A sight upon a site. The hollow beacon stood atop Little Brewster with its majestic gaze. Guiding wayward seafarers from cracking their hull into oblivion. A 12-sided Fresnel lens commanded safe passage to calmer shores, and all at the behest of David Warren, the man who manned this remarkable wonder. He was ordinary, plain in fact, but here he wielded the power of a deity. Without him and his guidance, no vessel would penetrate the dense fog, nor navigate the turbulent tides.
But the price to pay was high. Absolute solitude. Not a soul in sight beyond his guiding light. A job not fit for those who do not enjoy the sound of seagulls, waves, and the inner-workings of their own mind. Only those who can properly care for such a structure can harness its full potential. And only a man who can harness his full potential can care for such a structure. The relationship between man and machine was symbiotic. It had to be. Otherwise, calamity would greet every man astray and reduce any vestige of hope.
This job required absolute adherence every hour of every day. Nothing less would satiate the lightship. This was the order of things, and so it was.
Yet such responsibility can dampen even the strongest will over the course of time. David was no exception to this rule. Four years and counting. No wife, no children, and no next of kin permitted him to take on the mantle.
Outsiders may wonder at how he has been able to subsist for so long on an island with no natural resources., Bbut there was a dinghy from the harbor that would deliver rations and supplies monthly. At times, they would get delivered during the night, and lost at sea by daybreak,; succumbing to the tides that rocked the narrow shore.
Life on this rock was routine. Every day was indistinguishable from the last, but today was different. This was the first time David felt something other than himself on the island, but he had no words.
At 2:27 am, he woke to what sounded like the chants of an indigenous man. Flustered, he reached for the gaslit lantern sitting atop the nightstand and shined it throughout the interior of his dwelling. Inching his way outside, the chanting grew louder and louder, and then, nothing. An abrupt silence. The sound of waves and the distant, faint crackle of thunder was all he heard.
An eerie howl emanated from the beacon above, beckoning David to enter the lantern room. This was different from the chanting, but the sense he felt was no different. Something was on this island. Something that should not be there.
He reached for the key to unlock the tower, but the door blew open as he tucked the key in. The lock snapped and the hinge broke due to the velocity of whatever force was inside. Placing each foot in front of the other with caution, he wondered if this was the toll he had to pay for his tenure in isolation. Were his faculties decaying as all things do at sea?
Surmounting each step of the spiral brought him closer to the howl. The chilling sound did not sound welcoming, and intensified as the distance between David and it closed in. Then the chanting returned to accompany the howl. He raised his lantern forward with a widened gaze. Spooked and covered in goosebumps, he hesitated to move forward, yet he had to. He had to protect the very construct that was designed to protect.
The crisscross of scratching began to resound within the concave. Howls, chanting, and now scratching. He bellowed out with only a few steps left, and again, abrupt silence.
Letting out a slight sigh of relief, he muttered, “Who, if anyone, is there?”
Before he could raise his lantern into the chamber, he was thrust against the wall. Slamming his head against the Fresnel lens. The light dimmed and grew faint as he began to lose focus and shut his eyes.
Engulfed in a sea of silence, he was alone inside the hollow shell.
Clasping each hand onto the ground, he pushed himself up and opened his eyes to see a scorched city before him. The sounds that echoed within the lighthouse were replaced with piercing screams. They grew louder and louder. Sirens whistled down the adjacent streets. Children cried from buildings set ablaze.
Boston was crumbling. Fire danced from one obstruction to the next. It gorged on anything impeding its path. A grisly spectacle unlike anything the city had seen before. Looking on in horror, David could not rationalize what he saw.
He shook his head frantically as if trying to awaken from a dream, but this was as real as any other moment in his life. Unsure of what to make of it, he began running as buildings collapsed and structures disintegrated. Plumes of smoke ruminated throughout the city as the harsh orange glow lit up the sky. Seagulls plummeted from the sky as toxins infiltrated their lungs.
A few meters away, a stray dog was nursing her offspring outside of an apothecary that was ready to topple. Sprinting to try and remove the dogs from impending doom, the roof smashed down onto their position. Their howling and cries ceased.
In a parallel building, a family of three were trying to flee using a fire escape until it rattled and tossed them onto the ground with the structure falling on top. In the distance, he could see two others trapped within a burning building with no way to escape. Screams and cries for help echoed across the city. Charred bodies fell from the surrounding structures as the unrelenting fire consumed.
This chaos could not be doused. It continued rippling across the city as it satiated its desire to feed. In a panic, David stopped and looked around him shouting, “how is this happening?”
“It’s yet to happen,” a voice bellowed within.
“Who is talking?” he replied.
Slamming his fists against his forehead, he uncontrollably screamed. Suddenly, the sound of sirens halted, the blistering heat subsided, and the scent of smoke receded. He opened his eyes and realized he was lying on the floor next to the shattered Fresnel lens. As his line of sight shifted, he jumped up and fell back. Four indigenous shamans stood before him. They glared at him with an indescribable intensity. David began convulsing as a result of his panic-stricken state.
“Who, who are you?” he quavered.
“You ask too many questions,” said the first shaman.
“So, you can speak English?” he mumbled.
“Again. Questions. We speak what you understand,” said the second shaman.
“Just as you saw, the city will burn,” the third shaman said.
The fourth shaman, much larger in stature, slammed a large wooden staff onto the ground to quell the others’ commotion. His face was a canvas for a blood encrusted crimson skull. A wolf hide adorned his head and beads were tethered around his neck and arms. Strange ancient symbols carved into his chest began to glow a pale blue hue.
Pacing towards David, he orated, “Two generations ago, this land was ours. All of it. Even where you stand now. As you and your people came, our lives and our land were stolen from us. Many of us offered peace, but you were the harbingers of death. And for us, those imbued with otherworldly gifts, we were forced to this rock to be executed. Without the right of passage to the next world, we remained.”
With a momentary pause, the other three shamans began to chant and dance counterclockwise within the chamber. Once more, the large shaman spoke, “What you saw will happen. We have channeled what you may refer to as precognition. Foreseers of what will come and what will ever be. You have been offered a glimpse of the catastrophe that will destroy your settlement across the sea. We are not vengeful spirits. We still offer peace in exchange for our deliverance, but we cannot stop what is to come. This land has enough blood soaked in the soil.”
“What could a humble keeper of this busted beacon do?” David questioned.
“The method and means are not up to us. We have merely made ourselves known to offer you a glimpse into the future,” the large shaman replied.
“When will the inferno arrive?” he asked.
“By daylight, but this is one of many possible futures,” the shaman stated.
With those last cryptic words, the four-shaman chanted and howled and continued to dance in a circle. It resonated across the whole island until the figures began to fade and the voices slowly silenced.
Again, he was alone.
Still stirred, a dumbfounded look plastered his face. He had to surmise that this future was the inevitable outcome that these lost spirits foretold. That Boston would be met with a future full of fire and brimstone.
Glancing at the shattered crystal orb in the center, he figured the only way he could help was to send a signal through the towering granite sentinel. Yet, the glass dome that refracted light to the vast sea was cracked, and the only replacement could be found in the city, several miles away.
“Colloid,” he gleefully declared.
Never expecting to use the colloid gel, it eluded him during many occasions where its use was warranted, but it was the only means of repairing anything on Little Brewster. Strong enough to hold the fragments together and retardant enough to endure the heated dome. At least for a short while. Nonetheless, he sprinted down the concave spiral and back to his dwelling. Rummaging through every drawer until he found it.
Alas, the gel was tucked away in the utensil drawer in the kitchen, and with haste, he made his way back to the top of the beacon.Frantically grabbing each fragment, with trembling hands, he began gluing the lens as close to its initial state as possible. With the lens holding in place for now, he twisted the bulb and stood back.
However, the bastion of light did not immediately turn on. In a bewildered state, David extended a brass spyglass to peer across the shore. Wondering where he could send the signal, he spotted a fire station across the road from a stable. He knew that that would be the location to shine the beam. Even if the fire started, the firefighters would at least be awake to respond. That this vision of the future could be skewed if the conditions were altered.
Then, without notice, the crackle of sparks within the dome strobed the light for a few seconds. This continued until the light became a solid beam, reflected through the interior of the lens.
“The station. That is the only way,” he thought.
Grasping the iron spindle, he began rotating the focus of the beam to the estimated coordinates. As the light shot across the sea, it radiated within the adjacent stable; a few degrees off his intention. Within the stable, several trained fire horses were sleeping. Weakened by the effects of the flu, the horses grew restless by the overbearing ray of light.
A few of the horses kicked and wrestled with the blinding beam. One of the horses bucked and catapulted a hail bail towards a gaslit lantern. Knocking it over, the combustion gobbled up the hay and set the entire stable ablaze. The cries of stallions rattled within as the bonfire fed.
At this hour, hardly anyone was awake. David looked on gasping in horror. He watched from his spyglass as the flame cascaded from the stable to the nearby buildings. Scorching everything that crossed paths with the untamed flame. Dancing across rooftops; leveling block after block. David turned around and slid his back down the side of the interior. Dread and defeat blanketed him.
“Years spent protecting these shores, yet an inferno in the horizon grew hungrier by the second,” he said. This was the vision. Manifested by his own hand.
Michael Santiago is a serial expat, avid traveler, and writer of all kinds.
Originally from New York City, and later relocating to Rome in 2016 and
Nanjing in 2018. He enjoys the finer things in life like walks on the beach,
existential conversations and swapping murder mystery ideas. Keen on
exploring themes of humanity within a fictitious context and aspiring