This story is by Jessica Deen and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It’s September 21st and I want to tell you the legend of the Lighthouse Girl that goes back a century in Peace Harbour. On this day each year, the Lighthouse Girl seeks revenge by extinguishing the beacon light, causing shipwrecks on the rocky shore. She leaves the men aboard either mangled or dead.
The story begins with a young girl, Nora, who fell in love with her neighbour, a quiet and handsome sailor, Roger, who was in love with someone else. Nora, slight and dark, watched Roger light up in Carol’s presence, igniting an envy that burned in her veins. Carol was the opposite of Nora; a curvy red-head with bouncing curls and the widest smile Nora had ever seen.
Nora studied Carol, trying to emulate her, but still Roger took no notice of Nora. Not that Roger ignored her. He waved, smiled, said hello, but Nora’s gut clenched, knowing Roger didn’t reciprocate her feelings.
One lonely night when Nora was desperate to see Roger, Nora sat at the pier watching the ships come in, her skin prickling with excitement at the thought of catching Roger as he walked by on his way home. The sun was setting, turning the sky a deep orange with hints of plum, and as the minute’s ticked by Nora’s patience was growing thin.
Nora climbed the hill toward the lighthouse and found Roger with his fellow sailors alternating between swigs of whiskey from the bottle and long hauls from his cigarette. From a distance, she watched Roger loosening, becoming more animated with each drink.
The sailors left the lighthouse, ignoring Nora in the shadows. When Roger was the only remaining sailor, Nora worked up enough courage to approach him before he started home. Nora used Roger’s intoxication to convince him to take her to the top of the lighthouse and show her the view.
Roger let Nora lead the way up the stairs to the top and, with her heart slamming in her throat, Nora turned and kissed him. He pulled away, a look crossed his face that Nora couldn’t distinguish. She raised a pale, thin hand and touched the side of his face, his rough whiskers pricking her palm. Staring into her face, Roger leaned in and kissed Nora back.
When Nora realized she was pregnant, Roger married her. Despite the obligation to marry Nora, Roger was excited to be a father. Nora was triumphant, boastful even, around town since she had stolen Roger away from his love. She was sure Roger would learn to love her if he gave it a chance.
Not long after their marriage though, Roger began drinking. He opted to spend his time off at the lighthouse feeling sorry for himself, despite having a baby and a wife at home. Even when he’d been out sailing all day, he’d stay there, watching ships and drinking himself into mindless oblivion, only to stumble back up the street in the morning fog.
The baby was a terrible sleeper and one night when Nora was up pacing the floor with the child; she noticed the lighthouse light flickering. She stood at the dark window, watching the eerie light flickering on and off, when a woman walking toward the lighthouse caught her eye.
Nora watched the woman until she was barely visible, the swinging of her hips while she walked triggering a familiar reddening shame in Nora’s cheeks. When the woman entered the lighthouse, the baby let out a sharp cry in the darkened room. Nora loosened her grip on the swaddled babe, who settled back in to a mild fussing. Frustrated, Nora closed the curtains, put the crying baby in the crib, and went to her sleepless room.
The next night, Nora stood at the window and watched the light flickering again, just as it had the night before. She watched the same woman creep down the street toward the lighthouse with her scarf over her head, her shifty eyes darting back and forth. With a stray lock of red hair blowing in the breeze and those same hips swinging back and forth, the woman opened the door to the lighthouse. Nora acted.
The September night was chilly, but calm. Nora, with the baby in her arms, breathed in the cool, salty air. Her insides buzzed with energy, each hair follicle standing at attention. She approached the lighthouse, only 200 yards away, but paused at the door.
Nora grabbed the large brass handle on the door and creaked it open. She closed it and held her breath, listening for hints that the occupants upstairs heard her enter.
Nora exhaled, and the baby made a sleepy squeak from under the blankets. In the chilly dampness of the first floor of the lighthouse, Nora held the baby tighter and started climbing the narrow spiral staircase.
The voices above her were growing louder. A genuine laugh from her husband she hadn’t heard for herself in months made her heart ache. A cold settled in her despite the sheen of sweat she could feel on her hands and feet. The smells of the sea air and wet cement made Nora’s stomach lurch. Suppressing a gag, she tiptoed up the stairs, swallowing hard and bracing herself for what she was about to find.
At the top of the stairs, the second floor of the lighthouse was wide open, just as she remembered. She imagined her first night with Roger in the lighthouse, but now all she saw was him with another woman. The candles spread around the room barely illuminated the pair. Nora glared, wanting them to acknowledge her, but Roger and his mistress were too engrossed in each other to take notice.
Nora walked toward the open window where the almost full moon was shining in and stood in front of it. The sudden change in light caused a disruption in the action and when Roger registered another person in the room, he yanked the blankets to cover himself, leaving Carol exposed. Disgusted, Nora grunted and covered her eyes.
Roger yelled at Nora.
“What are you doing here?! You should be at home taking care of the baby!”
The insinuation that Nora shouldn’t be there with her husband, while this naked woman clung to the blanket, set her nerves ablaze.
“I should be asking you the same question! You should be at home!” Nora’s voice came out deep and pleading.
Carol tried to gather her things and slink away, but Roger called her back.
The realization hit Nora in the stomach. Roger was dismissing her, trying to send her home to care for the baby they made together, while begging this woman to stay. Strangely, the finality of knowing for sure she would never make Roger love her made Nora feel lighter, like she was floating away.
The baby stirred in Nora’s arms, her eyes fluttering open. Turning her back on Roger and the woman he loved, she looked out the window, watching the waves crash against the sharp rocks below. While Roger corralled Carol back to the spot on the floor where Nora had found them, Nora looked down into her baby girl’s eyes, Roger’s eyes. She stretched her shaking arms out and held the baby outside the open window, two floors up.
Focusing on the sound of the waves, the chilly air numbing her fingertips, Nora barely heard Roger shriek. When she looked back to see him racing toward her, she reveled in the horror on his face and a satisfied grimace crossed her lips. Roger lunged at her and Nora dropped their baby girl with only enough hesitation to torture him; to let him get close enough to think he could save her.
Roger howled, dropping on the floor from shock and from drink. The pain in his face comforted her. She sat on the window ledge, her back to the open sea and, after locking eyes with Roger, she leaned back and plunged herself to the ground below.
Let that sink in.
Now I can tell you the last part of the Lighthouse Girl’s story.
It’s September 21st, and I’m looking at a sailor lying on the rocks, his limbs bent at awkward angles. Pieces of his smashed hull surround him. I see not his body, but the body of a baby girl, my body. I see not his eyes, but my dad’s eyes, my eyes.
Inside the lighthouse, the lights turn back on and I made it happen. I am the Lighthouse Girl.