Chapter 10

There was something dark within the canopy of trees and shrubbery that Diego could not discern from a distance. With each painful step forward, the shifting shadows and sharp angles of the dark, hulking object looking like a large ship that had run impossibly far aground. Then, crossing the empty road bordered by worn wooden posts, he realized that the structure was a burned-out, abandoned wreck of a large brick house, where a lighthouse keeper probably lived in decades past. Diego trudged on carefully with his bare bloody feet stepping across a gritty soil of crushed shell, exposed oak roots, and patches of concrete until he reached a 10-foot-tall chained-linked fence lined with rows of barbed wire across the top. Diego shuffled around the fence on his bloodied feet, passing the official “US Government Property, No Trespassing” signs on several corners. The gate was padlocked shut with a chain wrapped around the steel posts. But the formidable metal chain, with its padlock secure, also had something else, slack.

The chain rattled loudly against the hollow poles as Diego squeezed through the careless narrow opening. Passing along a Coast Guard sign labeled “St. Augustine Light,” he stood before the solid brick tower, tilted his head back, watching the three separately equally spaced beams rotating across the clear night sky. The man let out a heavy gasp as he looked down at his wrist.


Diego stepped up on the several stone steps in front of a small brick building connected to the tower. Turning the brass knob on the hulking wooden door, it miraculously opened with a pop; the doorway’s wooden frame was swollen as a groan came from the heavy dry hinges of the door. He walked through a dark narrow corridor, its smooth marble tile floor cooled and seemed to soothe some of the agonies of his injured bloody feet. Up a few more stone steps, Diego reached the rotunda of the lighthouse and the bottom of the black staircase made of iron. He looked up, making out the seemingly endless spirals of steps as if he was at the bottom of a brick and iron pit.

Diego began climbing the solid iron stairs, his pace steady. Stopping only once to about three-quarters of the way up, looking out of the second east window into the black ribbon of the Atlantic, the dunes and mangroves, the channel, Live Oaks, and the charred house below. Surveying the path he took that delivered him to the space above. As the steps and the chasm grew more narrow, he knew that the top was near. He ascended to a small landing with four narrow windows and a white ceiling of I-beams and iron plates. The few remaining steps curved and disappeared into the vault above.

As he climbed, the open stairs ceased and became a narrow passage of metal walls on both sides, reminding Diego of the interior passageways aboard a battleship. A large iron hatch appeared on his left, padlocked shut with shiny brass latch, and beyond that, the passageway rounded to the right. He could see everything in great detail now, the cobwebs in the ironworks, the faded and peeling layers of paint, each missing rivet, all imperfections illuminated from prismatic portholes in the ceiling that brought light into the space from not far above. The heart of the lighthouse was above Diego, just past a simple plain paneled wooden door.

After all the climbing, he would not be deterred by a wooden door and was prepared to kick into it with his bloodied feet, but he held his breath and tried turning the knob. The door clicked and swung away as he gently pushed. The low hum of the electric motor grew slightly louder as he stepped inside the wood-paneled rotation room. A curved wooden cabinet in the circular room was to his left, with some tools strewn across the countertop. Above the cabinet hung a calendar from a local Chevrolet dealership with an electric blue Monte Carlo gracing the month of September 1979.

To his right, he watched the carriage of bronze wheels slowly roll in a tight circle in a pedestal by a system of gears that were driven by the electric motor below the pedestal. The well-balanced antique mechanism was rotating the large lens made of brass and glass above. He looked up for a moment at the prisms above before looking down at his watch:


Diego climbed the remaining ten stairs, up into the narrow space beside the magnificent nine-foot-tall lighthouse lens, its blinding light inside and center circular prisms spinning slow and steady. The array of hundreds of prisms cast the white light outward, through the tower’s sealed windows and into the seemingly infinite ether, all of it from a single large light bulb.

The older man walked along the narrow iron catwalk between the lens and the windows finding the narrow square service passage in the fixed bottom section of the lens. His movements around the light would have made for a most peculiar silhouette had anyone below taken notice. Crawling into the interior of the lens on the fixed iron platform, he knelt against the centered four-foot-tall iron tripod, wrapped with an electric wire to the light bulb perched on the top. Laying down on the cold iron floor, Diego curled up tight around the tripod as the crystal capsule continued to rotate around him. Looking up to the glass ceiling of louvered glass prisms above, he unbuckled the leather strap of his watch and tossed the timepiece out. Sliding through a space between the lens and the catwalk, the wristwatch fell, creating an echoing clank as it landed on the rotation room deck six feet below.


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