The Last Lighthouse Keeper

I am a dreamer and a liar, but I will tell you something anyway, if you will stop talking and let me get a word in. You all talk too much. That’s your problem, not mine, yet you always seek to make it mine and often succeed in disrupting my train of thought at the most inopportune moments. Let me first confess that I boldly have taken command of the ship that once carried Jason in search of the golden fleece: the Argo riding above the rippling waves engendered by the sea serpent and within sight of my hideous fellow outcast, Centaurus. The ship spins slowly, swirling in the dark, star punctured sky. The sails billow, the compass near at hand, I preside over what is less a ship than a skipping stone in the black pool of the galaxy of Antilia, a beautiful name for what the Greeks back on Earth called filthy bilge water.

I have been alone now in this desolate place in space for nearly two decades and if my luck holds out, for maybe one or two more. My superiors planned fairly well considering they were fools and bureaucrats, and I have food and water enough. And as a good soldier, I will keep to my duties until I breathe my last of this stale artificial air. I say I am alone, but I presume you also heard me say I am a liar. I mentioned the centaur, who mutely keeps me company. He’s grim, but likeable, in a sallow and sulking sort of way. I am also surrounded by thousands of small gray bodies that gibber and gyrate around me day and night like flocks of gray seagulls. Not bats or ghosts (You mock me.), but merely the dusty forms of asteroids: bulky brutes who careen silently through the crowded blackness in this region, and whose flagrant disregard for collisions have reluctantly been the cause of several unfortunate accidents involving our supply ships.

But that was long ago in the past. The ships don’t come as frequently as before. In fact, I should probably tell you, they don’t come at all. Not since the unpleasantness occurred. I can’t complain. Not really. I have cozy quarters on the largest of these flying rocks, asteroid number 1,559,643 if you are keeping track. Locally, we called it, with suitably excessive grandeur, Pharos, for that famous lighthouse of antiquity. Naturally, our lighthouse lacks in impressiveness compared to Sostrates’ legendarily immense structure, but we do share a similar and most important obligation. The lighthouse keepers, Ptolemy’s solemn priests, led intrepid Mediterranean mariners and traders through the rocky harbor into the port of Alexandria and from there down the canal to the Nile and the heart of Egypt.

(They say the Pharos keepers could turn gigantic mirrors onto enemy ships and burn them to ashes, but such tales are sheer lunacy, obvious fraudulent disinformation, purposely spread to dishearten potential encroachment.)

Our responsibility, here at our Pharos, is to warn the ships that used to pass through this region and on to the outpost planets and border towns teetering nearby at the edge of the human path of expansion, of the dangers of the wide swathe of asteroids which barricades their route, while concurrently transmitting the latest ever-changing coordinates for safe passage to their desired planetary port of call. Sadly, this extremely important function has long since ceased to be of paramount concern.

We never really got a straight explanation of why the ships stopped coming, but they did over time. It was, as I said before, more than twenty years ago. The panic grew on the planets down below, when ships stopped trickling in and the necessary supplies ceased arriving. Unconfirmed rumors spread of wars, ecological disasters, and disinterest in the fate of the colonies. Instability led to confusion and even acts of violence among the settlers. Then there was an outbreak: a virus believed to have been brought along with the last of the ships: cries, panic and finally static. I have heard nothing since.

It has been quiet and uneventful now for a considerable spell. But I can still recall with some bitter bemusement how I was such a young pup when I first arrived, fresh from basic training in satellite duty — all nervous and excited about a six-month stint at the lighthouse. I left my proud mother and father and sister behind, as well as a couple of swell girls who may have had some reason to believe we were engaged, and, wearing the freshly pressed uniform of the Satellite Squad, I mounted the rocket set to serve my species to the best of my abilities. I’m afraid the uniform fell apart quite some time ago, and I now walk these chilly hallways unshaven and as naked as I came into the world, but I am relatively sure my commanders would forgive me my lack of decorum, considering the unexpected extension of my tour of duty here.

I’m afraid Johnny “Doc” Holiday, the veteran campaigner who welcomed me to his tomb, had become a bit balmy during his stay on Pharos, but his giddiness at his impending departure led him to concoct a celebration of sorts, in which he revealed his hidden and altogether quite primitive alcohol production installation. I, of course as a fresh-faced novitiate, was wholeheartedly shocked, but I have to admit somewhat sheepishly to having persevered in improving his apparatus over the years, until I would imagine my little saloon would rival many of old Earth’s finest gin mills, minus the frivolity, of course. Not that I have fallen into a state of befoulment, inappropriate to my station. I reject that assertion outright and will have you consider my meritorious service, including the exemplary and even extraneous efforts I have made on behalf of the whole of humanity at large.

With regards to my obligations toward the “lighthouse” (the name is somewhat a misnomer, since most communication is obviously sent via radio), I still keep a standard routine as I was well trained to do. Regular maintenance is required to keep the equipment operating, and I am equipped with a full complement of tools, computers and sundry devices to aid me in this endeavor.

For additional impetus in continuing my ongoing project, I have myself vividly remember the training video we were shown, in which a little girl and her puppy were blown into smithereens, when the otherwise vigilant lighthouse keeper made just the tiniest deviation — omitting a regularly scheduled lubrication of one seemingly unimportant gear in the directional antenna workings in a particularly busy time. It is a montage that stays with me to this day: the ship gliding into the asteroid belt; her father, the noble captain of course, attempting wildly to steer the course manually amidst the devil’s floating rock pile; her mother praying solemnly to some unseen deity; the little girl with palpable fear in her wide blue eyes; the puppy licking the tears off her face, as the ship makes sudden violent contact with an iceberg/meteorite, shudders Titanic-like, explodes and spews wreckage and bodies into a slow orbit of vividly catastrophic destruction.

My classmates and I often referred sardonically to the puppy dog video, but of course we all felt a deep despair, that we would never admit to each other; and the sob story did succeed in it’s function to snap us into putting forth the requisite attention to detail. I, for one, am pleased to have such a formidable mental structure in place, and it is this discipline that has carried me through the long years since the radio slid into its eternal silence. My maintenance routine is timed at a mere five to six hours per day, but I take it very slowly, with an appropriate number of breaks, and make it last nine or ten. One can never take too much time making sure the proper amount of electrical discharge is passing through the assorted circuits, or that the belts are replaced, or the gears oiled (That little girl’s face!).

My father was a solid, simple, patient man who worked hard during both daily hours of sunlight from our alternating twin suns, and rested during the phases of the seven moons. He always taught me to put in a good two days work in every day, and I still carry the screwdriver he gave me when I turned 17. It doesn’t work as well as the electric powered ones do, but I carry it anyway in my tool belt, to remind me of his cheery indifference to hardship, and the good influence and wisdom he imparted to me, his only begotten son.

My free time is spent working with the hydroponics, puttering with my still and reading voraciously the great books of human history. Good-hearted Doc left me a collection of written works on disc that may well live up to the lamented library in Alexander’s city, and I can proudly announce that I have read and reread nearly every great book known to mankind. My keenest interest has always been philosophy and I have read all of the great minds including Plato, Kant and Nero Tobias of Alpha 3. Not that I offer myself as any great thinker, but you must admit that I have certainly put in the time.

I hope you don’t think me a mere follower and student through. I have taken the thoughts I have read for what there are — little thoughts of little men — and moved beyond them, into new philosophies of my own invention. Nor are these simple mental exercises; my belief being both the physical as well as the spiritual must be involved as well if any knowledge is to be gained. Upon reading of the visionary experiences of some of he original earthbound North American Indian tribes, I embarked on a pet project whereby I adapted a storage area with a steam duct into a crude sauna or sweat lodge of sorts. I must tell you that I spend much of my time here, sipping my wicked brew whilst slipping into what you would call a dream state. I often forsake the bed in my quarters for sleeping on a mat here; if indeed sleep is what you would call it.

My visions are personal and I resolutely refuse to divulge the intimate details for public consumption. But, seeing as how there does not seem to be a public left to ostracize and humiliate me, I will tell you that I have entered into my own mind, experienced the tumult and the ecstasy of the Universe and have indeed entered too into the whimsical and ornate mind of God.

Shut up, all of you! I am alone, but surrounded by chattering and snickering that never ceases. I hear the centaur guffaw. That is bad enough. But it is the incessant twittering of those clods and lumps that whirl about me that make me angry enough to pound the wall and break the furniture, which I must then mend. Nearly lifeless bits of mud spinning ponderously in their grim orbit, what do they know of the power and awesome beauty of the sublime and divine eternal immensity of creation?

For, despite my crude carbon-based shell, I have stood suspended in the void with the strands of stars strung into galaxies on the cosmic loom, hanging like ropes and tendrils of light and fire; no, fireworks, bursting into life and spiraling downward trailing plumes of dancing helixes; cracked crystal cascades that hover, twinkle, burn, shine, fester and rot in an ageless lifetime. My treasured snowflakes scatter like a picture show reel in a firestorm of molten inertia and inflamed abundance entrapped in a dewdrop, a flame, a tear.

Yet sadly, like most phantasmagoric entities or cakes in the rain, even the most prudent, cautious and secluded constructions must come to and end, and my harsh, yet playful existence, felt a shudder last week. Three loud knocks like the rapping on my coffin lid were heard emitting from an upper level, awakening me from my nearly impenetrable slumber, and upon investigation I discovered the hits that we have taken from those nasty blockheads throughout the years have taken their toll, and the damage received this time is too extensive and cannot be undone. I spoke too soon and optimistically earlier about my future decades of toil and dreams, words and visions and micro/macro-cosmic exploration, as further review of my options reveals I will be relieved of my duties somewhat sooner than expected (albeit much later than expected as well).

It is impossible to say for sure how much time I have, but it is apparent that someday the walls/skin of my body will one day fail me and allow a penetration or invasion, and then the gabble of gray geese outside will gobble me up and spit me out as one of their own. Will it be a burst of bright light and then darkness, or will an infinitesimal crack seep poisonous radiation, offering me a slow and painful sickness unto death, or do I reroute the pipes and do it my own way at my own time? Such serious questions to ponder, and for such an unserious man to have to contemplate at his leisure. There should be music and celebrations. There should be clowns.

After several more months of internal volatility entrapped in this hellish dilemma, I decided to forego my work and submit entirely to my beloved opium haze for eternity, when the unthinkable happened. Lying prone in my pool of sweat and swirling stars, an unfamiliar voice crackled, trickled and entered my ear like a thread through a needle’s eye. A woman’s voice. Not my mother’s this time, nor my sister, or the long lost girls, or even that of God’s melodious feminine nature. A far away, anxious and tired voice dripping from the intercom in short, watery drops like a leaky faucet. Unsure what to do, I rubbed my eyes and padded barefoot down the halls to the control room. The harsh light of the room always startled after so much darkness. I stood before the receiver and turned up the amplification.

“Pharos base, are you there?” the desperate voice sounded soft and thin. I hesitated, then took the microphone and opened my mouth. Nothing came out.

When was the last time I had spoken? (With my mouth, of course. The conversations with God, the centaur and the rabbits never stopped.) I drank some tepid water and tried again.

“Pharos lighthouse, here,” I managed to croak.

“Thank God!” she cried. I wondered why she need thank ME. “Please, please immediately send the coordinates to get through the meteorite field.”

“There’s no one there, where you going,” I replied.

“No one?” she burst into sobs. “But… but… I’ve come so far… alone.”

“You’re alone?” I asked softly.

“Yes. They all… are dead now.”

I thought for a moment.

“Are your eyes blue?” I asked.

“No, hazel,” she replied. “Why?”

A pause as I imagined her sparkling brown eyes flecked with blue and green.

“How far are you?” I managed.

“I will be at the edge of the field in 2 hours,” she said choking. “You don’t know how good it is to hear another voice. I’ll bring the ship to the base and land. You don’t know how good it is…”

“Yes, I do,” I responded flatly. “Keep on your current path toward the field and I will provide the coordinates as soon as they are finished being computed.”

“Thank you,” she said with relief. “I’ll see you soon.”

I started the computations and went back to my cave, troubled by many things. A visitor here? An invasion. An unwanted pilgrim soon pointing her caravan toward my Mecca, following the minaret of my radio tower. What would it be like to have someone, a woman no less, to talk to, to work with, to join in my quest, to hold? Was this the destiny chosen for me? Was I the Adam to her Eve: the one to replenish the human race and start anew?

These thoughts raced through my mind, amongst the braying of the centaur and the shouts and laughs of nitwitted pinballs, as I strode down the hallway. I slowly stepped to the radio, my mind clear and direct, and, for the first and only time in more than 20 years, reached out a trembling hand and switched the power off with a click that echoed loud and echoes still.

I can only imagine the terror in those hazel eyes as the silence grew in intensity and the unforgiving whirling stones came ever closer. I know I will keep that image with those of the little blue-eyed girl in a special place in the dark and secret libraries of my soul.

Let me explain. I have served my duties above and beyond my capacity. My gentle yoke has broken me, and I have neither the energy nor the will nor the desire to take on the enormous efforts involved in becoming the father of a race. I’m a simple soldier, an employee: no hero, general, president, decider of fate.

The human race, a crawling hoard of petty, bickering dung beetles has run its course. We need no further time to prove our unworthiness. I am tired of it all. Let it stop here.

But maybe that isn’t it at all. Maybe its because no one can return to the insignificant considerations of man when they have walked hand in hand with God?

No, if someday, someone elects to etch my epitaph on some gleaming edifice: the loyal priest of Antilia, remember me not for what I was, but for what I will be; or perhaps choose not to remember me at all, as if I were just a ripple in the tides of the great sea that only haunted drowned ghosts of men still hear through the sibilant cries emitting from the resplendent and gnarled seashells of their dreams and deeds and memories. In any case, it will not matter to me: I hear your silence and will abide within.

Author, Composer & Post-Modern Renaissance Man