The town of Asherdale sat next to the sea, a quiet, serene town with seemingly little activity, like any other community. But unlike other places, Asherdale was home to a lighthouse, a most peculiar one, and the inhabitants wondered why it scared them as much as it did. It sat on the old mountain-like hill by the ocean, not having been lit for years, casting an ominous shadow upon their minds, as though it somehow had a vague, unbreakable connection with them all, even those new to the city. Many had approached it, few had actually gone inside. It was dead, as most had assured themselves, but it strangely irked those who knew it when it was bright and illuminating the seagoers with its awesome shine.
Nicholas Miller woke mid-afternoon, having gone to bed as the sun first rose. He yawned, got up, went to the bathroom, got dressed, and walked down the hall toward the kitchen when he heard the angry voice of his father. He stopped short of the kitchen, waiting in the hall.
"You let him get away with too much!" his father bellowed to his mother. "He fucks up in school and you just let him do as he pleases!"
"I do not! He tries in school!"
"Try, my ass! All he does is sit on his lazy ass and do nothing, and you don't even discipline him!" Nicholas felt a pang of guilt at his father's words. "He just got into another fight, and now we have to see the principal, again. Doesn't sound like he's trying to me."
"It wasn't his fault! It was that damn Harvey kid again."
"Oh right. He's acting out, just admit it, Elaine. He's a delinquent, as Mr. McGalley said." He walked toward the hall, but stopped.
"He is not! Maybe if you had some confidence in him, he might try!" Nicholas silently agreed.
"I did have confidence in him. He just doesn't give a shit about school. It's you who has too much confidence in him."
"It could be that he just has an asshole of a father."
There was the sound of breaking glass on the floor. "Brilliant! Break all the damn dinner plates!" his mother said.
"It was a fucking accident!" his father shrieked.
"What? You threw it!" she said incredulously.
"I did not!"
"Yes you did."
"No, I DIDN'T. It SLIPPED. Goddamn." He kicked some of the shards, a piece hitting Nicholas's foot.
"Well, are you going to pick it up or not? Or are you just gonna leave me to do it like always?"
"What the fuck? I was about to get the dustpan! SEE, I'm moving TOWARD the broom, calm your ass down." He walked near Nicholas, but didn't see him. Getting the dustpan and broom, he started to sweep it.
"Oh you weren't planning on cleaning it up, you damn liar, just gonna have me clean it up like I have to do for all your damn messes."
"I clean up the messes I make!"
"Oh? Then why the fuck was a dinner plate still out from last night?"
"I forgot to THIS ONCE, fuck, get off my back, bitch."
"Don't call her that!" Nicholas said, stepping into the kitchen. For a moment, his father looked taken aback, but his expression changed quickly to a piercing glare.
"What'd you say to me?"
"Just STOP! Stop fucking fighting! You're like children!" Nicholas said.
His father jabbed a finger in his direction. "Did you hear that, Elaine? Listen to the little bastard cussing," he yelled, eyes bulging.
"Oh, stop!" she said.
"He's the one who always has to start shit!" Nicholas retorted.
"Stop it the both of you, you're being stupid!"
"Oh, I'm being stupid?" his father said, and threw the broom and dustpan down.
"Yes, you both are."
"As if you two weren't," said Nicholas defiantly.
"WE were having a conversation, Nicholas, about things that don't concern you," his father spat.
"Don't concern me? You were talking ABOUT me!"
"Your father and I were discussing some issues, Nicholas, that is all."
"While yelling at each other like children? Right."
"Fuck it," his father said, "I'm done with both of you." He made for the hall.
Nicholas picked up the broom. "Asshole," he breathed.
Before he could start to sweep, he turned to see his father next to him, and then felt a hand hit him across the face.
"You'll learn to respect me, you little dick."
Nicholas felt tears start, not from being hit, but from his intense anger. There was a moment of severe silence, and then, without another word, he strode over to the door and left, slamming the door behind him. As he began to walk around to the front of the house, he heard his parents continue their bickering.
It was a calm evening, the sun shrouded by clouds, and a light breeze caressed his angry, crimson face. A tear fell, and then another, this time from being overwhelmingly sick of his parents and their seemingly perpetual fighting. The breeze made the tears feel almost as cold as he felt toward his life. They hadn't fought before when he was younger; all seemed fine then. But for the past year, they fought with almost-daily regularity. He couldn't do anything to stop them; every time he did, his father would, almost invariably, end up beating him.
He made his way down Daisont Street with a hardened expression. Not only did his father seem to hate his very presence, but he didn't seem to feel any shame in telling his mother how much he hated Nicholas. That, Nicholas could accept. But sometimes, when he and his mother were alone, it seemed as though she were acting cold toward him, too, and he didn't understand why she would – was his father rubbing off on her? Nicholas felt his care for the situation slipping, yet he felt just as hurt as ever.
He stared ahead, not noticing that Mrs. Dowry was speaking to him from her doorstep. "Nicholas?" she called, but he was too angry to have taken notice.
He turned the corner on Klint Street, and made it to Farson Drive. Looking ahead, he could see her house. How welcoming it looked, the odd blue-green color of paint, the strange metal covers over the windows. For some inexplicable reason, Nicholas knew that Victoria was waiting for him.
He continued down the street, hoping that she would be able to help as she had always done before. It struck him as odd, though, that he always appealed to her for comfort, even before they had become close friends, and she was all too willing each time. Did he possibly have feelings for her?
No, he said to himself, just a friend. A really good friend.
He reached her house. Knocking on the door, he got an almost-immediate answer. There Victoria stood.
"Hi," she said cheerily, smiling, but frowned upon seeing his upset expression.
"Hello." She didn't invite him in.
"Can we go?"
Without a word, she grabbed her coat and came out the house to him.
"Where do you want to go?"
"I don't know. Just walk," he said, sullen.
"Okay," she smiled at him warmly.
After walking about a block, he began to tell her what happened. They had already gotten to Mill Boulevard, the main street of town, when he finished telling her.
She sighed. "It's not like it's the first time."
"I know." He stared at his feet as they walked. "It's just…I'm tired of it. Tired of him and their bickering and…"
"Mm," she said, with a contemplative look, "do you think they'll get a divorce?"
"I dunno. They need it."
"Well…maybe they could work out their problems."
"I seriously doubt that." She smiled at him.
Just like her, he thought with a sense of happiness, to look at the bright side. And Nicholas liked it.
They walked further down Mill Boulevard, passing people and places, just talking, and Nicholas felt better than he had felt in a while, because, even though he spent time with her almost daily, her presence now seemed more welcoming and warm than it had before, maybe because of his low spirits, or because she was just the person she was, or possibly because the situation was just as terrible as it was, and being around her was simply a change from his usual discontent.
After a long bit of walking, and a considerable length of conversation, they reached the corner of Mill Boulevard and Reales Street. Turning left, they headed toward the very edge of town, where a small shop sat with an enormous fake coin, and a glowing sign above it that read "TK Coins."
TK, the owner, was outside sweeping leaves into the gutter, and he greeted them with a friendly wave. Both returned the wave.
"Where you two headed?"
It was Victoria that answered. "Just…to the beach."
"Oh, well, have fun!"
That man is too happy, Nicholas thought.
"So we're going to the beach, then?" he said as they rounded the corner to Cades Street. "All right." It wasn't the first time that they had gone to the beach just to talk. It was comforting.
They walked along the shore, stopping at the large rock they always sat on. Silence for a moment, or at least the silence of voice, as the sounds of the ocean soothed their ears and dimmed their emotions. It was the most welcoming feeling to both of them, the taste of the salty ocean next to them, the cool mist that flew over them every time the waves crashed down on the soft-sand shore, that enticing cool mingled with the slight heat of the sun above. And then they'd sit and watch as the sun made its arduous trek across the sky, just talking, friendly conversing.
Nicholas turned in the direction of the lighthouse on the immense hill in the distance. Victoria looked.
"Want to go there?" he said.
"To the lighthouse?"
She was quiet for a moment. "I don't know," she said uncertainly.
"Come on. It'll be fun. I've never been up there, have you?"
"No…but…it's kinda scary." Her cheeks reddened a little.
He laughed. "Don't worry. I think we'll be okay."
"Well…if you're sure." He smiled reassuringly at her, and she was surprised at the sudden change of mood of both of them. Both felt a trickle of inexorable fear, yet a sense of excitement.
They set off in the direction of the mountainous hill. The sun was approaching the horizon of the ocean, gilding the water top with a sheet of whispery gold, a kind a shimmer that only shone when one looked at it and appreciated it in all its luster.
Nicholas felt an unusual flood of excitement as they walked across the beach toward the lighthouse. This was certainly a change from the usual activities they did together.
Victoria, though, felt a tinge of fright as the shadow loomed ahead of them, but her being able to act upon her uncertainty was hindered by her agreeable nature. Even with doubts, she felt that, as long as Nicholas could do it, she could too.
They reached the base of the hill, the shadow of it engulfing them in a strange, frigid enclosing. Nicholas gave her a smile, and both began to climb up the grass incline. At the top of the hill stood the imposing lighthouse.
With a sense of horror and reverence, it stood erect, most of it white, though the paint seemed to be chipping off. Windows appeared periodically up its length, which were dark. The top of the lighthouse that supposedly held the light was black, a frightening, enrapturing kind of black. At the base was a rough, mahogany door, with a pale porcelain doorknob.
Victoria felt ambivalent toward it; part of her wondered why something would seem so ominous to her, yet another part told her to stay away from it. Now, even Nicholas himself was feeling a slight hint of hesitation, but at the same time, it seemed bizarrely alluring to him.
Nicholas cast Victoria a nervous grimace. They saw that the sun was closer to the water, as though napping on its surface. Nicholas, with an air of purpose, approached the door. Victoria followed him.
Stopping at the door, Nicholas looked at Victoria one last time before firmly grasping the knob and turning; it squeaked a little from old age, as did the door as it opened inward. The meager amount of light that entered the room enabled them to see its interior. There was nothing inside.
The sun was closer to hiding itself beyond the horizon, to veiling them in darkness. They looked at each other, and then Nicholas bravely stepped forward and into the lighthouse.
"Nicholas! What are you doing?"
"What's it look like I'm doing?"
"But it's dark in there."
He grinned at her from inside. "I think I found something." A clicking noise, and suddenly light flooded the room. "Switch right here." He pointed to the bit of wall near the door.
Resentfully, Victoria walked into the threshold with a grimace. With the light, they were able to see that a stone set of stairs attached to the wall wound its way up onto another level.
Nicholas started toward the stairs. "C'mon."
"See?" Victoria said as they reached the second floor. "Nothing there."
"There's still a few more floors to go, I'm sure."
Victoria sighed exasperatedly, but still continued up the stairs.
The third floor was more interesting than the first two. In the center of the room sat an enormous machine with pipes leading up and down, with wires and add-on contraptions, and a large lever off to the side. The generator room.
Nicholas looked at Victoria and smiled, but she wasn't looking at him. Instead, her eyes were fixed on the lever, which, from what she could see, had something hanging from it, which glinted on the light.
"What?" Nicholas said. Then he looked too. Both stood, transfixed for a few moments.
Victoria came to her senses. "Come on, let's go."
"No…I want…" He walked to the lever.
"Come on, Nicholas, we've seen the lighthouse."
"I…want to see the light," he said vaguely.
"Nicholas, come with me," she continued, and this time, a slight hint of urgency laced her tones. She looked caringly at him.
"I just want to see the light, okay?" he said more firmly.
"Well, don't be long. I'll wait outside." She clambered back down the stairs.
Leaving the lighthouse, Victoria stood back and looked up at it in anxious amazement. She tore eyes away from it, stared off into the distance. As she did so, the sun threw her its final rays of the day, and departed from her by slinking behind the watery horizon. The atmosphere became considerably darker, though the sky near the set sun was vaguely ginger, darkening in layers, fading to a violent purple, and finally stopping in blackness. She heard a voice.
"Honestly, Vic, I don't see why you didn't want to see the light," Nicholas said as he made his way down the stairs, toward the bottom landing. "It was so—" But the rest of his sentence was stifled as the door to the lighthouse suddenly slammed shut. He banged on the door.
"Why'd you—" said Victoria, walking to the door.
"It closed!" He banged harder.
"Well open it!"
The doorknob rattled in his efforts to turn it.
"I can't!" He sounded panicky.
She pulled hard on the knob. Then, without warning, a frightened, almost agonizing, scream erupted, and this time the door didn't hinder its ability to reach her ears and terrify her.
"Nicholas! What's wrong?" she bellowed, exasperated.
"I CAN'T! Help me!" His voice was beyond fear.
"I'm trying! It won't go!" she sobbed frantically.
He slammed against the door harder.
"It's not turning, it won't budge, I'm trying, it won't…" But she stopped, quizzical, as Nicholas's frenzy came to an abrupt halt. Light footsteps sounded from inside. "Nicholas?"
She rattled the door again. "Nicholas!" The only sound was the tumult of the waves below.
After another moment of silence, abruptly, light from the lighthouse blasted forth, illuminating the darkened ground around her, shooting in all directions. The lighthouse was lit once more, with an enchanting sort of light, one that shone with flourish and grace, yet with such a mysterious demeanor that Victoria was reminded of the feeling she first had when she approached it.
A faint scream resounded from within.
"Nicholas!" Placing her head to the door, she listened. He was making his way down the steps, but the beats and slaps that she heard made his descent seem drunken. A dull thunk at the door. The door opened.
"Nicholas, I—" But she stopped upon seeing him.
Sprawled across the entrance, Nicholas's body was contorted, mouth slightly open, and his face was frightfully peaceful.