Langston Hicks bounded back down the stairs of the dilapidated lighthouse. The stairs creaked underfoot. The rain battered against the walls and wind whistled over the rough holes in the roof. The boiler in the basement struggled to coax steam through pipes in the walls that rattled in protest, having retired decades ago. Even the walls themselves seemed to be moaning, long and low. When Langston's entire extended family (God rest their souls) gathered under one roof in the summer time, their house wasn't this noisy.
Langston rounded the bottom of the staircase on the first floor, and swung his lantern broadly in front of him. He was reasonably sure that everyone else was upstairs, but he didn't need to take any foolish chances, didn't need to risk embarrassing himself again in front of his bosses. For a pair of old timers, Ms. Zola and Mr. Hull didn't ask for much. It was that young photographer that had Langston worried, the way he was always waving that gun around. But Kline was definitely upstairs. With the body.
Cropsey Hull paced and muttered. "It just doesn't make sense," he said. He cast a long shadow over the wedding photo leaning against the wall of the upstairs bedroom. "Viv, how does this timeline make sense?"
Vivienne Zola sat at a small writing desk in a corner of the room. Another horrible moan came from the walls of the house and she grimaced. On the desk sat numerous crumpled scraps of paper and waterlogged books. She held one near her lantern and picked through it gingerly. "Well I'm sure I don't know how it makes sense, but it has to. We just can't see all the pieces."
"Maybe there's something in there that I missed," said Hull. "Mr. Kline, come out of there. I want to check the room again."
Langston moved from room to room on the first floor, playing his lantern along the walls with one hand, and turning over a small stone in his other. Someone had carved a star into the stone. A star with a lick of flame like a candle light, right in the middle. He was sure he'd seen something like that down here before. He was just going to put the stone back where it belonged and everything was going to calm down. Something was amiss, and the house was upset.
Nonsense was what Ms. Zola would call it. She always told Langston the first step to explaining these "haunted houses" was understanding that they're just houses. Nothing's haunted, she said. But she didn't see the way that boulder on the beach exploded when they stood it upright four hours ago. Maybe this whole island was what was angry.
Kennedy Kline stepped out of the hidden passage with a care that did not extend to the direction his shotgun was pointing.
Hull gently pushed the end of the gun toward the ceiling. "Let's not any of us get shot tonight, Mr. Kline," he said.
Hull stepped through the ragged hole they'd made in the bricks. He adjusted his lantern's mantle and worked it carefully around the room, counter-clockwise from the hole. More walls of empty unadorned brick. On the outside wall, dribbles of water down from the ceiling. And the cot.
The cot itself was chained to the wall, and chained to the cot was the desiccated corpse in its wedding dress and tiara, just like the woman in the painting. The tiara was gleaming even in the faint light, shining in stark contrast to the rusty metal of the cot.
"It's gotta be her," said Kline. He was already back in the chamber, uncomfortably close for Hull. "It's gotta be. There's only one way to end this."
Langston held his stone up to the doorframe in the kitchen. An ornament over the door had a matching symbol. Just as the stones nearly touched together was he heard the shot from upstairs. He had to get back up there.
As Langston turned back to the hall, the wall of the kitchen exploded into splinters behind him. His ears rang. He was on the ground. One of his hands was bleeding and he wasn't sure which one. A man was coming at him through the scraps of timber and linoleum where there used to be a wall.
No, not a man. Too tall to be a man. (Nothing's haunted.) Too broad in the shoulders for a man. Too many teeth to be a man. (Nonsense!) Black eyes, impossibly wide set into pale, sallow skin. An impossible mouth (no such thing) with row after row of teeth. It was roaring as loud as any animal Langston had ever heard of, and he skittered backwards down the hall. (Nonsense!)
There had been a revolver in his belt. Still shoving the ground away, trying to put space between himself and the thing, Langston found time to check, found his hand wrapped around the revolver. Now at the end of the hall, he slid his back against the doorframe and got to his feet. He fired the gun, again and again, and a few of the rounds even hit the thing as it ducked under the doorway from the kitchen to the hall.
Bullets slapped into its hide and stayed put.
Hull and Kline rounded the second floor landing, and saw a bloody Langston Hicks throw himself backwards into the foyer, frantically trying to reload his gun. Bullets slipped in between his bloody fingers.
Kline, taking the stairs two at a time, began to call out to Langston, but the words lost their shape in his mouth when his eyes traced the path from the end of Langston's gun to its target.
"Get back!" Langston shouted. It was unclear to Kline whether he was addressing his friends or the beast. Langston fired again at the monster, which stepped right past him towards the stairs, paying no mind to the gunfire.
As the monstrosity took its first steps onto the groaning staircase, Kennedy Kline let loose with a grin, a shout, and a shotgun.
Langston stared at the thing continuing up the stairs. Kline's shotgun blast had been as effective as his .22, or the kitchen's wall. He let his empty revolver fall to the floor from his hand.
Kline had apparently decided to retreat, Langston noticed. He pushed past Hull on the stairs, and disappeared down the hall.
Langston thought to himself, at least the moaning has stopped.
"Whatever is the matter, Mr. Kline?" asked Ms. Zola, working her way down the hall with the caution due the dark and wet floors by a septuagenarian. "What on God's green Earth are you shooting at now?"
"S-sh-sh-shark! Shark!" Kline shouted. There was no time to lose. He needed to get upstairs to the attic and fast.
Zola pursued him up the stairs. "What do you mean a shark? The water level hasn't gotten that high just yet."
Hull stood perfectly still at the top of the first flight of stairs. As the man-shark continued to climb the stairs Hull raised a small handgun from the pocket of his trench coat, took careful aim, and fired into the mouth of the beast.
It threw its head back in another roar and when Hull fired another bullet into the roof of the enormous mouth, it seemed to Langston that the shark-man might just topple over backwards down the stairs.
When the enormous mouth of the shark lurched forwards instead, across Hull's torso and then snapped shut, Hull thought it was a terribly, terribly brave way for the old reporter to have met his maker. It was a damned shame. Despite their minor differences, he'd been a pleasure to work with.
The man-shark too had disappeared down the hall on the second floor, well before Hull's head and legs had both settled at the bottom of the staircase.
When Vivienne Zola came back down from the third floor, returned to the master bedroom with its hidden passage, and discovered that the secret room itself was missing not only the cot but the wall the cot had been chained to, she considered it a minor miracle that the house itself was still standing.
It took a long time to convince Mr. Kline, still babbling about a shark, that the safest place for them was in fact in the basement where the furnace was, and not the attic on the third floor of a house missing several large portions of its walls, but that was simply less time she had to spend waiting for the morning to come and the storm to end.
It was a terrible business with Hull, her dear friend, but she'd been through war and she'd been through Panama and she'd get through this as well.
Prose based on Lonely Point Lighthouse by Oscar Rios
with David Kline as Kennedy Kline
Dane Anderson as Cropsey Hull
Russell August Anderson as Vivienne Zola
Martin Lastname and Sasha Huff as Langston Hicks
and Rob Schultz as the Keeper of Arcane Lore.