Well, I wanted to write something for the lovely @lindsqualls since it sounds like she’s had a rough few weeks. And I wanted to write something that didn’t involve sentences in passive voice about paleosols, so there you go. I have such awful thesis brain right now I’m not going to claim it’s any good. But it felt nice to write.
The undines are on the beach again at sunset, smooth black and white pebbles skittering under their tiny blue feet. Meg limps down the steps of the lighthouse, waving her apron to shoo them away. They run only when she’s but a few feet away, liquid giggles following them into the waves.
“Little devils,” Meg mutters, scraping a few stray gray hairs from her forehead with fingers bent by age. “Either you’re getting faster, or I’m getting slower.” The pebbles are now mixed with shards of glass, stray scraps of paper fluttering in the endless, damp breeze. The undines think it a game, smashing the bottles or flinging them back to sea.
Meg picks her way through across the beach, smiling at the slick sound of her footsteps. There are a few bottles left unbroken: two clear flasks, one brown beer bottle, and a green thing with a treacherous, curving neck. She gathers these up in her apron and carries them back to the lighthouse.
Three of the notes shake easily from their bottles. For the green bottle – who thought that was a good idea? – she uses a chopstick, half of a pair whose mate has long since been lost, to draw the slip of paper slowly out. She unrolls the slips of paper and pins their corners with rounded pebbles.
He’s been lost for six months…
Hello, my name is Ryan…
My mother was diagnosed this morning…
I don’t know what to do.
The first three notes, she reads, taking in that joy, sorrow, confusion. It’s a dull, sweet pain in the heart. She carries them to her pot-bellied stove, sets the papers inside one by one with a whispered, “You are not so alone as you think.”
This last note, unsigned, she smooths over and over with her fingers. There is a story here, too nebulous to name, too desperate, begging for more answer than a silent, listening ear. Meg collects up note and its bottle – one of the clear flasks – and carries them up the winding stone staircase to the top of the lighthouse.
At the top, she waits out the short night, watching stars streak by in the sky, warming her hands by the captured light that powers the great lamp. The horizon slowly draws from black to red, heralding the rising Sun. She turns down the lamp and adjusts the mirrors, angle precise.
At the end of the world, the light is thick and warm, more particle than wave. She collects up the first rays with the mirrors, ushers them into the little bottle, then stops it up with the note. Of all the stars, the Sun has always been Meg’s favorite, close and loving, the one her Papa told her long ago to wish on because it is the giver of life.
The Sun also powers the last lighthouse, calling all good ships home.
The undines are back on the beach, searching for more bottles. They creep away, but she beckons one forward, offering it the bottle, miming to throw. The little creature has a much better arm than her; the glass, still glowing with morning light, arcs out of the water and then is nothing more but a distant flare on the waves.
Meg watches until it’s gone, hissing when one of the undines takes up another bottle and makes to break it.
There is no telling, if her answer will make it back to the person desperate enough to ask a question to the void. But perhaps that doesn’t matter; it is an answer, and someone will find it.
I don’t know what to do.
–Follow the light. Always.