Leaving the Light

Bonnie sat on the bottom step of the spiral staircase and craned her neck to stare up, up, up to the unlit beacon.

Belle was asleep. Bonnie never felt more alone than at naptime. Belle kept up a litany of nonsensical chatter all day; it was too quiet when she was asleep.

“We’re leaving,” Bonnie whispered. She’d taken to talking to herself in the past year or so.

Well…she was talking to Joseph, really.

He’d sailed off just before Belle was born and never returned. A freak lightning storm had taken the ship and all aboard it; it seemed unbelievable to her still that such a thing could still happen in modern times, but nature was a force no one could tame.

What was happening in the here and now, though—it wasn’t nature, exactly. It happened in the same way as a sudden lightning strike, or so it seemed to Bonnie. But it had to have been people who did it.

The town, seven miles away, was nearly empty. The people who remained were not alive. They lay where they’d fallen, unattended.

Bonnie had been shocked on the day she drove into town from the lighthouse to get supplies. She was afraid of plague, but none of the dead looked like they’d been sick. If anything, they looked like they’d recently just fallen asleep—albeit on the floor, against the cash register, behind the wheels of cars in the parking lot, and one old man bent over into a shopping cart.

What could have caused such a thing?

Where did everyone else go, and how did they escape the fates of the dead?

Bonnie leaned against the wall, still looking up the staircase.

She remembered the day she’d gone into labor.

Joseph had been gone for several days, and she’d only learned the fate of his ship the morning before. She was alone in the lighthouse, sitting near the beacon, watching the light sweep its warning arc across the rocky shoreline. Once in awhile she would sound the bellowing horn. “Weeeeeehonk! Weeeeeehonk!” As it groaned out its alarm, Bonnie screamed.

And the pains of labor began, causing her to voice a different scream, one that contained physical pain as well as the anguished pain of her loss.

It occurred to her now that she’d been feeling the pains all along, but in her grief she’d been oblivious until the tide turned and urgency reared its head.

Her water broke.

Alone, high in the lighthouse tower, Bonnie brought forth her child. Alone. She wrapped the infant in her shirt and slowly made her way down the spiral staircase. Then she re-wrapped her, and fed her, dressed herself and called an ambulance to take them both to the nearest hospital to make sure they were okay.

“We’re leaving this place,” she whispered again.

How could she leave the birthplace of her only child?

Their food was almost gone. There was no power, except for the generator. Fuel was going to be a problem.

Besides that, there were no more ships. It had been weeks since she’d seen anything in the harbor.

Everything was packed into the truck and onto the flatbed trailer attached.

Almost everything. She’d load the last of it right before they left.

Yes. They were leaving this place.

What good is a lighthouse when you light the way for nothing and no one?

If they stayed for the winter, they’d freeze. Or starve. They had to go.

Bonnie sighed. Belle would be awake soon, and she’d cook their last meal. They would climb the tower for the last time and she would fasten the safety gate. She had spread out a big sleeping bag so they could watch a Disney movie on the little portable DVD player while waiting for the sun to go down.

And for the final time, she would light the beacon. They would watch the sweeping arcs of light reveal the shoreline far below them. Belle would sing words only she could understand in her perfect pitch, and Bonnie would sigh, thinking for the thousandth time that it was a damn shame no one else could hear her.

It seemed fitting to sleep beneath the light of the beacon on their final night.

In the morning they’d be leaving the lighthouse behind forever.

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