The night was wet and windy.
For days, the gales had risen and fallen in ever increasing fervor, as the hurricane grew from a blip on the radar, into a full-fledged mega storm.The coastguard advance warning systems broadcast a steady stream of nautical chatter, pushing urgent updates into the airways, advising mariners of the size, strength, location and heading of the sea monster chewing its way through the abnormally warm North Atlantic waters.
Landfall north of New York City was unusual, but not unheard of. The low lying coastal towns and inlets were accustom to higher than normal tides, but to actually take a direct hit from a hurricane was so rare as to not factor into the living memories of those living in coastal communities.
So, my normal honorary midnight to four a.m. shift at the historical lighthouse was expected to be an evening full of playing cards with my buddy, Frank, another lighthouse enthusiast.
We came for the solitude, the chance to get away from our noisy kid filled homes. This was our idea of a man cave; quiet, lonely and with the best view in town, especially on, what promised to be a howler of an evening as the hurricane passed.
The light house ran on electricity nowadays, but lanterns and kerosene were still to be found in the cupboards of the Service Room and much to our glee, fully functional and stocked.
The drive to Ted’s house, on the northern shore of the inlet, was wilder than usual. The dusky light turned dark, when a tree crashed down, dousing the few remaining street lights before leaving town. Rain lashed the windshield as I dodged the occasional branch littering the highway.
Ted made a mad dash from the porch to the passenger side as I pulled up in front of his house. The wind splattered rain onto his seat as he plopped down, hauling the door closed. Rain dripped from his parka.
“Are you sure this is a good idea? The roads are likely to be clogged with debris once this monster roars past” I said.
Ted grinned and held up his knapsack full of munchies and a thermos no doubt full of coffee and laced with something a bit stronger.
“This will be a night to remember. The shots I will be able to take from the lantern room will be epic, just what I need for my blog.”
I revved the engine and a short time later we were parked off the point, where the lighthouse perched on a soaring promontory of rock that jutted about fifty feet from the shoreline. Large white waves curled and crashed onto the rocks and boulders below. A twisted footpath through the tall grass was the only access to the light house and gusts of winds snatched at our clothing, like greedy hands, attempting to push us off a path that was suddenly too narrow.
Our flashlights bobbed as we ran the last few feet to the door of the service entrance and wrenched open the door, tumbling inside and latching the heavy iron door behind us. The sound of the wailing winds shut off abruptly, and became a moan outside the base.
“That’s odd,” I said, “Why is the beacon not lit yet?” Ted dropped his pack and opened up the control panel for the electric lighting. He flipped the breakers on and off, on and off, and nothing happened.
“Seems something has gone wrong with the feed.” He frowned at the panel, tracing the wires in his mind, up through the lighthouse to the lantern. “Maybe something has gotten loose above. Here grab a lantern and let’s go take a look.”
Pulling a lighter from his pack, he pulled off the lantern chimney and lit the wick then replaced the wick. Light spilled into the room.
We grabbed a lantern each, and Ted grabbed his pack, then we headed up the tight curving staircase on the far side of the room, winding up and up and up, inspecting the electrical cabling as we climbed. Reaching the summit, a trap door was visible in the ceiling above our heads. I slid back the pair of bolts and flopped the door back and climbed into the lantern room.
A glorious and wicked sight met my eyes. Lightning flashed and rains streamed by the exterior glass of the lighthouse, the winds whipping and tugging at the room, angrily attempting to pluck it from its perch atop the stone building.
The lights from our lanterns filled the room and illuminated the lantern room and the reason that it was still dark. Beside the cabling leading to the Fresnel Lens were three dead rats. The wiring beside them had been chewed through.
“It’s a good thing we came tonight” said Ted. “Everyone knows to stay away from this shoreline, but still I would hate to not be able to see this light, even with modern-day technology.”
Ted opened up the lens compartment and placed his lantern inside, turning up the wick to its brightest glow. The lens picked up the bright light and magnified it, beaming it out into the tempest howling outside.
It was as Ted was closing the lens door that we saw them.
Fifty feet below us and a quarter-mile off shore was a ship.
Ghostly and silent, the masted sailing ship was lurching in the waves, on a collision course with the rocks below.
Idiom: Graveyard Shift, or graveyard watch, is the middle watch, or 12 – 4am, because of the number of disasters that occur at this time. The term was recorded by American mariner Gersholm Bradford, in “A Glossary of Sea Terms, 1927.
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