A tale of love lost and found
|“So, this is really the ocean?” Katie asked.
She shivered in the 25-knot wind that swept over the ferry deck. Her platinum-blonde hair whipped around a cheerful, ruddy face that revealed a Nordic heritage. Sixty degrees and sunshine had felt pleasant when standing still, but now the damp sea air knifed through her light summer clothing.
“Yeah, this is saltwater, with tides and everything. If you sail 40 miles north, then hang a left for another 100 miles, you’ll be in the Pacific Ocean,” Jack explained.
He put a protective arm around Katie's shoulders, moving to shield her from the chilly breeze. He was in full tour guide mode, showing his fiancée the sights of the Pacific Northwest before introducing her to his parents. Crossing Puget Sound by ferry was a great way to start.
Jack pointed to the north as they passed the halfway point on the Bainbridge ferry route. Katie snuggled into his lean six-foot four-inch frame. She could stand the wind a little longer if it meant being close to Jack.
“See that lighthouse sticking up out of the water? About a mile offshore? You can’t quite see it from here, but there’s a ridge that runs down from the mainland and dips under the water before rising again to make the island where the lighthouse stands. You’ll be able to see it from the end of our street. And -” Jack paused for effect, “local legend says it’s haunted.”
“Now you’re just teasing me,” Katie said skeptically.
“No, it’s true. About the legend, I mean. I don’t know if the ghost is real, but there is a tragic story.”
“Okay, let’s get out of the wind, and you can tell me all about it.”
The couple made their way inside the passenger cabin of the MV Wenatchee and took a window seat where they could see the white tower of the lighthouse standing out in the afternoon sun.
“The story starts just after World War II with a sailor who came home suffering from battle fatigue. He couldn’t quite function around other people, so he took a job as lighthouse keeper. Back then, the light was just a big kerosene lamp. Every afternoon, Edward hauled fuel up the stairs, trimmed the wick, and polished the lens. Twice a day, he wound the clockwork mechanism that rotated the light.”
“Edward was kind of a hermit, but he rowed into town every week or two to visit the library. He had a small dory, and the passage between the lighthouse and the mainland is pretty well protected, so it was usually an easy forty-minute trip. He’d buy fresh fruit at the local market and sometimes stop by the tavern for a beer.”
“Well, that’s a little bit sad, but where’s the tragedy?” Katie asked.
“The tragedy comes later. Edward noticed an odd, quiet girl who was always in the library, and before long, he fell in love. Lorena was ten years younger than him, and she lived in a kind of fantasy world of old books and gothic romance. The idea of living at the lighthouse caught her imagination, so she accepted Edward’s proposal. He loved her, humored her, and took care of her as best he could. They were good for each other. Edward came out of his shell, and Lorena became more grounded. She still read her gothic books and poetry, but she came to love him as well.”
“He was ecstatic when Lorena became pregnant, but the baby came too early, in the middle of a big storm. It was obvious that she needed a doctor. Edward finally made a desperate attempt to row to the mainland in the teeth of a gale. He didn’t make it, and neither did Lorena. The cottage was closed up after that, and it’s been empty ever since. But the old folks say that you can still hear the cries of a woman in labor when a big easterly storm blows up.”
“That really is sad,” Katy sighed, and they sat together quietly for a few minutes.
“But who took care of the lighthouse?”
Jack smiled a little. He could always depend on Katie to see the practical side of things.
“Oh, by then, they’d already changed over to an electric light and a diesel generator. A full-time keeper wasn’t needed anymore. These days, a maintenance guy comes by with the weekly barge. If there’s an emergency, the lighthouse is only 10 minutes away by powerboat.”
“How do you know so much about it?” Katie wondered.
“The old guy at the end of our street told me most of it. He was a captain in the merchant marine and had lots of stories. This one felt different though, so I looked it up at the library and found a newspaper article. It was big news in 1959. Lorena died alone in childbirth, and Edward's body was never found, just pieces of his dory washed up on the beach.”
* * * * * * * * * *
“Mom, Dad, it’s so good to see you! This is Katie!”
The rest of their afternoon was spent on touring the house, unpacking, and freshening up. Katie was overwhelmed at dinner with questions from Jack’s mother and younger sisters. She finally managed to escape, pleading fatigue from the long trip, but Jack’s father called him aside with a somber face.
“Jack, it’s about Captain Hauser. He passed away last month.”
“I know, I wish I could have been here for the funeral, but we were in the finals and . . .”
“Jack, he left you a boat. And he had a last request.”
“He asked that you scatter his ashes at the lighthouse. He always said he couldn’t bear the thought of being underground in a graveyard. And, here’s a letter he wants you to read afterward.”
Jack had learned to row in one of the Captain’s beautiful wooden boats. It led to a lifelong love of the water and a rowing scholarship at the University of Washington. Gruff, but kind, Captain Hauser had been like a grandfather to Jack. A lifetime of saving his pay had allowed him to retire to a house on the bluff above the Sound. He had a sweeping view over the water that included the haunted lighthouse. Jack’s parents lived a few houses farther inland, with less of a view, but in a more affordable location.
Captain Hauser had taken up woodworking in his retirement, building a boat in his basement every couple of years. The custom designed cedar and spruce craft were varnished and polished works of art. Narrower than a dory, but wider than a shell, the small boats were crafted with a high bow and a sharp keel to knife through waves and track straight as an arrow. Jack was touched and proud to receive the last of the line, and to be entrusted with the Captain’s final request.
* * * * * * * * * *
“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” Katie said uneasily.
She’d grown up splashing around in the ten thousand lakes of Minnesota and felt uncomfortable on the big water of Puget Sound. Jack had felt it only appropriate to use Captain Hauser’s last boat to take the blue and white ceramic urn on a final voyage.
“Relax, it’s a beautiful day, and your chauffeur, milady, is the best oarsman in the country! It may sound like bragging, but I could row you all the way back to Seattle.”
It was no brag. Jack was second seat in the varsity shell that had won the IRA National Championship the previous month. He felt a sudden pang of regret that Captain Hauser hadn’t lived long enough to share his triumph. His sadness was soon eased by the familiar swing of the oars through the water. Jack loved to row and the graceful craft sliced through the gentle swell with little effort. It took him less than thirty minutes to cover the distance to the lighthouse.
“Let’s just do this and go home, please,” Katie pleaded.
She still felt uneasy, she’d had a bad feeling on the water, and the old lighthouse loomed more ominous than charming. Scattering ashes wasn’t her idea of a romantic date.
“We have to look around a little,” Jack coaxed. “I’m not sure where to put the Captain, and I want to check out the cottage.”
The exterior of the trim white cottage was in surprisingly good shape for its age, and a small flowerbed showed off red and yellow blooms. The front door was painted an inviting bright blue, and it wasn’t even locked. Katie followed Jack inside despite a growing sense of dread.
“This doesn’t look right, Jack. I think there’s someone still living here, there isn’t even any dust.”
“Who could be here? Ours is the only boat at the dock.”
Jack took in the small front room and the tiny kitchen and bedroom in back. A rocking chair rested by the window, and an antique writing desk was visible in the shadows of the far corner. A braided rag rug, kerosene lanterns, and seascapes on the walls completed the picturesque scene.
“Wow, everything is perfectly preserved, like a 1950’s movie set.”
“Yeah, it’s too perfect, like someone is keeping it ready.”
Jack picked up a slim, leather-bound volume of poetry. There was an inscription inside the front cover, and he felt goosebumps rise as he showed it to Katie.
You are the light of my life.
With Love, Edward
“At last, you’ve returned,” piped a reedy voice from the corner.
Jack and Katie jumped a little at the unexpected comment, looking around the room for the source. The shadows at the writing desk coalesced around the thin voice to reveal a young woman in an old-fashioned summer frock.
“Where have you been, Edward? Why have you kept me waiting all these years?”
“I’m not Edward,” Jack objected weakly.
“Jack? . . . I don’t like this, Jack!”
“And I don’t care for an uninvited guest in my house, young lady. Please leave so that Edward and I may be together.”
The woman glided toward Jack, reaching out as he backed away.
“Get away from him!” Katie shouted, but suddenly found herself standing outside again, unable to cross the threshold.
Jack stumbled backward into the kitchen, recoiling from the ghostly fingers that caressed his face. Their touch felt gentle, like cobweb, but icy cold.
“You are Edward. You’re as strong and handsome as ever.”
“N-no,” Jack chattered, paralyzed by a numbing chill.
“You must be Edward! I’ve waited so long, so very long . . .”
Katie looked anxiously at Jack’s helpless, staring face.
“Jack! Snap out of it, Jack!”
Jack shuddered and closed his eyes.
“Yes, Edward, come to me. Now we can be together always.”
Katie looked around desperately for some kind of weapon. She snatched up the urn that they’d left by the door and took aim. It flew accurately through the cottage, but passed harmlessly through the ghostly figure, smashing against the cast iron cook stove.
Lorena smiled triumphantly, and Katie watched in horror as all the color drained from Jack’s face.
“No . . .” Katie wailed.
A swirling cloud of ashes rose up from the shards of the urn, forming into a vaguely human shape.
“Lorena, let Jack go. I’m home, Lorena. I’m finally home.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Jack coughed and gasped for breath. He curled up on one side to relieve a pounding sensation in his chest. A sneezing fit followed as he tried to clear the dust and cobwebs from his face.
Jack, oh Jack, thank God you’re alive!”
Katie stopped the CPR effort that seemed to have been successful despite her lack of expertise.
“Can you walk? We should get out of here,” she said urgently.
Katie helped Jack to his feet, and he shuffled carefully out of the kitchen. They had to skirt a hole in the rotting floor and duck under a roof beam that had fallen by the front door. Jack slumped down on the moss-covered steps in the welcome warmth of the late afternoon sun. He’d never felt so cold.
“What the hell happened in there?” Jack mumbled wearily.
“I don’t know, it must have been a dream, or maybe some sort of nightmare. Or . . .” Katie trailed off, unwilling to believe what she’d just witnessed.
Jack looked doubtfully at the beer cans strewn around in the weeds. The dilapidated cottage showed every bit of its fifty years of neglect. The weather-beaten roof was falling in, and there were traces of old graffiti on one wall. Katie could make out bits of blue and white ceramic on the moldy kitchen floor. A forgotten envelope lay near the stove where it had fallen out of Jack’s pocket.
* * * * * * * * * *
I told you the story about Lorena and the lighthouse, but I didn’t tell you that I’m Edward, or what really happened afterward. I almost drowned when the dory capsized. A freak wave tossed me up on the beach. By the time I recovered, the news was already on the radio that Lorena was dead and I was missing. I ran away and spent the rest of my life trying to forget, but the lighthouse drew me back. I need to go home now.
Captain Edward Hauser
Author's note: ▼