by Ju Laclau Massaglia
When I realised I was standing in the middle of a beach, my first instinct was to look around for something other than sand. Many people would have sat down and enjoyed the warm rays pouring on their skin, but that was definitely not me. I had never been the kind of person that enjoys the heavy hotness and the sweaty stickiness of summer holidays on the shore, and I don’t see any reason why that should have changed at that moment.
Soon I noticed a huge, tall, absolutely-vertical stone wall standing behind my back. About ten steps away and parallel to it was the edge of the foamy water that submerged the warm grains of sand, just to leave them a few moments after. Soon, I found myself looking left and right aimlessly. Somewhere there had to be a restaurant, hotel or any other kind of touristy place, but I couldn’t really spot any.
It was clear that my best option was to walk in a random direction, hoping to find anything that might have been too far away for me to see at first glance. As a left-handed person myself, I constantly found that the world we live in tends to favour my mainstream counterparts, so I went against my gut and made the decision most people, I thought, would make if they were in my black sneakers. I turned towards my right.
The sun was right above my head when, in the line of the horizon, I saw the tiniest shape growing from the sand into the sky. I headed towards it, making my best effort to hurry and reach it as fast as possible. However, after a few hard, unsatisfactory and exhausting steps, I realised it wasn’t worth it and resigned myself to a slower pace that I could keep up even under the crushing rays.
I was still quite far away when I started making out the silhouette of a huge red-and-white, movie-like, lightless lighthouse. After another look at the barren horizon, but without much further thought, I headed up the steep steps leading to its metal door. I checked there was no one around one more time, before pulling the cold doorknob and facing the humid and obscure vowels of the building.
It took me quite a while to get used to the dark insides of the room, but once I did, I started searching for anything that could help me. After some time, I found a lantern buried in the pile of nets, planks of wood and other useless items. Then, I didn’t hesitate to head up the spiral staircase, one step at a time, with the poor illumination of the dim, every-now-and-then flickering light ahead of me.
Upon entering, I had been certain that no human being had been inside of the building for a long time. Still, some tiny part of my delusional self was clinging to the hope that there might be someone upstairs and that the damp smell that had welcomed me into the lighthouse was simply the typical odour of such structures. The more logical side of my brain, however, nagged me for having walked all the way up a steep and extremely unstable staircase.
Still, I knew there was a highlight to my newfound height. I quickly headed to the circular terrace, trying to make the most of the view. There had to be something, some other building nearby, some place where the beacon operator was meant to live. No such building was visible anywhere. However, I quickly noticed one difference about the beach. The whole area around the tower was covered by water. I could hear the strong sound of the waves violently crashing against the wall of stone and the fuzziness of the foam. I was certainly trapped inside.
A strong breeze messed up my hair as the upper half of my body stretched off the edge of the lighthouse in an effort to see something that I had missed before: maybe a tiny beach house on the horizon or the faintest shadow of a roof behind the rocks. There was nothing; not a single human-made item as far as my eyes could see. Just the endless sand. 'Why the hell is this here then?'
After wandering around the top floor of the building, I carefully made my way back downstairs, lantern in hand, to see if there was any map or phone -or anything at all- that could help me rejoin humankind. I wasn’t really in a position to be picky. So, I knew I had to make the most out of anything some random light-keeper had chosen to leave behind and, considering the circumstances, I was definitely up for the challenge.
I had already looked around for a while and found virtually nothing more than a pair of massive boots, when I realised that the entrance door to the lighthouse was closed. Even if I didn’t remember it too vividly, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I had left it open when I walked inside.
I tried to mentally retrace my steps: I had pulled from the heavy piece of hinged metal, had walked into the darkness and, once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, had gone directly to the piles of slightly illuminated items lying around. I hadn’t cared about anyone finding me in there nor had I taken the time to shut the door. It took me another attempt at opening it to confirm that neither the breeze nor an involuntary reflex would have been able to close it. Hope told me that this had to mean something, so I opened the door wide and sat at a random -rather high- step of the staircase, turned off the flashlight and tried to disguise myself in the shadows to keep watch.
It didn’t take me more than a couple of minutes to realise that being a hawk-eyed gatekeeper in a desolated tower was the most boring task on the face of the earth -or at least one of the most boring I had ever encountered thus far. There was no way I’d be able to do it as attentively as I had hoped without killing time by doing something else.
First, I thought of humming. However, soon, I realised anyone or anything around would be alerted of my presence by the sounds. There was little the shadows could do for me once someone was actively trying to find me. So, instead, I imagined that the waves crashing against the steps were talking. I wondered what they would say, as I listened to their repetitive hushes and soft watery sounds searching for anything that could vaguely resemble words.
I had gotten quite good at it when I noticed that the tide was low enough for the water to be out of sight from my spot up the staircase. It took me a moment to stand up and another one to reach the lowest step of the tiny staircase leading to the beach. Everywhere as far as my eyes could see, the water was moving back, leaving a wide strip of beach made mainly of wet sand and cracked seashells.
After reaching the ground level, I looked at the horizon for a moment trying to figure out a plan and then headed towards the side of the beach I had come from. Something in me told me that choosing to walk towards the right side at the very beginning had been a mistake.
I knew there was nothing unusual at the place I had been standing when I realised I was on a beach: no weeds, no marks on the rocks, no signs. Nothing. So I had no real way of knowing when I had walked past my starting point and was looking at an unexplored part of the beach. Still, that didn’t discourage me. Not even my burning skin and my legs trembling from exhaustion could dissuade me.
However, this definitely felt much worse than when I had walked towards the lighthouse. That must mean I was making progress. I must be past my initial point and exploring the left side of the beach by now. Or had knowing that the lighthouse was there been a motivator that kept me going for longer? I had no way of finding out. I felt the questions piling up inside my head as I continued to walk by the sea.
Suddenly, I felt something cold touching my toes and looked down. There was foamy water fuzzing and streaming around my ankles. For a moment I stood there, partially relieved from the unbearable heat. It took me another moment to look around and realise that I hadn’t accidentally walked into the water. It was the water that had bumped into me. I looked at the quite narrow pathway of dry sand between myself and the rock wall. I had to find shelter before I was completely swallowed by the tide.
I felt my brain melting inside my burning scalp. I couldn’t think anymore. So, rather impulsively, I threw myself into the water and stayed under the surface for a while. I let it wash the heat and sweat and sand away from me. When I felt fresh and ready to continue my journey, I walked back to the now-even-more-narrow part of dry beach and started running.
It wasn’t long until I realised my mistake: I hadn’t thought about how the water trapped in my clothes would weigh me down. I hadn't thought of how sticky the fabric and the sun and my hair would be. When I did notice, it was already too late. I had to run and I did, even with all of those thoughts swirling around inside my brain, even with the weight of my clothes, even under the still burning sun, even while stepping in my squishy shoes.
After what felt like a lifetime of pushing through my weariness to keep up the fastest pace I could manage, I saw the tiniest shape growing from the sand and into the sky. I headed towards it, making my best effort to hurry and reach it as fast as possible. However, after a few hard, unsatisfactory and exhausting steps, I realised it wasn’t worth it and resigned myself to a slower pace that I could keep up even on the sand, even under the crushing rays and even with the water swirling around my shoes and my bare ankles.
I was still quite far away when I started making out the silhouette of a huge red-and-white, movie-like, lightless lighthouse. Is it the same one I was in a while ago? I had no idea. After a quick glimpse over my shoulder in which I -obviously- couldn’t see the other beacon, but without much further thought, I headed to the steep steps leading to its metal door.
There is no way it is the same one, I told myself as I pulled from the cold doorknob to face the humid and obscure vowels of the building. For some reason, this building didn’t seem as uninhabited as the previous one. It even seemed welcoming to some extent: the door wasn’t as hard to move and I found a flashlight quite quickly, lying around on a random step of the spiral staircase. Where did I leave mine last time around?
I couldn’t really remember the answer, but something in me told me I had left it on the staircase at some point. After a while, I realised there was no use in trying to remember what I knew I had already forgotten. Besides, I was quite sure I wouldn’t be able to think about anything, being as tired as I was. So I walked up the stairs to the top floor, where I made myself an improvised bed with a moist blanket that smelled like humidity and I closed my eyes. Almost immediately I fell into a deep sleep.
When I woke up, I felt dizzy and confused. My memory and sight were foggy. I wasn't quite sure where I was or why I was inhaling such a putrid smell. However, after rubbing my eyes and sitting up, it all started to come back to me: the beach, the sun, the tides, the lighthouse. How long was I asleep? I wondered as I stood up and headed towards the terrace.
The sun was shining bright and hot and a very subtle breeze moved my hair, when I looked down at the beach only to find the tide was quite low and there was a pretty wide pathway of dry sand. Because I had no idea how long I'd slept, I didn't really know if the tide was going to start rising soon or if I still had time. Still, the more I moved forward, the faster I would find other people. Plus, I would probably be able to move faster after my nap.
I ran down the spiral staircase, leaving the blanket contorted into some kind of bow right in the room upstairs, a piece of rope on the eighth step and the lantern standing on the third step. There was no way these items would be like this in another place just by chance. So, if after walking I found this same organisation, I'd know I had just been walking in circles on an island. If not, then there'd still be hope of getting out of there.
I rushed outside and started walking on the dry sand, in a straight line in the middle between the sea and the wall of rock. My knowledge about masses of water was pretty average -which is another way of saying I barely understood what a tide was, let alone how it worked- but my reasoning seemed pretty logical: when the water had covered half the distance to the wall, half the time would have passed. So I stuck with it.
It wasn’t long before my feet started getting wet. I tightened my pace as much as I could, but there was only so much I could do when I felt my skin burning under the sun and my legs trembling from exhaustion.
This definitely felt much worse than my previous excursion. That could only mean I was walking on a longer patch of beach. Only a little further, I told myself.
When the stripe of dry sand had shrunk beyond what I was comfortable with, I saw the tiniest shape growing from the water and into the sky. I headed towards it, making my best effort to hurry and reach it as fast as possible. However, after a few hard, unsatisfactory and exhausting steps, and feeling the resistance of the water, I resigned myself to wading at a slower pace, one I could keep up even when the water level reached my waist.
I was still quite far away when I started making out the silhouette of a huge red-and-white, movie-like, lightless lighthouse. Is it the same one I was in a while ago? I had no idea. Still, I reminded myself I had a plan to figure it out -and that anything was better than drowning. So, without much further thought, I headed up the steep steps leading to its metal door.