At first glance the cavernous hall looks empty. But if you keep looking, you’ll see souls emanating from the stone walls, dancing with the sunbeams streaming down from holes in the cathedral-like roof.Ancient ghosts linger in the shadows silently weeping about their cruel deaths.
If you look closely at the rafters, you’ll see sleeping bats storing up their energy to hunt in the night. Their droppings foul the granite floor, creating a stench that wafts through the hall with every breeze that filters through the shattered front door and the gaping holes in the wall.If you have the time and the will, I will tell you a story about this accursed building.
Historians date this ruin back to the 13th century. But the building’s history is still a mystery. You probably noticed that this building is almost entirely overgrown with blackberry vines and dense foliage that disguises its outward profile. Local families have been passing down dark stories about the decrepit ruins for centuries. I’m going to share with you the most enduring tale among them.
DANCING WITH DEMONS
Once upon a time the building was the home of a pagan cult that practiced black magic. The priests, as they styled themselves, lived in the nearby villages and congregated there to perform dark rituals and human sacrifices. I suspect they were Druids, but I have no way to prove that despite the whispers we heard at the Inn.
The priests always gathered on full moons. There were exceptions, but I’ll get back to them later.On those nights people were tortured and killed during a mass celebration that lasted until the early morning hours. Screams of pain and horror mingled with raucous laughter and heathen drums throughout the little valley on those terrible nights.
What made this cult so special was its initiation ceremoniesfor new converts.The applicant had to dance with demons throughout the night. If they survived, they became members proudly describing the demons as their gods.Most of the time the supplicants didn’t make it through the test with the hell spawn and their bodies were rent into little pieces that the members quickly ate in a gruesome feast before the sun rose.
I hope I wasn’t boring you. You look tired. Was it the walk over here from the Inn? No. You’re sure you’re, okay?Did the well-trod trail here give you pause? I only say this because I see a glimmer of fear in your eyes.You seem uncomfortable.
For good reason.
To resume the story… the cult never died out. I’m brother Judas and it’s my pleasure to invite you to dance with demons this very night. We’ve had a hard time attracting converts in these modern times, so we had to adjust. Now we take whoever visits our valley to dance with the demons (who must be satisfied after all) and if they survive, we increase our ranks. If they don’t our secret lives on. By the way your tiredness isn’t from walking. Remember the beers we had at the Inn? I gave you something to relax. You have a big night ahead.
I watched him walk along the shoreline as luminescent waves rolled under the blue moon. The surf broke the silence of the night as it lazily lapped the gleaming beach. He was moving with the brisk wind towards an unknown horizon and seemed to pay me no heed as his cloak and long hair majestically streamed behind him.
I took a long hit off my pipe packed with a ball of opium. When I finally opened my eyes, he was walking towards me and for a moment I thought he was an ancient god with his flowing beard and long shaggy hair catching the moon beams and glowing eerily. But as I watched in wide eyed wonder he stopped, shook his mighty mane from side-to-side and reversed his course. I felt a sense of remorse. Loss. Did I offend him somehow by not standing up?
I had the feeling that I missed an opportunity. That the Beach Walker was going to befriend me and share answers to mysteries that have long befuddled humanity.
I watched his shadow chase himas he moved like a wraith beneath the moonlight. His hair was flowing and glowing. The waves were receding, and sand dollars and other shells were exposed and gleaming under the strange lights emanating from the sky. A stray clap of thunder growled in the distance. My thoughts turned to the pipe in my hand. I lit it. Inhaled. Waited. Time had no meaning. I sought revelations. Visions.The meaning of life. I was lost.
Pulling out the pistol from my jacket pocket I held it up to my head and held it there for what seemed an eternity. My arm gave out and I dropped the .38 Special onto the shifting sand. I cursed my cowardice. I cursed my demons. As I ranted a fog slowly crept along the shoreline then shifted towards me. From its depth the Beach Walker emerged, his wild long hair hanging in tight curls and straddling his broad shoulders. The cloak was gone and all he wore was a dirty white tunic. Somehow his face glowed under the light of the blue moon, and he was wearing a frown. A look of concern. His dark brown eyes bored into my soul, warning me not to take my own life. A voice inside my head said it’s God’s choice when and how you leave this earthly plane.
Startled I jumped up in my narcotic haze and called out to him, who are you? It was too late, however. It seemed like he was floating as he turned around and disappeared in the thick gray mist that now enveloped the whole beach.
When I saw the headlights, I didn’t move despite the fact that they were pointed right at me. It appeared God chose this moment to take my life and I gladly opened my arms wide prepared to be propelled into eternity. The Land Rover roared right by me, spitting up sand and broken shells as it hurtled into the night on some mad mission. I stood there listening to my heartbeat for minutes. Then I could hear the waves again. I suddenly understood that life was a gift and I’d been granted a reprieve for my past misdeeds.
I watched the sunrise with a sense of awe. Picking up the pistol and the pipe I threw them as far as I could into the turbulent surf. As corny as it sounds, it was a new day full of promise.
When the apocalypse came it looked like the end of humanitybut somehow there were survivors. Tic Tok.
We managed to ride out the end days scenario in underground compounds located around the planet. We were the best and brightest. Doctors. Scientists. Mathematicians. Teachers. Archeologists. Physicists. Writers. Our numbers consisted of survivors ready to live a new life.Tic Tok.
We saved the history of mankind on digital devices. Our files included historical photosand a complete History of Art dating back to ancient times. The massive database of knowledge we accumulated was shared in all of the compounds – establishing a common ground that kept us in touch.Tik. Tok.
We kept busy while waiting for the day when we could reemerge onto the earth’s surface safely.We shared stories of ourpersonal lives and how we came into the world.How the world once looked. How we quietly built the compounds and stocked them with necessities. Tik. Toc.
I’m not sure when the trouble started but our population has been decreasing every year for years. Lately it’s every month. We’ve been unable to add to our numbers which is a red flag.It appears despite our wealth of knowledge we didn’t account for a situation like we’re in now.Tik. Tok.
We didn’t think to manufacture spare parts. Our circuit boards, wires, video screens, and functionality programs were deteriorating with time. Now I’m the last of the robots in this compound. Tik Tok. Tik Tok.
When I walked down the street with the sign people mocked me.I carried it for years from one major city to the next, enduring the laughing and crude language stoically.
It’s a hard thing to make people aware of what’s happening in the world and a harder thing to stick to one’s own beliefs when they stand alone. I don’t remember now if I had a vision or if it was calculated guess based upon world affairs. Or climate change. It doesn’t really matter now. Does it?
I was right.
As I stocked my underground bunker over the years, I tried to think of ways to get the word out. I was a solitary sentinel sent (by who?) to break the news. But people didn’t see me as a messenger. They saw a tired old man with a limp who should probably be committed to a nice safe asylum.Everyone was moving so fast back then. Cities looked like ant colonies with people flooding the streets in steady steams of humanity that flowed in and out of buildings that stretched on for miles.I lost count of how many cities I traveled to after sixty-six. If I’d had the means I would have traveled around the world with the sign.But I didn’t. I had to use what money I could drum up over the years to build my bunker in a national forest.It was the safest place I could create.I just want you to know I tried my best to share the message, but I was limited physically and financially.
When the end finally came the earth around me convulsedfor days. Somehow my bunker survived the mighty tremors, but Idiscovered the escape hatchwas blocked. My bunker became my coffin. I’d accumulated enough supplies to last at least ten years. I’m writing this to explain what happened to me if my tomb is discovered by (future?) generations. I’ll assume someone is going to read this someday and their going to wonder why those supplies I mentioned are still here. Turns out my air intake system isn’t working (no surprise) and I’m living on the last of the oxygen in this forty-foot by twenty-foot bunker.
Ajax carefully climbed down the circular stairway inside the lighthouse until he reached the ground floor.
His seventy-year-old bones creaked with the effort as he opened the heavy oaken door to look out into the night. A choppy sea illuminated by bright stars and the moon went on for eternity. He sighed. Nostalgia washed over him like the restless surf outside as he considered his solitary existence. He looked up at the sturdy stone tower that had stood since ancient times silently guarding the coast.Watching. Waiting. Warning ships at sea.
Memories like shadows on the shore darted across his mindas he recalled 63 years ago when he and his father escaped the cities and found the lighthouse unhabituated. The war to end all wars had finally come. Mankind was nearly extinct. Ajax’s father died twenty years ago. He hadn’t seen another human since. But, in his heart, he felt there had to be more survivors somewhere on the planet. The thought helped him wake up in the mornings after dreaming about making contact again with another human. It stopped him from sporadically screaming in frenzied fits like the early days after his father died. Without this last hope he would have walked out into the turbulent breakers and disappeared long ago.
Ajax started a diary two years after his father passed away while sleeping in the lighthouses crude bed. He was nine years old at the time. His father had taught him to read and write and he was an eager learner. He started with observations after going on long walks along the rugged coast. After a year he started sharing inner thoughts and desires. The diary took on a life and he held many in-depth conversations with it. The years were scattered across numerous notebooks that he stacked up next to his bed on a bench. The writing was small in order to conserve space.
The notebooks came from what was once a school about a mile from the lighthouse. Inside the rubble Ajax found blank notebooks, boxes of pencils, chalk, and small jars of acrylic paint. He wrapped his loot up with a torn and faded American flag from a classroom that was still standing and walked back to the lighthouse with a light step. It was a good day.
Food was never a problem. His father who was a master forager and gardener had discovered a patch of fertile ground inlandwithin easy access. He planted potatoes, vegetables and wheat and they always had something to eat.There were no animals to hunt. They too had disappeared. It was a good diet that helped them to stay healthy.The storeroom was always well stocked.
The lighthouse was a beacon of hope for Ajax. He lit the fire in the dome every nightwith wood gathered along the coast. He imagined someday someone would see it and sail to him. Guided by the light.And during the day he looked out the thin windows at the panorama that stretched for miles, disappearing into a mountain range that always had a blanket of snow on the top. It was graced with green fields. Lush rows of berry bushes. It was full of trees and streams, but without any life that he could see. Despite that he looked out every day hoping to see movement.Any sign of life.
One-night hours after setting the blaze in the tower Ajax was gazing at the dark purplish horizon when he saw some lights flicker momentarily! A steady row of lights appeared shortly afterward, and he felt his pulse race with excitement.They had to be ships. Not one, but three were moving steadily in the direction of the lighthouse.His heart was racing as he scrambled down the circular staircase and stepped outside the door. He wasn’t worried about how he looked. The rags that hung on his slim frame were fine. He doubted the new arrivals would make much of his long beard and tattered toga. He felt giddy that his dreams appeared to become real and that in a matter of hours he would be talking with another human!
“Ahoy, captain! A lighthouse ahead!”
Captain Igor Malinski grunted in satisfaction. His warship, an old battleship from the eastern bloc, had destroyed every lighthouse along the entire coastline as ordered. Or so they thought until a scout ship reported Ajax’s lighthouse.
As the sun rose slowly over the horizon Ajax woke up and could see three ships. He was too excited to get something to eat and stretched his skinny arms upward, eyes upward, welcoming the light. He didn’t see the huge cannons pivoting towards him.