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Short Story - One Mistake Too Many

 

            Up, up I spiralled. The staircase seemed never-ending. And yet I pressed on, legs pumping, feet hammering, desperate to escape the horror that lurked below. I slipped on the narrow, twisting stairs – a cold sweat broke out on my brow as I clung ferociously to the handrail. Up I went again, rasping as I gasped for every breath. All of a sudden, I stumbled through the door at the top, and banged it shut behind me. Safe – for now. I leaned against the door, assessing the situation. Any way I looked at it, I couldn’t see it ending well.

            I was stuck at the top of a lighthouse in the middle of nowhere on the Yorkshire coast. Might as well have been at Land’s End for all the help I’d be able to rouse. Something slimy and evil had crawled out of the sea to clamber up the stairs after me, and there was nowhere to go. Where it had come from, only God himself knew – or the Devil, for that matter. To top it off, the storm to end all storms howled and battered at the exterior of the lighthouse with a fury I’d never seen matched in all my years as a lighthouse keeper. I didn’t see how matters could get any worse!

 

            My eyes darted around the small space. Apart from the lantern that glared a piercing beam out into the black, storm-ridden night, I saw nothing that I could turn to my use. I felt in my pockets. All I had was the key to the lighthouse, my wallet – I’d been to the nearest town for supplies – and a marvellous stone I had found on the shale beach on my return. I looked more closely at the stone. It was uniquely beautiful, with patches of sparkling crystal amongst translucent bands of green. It looked like something from another world. Perhaps it was.

 

            As I examined the stone, I heard grunting and snuffling outside the door. The dreadful creature, whatever it was, had reached the last barrier between itself and what I presumed to be its next meal. There was a moment’s silence, then it must have flung its entire weight at the door, which burst open in splinters. I found myself hoisted against the hot back of the lantern, and on impulse, I turned and swung the great light around towards the creature.

 

            The glaring eye found its mark and the bulbous green monstrosity cowered. I realised it didn’t seem so frightening any more; instead, as it shrank against the doorjamb, it struck me as rather pathetic. It tilted what I assumed to be its head towards me and let out a whimper. My heart went out to the poor thing, and I ashamedly swung the lantern back to its usual position. If it was really going to try and eat me, I could always hide right in the bright light.

 

            However, this didn’t seem to be its aim. It dived onto the floor at my feet with an excited gurgle, and snatched something small and brilliant to its torso. The wondrous stone – I must have dropped it as the creature burst through the door. It grovelled a moment on the floor, then turned and crawled out the door and down the stairs, leaving a slimy, wet trail behind it.

 

            As it disappeared from view, I ran forward and peered down the stairwell. Was it really leaving? And without eating me? I heaved a sigh of relief and wiped the sweat from my brow, my mind going back over the events of the evening. I’d brought my supplies in, put them on the table in the little kitchen downstairs, and put the kettle on to boil. I’d left the door shut but not locked as I’d sat down to enjoy my cup of tea. My first mistake of the night.

 

            Which reminded me – I’d better go down and lock and bar the door properly once the creature was gone. Then I’d be able to sit down and have another cup of tea and ponder what the thing was and where it had come from. And go to bed and sleep without fear of it returning for a midnight snack while I slumbered. So eager was I to see the thing gone, and to cut off any means of it re-entering the lighthouse, that I hastily stepped down onto the stairs, which were still wet and slippery with the creature’s slime. And that was my second mistake.

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