Writing: The Witching Hour

The light came on every night at dusk, as the world turned to shadow and the witching hour began. Higher than anything for miles around, it towered above us like the star above the manger, except its primary purpose was warning people away, not attracting them near. 

I used to walk along the clifftop after dark. I knew the path so well I didn’t need the lighthouse’s glow, could have found my footing across the rocks even with no moon. But it was comforting, that light that swung on and off, on and off, the ebb and flow of a beating heart.

None of us had ever seen the lighthousewoman. Some of the older folk remembered her husband, many decades ago, appearing in the village from time to time like an apparition, in green galoshes and an orange anorak. He’d buy bread or a tin of tea before disappearing back across the downs to his candy-caned home, Eastern temple, fairy tale tower. Somehow, everyone knew that he had passed away and his wife had taken over the lamp, though I never understood how they’d come by this information. I’d ask my grandmother what the lighthousewoman looked like, ask did she speak quietly or loudly, and could she sing. I was sure I’d heard her voice dancing through the grasses, carried on the breeze like a dandelion seed. But my grandmother only shook her head. “I haven’t seen her since I was a little girl. I don’t remember.”

Some nights I turned my steps toward the lighthouse, picked my way over the hummocks, bent against the wind, cosseted in my hood and coat. But as soon as I got close enough to meet the eyes of anyone who might appear at the door, or at the window, I’d change my mind and turn back. Not today. Another time. I’d continue on my way, straining to hear what sounded like a sea shanty floating through the air from the top of the tower.

The light came on every night at dusk, as the world turned to shadow and the witching hour began. Until one night it didn’t come on at all. We were plunged into a darkness we had never known; the sky had clouded over and not even a glimmer of starlight broke though.

That was the night the lighthousewoman sang her last sea shanty. It was also the night that the ship with thirteen sails smashed to smithereens on the rocks below, changing our lives forever.  

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