Pink and yellow dawn rose over the Atlantic Ocean, gently illuminating first the shimmering, ice-cold water, then the bright-white lighthouse that stood on the Point, and finally the battered old mansion that stood just a handful of yards from the sea. Rich Peterson stood on the Widow’s Walk, watching the sun come up, his eyes searching the morning glow. The ocean was empty at this hour. Soon, the fishing boats would be roaring out to collect what they could of Mother Nature’s bounty, but for now he was alone with the crashing of waves and the coming dawn’s early light.
Except his instincts told him different. Something had awakened him in the wee hours of the morning. It had started as a low groaning noise like a ship under heavy weight, its beams moaning with every wave. Lanterns or running lights flashing on the walls of his bedroom and the sound of a buoy clanging in the darkness had followed for some time afterward.
Unlike most veterans of World War II, Rich Peterson rarely had difficulty sleeping. Days were spent restoring the house for his granddaughter, nights were spent down at the Cove or reading a good book. Yet the noise and lights had awakened him easily and he’d been on the Walk ever since. He had watched and listened throughout the night but had been unable to locate the source of the noise or the strange flickering lights.
As the sun rose higher, Rich turned and re-entered the house, closing and locking the door to the Walk behind him. He paused on the inner balcony and listened; there was no sound save for the crash of waves behind him and the gentle creak of the house as it began to warm. He lived alone, and had since… well since Mary had died five years previously.
He bathed, taking the time to shave the collection of whiskers from his weathered face, and dressed in a pair of dungarees, a warm work shirt and a pair of sturdy boots he had owned for a decade. He slipped his antique service revolver into a holster at his belt and went down to make something to eat.
With a breakfast of bacon, fried toast, a pair of lightly cooked eggs and half a pot of strong coffee on the table, Rich sat down to eat, his blue eyes drawn once again to the ocean beyond the windows. A handful of large yachts were moving back and forth in the distant harbor, and a tanker was going south from Canada, but otherwise ocean traffic was light. Still he watched, barely noticing the flavor of his meal or the time that was passing.
“Something is out there,” he muttered. “I feel it in my bones.”
Determined to find out what it was, Rich stood and made his way out the front door, where is old but well maintained Military issue HUM-V was waiting. He slipped behind the wheel and brought the diesel engine to life. He let it warm for several minutes before putting the truck in gear and lumbering the ten miles back to town.
Rich Peterson parked the hummer at the dock, pausing only to shout a greeting to the old men who were playing checkers outside Martha’s, a small diner that served breakfast and lunch to tourists and working stiffs alike. Rich himself had sat there, drinking coffee and swapping tales of the War with his peers for the delight of gawkers from around the country.
Today, he had other plans. He reached the end of the dock in his slow but sturdy walk and stepped aboard the large powerboat he kept there. He had bought the speedboat to replace his lost CC, and he enjoyed it, but it was never quite the same.
He stepped down into the cockpit and used a key from his pocket to unlock the controls while outside, a young man untied the lines. They had an understanding, Rich paid the enormous dock fees without complaint, they serviced his boat like they owned it.
Rich nodded to the young man and turned the key, bringing the twin Cummins Mercraft engines to life. The boat shuddered lightly at the power thrumming through its hull then set up a steady vibration. Rich listened to the sound, his years as an engineman on submarines telling him both engines were running perfectly. He smiled to himself and then looked down at the weathered photograph on the dash. Whispering a silent prayer to the people in the photograph, he engaged the engines and nudged the boat out into the water. Once past the pier, he would open the engines up, but for now he let them carry the forty-two foot long powerboat at a walking pace.
Beyond the Point, Rich opened the engines up, letting the rarely used boat stretch its legs. For several minutes he cruised along the coast north of Winter Cove, enjoying the sun and the ocean, before turning back. At a spot just north and east of the point, he throttled the engines back and let the boat drift ahead while he stared fixedly at the mansion near the water’s edge. If he was any judge of distance, the lights that had awakened him during the night must have been in this area.
Trusting that he was alone, Rich left the controls and stepped up to the afterdeck, a camera in his hand. He took 35MM photographs of the area in a full circle, then several more of the house. When he was through he went back inside and used his Global Positioning unit to document the location. He circled the latitude and longitude on a fresh chart and stuffed it into his pocket for later reference.
Unsure of what else he could do, Rich sat quietly, listening to the ocean and the gentle lub-lub-lub of the idling engines. He waited until he had burned a quarter of his remaining fuel, somehow hoping either the lights or sounds would repeat themselves, but when nothing new occurred, he engaged the engines and returned to the pier.
Nightfall found him back at home, a store bought chicken pie in the oven and a collection of sea charts on the table. He had pulled all of them, from antique maps borrowed from the library to a modern chart purchased from the Five and Dime. Throughout the night he ate his pie, drank bottles of home-brew beer and poured over the charts, circling the same coordinates over and over, looking for anything that may explain the noise or strange lights. He found a clue on one of the charts left behind by Captain Peterson.
“Witchlight Trench,” he read. “Three thousand fathoms deep… how did they know that in 1853?”
He rubbed his tired eyes and stretched, then stood to clear the dishes. Tomorrow would be another day.
The dishes clean and the house cleared, Rich turned out the last of the lights, set a sandbag against the front door and retired to his room. Minutes later he was fast asleep.
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