by T. Merle
A lighthouse dog can't find his owner
|It was winter, but the waves still beat at the old lighthouse’s walls. It was snowing, but that light still burned in the high tower. Every lighthouse needs a keeper. And as everyone knows, being a lighthouse keeper can be a dangerous job. For that very reason, every lighthouse keeper needs a dog. Hugo was that dog.
A pale sun rose over the dark sea. Waves crashed against the cliff, the rocks were slick with the salty surf. and fog swathed everything, giving the lighthouse an eerie feel. Seabirds wheeled above the cliff, squalling a good morning to the world.
It was a normal day. Hugo started his day as normal. He woke up with the sun, and stretched, opening his huge jaws with a yawn. He blinked a few times and hopped up. He trotted out into the yard, leaving paw prints in the speckles of snow.
Hugo’s house was made out of an upturned boat, half-buried in the ground. It left plenty of room for the chubby wolfhound to come and go as he pleased. Hugo was sleeping much more as he got older, his old bones drained of energy much faster than in his younger years.
Hugo rambled around the yard, sniffing here and there. Sometimes stopping to bark at the gulls where they sleepily perched.
The big gray dog returned to his house, and put his mouth around a thick rope, and pulled, once, twice, three times. A large bell mounted to the old boat rang each time Hugo pulled it; it was the start of the day in the lighthouse.
Trotting across the lawn again, Hugo entered the looming lighthouse. He meandered through the house at the bottom of the hulking structure, making his way to the small kitchen. In the kitchen, there was an oven and a set of cabinets and drawers. He maneuvered the bottom one open. Inside of it was a large bowl of dog food, put there the night before by the lighthouse keeper. Hugo quickly ate his breakfast. He wagged his tail back and forth and wandered around the house again.
Usually, the keeper was awake by this point, but Hugo couldn’t hear his footsteps on the metal stairs. He couldn't smell the pungent oil that the lighthouse keeper would refill the huge torch with.
Hugo padded around the house. On his way he stopped at each doorway, his ears perked and nose quivering. At each doorway, no keeper met him, but he continued on his way.
When Hugo had made his way around the entire house, he was quite sad that he couldn’t find his lighthouse keeper. He whimpered softly and put his nose to the ground. Maybe he could sniff out his keeper.
He could smell his keeper, his smell was old like it was from that night. It had the smell of salt, tobacco, and damp wool. Hugo could smell the keeper’s night meal of smoked fish, faint now. There was no trace of the keeper’s normal breakfast, seabird eggs, black coffee, and pickled pork.
Hugo looked up the daunting stairs, and heaving a sigh he started up the rickety iron wrought stairs.
The dampness from the fog hadn’t reached the inside of the lighthouse yet. The wood fire in the basement of the lighthouse had warmed the iron of the stairs under Hugo's paws. The salty ocean smell got stronger as Hugo made his way up the stairs, spiraling up, up, up.
He was panting by the time he got to the second level of the lighthouse, his joints clicking and creaking. The small room was about half way between the floor level, and the sky high torch.This was the keeper’s bedroom. His smell permeated the air all around Hugo. The big dog quietly stepped around his keeper’s room. A small white bed pressed against one wall. A desk against another.
The desk was dark wood, and messy. It was an organized mess, covered in stacks of beautiful, neat, books, and maps rolled and clasped. A row of candles stood away from the papers, a puddle of wax around the one that burned the night before.
Behind the candles on the desk, lovingly cared for, was a set of picture frames. The lighthouse keeper had bought them together on one of his few trips to the small fishing village across the water. The frames themselves were tarnished silver, and the pictures inside were old and fading.
One was a picture of the keeper and his family. He was younger then, and had his arms around a beautiful woman, and their young daughter.
The second picture was of Hugo as a puppy. Hugo was on the keeper’s lap, licking at his face. The keeper’s wife had taken this picture, and Hugo remembered their laughter.
The lighthouse keeper’s family was gone. They hadn’t come around in a very long time.
The room was very still. So still that Hugo could hear the birds caterwauling through the stone walls. He could smell the lighthouse cats above them. The cats never ventured down the stairs, and Hugo couldn't go and greet them now that he had found the keeper.
With soft steps, he approached the small bed. His keeper’s smell was strongest there, but he couldn’t hear him.
Hugo huffed happily and sat quietly next to his master’s bed. His scraggly tail thumped against the floor.
The lighthouse keeper didn’t rollover. He didn’t chuckle and pat Hugo’s heavy head. He didn’t show his face for Hugo to kiss.
Hugo whined, his tail ceasing its happy rhythm. The room was silent.
Hugo sat there, waiting for the keeper to wake, to move, to start about his daily routine.
But the keeper didn’t move. He lay on his stomach, the blanket pulled up to his ears, and his battered flat cap pulled down over his nose.
This would’ve been a very normal day.
But Hugo’s keeper didn’t wake up.
But Hugo would wait.
Hugo always waited.