The heavy, rust-riddled door to the hut at the base of the tower had been left hanging open. Abigail was the first inside, dumping the crate of lager on the worn and uneven flagstones just inside. Sophie stopped just outside and looked in.
The room was bare, with the wind whistling out of a crumbling fireplace just to the right. There were two small, grimy windows. The once-whitewashed walls were streaked with bird crap.
“Are you sure this place won’t fall down on us?” Sophie said
“It’s been OK so far.”
“Does anyone know we’re here? You know, in case…”
“Alex Jamieson knows. He recommended the place to me. Didn’t spend the night, though.”
“Come on, we both know you’d rather die stranded out here than get rescued by Alex Jamieson.”
There was another door, opposite the fireplace, gaping into a cavernous darkness, pierced by a faint shaft of dusty light. Abigail seemed to have forgotten the grown-up poise she’d had on the boat, and gazed around the room in childish wonder, before walking quickly, with a sort of hop-skip in the middle, towards the doorway.
Sophie left her to it and wandered back down the rough and slippery steps onto the rock, pulling her hood back up around her face. She walked forwards, about 30 paces, and stopped abruptly, as the ground disappeared in front of her, leaving nothing but the waves, rising and falling against shattered slabs of rock.
She turned right and kept walking, keeping quite a way back from the edge. At this point, the furthest from the jetty where the boat was moored, the jagged edges gave way to a glistening sheet of rock, sloping into the writhing sea, that slid up and down the surface, pouring in and out of the rockpools.
Right at the top of the rocks, just where the earth broke off, there was a pod of seals, almost motionless. Sophie tentatively walked towards them. They remained still at first, and then one by one, their heads turned, they noticed her presence, and they fled, clumsily, to the safety of the sea, their heads bobbing on the waves.
Sophie turned round and looked up. Abigail was standing on the narrow, ancient platform that ran around the edge of the light itself. Her bright blue coat stood out boldly against the grey of the lighthouse and the grey of the sky.
“Are you coming up or what?”
“Is it safe?”
“Should be! The view from here’s great!”
Sophie walked back over to the steps and slowly ascended. She’d have to do this at some point. She might as well get it over with. What could there actually be that would hurt her?
Warily, she stepped into the base of the tower.
This place had a strange feel to it. It was one of those places that just sort of feels like you’re not meant to be there. Almost like it sort of belonged to someone else, or something like that. This place had been abandoned to the fulmars and the gannets, and humans were no longer welcome.
She walked across, quickly, and straight through the door at the other side, before the fear that she felt could really get to her. Abigail had left it open, and it led to a staircase that spiralled into oblivion.
Egged on by the image in her head of Abigail’s face if she didn’t go up, she kept going. Up into the deep unknown.
Occasionally, there was a small window, usually with the glass broken, through which a dusty shaft of light poured, along with wind and rain and spray and the rasping shrieks of the birds.
She kept going up. What could there be that would hurt her? Abigail had gone up and seemed fine? And she was right. The building was unlikely to collapse after having stood for so long. She knew that. That was not what she feared.
Then what was it?
She kept going up, keeping her hands on the damp walls. The walls were solid. The walls were there. If she could feel something, then she knew she was still there, still real.
There were doorways, as well. Leading into empty rooms with rotten, wooden floors that even Abigail surely wouldn’t dare to test. She was foolhardy, but not suicidal.
Sophie was relieved when she saw light streaming down from the top of the stairs. She was still in darkness, but could see the light where she was headed. As she entered the pool of yellowish-white, she knew she had made it.
She stepped up into a shimmering realm of glass. She blinked in the light, as her eyes adjusted. There were four walls, each built of scratched and yellowish glass. On each side, there were the concentric rings of a Fresnel lens. The lamp’s mount was there in the centre, but the lamp itself had long gone.
“Hey! Soph!” Abigail shouted, through the glass.
Sophie looked round, and saw her face, distorted through the rough-edged prisms of the lenses. Abigail walked away, and then emerged from behind, inside the glass room.
“Come on. Get out here.” Abigail said, leading Sophie out through a little door onto the perilously-balanced balcony, overlooking jagged rocks and thundering waves.
“Look what Alex Jamieson’s left us”.
Abigail plunged her hand into her coat pocket, and retrieved a battered and stained, yellowish wad of folded paper.
“Grab a beer, and let’s read it while we’ve still got light.”
She walked round to the other side of the balcony, the side overlooking the rock rather than the sea, and returned with two cans of lager from the crate that she’d presumably somehow hauled up these stairs.
She cracked one open herself, and handed the other to Sophie. She sat down on the balcony, opened up the paper, and began to read. Sophie read over her shoulder.
There was a name at the top, and a date:
“Josiah Rose, Assistant keeper of the lighthouse at Svartskerry, January 14th 1877”.