Tag Archives: Lighthouses

Of Lighthouses And Zombies …

12 Aug

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been copy-editing the anthology of short zombie stories which I’m aimig to have on sale before the end of this year, and it occurs to me that I have a slight obsession with lighthouses. They feature as the backdrop for three of stories which will go into this anthology, and lighthouses also play a key role within my novel, For Those In Peril On The Sea. Where this mild obsession with lighthouses came from, I’m not too sure but I think it in part comes for growing up in Scotland. Modern lighthouses as we currently know them originated in Scotland at the start of the nineteenth century and in particular are associated with one family: The Stevensons. Across three generations including the then fledgling writer Robert Louis Stevenson, the Stevensons were responsible for building many of the lighthouses which still dot the Scottish coastline. Some of these are on headlands or larger islands, but others stand on what are little more than rocky reefs which are only visible above the surface when the tides are low.

When you consider that these lighthouses are designed to withstand winds which can blow at over 100 miles an hour for weeks at a time and waves reaching over 50 feet in height, it’s probably not surprising that they are incredibly robust buildings. To me, this means that lighthouses have a lot of potential as safe houses in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Add to this their remote locations in areas with few people and the become even more appealing because when the dead start to rise, fewer people will mean fewer zombies. While they would be difficult to get to, the ones which stand on uninhabited rocks far out to sea would be almost impregnable both to zombies and to any marauding bandits looking to steal your supplies after the world falls apart. Of course, you’d probably get cabin fever pretty quickly as there’d be little to do but to alternate between staring at the walls and the sea.

For similar reasons, lighthouses also form the perfect background for zombie stories which are a little different from your traditional ‘escape-from-the-city’ type of tale. The rugged landscape in which they tend to be set combined with the towering structures themselves open up the possibility of all sorts of interesting set pieces between zombies and survivors. Then there’s the history of the lighthouses. There are stories of lighthouse keepers going mad and attacking their colleagues, or just disappearing all together which form a rich seam for story ideas. The most famous of these is probably the mystery of Flannan Isle, where three keepers vanished into thin air in December 1900 never to be seen again. I couldn’t help using this as the basis for a short zombie story called When Death Came To Flannan Isle.

While working on the sequel to For Those In Peril On The Sea, I need to be constantly on guard not to drift too much towards using lighthouses in any of the zombie set pieces. This is because they formed such a key role within the first book, it would be very difficult to include them in the second without it coming across as a bit samey. I’m sure one or two will sneak their way in in the background, but for the time-being they are off limits. This is a shame as there are some truly spectacular lighthouses on the west coast of Scotland which would make stunning backdrops for battles with zombies.

I’m not the first writer to be inspired by lighthouses (Robert Louis Stevenson used the places the visited while working in his family’s lighthouse building business as inspiration for several of the novels he wrote later in life) and I’m sure I’ll not be the last. I do, however, need to make sure that this slight obsession with them doesn’t sneakily grow to the point where it hijacks my writing. The occasional lighthouse-based zombie story is one thing, but too many of them and I know it will become repetitive.

Yet, if a zombie apocalypse were ever to happen and I made it out of the city in one piece, there’s a good chance you’d find me holed up in one. I haven’t quite decided which one yet, but there’s a few I’ve definitely got my eye on!


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

The Lighthouse At End Of The Road – A Short Zombie Story

10 Apr

A PDF of this story can be downloaded from here.

The dog’s ears prick up and he growls quietly but whatever it is that’s caught his attention it’s not enough to make him sit up. Instead, he remains lying on his side in front of the glowing embers in the fireplace. I reach over and scratch him behind his left ear as he falls silent again. A second later he’s on his feet, facing the door, hackles raised, a deep rumble coming from his throat. Now I know he’s sensing something out there in the darkness, I hope it’s only a fox and not one of them. This is my third hideout in four weeks, each more remote than the last; if we have to leave I don’t know where we’d go from here. Surrounded by sea on three sides, the lighthouse is about as far from civilisation as I can get. Right up on the northwest tip of Scotland, it’s miles from anywhere and any human habitation. There isn’t even a road here, just a track that starts at a small pier on a narrow inlet and ends at the lighthouse itself. We’d had to leave the car on the other side of the water, walk round the end and then onwards up the last ten miles; I can’t see how any of them could have made it here, not yet anyway. The dog steps backwards one leg at a time and growls again, ears up, lips curled back, head down sniffing at the wind whistling under the door, trying to get a scent of whatever it is he hears out there. This is what he was like just before the last place was over-run.

There’d been five of us there but only me and the dog made it out alive, and that was only because his superior senses gave me just enough advanced warning before they attacked. I’d learned from the first safe house that to stay and fight was a sure way to end up dead so I’d started scrambling for the back door the moment I realised why he was acting strangely. Before I could warn the others the first of them came crashing through the door. Jen and Mike had been killed before they made it out of their sleeping bags; Jack got as far as the kitchen and Sam was just behind me when they grabbed him. That extra second, that extra foot the dog’s warning had given me was what made the difference between escape and death. Even though I’d only known them for a week I’d liked those guys and it was devastating to know they were now gone. As I’d driven away I’d sworn to myself I wasn’t going to get attached to anyone else again; from then on it was always going to be just me and the dog.

The dog barks. I’ve tried to get him to stop doing that ever since I found him wandering along an otherwise empty road but it seems it’s just part of his nature. This was before I met up with Mike and his friends. I’d been on my own for three days by that point and I’d been glad of the company. The dog felt the same way and once he’d sniffed me enough to be certain I wasn’t one of them he was all over me. Since then, regardless of whether we were somewhere nice and warm or out in the open, we’d barely left each other’s side. I’d only been on that road because of what happened at the first place I’d found myself in.

When the dead started to rise and attack the living, those of us who were prepared grabbed our gear and ran. We chose to head north to where there were fewer people and so fewer bodies to crawl from what were meant to be their final resting places. After a couple of days, I’d found myself at a farmhouse set into the hills above Loch Ness along with nineteen or twenty others, all refugees from places further south: Fort William, Perth, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh. There’d even been a couple who’d managed to make it all the way up from Newcastle without getting killed which, given the circumstances, was pretty impressive.

The farmhouse lasted two weeks before the dead started turning up – shambling along the track leading to the front door or over the grass-covered hill behind it. I don’t know where they came from or what attracted them to us but they came none-the-less. At first they only came in ones and twos and we could keep them under control but gradually the numbers built and we found it more and more difficult to stay on top of the situation. Then came the night they breached our defences. We started to fight back but very quickly it became clear this was a losing strategy and it wasn’t long before the few of us who survived more than a couple of minutes turned and fled. This was no organised retreat, it was pure panic; each of us simply picked a direction and ran, hoping we wouldn’t crash head-long into any of them in the darkness. Some probably died but others, like me, must have got lucky and made it out; if they did, I’d never find out because I knew I’d never see any of them again.

After that, I always made sure I had an exit strategy no matter where I found myself. At least I had until I’d reach the lighthouse at the end of the road. It was so remote and I was so tired that when I’d arrived just as the sun was going down I figured I could wait until the morning to scope out the place in full. Now, with the dog growling beside me, I quickly scan the room. There’s three windows in the circular room that forms the base of the lighthouse but none of them are big enough for me to crawl through. I curse myself for mistakenly thinking I’d be safe here but I still can’t work out where any dead could have come from. As far as I know, no one’s lived this far out since the lighthouse was automated nearly thirty years ago but, then again, maybe I hadn’t been the only one to think it might be the ultimate safe house. Someone could have been injured by one of the risen dead and made it here, or close to it, before finally succumbing to whatever it was that was passed on when one of them bit you.

There’s another snarl followed by a short, sharp bark. I try to keep him quiet by holding his muzzle but he struggles free and barks again. There’s definitely something out there but I don’t know what and there’s no way I’m opening the door to find out. All I can do is crouch beside my faithful companion and hope it’s not one of them.

***

Author’s Note: The Cape Wrath Lighthouse, where this story is set, marks the northwestern tip of the Scottish mainland and while this part of the country was more heavily inhabited before the Clearances, it’s now one of the most sparsely populated regions of western Europe. This would make it an appealing location to anyone trying to survive in a zombie apocalypse. If you want to find out more about where it is you can follow this link to see its location in Google Earth (this requires that you have either Google Earth or a Google Earth Mobile app installed on your ebook device). Since 2009 there’s been a cafe there, called the Ozone Cafe, so it’s no longer completely uninhabited (as it was when I was growing up). On the cafe’s website, there’s a statement that’s so at odds with the modern world, it only serves to emphasize it’s isolation: ‘Unfortunately, due to the remoteness of The Ozone Café, an e-mail address is unavailable.’ (quoted from here).

A theme within this story is the benefits of having a dog as a companion in a zombie apocalypse. A dog would almost certainly give you advanced warning of any approaching undead but you may find their tendency to bark at inappropriate moments only serves to draw the walking dead to you. Personally, I think the benefits would outweigh the risks but it would very much depend on the individual dog you had with you.

Oddly, this story was directly inspired by real events – not the zombie bits but the actions of the dog. At one point in my life I stayed in a remote lighthouse on an island in the Bahamas (the one at Hole-in-the-Wall on Abaco) and for a while I was there alone with the exception of a pair of dogs (or potcakes as the local strays are called and which are a mix of every breed that’s ever visited the islands). One of them had the unnerving habit of suddenly scrambling to her feet in middle of the night before standing stock still, staring towards the door while growling menacingly. After a minute or so she’d lie down again as if nothing had happened but it always made me wonder what she was sensing out there in the darkness that I couldn’t detect.


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

When Death Came To Flannan Isle – A Short Zombie Story Set In A Scottish Lighthouse

20 Feb

You can download a PDF version of this story for reading on your computer or ebook reader by clicking here.

When Death Came To Flannan Isle

We sat round the wooden table as we did for lunch every day. It was the only time the three of us got to eat together since one of us was always on duty at breakfast and supper.

‘So will this be your first Christmas on a rock then Jim?’ Murdo spoke in between mouthfuls of food. He always ate fast, shovelling in heaped spoonfuls one after another. He’d barely have time to chew one before the next was on its way. It was disgusting to watch; but hypnotic too. It seemed impossible for anyone to eat that fast without choking yet somehow he managed it.

‘Aye, that it will.’ While Jim was almost twenty-one he still had the slender frame of a lanky teenager. He’d only been working the lights for a few months and was still very much learning the lighthouse keepers’ trade. He was just an occasional; someone sent to fill in whenever one of the permanent staff was needed elsewhere. Flannan Isle was his first deployment on a far distant light: one that was little more than a cluster of white-washed building on a pinnacle of granite jutting out from a restless sea. It was only on the far distant lights that you really felt the isolation. It could be weeks, sometimes months, before you got to speak to anyone other than your fellow keepers. All six of the tiny islands that surrounded the one with the light on it were uninhabited and, as far as I knew, they always had been. The nearest place with other people was Lewis some twenty miles to the west. Given that we had no boat it might as well have been on the far side of moon and anyway it was hardly a great metropolis. For real civilisation you’d have to go more than a hundred miles to Inverness and that could take days.

‘Well, we mightn’t have much and there’s no drink but we do alright, you’ll see.’

I smiled across at Jim, ‘Don’t look so forlorn. A dry Christmas never killed anyone and you’ll be home by Hogmanay. I’m sure you’ll more than make up for it then. 1900, the start of a new century; it’s bound to be a night to remember. And I’m sure that not all the pretty girls in Aberdeen are taken.’

Murdo huffed, ‘You ever been to Aberdeen? Ugliest women I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet.’

‘Bet you didn’t let that stop you though.’ Jim shot his reply back without thinking. Once he realised what he’d said, he turned as white as a sheet. There’s a very strict pecking order in lighthouses and it wasn’t an occasional's place to make fun of a head keeper with twenty years experience under his belt.

For the first time since I’m known him, Murdo’s spoon stopped half way to his mouth. At first he had a look that seemed to be a mixture of surprise and anger but after a few seconds a broad grin spread across his weathered face. ‘You’re right there laddie!’ He emptied his spoon and carried on eating as fast as before, laughing to himself and shaking his head from side to side. ‘You’re right there.’

Not wanting to put his foot in his mouth again, Jim rose from the table and walked over to the window to check on the weather while Murdo and I finished our lunch.

Jim had only been there for a few second when he cried out, ‘Hey, there’s a boat out there; not really a boat, more like a dingy.’

Murdo leapt to his feet, sending his chair crashing to the floor behind him. ‘There’s only one reason you’d get a dingy out here. Someone’s in trouble. John, you come with me, Jim lad, you stay here.’

Murdo had worked on lights long enough to know it probably meant a ship had gone down and that the sailors were making for the nearest land as it was their only hope of survival. Once we knew they were there, it was our duty to do all we could to help. At first Jim seemed like he was about to protest but he must have thought better of it because he said nothing. Even though he was just an occasional he knew the rules as well as the rest of us: no matter what happened someone always had to stay in the light.

Murdo and I grabbed our oilskins and headed down to the east dock. As we did, we watched the small wooden boat grow slowly closer. The man at the oars looked spent but somehow was still managing to power the boat towards the shore. Once on the dock, we could see he wasn’t dressed for the sea. He was wearing what look like an expensive tweed suit as well as a collar and neck tie.

Murdo waved his arms over his head, ‘Hey, you. Over here!’

The man didn’t look round but the direction of the boat shifted until it was heading straight towards where we stood. When the boat finally touched the shore, he collapsed across the oars.

‘John, you stay here, I’ll get him.’

Murdo moved with a speed that belied his size and within a flash he’d shimmied down the ladder leading to the water and leapt into the wooden dingy. The first thing he did was tie it to the dock. Next Murdo shook the man but he didn’t respond. Unperturbed, Murdo scooped him up and threw him over his shoulder before climbing back up to the dock. The man seemed lifeless, his head lolling back and forth with every step Murdo took.

Once they were on the quay, I could see the man properly for the first time. He was probably in his early thirties and had one of those thick moustaches that seemed so fashionable these days amongst the middle classes. I glanced at his hands: while they were blistered and bleeding from rowing I could tell they weren’t the hands of a worker. His skin had the blue-grey tinge of someone who’d been out in the cold too long. I glanced at Murdo, ‘We’d better get him inside as quick as we can. See if we can get him warmed up.’

‘Warmed? What’re you blethering on about man? He’s burning up.’

I touched the back of my hand to his forehead and withdrew it immediately; he was so hot it was like touching a kettle that had just boiled on the stove.

***

‘They’re following me .. They’re going to kill me … Captain … God … Someone … help me …’

We looked on helplessly as the stranger thrashed around in Jim’s bunk. His skin was still tinged with grey but he was sweating so profusely that the sheets beneath him were sodden. While he’d not regained consciousness he was murmuring deliriously. Although I couldn’t make out all the words I could tell he was petrified about something.

Jim scratched his head thoughtfully. ‘He doesn’t seem like a fisherman or a sailor or anything, does he? How d’you think he got all the way out here?’

Murdo shot him a look that could curdle milk straight from the cow. ‘Jim, that’s none of our business.’

‘But …’

‘Our duty is to care for him as best we can not meddle in his private affairs. Whatever he’s been through is between him and god,’ Murdo paused for a moment, ‘Or maybe him and the police.’

Suddenly the man sat bolt upright and his eyes sprang open. For a second he just stare off into the distance then he started to scream. Before any of us could do anything he collapsed onto the bed, the sound of his cry still echoing around the small room.

Jim stared at him wide-eyed, ‘I think he’s dead.’

‘Don’t be daft, laddie, people don’t just drop dead like that. John, check him.’

I leaned forward and placed my cheek over his mouth but felt no breath; I put my hand on his chest and felt no rise and fall; I held my ear against him but there was no heart beat. I straightened up again and glanced round. ‘Jim’s right. He’s dead.’

***

‘You don’t think whatever killed him’s infectious do you?’

‘If it is, me and Murdo are more at risk that you are. You never went near him and we both touched him.’

‘But he’s in my bed. And on my sheets!’

Murdo put one of his massive hands on the boy’s shoulder. ‘Jim lad, we’ve got other things to worry about.’

‘Like what?’

‘Like what to do with his body. I mean, if we don’t do something with it soon, it’ll start rotting.’

If Jim had looked worried before, he looked worse now. ‘Rotting?’

‘Aye. When someone dies with a temperature like that, they’ll start going off much sooner than usual.’

I scratched my beard as I tried to come up with a suggestion. We had nowhere to store a body and the soil on the island wasn’t deep enough to bury someone so that option was out; it seemed there was only one answer left. ‘It’ll have to be a burial at sea.’

‘Shouldn’t we keep the body for the police to look at or something?’ Murdo and I turned to Jim.

‘You’ve been reading that Sherlock Holmes rubbish again, haven’t you lad?’ Murdo turned away, ‘Bloody Conan Doyle, filling young boys’ heads with his modern rubbish. There’s no way we can tell anyone about this until the relief boat arrives on Boxing day. He’ll have rotted away to nothing then. No, John’s right; It’ll have to be the sea for him.’

***

‘Right, Jim lad, you grab his legs and I’ll grab his shoulders.’

We were standing round Jim’s bed trying to avoid staring at the man’s dead body. Murdo had laid some old sail cloth we’d scrounged up from the stores along side him. As was traditional for a burial at sea, we were going to sew him into in it along with a few sizable rock we’d gathered from the land that surrounded the lighthouse. They’d act as ballast, making sure he didn’t float to the surface again as he started to decay and bloat.

Jim grabbed the man’s ankles and then let go almost immediately. ‘Jings, he’s still roasting hot!’

Murdo lent forward and slid his arms under the dead man’s shoulders. ‘It’s just him starting to rot; now grab his legs.’

That was when the man moved. It was just a shiver but it was definitely a movement. Jim and Murdo were too busy to notice it but I did. Then his eyes flicked open. They were no longer blue; instead they were milky grey with dull black pupils – there was no doubt these were the eyes of a dead man. He twitched again. This time Jim noticed too. He screamed and leapt away from bed.

Murdo stayed where he was. ‘What’s gotten into you laddie?’

Jim was now standing tight against the back wall staring at the man. ‘He … he … he … he moved.’

‘Don’t be daft Jim lad, dead men don’t move. It’ll just be gas escaping or something like th …’

Murdo never got to finish what he was saying. The man’s hands swung up, grabbing his hair and pulling him downwards. Murdo was caught unaware and despite his size he toppled forward. He screamed as the dead man sank his teeth deep into his neck until blood spurted across the linen sheets and the white-washed wall behind him. Murdo struggled but the dead man had locked onto him and refused to let go. He bit Murdo again and again. On his throat, his face, his shoulders; any part he could reach. As more and more blood sprayed from his body Murdo started to weaken. Finally he stopped moving and his body went limp. Still the dead man kept attacking, his teeth slicing into his flesh, his hands tearing at Murdo’s now lifeless body.

‘Jesus, John, is Murdo’s dead? I think I’m going to …’ Jim made for the door but got only half way before he threw up.

The sudden movement caught the dead man’s attention and he seemed to noticed Jim and me for the first time. He pushed Murdo’s body to the floor where it landed in a crumpled heap. We watched, horrified, as he pulled himself to his feet and started to stumble towards us. His movements were stilted and sluggish as he lurched forward, Murdo’s blood dripping from his mouth and face.

I swallowed hard, ‘Jim, we’ve got to get out of here.’

Jim remained where he was.

I took a step forward and grabbed him arm. ‘Jim, we need to get out of here now!’

That was all Jim needed to release him from the fear that was rooting him to the spot and together we turned and ran into the main room. Behind us, we heard slow, shuffling steps as the dead man started to follow.

‘What’re we going to do? That’s a dead man back there and he’s coming after us.’

‘I don’t know Jim, just let me think for a minute.’

‘But he’s coming …’

Just then the dead man staggered into the room, letting out a low, visceral moan as he did so. I looked round for something I could use as a weapon. My eyes settled on the gaff hook we used to help land the fish we caught to liven up our otherwise dull diet. I grabbed it and swung it hard at the man’s head. The sharp point pierced his skull just behind his left ear and sank so deep into his brain that the tip emerged from the centre of his forehead. Almost instantly the man crumpled to the ground, pulling the makeshift weapon from my hand. I’d have said he died if he hadn’t been dead already but something, some life force, certainly left him. Still neither Jim or I was keen to approach. We’d seen what happened to Murdo when he’d been caught by surprise and we didn’t want the same to happen to us. Minutes passed without any movement and I finally decided it was safe. I knelt down next to the stranger’s body and examined it. His shirt had come loose and I could see what looked like a bite mark on his side. It was deep enough to have drawn blood and while it looked a couple of days old, there was no sign it had started to heal. Instead, it remained a festering wound that oozed a thick, black liquid.

To my right, Jim let out a startled yelp, followed by a scream so filled with pain it could only have been made by a dying man. I leapt to my feet and spun round to find Murdo standing behind Jim, his massive arms wrapped round him, his teeth buried deep into the side of his head. Jim feebly tried to fight but the damage was too much. After a second he went limp and Murdo let go of his body. As it fell to the ground Murdo turned towards me: his eyes were clouded and lifeless; his skin as grey as the granite beneath our feet. Blood oozed from the bites that covered his head and neck as he lurched forward, arms reaching out towards me, hands grasping the air. I tried to free the gaff hook but it was too firmly embedded in the dead man’s skull. Realising that Murdo would be on me in seconds, I left it there and ran for the stairs that led up to the top of the lighthouse.

***

I’ve been hiding in the light for five minutes now. I can hear Murdo slowly but inevitably getting closer and closer. There’s one hundred and eighty five steps between the bottom and the top of the tower and I’ve listened to Murdo clamber up every single one of them. He’s moving unsteadily, bumping off the walls, stumbling here and there but then again he’s dead so I have to give him credit for still being able to get up the stairs at all. It’s given me time to make a plan though and I’m ready for him when he finally steps into the light. It’s only three o’clock in the afternoon but the darkness is starting to grow outside and I should be getting the light ready to send its signal out into the night. Instead I’m preparing to kill Murdo … Or whatever it is I need to do to stay alive. After what he did to Jim, I’m under no illusions as to what he’ll do to me if I let him get his hands on me. I’ve known Murdo for eleven years but I’m not going to let him do that to me; not over my dead body – or his.

As Murdo lumbers closer I back off towards the door to the balcony that surrounds the outside of the light. In my hand I’m grasping the leg of a chair that I’d broken into pieces so I’d have some sort of weapon to defend myself. I step out into the sea air and wait for Murdo to follow. Like a bloodhound he tracks my every movement. Even though his dead eyes don’t see any more he knows where I am. Maybe he hears me or smells me or something but however he’s doing it, he definitely knows where I am. I wait for him to step through the door. The change in temperature seems to disorient him for a second or maybe its the wind that’s starting to whip around the light as the sun goes down. I take my chance and smash the chair leg into his skull sending him spinning towards the guard rail. I hit him again and again but he won’t go down. Finally I pull back and swing as hard as I can. I catch him across the side of the head and send him over the edge. Unfortunately I swing with such force that the chair leg slips from my grasp and spins off into the gloaming but it doesn’t matter; Murdo is already falling the 75 feet the ground. Even dead, there’s no way he’s surviving that sort of fall.

I’m peering over the rail looking at Murdo’s shattered body just to make sure he’s properly dead when I feel the bite on the back of my neck. I spin round to find Jim standing behind me, my blood dripping from his open mouth. Without thinking I grab his shirt and throw him over the guard rail. He’s so slight that it’s not difficult for someone like me. I don’t like doing it but I can tell from his eyes that he’s dead already; he just doesn’t seem to know it yet. I’m guessing he will when he hits the ground. I slump onto the deck of the balcony knowing that all of this is finally over and wondering how I’m going to explain it to the lighthouse board but after a couple of minutes I notice something. There’s a heat radiating out from where Jim just bit me; I can feel it spreading throughout my body. That’s when I finally put two and two together. The dead man had been bitten by someone, he bit Murdo, Murdo bit Jim and Jim bit me: whatever it was that killed him while making him walk again, it was infectious and now I have it.

I leap to my feet not knowing how long I have but I have to do something to break the cycle of infection. None of these bodies could be here when the relief ship arrived and nor could I.

***

It had taken all my strength to load the three bodies into the dingy and row it out to where I knew the water was more than sixty fathoms deep. It seemed only fitting that whatever the disease was it was leaving Flannan Isle the same way it arrived. One by one I heave the bodies over the side, knowing that they’ll never surface again not all the way out here. I say a prayer for each of them in turn. I’ve cleaned everything up at the lighthouse so no one will ever be able to work out what happened; it’s better that our families don’t know. After all the exertion I’m exhausted and I sink down into the bottom of the dingy. It’s now dark and I can make out the stars above me in amongst the clouds. I can feel the movement of the small boat as it’s lifted up and down by the swell passing underneath me. I no longer have the strength to do what I intended; to throw myself over the side with my pockets filled with rocks. I can feel the infection, whatever it is, burning through my veins. It’s only a matter of time before it kills me and then I don’t know what will happen. I stare up at the sky. I can see the constellation of Orion just above the left hand side of the boat. I try to get up but I no longer have the strength. All I can do is lie here, hoping that it won’t hurt as badly as it seemed to hurt the dying man we’d rescued from the dingy less than half a day before. The new century is only a few days away but I know I’ll never see it dawn.

***

Author’s Note: The lighthouse on Flannan Isle is a real place off the west coast of Scotland (click here to see its location in Google Earth – this requires that you have either Google Earth or a Google Earth Mobile app installed on your ebook device) and this story was inspired by a real event that took place there in 1900. It has entered Scottish mythology and in many ways it is our Marie Celeste or our Bermuda Triangle. I touched on it towards the start of my book For Those In Peril On The Sea where one of the characters is reminded of the memorable line ‘Three men alive on Flannan Isle who think on three men dead’ from the poem by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson about Flannan Isle. The basic summary of the story is this: On Boxing Day (as the day after Christmas is known in Britain) of that year, a relief ship arrived to find the lighthouse deserted. Some say that there was untouched food left on the table but no signs of struggle, although this part may well be fiction. No trace was ever found of the three lighthouse keepers that should have been manning the light and to this day no one really knows what happened to them; to all intents and purposes they just disappeared into thin air. For more information about this mystery, click here.

I’m in no way implying that this is what happened (I just thought it was an interesting premise for a story) and, out of respect, I have specifically chosen not to use the real lighthouse keepers’ names for the characters in this story. In addition, I’ve set it in the preceding year (1899) rather than 1900. Without any modern technology, this would have been a time when the men keeping a far distant light such a Flannan Isle would have been cut off from the rest of the world for much of the time, and this adds to the tension within the story since the lighthouse keepers know there’s no way they can call for help from the outside world. It’s just them against whatever is happening to them.


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK, and available as an ebook and in print the US from the 21st March 2013. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.