This was our 1,500 word entry into the Adobe® Paragraphics writing and illustration competition at the University of Missouri. It won First place last night! The event was sponsored by Adobe® and Mizzou Media, they really put on a great event!
By Casey Voight and Larissa Stephanoff
It’s called the Shalladonette. It’s a beautiful–sounding name I think. Certainly, it used to be quaint and beautiful. Now the Shalladonette lighthouse is described in a much different way, which is why I have sought it out.
It is as close to a deserted island as I could find. There is no one to pity me. No children to laugh, or run at the sight of me. I long for the escape, for the solitude. My life has existed, since childhood, on the backs of people’s inability to not judge. I am haunted by laughs.
My heart, though calloused, beats to find some degree of acceptance. In my last attempt to discover an ounce of peace as I live out the rest of my life, I have found the one place that has been shunned as much as I.
Thank you for all that you have been for me, dear sister. I hope you understand my decision to seek this solitude.
Your Brother, Jacob Luttes
To look at it from the pier you can quickly tell that age has gripped its once beaming façade. The desolate and foreboding image is like a tombstone for the ever–angry sea that swirls the perimeter. The mortar is pierced from years of abuse and the Atlantic chill seeps effortlessly through the walls, whistling like sirens warning those of careless laid courses. The North facing horn of the New England coast is known for brutally cold winds that can freeze sea spray in mid–air, sealing like a frozen tomb. Many light keepers fell to this fait over the years.
The lighthouse owner was a miserly old man who didn’t see the need to invest in upkeep, so the Shalladonette lighthouse fell to gross disrepair, all but closing to sit vacant for years.
One day there was a knock on the local jobs office door. The man was tall and lanky, toting a small bag and a violin strapped over his coat. He carried a cane that he struck against each corner, mapping his route to the front desk. His eyes were sunken and of no use and he wore a top hat pulled down to conceal his face.
- “Good morning. I am Jacob Luttes,” he said with an unnerving blend of politeness and mystery. “I start today as the light keeper at Shalladonette. I’ve come for the key.”It’s perfect, thought the woman behind the desk. A man who cannot see won’t be turned off by the look of the place. A short while later, the taxi pulled up to the pier. “We’re here,” the driver said hesitantly, not knowing the etiquette for helping the blind. Jacob responded with a simple “Thank you” and exited the vehicle. He could tell by the sounds of the waves which way to go. Soon he reached out with his withered hand to touch the cold cast iron doorknob, inserted the crusty key and disappeared inside.
‘Tap, tap, tap.’
Something scurried across his shoe. He could smell the age and decay of the space. Something about it though… it housed a sensation for every sense he possessed. And the solitude was a desperate sanctuary.
He wandered about, mapping out each inch in his mind. Finally, he settled into the unwelcoming bed as discomforting as a lover’s cold shoulder. He pulled out his violin and caressed the worn strings. The haunting notes sang out new life into the lighthouse.
The sounds of the night did not rest with the violin. The air whistled and screamed and the beams popped as he lay contemplating the new space. Before long something began scratching across the floor. It jumped into the rocking chair, making it teeter, creak and then fall silent.
“Hello friend. I hope you don’t mind me moving in. I don’t make much a bother.”
His voice, old with a hint of longing, reached out and dissipated into the room. Silence. Jacob soon noticed a tug on the musty blanket that covered him and a pungent scent reached him. He could feel its nails grasping hold and the weight of the creature as it scaled the bed.
He coughed to alarm it and it stopped, now frozen in his lap.
“What are you?” Jacob asked, his heart pounding with nerves.
The creature purred and chattered its teeth. It didn’t sound threatening. Jacob slowly reached toward the noise.
Purrr, chatter-chatter-chatter, it responded.
“Sweet kitty, what’s your name precious?” Jacob’s heart slowed as he stroked the coarse head. He could tell the cat was old. Its hair was thin and wiry and its tail was patchy and bald in spots.
“What a rough life you’ve had my dear. But I must say that I’m glad you’re here.”
Jacob immediately related to the old weathered cat and they became constant companions. Through the following days, he cleaned and organized his new home. At night, Jacob turned on the rotating light and settled into bed with his friend at his feet. Days turned to weeks, and Jacob could feel the old tension leaving his body the way he had left his blighted past.
It wasn’t long, however, before Jacob noticed things that struck him as odd. A pile of corn kernels on the floor where he had swept the day before, a wad of fur by the night stand, fresh chew marks on his cane.
“Precious, are you letting the mice roam free now that I’m feeding you?” Jacob asked, stroking the cat’s head one evening as it sat curled up on his lap.
“You’re a good friend, old pal, just don’t get lazy now.”
His hands gently tied a ribbon around the cat’s neck as it chattered its teeth in admiration.
Every week the lighthouse owner arrived with food and other necessities and to check on the progress of his latest employee.
“Welcome, Sir, come in.” Jacob gestured the man in and waited during his routine tour of the property.
“So you have been fairing well then?” the man questioned.
“Oh, very well. It’s home now.”
The owner raised his eyebrow, forgetting that Jacob couldn’t see his reaction. “This place has always given me the creeps.”
“I find peace in the solitude,” Jacob responded politely.
“Well, with all the gnaw marks, there must be mice, so you’re not alone.”
Jacob nodded. “Yes, I’ve heard peculiar noises and something is getting into my kitchen. It’s quite disturbing. I need an exterminator to come.”
“Aww, this place just creaks a lot; I’m sure that’s what you hear. I’ll bring traps at my next visit.”
“That would be fine,” Jacob agreed apprehensively. “There are just too many for Precious to take care of.”
“Precious the cat.” Jacob smiled. “She’s around here somewhere.”
The next week Jacob returned from a stroll to find the owner’s car obstructing his path.
“Oh, hello Jacob. You weren’t in, so I went ahead and set some traps. They’re all along the stairwell. If you just keep to the right side you’ll miss them completely.”
“Thank you,” Jacob said sensing hesitation. He tilted his head to say, anything else?
The owner cleared his throat. “I, uh, also set up a motion camera. Since you can’t, um… so I can see what’s going on. I’ll check back in a few days.”
He climbed to his room and settled into the rocking chair with his violin. There was a feeling of unease he couldn’t shake. Must be because someone else was around my home, he thought, starting in a low key.
A deep, dreadful screech came from the stairwell. The violin blurted an awful noise in protest.
“That was fast,” Jacob murmured, relieved.
The moan started again, more chilling now. A thought flashed in his mind. Could Precious have gotten into the trap?
“Precious!” Jacob shouted and jumped out of the rocker, tripping and tumbling hard to the floor, the strings of the violin raking across the hard wood. The cries continued from the stairwell as Jacob crawled toward the shrills. “Precious, is that you?”
He reached toward the sound, recognizing the ribboned neck.
“Oh no! I’m so sorry,” Jacob pleaded to his friend.
But it was too late.
Once severed by betrayal, the ties of friendship cannot be repaired. Abandonment and revenge were all that Precious felt now. One final shrill leached into the air before Jacob felt a crushing force at his throat. He fell back and tumbled down the stone stairs, crashing into the door.
He blinked, confused. Warmth around his neck. A familiar weight on his legs.
A snarl he had never heard.
When the paramedics arrived, they found a broken and torn Jacob Luttes.
The lighthouse closed once again. The job flyers went up. The owner avoided the place. Weeks passed before he remembered the motion camera. What he saw chilled him in a way no New England winter had before.
Precious was never a cat.