over the machinery and across the lamp, scurrying to deliver the plan.

I grudgingly admired their dedication, whilst despising them for all else. 

I write now, that heavy terror still resting in my core. I am – insofar as I can be – confident that I might remain here undisturbed. They are busy with work and shall have no time for me. At least, until the storm abates. Nonetheless, cold concern for my life curls in my gut like a parasite. It writhes and twitches with each syllable uttered – with each creak of floorboards or step upon the stairs. Can I attempt sleep knowing their hatred of me? Can I even close my eyes, knowing how they have conspired?

I suspect I will have no trouble in leaving when Bill comes. They will be only too happy to see the back of me, much as I will be only too delighted to see this accursed place shrink into the horizon.

Still. I am afraid. I am afraid beyond any reason I can identify, though I have spent some time trying to rationalise it.

I miss you so very much.

J

 

18th June, 184__

Dearest Philippa

Last night I was visited by hideous visions I cannot possibly put into words. I do not recall falling asleep, but I must have, for the things I saw and felt could have no other explanation.

Rendered paralysed by terror, I found myself being visited by subtle, shapeless shades like those I envisaged in the void beyond the darkhouse. Rendered inert, only my eyes could move. I could feel them bulging as I stared out across the bunkroom, trying vainly to seize upon something that would stir my numb body and restore agency. 

The very shadows of the bunkroom extended out into incomprehensible shapes. Every dark corner, every small silhouette crept forward in a reflection of life. I could not tell if they acted as individuals or as parts of some greater, horrific whole. It did not matter, for I knew that even a fraction of their being had the potential to take my very mind and crush it into madness.

They reached out for me and whispered promises of certain doom with words or intent I cannot bear to recall. I could only stare, possessed by a terror so great I was sure my heart would burst as some appendage felt blindly about my body before alighting on my face.

When I was finally able to move, I did so with a terrible scream, clutching desperately at my blankets and sodden with sweat. The crew did not come to check on me though I could hear them moving elsewhere.

I immediately turned on the lamp at my bedside and wept into its comforting glow like a sickened child. Outside, the wind howled and the sea crashed with such force that the lighthouse rocked under its weight.

Too frightened to lie back again in case sleep should claim me, I huddled on the edge of the bunk and stared into the flame until my eyes dried. I remained like that until dawn, at which point I dared to sit upon the lighthouse’s stoop and watch the storm’s approach.

Thus settled, I wrote. I have written much this morning, but every time I try to commit these thoughts and experiences, I am gripped once again by dread. I have thrown so many half-formed sentences to the sea. I wished with every page that the waters would take my fear with them. This has not worked.

Time is drawing close, darling Pip. There is a sense of urgency in the air. At first I thought it might be the storm’s presence or the crew’s hostility, but no – there is something more. There is something greater still. 

At noon, the lamp will be extinguished.

As above, so below. 

If the darkhouse is a reflection of the lighthouse, and if the lamp should be permitted to go out, what effect will that have on what lies Below in that Godless, unfathomable realm? For Below there is no sun. There is no day – there is no dawn or dusk. The shadows beyond the vile green light care not for the time! They care only for that light and whatever properties it possesses that keeps them at bay. If the crew follows the Skipper’s plan and if they should allow the lamp to be turned off, then surely that means the lamp of the darkhouse will mirror?

And if the darkhouse’s lamp should be extinguished?

 

Darling Pip

I cannot allow it to happen.

After my last brief letter, I took myself to the auld store and sat a while at the open trapdoor. I stared into the pit, trying to overcome a naked, primal instinct that shrieked at me to flee – flee into the sea, and swim until the waves took me! I could feel, leaking from that hollow, a nauseating tension – a predatorial anticipation. I could not help but liken the hatch to the jaws of some wicked force salivating. 

I wanted to climb down, Pip. I wanted so very much to overcome those sensations. I wanted to be angry – to trample down the fear, and permit only logic and reason to guide my body – but I could not. I wanted to see again the darkhouse – to rationalise it and force some manner of sense into my quivering mind.

I could not. I despise my cowardice, but I still cannot. 

In terror, I shut the trapdoor and dragged across my belongings in a pathetic attempt to hold the thoughts at bay. It has not worked. Whatever dwells down there will not be so easily stopped.

Every fibre of my being tells me that each of us here is in unspeakable danger.

If last night was any indication of what may occur, our very souls may be at stake. 

Whitcliffe Lighthouse’s lamp has remained lit for now, but I can only assume that whatever diabolical being is restrained in the void must know of our struggle. It – or they – whatever it may be! – must know of our situation with regards to the oil. Why else would it be pressing so hard upon the very shackles of reality?

I am educated. I am capable of reason. I know much of philosophy and logic. I cannot speak for the others. I am sufficiently learned to solve a simple puzzle or find a simple pattern.

Why else would it have tortured me so? Why else would it have chosen me of all stationed here to learn the truth? Why else would it have singled me out and deigned to show me the secret of the trapdoor? It must delight in the torture of an intelligent mind!

Could it be that this is the fate that befell the crew thirty years ago? They allowed the lighthouse lamp to turn off, after all. No remains were found. By all accounts, it appeared as though they had simply vanished into thin air! It makes little to no sense as to why they would not take action to extend the lamp’s life and to ensure it remained at least partially functional.

Though I have fought and fought against the strange and terrible conclusion, I am forced to assume that their actions permitted something more dire than mere shipwrecks to occur. 

They must have been taken, Pip. Those vile things that came for me last night must have come to them also. Unfettered by the darkhouse’s protective lamp, they were free to run amok. God only knows what they might be capable of without restraint! Last night, I experienced naught but a breath of their power and it nearly ended me.

I cannot allow it to happen. I have seen what dwells down there, and I cannot allow it to take me. No matter how I might feel about the keepers here, I must be the stronger person. I must rise above my loathing and do what I can to save them. We are each of us small, small beings in the face of something so much more vast. 

Sweet, sweet Pip – I must act. I must try to persuade the Skipper to keep the lamp lit at all times. We must keep the light burning and hope that the storm passes soon. 

I shudder to think what might happen if it does not.

If he refuses, then I shall have to come up with a plan. It will be necessary to save the souls of every man here. 

 

My darling sister

Can you remember when I tried to make rabbit pie? You were so very young at the time, scarcely reaching my waist. You were – as you are now – so very fascinated by everything I set myself to! Though it was unwise for you to trail after me as you did, you rarely left my side. What adventures we had! 

It was a sweet, sweet summer’s day. We had picked unripe apples from the orchard and laughed as our faces shrank from the sourness! We dared one another to take bites in turn and made ourselves quite ill with their sharpness! I remember how high and warm the sun was – how the air was rich with blossom – and how you sang as we searched for flowers to pick for mother.

Sarah had been taken ill that day, but had left provisions for the kitchen staff to see to our family’s meals. Nonetheless, you and I decided that we would take matters into our own hands. It had become hot outside, after all, and the cool kitchen was a delicious alternative.

We met dear old Robert the groundskeeper at the back door as we pawed our way through the stocks in search of inspiration. He had brought a pair of wood pigeons and a plump rabbit. We dismissed him after taking receipt of his delivery. He doffed his cap to us with a grin and left us to play cooks. I remember your ecstatic giggle!

I had little thought for the pigeons. I did not believe I had Sarah’s patience in plucking nor cleaning those clumsy bodies. They had always struck me as uniquely ungainly, and it was so disappointing to see what they looked like naked of their plumage. I had seen her prepare rabbit before, however, and had gazed in awe at the swiftness of her knives and the ease with which she could turn those creatures inside out. It seemed so very easy. It was almost like magic. I was certain that if such a simple woman as she could perform the task, then so too could I!

I might have been a more delicate child had I not been so fascinated. 

We weren’t to know that the rabbit was merely stunned. Robert declared – when father later challenged him – that he had hit the thing hard enough across the head with his cosh that it had fallen limp and ceased breathing. He had thought nothing of it. He had killed hundreds of rabbits in his time on the estate and had never thought that any one of them could be feigning – slow witted creatures that they are. He certainly had not thought that the children of the house would set upon it.

Our first indication that there was something amiss was when I dragged the knife down its belly, being swift but so very careful as to not pierce its gut and ruin the meat.

The scream! Oh God, I still remember the scream! Its cries still haunt me to this day, Pip. Can you remember? I panicked. I did not know what to do. Nothing had prepared me for such an event, and so – willfully continuing with what little I knew – I tried to skin the poor thing.

How it twisted and shrieked in my small hands! It slipped free, wet with its own fluids, and scrabbled across the tiles. We both screamed then, you and I, our horror meeting the rabbit’s in a terrible chorus. 

It was father who appeared. He picked the suffering creature up with no sign of hesitation and snapped its neck. That crack was as loud as any cannon. I could see – even through eyes swamped with tears – how its legs spasmed, how its eyes rolled and jaw dropped slack. I could not bring myself to believe it had died, even as it passed water onto the floor and he threw it to one side in a pile. I could still hear the echoes of its torment.

Father beat me soundly afterwards and I was confined to my room for a week. I never ate rabbit again.

It is strange the things we remember when we have naught but our memories for company.

It is little wonder, of course, why I should think of such a thing now.

I have done a most terrible thing, Pip, but you must understand that it was necessary. As much as I grew to despise the keepers of Whitcliffe Lighthouse, I do – and have always – recognised them as men possessing of duty. Though humble in their ways and poor in mind, their souls deserve saving. 

Though it may damn my own, I will seek forgiveness in time.

The lighthouse must remain lit.

Thomas’s passing was the most painful. Perhaps because he was the first, but most likely it was because I had – at one time – felt something akin to affection for the man. He was, however, too much of a threat. I had seen first hand his noble strength and gauged his mass to be too great for me to manage. Had I not believed he could capably stop me from doing what needed to be done I would have gladly let him live, despite his dumb participation in my torture.

I bade him come to me as I stood at the kitchen door. With a most rudimentary distraction, I had him turn his back to me. Then I pushed him down the steps. His bones popped and cracked like damp logs in a fireplace. He tumbled for all of twenty feet, all the while his head bounced and snapped on the hard stone steps. 

When at last he came to rest in the auld store, he writhed and moaned at the foot, begging for my aid. His limbs were twisted into the most terrible shapes as blood bloomed from myriad ruptures beneath his shirt.

Weeping helplessly, I stumbled after him and met his shocked stare as – with utmost mercy – I plunged a knife with all my weight behind it through his ribs. He was unable to resist. I choose to believe that in those last moments, his gentle eyes showed humility and gratitude. I forgave him, as I believe he forgave me.

Next was Alan. I had hoped that Thomas’s death might be quiet – for his sake as well as my own – but he had not passed as neatly as I had intended. Alan rushed down the steps, clearly stirred from sleep and duller for it. He stood halfway from the new store gaping at the scene below him in burgeoning horror. Stricken with grief, I could only gape back until my senses returned. I could not possibly explain why I had done what I did, nor could I hope he would understand. He was too much under the Skipper’s thrall. They all were.

That small window of time perhaps saved us all.

He staggered back and away, tripping over his own feet in a frantic dash to outrun me. He was not nearly spry nor quick enough, and slipped upon Thomas’s blood. I clumsily swiped the knife at him again and again, carving his ankles to fine ribbons in the ridiculous pursuit until he stumbled a final time. With his back against the kitchen door, I drove at him again, again, and again apologising all the while until a pink froth foamed from between his lips and his eyes bulged. I continued to stab at him until the knife became too wet to hold, at which point I fell against the wall and stared upon my vile handiwork.

He was still then, and perhaps even peaceful. His aspect thus relaxed, I felt some measure of empathy for the man.

Finally, the Skipper. There was little ceremony to his end, nor did he deserve it. I had tried to reason with him, Pip, but he would not listen. He called me mad, he said that I had lost all control of my senses! I begged and I begged, but to no avail. He would’ve had me locked away had I not fled. If he had listened – if only he had listened! – then none of this would have come about. 

I found him, as I thought I might, upon the uppermost gallery, surrounded by a deluge of rain and the roaring waters below. He had only a moment to consider the blood that covered me and gauge my intent before I rushed him and sent him over the railing. He held onto the gallery, his thick, coarse fingers offering some traction against the rain-slick metal. But it was not enough. 

I aided his inevitable fall by prising his fingers free, then watched as he plummeted to the ground below. He hit the rocks with a dull thud and moved no more. 

I thought then of the rabbit as I set about my grim task. It was no great surprise. I remembered the way that Sarah would hold the knife just so. I remembered her insistence that a sharp knife saved both effort and injury, and that time taken to find a careful angle could save a precious cut.

I did not have time to mourn, though I sobbed and prayed as I worked.

Alan – rotund as he was – was the easiest. Though I doubtless wasted much in my unskilled rush, I was able to carve a significant quantity of blubber from across his doughy belly, the tops of his arms, and his thighs. Most awkward was where he lay, splayed as he was across the kitchen steps.

From lean Thomas, I took what I could from his legs but the offerings were small. I was disinclined to desecrate his body any more than I absolutely had to.

Of the Skipper – who I dragged inside away from the rain – there were little more than Bible leaves to be found. The old man was too wiry and dessicated to be of much use.

That necessary task done, I set the fat to cook.

It is here now, sat at the kitchen table, that I write this. 

Soon the blubber will be boiled and I can skim away the precious oil. It will be of poor quantity and quality when compared to that of whale blubber, but it should last long enough. I’m confident that if the resulting amount is too low, I can make better use of Alan. The small stew pot that has been such a staple of our diets can rend only so much at a time. It will be little trouble to add more to it as required.

The smell is quite abhorrent. 

I have used what little training I was given to fill the reserves of the lighthouse’s lamp mechanisms with what whale oil remained. There is now no more. All that is left is what little I can harvest from the keepers. 

I trust that it will be enough. 

If I do not sleep, if I keep the wicks clean and the glass clear, it will surely last for five days more. No ships will be lost. No shadows will be granted life. 

It must be enough. For if it is not, then it is my soul that will be forfeit. All this will have been for naught. 

Night has fallen outside. The light has been uninterrupted.

Please forgive me, Pip. I hope you can understand.

J

 

22nd June, 184__

Dearest Pip

The storm passed. I see Bill’s boat arcing around the cliffs from Whitcliffe Cove.

The lighthouse has remained lit.

I am coming home.

Yours with love and great anticipation,

J

 

~End


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