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Light Upon the Sea

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Sometimes I think the wind will never drop. It howls and rattles, flinging stones and beams and waves across the land, cold and strong and so loaded with salt it cuts like a knife. No one could go outside on a night like this - there are walkways, down to the shore, around the tower, out to the low stone building meant for hens and pigs, and they’re well built, with heavy posts sunk deep into the ground and thick rope strung their length, so you can go hand over hand, but in a storm like this they’re not enough: you’d be torn away from them, however you tried to cling, and flung against the tower, or over the cliff. Sometimes, too, the posts aren't sunk quite deep enough, and one or another of them works loose, breaks the ropes, and goes flying.

I know well enough it does drop, that day follows day of calm, the sea a mirror, a plain, an endless stretch of dead expanse, unstirring, unpassable, all ships becalmed, as though they would stay motionless until they rot. But knowing is not believing, and right now the wind is all consuming, and it is impossible to believe it will ever die away.

It’s not so bad inside. There’s a fire, and it burns hot. It can’t take the chill from the stone walls and floor, but it’s something, and if you gather close enough, so near your eyes sting with smoke and the sputter of the burning logs is almost audible above the wind, well I don’t say you’ll be warm, but at least it feels like you might make it through the night.

I let them in, of course. It’s my job. I helped them up from the shore, and over the threshold, and gathered them close, with brandy and encouraging words and the fire itself, until they stopped shivering and began to relax. They don’t really notice the wind, not when they’re inside and safe and almost warm. I can’t stop hearing it, myself, it’s almost like an old friend now, but to my guests its a thing outside, locked out, barred, no longer of any concern. They pass the bottle to and fro, and tell jokes, stories, each trying to top the other. A shipwreck: now that’s a good, dramatic story. A faulty chart, a drunken captain, a sudden storm; a few survivors making it ashore, or none at all. Maybe we can go further, make the story even better. A ship deliberately scuttled, all hands lost, for the insurance claim. Wreckers, haunting the coast with false lights, cudgels and knives at the ready to kill any who make it ashore. Real hauntings: ghost ships, ghost lights, ghost flames flickering through the storm. I’ve heard them all already, but then I’ve been here a long time.

Some of them are good storytellers, vivid and precise. They tell of clinging to some floating spar, struggling to breath through facefuls of brine, fingernails tearing as they try to hold on; they tell of the shore far distant and no more than a sheer drop of rocks against which the waves batter with deadly force. I see them look around sometimes, suddenly nervous: where was it they heard the story they are now telling, how come they can imagine it so clearly? And then the moment passes. That is the nature of moments: they pass, and then they’re gone, whatever thought they carried lost.

I know the wind will drop in time: it always does. But tonight, oh tonight it’s screamed and moaned and battered for an eternity: day after grey day, starless, moonless night after starless, moonless night, scouring the land clean of any living thing, making it as much a desert as the sea. No living thing could stand against it.

I wonder where they go, my guests, when they aren’t here anymore?