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    WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

    THE HAZE BEYOND BRAY HEAD by Kevin Fortune
    October 8, 2010  Short stories   Tags:   

    Miriam’s Journal

    They flock- no, they don’t flock, that would signify some sort of protective group instinct – they gather, they congregate, they brood. They stand crushed by their rearmost fellows against the reinforced ornamental gates and stare silently into the grounds of the Light Station. Whether their eyesight allows them to see as far as the Lighthouse or not, I just don’t know, but their very existence gives me the heebie jeebies. Their distant faces are absorbed in contemplating me. It’s like I’m their magnetic north. I’m a nervous wreck. They never leave. They never wander off. They just stand there quietly, almost politely; patiently.

    I’ve watched the clothes and flesh fall slowly from their bones. One of them in particular hasn’t moved in months. I watch him regularly with horrified fascination as he stands on a little rise apart from the rest. He’s been staring unblinkingly at me for eight weeks, one day and several hours. Even as I write this I can feel the pencil thin beam of his unwavering regard pin me wriggling to the Lamp room windows; my tongue turns to sandpaper each time we lock eyes.

    Even during that awful storm last year when I thought the Lighthouse would crumble in the gales and the storm wrack was blasting as high as the Lamp they stood, pummelled by the winds, then flash frozen in place by the lightning; staring past the keepers’ cottage and up to where I cowered in the Lamp room, quaking and crying with my head in my hands as I rocked to comfort myself.

    What can I do to kill this chronic fear? Just for a little while. For a few moments, even. No matter what I do I don’t feel safe. I don’t think Danny has any idea of how frightened I’ve been for the last few years. Since all this began, really. I’ve hid it too well. There isn’t even a drop of booze round here to help me take the edge off it and I’m losing the strength to hide it. Danny knows that something is amiss, he’s far from stupid. My mask is slipping. I don’t know why I just don’t discuss it with him. Am I afraid that if I have a breakdown then he’ll do the same and make me worse? He isn’t the type really, but…

    *****

    Ah, lovely. What a wonderful, shiny day. There’s hardly a breath of wind from the sea and the morning sun is sparkling brightly off the rollers as they crack and boom against the granite rocks below.

    I lie on my back on the seaward side of the Lighthouse and stare straight up into the big blue sky. I don’t feel like doing any of my chores just yet, which is a little out of character for me as work is what keeps me going – and there’s always something to do. I even have a routine of sorts. For example, normally at this exact time I go fishing off the jetty in my little boat for breakfast, but as it’s so beautiful here on the promontory what harm is there in taking a break from the norm and stealing a little bit of time for myself?

    I’m not really in the humour of Miriam’s company at the moment. Her mood would ruin mine. She’s probably wandering around the Watch room right now, or gazing down at me from the Lamp gallery, but I don’t look up to see. I’m still a little shaken by our tiff yesterday evening which was sparked by the appearance of that unfortunate dog.

    I sit up and stretch my legs down the southern face of this steep slope. I daren’t go any further down or I could find myself sliding helplessly on the slippery grass towards the rocks at a steadily accelerating rate.

    A seagull glides soundlessly by within metres of my nose; riding the updrafts from the rock face with barely a flicker of its wingtips before it stops and hovers to my left, its head swivelling as it scans the undulating waters.

    Come back over here, Mr. Seagull, I think to myself. Just drift by me again and I’ll grab you from the air and have you for breakfast. I’ll be like Alice Cooper of old; I’ll bite your feckin’ head off. But no, MirMir and I are far from starving and attempting to snatch the bird would be way too dodgy a move this close to the edge. Why risk death on the rocks for such a stringy piece of meat, anyway?

    I could watch it for hours though; not because of its culinary possibilities, but just to admire its flying skills. If I was that bird I’d soar away from this open air prison; away from Miriam and her silences, away from the packed dead at the gate, away… but no, what am I saying? I’d never leave MirMir. I love her too much, she’s always been with me, but at the moment it’s easier just to keep my distance. But look on the bright side – we have the freedom of this entire walled off promontory in which to avoid each other. We’ve been here for over three years now, just the two of us, and a peaceful little haven it is.

    Things have been awkward between us though since MirMir’s recent encounter on the jetty rocks with a frightening corpse that entirely failed to eat her. Since that day she more or less withdrew permanently to the Lighthouse and then, to top it all, the arrival of that feckin’ dog yesterday just made things worse.

    *****

    Miriam’s Journal

    I’ve been spending an unhealthy amount of time up here in the Lamp Room; I know I have, staring out to sea. I see a lot of unexpected things from up here, but mostly I just dream of being rescued by the friendly crew of a passing ship. Where in the world could they take us though? Where would we be safe? I have to admit that I’ve never really fantasised past the getting picked up part –  there’d be a kindly Daniel O Donnell look-alike sailor who’d give me a nice cup of tea and a biscuit – and then feed me endless Vodka and Valium cocktails.

    Danny and I once watched an ocean going container vessel drifting by about ten kilometres out. Even with my powerful binoculars – courtesy of Irish Lights – we could see no movement on board. Danny reckoned it was just one of tens of thousands of derelicts drifting pilotless on the oceans of the world. It took several hours to cross the bay; turning imperceptively in uncontrolled circles until it finally disappeared into a south-easterly haze just off Bray Head.

    “What’s out there now Mir, I wonder?” Danny asked me. “Do you think we’ll ever get to see what’s become of the world?”

    One time I pointed excitedly at jet contrails cutting the sky through gaps in a layer of stratus cloud but Danny said it was just a different type of high altitude cloud. His air of assurance pissed me off because they looked awfully like contrails to me. To prove him wrong I pulled a meteorological textbook from a shelf in the Watch room and found that maybe he was right; it might be just some stray cirrus. Still, even Danny had to admit that they looked like contrails. In my disappointment he hugged me, but when he felt me go all plank-like in his arms he smiled one of his “never mind” smiles and went back to his endless chores, hardly saddened by what might have been.

    Just look at him down there; relaxing on the grass with his hands behind his head, and his head in the clouds, probably. I’ve always envied him his ability to take things in their stride. Nothing fazes him for long, he’s just so steady. I was always the nervous one and he was always the practical one.

    That dog episode upset him though.

    *****

    The seagull swoops down towards a body bobbing in on the tide. The smooth swell bumps and rolls it lazily against the rocks and it’s momentarily sucked under with a slurping sound. Then it reappears and twirls stiffly inland on the current. The gull loses interest and peels away. From my vantage point I can tell that the body’s been in the drink for months. Years even. It’s puffed out almost beyond bursting point. It’s practically identical to MirMir’s rock pool corpse.

    There’s no telling what sex it is. Dead, I suppose- the new third sex – Female, Male and Dead. Not that sex has much to do with it. Although, having said that, a few days ago, as I was doing my weekly check of the gates, there was this woman there who was actually rather attractive – in a dead kind of way.

    I suppose I should explain myself more clearly. Not that I’ve anything to confess, mind – except maybe some sinful thoughts which are very, very hard to escape when you’re a young single lad like me in a world without women. Or even the hope of a woman. MirMir…well, MirMir doesn’t really count.

    Anyhow, a few days ago, there was this particular corpse at the gate who…well… even though she was well and truly corpselike she still piqued the interest of my poor, frustrated, horny eye. Perhaps these extinction events bring out the worst in a boy, I don’t know, but the sight of her weathered stocking tops peeking suggestively from beneath her torn skirt just…you know, kind of got my juices flowing.

    “Oh my,” I said, a little breathily. “Look at you.”

    When she moaned through a matted tangle of filthy hair I could have easily imagined it was a different type of moan entirely. In fact, that’s exactly what I allowed myself to imagine, because I can be an awfully big eejit at times.

    I felt that old liquid heat building in the pit of my belly as she reached for me through the bars, her filthy blouse tugged aside to reveal the decayed cup of a peach coloured bra. One collapsed breast re-inflated as if by magic, or wish fulfilment, as it pressed against the cool wrought iron. I must admit I stared shamelessly at her grey, withered cleavage.

    Now this hadn’t happened before; me lusting after corpses. Really, it hadn’t. Not even in my most absurd, lurid and lonely fantasies. But that didn’t stop me from spending the next few moments discussing filthy possibilities with her – me talking dirty to a dead, dead girl – teasing myself, until the monotonous moans of her chaperones broke the spell and the veil of stupidity was lifted from my eyes.

    I felt embarrassed and deflated and I grinned a little wildly. At least I felt my burning face constrict in an unfamiliar way.

    “What’s the matter with me?” I pointlessly asked her, knowing damn well what the answer was. Was it the peachy underwear? No. Did she look like my old English teacher? No. Did she remind me of Billy Smiths glamorous auntie? No.

    The sad truth of the matter is that I haven’t had sex in ages – in a few years. Real sex, anyway. And like I say, the chances of me ever having it again are fairly slim, unless this world miraculously changes, which could happen. Who knows?

    “You had me going there, didn’t you, you shameless hussy,”

    I backed away from her straining fingers and as I turned to leave I thought I detected disappointment in her dry, flat eyes. I gave her a sad little wave and fuelled my walk back to the Keepers cottage with visions of Billy Smiths auntie in peachy coloured lingerie – and heels – and a fat lot of good that did me.

    But that was last week. Here I am again on this pretty morning, still no better off in the frustration department. I can only hope that someday MirMir might surprise me again with an unexpected favour, although I felt very weird about that when it happened. But I liked it too, don’t get me wrong. Until then, I’ll just have to carry on with my regular wrist workouts.

    Still, I automatically gazed somewhat hungrily up at the Lighthouse and with a shock don’t I catch her looking back at me from the Lamp gallery. I flushed like a guilty schoolboy and quickly glanced away.

    These circumstances are just so…annoying!

    I stand a little awkwardly due to an inconvenient tightness in my well worn Wranglers and head for the jetty, crankily kicking a tattered old pillow out of my path as I go.

    *****

    Miriam’s Journal

    When we arrived here first, clambering in a panic over the padlocked gates with the fetid breath of the dead on our necks, we hid for anxious hours behind the Keepers cottage as our pursuing corpses attempted to edge their way around the heavy stonework of the high wall. What a relief it was to see them consistently slip and tumble out of sight and into the sea below.

    We spent our first week hiding in the Lighthouse because it was so reassuringly high above the ground, and also because it was the furthest building in the Light Station from the gate. Furthermore, we had an excellent view of what the dead were up to; which was nothing much except getting rained on. We knew we were here for the long haul so eventually, as our confidence in the virtues of the wall grew stronger, we moved back closer to the gate and into the Keepers more comfortable cottage.

    The station keeper had wrecked the joint before departing. There wasn’t much physical damage as such, but furniture had been upended and bookcases overturned. The beds were upside down and every duvet, sheet, blanket, pillow and seat cushion in the place – and there were lots – were scattered far and wide across the promontory. It looked like destruction for destructions sake. Maybe he just lost his marbles and thrashed the place before taking a stroll off the cliff, but it took us some tidying to make the cottage liveable in again.

    It’s not unusual, even now, to find a rotting cushion or sheet peeking out from under a shrub, or wrapped round a fencepost, its edges fluttering in the sea breeze.

    *****

    MirMir was always the nervous type – always; for as far back as I can remember. She would fret if a utility bill came through the door. She was afraid to check her bank balance in case she’d overspent. She wouldn’t get into a taxi alone. She wouldn’t sleep without a night light. When we were twelve years old she was worried about getting a pensionable job. All sorts of silly stuff like that.

    And here’s the killer: if you tried to reassure her about any of these she was apt to snap your head off rather than allow herself be consoled by your well meaning words. I’ve always known when to speak up and when to shut up.

    I can’t imagine what she’s going through now. She’s scared to death – reasonably enough – by the current world order and she thinks that I’m unaware of her fears, even though she’s been acting like a bear with a sore arse for the last three years, which in anyone’s book is a dead giveaway.

    I’m convinced that the fright she got down at the jetty is what finally pushed her over the edge. It certainly made her lose her hard won self-control and there’s been absolutely talking to her since.

    *****

    Miriam’s Journal

    I thought I saw Danny talking to the dead at the gate the other day. I watched him through the binoculars. He had his back to me but his stance suggested speech. Was he asking them for news? Is the recession easing any? What’s the job market doing? He might have been propositioning them; would any of you dead girls fancy a shag? Yeah, right.

    He gestured calmly to them and tilted his head as if listening to replies. I swear to god he raised a casual arm in farewell and I was so taken aback that I slunk guiltily behind the Fresnal lens in case he caught me spying.

    This behaviour worried me. I wrapped my arms tightly around myself as I pondered its significance. It’s bad enough to be losing ones marbles without ones only companion doing so too.  Who’ll look out for me if Danny goes nuts? Danny is my cement. He always was. He keeps me firmly grounded in reality. If he can’t do that I’ll simply fragment. I’ll be lost forever. I needed to discuss this unsettling development with him as soon as possible, but how on earth could I broach the subject of his possible lunacy with him?

    “Were you talking to those corpses?” I asked.

    “What?” he blurted. I’m sure he was startled by the stupidity of the question, although he did look a bit furtive. Then he smiled his winning smile and gave me an amused hug which I firmly pushed away from. I was in no mood for his charm.

    “Well?”

    “You’re a great laugh Mir,” he smiled, a little red-faced. “Aren’t you?”

    *****

    Here’s why I think Miriam has exiled herself to the Lighthouse. One of her chores was to gather seaweed at low tide. She’d pull it from the rocks and pools and carry it up in home made panniers to spread as fertiliser on our vegetable patch at the cottage. Occasionally we’d boil it up for soup. But a while back, as she did this, a bloated corpse, plonked into a rock pool by a heavy tide and camouflaged by a mixture of seaweed and barnacles, lunged unexpectedly up at her. Or so she claimed, and things – never quite uphill – well, you know the rest.

    After her screaming dash up the long jetty steps it was me; Danny, who had to creep down to investigate. The creature in question, although horrific, was utterly pathetic in its bloated helplessness; just like that floater I’d been looking at myself, earlier.

    It lay face up in the rock pool looking like the daddy of all blow-up dolls; arms and legs straight out and stiff, hopelessly tangled in seaweed and some stray netting, and way too distended by trapped gases to move. It was bald and naked and all of its extremities; eyes, fingers, nose, ears and the rest, had long been nibbled away by gulls, crabs and other hungry marine life.

    It certainly couldn’t have bent its elephantine legs to chase MirMir like she claimed; it couldn’t even sit up. Frankly, I doubt if any lunging had occurred either, although I can understand entirely how it must have frightened the shite out of her. It was terrifying to look at, but to listen to MirMir banging on about it you’d think that it ate her up and spat her back out again.

    It turned its head slightly as it sensed my presence but it couldn’t even moan properly as shellfish and anemones had taken up residence in its throat. I lingered long enough to see it lifted from the rocks by the churning tide and pulled offshore. The unfortunate creature was so wretched that I felt a surge of pity for it; though not so strong as to want to retrieve it for a reassuring hug.

    *****

    Miriam’s Journal

    I was frantic after that. I insisted – insisted – that we barricade the jetty steps but Danny dismissed the notion. He said it’d be too much of a hassle to get down there to fish.

    I argued that it’d keep the watery dead out – who knows what could come creeping up out of the sea? He countered that the watery dead, in his experience, are too bloated and crippled by sea life to move. I retorted hotly that the fecker who had made a grab at me wasn’t too bloated to move, but Danny quietly insisted that I was mistaken; that it hadn’t budged from the rocks where the sea had dumped it.

    I exploded; was he calling me hysterical?

    In his placid Danny style he emphatically denied this, yet it took me some time to calm myself down after he had diplomatically retreated down the Watch room steps and left me alone to seethe. As far as I’m concerned the jetty steps are the weak link in our defences. How else did the dog get in here?

    Despite my irrational fears I know that the rest of our defences are strong. One brave day at the wall, which extends to the very edges of the north and south drops, I fretfully and fearfully distracted the enemy towards the north fall, (and fall they did), allowing Danny to reinforce the heavy, wrought iron gates with the welding gear he’d found in the workshop. The sheer press of their bodies would have eventually broken them down otherwise.

    None of them ever got in. Not one, ever, nor did anything else. But on the day that we did this – just several days after we’d arrived – I was so relieved, and so at ease, that I was almost relaxed; an emotion utterly alien to me. I was practically a normal person.

    That evening Danny brought me a little bouquet of wild flowers that he had painstakingly and innocently picked along the cliff edge and I was so touched by this simple gesture that we actually ended up in bed together. It was unplanned and unprecedented and it just happened. I can’t even remember the sequence of events, or who started what. But I know that he was as astonished and confused as I was.

    That was our only time ever of course, there in the Keepers comfortable bed. I think it was the madness of our circumstances, or perhaps it was a comfort thing in a world gone ga-ga, because obviously it never would have happened in our old existence. It wouldn’t even have been considered. But these were extraordinary times, so… it happened,

    I never felt bad about it, nor sorry that we did it, but to avoid it reoccurring, accidentally or otherwise, I moved myself, my mattress and some bedding back to the Lighthouse and left Danny as the exclusive tenant of the cottage .

    *****

    I suppose I should mention the dog, seeing as this whole episode left me uncharacteristically depressed, as well as bringing some unspoken stuff to a head between me and Mir.

    Just yesterday morning, as I was plodding up the steps from the jetty, I saw Miriam standing on the Lamp gallery. There was nothing unusual in this, but she seemed more agitated than normal, and when she saw me emerge from below she almost did a little dance as she pointed frantically westward towards the gate.

    My heart nearly stopped beating. Uh oh, I thought; if there’s a problem at the gate I shouldn’t be at ground level – in the open – but it was my job to investigate, as usual, so I dropped my fishing gear and moved cautiously through the support buildings, along the rising driveway, and upwards through the cut. Beyond that the promontory opened out into clear meadow and the gates stood two hundred metres away. The Keepers cottage was just off to the right.

    The source of MirMir’s alarm was quiet evident. I heard it before I saw it. A large brown dog was going absolutely berserk – inside the station boundary – at the dead at the gate. Their white and grey spindly arms were reaching through the bars for it as far as their bony shoulders would allow.

    Where the hell did that come from? How the hell did it get in here?

    As I stared in amazement I saw a tiny dead child squeeze itself further through the ornamental curlicues than its other, larger companions could, before getting itself jammed solidly between the bars. The dog surged forward; tail high, front legs splayed, and it closed its slavering jaws clean over the infants upturned face. It pulled the child through the gate by the head with enough force to leave the tots’ decayed lower torso and legs hanging wetly on the spike of a fancy metal fleur-de-lis. The animal retreated a few paces with its truncated prize and began to tear it leisurely apart.

    I was at a total loss as to how to proceed. A dog might be a bit of fun to have around if it had previously been a pet, though I knew that this one had to be feral by now. I could see the rise and fall of its head as it made short work of its little victim. It must have been absolutely starving to want to eat a corpse; otherwise it should be fat and docile by now from pigging out on all that lovely, available necrotic meat.

    The loud, excited moans of the dead threatened to drown out the constant rumble of the breakers, and, to make matters worse, when they caught sight of me they began to positively rave.

    Sensing this surge in excitement the dog stood bolt upright and swung its huge head swiftly around to investigate the cause. A large portion of uneaten child flew from its mouth and arced away groundwards, but a piece of toddler still remained clamped in its jaws.

    I lost my nerve, broke right, and sprinted for the safety of the cottage. The dog bounded unhesitatingly in pursuit at battle speed, the remains of its tattered dead plaything still locked in its mouth. It was going to be a closely run race. I could hear the rhythmic patter of its paws drumming along the ground as it closed the distance. It was moving like the wind. But so was I.

    The cottages garden gate was shut but I hurdled the low stone wall effortlessly; punching through the laurel hedge and landing neatly in the middle of my potato drills. I never lock the cottage door and as I pushed it frantically open I heard the scratch and rip of claws on stone as the dog cleared the wall on my heels.

    I shut the door behind me with a bang and a millisecond later the animal slammed hard against the outside. The entire doorframe shuddered from the impact. I took a nervous backward step up the hall as its paws began to scrabble madly at the outer paintwork. I kicked at the inside of the door in angry reaction.

    As soon as I caught my breath I crept into the living room and pulled the curtains aside. To my horror the dog already had its huge paws on the windowsill and its monstrous head was right there too – level with my chest. It’s ripped and misshapen face was only thirty centimetres away on the other side of the glass. Its lips pulled back from its frightening teeth and it let out a string of deafening barks. As it did, a doll sized arm attached to a lump of shapeless meat fell limply from its slavering jaws, bounced off the windowsill in a splash of drool, and dropped out of sight.

    “Get away!”  I screamed but it continued to bark. Look at you, I thought. Just look at your hideous face! How do I deal with you?

    I was very concerned about the barking. I had to shut it up somehow. The corpses at the gate were so agitated by the sound that for the first time in months I watched them try to get round the seaward sides of the wall with the usual plummeting results. I began to open the window to attempt urgent negotiations with the dog but it immediately leaped at the double glazing, yelping as it dented its already bloodied nose on the glass.

    I waited a moment for it to calm before slowly beginning the window opening process again.

    “Shush fella, ok? Or we’ll all get eaten. Shush.” I said through the narrow gap. It unexpectedly shut up and took a puzzled step backwards when it heard me speak.

    “Good doggie.”

    I couldn’t pinpoint the breed; it was large, part German shepherd perhaps, part pony. It was big, but it wasn’t near as big as my fear had made it, and as it relaxed at the sound of my voice it seemed to shrink in front of my eyes. It even wore a collar – a thick black studded one – and that made me feel a lot more confident. Maybe a warm human voice would trigger happy memories in its traumatised doggie brain.

    It was in poor condition. I hadn’t noticed this straight away either. It was painfully thin and battle scarred. Its ribs were prominent beneath its unhealthy looking pelt and it was missing an ear. Its muzzle was torn and its nostrils messily split, presumably from having slammed into the front door and then the window. Stupid dog. A slab of meat had been gouged from its thin haunch and the wound had healed badly. Crackly stalactites of hard brown mucus were growing in the corners of its bloodshot eyes.

    Working carefully; centimetre by centimetre, I soon had the window completely open.

    “You’re a good fella,” I crooned at the dog, “aren’t you?”

    It sat between the neat parallel rows of my potato drills and looked back at me. When its tail gave a single impulsive wag I grew bold. Maybe benign memories were filtering back. When I shut the window and withdrew into the room the dog rose up and threw its paws back onto the windowsill to see where I was going. It still hadn’t barked since it heard me speak.

    I slipped the latch on the front door and poked my head cautiously round the doorframe. The dog was still outside the living room window but it growled menacingly when it saw me. The hackles rose on the back of my neck. Then, to my great surprise, it bolted. I breathed a sigh of relief.  It didn’t walk the walk.

    “Here boy!” I shouted as it fled round the side of the cottage. I lifted a stout hawthorn walking stick from a hollow elephant’s leg in the hallway and cautiously followed, calling out softly and non-threateningly all the time.

    I found it standing in the middle of the back lawn with its tail hung low. Far from the monster I had first taken it to be, I could see that it was just another beaten and pathetic victim of the times.

    “There now fella,” I gently cajoled, “I’m not going to hurt you. Come on over here to me.”

    But all the poor animal saw was the length of hawthorn stick in my hand and it didn’t believe me. I made a slow move towards it but it turned and ran again, blindly leaping the seaward side of the garden wall. I cried out in shock and ran to the stony parapet but when I got there its body lay broken on the rocks below. Waves were already washing across its unmoving form as I stared down in horror and disappointment.

    “Bollocks.” I whispered as I silently pronounced it dead. I was very, very downcast walking back to report to MirMir.

    She was in an incoherently furious state when I entered the Watch Room. She looked like an unkempt, attic incarcerated madwoman straight from the pages of a bodice ripper. She was absolutely fit to kill. I had never seen her in such a state! Her face was white and tears ran down her blotched cheeks from puffed out eyes and she demanded in a scream to know what had happened; demanded to know where the hell I’d been!

    And so, genuinely alarmed for her mental health, I told her the story. After I had finished she hissed venomously that she was glad that the damn, bastard dog was dead. Again, I was taken aback by her sentiments so I began to quietly explain the way things might have been if the dog had survived.

    “It had a collar,” I said, “it was once someone’s pet. That dog could have been company for us. It could have been the best damn sentry we could’ve wished for. It would have been fun. We could’ve played! Tossed the Frisbee! It could’ve been a new member of the family!” I was getting worked up now. “Also, if it had lived, I’d have had two dogs to talk to, wouldn’t I? And at least I’d’ve gotten some conversation out of one of them!”

    She stared at me. It just came out.

    No, it didn’t. The remark was designed to pierce, but my heart plummeted nonetheless. I suddenly felt like a weasel. My shoulders slumped tiredly when Miriam’s expression became unreadable, just like it always did when I’d gone one step too far.

    “Mir,” I sighed. “I’m sorry. But I can’t stand this anymore. Just look at the state you’re in. You’ve been driving me nuts with your solitary hermit act for the past few months and now this…this outburst!” I paused before I went on. I wanted to see if she had anything to say, but she didn’t.

    “I know what’s on your mind and it’s not the dog and it’s not me either. But closeting yourself up here – day in and day out – is not the answer. We’re safe, Miriam. They can’t get in.”

    Her eyes were on me but she was looking off into some middle distance, as if she could see across the miles and miles of barren wasteland that passed as my miniscule intelligence.

    “You’ve been more than distant for too long,” I stumbled on, having lost the moral high ground with my insulting remark, “hiding yourself in here ever since that stiff appeared in the rock pool. You know, we could be the only two people left alive in the country and we can’t even talk! I’m sorry about the two dog’s remark. Really, I am. I take it back.”

    I waited for her to say something – maybe to acknowledge my apology – anything, I don’t know, but, as this didn’t seem about to happen, I just nodded and made my way back down the granite steps.

    Personally I suspected that the dog had entered the Light Station the previous night by way of the jetty and then, exhausted by its swim (from god knows where), it lost itself in a bush, or something, to rest up until shortly before MirMir spotted it. I had no wish to put forward this hypothesis however as MirMir would’ve started up her “Barricade the Jetty Steps” argument again.

    I went and took the boat out again, my mind full of Miriam and the dog – thinking mostly about what I could’ve said to her. What I should’ve said to her. You know; a more convincing argument about how secure our situation is; how impregnable our walls and gate are; how impervious we are to attack from the seaward side – by corpses, anyway – and all of that. I should have spent some time colourfully describing the briny, self–stocking larder we were lucky to have on three sides of the Light Station, and then who knows, eventually, maybe persuaded by my words, she’d have released the tension in her shoulders at last, and wept a few little tears of relief and gratitude.

    Then I’d pull her gently into my reliable embrace and kiss her, tenderly at first, and then she’d soon dissolve in my arms. When I’d smell her rising musky scent I’d …

    “Oh, bollocks!” I was daydreaming again; I wasn’t thinking this problem through properly at all. And also, daydreaming of this type should be centred on Billy’s glamorous auntie, not MirMir.

    “Bollocks!” I repeated emptily to the slapping waves.

    *****

    Miriam’s Journal

    I was far too sharp with Danny for the simple reason that I thought Danny was dead. I didn’t bother explaining that little fact to him. I had seen the dog chase him towards the cottage but from my vantage point on the gallery they both disappeared behind the support buildings and out of my line of sight. I believed that the dog had surely run him down and I went hysterical. I had him dead and buried and my wailing grief and shock was crippling.

    Then eventually when Danny reappeared, walking slowly, all slump shouldered and glum – very un-Danny like – I thought I was looking at his reanimated corpse and that almost finished me off. I went into hysterical overdrive.

    But then he was safe, so I ripped into him for frightening me so terribly badly. But now I realise how much he’s been suffering because of my neuroses and that isn’t fair, so I’m going to make a promise, just to myself, that I’ll be a little bit more social in future. I think he’d like me to be a bit more than that – on occasion – but I can’t, not again, and I know that he accepts this.

    I’m tired. I haven’t the will or the interest to carry on with this diary. I started it after the Corpse on the Rocks episode in an effort to keep my thoughts in order; to see if recording them would produce a feasible explanation as to why I’ve become a recluse in a community of two. But it’s not working. It’s too… I don’t know. I’m not writing about what I had planned to write about. I’ve had no new insight at all. I’ve learned nothing about the way I think.

    I really need happy pills and a few drinks. I need someone to plonk me on a sofa and question me about my childhood, but there aren’t any shrinks on call today, so instead I’m going to brave the cliffs and toss this useless diary into the sea and good riddance.

    *****

    This morning, as I battled on the waves for clearer thoughts, I managed to hook three fair sized Pollock. I brought them up to the cottage, cleaned them out, fried them up, and took them to the Lighthouse as a sort of peace offering.

    Miriam seemed to have calmed considerably overnight. She even remarked on the fine weather. I was pleased but I made no comment. This was Miriam making an effort. Maybe what I’d said to her had struck a chord. Anyway, whatever the reason, she’s making an effort. This is very good.

    After breakfast we even walked a few companionable circuits round the Lamp gallery and admired the sun sparkles jumping off the sea.

    “I noticed the other day that the spuds need weeding. Interested in helping?” I asked.

    She hesitated. “Later on, maybe.”

    “Ok.” I said; that wasn’t a no.

    *****

    I noticed that besides the weeding, the front garden of the cottage needed tidying. There was an old pulped up magazine mulching nicely beneath the laurels and a stray rag lay damp and filthy between the potato drills. Other miscellaneous items of litter had also made their way from the main peninsula to our vegetable patch courtesy of the westerly breezes, but all of that could be attended to later. I’d rake it all together and wheelbarrow the lot over the sea wall behind the cottage where the dog took its ill-fated leap.

    I checked the peas and adjusted the bamboo poles supporting their flimsy shoots. They were nearly ready for plucking. The strawberries were looking good too despite the slugs. I saw a blackbird grab one early last week, and rather than feel concern for the safety of the crop I was somewhat charmed by the theft. Any sign that real life was carrying on should always be welcomed.

    I stripped off my t-shirt and jeans and allowed my pale skin to feel the unaccustomed warmth of the sun. In deference to an embarrassing sunburn I once suffered in Ibiza I kept my much washed and threadbare boxer shorts on. They’d lasted me for years. And they’ll have to last me for a few more. I can’t just pop out to Penneys for new ones when the arse wears out of these, can I?

    I had been pulling the weeds from the potato drills for a good half hour when MirMir wandered into the garden. Despite my surprise and delight I greeted her quietly and continued weeding. Let’s just pretend that MirMir’s presence outside of the Lighthouse is a terribly ordinary thing, shall we?

    She dropped lightly to her knees and began weeding between the potato stalks in the drill behind mine. I glanced round and instantly beheld acres of wonderful cleavage as she leaned into her task. For just one second, no more, I stared open mouthed at these glories. My heart surged from what I can only describe as Erotic Shock.

    “Look away, you fool.” I thought.

    A little sprite puffed into existence on my shoulder and suggested that I relax and enjoy this unexpected eyeful. “Take it easy, wouldye.” It insisted reasonably. “What harm can this do if you’re discreet with your viewing techniques?”

    As far as discretion was concerned; the only item of clothing I wore began to betray my appreciation of what was on show, so I had to turn away and give my full attention to the weeds. Ha! The weeds! My heart was hammering. I so wanted to turn and stare. I so wanted to unashamedly feast my poor sex-starved eyes, saddo that I am. Besides, being caught would be a sure fire way of sending MirMir straight back to the Lighthouse and everything else straight back to square one.

    MirMir finished weeding her patch long before I had finished mine.

    “That was quick.” I remarked casually. She shrugged in a good natured fashion that suggested I was too slow. She knelt at the drill facing me and began to weed once more. I almost came to serious grief again when the low neckline of her tee-shirt drooped and revealed her hidden wonders once more. There was one full breast exposed and it was my favourite one.

    She didn’t notice my agitation, which was good, but after a moment she shifted slightly to one side which restricted my sneaky line of sight, so I casually moved a half a metre after her in order to rectify the situation. As I moved I felt my naked shin touch and roll the old rag I had seen there earlier. When I was happy with my viewing angle I continued my surreptitious ogling of …

    Ouch! What?”

    *****

    Miriam’s Journal

    On the jetty Danny hugged me tight and kissed me. He even attempted one of his “never mind” smiles before taking the little boat out for the last time. Danny being Danny he was prepared to leave within an hour of being infected. He even joked that he hoped this wasn’t only Au Revoir. I couldn’t speak or say goodbye. I turned and stumbled as fast as I could up the jetty steps, over to the Lighthouse, and up to the comforting familiarity of the Lamp gallery.

    I’ve lost my claim that nothing ever got through our defences, because at last something did. Danny said he thought it was just an old rag, whereas I hadn’t even noticed it at all.

    When he rolled it over with his sneaker we saw that the rag was actually a tiny arm attached by a string of muscle to a ragged piece of shoulder, neck, and just enough head to nip his unprotected leg.

    As he recovered from his initial shock, and I began to go into mine, he explained in a drab monotone that it was the dog that had brought it in. He’d seen it, he said, but he’d forgotten all about it in the excitement.

    I used the gallery rail to steady the binoculars and I caught sight of him again as he cleared the headland, pulling on the oars as hard as he could, hauling away in the sunshine through the big ponderous rollers, attempting to put as much space as possible between us before he finally dies and turns. He said he wouldn’t like me to see him arriving at the gate anytime soon.

    Now I can see the ebb tide swinging him rapidly south, a tiny dot that’ll be lost to sight long before he drifts into the haze off Bray head.

    And me? I’ll be doing what I had already planned by throwing this journal into the sea. As it happens I’m feeling surprisingly calm at the moment; probably because I’ll be holding these pages tight to my chest during their final downwards descent.

    19 Comments

    1. WOW. That was a truly awesome story. I hate it when these tales of survival end with despair , but dont they all? These are my favorite types of stories, true survival without someone turning into Billy Badass. More please.

      Comment by Brett on October 8, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

    2. Oh Kevin. A positive assault of good stories on TOWWZ from you at the moment.

      I could just picture the lighthouse and the house, the walls and gate. Languidly paced I felt whipped along by the westerly breeze of it. Beautifully written, with a simple premise, perfectly executed. I found myself strangely happy, and disturbed by the fact you don’t learn their relationship.

      I can’t say anymore as I’ll start gushing. I love that story fella, absolutely love it.

      Comment by Pete Bevan on October 8, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

    3. Longtime lurker, first time commenter

      That was a ripping good story, certainly the best of the new batch. Very compelling with nice character development. I kep waitng for some bombshell like Miriam was his mom or somethin’…but that was unnecessary as the tale itself was interesting. Really dug the sad ending…

      Comment by Half-Baked McBride on October 8, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

    4. I’ll be chewing on this bummer for a while.

      Comment by the dude on October 8, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

    5. Wonderful story. Very vivid! You captured the melancholy, stranded feel that I’d imagine would dominate any character living out the zombie survival story. Better than the last handfull of recent submissions. This should definately be considered for the contest.

      Comment by Scooter on October 8, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

    6. That was simply awesome, keep up the great work.

      Comment by Doc on October 8, 2010 @ 3:43 pm

    7. I’ve only commented once, but that was an exceptional story. Of the new ones, that was the best IMO, but as is the case, who knows what tomorrow will bring.

      I thoroughly enjoyed it, and could picture exactly what was going on. I also like the narrative switching between characters, and would love to continue to read your work.

      And as for their relationship, I like how you left it unresolved. I kept waiting for the story to reveal that they were siblings, twins most likely, but don’t feel cheated that it wasn’t explained. Great story.

      Comment by fenix1230 on October 8, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

    8. Leave a comment What a great read! Wonderfully written. Telling us just enough, and no more.

      I agree that this is the best new story I’ve read in awhile.

      Comment by Kristen on October 8, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

    9. Another great story! Perhaps the best posted in the past week. But it’s a good job I’m on anti-depressants.

      Comment by David Emanuel on October 8, 2010 @ 5:44 pm

    10. Kevin. How you haven’t been discovered by a publishing house yet is beyond me. This is definately one of your best. Right up there with New Vikings. The two takes of events, the unresolved affiliation, it’s all just perfect. Personally, I believe the two were brother and sister, but that’s what’s so great about the way you arranged it. We just don’t know, and it’s that grey area that we can make their situation as disturbed or innocent as we like. Get a few more shorts done and I DEMAND you publish an anthology!
      Damn fine job!
      B

      Comment by Barrett S on October 8, 2010 @ 6:04 pm

    11. Brilliant!
      Is it the same lighthouse from Lee Child’s “Presuader” – I could certainly picture the fortress compound the same way…

      Comment by TheWarriorMax on October 9, 2010 @ 3:39 am

    12. Your best one yet. Really enjoyed this, thanks!

      Comment by Andy on October 10, 2010 @ 8:24 am

    13. Good story, she’s his older sister right?

      Comment by Frank on October 11, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

    14. Poor guy

      Comment by sdot on October 11, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

    15. Without a shadow of doubt one of the best stories I’ve read on this site (and there are lots of really good ones).

      Comment by David_VDB on October 12, 2010 @ 3:03 am

    16. Another superb story Kevin!

      Comment by Kirk on November 9, 2010 @ 5:41 pm

    17. Am I the only one to see that HUGE numbers of zombies could be killed? I mean, build a stand near the cliff and wave torches. The z’s come and fall like lemmings into the sea. Better, turn on the lighthouse lamp and they will swarm in from miles away. This could be an even better zombie killing ground than the manmade one in First Race.

      Comment by robsquill on December 28, 2010 @ 11:39 pm

    18. A cracking story of survival that doesn’t need to involve shotguns or chainsaws to make it rivetting.

      Comment by Eljay on February 18, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

    19. Oh my God! <3

      Comment by Hope1719 on April 30, 2011 @ 4:15 am

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