Archive for April, 2020

Dread Rocks Holiday part 8

April 25, 2020

 

I must have been unconscious mere moments. As soon as I woke I scrambled to my feet, head throbbing like my own personal Passchendaele, to escape the looming galleon. But to my utter bewilderment, of the ship there was no sign. Where could the blasted thing have buggered off to? It had been mere yards away, and there was no way on earth that it would have missed the lighthouse. If that ship was the Titanic, then Dread Rocks Lighthouse was the iceberg, and a collision was as inevitable as Christmas.

The storm hadn’t abated in the least during my brief snooze. I stood on the balcony for while, clinging to the railing to prevent my being swept overboard, urging the sea air to clear my muzzy bonce.  

This was a fine old puzzle, I admitted to myself. I wasn’t sure if even the mighty Stirling grey matter could decipher this one.

I staggered back into the lantern room. Mayhaps the diving suit had scarpered along with the ghostly galleon? But before I could investigate that, another odd thing distracted my attention. Where I had fallen and bashed my head on the base of the lantern, a panel had swung open, revealing… what? A sliver of darkness lay beyond, allied with a whiff of stale damp air. What could this be? I tugged the panel fully open and peered into the darkness.  Beneath the lantern there was a ladder descending down a deep, unfathomably deep, dark well. Where the Hassel could it lead? I can’t say it looked enticing; there’s a rarely anything good in impenetrable gloom, but frankly, could it be any worse than what I was facing in the lantern room, what with spooky ships and ambulatory diving suits?

I was however clad only in underpants – shoeless too; not ideal armour for a possibly dangerous expedition into dark and mysterious depths.

I had noticed earlier an oilskin sou’wester hanging in the lantern room. There were some Wellington boots too. I niftily clad myself in them, hauled myself into the well, and began the descent into who knows what…

That’s when I discovered that climbing down a ladder while wearing wellington boots was a skill I had yet to master.

Within moments I was engulfed in a blinding darkness. I couldn’t even see the ladder to which I was clinging. I continued to descend, my sense of time evaporating with my vision.  I tried to match the number of rungs I descended to the number of steps there were in the Lighthouse. By my reckoning I must have plunged much further than the ground floor, and was now below sea level. I still couldn’t see a damn thing, but the air felt damper with each passing rung. How far could it go? I began to worry that the next step would just plunge me into the sea. I could no longer hear the storm, just a background rumble which I presumed to be the sound of the sea although as it was now a long time since I last ate it could’ve been my stomach. A tot of whisky wouldn’t go amiss either.

I began to be aware that I could see more of my surroundings. Either my eyes had finally adjusted to the blackness or there was light leaking in from somewhere. I suspected the latter. I looked down. Yes, there was a shaft of light a few yards beneath me. I felt a urge sense of relief. Strong as I am, even my muscular arms were tiring and I knew I would soon have to rest. I refrained from rushing though; who knew what I would encounter when I reached the source of the light…

The ladder came to an abrupt halt. The small amount of light revealed that I had reached the bottom of the shaft and the only exit was a small hole, just big enough to crawl through, which was also the source of the meagre light. The ground was wet but solid enough.

I was excited at the prospect of what I was to discover, but my many wartime experiences taught me to be cautious. There may be trouble ahead…

I crawled though the hole towards the light… and gasped at what I discovered!

As opposed to the dank little tunnel I’d expected, I found a most enormous cavern; a natural chasm originally, but later carved into something quite magnificent, one might almost call it a rock-hewn cathedral. The ceiling was so high that it must be situated just below the sea bed. Vast stalactites hung from the roof like the fangs of giant vampires. Rocks of varying sizes were dotted about the cavern, and on each flickered a blood-red candle. The air was surprisingly fresh, albeit with a tang of salt in the air, not to mention a whiff of fish. At the far end of the cavern there was  a large table, carved from an enormous slab of stone. A scarlet cloth was draped over it, on which stood more guttering candles. It put me in mind of an altar. Perhaps this place was more cathedral-like than I originally surmised? But I suspected it wasn’t as cosy as our beloved parish churches, presided over by a eccentrically-eyebrowed parson who would cycle from cottage to cottage whether dispensing wise counsel to despairing wives or death-rites to the imminently dead. This place reeked not just of salty fish, but of heathenry My fears were confirmed when I noticed what has hanging above the altar. A vast crucifix suspended from the ceiling. But this crucifix differed from those in the cathedrals which give such delight in our green and pleasant country. In a mockery of all that is holy, this crucifix hung upside down!

I was getting a bad feeling about this.

A tingle of danger crept up my spine. I instinctively ducked down behind a handy stalagmite. A robed and cowled figure was approaching the altar. Whoever it was bowed before the inverted crucifix, the filthy swine, and then placed a silver tray on the altar. I couldn’t see what was on the tray but past experience convinced me that they would be implements of beastliness.

The figure suddenly turned away from the altar. He glanced around the cavern, the black eyeholes in his cowl coming to halt in my general direction. Could he see me? I was sure the stalagmite was hiding me sufficiently. I held my breath and tried to quell the thumping of my heart. 

The robed figure seemed reassured and, once more facing the altar, removed his cowl. Even with his broad back to me, I instantly identified the scoundrel…

It was Old Jethro!

To be continued…

Dread Rocks Holiday part 7

April 10, 2020

 

I gawked in horror at the looming ship. Was this the final curtain for Yours Truly? It seemed frightfully unfair. I had come to this wretched lighthouse for some isolation away from the plague bombarding the world outside. All I required was my typewriter, my whisky, and some peace and quiet… and instead I’d ended up with mystery after mystery, indigestion from an under-cooked porpoise, and now death by a several tons of Galleon…

I pulled myself up by the bootstraps? Did I just say ‘Galleon?’ I inspected the impending ship. Yes, it wasn’t the modern liner I’d originally taken it for, or a luxury yacht (which now I come to think of it is where I should have been spending my seclusion), or even a cross-channel ferry, the sort that hoists the Oi Polloi from one coast to another to purchase their cheap booze. No, this was a Galleon! Seventeenth- century if I wasn’t mistaken, the sailing ships used by those scurvy rogues of the seven seas, pirates!

But the last thing I observed just before the Galleon rammed the Lighthouse and sliced poor old Stirling in twain was that it appeared to be… glowing

 

Then oblivion gave me a great big wet one on the kisser…

 

To be continued…

 

Dread Rocks Holiday part 6

April 9, 2020

I’m a brave fellow. I’ve seen many terrible things in my rich and full life, from Nazi Satanists sacrificing goats at black orgies to Clement Atlee doing the conga at a nudist camp, but the sight of that empty diving helmet made my pure blood run cold.  I decided to tactically retreat in the general direction of away. As I couldn’t get past the diving suit to go downstairs, I made the calculated decision to reverse and climb the circular staircase, all the way to the top of the lighthouse, to the lantern room if necessary.

I reached the lantern room and bolted the door behind me. I took a deep breath – not from the climb, I am a man in my tip-top prime – but to clear my mind of unnecessary thought,  a tip I learned from a monk who was on the Tibetan team in a Celebrity edition of It’s a Knockout.

I pondered all the mysteries; Jethro and his gills, not to mention his inexplicable appearance at the Lighthouse last night; the empty, yet ambulatory diving suit; the legends…

My conclusion as that the best place for me to be was back on the mainland – and never mind the plague currently ravaging the land – but this seemed a daunting prospect, what with the mystery figure on the diving suit, the distinct lack of a boat, the howling storm… I am an Olympic-class swimmer, but I didn’t give even myself a good chance of making it to shore in these conditions. I couldn’t even radio the coast guard without somehow pushing past that eerie deep sea diver blocking the staircase.

I dashed out onto the balcony which circled the lantern room. The weather was even filthier than earlier, the rain and squall making visibility almost nil, while the wind threatened to blow me over the side.  Exactly the conditions for which the Lighthouse was originally built. A lightbulb immediately popped on above my head, almost as though I were myself a human lighthouse! Why not light the lantern? It should warn someone on the mainland that something fishy was afoot, after all the Lighthouse had been in darkness for many years.

I examined the lantern itself. A rusty old thing it seemed to be, unused for decades, still reeking of the oil which powered it. I’ll be honest; I’m not the most technically-adept of chaps, leaving that sort of things to the boffins and the weeds, but I had been in the scouts and the SAS, surely I could light what was in essence an over-sized oil lamp?

Fortunately, I soon found a book called How to Operate a Lighthouse by Sir Edward Stone. I quickly flicked through its pages and soon picked up the barest gen. Of course, it all depended if there was enough oil to light the lamp. I’d found several barrels the previous day, but they were downstairs. My luck was with me as I found a family-size can of Crisp’n’Dry.

By now, the diving suit had reached the lantern room and was banging rhythmically on the door.

‘Oh, do belt up, there’s a good fellow!’ I called out, scrabbling for a match that wasn’t sodden.

The seventh match sparked along the side of the box, and I achieved sufficient flame to light the wick. I stood back and protected my eyes from the dazzle as the light flared up and started to rotate. I felt a marvellous sense of achievement, not to mention historical import as the lighthouse sparkled into action for the first time in decades. Let’s just hope someone on the mainland saw the light and realised that Yours Truly was in trouble!

Suddenly the air was rent by a terrific honking noise. Was that me, I wondered? Had I simultaneously cranked up a foghorn by igniting the lantern? The deafening noise thundered though the air again, but this time I could tell it was emanating from outside. I rushed out onto the balcony, wishing that I was wearing something more than just my underpants. The gale threatened to blow me over the edge, but I clung to the rail and stared in horror at the source of the foghorn.

A ship was tearing through the waves at the rate of knots. It was aimed directly at the Lighthouse!

 

Continued…

Dread Rocks Holiday part 5

April 7, 2020

I awoke with a gasp, drenched in sweat, unusual in a draughty old lighthouse like this. I didn’t recall making my way to bed, but I had topped up our whisky glasses more than I’d intended to…

Old Jethro! That was the last thing I remembered. Old Jethro pushing back his beard and showing me … his gills! Surely it must have been a dream? Did he even come to the lighthouse, whether by boat or swimming like a hairy haddock?

Only one way to find out? I leaped out of the hammock. If Old Jethro had arrived here last night, he’d presumably still be around.

I pulled on my underpants; I wasn’t going to caught out again, orchestras akimbo, but before I could leave the bedroom, I heard a noise. Footsteps! Heavy ones too. They were accompanied by the sound of wheezing, the sound made by that dirty fellow who would constantly ring my wife ad make filthy suggestions. Wretched man reversed the charges too and she would always accept them.

‘Old Jethro, is that you?’ I called out. Answer came there none.

‘Are you looking for the lavatory?’ I asked. ‘It’s further downstairs, but I usually just pop the Johnson out of the nearest porthole. I amuse myself by trying to pot a cormorant.’

Still no reply, although the footsteps were getting nearer, the wheezing louder.

‘Don’t bother coming up any further,’ I shouted. ‘I’ll come down and meet you.’

I peered around looking for something I could use as a weapon. Ah, the perfect thing! A harpoon I’d brought along just in case I fancied a spot of whaling. I grabbed it and left the room. I trod gingerly down the circular staircase, not because I was scared, but I didn’t want my footsteps to intrude on the sound of whatever – whoever, I corrected myself, now was not the time to be imaginative – was approaching.

I hadn’t even reached the floor below when I caught my first glimpse of what was climbing the stairs. I could scarcely believe my eyes! It was someone in an old-fashioned diving suit, of the type I can imagine used by Captain Nemo’s crew aboard the Nautilus! The whole outfit, made of some sort of canvas, I assumed, was topped by a round brass helmet at the front of which was a porthole. I peered through the glass, but I couldn’t see who was inside.

‘Is that you, Old Jethro?’ I asked trying to keep my voice steady. ‘So that’s how you got out to Dread Rocks, is it? You must have needed a very long air hose?’ I joked.

At which point I noticed that there was no air hose attached to the outfit. Whoever was inside had no access to oxygen…

‘You must have frightfully good breath control,’ I said, giving my brain time to work out what to do next. But before my brain had made a decision, my body leapt forward, grabbed the porthole at the front of the helmet and wrenched it open. I stared inside the helmet.

There was no-one inside!

 

Continued…

Dread Rocks Holiday part 4

April 3, 2020

Yes, it was Old Jethro, the salty cove who’d rowed me to the Lighthouse the previous day. He was soaked through and his eyes were wild. He opened his mouth and  seawater cascaded out onto the floor.

‘Can I help you?’ I asked politely.

He raised his hand to his mouth and retrieved a fish. He flung it to the floor where it flapped, frantically gasping.

‘Oi brought your provisions,’ he growled.

‘It’s the middle of the night,’ I said incredulously. ‘It could’ve waited until daylight.’

‘Oi… Oi… Oi had to come,’ he gasped.

‘Well, top marks for diligence, old chap, but minus points deducted for common sense. Now why don’t’ you get back in your boat and…’

Something bothered me. I pushed past Old Jethro and looked at the Lighthouse jetty. There was no sign of a boat.

‘Now I don’t want to alarm you,’ I informed him, ‘but your boat seems to have disappeared.’

The storm was howling so I closed the main door to keep out the violent squall.

‘Oi bain’t come by boat,’ he whispered.

‘Then how the dickens did you…’

Jethro suddenly seemed to actually look at me. ‘‘ere, why bain’t you got any clothes on?’

I puffed out my firmly-proportioned chest. ‘Because, sir, I am a proud Nudist and if a chap can’t be starkers in his own Lighthouse, where can he be starkers?’

Jethro shrugged and started to unbutton his jacket.

‘It’s not compulsory,’ I hastily added.

‘Oi be soaked through,’ he said and continued to divest himself of his clothes.

‘Fair enough,’ I relied, ‘I’ll get you a blanket.’

 

I must admit that I was feeling pretty chilly myself by now, so the pair of us ended up sitting around the stove wrapped in old blankets seemingly stitched together from shredded wheat. I’d poured us a tot of whisky each, and slowly Old Jethro dried out. He was a hairy chap and I was fascinated by how his huge tangled beard seemed knitted into his chest hair.

Old Jethro knocked back his whisky (well, mine actually) and handed his glass back to me. I assumed he wanted more, but I wasn’t prepared to indulge him until he’d supplied me with some answers.

‘What on earth made you come all the way out to Dread Rocks Lighthouse in the middle of the night during what can only be described as a bitch of a thunderstorm, eh?’ I interrogated him.

His face fell as another whisky wasn’t immediately forthcoming. He paused and then said, ‘The voice told me to.’

‘Voice? What voice?’

He looked at me, scared. ‘Oi was woken by the sound of a woman’s voice. Beautiful it were, and she bid me go to the Lighthouse and don’t delay.’

‘Did she give you any reason, this so-called beautiful voice?’ I failed to keep my scepticism out of my own voice.

‘She said ‘ee be in danger.’

‘Is that so? From whom may I ask?’

‘She bain’t say.’

I resisted the urge for my eyebrow to raise wryly. ‘And how were you to rescue me from this danger?’

He shrugged. ‘Take’ ee back to the mainland.’

‘Ah!’

I poured him a small tot of whisky. He swallowed it in one gulp. No more of the good stuff for him.

‘And how,’ I asked him, ‘were you to bring me back to the mainland without a boat?’

He didn’t answer.

My patience was wearing very thin. ‘No more shilly-shallying! I want some answers from you, Old Jethro. You must have come here by boat so where is it now?’

‘Oi told ‘ee, Oi bain’t come by boat.’ He replied sulkily.

I felt sorely tempted to boot this shaggy old matelot out of the door, storm or no storm, and let him find his own way back to the mainland, boat or no boat.

‘So’ I asked between clenched teeth, ‘how did you get here? It’s a long way to swim in the best of conditions, never mind while Father Neptune is churning up the waves. Perhaps you parachuted from a passing biplane? Or rode here on the back of a passing squid?’

Old Jethro said nothing. He lifted his hand to his ear, tugged his hair away and turned his head away. To my bewilderment, there behind his ear, pulsating rhythmically, was a gill!

 

Continued

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dread Rocks Holiday part 3

April 1, 2020

I repaired to bed about midnight, brain buzzing with ideas for books, gut whirring with porpoise-induced dyspepsia. The rain had got heavier throughout the evening and now a fully-fledged storm seemed about to commence. I even fantasised about lighting the lantern, giving the lighthouse back its original function. I abluted, emptied the bladder (out of the porthole as I couldn’t be bothered to descend that spiral staircase yet again to the khazi), and clambered into my hammock.

I must have read a while, the latest one by Marilyn French or something in that style, but my eyelids drooped and before I knew it, I’d popped off to Bedfordshire.

I haven’t the foggiest how long I’d been asleep when I was woken with a start.  There was a loud hammering noise. I assumed it was in my head, partly due to the whisky I’d knocked back that evening, allied with the gastric turmoil caused by Flipper a la mode.

I sat up, shook my head, blinked the crust from my eyes. No, that racket was definitely outside of my cranium. Thunder, I wondered? There was quite the storm raging outside. I waited patiently and within moments the noise reappeared, a regular, but frantic pounding.  It sounded like a door knocker, but that seemed unlikely, seeing as how I was currently half a mile into the Atlantic and surrounded by a raging tempest.

I made my way down the spiral staircase, my bare feet flinching from the cold of the stone.  The noise erupted again. It was most definitely the door. But who – or perhaps more importantly what? – could be banging at the front door of a lighthouse at this time of night? I suppressed my fertile – but thankfully lucrative – imagination and continued down the stairs. It was most likely to be a passing boat seeking sanctuary from the storm, possibly after being wrecked on the rocks. But just in case it was a more hostile visitor, I had grabbed the nearest heavy object – in this case the le Creuset wok from the galley as I passed downwards – and readied myself for combat.

I reached the front door. It was a sturdy beast, secured with two keys and three magnificent bolts. I unsheathed the bolts as quietly as possible, then gingerly turned the first key.  I girded my substantial loins, took a deep breath, and twisted the second key. The door was now unlocked – there was nothing between yours truly and whatever was outside. But old Stirling is made of stern stuff. I’ve faced Jerry, Satanists, communists, and angry textiles on Studland Beach. I raised the wok above my head, grabbed the door handle and flung open the lighthouse door…

Before me stood a drenched figure, his eyes lit with a frenzy of madness, foamy water cascading from his every orifice…

Old Jethro!

To be continued…