“You superstitious at all?” the old man asked, squinting into the sunlight.
“Oh no, not really,” Josh said as he read over the lease. “I keep my feet on the ground.”
“Okay, well… listen, for your own good. Any time there’s a storm, you put on music or the TV or somethin’. Real loud, got it? There’s some caves down by the water, and when the waves come in and the wind whistles through ‘em… it makes some pretty disturbing sounds.”
“All right…” Josh signed his name, and the man shook his hand.
Locals might be a little strange, but he’d gotten an amazing deal on this place.
“I’d lose it living out here,” North admitted as they all sat down to eat the bad Chinese takeout Simon had picked up from the strip mall in town.
“I’m really looking forward to the quiet,” Josh said. “And the view! It’s amazing!”
“Do be careful, though,” Simon spoke up. “It’s awfully isolated. Do you get good phone service?”
“Perfect. And the wifi’s good. I can just enjoy my sabbatical and come back fresh next year with a ton of new ideas.”
“I think you’ll love it here,” Markus said, smiling slightly. “I’d love to come visit again some time, when we can all get a few days off together!”
“I really appreciate you all helping me move.”
Josh waved to the other three as they left, and they waved back from the car. When they were out of sight, Josh looked up at the lighthouse that would be his home for the next year and smiled.
Josh mostly forgot about the old man’s warning, but when the first storm rolled in he was listening to a podcast while he cleaned. The second time he was watching a documentary on 16th century fishing.
He was reading and listening to a CD during the third storm when the power went out. He sighed and went to dig for a flashlight. He’d just gone back to his book when he heard the faint shouting.
Josh knew he wasn’t the strongest guy out there. He was tall, but didn’t have the ability or desire to be intimidating. He’d been bullied a lot as a kid, and wasn’t exactly the type to fight any battles. He also wasn’t the type to jump into action. But out here there was no one else to rely on. He peered out the window. There was another shout. Josh grabbed his rain coat and the flashlight, and headed outside.
“Hello?” Josh yelled into the darkness. There was no answer. “Is anyone there?”
There was an indistinct call, nearly drowned out by the rain and the crashing waves. Josh rounded the lighthouse and paused at the top of the staircase down the cliff. …How likely was someone to be hurt down there? It seemed like a lot of trouble to go through if someone was going to ambush him.
“Hello?” The voice was weak and shaky. Josh leaned over the railing, pointing his flashlight down. There did look to be some debris on the rocks. Hard to tell if anything was moving aside from the waves. “P-please help…”
“I’m coming, hold on!” Josh made his way down, careful to hold onto the railing in the driving rain. He called out every so often, and a weak voice responded. When he finally reached the bottom, he looked around.
There was a small boat wrecked on the rocks. Josh splashed over and shone his flashlight around. “Hello?”
A waterlogged person dragged themselves up on a rock. He – probably he – looked deathly pale. Josh stepped towards him, but he shied away and Josh held up his free hand.
“I’m Josh. I’m here to help.”
The pale man stared at him. “N-no one’s come… in so… long.” He coughed and shivered.
“Sorry it took me a while, it’s a long way down. Are you hurt? I can help you get up the stairs, and get inside.”
“I – I probably can’t carry you all the way, but I can help get you up there.” Josh slowly offered his arm, and the other man hunched up.
“I’m okay. I can make it. I – I’ll just be a little slow.”
“That’s okay,” Josh said softly, taking a step back. “I can hold the flashlight for you.”
A tense but sincere smile flitted over the stranger’s face. “Thank you. …I’m Jerry.”
As the two slowly climbed the staircase, Josh kept an eye on Jerry. He moved slowly, and stopped to rest now and then, but Josh wasn’t doing much better on the steep stairs. When they finally reached the top, Josh went ahead and opened the door for Jerry, and they both slogged inside. The power had come back on, and all the lights were on.
“You’re the lighthouse keeper?”
“I – well, temporarily. I’m a lecturer at Detroit University, and I’m taking a sabbatical this year. I learned the basic upkeep for the light. Rent was surprisingly cheap!” Josh got some towels from the bathroom and handed one to Jerry.
“Well… it’s out in the middle of nowhere.” He took the towel and began drying off.
“That was a bonus for me.”
“I always liked being around people… but it’s peaceful here sometimes,” Jerry murmured, looking around.
“…Can I make you a hot drink? I’ve got coffee, tea, hot chocolate…”
Jerry’s eyes widened. “Oh! I – I don’t want to impose, I already dragged you out in the storm and got your floor all wet.”
“Don’t worry about it. I heard you yelling and I was worried. I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“Well… I always liked hot chocolate,” Jerry murmured.
“That sounds good.” Josh headed to the stove. “Um – if you want to borrow some of my clothes… they’ll probably be too big on you, but I can find something.”
“I – I feel like that’s too much.”
“Don’t worry about it. I was gonna toss some things in the wash anyway.” He went to the bedroom and dug out a few things. “Here, I know these will be too long, but you’re welcome to them. Want to take a shower first? Definitely not an imposition, and you don’t want salt drying all over you.”
Jerry smiled. “Well then… if you’re sure… Thank you!”
Josh made the hot chocolate while Jerry cleaned up. There hadn’t been any notable wounds, but he’d definitely been through a lot. Josh pulled out some spare blankets and an extra pillow and set up the couch as a bed. By the time the hot chocolate was ready, Jerry had returned, damp and sheepish.
“Here.” Josh brought the mugs over and set them on the coffee table, sitting down on one end of the couch. Jerry perched gingerly on the other end.
“I… guess you’ll want to know what happened to me.” Jerry chuckled humorlessly.
“Look, I – it’s late, you’re tired, you’ve… I’m sure you’ve been through enough tonight without reliving it. If you want to talk about it I’d be glad to listen, but don’t feel obligated.”
Jerry looked closely at Josh. “Then I’d rather not tonight,” he said in a small voice.
Josh smiled a bit. “No problem. Uh – you’ll probably want to get to sleep.”
“I’ll certainly try.”
“Hmm… wanna watch a movie? Um – when I was younger and had a bad day, my mom would put on a kids’ movie and it was pretty relaxing.”
“That… sounds nice, actually.”
Josh put on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Jerry was passed out before Charlie found the Golden Ticket. Josh still didn’t see any blood on him, so he carefully laid a blanket over him and went to sleep in the bedroom.
In the morning he was gone. The blanket and clothes were folded neatly on the back of the couch, and there was nothing but a little sand to show that he’d been there at all. Or maybe that came from Josh. He went out to look around, but there was no sign of anyone. He couldn’t see any rubble at the bottom of the staircase, but didn’t want to go all the way down to check for sure.
He asked around town the next time he went grocery shopping. No one knew a Jerry. No one knew a pale redhead with green eyes. Mr. O’Brien down at the wharf? Dan’s kid who just graduated high school? Mike, who was always in and out of jobs? Jerry was none of those.
“Last night?” asked the old man who worked for the bank, who held the lease.
“You know how dangerous it is to go out in a storm up there!? You’re asking for trouble. The weather gets bad, you stay inside.” He glared at Josh, then turned and stomped away.
There was a minor squall three days later, and Josh froze when he heard a faint call from outside. Mournful, frightened. He pulled on his raincoat and ran out. After a cursory look around, he headed for the stairs.
It was Jerry, dragging himself up on a rock, coughing up water. He stared at Josh as if he’d seen a ghost.
“What – what even happened to you!?”
“It’s… just the storm.”
“Well, come on.” Josh headed up. Jerry hesitated before following him. When they were both warm and fairly dry, Josh turned to Jerry.
“Were you in… a shipwreck?”
“…Were you in two shipwrecks?”
“Are you from around here?”
“No… but I’ve been here… a while.”
“You live nearby? No one in town knew you.”
“Not really. It’s hard to talk about.”
Josh sighed. “…Okay. I guess you’re tired.”
“Do you… want to play cards or something?” Jerry asked, his eyes lighting on a deck on the bookshelf.
“Sure.” Josh took the deck and started to shuffle. They played Hearts, Kings’ Corner, and Speed. Both got into the mild competition and the fast pace.
“Have you played Spoons?” Josh asked, grinning as he passed the cards to Jerry to shuffle. “That was my favorite game for a long time, but it’s better with more people.”
“I haven’t. …Actually, my favorite game’s Go Fish.” Jerry laughed self-consciously. “I know it’s boring.”
“It’s not boring – you’ve played War, right? That gets so tedious, and it just keeps going on forever.”
Jerry grinned and dealt two hands, putting the rest of the pile between them. “…Got any eights?”
Jerry was gone again in the morning.
It happened three more times in the next month. Josh went down to the shore sometimes in good weather to look around. No sign of any people or fresh wreckage, but there were old bits of driftwood all over.
The next storm was a light one, but Josh headed down the cliff anyway. Jerry was sitting on a rock, looking out over the waves. He looked up when he heard Josh coming.
“I didn’t call out,” he said softly.
“I thought I might find you here anyway. I’ve been paying close attention to the weather forecasts.”
An odd mixture of emotions crossed Jerry’s face. “Oh.”
“I came down here on a sunny morning. …There was nothing.”
They looked over at the wreckage of the little rowboat on the rocks.
“When I moved in, I was told to never listen to anything outside in the storm. To not go outside.”
Jerry chuckled softly. “And here I thought you were law-abiding…”
“I am… but I heard you that first time… and I was worried.”
“You don’t need to worry,” Jerry said, smiling faintly. “I’ve been fine all this time. I’m sorry I troubled you.”
“…Do you want to come up? We’re both getting soaked.”
Jerry stood and faced Josh. He was considerably shorter, but Josh tended to hunch a bit. “This is going to keep happening,” Jerry said, looking him in the eye. “Every time, the same. It – you can’t stop it.”
“Is… it bad that I’m okay with that?” Josh asked. “I don’t know what it’s like for you, probably awful… but like I said, I watch for storms. I look forward to them.”
A slow smile broke over Jerry’s face. “So do I.”
“I think I have some idea, but… will you tell me what’s really going on? I won’t freak out. I’m over that.”
Jerry looked at him for a moment, then nodded. “All right. But let’s get dry.”
They both took their time, taking turns showering. Josh put in a load of laundry. If Jerry wasn’t wearing his own clothes when he vanished in the morning, Josh’s clothes would be folded neatly on the couch and Jerry’s would be gone. The two sat down on the couch with steaming mugs, and Josh waited.
“We had nearly made port when the storm hit,” Jerry murmured. “It was a bad one. We were blown several knots south, and the ship hit a rock. We were taking on water fast, and the captain made sure all of us got in lifeboats before he joined us. There were three others in the boat with me, but they were knocked out and dragged off to sea. I… I tried to save them, but I couldn’t fight the waves. When I woke up down there, the storm had died down a bit. There were no stairs back then. I tried to find a way up the cliff, tried to climb it, but… I was too tired, it was slippery. I called and called for help, but no one heard. I’m not sure how long I stayed here. A few days.”
Josh was leaning in, frowning. “I’m so sorry…” His mind was racing, thinking of how old the stairs were.
“I don’t… I don’t know how long ago it was. I think I’m back there every time there’s a storm.” He looked up, and his green eyes were clouded. “There are a lot of storms around here. I – it takes me a bit to remember. At first, I’m always… back then. Scared. Confused. Alone.”
“And nobody’s come to help you?”
“Other people have. They’ve been very nice… at first.” He looked away. “The second time is when that stops. I’m just – I try to stay cheerful, but… it wears on me.”
Josh scooted closer. “I was pretty confused about that.”
“I don’t know how long I’ve been dead,” Jerry whispered.
“You’re not – are you a ghost? I can touch you.” Josh squeezed his arm gently.
“I know. I don’t know how it works.”
“Well… a solid ghost, then. Better than a zombie. Or… a sea vampire.”
An incredulous laugh burst out of Jerry. “Sea vampire? Is that a thing?”
“I don’t know, but you’ve never come up uninvited.”
“I – hm. That’s true. Maybe I am a sea vampire!” He grinned.
“Well don’t suck my blood, but you can come in any time.”
“Huh! I… if I remember, I’ll try that next time. It’s hard to think clearly at first. …Really? Any time?”
“Sure. It’s nice to have company, you know?”
“I know,” Jerry agreed, smiling and scooting closer.
“What happens when you disappear?”
“I don’t know. I fall asleep, and the next thing I know I’m out in the storm again. I’ve tried just staying awake, but some time before the sun rises it just… hits me, and I can’t.”
“What if the storm lasts longer?”
“Oh! Actually – sorry, it’s… not easy to remember things sometimes – but that’s happened before. I’ve been down there for days at a time. Mostly in hurricanes, I think. But if it’s still storming past daybreak, I just… pass out when the storm ends.”
Josh edged a little closer. “So… have you remembered me each time, or did you just go along with it?”
“Once I hear you or see you, I remember. Even before you started coming right away. …Things and happenings are hard. People are easy.”
Josh smiled a little. “You like people.”
“I do!” Jerry’s face lit up. “I love people! I was afraid being on the ship would be very isolating, but I grew close to my shipmates. And we made port a lot, there were always new people to meet.”
“Were you… this is dumb, sorry – you weren’t pirates, were you?”
“Oh no! No, not at all. Just a merchant ship. We, uh… did some smuggling sometimes, but no piracy.”
“What was the name of your ship?” Josh asked, pulling out his phone.
“The Wolf’s Tooth – it does sound a little like a pirate ship, but it wasn’t, I promise.”
Josh unlocked his phone, then looked up. “I… I can try looking it up.” Jerry leaned in to look while he searched. After a while he shook his head. “Nothing. Is there anything else you can remember? Trading partners, maybe?”
“Um… We did a lot of small trades. Oh, we worked with the Geoctroyeerde Westindische Compagnie for a while. The Dutch West India Company.”
Josh frowned, typing that in. “…They were in operation from 1621 to 1792.”
“Yes… that sounds right,” Jerry said, smiling uncertainly.
“Did you… speak Dutch?”
“Oh. Yes, but not perfectly. Mostly English. A little French, Portuguese, Spanish… Mostly English and Dutch.”
Josh stared at him. Jerry shifted away a little, but Josh reached out and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Do you… want to know what year it is?”
Jerry hesitated, but nodded.
“Oh…” Jerry’s eyes went glassy.
“Hey, stay with me. You’re gonna be okay.”
“I… I might forget that… if I can.”
“Sorry. I won’t bring it up again.”
Jerry sighed and curled in on himself. Josh scooted closer and gingerly put an arm around him.
“I’m glad you’re here, though. And I imagine this place hasn’t changed all that much.”
“No. The stairs… The lighthouse is more modern, but… still the same basic shape.” Jerry leaned into him.
“Your modern English is really great.”
“I always had an ear for languages. I adjust.”
“Want to play Go Fish?”
Jerry nodded after a moment, and Josh grabbed the cards. It was already late, and though neither said anything, they wanted to stay up. Both were exhausted hours later, and Josh noticed Jerry’s eyes drooping as he started to become transparent.
“I’ll see you next time,” he mumbled. “Probably not long.”
“Not long,” Jerry sighed with a smile, and disappeared.
A few more storms came and went. Josh tried waiting at the top of the cliff, but the confused cries for help always led him down the stairs quickly. By the time he reached the middle Jerry recognized him, but he’d rather walk down to meet his friend. Then they’d walk up together.
“There’s a hurricane coming,” Josh said one night. “I hate to hope that it would stick around a while, but… it’d be nice. There’s no one else nearby to get their property damaged.”
Storms became more frequent until Jerry showed up almost every day. The day of the hurricane, Josh made preparations in the lighthouse and headed down to the shore to watch the storm roll in. It was absolutely dangerous, but if he could meet Jerry and then stay inside for the rest of the storm, that would be ideal.
The rain was already driving into the rocks when the little wooden boat appeared over a wave, a pale frightened face peering over the side. There was a shout, and it smashed on the rocks. Josh waded out.
“Help! Who’s – please!”
“It’s Josh. It’s me. You’re okay.”
Green eyes blinked up at him, and gradually cleared. He threw his arms around the taller man and laughed weakly.
“Come on, let’s get out of this.”
After they dried off Jerry was still shivering, so Josh draped a blanket around his shoulders. Jerry pulled him in closer, wrapping the blanket around him as well, and Josh laughed, shifting around to get closer and pull the blanket around them both. Once they were comfortable, they sat back and listened to the wind howl and the rain pound on the walls.
“It’s a slow-moving hurricane, the whole system could stick around for a few days,” Josh murmured, resting his head on Jerry’s.
“Mm, I hope so,” Jerry sighed. “I wish I could stay like this.”
“Is it possible? Or… will you be able to… move on some day?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t yet. I wouldn’t know what to expect.”
“I can’t imagine it would be bad. Not for you.”
“You don’t know what I was like before,” Jerry murmured, smiling a little.
“I can’t imagine you being a bad person.” Josh smirked. “You’re… a cinnamon roll, Jerry.”
Jerry burst out laughing, and sat up straight. “A cinnamon roll!? What does that mean?”
“It’s – I don’t know if it’s even a meme, it’s just a thing people say. Well, maybe that counts. Anyway, it’s… well, cinnamon rolls are sweet and soft and fluffy. Pure.”
Jerry snorted. “And sticky and spicy!”
“Sure!” Josh laughed. “And delicious!”
Jerry squeezed him, giggling. “A cinnamon roll! I need to taste that now!”
“I’ll make some next time! …And I think you’ll agree that they’re just like you. It’s actually not an expression I’ve used before, but… well, the shoe fits.”
Jerry hugged him, still laughing. “I love it! …You really think so?”
“Every bit of it’s true.”
“…Delicious?” Jerry asked doubtfully, a smile tugging at his lips.
“Only one way to confirm that.” Josh paused, then his smile faltered. “Oh, I – listen, I didn’t mean to cross any lines, I –“
Jerry pulled him in and kissed him, swift and sure. Josh was too shocked to do much, but he didn’t pull away. When they finally parted, Jerry’s grin was questioning. As the seconds ticked on, it faltered a bit.
“Delicious,” Josh murmured, pulling him back in for another kiss.