01 Feb Never Let The Light Go Out At Night
I live in a small town that is far away from the rest of the world. We sit on the grey, quiet coast of an oft forgotten sea. We see few travellers and anyone born here with any sort of ambition tends to leave quickly. My town is not the place where dreams can grow. It is a quiet, lonely place supported by a meager fishing industry and little else. Make no mistake, it is not a particularly unhappy place. Those of us who choose to stay have built lives for ourselves. Our community is strong and tight knit, but I hold no illusions of our town as anything other than what it is. A quiet, unassuming fishing port.
There is only one resident we have that anyone might have heard of and that would be the late Olaf Bolstad. He was the patriarch of one of the oldest and most powerful families in our town. His was the greatest of the small fishing companies that dominated our little town and up until his death forty years ago he lived in the Bolstad house, just outside of town.
The Bolstad house was a large and beautiful mansion. Olafs Grandfather, a man by the name of Edvin Bolstad, had supposedly had it built for his family generations ago. It really is a spectacular mansion, almost like a castle or a cathedral. It sits atop a hill overlooking the town with massive towers reaching into the sky. Atop the highest of them is a single green light. My mother once told me that it was only there so that low flying aircraft didn’t accidentally clip the tower but I’d never seen any aircraft in our area. Up until Olaf himself the Bolstad family had lived in that house, watching our town prosper.
By all accounts, there was nothing particularly wrong with the Bolstads. Olaf was a generous and respectful man who had spent his youth out on the boats before he’d taken over the company. He cared for our little community and did what he could to ensure that the people there prospered. His son, whose name I do not know seemed less invested in upholding the family tradition of living in the Bolstad house, though. I’ve heard a few different accounts of how his son came to leave our small town behind. Some say that he had a falling out with Olaf, others say he wanted to pursue his future elsewhere. Either way the end result is the same. He left long ago and when it came time for him to inherit the company, he chose to run it from whatever corner of the world he decided to live in. When Olaf died, the Bolstad house was left unoccupied and in the decades since it has sat empty.
I used to be a fisherman but as many others could tell you, the sea is a violent and treacherous thing. All it takes is one bad call to end your life… or someone else’s. Our captain had made one such call. The storm had hit us by surprise and in just a matter of minutes it was on top of us. The stubborn fool had tried to sail through it and got the boat capsized for his trouble. Most of us were picked up by a nearby trawler… But too many were never seen again. Lifelong friends lost at sea, all because of the arrogance of one incompetent man.
My leg had been broken in the accident and it never quite healed right. Perhaps I could have gone back on the water with it, but I’d lost my taste for fishing. I was still a young man and I had no intention of dying young either. I thought there might be other employment that would put me at much less of a risk and that was how I ended up at the Bolstad house.
Ever since the death of Olaf Bolstad, the house had been maintained by a man known as Isak Jensen. Old Isak was well known in town. He was somewhere on the young side of seventy with a white beard and a bald head that he covered up with a cap. I’d often seen him before down in the local pub, having a drink by himself. When I heard he was looking for a younger man to help around the old Bolstad house, I thought that that kind of work might just be the change I was looking for.
I approached him in the pub one night and asked if I could sit. He just nodded at me and gestured to the spot across from him.
“I hear you’re looking for help at the Bolstad house, old timer.” I said. Isak just scoffed and cracked a weary smile.
“A little more than just help.” He replied, “If you’re here to offer yourself, know that this is a commitment, not just a job.”
“I’ve got nothing but time and a willingness to work” I replied and Old Isak stared at me for a moment before he finally nodded.
“Alright then… I’ve seen you around with the other fishermen. What’s your name, boy?”
“Nikolai. Nikolai Wien.”
“Well then Nikolai, the work to ensure the house is kept up takes its toll after a while and my old joints can’t do it for much longer. It’s hardly a two man job, so don’t count on having me around for too long. The faster you learn, the faster I can retire.”
“You’re after a replacement, then?”
The old man nodded.
“We only have so many years on this earth, dear boy. I’ve worked my fair share. I’ve given up my body, my youth and much of my life in exchange for money. Now I want to enjoy the time I have left. Perhaps you may not spend the remainder of your days working at the Bolstad house but know that you will spend years there. Are you prepared for that?”
The severity in his tone struck me as a little odd. It was hard to understand exactly what he meant. All the same, I nodded.
“I’m prepared.” I replied.
“Well then, let me buy you a drink boy. I’ll assume you’re available to start in the morning, 5 AM sharp.”
“5 AM sharp.” I repeated. Old Isak smiled, baring his yellowed teeth at me.
True to my word, I was at the Bolstad house prior to 5 am the next morning. I felt that familiar mix of intimidation and excitement that comes with a new job settling in my stomach. Old Isak was waiting for me by the time I’d driven up the hill. He lived in a small cottage on the edge of the property and invited me inside for coffee while we handled the red tape of my new employment. The contracts were nothing I had not seen before when I’d been working on the fishing boats. We were done within the hour and the real work began after that.
Old Isak took me through the house. First came the tour, from the outside in. He showed me the gardens he’d maintained in both the front and back yards of the old house. They were surprisingly lovely despite no one living there. A testament to the old mans work, I suppose. Gardening had never been something I’d much cared for but I supposed I could learn to love it, given time and money.
“The little things in life can keep you happy.” He said as we toured the back garden, “A quiet job like this isn’t exactly lively. The gardens aren’t much but they keep me busy. They lift my spirits. Might be they’ll do the same for you.”
As he said that, I caught him staring over at a small shape near the rear of the garden. It looked like a cross, planted into the earth.
“What’s that?” I asked. Old Isak was silent for a moment as he stared at the cross.
“Something of a memorial.” He finally said, “Was an bad storm in town a few years back. Probably before your time. Quite a few people died. Olaf requested it be there in their memory… When I’m gone, you can do what you want with the gardens. While I hope you’ll keep caring for them as I have, I don’t expect it. That marker, though… Tend to it well. The dead deserve their respect.”
I nodded at him, silently taking note to ensure that the marker was taken care of. Old Isak finally turned away from me.
“Come on. I’ll show you the inside.”
The interior of the Bolstad House had been kept up well. It was too clean, like a museum or a mock up. It was clear that no one had lived there in decades but Old Isak had at least ensured it looked livable. The beds were made with reasonably fresh linens, the marble floor was mopped, everything was dusted. The place was spotless.
“It may be that young Mr. Bolstad will never come back here… But for what the man pays, he deserves to come back to a clean house. So long as you keep the place tidy, it will be easy enough to maintain. I’ve spent more of my days out in the garden or tending the lawn than in here. I’ll pass through once a week or so. Never more than that.”
“It’s a shame such a lovely house is sitting unused.” I said, “Did Mr. Bolstad ever mention selling it?”
“Selling it?” Isak repeated. He scoffed. “I doubt the boy would. This house belongs to the Bolstad family. It is the responsibility of the Bolstad family. They won’t sell it. I can promise you that much… I’ll take you up to the tower next. It’s the most important room in the house. Follow me.”
The old man gestured for me to follow and led me to a set of stairs on the second floor. They led upwards in a spiral shape and into a small, round room with green tinted glass walls. There was barely room for both of us up there and it stank of oil and smoke.
“This would be the tower.” Isak said, a hint of reverence in his voice. “Olaf Bolstad first took me up here when I was about your age, give or take… He was very particular about this little light. You need to make sure it’s got plenty of oil and every night, before you head into town you need to make sure it’s lit and going strong. Never let the light go out at night, boy. Right now when it’s day, it should be fine. You can put it out in the mornings. Best not to waste the oil. But at night, it must remain lit at all times.”
“Why?” I asked, “Is this some sort of lighthouse? There’s one by the port that’s far brighter.”
“Well supposedly to distinguish the house in the night sky. It’s a little quirk of Bolstads. One his son upkeeps. Ask them and they’d say that this here is perhaps the most important job. Considering how prominently it’s mentioned in your contract, it’s best to ensure it gets lit before the sun goes down. Check the oil before dusk to make sure that if it needs a refill, you’ve got plenty of time to get it done. When the sky starts to turn, the light needs to go on. Do you understand?”
“I suppose so.” I said. Old Isak didn’t look satisfied.
“You don’t see the point in it, do you boy?” He asked.
“Not really, no.”
“Just know that it’s your job to keep the light on and in the morning to put it out. You could sleep all day, let the house get dirty and the garden die and I doubt Bolstad would give a damn but the light must stay on at night. Is that much clear to you?”
I nodded and Isak patted me on the shoulder.
“Good man. Now, let’s get downstairs. I’ve got a few repairs around the house I could use your help with…”
He squeezed past me to begin his descent and we soon left the tower behind.
My first day was productive enough. True to his word, I helped Isak repair some old brickwork on the north side of the house. After that though, the workload was light. We spent more than our fair share of the afternoon drinking beer in the backyard. Considering what the pay was for our job, this felt like a steal. I was making just about as much as I’d made as a fisherman.
In the evening, when I left we disappeared inside to go and light the tower. I followed him back up the stairway and watched as he lit the lantern. It was a simple act. Only a pit stop in the tower before we were headed back down again for the night. I was already thinking that I might just enjoy my new employment. If the light was the most important thing and everything else was minor gruntwork and getting drunk, I could more than handle it.
The next day was more of the same. Isak had already put the light out when I got there and we spent a good chunk of the morning weeding the garden before staying in the shade during midday on an ‘extended’ lunch. I made a point not to get carried away with the drinks. Old Isak could put away beer like it was water but I still had my limits.
Our extended lunch swallowed up most of the day, save for a few minor chores. By the time dusk started to fall, I was ready to head home with a comfortable buzz and the feeling that this new job was too good to be true when old Isak spoke to me.
“You’re forgetting something, aren’t you?” He asked.
I paused. It took me a moment to recall what he meant.
“The light.” The old man said, “Never forget about the light, boy. If there’s one thing you can’t forget, its that. Come on. Let’s go together.”
He gestured for me to follow him as he polished off the last of his beer and headed for the stairs. Just like before, turning on the light was just a short pit stop before we left for the day. Some minor trivial function insisted upon by an eccentric old family… and one I could certainly live with.
The weeks that followed my hiring were quiet, all things considered. Despite a few more major projects by Isak such as redoing part of the deck and a bit of the roof, my days were mostly lazy. Isak liked to space out the larger projects. For each one we completed, we earned a few days where we did trivial jobs. I suspected he enjoyed lazing about even more than I did and I wasn’t one to complain about free beer and a quiet afternoon in a garden. Especially not for the money that we were being paid.
My first paycheque was nothing short of glorious. I was half sure that I was in a dream and the knowledge that more were coming seemed too good to be true… But more did come. All in all, I spent two months working with old Isak and they were without question some of the easiest two months I’d ever worked. Yes, we did come in every day but the workload was never heavy. So long as we lit the tower at dusk, all went well.
Isak tended to be the one to light the tower. In the two months we worked together, I had only done it once. I still didn’t understand the purpose behind that strange ritual but its significance was ingrained in my mind. Every night before I left, I went up with Isak to light the tower. Sometimes he would go up earlier to check the oil, but that was a job he typically did alone.
When our time was up and the two months had passed, I remember Isak telling me that he was going to move on. It was late in what would be our last day together. We had spent the day repainting part of the newly redone back porch and now we sat on lawn chairs, drinking beer and looking out at the garden.
“You’ll be on your own tomorrow.” Isak said. The words had come seemingly out of nowhere.
I looked up at him, only half surprised. I’d known our days together were numbered going in, after all.
“Finally hitting the road, old timer?” I asked.
“All the bigger projects are done. The roof, the porch. The things I couldn’t do myself. You know the job. You don’t need me here and you can afford your own damn beer.”
I laughed at that and I caught the old man smiling back at me.“My daughter is in town to visit. When she leaves, I’ll be going with her. I’ve spent my life in this little place. I’d like to use the years I have left in me to get out, see some more of the world before it’s too late.”
I nodded and Old Isak took another sip of his beer before reaching into the pocket of his dirty overalls. He took out a slip of paper and offered it to me.
“Here. I doubt you’ll run into any trouble but if you need me, you can reach me. I must warn you though, after a week I won’t be in town. You’ll need to hire your own help.”
I took the number.
“Shame. I doubt they’d be half as charming, old timer.” I said. I toasted him with my beer and he returned the gesture.
“If I don’t see you again, it’s been a pleasure Nikolai.”
Our bottles clinked together as we let our final day end. At the end of it, Isak and I went up to the tower to turn on the light and then we were gone.
The first few days alone were uneventful and far too quiet. I had music to keep me company, yes but music wasn’t quite the same as companionship. Old Isak had been kind enough to leave me a note in the shed, reminding me about the light and I kept it in my pocket so I would not forget. I didn’t. Come the evenings, I always went upstairs to ensure the light was on before I left for the night. If nothing else I did that part of my job perfectly well for the first four nights.
It was the fifth where I ran into some trouble.
As the sun began to set, I made my way up to the tower just as I always did. I went through the motions of lighting the light… only I found that it did not light. The flame went out quickly and seemed so much weaker than before. It wasn’t hard to figure out why. The oil reservoir was almost completely dry. It must have almost burned itself out the night before. There wasn’t enough to really get it started now.
I quietly cursed myself for forgetting the oil, but it was a mistake I doubted I’d make again. At least I knew where old Isak had kept the oil and it was just a quick trip down to the shed to get it.
I filled up the small canister we used for trips back and forth to the tower. The sky was getting dark by the time I left the shed. The light would be a little bit late but I figured that was fine. I headed back into the house and towards the tower once more. The trip couldn’t have been more than ten minutes at most. I’ll confess that I didn’t move all that quickly. There was still some light in the sky after all.
Once I stepped into the small room at the top of the tower, I did my duty and began to fuel the lamp once more. Through the green tinted windows I could see the sun setting over the horizon. The last little bit of light peeking out before it vanished for good. And yet… Something seemed off about that sky.
In that moment the stars seemed just a little too bright for dusk. I caught myself staring at them and pausing for a moment as I thought I saw them… move…
As I emptied the canister of oil, I stepped over towards the windows and looked out at the sky. One of them opened, allowing me an untinted view of whatever was out there. I didn’t recall seeing anything about a storm on the horizon but what looked to be a dark cloud hovered over our little town. It was far different than any cloud I’d ever seen before though.
Its texture was… wrong. Like churning water. It was odd that I could see stars through that cloud cover as well. It was arguable too early to see stars that bright and the cloud cover was too thick. I could hear a dull ringing in my ears and I swear I thought that cloud cover was getting… lower…
Something was wrong but just what, I could not quite say. The infinite stars amongst that dark cloud seemed to fade in and out. I heard a deep rumble that shook the landscape around me, like the roar of some great monster. The cloud continued to churn violently as I became sure that it was indeed getting lower and lower. Closer and closer…
The pulsating lights grew more frequent. The ringing in my ears not only grew louder but became almost painful and the longer I looked up at that unnatural thing, the more and more the realization dawned on me that what I beheld was not the stars nor just a cloud. What I beheld was not anything I could even begin to truly understand. Its vastness was far beyond anything I could clearly see.
Dark things writhed within the mass of the entity above the town. I shrank back a few steps, my heart pounding in crippling fear at the sight of it. The ringing in my ears grew louder and louder. I could taste coppery blood and feel it running down my nose. The mere presence of this thing was too much. Its proximity came with a pressure that felt as if it was going to rip me apart.
In my awestruck panic, I bumped against the lantern and stared at it dumbstruck. The lantern… The unlit lantern.
I don’t know why I thought it would help. The pressure in my head was simply getting worse and worse though. My mind could barely function as that thing sank down towards the town.
I reached for the lighter and pressed it to the wick. The towers light shone out and I felt the ground beneath me rumble again. Harder this time. So hard that I was sure the foundations of the house itself would collapse. I lost my footing and collapsed. As I hit the ground, I spat up blood.
The pressure was crushing my skull now! I felt like my head was ready to burst but… it was growing fainter. I lay on the ground, panting heavily as the pain began to fade. I looked back up through the window and saw that the shape in the sky was higher up. Its ‘stars’ seemed dimmer and further away.
The light had driven it back somehow! Exactly how, I cannot say but I wasn’t about to deny myself that minor victory! I picked myself up on unsteady feet and ran to the window. Almost as soon as it had come, the entity was gone and it left no trace of itself behind.
Almost no trace of itself…
My little town does not have a newspaper nor does it have a news channel. Word travels fast and it didn’t take long before I heard about the six people who had died suddenly during the ‘storm’ the night before. All of them were older or already sick but they had collapsed dead either in the streets or in their homes, blood pouring from their eyes, noses and mouths. I doubted the town doctor would ever figure out why. If anyone in the town knew what had truly happened, they didn’t say. No mention was made of the light in the Bolstad house.
I was late on my way into work the following morning. My head still ached, just a little bit. My vision was slightly blurred but I knew I needed to put the light out. Whatever I’d seen, it didn’t come out in the daytime.
I’m not sure if I was surprised to find old Isak waiting for me at the Bolstad house when I got there. The old man sat patiently on the front porch, watching me with an expression that was difficult to read. I stopped at the bottom of the porch. He didn’t move.
“Come and sit.” He said, “You and I need to talk.”
Slowly, I went over to do as he asked. I sat down beside him, feeling like a child about to be scolded and hating myself for that feeling.
“You saw it, I presume?” He asked.
I hesitated for a moment before I nodded.
“The oil… I forgot to check it. I went down to get more and-”
“It’s not a mistake you’ll make again.” The old man said. He sighed. His expression softened.
“Your mistake was less costly than my own. Olaf Bolstad told me what would come if the light was not kept on. In my youth, I dismissed his tale as the ramblings of an insane old man. One night, I neglected the light entirely. That thing came down from the sky… And fifty people lost their lives before Olaf corrected my mistake. He nearly killed himself in the process. I had hoped to avoid making the same mistake with you by providing a far more mundane reason to keep the tower lit at night. Perhaps that was a mistake in and of itself… Regardless, the damage is done and I’m grateful it was only a handful of souls this time.”
I was silent as I listened to him speak. It took me a while to find the words.
“What was that thing, Isak? What did it want?”
“I can’t say.” Isak replied, “To this day, I don’t know what exactly it is. I’ve only ever seen it the once. I doubt even Olaf knew or his grandfather who figured out how to ward it off with the light. I don’t think it’s something we’re meant to know. I just think it’s something we need to fear… You know what your job is now, correct?”
Slowly I nodded.
“Good… I have the stone to craft a new memorial out in the back garden. You can put it beside mine. Think of it as a reminder of what can happen, although I don’t think you’ll need it. You know the cost of negligence, boy. I trust you not to repeat your mistakes.”
Again I nodded and watched as Old Isak stood up. He sighed wearily and rubbed his temples. Before he left, he looked back at me one last time.
“Stay safe, boy. This world is filled with terrible things. I pray you don’t encounter more.”
With that, he left me and since then I haven’t seen him again.
I still work at the Bolstad house. I’ve been there two years now. I’ve never seen that creature in the clouds since…I know better than to make mistakes now.