Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Enjoy Chapter Four of "Port Story"! | Work in progress | Metaphysical Fantasy

Synopsis: The night has come and gone, and Port Hawktried has as well. Sèbastienne, waking, rushes outside to look around, to see what this new reality, which now includes her and everyone in Port Hawktried, looks like. Read on!


Chapter Four
Mr. Behrend’s Dire Predicament

Sheriff Leslie, though wary of doing so, decided that the entire village needed to know what was going on—at least as far as she understood it. With Sèbastienne and Dr. Faust’s help, along with her deputy and Mr. Wallace, the librarian, she went from store to store and home to home, telling everyone that she wanted to meet with the entire village at 7 P.M.

   With Dr. Faust’s stern warning to “keep a steady eye out for anything suspicious,” and going against her fear that Sèbastienne shouldn’t wander anywhere beyond her line of sight without someone accompanying her, she sent Sèbastienne to Point Tolylogee Lighthouse to inform Mister Behrend, the lighthouse-keeper, about the meeting. Sèbastienne hurried along the road, which, about a mile from the village, turned into a well-worn trail that rose gradually over the sea until it skirted the edges of some scary cliffs that dropped several hundred feet to the ocean.

   The lighthouse stood a good sixty feet tall near the edge of the last cliff, one that narrowed to a point well out into the water. There was the lightkeeper’s house and a yard and the lighthouse next to it; there was room for a small, tilled field, a large tool shed and a stable, which stood empty.

   Sèbastienne used to come here all the time before the Shifts. Since they started, she had been here only twice. The reason was the lighthouse-keeper, Mister Behrend.

   Before the Shifts, he was a quiet, friendly man. He had a wife and twin daughters, both Sèbastienne’s age, Kamilla and Sigrid, both whom Sèbastienne considered close friends. His wife, Wanda, was an accomplished pianist and quiltmaker.

   All three were traveling up the coast to visit family when the first Shift happened.

   Left alone, Mr. Behrend had become forlorn and drunken, one rarely seen in the village since, only appearing to buy food and supplies. It was hit-or-miss talking to him. One day he would be pleasant—or at least pleasant enough; another he would rage at whoever dared cross his path. He reeked of liquor, even after all this time, leading gossiping villagers to speculate that he had kept a huge stash before the first Shift, or had built a still and was keeping himself drunk that way. They would furtively watch what he bought in the market to confirm the latter rumor. The last person to spy on him was screamed at until Sheriff Leslie arrived to settled him down.

   She was a good choice to see him, she considered. Mr. Behrend had always treated her with kindness, and was unlikely to turn his random wrath on her.

   She stopped a couple of hundred yards from the lighthouse to take in the surroundings, which had become quite dramatic from the last Shift.

   The cliffs to the north, well beyond the border, looked as though God had taken a huge ax and cleaved the seaside mountains in half. They appeared to be at least a thousand feet in height, most of them dropping sheer to the sea. She tried guessing the distance to them by the distant, thin, hazy white of the sea as it bashed into them, but couldn’t guess more accurately than “at least ten miles. Probably ... more?”

   They were dark, as though made of some sort of igneous rock, which lent to their forbidding presence. A bay separated the lighthouse from the nearest, one lined with forest almost all the way to the water. The forest ran on to the mountainsides behind the cliffs, and up them to their tops.

   The sight was inspiring but quite scary, which all Shifts were, which was why folks in Port Hawktried didn’t bother hurrying out to the borders and gawking, as they did the first three or four Shifts. The sights were truly overwhelming, the new reality that came with them always uncertain, the loss of loved ones who weren’t brought along ever more painful.

   She gazed out over the sea towards the dark cliffs for a time, then began walking once again.

At the front door she hesitated, then knocked.

   Mister Behrend didn’t answer.

   She knocked again.

   Still no answer.

   She walked around the house, stopping at the thigh-high fence that outlined the back yard, which stopped at the very edge of the cliff.

   “Mister Behrend?” she called.

   No answer save the distant call of seagulls somewhere down the cliff. A cool, brine-filled breeze teased her hair.

   “Mister Behrend?”

   Still nothing.

   It was entirely possible that Mr. Behrend, drunk, wandered past the border last night and as a result was no longer with them, but in the previous reality. Sèbastienne decided to check the lighthouse, and so turned around and walked back, going past the house’s front door to the rock trail leading to it. She glanced around. The place seemed entirely deserted.

   “Mister Behrend?”

   She climbed the steps to the lighthouse door a few moments later and pushed down on the latch.


   “Mister Behrend?”

   Should she wait? She sat on the stairs and felt the ache in her legs that told her she had had a very busy day of walking. The pain radiated warmly into her lower back and shoulders, so she bent forward and stretched. When she straightened, she decided to try the house one more time, then give up.

   At the house, she knocked once more, this time as hard as she could. Almost at a yell she called out, “Mister Behrend?”


   She gazed with concern up at the second-floor window. Sighing, she descended the stairs towards the trail and the village. That’s when she heard the moan.

   She stopped.

   Was it a moan, or was it just the late-day breeze catching her ear just so?

   “Mister Behrend?”

   Another moan. This time she was sure of it.

   “Mister Behrend?”

   Where was the moan coming from?

   She turned frantically in place.

   Not the house, certainly. Which meant not the lighthouse, either, which was too far away.

   “Mister Behrend?”

   The moan that followed was much louder. It preceded a barely audible: “Down here, Sèbastienne. Please help me.”

   Ahead and to her right. From over the lip—of the cliff!

   She hurried to it, slowing in ever-more scared stages the closer she got to the edge. “Mister Behrend?”

   “Down here.”

   She got to the edge, her legs shaking, and peered over.

   Mr. Behrend had fallen off the cliff!

   Extraordinary luck had saved him. The fall was no more than ten feet to a thin shelf that dropped straight to the water several hundred feet below.

   He gazed up at her. He was flush against the stone and facing out. His forehead had been gashed and his pants ripped. He had a white-knuckle grip on a short, frayed stub of root sticking out just above his head.

   There was no way to reach him!

   “Mister Behrend! What happened to you?”

   He gazed away, shaking his head, then gazed back over his shoulder. “I’ve been here since last night. There is rope in the lighthouse. Will you fetch it, Sèbastienne?”

   “The ... the lighthouse is locked!” she exclaimed, her heart pounding madly not just for his dire circumstances, but also for her own. She had never allowed herself to get this close to the cliff-edge before. It was downright terrifying.

   “There is an extra key,” he said. “Go to the stable. On the left back corner of the hay shelf. It’s there. The rope is in the store room on the right behind the stairs.”

   “Got it!” shouted Sèbastienne. “I’ll be right back!”

   She backed up carefully, then ran full speed for the stable, one she was quite familiar with. She and Kamilla and Sigrid used to play hide and go seek all the time. It was a favorite hiding spot. She hopped the fence and hurried to the hay shelf. It was at chin level, and so difficult to reach all the way to the back corner. But on the third try she felt metal—the key. Her left hand had taken several splinters in the attempt, but she didn’t give them any thought. With the fourth try she grabbed the key and hurried towards the lighthouse.

   She pushed the key into the lock and twisted. The door unlocked with ease. She grabbed the handle and pushed the door open, hurrying to the store room—another favorite hiding spot.

   The rope was on a large hook, just as she remembered it. She grabbed it—it was quite heavy—feeding her arm through the loops and resting them on her shoulder, while hurrying as fast as she could back to Mr. Behrend. Adrenaline surged through her.

   He had been there since last night?

   In other words, he had probably misgauged the cliffs (while drunk, perhaps?) on a night when a Shift occurred!

   How he managed to survive was nothing short of a miracle!

   As the edge drew close, she slowed down. She dropped the rope well before she got there, fearing that its cumbersomeness might topple her over the edge, and threw an end over. “Got it?”

   “Got it!” he called back. “Tie the other around the tree at corner of the yard. Okay? Tie it really tight, Sèbastienne, do you understand?”

   She backed away from the ledge and turned to locate the tree. There it was. It wasn’t a big tree, maybe twenty feet tall at the most; its trunk looked ... strong enough? She wasn’t sure.

   She grabbed the other end of the rope after a frantic search and ran for the tree, the rest of the rope unlooping quickly as she did. Once there, she dropped to her knees and wrapped it in long loops around the trunk, tying it into one large granny knot. Scared that if she didn’t do a good enough job, Mr. Behrend was sure to fall to his death, she gripped it tightly and yanked on it as hard as she could several times. The tree barely budged.

   Running back towards the cliff, she called out well before she got there, “It’s ready, Mr. Behrend!”

   There was just one loop left. She watched it straighten away as Mr. Behrend got a firm grip on the rope. She hurried as fast as her fear allowed to the edge and peered over once more.

   “I’m probably going to need your help,” he said, gazing up at her. “Grab the rope if you can and pull when I tell you to. Okay?”

   “Yeah! Got it!” she said, backing up and reaching for the rope.

   “Ready?” he called from over the edge.

   “Ready!” she called back, even though she wasn’t.

   The rope abruptly yanked her down. She slipped and fell to her knees, losing her grip. Earth at the edge collapsed and fell over in a hiss.

   “Are you all right up there?”

   “Yeah!” she lied, frantically trying to grab it. She couldn’t get her fingers underneath it! “I’m just ...”

   Just then a hand appeared from over the edge. “The rope is fraying against the rock!” he yelled with terrifying urgency. “Come here, Sèbastienne! Hurry! Lie on your tummy, hook your feet over the rocks behind you if you can, and give me your hand!”

   She was so freaked out that she couldn’t get closer to the cliff than an arm’s length away. The sun in the meantime had gone behind the dark cliffs, throwing everything into shadow that made the moment even scarier. The ocean far below roared softly in amused indifference.

   His hand suddenly appeared again as more earth gave way; she grabbed it at the same time she hooked her feet under the rocks almost too far away to do so. He grabbed her wrist; she grabbed his. She only half-suppressed the scream that escaped her lips.

   “How much do you weigh?” he demanded.

   She didn’t know. Last year she weighed a hundred pounds, so that’s what she told him, stuttering it out.

   He chuckled. “It’ll take a lot to pull a hundred pounds off, but just in case, think heavy thoughts, all right? And I’m sorry for this.”

   His wrist grabbed much harder, making her yelp. He yanked, and she came forward several inches, her toes just hanging on to the rocks as more earth gave way.

   Before she could scream—there was Mr. Behrend’s head! He grabbed even harder, working his way up her forearm while using the rope in his other hand to pull as well. Earth hissed angrily as it tumbled over him; and she could see that the rope indeed was fraying, fraying quickly, fraying well even above his reach, and would surely snap if he didn’t get up very soon.

   With a great heave, he yanked half his torso over, the rope swinging dangerously as it sloughed away big chunks of dirt. He let her go, and she got to her knees and offered her wrists to him again, which he took. But most of his effort now was on reaching above the fray in the rope. She backed up, and now all but his legs were up. With one more sustained heave, all of him was up. He quickly rolled over several times to get away from the edge, his face and arms covered in dirty sweat. Sèbastienne was utterly exhausted and heaving for air, her dress torn in parts, her wrists already bruising.

   The rope was down to its final strands in several places.

   He released her and came to his knees, then stood. “You saved my life, Sèbastienne,” he said, offering her his hand. “Thank you. That rope is old,” he went on, gazing at it. “I should have replaced it years ago.” He must have thought that funny, because he chuckled. But there was no mirth in it at all.

   She reached up for him when she had recovered enough to. He gently pulled, supporting her elbow, and she stood. “I honestly didn’t think I’d make it. That was the longest damn night of my life.”

   “I can’t believe that you ...” she fought for breath “... that you didn’t fall all the way!”

   “I caught myself just as I went over. There were roots at the edge. They tore out just slowly enough for me to crawl, basically, down the cliff to the ledge. I grabbed rock as my foot settled on it. I couldn’t see anything, there was fog everywhere, thick as pea soup. I couldn’t tell if there was enough ledge for my other foot. I got so fatigued that eventually I just let go. If I was going to fall, then so be it. Luckily there was enough ledge for both of my feet. I hugged that rock like my life depended on it, and shivered in the cold. Had you not come by, I would have died!”

   He reached for her wrist, which was scraped and discolored and ached badly. “Let’s go inside so I can treat that wrist. It looks like I sprained it.”

   He released her and, stumbling and wheezing, began walking towards the house. She followed, leaving the frayed rope where it lay.

She tried not to sigh with dismay when she stepped into the living room. Once a bright and cheery place, it was now dark and totally disheveled, like a furious imp had invaded and torn everything apart and stolen the light.

   A picture lay limply over the arm of a chair; in the corner was its shattered frame. The sofa had a long rip, dirty, mildewing laundry piled high in a corner. The wall opposite had several holes in it, as though something had tried to punch through to the other side. The chair below the holes was dusted with white plaster and discolored by what looked like blood.

   He hurried into the kitchen, where he retrieved a tall glass and filled it with tap water and gulping it down. Sèbastienne followed him.

   The kitchen was in arguably worse shape than the living room. She took a glance into the sink and quickly glanced away, her face twisting with disgust, which she hid just as quickly.

   Mister Behrend glugged two more glassfuls, then glanced uneasily at her. “You must be thirsty.” He gazed at the glass, then at the sink, then back at her, his face apologetic if not embarrassed. “Let me clean this. It’s the only reasonably clean glass in the house.”

   She didn’t protest, despite how desperately filthy everything was. She too was very thirsty.

   “Thank you,” she said.

   He turned to the sink and began washing it. “How does your wrist feel?”

   She was so thirsty, in fact, that the pain of it had almost taken away the pain in her wrist. “It hurts.”

   He visibly hurried up with the cleaning, filled the glass, and turned to her. “Let me see it.”

   She took the glass with her good hand and brought it to her mouth and drank deeply. The water was cold and delicious. Mister Behrend, in the meantime, had taken her wrist and was looking carefully at it.

   “Sprained,” he announced. “But not broken or dislocated. I’ll get it wrapped up.” He saw that she had drank all the water. “More’s waiting,” he smiled uneasily. “I’ll be right back.”

   With that he left the kitchen. She was amazed that, after an entire night and day clinging to a cliff side, that he wasn’t in shock or acting more ... disturbed. Like it happened all the time.

   She went to the tap and turned it on and filled the glass, which she repeated two more times before she felt sated.

   He returned. “I left my first-aid bandages in the lighthouse. I’ll be right back.”

   Sèbastienne, waiting, felt a bit of Dr. Faust warm through her just then; and so, without any more dawdling, got to work cleaning the pots and pans, dishes and silverware piled up in the sink. She found herself even mumbling disdainfully like Dr. Faust would, and laughed at herself.

   It was foul, disgusting work. Much of the food that clung to the plates had long since molded over and smelled so bad that she had a hard time not getting nauseous. She scrubbed vigorously, setting the cleaned dishes on a reasonably unsoiled dish towel spread over the countertop that she found hanging off the handle of the oven. When she finished, she dried them and stacked them neatly, not knowing where they belonged, and so she left them on the towel.

   Mr. Behrend hadn’t returned.

   “Mister Behrend?” she called out.

   He hadn’t returned from the lighthouse. Surely he had found the first-aid bandages by now! Something like half an hour had passed—at least!

   After a time she left the kitchen, deciding to go to the lighthouse after dawdling for a time in the wreckage that was the living room.

   “Mister Behrend?” she called out once she got into the lighthouse. She stood at the bottom of the spiral stairs that led up to the lens room. “Mister Behrend? Are you all right?”


   She began climbing the stairs. At the top was the enormous lens, enclosed in strong steel wire. It hadn’t been lighted since the First Shift.

   Mister Behrend sat on the floor next to a large unopened wooden crate, his head in his hands. He shook as though he was sobbing.

   “Mister Behrend?” she asked gently, slowly approaching. “Are ... are you okay?”

   He sniffled. Not looking up at her, he cried, “They keep coming! They keep coming! Even when I pray for them not to; they keep coming! Even when I try to clean up, they keep coming! Why? Why?

   “I ... I’m sorry ... I don’t understand.” She knelt next to him. “What keeps coming?”

   Without moving his head or opening his eyes, his hand flew out, startling her, and grabbed the lid of the crate and jerked it open.

   Sèbastienne glanced inside.

   Neatly packed with newspaper were a dozen large bottles of bourbon.

Chapter Five