At dusk, the lighthouse keeper lit the beacon.
She didn’t have an explanation for why she continued to do it. It had been nearly a year since she’d seen any sign of a ship.
Belle chattered happily to her stuffed pig, moving him by leaps and bounds around the interior of the playpen. She’d been confined to it while upstairs her entire life, and so felt no compulsion to complain or try to escape. Bonnie smiled at her child, taking a moment to enjoy her presence before finishing the adjustments to the light.
Belle was good company. Bonnie was looking forward to the day when she’d be a more active participant in conversation, but for now it was enough that she was a good listener. Bonnie liked to talk. She told stories of the days when ships were saved from certain destruction because of the beacon she’d lit nightly for the last ten years.
She talked now about her worry over the dwindling supplies in the lighthouse.
She and Belle had managed the last year because she’d always been obsessive about stocking up. Canned goods and dry goods had lined the many shelves of the pantry. The cellar had been well-stocked with potatoes, carrots and onions and dried fruits, and the freezer had been full of ground beef and chicken and stew meat as well as single-serve meals that had become staples for her after Joseph was lost at sea two years ago.
The generator had been her main source of power for a while now, and she thanked her foresight in having set aside so many barrels of gasoline. The only appliances kept running full time were the freezer and refrigerator. She allowed only short intervals for viewing television, which really consisted only of watching DVD recordings. Broadcast TV was a thing of the past.
Trips inland for grocery shopping had ended with her last foray: she’d discovered a village inhabited by corpses. Not every person was accounted for, certainly; clearly many had fled before the others had died.
With no idea what had caused their deaths, Bonnie had skirted the bodies and prayed it was not some disease. It would destroy her if Belle were to contract some lethal illness. The stores were mostly deserted, and she took food and supplies, as much as she could pack into the bed of her pickup, and drove back out to the coast, vowing not to return until someone showed up to deal with whatever had befallen the little town.
“We’re running out of things, Belle,” she said, using a cheerful tone while giving voice to her fears. “I can’t nurse you forever; but you need real milk, not that powdered stuff.”
She lifted the toddler out of the playpen and plucked up the stuffed pig. They started down the spiral staircase. Bonnie moved slowly and carefully. A fall would be the end of them.
“The lamp oil is nearly gone,” she continued.
“What will we do when we can’t light the lamp? Any port in a storm, my dad used to say. What happens when there’s no port?”
Belle shook her head and said, “No, no, no.”
Bonnie had recently taken up counting: ten cans of tomato soup left, half a dozen of chicken noodle, and only four of vegetable. But, hallelujah, almost two dozen of cream of mushroom–yum, yum! The last barrel of gasoline was more than half gone, and they hadn’t watched so much as a movie in months. The propane tank was nearly depleted as well.
Winter was upon them, and no one had delivered wood for the fireplace or coal for the stove.
No one was going to, either.
“We have to leave, baby Belle,” Bonnie sang. “We have to get somewhere else, and soon.”
“No, no, no!” Belle imitated the sing-a-song voice of her mother.
“No, no, no!” Bonnie agreed. “This is no port in the storm.”
The truck was packed with everything Bonnie could get into the bed. She had worked for the better half of a day using a rigged pulley system to lift and secure the old camper shell on the back to their supplies would stay covered and dry. Belle had watched from her playpen, set up in front of the lighthouse.
Bonnie had cooked all the remaining meat and put it up in canning jars to last them as long as possible. She’d spent a few days in a steam-filled kitchen, thanking the spirit of her mother for insisting she learn how to can and preserve. She remembered thinking it was a stupid waste of time, when all they had to do was run to the store.
“Mother knows best,” Bonnie sang to Belle. “Never forget it, Baby Belle. My mother was one smart cookie. Thanks, Mom!”
It was due to her mother that she owned canning jars at all. For years she’d received sets for Christmas and birthdays, along with other gifts. “I think my mom was a prophet or something,” Bonnie said. Belle giggled. “Grandma had the sight.”
Whatever the reason, Bonnie was grateful. There would be meat for a while, and if they were lucky, she’d find her father’s hunting rifle at the cabin.
“I hope no one has broken in,” Bonnie mused.
“Ma! Ma!” Belle giggled again. Bonnie’s face lit up with her smile of delight. “Oh, good baby!”
Once the truck was packed with all the remaining food, Bonnie attached the small flatbed trailer and loaded the remaining gasoline, propane and the smaller generator, and tied everything down securely. Then she boxed Belle’s playpen and crib and her own bed and bedding. Last, she added the rocking chair Joseph had made for her.
Belle fell asleep in her car seat almost as soon as they started their trip, but Bonnie chattered to her, anyway. “Pray the snows don’t come until we get to the cabin,” she said. “Pray the cabin is intact and empty. My dad left me the cabin when he died, but I haven’t been up there in years. I hope the gun is there. I hope it works.”
She stopped in town despite her fears. There was no one at the gas station; no bodies, either. She had to break a window to get inside, but was gratified to hear the roar of a generator when she switched the gas pumps on. Nearly everyone on the coast had generators; nor’easters hit and knocked out power frequently in winter.
She tossed out another prayer, this that the holding tanks would have enough gasoline for her to fill her truck’s main and auxiliary tanks and the barrel and gas cans, too.
While her big tank was filling, Bonnie grabbed all the snack foods and sodas and water she could and put them in the truck. She found bags of coffee and creamer packets and took those, too.
She left the cheese, eggs and milk. God alone knew how long those had been there, unrefrigerated.
She really would have liked to have those…
Grateful for the gasoline, Bonnie began her travel in earnest and hoped for the best.
If only, she thought. If only the cabin is in good shape. If only the gun is there and usable. If only we can manage to get there without running into anyone.
If only we can make it to a port in the storm.
Even when I can’t get a short short story out of a prompt, I am always grateful to be prodded into a story idea. This was a nice fit into an ongoing theme of mine. Thanks for the prompt, Writers Unite!