Before I tell you the story of the man in the lighthouse, let me start by saying this story is absolutely true. There is a lighthouse on the coast, only a few weeks away from where I used to live. It was run by a simple man who lived all alone. Family had come to see him, to take him away from the duties of the lighthouse, but the man was stubborn. His family tried to find him a wife and help him settle down. But his wife was the lighthouse, he always answered. He burned the fire of the lighthouse for years and years until he was bent with age, all alone by the sea.
As it went, he enjoyed fishing, so every morning he rowed a small boat out into a small lagoon. Despite his advanced age, he caught plenty of fish. But he began to find strange trinkets, too. He found a rusty lantern, a length of rope, figurines, boots. He began to wonder if there was a sunken ship in this lagoon, but his old and tired eyes could never see the bottom of it. The old man decided to keep the things he pulled up and display them in his house.
One morning, he rowed out into the lagoon and dropped in his line. The sky was gray that day, grayer than it had been in a while though it was not yet autumn. His line snagged. He had caught something! It wasn’t fighting back, so it was perhaps not a fish. Maybe it was a new trinket from the shipwreck? He fought with the line for an hour until he eventually was able to pull up a new treasure. It was a small painting, preserved in fine glass, of a woman more beautiful than he could possibly imagine. It was as if every brush stroke itself was a work of art, and the painting a masterpiece crafted by the gods themselves. Her face was a longing expression, sad and distant. He gaped at his newfound treasure and thanked the gods for his good fortune.
The old man rowed back into the harbor by his simple lighthouse. As he rowed, he felt a strange sensation around him. Have you ever felt like you were being watched? The small hairs on your neck stand up. The slightest breeze startles you. You feel it all around you though you cannot place it. As soon as the old man reached his dock, he took the painting and ran as quickly as he could back to the lighthouse. He shut and locked the door behind him, feeling safer within the walls. The feeling of being watched abated immediately, replaced by elation for the treasure he found. He proudly placed the painting next to his bed so he could look at its beauty before he slept and when he awoke in the morning.
That night, the lighthouse was lit and the old man was weary. He climbed into his bed and looked on the painting of the woman again, wondering who she was. He snuffed out the candle and closed his eyes. But his dreams were dark tonight. He dreamed of the lagoon, watching him again. Something was in the water. Something was following him now. The old man stared out the window and saw darkness. He heard the voice, “Mine.”
He woke with a start and looked around him. He lit his candle quickly and searched his room. There was nothing amiss. The woman in the painting looked at him with her sad eyes. The old man looked out his window towards the lagoon. The water was brightly lit by the lighthouse’s fire. Nothing was down there. It must have been just a nightmare! He settled back into his bed and fell asleep.
The next morning, the old man feared going onto the water. When he went outside the walls of the lighthouse, the feeling of dread returned. No, he would not return to the water today. He had enough food. Perhaps he could go fishing tomorrow. By nightfall, the feeling returned. This time, he began to feel it as he neared his windows or the door. The lighthouse was burning brightly again, illuminating the land around him. No, nothing was wrong, he told himself. It was his imagination.
That night, the dream returned. The presence. The feeling. The fear. The water churned. It was black as pitch. The lighthouse’s light was snuffed out. Something was coming. It was coming. It was nearer and nearer. The old man was in his sitting room. He feared to look out the windows. Something was out there. He saw the handle of the door jiggle, and he heard the whisper again, “Mine.”
The old man was awake again, breathing heavily and sweating terribly. He lit the candle. The woman in the painting was there, her calming gaze helping soothe him. Or at least, she should have soothed him. As he looked at her, he trembled. There was something in the water. No, that couldn’t be right. It was just a dream. After all, he had been pulling out trinkets from a likely shipwreck for years. Certainly as he got older, his imagination would just be wilder! But to be safe, the old man dared a glance out his window. But once again, the lighthouse illuminated the land about, and the water glistened with the reflection of the fire. He sighed and returned to his bed.
But something was wrong the next morning. The smell of the sea was ever present this close to the ocean, but now it mixed with the smell of rot and seaweed. When the old man went outside, he saw wet, soggy footsteps come up to his front door. He looked around and saw no one. He called out but heard no reply. The water was watching him, waiting for him now. A storm was coming in, troubling the waters. As he looked at the lagoon, he heard, “Mine” again. Louder.
Was he dreaming now? No, he was wide awake! And he was certain he heard it. He shut the door, locking it and setting a table against it. He closed the windows and drew the shades. He lit every candle or lantern he had. He sprang up the steps to the fire and threw more fuel onto it, despite the current daylight. As he did it, he looked at the lagoon. The water churned violently.
He sped down the steps and armed himself with a poker from his fireplace. He dared not look to the lagoon again. He kept away from the windows. The storm was all around him now. What time was it? It was far too early to be this dark. But wait, how long had it taken him to secure his home? How long had it taken him to light the fire? His heart thumped in his chest. Perhaps it was later than it seemed. He was exhausted. And he heard it again, louder from just outside his door. “Mine.”
The old man fled to his bedroom. As he closed the door, he heard a scuffing sound. The door in the sitting room opened. The table he had flung against it scraped across the floor as it was forced aside. “Mine.” The man saw the light from the candles and lanterns in the sitting room from the crack at the bottom of his bedroom door. He saw each of them go out, plunging the sitting room into darkness. The wind howled, the windows rattled. Through the tumult, he heard, “Mine.”
The door to his bedroom was locked now, and the old man backed away. He glanced at the woman in the painting. So sad! So tragic! So far away! He felt the pangs of loneliness amid the rush of terror. The door handle shook. Something began scratching at the door. “Mine.”
The old man cried out, “She’s mine!” and ran to the door. He unbolted it and flung it open, swinging his fire poker wildly. But there was nothing there. The candles were lit. The lanterns glowed brightly. The front door was shut and the table against it. It was his imagination all along! The old man thought this and relief rushed into him, just as the bedroom behind him grew cold and dark. He turned around and saw the shape.