by Sandy B.
Chapter 1 Lighthouse in Time children's stoey 8 - 12 yr old.
The candlelight flickered one last time as it struggled to stay alight in the shifting breezes within the cave. In an instant we were pitched into an eerie darkness. My sister stumbled and grabbed my shoulders tightly from behind in panic. I felt her body tremble as she pressed it close to mine. She had always hated the dark.
‘Have you any matches left?’ her shaking voice whispered into my ear. I fumbled around in the pocket of my jacket for a moment, found the box and slid my fingers inside. I had only three more matches.
Together we crouched down and I pushed the candle into the sand to steady it. Melissa cupped her hands around the top of the candle and I lit a match. A reassuring glow of candle light filled the cave once more and our shadows began to dance on the wall. As we carefully prepared to stand I heard Melissa breathe a deep sigh of relief.
‘You do know the way out of here, don’t you?’ she asked.
‘Of cause I do, Sis,’ I smiled and tried to reassure her. ‘The entrance is just a bit further down here, we’re nearly there.’
We crept slowly forward being careful not to disturb the flame. I couldn’t risk it going out again, and edged our way around a bend. My heart sank. It was a dead end. My self-confidence plunged like water draining down a plug hole. I had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. A sense of fear swept over me. I felt short of breath and my heart raced. We were lost but I didn’t have the courage to admit it.
I stared at the candle light, the flame flickered dangerously. Nervously, I cupped my hands around it, there seemed to be no breeze, yet the air grew colder. Somehow the flame withered, then for no apparent reason flickered one last time and died. We found ourselves in complete darkness yet again.
Melissa gave a little whimper, ‘we’re lost, aren’t we Tim?’
‘Yes Sis,’ I reluctantly admitted. ‘But don’t worry, we still have two more matches.’ I drew in a deep breath. The entrance couldn’t be too far from here. We turned together in the darkness and I carefully re-lit the candle.
As our eyes readjusted to the dim light, we peered through the flame and there, staring straight back at us was the unnerving gaze of an unknown face. A frightened scream pierced the air. The candle flame blew out again. Shocked, we both fell backwards and collapsed against the dead-end wall.
‘Who’s there?’ I called out in the darkness, but there was no reply, only silence. Quickly I re-lit the candle with our last remaining match. Melissa and I stared in disbelief at the strange young girl standing quietly before us twisting her fingers through her long curly hair. She wore a tattered pleated light brown skirt that fell almost to her ankles and a grubby white blouse that had long puffy sleeves with a simple drawstring neckline. Her feet were bare. She gave us a friendly smile which encouraged Melissa to slowly stand.
‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you, are you lost?’ she asked quietly with a rather unusual but warm accent. “Don’t be afraid, I know the way out of here. Let me show you,’ she continued as she beckoned us to follow.
Still stunned, I took my sister’s hand and silently followed I looked across at Melissa, she was no longer trembling. It appeared by the expression on her face that she seemed more relieved. The passage narrowed ahead of us. Melissa took the candle as she stepped in front of me. I stood for a moment and rubbed my eyes with my fingers. Where did this girl come from? Why didn’t she have a candle or torch? How could she see in the darkness? How did she know the way out? Why wasn’t she afraid? Why was she wearing such strange clothes? Who was she? I had a thousand and one questions. My head was spinning as all these questions tumbled around inside.
Before I realised, we were back in a familiar part of the cave. Bright light streamed in through the entrance. I could hear the muffled breaking of waves against rocks. Melissa and I raced towards the daylight.
Just outside the caves entrance I looked at my watch, it was late afternoon, we had been lost for about an hour and a half, but it had seemed much longer. Melissa turned and gave me a relieved hug.
‘We made it,’ she smiled.
‘Yeah, thanks to…..’ I stopped and turned to thank the girl who had shown us the way out, but she was gone. ‘Where is she?’ I spun around and around, looking everywhere ’Where did she go?’
‘She’s just disappeared!’ Melissa shrugged.
‘No way! She couldn’t disappear into thin air. She has to be around here somewhere?’ I raised my hand to shield my eyes from the setting sunlight to search the beach. There were very few people around, it would have been very easy to spot someone dressed liked her.
‘Maybe she went back into the cave?’ Melissa suggested, pointing back in that direction.
‘Well, she’s certainly not out here. It’s only been a few seconds, she couldn’t have gone far.’
‘But it was so dark in there, and she didn’t have a torch or a candle,’ Melissa’s voice quivered. ‘Do you think we should go back in after her?’
‘No, don’t forget, we don’t have any matches left either.
Melissa hesitantly stepped just inside the caves entrance and stopped. ‘That’s funny,’ she said quizzically as she pointed at the sand. ‘Look! There are only two sets of footprints, yours and mine!’
I knelt down to study the prints in the fresh damp sand. My sister was right. We were both wearing shoes, these were obviously our footprints, the girl had been barefoot and there was no sign of her footprints anywhere.
‘She can’t have just disappeared, could she?’ Melissa asked.
‘Of cause not,’ I replied.
‘Tim,’ Melissa continued, ‘she was here, wasn’t she?’
‘And she did lead us out of the cave?’
‘Well, yeah!’ I rubbed the back of my neck. I hated to admit it, but we were lost before she came along.
‘And the clothes she wore, don’t you think they were a bit strange?’
‘I reckon,’ I laughed in agreement.
‘Then, do you think she could have been a…ghost?’ Melissa wiped her hair from her eyes and pulled on a strand and began to suck on it. She kept her head lowered toward the ground and carefully raised her eyes while she waited for my response I just about fell off the rock I was sitting on.
‘Get real Sis! There’s no such thing as ghosts! There has to be a logical explanation, and we will figure it out.’
Melissa looked around the cave one last time, then shrugged.
‘Come on, it’s getting late,’ I urged. ‘We’d better head back up to the camp site, bet Dad’s got the BBQ going by now and probably wondering where the heck we’ve got to.’
As we climbed back up the steep bush track Melissa kept looking over her shoulder.
‘Now what?’ I sighed.
‘I thought I heard something,’ she shivered, her eyes wide with fear. As the sun set further long shadows from the gum trees fell across the track.
‘Maybe your ghost is following us.’ I danced around her wriggling my fingers and made silly ghost-like noises in her face.
‘Cut it out Tim!’ cried Melissa as she pushed me away. Laughing so hard, I stopped to catch my breath. ‘Listen!’ Melissa jumped and grabbed my arm. I heard a heavy panting, then footsteps crunching in the dry sand and dead scattered leaves.
Round the bend jogged a short, athletic looking aboriginal boy.
‘Hey there!’ he called and waved as he caught up to us.
‘Hey there yourself,’ I nodded and turned to walk away.
‘Saw you two come out of the caves while I was still swimming. Find anything interesting in there?’
‘What’s it to you?’ I mumbled and continued to walk on ahead taking long determined strides.
‘Nothin’ just try’n to be friendly mate,’ he stopped, bent over to put his hands on his knees as he drew in a few deep breaths. ‘Some folks reckon strange things happen in there.’
Melissa froze, her voice sounded shocked, ‘How did you know?’
‘Those caves are very well known around these parts,’ the boy smiled. ‘Some folks reckon the caves are haunted, but my dad says it’s probably just the shifting winds and tides that they hear.’
‘Have you ever seen anything strange?’ Melissa asked as she flicked her hair off her face and looked curiously at the boy.
‘No, but I’ve heard many stories about beach fishermen late at night. Some of them say they have seen people wearing strange old clothes near the entrance to the caves but when they try to walk over closer, the people tend to disappear.’ Then he smiled at my sister before adding, ‘You do know this is called Wreck Bay, don’t you?’ Before either of us could answer, the boy took off up the path. ‘Got to go, see you round!’ he called back waving over his shoulder.
‘Not if I see you first,’ I mumbled and shook my head, the last thing we needed was some kid putting silly ideas into Melissa’s head. She opened her mouth to speak as she caught up to me. ‘Don’t start, Sis!’ I glared. ’That kid’s just teasing you. Sure there might have been a lot of shipwrecks off the coast, but there are no such things as ghosts!’ Then I too, raced up the remainder of the track. We were very close to the campsite. I could smell the sausages and onions sizzling on the BBQ. I felt my stomach rumble and suddenly felt very hungry.
After devouring four of my favourite sausages wrapped in bread with onions and tomato sauce that dad calls ‘pigs in a blanket,’ heaps of hot salted chips and a bottle of coke to satisfy a camel’s thirst, I finally felt much better.
The night air was getting chilly now. I reached for a sleeping bag to wrap around me when dad suggested we go back down to the beach.
'You can star watch much better from down there,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you two build a small bon fire and toast a packet of marshmallows as well.’
‘I don’t know?’ Melissa hesitated. ‘Do you think we’d be safe down there dad, it’s pretty dark?’
‘It’s a full moon tonight Mel,’ dad replied. ‘You’ll be fine. Here take my gas lantern with you. If you like I’ll follow you guys down after I’ve cleaned up here.’
Melissa smiled and nodded. ‘That would be great dad.’
‘Let’s go,’ I said, jumping to my feet before she could change her mind. If she had time to think about it, Melissa would chicken out for sure.
It didn’t take me long to gather a few small logs while Melissa picked up a heap of kindling. We built a fantastic fire just above the high tide mark at the south end of the beach and began to warm our fingers and toes when a familiar short, dark, athletic figure came wandering along the shore.
‘Beautiful night!’ he waved and called out to us. Melissa returned his wave and invited him to join us. I rolled my eyes, there we were on an isolated South Coast beach in the middle of a quiet National Park and yet I had no way of avoiding him. I wasn’t good at making new friends, didn’t need then, or want them.
‘Guess it’s time we introduced ourselves properly,’ he beamed as he sat rather close to my sister. ‘My name’s Mick. My dad is the Park Ranger here. So I have free range. I know this park like the back of my hand.’ He held his left hand high in the glow of the fire. ‘Hey, haven’t seen that spot before,’ he shrugged examining his hand a little closer. ‘Dad calls me Boomer though, instead of Mick,’ he continued. ‘ Says it’s because with all the walking around I do I still always manage to come back, just like a boomerang.’ He laughed and wriggled around to make himself more comfortable in the sand.
Melissa smiled and reached out her hand to greet him. ‘I’m Melissa,’ she said, ‘and this is my brother, Tim.’
‘G’day,’ said Mick. ’Great to meet you.’
“yeah, you too,’ I mumbled and looked back up towards the starts. The moon was full and bright, it made it very difficult to spot the Southern Cross, but I could just make out Orion’s Belt.
‘Do you know much about the stars?’ Mick asked.
‘Yeah,’ I replied. ‘Dad tells me all about them when we’re out fishing at night. We talk all about the stars and navigation and stuff while we’re sitting in our little aluminium dinghy waiting for a nibble on our lines.’
‘Bet you’ve never heard any Aboriginal stories about the stars.’ Mick added. I shook my head and looked away, he was obviously about to delve into a great long Dreamtime story whether I wanted it or not, and shatter my peace and quiet.
‘Think I’ll go for a walk.’ I stretched my arms and looked behind us towards the caves. ‘You don’t mind if I take the lamp Melissa, do you? You’ve got plenty of light if you stay here by the fire.’ Melissa instantly stood, brushed the sand off her clothes and shook her head. She was determined not to be left on her own. Mick began to tell his story as he and Melissa followed just a few steps behind me. I tried to keep further ahead of them. I wasn’t interested in listening to any sort of tale, dreamtime or whatever, facts are what’s important.
We wandered back into the cave. The temperature seemed to drop even further in the dampness. Moisture dripped from the ceiling and the lantern cast weird shadows on the walls.
‘I don’t like it in here!’ cried Melissa. ‘It’s a bit spooky!’
‘Then you shouldn’t have come, you should have stayed by the fire. Anyway, there’s nothing to be scared about, it’s the same cave we were in earlier, nothing has changed.' I beckoned her to come closer, but she folded her arms, shook her head and stood her ground.
‘There’s nothing to worry about Mel,’ encouraged Mick. ‘I’ve been all through these caves and I’ve never seen anything strange, no ghosts in here!’ Mick walked further to the back of the cave and disappeared into a tunnel. ‘You guys coming, or not!’ he called back.
‘No! It’s way too dark for me.’ Melissa turned to walk back to the fire, but stopped abruptly. ‘Look Tim,” she whispered.
There sitting on a log by our fire was the mysterious girl who had helped us find our way out of the cave earlier, still wearing the same strange clothes. I opened my mouth to call out to her but the sound was muffled by Melissa’s hand that pressed firmly to my face.
‘Shshsh!’ she insisted. ‘Don’t frighten her away. Melissa’s eyes pierced into mine as they pleaded. I looked across to the fire again, the girl had seen us. I wanted to run over to her before she could take off as suddenly as before, but I felt the pull on my jacket by my sister insisting we slow down.
‘Good evening’ said the girl quietly and calmly as we reached closer. ‘Come join me by your nice warm fire.’
‘Who are you?’ Melissa asked as she sat down beside her.
‘My name is Kathleen O’Grady,’ she smiled again and flicked a long thick red curl over her shoulder. ‘I already know who you two are and all about you.’
‘How could you possibly know anything about us?’ Her statement had made me feel a little on edge.
‘I know much more than you think. I live not far from here, in the lighthouse on the point. I can see many things from there.’
‘Like what?’ I asked, not sure if I really wanted the answer. Kathleen straighten her back and pushed her long red hair off her other shoulder.
‘Like, I know you are here camping with only your father. You have no mother, just like me. You go fishing in your boat nearly every night. You know the flow of the rips and tides in the bay and when the fish are running. I also know that you, Tim, don’t like too many people around you and that Melissa is frightened of the dark.’ She paused and looked at us both. ‘I think I have said enough for one night, your friend is returning. I must go.’
‘No! Wait!’ Melissa and I spoke at once. I tried to reach out and grab Kathleen’s arm as she stood to go, but she jumped away and I missed.
‘I’m sorry,’ she frowned. ‘I really must go now.’ She pointed towards Mick, ‘he is coming closer.’ Melissa and I turned to see Mick, when I turned back around, Kathleen was gone.
‘You scared her off!’ I stood with my hands on my hips.
‘Scared who off?’ asked Mick looking around curiously.
‘Kathleen!’ said Melissa as if Mick should have known.
‘What are you guys talking about? I didn’t see anyone.
‘She was just here talking to us,’ I insisted. ‘Then you show up and suddenly she up and leaves just as fast and mysteriously as she did the first time.’
‘Hey!’ Mick waved his hands in the air. ‘Honestly guys I could see you before I even left the cave. I swear there was nobody else here. There was only the two of you sitting by this fire.’
I looked at Melissa, she peered back at me. ‘Then how do you explain the conversation we just had with a young lady who sat right here and introduced herself as Kathleen O’Grady?’