by Genevieve Rose Taylor

I see her in the darkness, walking these sea-misted streets in this nowhere town. She walks by night, in the fog-drenched shadows, weeping in the rain. From the safety and warmth of my little garret room, I watch her stagger by, clutching her belly with one hand, searching for something she will never find. Even though I’ve never seen a ghost before, I know this isn’t a living woman stumbling along the cobblestones. She’s long past needing the help of shelter and a warm fire.

Ghosts in horror movies have always instilled in me that fear of the unnatural, the innate wrongness we feel when faced with the undead. I expect her to look up at me, with the preternatural kenning of evil, or to flicker like static in an old movie. I want to believe — selfishly — that she’s here because of me, as punishment for my sins, but the universe doesn’t work that way. God has better things to do than send ghostly justice my way, better things to do than to reach out and touch me — or her — with a miracle. She passes by without seeing me, without knowing that I’m watching from the other side of the veil.

When she’s gone, I realize that I’ve put my hand on my belly, like she did. I wonder if her secret is the same as mine, or if hers was worse. I still can’t sleep, and why bother trying? Sleep steals away the only hours I have left, so I make myself another cup of coffee, and return to the window.

In the morning, I make more coffee, this time with bacon and eggs to share with Barbara. She clucks at me for being up so early and waiting on her.

“And in your condition, too!” she scolds, assuming the obvious. My stomach is expanding, and I have a habit of resting my hand over the bulge, feeling the growth within. She didn’t need me to tell her the truth: she’s come to her own conclusion.

“I’m fine,” I tell her, though it’s a lie. Another sleepless night. I’ll collapse later, retreating to my room in time to lock the door and cower in the bathroom, retching blood. For now, I drink coffee and wear a smile, walking with Barbara to the shop. She owns a little gift shop in town, for the summer tourists. It stays open in winter, for the occasional foolhardy road-trippers, but she lives off the money from the summer season.

Last month I wandered into her shop, cold and wet from the drizzling snow, and asked her if there was any work to be found. I’d been from town to town already, my rusted car stuttering in the snow, and each place had said no. Maybe in summer, but not now, with the town in winter hibernation. Barbara said yes. She saw a young woman, helpless and alone, and she told me that she needed an assistant in her shop. It wouldn’t pay much, but she had a spare bedroom in her house she wasn’t using.

“Stay as long as you like,” she said, and didn’t ask questions.

I carried my one suitcase up the stairs to the garret room where I will spend the rest of my life. I tried not to think about all the things I had left behind.

On the walk to the shop, my hands in my pockets to keep them warm, I ask her about the woman I saw in the rain.

“Does Northshore have any ghost stories?” I say, starting off casual.

“Ghost stories? Every town has ghost stories, especially in New England.”

“Tell me one.”

Barbara’s a talker, but she’s not usually a storyteller. She looks off across the streets, thinking it over. “Northshore used to be bigger, I guess you know that. Never big enough to be a city, nothing like that, but three hundred years ago it was an important port town. The harbor’s deep, and it’s easy to defend, as long as you’re only dealing with boats and the occasional small ship. But as they started building ships bigger and bigger, our port became useless. It was too small, and the world was growing.

“Anyway, that’s when the ghosts come from, seems like. All the oldest stories, all the best ghosts, they’re the ones that were ancient history even when I was a child. The old Cassidy place is supposed to be haunted. Popular version of the story is that a young woman was forced to marry a man her father chose for her, though her heart belonged to someone else. On the night before the wedding, her fiance caught her with her lover, while she was saying goodbye. The two of them fought, and both men were mortally wounded in the scuffle. The girl, sick with guilt for causing the deaths of two men, took her lover’s gun and killed herself. She’s supposed to haunt the manor, searching for something: her lover, or maybe just forgiveness.”

“Do you think she’ll ever find it?” I ask.

“Three hundred years, and she hasn’t yet. By now, she’s probably forgotten what she was looking for. Maybe she’s even forgotten why. It’s a long time to remember something.”

Barbara unlocks the door to the shop, and I follow her inside, flipping the sign on the door to ’open’.

“Do you believe in ghosts?” I want to ask her about the woman in the rain. Maybe no one knows what happened to her. Just another once-missing person, lost to history.

“Me?” Barbara tsks. “Dreary day to be talking about ghosts, though I suppose that’s the best kind. Do I believe in ghosts? Yes. I suppose I do. What about you?”

“I think I saw one.” Slowly, I take off my scarf and hat, hanging them on the hooks in the back.

“Saw one!” Barbara exclaims. “Is that why you’re asking? Tell me, then. What did you see?”

In winter, Barbara keeps an electric kettle in the shop, to make tea and hot chocolate, which she offers to any customers who might actually appear. The season’s late, almost turned to spring, but it’s still months too early for tourists. I fill the kettle, and turn it on. I wonder how to tell the story of the ghost woman without telling any secrets of my own.

“Last night, late, when I was looking out the window, I saw a woman in the street. She was weeping, hand on her swollen belly.” My fingers brush over the fabric of my shirt, feeling the growth beneath. Barbara doesn’t know yet, that it’s lopsided. With an effort, I take my hand away and put it on the counter, pretending that I don’t identify with the weeping ghost. “She was looking for something.”

“Looking for something?” Barbara repeats. “I don’t know. That’s not a story I’ve ever heard, from the streets of Northshore. How was she dressed?”

“In gray and black, a style I don’t recognize. Her hair was covered by a type of bonnet.”

“Well, I suppose you could research it, if you wanted.”

Too impatient to wait for the kettle to whistle, I lift it off the burner and pour us each a cup of tea. It’s still too hot to drink, even if it hadn’t reached boiling. “I’d be scared of what I’d find. Right now, I know what I saw, but I can still tell myself it was only a dream. If I found her, in an old book, it would make it all too horribly real.”

“But you’re interested,” Barbara points out.

My show of casual curiosity must not be working. She no doubt assumes that I identify with the ghost because one of the first things I told her about the woman I saw is one of the first things Barbara learned about me. I don’t use–or even think–the p-word, and I don’t let myself dwell on what she thinks.

“I’ve never seen a ghost before,” I say, deflecting the issue. “Have you?”

She goes quiet all of a sudden, drawing into herself. I watch her, surprised at how quickly the tables have turned to her secrets, instead of mine. “No,” she says, at last. “I don’t think so.”

I wait, rubbing my hands over my cup–one hand at a time, so I don’t get burned. The cup’s too hot to hold for more than a couple of seconds. Almost a minute passes before she collects her words and plows forward.

“My family owned a house, when I was a child. Not the one where I live now. It was a few counties south of here, and further inland.” While she talks, her eyes are far away, and I realize for the first time, that Barbara was younger than I, once. She’s old enough to live in that perpetual state past middle age that seems to last for decades, and she might be any age at all. I’ve never asked about her past. I’ve never imagined that she was anyone but Barbara the gift shop owner, who makes tea and hot chocolate for the tourists. It’s a comforting lie, to think of her as a constant in the world, as though she’s been here all along, keeping the door open for the next homeless young woman to show up on her doorstep.

“It was an imposing old house, peculiar and creaky enough to put ideas in your head, even if it wasn’t haunted. I never liked it. I grew up there, and I don’t remember living anywhere before that, but it wasn’t home. You know that feeling? I distrusted my own house. How foolish is that! It was only a house.”

“But?” I prompt her. There’s more to this story.

“I always felt like I was being watched.” She whispers it, like a secret. It is a secret. I wonder if she’s ever told anyone else this not-quite ghost story. “It’s silly, and I told myself that all the time. ‘Barbara, you’re being silly. There’s no one there.’”

She pauses again, lost in the memory. I’ve been in a house like that before–the kind that stays cold and dark, no matter how warm and bright it is in the sunlight outside.

“But then we moved away, years later, and the feeling went away. I forgot about it. Easy to pass something like that off as an overactive imagination.”

I don’t say anything, at first. I pick up my cup and take a sip, and she does the same, a moment later. “Have you ever gone back?” I ask, at last. “To see if anything’s changed?”

She looks at me, startled. “No,” she says, but she looks off to the south, in the direction that the house must be. “I never have.”

“Would you consider it?” I can’t resist the idea, now that it’s in my head. I feel like there are no strings on my life anymore, to stop me from doing the things I would otherwise avoid. Why hold back? Why be afraid of ghosts? I am still afraid. I’m terrified. But if I’m going to be a ghost myself, I want to know what it’s like.

“Maybe,” she says.

The bell on the door jingles before I can ask her anything else. I set down my mug, and go to the front to meet our customer.

I stay up late, that night, sitting in the window and watching for the woman in the rain. When I wake up, my cheek is cold from resting against the glass, and it’s near dawn. I don’t remember when I fell asleep, or if I saw any glimpse of my ghost. Moving to the bed, I sleep for two hours, and get up early to go for a walk.

Tuesdays are my day off, and it’s raining again, wet and dreary, clinging to the windows in half-frozen droplets. I put on my heaviest hooded coat and go out into the rain. Barbara’s already left for the shop, so she’s not around to scold me about the risk of catching a cold. I don’t care. I can’t be bothered with worry.

I walk along the shore, heading north. After an hour, I stop, and look back towards town. I should be taking it easy, taking better care of myself. I’ve barely slept, and haven’t eaten.

There’s an old lighthouse, a few miles out of town, off the main road. From here, I can just see it, a smudge on the horizon. I’ve been wanting to visit it, since I first spotted it on one of my walks, but it’s so far. I put my eyes on the ground, and keep walking. One step, then another. When I look up, the lighthouse is closer. That wasn’t so bad. I keep walking.

The sky is mottled by the time I get there, sun breaking between patchwork clouds. It’s warmer now, and the wet ground steams at the touch of sunlight. From afar, the lighthouse looks timeless, pristine, but up close I can see that it’s rusted and rotten. I stand at the foot of it, looking up at the gleam of sunlight on the silver metal, turned to rust at the edges. Copper-colored rust stains leak down the walls like blood, and at one spot I can see clear through two gaps in the metal to the blue sky above.

Metal creaks under my feet as I climb the three steps to the lighthouse door. I test each step before trusting my weight to it. I didn’t tell anyone my destination, so the last thing I need is to fall on an uneven step and end up with a jagged chunk of metal through my leg. The door itself is barely touched with rust, reinforcing metal rivets studding the edge. I try the handle. It twists in my hand, but neither pushing nor pulling garners any results. Locked. I wonder how many years ago the last occupant of the lighthouse turned the key in the lock and walked away. I bang on the door and listen to the hollow echo of metal, like I’m expecting someone to bang back from the other side, or to call out “Coming, coming, be patient!” to scold me for my presumption.

No one answers, though I wait. After a few minutes I realize that I’m waiting, so I stop. The lighthouse has a metal walkway around the base, and I sit down on the far side, my legs dangling over the edge and the abyss. The waves crash against the rocks, misting my hair and cheeks with spray.

My belly aches, slow and persistent throbbing, punishing me for walking so far. Scooting back from the edge, I press my spine against the cool metal wall of the lighthouse, and rest.

It’s raining again when I wake up. I don’t have a watch, but it’s still light enough to suggest that it’s late afternoon. I’ve missed breakfast and lunch now. I feel light-headed as I stand up. I’ll be lucky if I get back before dark.

I don’t care so much for my own sake, but I don’t want Barbara to worry. She does worry about me, especially with my reckless behavior towards my own health. She holds her tongue, respectful enough to not cluck and scold me–“but what about the baby?”–but I can see it in her eyes, what she’s thinking.

“I’ve been thinking about what you said.” Barbara presses buttons on the microwave instead of looking at me, the cheery metallic beeps punctuating her words. I look up and watch her. She made a casserole for dinner, but it was cold by the time I got home. I wait, and after a minute, she starts talking again, sitting down at the table while the glass plate in the microwave rotates my food. “About the house.”

“You want to go back?” I ask, hoping I’m picking up this conversation from the right angle.

“Maybe.”

“Is it even still standing?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugs. “It’s low-season and the shop’s dead. How do you feel about a road trip?”

My finger has been tapping a slow-motion morse code against the table, subconscious messages to no one. This stops, and I look at her, my head cocked to the side. “A road trip?” I say, and then I have to swallow to clear my throat. “How old were you when you lived there? Do you even know the way?”

She goes to a drawer, and takes out a dusty envelope. It’s Barbara’s utility drawer, where she keeps scissors and tape. I’ve been in that drawer a hundred times, but I’ve never seen this envelope. She puts it on the table, address towards me. “I have the address.”

“Prospect? That’s not far.”

“Far enough.”

I don’t ask far enough for what. “Okay.”

The microwave beeps at us, and Barbara turns around, grabbing the plate and putting it in front of me. “Thank you,” I say, picking up my fork and eating. Barbara’s a good cook, but I have no appetite. I force myself to chew and swallow.

“When do you want to go?” I ask, because she isn’t offering any more information.

“Tomorrow. Before I have a chance to change my mind.”

“Okay.” I smile, to reassure. She’s facing her childhood demons. That’s worth encouraging, and I’m interested. I want to see this house.

She picks up the envelope again and looks at it. It’s empty. The handwriting is old-fashioned, and the name on it isn’t Barbara’s name. She doesn’t elaborate, and I don’t ask.

“This is good,” I say. I can’t really tell. All food tastes like cardboard to me.

“I’m going to go watch my shows.” She gets up and leaves me alone in the kitchen, patting my hand on her way past. I hear the television turn on. After poking at my food for a few more minutes, I put the rest of it down the sink, and go upstairs to my room.

Barbara wakes me up the next morning with coffee and a muffin, hurrying me so that we can head out to the car and leave. She’s packed a picnic basket, playing up the girls’-outing excuse for our excursion. I pull on a blouse and skirt, stumbling after her to the car and yawning. I slept last night, and I wanted to sleep longer. That’s probably good, at least better for me than staying up all night and drinking coffee to chase away the dreams.

She drives, and I stare out the window, watching the New England shoreline flickering in and out of view behind the trees.

It’s a little over an hour’s drive before we’re pulling in to the town of Prospect. Barbara leaves the car running, with me in it, and goes inside the hardware store to ask directions.

“Did they know anything?” I speak up, when she slides back in to the driver’s seat.

“Not really, but at least they knew directions to the road we need.”

We get lost and have to stop for directions again more than once, but eventually we find the old place. It’s abandoned now, and the long dirt drive is long-since overgrown. We park on the side of the road and walk up the drive, carrying our picnic basket between us.

“At least we don’t have to worry about current tenants,” Barbara points out, strolling through the tentative early-spring growth on the driveway.

“Just hobos.”

She tuts at my pessimism, and looks around. “It all looks so different. But it’s all the same, I guess. I remember trees, and long grass. There should be a clearing ahead, just around that bend.”

I don’t respond, feeling a stitch in my side from walking uphill, and I have to stop and catch my breath. Barbara waits for me to recover.

“Everything okay?”

I nod, hand on my stomach, eyes squeezed shut. “Fine.”

We resume walking.

The house is visible once we clear the trees. It’s set in the middle of a long, sloping meadow. It’s a rural fantasy, these wide-open meadows, the sunlight warm on the bare winter trees. The house at the center is a ruin, wooden boards weathered to black, windows broken and doors hanging open, persistently clinging to one hinge. It’s like a black spot in the meadow. It doesn’t look haunted, but I don’t really want to go inside.

“The lawns were larger, I think,” she says. “Maybe I’m remembering wrong.” She stands in the driveway, picnic basket in hand, and she looks young and small standing before the tall house.

“Should we go inside?”

She looks at me, then down at the picnic basket. “Are you hungry?”

It seems weird to eat before we go in, with our fears and premonitions about this probably-harmless house looming over us, but I also don’t think we’re going to want to have a pleasant picnic if we get spooked by the atmosphere inside. Either way, I’m glad the weather’s sunny and bright for our haunted-house expedition.

I shrug, and she looks back at the picnic basket, sighing and setting it down at her feet. “Let’s go inside.” Looking over at me one last time, she glances down at my belly. “Unless you need to rest?”

Shaking my head, I take a few steps toward the house. She follows, and I match my pace to hers. We walk up the front steps side-by-side.

The air on the porch is chilly, shaded by the house. I pull my coat closer, letting her be the one to step forward and turn the handle.

“We sold the house, before we left,” she says. “It must have fallen to ruin with some owner after that. I guess it’s been long enough.”

“Lends credence to your ghost theory,” I tease. “Maybe we’ll find the former owner hanging from a rafter in the attic.”

“Oh, don’t!” she complains, with a shudder, but then she smiles to show me that she appreciates my attempt to lighten the atmosphere.

Inside, the house is a mess, floorboards layered with years of dust, leaves, and rat droppings. “Ugh.” I step past her, reaching for the light switch. It doesn’t work, and I feel foolish. My eyes will have to adjust to the dim light. There’s graffiti drawn liberally on the walls. Gang signs and lovers’ initials, decorated by the broken glass and cigarette butts left in the debris. “Gonzo was here,” I read, and smile at her. “See any ghosts yet?”

“You’re teasing me.”

“I’m creeped out.” Being obnoxious helps me feel less like the house is an evil entity bound to eat us both. I shrug my shoulders and step to her side, waiting. “Where to?”

“I’m not sure.” She starts down the hall, shoes going crunch-crunch in the layer of litter. “It seems so tame, now that I’m grown up and not supposed to believe in silly things like ghosts. It’s just a house. I never saw a ghost, nothing ever started levitating.”

“Do you feel like you’re being watched?”

She stops. The hairs go up on the back of my neck.

Barbara hugs herself, but obstinately continues forward. The light in the kitchen is a little brighter, but it’s still cold and dark, and the idea persists in my mind that this house never warms up. “It is silly, isn’t it?” she says, voice small.

“No, it’s not. I saw a ghost, and I believe you, even if you were a kid. But whether or not there really is anything about this house, the important thing is that you’re facing it.”

“You sound so confident.”

We share a smile. “It’s just a front,” I confide. “What do you think, will the house collapse if we go upstairs?”

Her smile dims a little, still frightened of her childhood ghosts. “Just one way to find out.”

Ignoring her objections, I go first to test the stairs. I’m glad she doesn’t say anything about my condition. The wood holds, and when I’m safely at the top, she follows after me.

I feel brazen, like nothing can harm me, and I’m just daring the ghosts to try. At the same time, I can feel fear settled like ice at the bottom of my heart. Denial is a powerful thing. I wait for Barbara, my blood pumping faster after climbing the stairs, and a draft wisps past me from an open window. I see something flutter, out of the corner of my eye, but when I turn to look, I’m not sure what it was that moved.

Don’t be ridiculous, I counsel myself.

“Anything?” Barbara reaches my side, huffing and puffing a bit.

“No.”

She opens one of the doors off the hall, and looks inside. The weathering is worse, the east-facing windows letting in the brunt of the rain, and half the floor is gone, boards rotted through.

“This was my room.”

I step into the doorway by her side, leaning against the frame and looking in. “Spacious,” I say. “My parents stuck me in the one-window back bedroom while I was growing up. The curse of being a younger child.”

“You’ve never told me anything about your family.”

That shuts me up quickly. She’s right. I haven’t. There’s a reason for that.

When I don’t reply, she looks back into the room. “It’s all so different. And probably condemned.”

“We’re breaking and entering in a condemned building. Feel like a criminal?”

She smiles at me and shuts the door to her former bedroom. “I’m ready to go.”

“You don’t want to…?” I gesture at some of the other, unopened doors. Shaking her head, she moves back to the stairs and starts down them. I follow, but I pause at the top of the stairs and look back down the second-floor hallway. It’s dark, even though most of the doors in the hall are hanging off their hinges to let in light. I stare into the dark hallway, as though I expect to see a ghost staring back at me. Nothing appears, but I’ve given myself the spooks, so I take the stairs a little too fast and follow her outside.

My speed makes her speed up, and we’re all but running down the porch steps and through the yard, until we’re out of the house’s shadow and we can stop, laughing at each other for our fear.

“Oh my god,” Barbara laughs, “we’re like ten-year-olds, sneaking into the local haunted house.”

“At noon, no less, because we’re afraid of the dark.” I laugh, looking back at the house. It sits there, patient, harmless, and I shake away the thought that the two upper windows look like eyes.

She picks up the picnic basket again, following my gaze. “What say we head back to the car and find some pleasant, non-haunted park to eat lunch?”

“Amen.” I follow her down the path, feeling reckless after our adventure, but still too frightened to want to hang around.

On the way back, I stumble, the thing in my gut sending a spike of pain through me. Barbara reaches out to steady me, instantly worried. “Are you okay?”

I put a hand over my belly, closing my eyes. “I’ll be fine.”

That night, I see my ghost again, the woman in the rain. I wonder if it has to be raining for her to appear, or if it’s just coincidence, since it rains so often here. This time, I open the window and lean my head out. “Hey,” I call, barely above a whisper. She doesn’t hear me, and a few seconds later she vanishes in the fog. I shut the window, hair wet from the storm, and lean my face against the glass, eyes closed.

I still want to know what she’s looking for.

“What’s the story of the old lighthouse?” I ask Barbara the next day when we’re both at the shop.

“The lighthouse?” she repeats, looking up from an inventory list with a puzzled look. “Oh, the one up the coast to the north?”

“Yes. The old one. All rusted metal, now.”

“It’s just a lighthouse. Lots of them in New England. I guess it’s not scenic enough to make it into the little tourist books, but sometimes we get lighthouse-hunters up here asking about it.”

My lips quirk. “Lighthouse-hunters? You make them sound like Don Quixote.”

“No, these ones are just tourists. Like the antiquers and the honeymooners. They’re just another kind of tourist: the kind with a hobby for tracking down and snooping around old lighthouses.”

I sip my tea. “Who has the key?”

Her head swings around to look at me. “The key? You went there, didn’t you?”

“I admit it. I’m a latent lighthouse-hunter.”

She smiles, wry. “Why would you ask about the key?”

Isn’t that obvious? I try to make myself look as innocent as possible. “It was locked.”

“I think the Coast Guard has a division that’s responsible for lighthouses. That old place has been abandoned for so long, it’s probably fallen into their hands by now. You could start there, if you were really determined.”

“But even then, the government probably isn’t going to go about handing out keys to just any curiosity seeker who comes knocking.”

“Probably not.” She presses her hand to her mouth to hide her smile. “Why are you so interested?”

“I don’t know. I was never interested in historic sites before. I think I just like it because it’s abandoned.”

“It is a good mystery, I suppose.”

“I feel like I want to solve it, while I’m still here.”

Barbara’s gaze is puzzled, and a little worried. I won’t be here forever, and that’s the first time I’ve said anything that even hints at the truth. She wants to ask, but she leaves me my privacy. She’s good at that.

My next day off, I head back out to the lighthouse, but halfway there I realize that it’s high tide and the lighthouse is inaccessible. I’d have to go around, and scramble down the sheer rock face that backs up against the lighthouse–with another sheer rock drop below, if I lost my footing. I sit beneath a tree, in the rain, and watch the waves rolling in and out on the ocean.

The lighthouse and I are companions, staring out to sea together. I am a lighthouse, cold steel on the outside, hollow inside, and the light in my eyes has almost gone out. That’s why I feel so at home, sitting on the shore near the skeleton of my kin. The light in her eyes has been out for years.

I am shivering by the time I get home. My blood runs hot and cold in waves. Barbara puts me to bed and scolds me like a child.

When I wake up, I’m dizzy, and I collapse when I try to stand up. Barbara insists that I take the day off work. She worries over me before she leaves, and when I don’t answer the phone at lunch, she closes the shop and comes home to mother me.

She finds me in the bathroom, vomiting, and comes over to hold back my hair. That’s when she sees that I’ve been vomiting blood. She stops, in horror, and stares at me. When she collects herself, she puts me back to bed, and looks at me with worried eyes.

“I’m calling a doctor,” she says, in her no-nonsense voice.

“Doctors can’t help me,” I tell her, reaching out for her hand.

“But–”

“They tried.”

I see the comprehension dawn in her eyes. It shifts, from worry, to shock, then pity.

She understands that I’ve come here to die.

The fever subsides within a day, but my body is slow to recover. My death is closer. I move from the bed to the seat by the window and back, carrying my layers of blankets around me. I feel like some kind of wild animal in quilted plaid, scurrying to hide with my house on my back. The ghost doesn’t return. I watch for her while I’m awake.

Barbara refuses to let me return to work for a week, despite my repeated complaints that I’m taking advantage of her generosity. When I’m well enough to dress and behave like a human again, she lets me accompany her to the shop, but she tries to prevent me from doing any labor.

She doesn’t speak about my condition any more than she did before, but the silence is different. Before, she assumed I was a young woman running away from an awkward situation with an unwanted child. Now, she doesn’t know what to assume. I’m dying, and I’m running away from the people I love, because I didn’t want them to see me die.

Instead, it will be Barbara who sees me dying.

Eventually, I’ll check myself into a hospice, and drain the last of my health insurance. I didn’t want to get attached to Barbara. I was supposed to be running away. But she’s still a stranger, and somehow that’s easier for me.

A month later, I try for the lighthouse again.

I leave after Barbara goes to the shop, and I write a note letting her know that I’ve gone for a walk. I hope she won’t worry if I get home late.

The day’s clear, and I feel strong. I hold my coat close against the cold and walk, step by step, as the lighthouse draws nearer, inch by inch. Though the sun is bright, the warmth is swept away by the cold wind off the ocean. The walk is further than I remember, and I stop twice to rest, when I’m too dizzy to continue. It’s already past noon when I arrive. I sit on the cold metal steps and close my eyes.

The sun is high, and I unbutton my coat, relaxing. My shoes go next, each with a sock stuffed into the heel. Going barefoot makes me feel young, innocent as a child, and I have no attachments, nothing to hold me back or to tie me to this world, this life, this dying body. I walk slowly around the lighthouse, flakes of rust rough under my feet, testing each step in case the metal dissolves as I step on it.

On the far side, I find a massive boulder. I’m not sure if it was there before, and I didn’t see it, or if it has been blown down the rock face by one of the storms since I was last here. The old metal of the lighthouse is bent where the rock impacted. It opened a gash in the wall, recently enough that the edges are barely touched by rust. I bend down and peek inside, but it’s too dark to see.

I think I can fit. For what it’s worth, my tetanus shots are recent. Crouching down, I wiggle myself sideways through the gap. The air inside is musty, and the floor under my feet is damp and slick. I close my eyes and breathe slowly, waiting for my vision to adjust. The opening in the metal that let me in lets in a little ambient light, and there’s a window high up on the wall with the glass still intact, reinforced by metal bars on the outside of the panes. It’s almost opaque with grime, but any light helps. The floor is thick with mud and moss, but there are no signs of bats or mice, like I would have expected. I realize that this part of the lighthouse must have been sealed for years before the rockfall tore it open. Animals couldn’t find a way in. Only the moss made it through cracks in the iron.

It’s impossible to tell if the stairs are stable, but at least they’re all intact. Squinting in the darkness, I make my way up. At the top of the first flight of stairs, I find a door. It’s unlocked, but the rust has snuck into the cracks, and I have to heave all my weight against it to break the seal.

The second floor is bright, because here the window is gone completely, and the rust has eaten through the wall in patches. I blink against the onslaught of light, and an indignant owl flaps away, its nest disturbed by my entrance. I tiptoe through the wreckage of this makeshift owlery, and up again, to the third floor and the tower above. The door to the tower is rusted, and I’ve almost given up before it groans and swings free, causing me to stumble.

At the top, the floor is covered in broken glass from the windows. I tip-toe carefully, and it’s some comfort that the glass is old and weathered, so the edges aren’t as sharp. The last door hangs open, waiting for me, and I walk outside onto the gallery. There’s less glass here, most of it blown away by storms, and on the windward side there’s no glass at all. I scoot down and sit on the edge, overlooking the sea, with my bare legs hanging over into space and my skirt rucked up around my knees.

I realize I’ve been looking for ghosts, ever since I saw the woman in the rain, but I didn’t see any in the lighthouse. I wouldn’t expect them here. The lighthouse has been taken over by owls and moss, dark spaces opened up to wind and light. It’s a place of life. Death doesn’t belong here.

I close my eyes and look up at the clouds, wisps of light and fleeting like ghosts on the wind. Is that where the lighthouse ghosts have gone? Into the sky, to become storms? I expected to find some still, dead memories in this metal coffin, but there’s only wind and light to sweep away the broken glass.

It’s better this way. New life laid over the old memories of the lighthouse. In a few more years, even Barbara’s childhood home will collapse, and there will be no more shelter for the ghosts. The warmth from the meadow will finally break through the cold wooden boards, and the eerie sentience of the house will dissolve, with nowhere to go. It, like I, will lay beneath the grass and rot, and when the last memory is gone, a new house will come, with new memories, and a shining modern house to fill the meadow.

I don’t want to die. I want to live. I want to be the one to build that new house in the meadow. I want to be there to fill it with memories. I don’t want the world to go on without me, to keep spinning as though I was never here.

Somewhere out in the world is the life I left behind, the people I loved. They’re already building a new house. They’re beginning to forget me.

The sea crashes against the lighthouse rocks, and I stand up.

I won’t be the woman in the rain. I won’t cling to my life and my regrets until the last stone of my city is swept away. I won’t die, breath by breath, in a stagnant hospital bed. Not when I’ve only just remembered how much I want to live.

The metal of the gallery is cold beneath my feet. Glass crunches, leaving behind a few drops of blood. Over the cliff, the railing is torn away, jagged metal clearing a path for me. On the horizon, a rising storm beckons.

I’ve said my goodbyes.

I lift my arms

… and fly.

 

Illustration copyright © 2007 by Kobus Faber

Copyright © 2012 by Genevieve Rose Taylor

Genevieve Rose Taylor

Genevieve Rose Taylor lives in what is almost a tree house, in Colorado, with a cat and a draconic amazon. Working as a Paper Goddess and Yoga Break Coordinator for a historic hotel, she runs local history tours on the weekends, supervises Lovecraftian table-top games in her free time, and invents increasingly convoluted stories for how she got her allegedly-Alsatian accent. She has no fears for the apocalypse as long as the chocolate doesn’t run out.

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