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Rated: E · Short Story · Mystery · #2256850
An old lighthouse property is to be restored. 1949 words.
Ariston Ermina Light

Kathleen McNamara

For years they had ignored the old lighthouse. The bright white and blue diamonds that were its designated markings, were now cracked and faded.
The years of relentless sun and battering from crashing waves had taken a toll. Weeds choked the grounds of the Keeps house.
The old picket fence was long gone. Only the gate remains, hanging by a rusty hinge.

Lizbette Harbeson stood with her son Jonathan at the gate surveying the run-down property. She had a copy of the pamphlet provided by the town’s tourism board relating the history and legends that were associated with the lighthouse. Jonathan, finding the sorry aspect of the property not the least bit interesting, was
paging through the book of ships and lighthouses given him by the mayor. For a seven-year-old, that was much more interesting than the history of this dilapidated old place.

The pamphlet showed the property in its heyday. Its proud history marred by the loss of two ships, the Ariston and the Ermina. Both clipper ships were lost in the same storm due to the dereliction of duty of the light keep during a hurricane. A hundred lives were lost in those two wrecks. After the storm had passed, the town folk had found the light keep hiding in the woods nearby. He was taken into town and subjected to a trial. They found him guilty of murder and he was hanged. Legend has it that a widow of one of the poor souls lost in the wreck put a curse on the light keep before the hangman did his job. Lizbette quickly put the pamphlet in her purse.

Squinting in the bright sunlight the youngster asked, “Mom, will the lighthouse work again after it is fixed up?” Putting her arm around his shoulder she told him that that was the idea. The town council had come up with the idea of restoring both the lighthouse and the Keep's house. After the installation was decommissioned by the government, the property was purchased and used as a vacation rental. It was never really a popular place to stay as it was so far outside the small coastal town. Eventually, the owner donated the property to the town and they had been at a loss as to what to do with it ever since.

It was not until a particularly vicious coastal storm had washed up what looked like pieces of a ship's railing and a large piece of what many thought was the keel of a ship. Local historians were able to trace the railing to the Ermina. With the appearance of pieces of wreckage, the area attracted the attention of dive teams and local historians. An anchor and a ship's bell along with and other seafaring items had been retrieved. It was not long before plans were made to restore the old Keep house as a museum to showcase the remains of those two wrecks.

“Well, this year we will be able to restore the grounds and the first floor of the Keep's house,” she replied. “It is going to take a lot more time and money to fix the old light.”

“I hope they get the money they need,” he told her. “I would really like to see the lighthouse work. It would be so cool!”

“First things first. Right now the museum is slated to open up on National Lighthouse Day. So I have a lot of work to oversee to get this done in a couple of months. Are you ready to help me with the work?”

He looked up at her with a very solemn expression on his little face and replied, “As long as you promise to get the light fixed too.”

“I promise I will do my best to get that done.” She was rewarded with a big hug, something a bit rare these days. They took off down the rocky path by the shoreline. As they chatted their voices floated on the sea breezes as she laid out the plans for the grounds and the house.

Summer flew by quickly for the pair. Landscapers transformed the grounds. Gone were the weeds and overgrown shrubs. Bushes of cabbage roses and hydrangeas once again filled the gardens around the house. A new picket fence, blue clapboard siding, and a bright red roof made the place look so much more inviting. Inside the renovations were much more extensive. From the years of disrepair, it was clear that the goal of restoring the whole first floor was not to be accomplished. The front sitting room, which would house the museum pieces, would be the only room ready by opening day.

The mayor came out to the property the day before the ceremonies to check on the progress.

“Lizbette, you have worked wonders here. The outside looks just the way it did in the photos in my office! I know that we have a lot more work cut out for us here, but you are really doing an amazing job!”

“Thanks, Mr. Mayor. I am so glad you approve.”

“You know, our little celebration of National Lighthouse Day is a bit extra special this year.”

“How so,” she asked?

“It coincides with the anniversary of the wrecks of the Ariston and the Ermina. I just hope that we don’t have the same weather they did that day.”

“Well, according to the weather forecasts we should be okay. There is the possibility of a storm later that day.” She wondered how she had missed the information about the date of the wrecks. She was going to have to go back and read the history in that pamphlet again.

National Lighthouse Day dawned with the three H’s the coast was famous for… hazy, hot and humid. Representatives from the local press were the first to arrive. The mayor made sure that he was in almost every photo of the grounds and the display room. He regaled the reporters with stories of the washing up of the wreck and the subsequent dives. He gushed about his good fortune in finding someone with Lizbette’s talents to help with the restoration.

Jonathan was studying the pieces of the wreckage while nibbling cookies that had been donated by the ladies auxiliary for the occasion. A young man dressed as a lightkeeper came up to him and started relating stories of the great seafaring ships that used to ply the waters off the coast. As she approached the two of them, she could see that wonder in Jonathan’s eyes. The young man telling the stories was quite the actor. He even used the language of a much earlier time, such as would have been used in the old seafaring days. Even Lizbette was delighted to see Jonathan having such a good time.

“What wonderful stories,” she exclaimed. The young actor jumped up and removed his cap.

“Begging your pardon, ma’am, I was just entertaining the young ‘un here. I hope you do not mind.”

“Not at all,” she smiled. She held her hand out to Jonathan and said, “C’mon, I want you to meet the mayor.”

“G’day, ma’am,” said the actor and he melted into the crowd. The pair made
their way across the display room. The mayor was talking with some of the tourists about the future of the lighthouse.

“Mr. Mayor,” Lizbette began. “You did not tell me you had someone hired to play a historical role today.” The mayor looked puzzled. “I know the ladies from the auxiliary were going to dress in period costumes. The young man in the garb of the Light Keep. He was telling Jonathan tales of some of the ships of long ago. His storytelling was wonderful!”

“I am not sure what you are talking about, my dear.” He started to say something else before being distracted by some of the council members.

By late afternoon, the mayor had declared the day a success. As they locked up the house and made their way down the shore path, thunder could be heard rumbling from the clouds out to sea. As predicted, the storm was fast approaching and the winds picked up strength. Large waves were crashing at the base of the cliff by the lighthouse. By the time they reached their car, the rain was starting to fall and lightning clawed its way across the dark skies.

“Wow,” exclaimed Lizbette! “This is really going to be a bad storm. I hope everyone gets home okay.”

“Elston said it was going to be a bad storm tonight,” Jonathan said. “He said it always is like this every year.”

“Who is Elston?”

“The guy telling the stories. Today was the first time I got to talk with him. I usually see him with the workers, but they never seem to talk to him. I thought it would be nice to talk to him today.”

Lizbette glanced at her son. She was not sure how she was to process this information. She had never seen the guy working with her crews.

“Does he live here in town?”

“No. He said he lived in the woods close to the lighthouse, so he could walk there.” Lizbette pulled into the driveway of their seaside cottage.

“Well, I hope he got home before the rain started.” She made a mental note to check with her crews to find out who this young man was. As they were running up the steps of the front porch, she searched her purse for the key to the front door.

“No Mom,” Jonathan explained to her, “he told me he had to go to work tonight. His job was really important.” Finding her key and inserting it into the front door she asked, “What does he do? Did he say?”

“Yeah. He said he had to watch for ships tonight. Storms are bad for them, he said. He had to help make sure they get past the coastline okay.” Lizbette opened the door and looked down at her son.

Before she could ask him another question her son pointed at the lighthouse in the distance and yelled, “Look, Mom! Elston said that he was going to make sure he did his job tonight. I thought everyone said the lighthouse did not work anymore?”

Lizbette stared at the lighthouse in disbelief. Diving in her purse, she pulled out the pamphlet she had stashed there. She quickly paged to the end, the part she had promised to get around to reading.

…Elston Hedgeson was found guilty of murder in his dereliction of duty. He was sentenced to be hanged from the yardarm in the town square. But before the sentence could be carried out, a widow of one of the drowned sailors placed a curse on him. His body was buried in the woods not too far from the lighthouse.
The night he died another vicious storm blew in and the townsfolk swear that despite the fact that no one was manning the light that night, the lighthouse beacon could be seen throughout the duration of the storm.
Legend has it, that every time a storm threatens the coastline, the lighthouse shines her light over the waves, despite being decommissioned by the government years ago….”

Lizbette raised her eyes from the leaflet back up to the lighthouse. Lightning flashed across the darkened skies. She would have sworn that she could see a silhouette standing on the tower rim by the light.

“I can’t wait to talk to Elston tomorrow and ask him how he got the lighthouse to work,” exclaimed Jonathan!

Opening the door and following Jonathan inside, Lizbette took a deep breath.

“Jonathan,…I think we need to talk.”

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