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 mind as 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 inland within 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 night with 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.
“Fire!” the captain shouted.