He’s Watching You – Episode 05

THE next morning Joan woke to clear skies, and in the familiar classroom with its smell of chalk dust, slate and polish, she wondered if it had all been a bad dream. It was a half holiday, so after eating a lunch of Spam sandwiches and a hard-boiled egg she set off for a walk.

It looked enticing, a sandy footpath leading between scattered bushes and a sagging fingerpost that said TO THE LIGHTHOUSE. The track meandered its way south before turning down to the sea.

Banks of sea lavender and wild lupins sprouted through the shingle and oystercatchers cried shrilly. It was hard to believe that Britain was at war.

The path emerged on to a small promontory covered in tough marram grass. Right at its far end stood a black-and-white painted lighthouse.

An elderly man was hoeing a row of beetroot in a small patch of dug ground surrounding the building. He was short and tubby, with a beard. A pipe was in his mouth and an old felt hat was pulled down over his brow. He looked so typically English that Joan smiled.

He caught sight of her and nodded a greeting.

“Ah, it’s the schoolmistress. Good day, Miss Merriel.”

“How do you know me?” she asked, surprised.

“From Sunday morning church, miss. I’m the sexton. I noticed you straight off.”

She couldn’t quite place the faint burr in his voice. West country? Perhaps from Norfolk, further up the coast.

“You must be the lighthouse keeper. I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”

“Joseph Smith, they call me.”

“Have you worked here for long, Mr Smith?”

“It’s been in the family for three generations. When I came back from the trenches Father was an old man, so I took over from him. Getting on for a quarter of a century I’ve been here. Would you like a look round the lighthouse, Miss Merriel?”

“I’d be fascinated.”

“I’ll show you, then.” He opened a small black-painted door and ducked inside.

 There was a table covered with charts and a board on which he had recorded each day’s weather. Joan climbed up a steep, winding staircase behind Joseph, holding on to a rope rail fastened to the stonework.

The occasional narrow window threw a muted light on the steps and she felt closed in, suffocated. Then they emerged into an open space with wide windows.

“Here’s the watchroom.”

“What’s it used for, Mr Smith?”

“Joseph will do you, lady. It’s where I stand in bad weather to look out for ships that have got into difficulties. Watch your step and we’ll go up to the lantern room.”

He pointed to the great glass light.

“By night the lamp will flash every two minutes, regular as clockwork. You can see it five miles away on a clear evening.”

“Have there been many wrecks on this stretch of coast, Joseph?” Joan asked, regarding the light with great interest.

He nodded solemnly.

“Too many. Now if you’ve a head for heights I’ll show you the gallery.”

The wind tugged at her hair as she clutched the railings, staring down at the breaking waves far below on the cliff.

“The views are amazing. I could spend hours here just looking out to sea.”

Joseph chuckled.

“Not in nasty weather, you wouldn’t. Not with the lighthouse trembling, the wind ripping at you and waves crashing and thundering on the rocks. You can feel the building shudder when there’s a gale.” All of a sudden the quaint charm of the lighthouse faded and a chill ran through her.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.