Logbook of Terror : The Lady of the Lighthouse

 Lauren was in the lighthouse again. She never knew how she got there. She would just come out of a trance, standing in the lantern room, gazing out at the sea, a half-empty bottle of whiskey grasped tightly in her right hand. It had been the same thing every night for the past week. Lauren felt the mud between her bare toes and the cuts from the seaside rocks beginning to bloom with pain. Then came the voice. 

    “He’s out there, I know it! He’ll come back for me tonight!” 

     The sound of the shrill, hysterical notes echoed in Lauren’s head and throughout the room. “And when he comes, I’ll kill him!”

    Lauren was shocked when she realized that the screaming voice was her own. She threw a hand over her mouth as her eyes bulged. She downed a slug of whiskey to steady her nerves. “I’ll kill him!” She shrieked, not willing the words but instead witnessing their birth. 

***

    “Did you hear that?” Another voice asked a woman, close by. 

    “Yeah, I totally did! And the EVP recorder picked it up too!” A male companion replied. 

    “Sounded like it was a whisper in the wind,” the woman said. 

    “Yeah,” the man said absently as he twirled a knob on the portable digital recorder. “The Lady of the Lighthouse spoke to us. She’s real!” 

    “And this is the night it happened,” the woman said.

    “Yeah,” the man added. “She met her lover here, in the lantern room. He broke the news to her that he was heading out to sea.”

    “But he’d promised her that he would stay with her.”

    “That’s right.”

    “And he broke his promise,” the woman said, her eyes growing pale, a grimace curling her lips.

    “Yeah, he did,” the man said, focused intently on the recorder, his eyes on the small screen. 

    The man was almost too shocked to feel the pain when his companion brought the discarded whiskey bottle crashing across the back of his head. The second blow registered with a bright, piercing pain. The man dropped the recorder and staggered toward the windows. The lantern’s light washed over him as he dropped to his knees. 

    “Lauren! What are you doing?” He screamed.

    “You said you’d never leave me, Donovan!” Lauren shrieked. She brought the heavy bottle down again. It came down on the man’s forearm as he tried to defend himself. 

    “Lauren, it’s me, it’s Douglas!”

    The bottle came down again. It glanced off Douglas’s shoulder, hit the floor, and broke, forming a deadly knife of thick glass. 

    “How could you, Donovan?” Lauren wailed.

    “I’m not him! He’s the man in the story!” Douglas cried. 

    And then she was on top of him, swinging the glass weapon, cutting, stabbing, screaming, crying. Too horrified and meek, Douglas didn’t last long. When she was finished, Lauren left the broken bottle plunged into his neck. Then, the night called to her. The sea was singing against the rocks on the craggy shore. She needed to be close to it, to feel the air on her blood-soaked skin. And it was the last thing Lauren felt before she leaped from the catwalk and the waves crashing on the rocks where she fell, washed the blood away.

Ten Years Later

  Brad smiled maniacally. He said, “It happens every year during the last week of summer. A couple comes up here hoping to see the Lady of the Lighthouse-”

    “That’s the ghost, right?” Brad’s girlfriend interrupted. “And her name was Lauren, just like me, just like all the girls, supposedly?” She rolled her eyes in disbelief. 

    “Uh, yeah,” Brad said, his train of thought broken. He glanced around the lantern room. His eyes lit up and he pointed to an object on the floor. “Look! There’s even a whiskey bottle here, just like in the stories!” 

    “Cool! Let’s get wasted!”

    “It’s empty.” He sighed. “Probably left here by some other kids.”

    “Ugh, this sucks, Donovan, I wanna go,” Lauren huffed.

    Brad turned to her with a wrinkled brow. “Did you just call me Donovan?”

    He didn’t even notice that Lauren already held the bottle tight in her hand. 

Historian of Horror : Down to the Sea in Ships

Eventually, one comes to the realization that not everything from childhood is worth clinging to. I have, for example, lost my taste for sugary breakfast cereals. It’s been decades since I’ve stood on a skateboard. And, as much as it pains me to admit, the original Lost in Space absolutely sucked.

I’m not all that crazy about the most recent incarnation, either. What sort of idiot takes his family into a space storm without securing all the large, heavy boxes in the room?!?!?!?

Anyhow. The show started out well, back in 1965, but by the third season, it had long since jumped the shark. Being as how the theme this time out is haunted lighthouses, I had planned to write this on the seventh episode from that year, called, coincidentally, “The Haunted Lighthouse”, which aired on October 18, 1967. It concerned the Robinson clan encountering a spaceship that acted as a sort of lighthouse and is kind of sort of haunted, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you much more about it than that, as I found it completely unwatchable.

So, instead, let’s take a look at a house of another kind, one I’ve mentioned before.

I hope the populace has had a chance to watch the utterly delightful Netflix adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”. If so, you will have met Cain and Abel, the caretakers of the Houses respectively of Mystery and Secrets. I wrote about Abel’s domicile recently. This column concerns Cain’s.

Unlike House of Secrets, there was no hiatus for House of Mystery after the old days of cheesy superheroics ended and Cain took the abode into a much darker direction, beginning with issue 174, dated May-June, 1968. I had previously read the title occasionally, but my first experience with the new style came not quite a year later, with issue 179, dated March-April, 1969. 

The issue is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. It contains the earliest known professional work of iconic artist Bernie Wrightson. And it has a story drawn by Neal Adams, whom I believe I have also mentioned before.

In addition, I have noted my love of Victorian architecture, especially those designated Second Empire. One of the features commonly seen on that type of house is a widow’s walk, a sort of fenced-in area atop the upper levels of the Mansard roof that is the defining characteristic of Second Empire. From such a vantage point, the wives of seamen would watch for their husband’s ships to return from lengthy voyages, as long as they have had the foresight to construct said edifice within viewing range of the nearest body of water capacious enough to contain docking facilities for such vessels. Thus it is with the final story of the comic book, other than a single-page reprint.

“Widow’s Walk” has sailor Angus Beame marrying the daughter of a shipping magnate in hopes of inheriting the family fortune. However, after engineering his father-in-law’s untimely demise, he is furious that he is cut out of the will, other than the ship he has been captaining for the firm. He sails off in a huff, which is not a kind of sailing vessel. His abandoned bride lays down a curse upon him to the effect that Angus will not be able to return to his home port, nor any other, until she dies. She stands on the widow’s walk every subsequent day of her very long life, reiterating the malediction. There, she eventually collapses and dies of extreme old age, upon which her husband’s ship floats up from Davy Jones’ Locker, where it has been berthed since the curse was put upon him. He stands at the wheel, more than a little the worse for wear.

The story was written by Howie Post, best known for humorous comic book stories but who did spend some time on the horror comics published by Atlas, the precursor to Marvel Comics. It was inked by Joe Orlando, whose own horror pedigree is rather more impressive. He spent time on the EC horror comics of the 1950s, including Tales from the Crypt, Haunt of Fear and Vault of Horror, as well as numerous Atlas titles. By 1968, he was an editor at DC Comics, including on House of Mystery.

So, not a lighthouse, but the topic is maritime-related. Close enough for government work, as we used to say back when I worked for the government.

Our next venture into the outre from this space will concern legendary horror anthologist Peter Haining, a man possessed of great vision that was not always 20-20, but whose is? Join me then, won’t you? A good time will be had by all, I assure you.

And, as always, my dear raconteurs of the repugnant…

Be afraid.

Be very afraid.

Odds and Dead Ends: The Fog Horn/The Legacy of Bradbury’s Lighthouse

There are stories out there that have legacies that transcend their origins. Everyone has heard of Sweeney Todd, but very few could say that he first appeared in a penny dreadful called The String of Pearls. Werewolves changing with the full moon is common knowledge, but we forget that this concept was first properly grounded in the public consciousness by the 1943 film Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. So many stories have had those they influence outlast their humble beginnings. And so is perhaps true with ‘The Fog Horn’, a short story published by science-fiction writer, Ray Bradbury.

Bradbury is perhaps best known now for his novel Fahrenheit 451, one of the staples of mid-twentieth-century dystopian fiction, featuring a society which has prohibited the possession of books, with the fire department now in charge of creating fires, not extinguishing them, to rid the world of the paperback devils. His other publications include Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles, and The Illustrated Man, and are also very well regarded. He is, therefore, a damn good writer.

In 1951, Bradbury published a short story called The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. In this story, two lighthouse attendants witness a great creature rising up from the depths. This creature is big, with great eyes that reflect the light of the lighthouse, with a great neck, and a massive, hulking body. The last of a species of dinosaur, it is speculated. It has come here once a year for the past few years now, and the sound of the lighthouse’s fog horn is almost exactly the same as the monster’s, to the lighthouse on the rock, which is described as similarly looking like a long neck on a great body emerging from the sea. The monster attacks the lighthouse, destroying it and trapping the two keepers in the rubble. Having destroyed the thing it believes to be another of its own kind, the monster howls in lamentation and sorrow, before departing into the seas, never to be seen again.

When this story was published, a small monster movie about a monster awakened from the depths of the sea thanks to atomic testing, was in development. The working title for this film was apparently to be called Monster from Beneath The Sea. Upon seeing the story, the producers bought the rights to the story and changed their script around a bit to capitalize on Bradbury’s up-and-coming success. They included a scene where their dinosaur, a Rhedosaurus (completely made up for the film), appears in silhouette, and attacks and destroys a lighthouse, before going on its rampage through Manhattan. The film itself is actually good fun, with some great stop-motion monster effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen, and it finishes off with a nice sequence utilizing Coney Island to have its finale. Meanwhile, the original story, when it is anthologised in The Golden Apples Of The Sun, has its name changed to ‘The Fog Horn,’ and has been called so ever since.

The story, however, does not end there with this little B-movie. When The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was released, the poster depicted it breathing smoke and fire. The Rhedosaurus doesn’t breathe any such smoke or flame in the film because of budget and other practical reasons, but since when do posters tell the objective truth of a film? This poster attracted the attention of Japanese film producers, who decided to make a similar film. They brought in Ishiro Honda, interwove their own, very recent atomic age fears and memories into the narrative (remember that Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t even a decade past), and created their own beast from the depths of the sea. Thus was born Gojira, or, to western audiences, Godzilla.

So we have a little short story about a dinosaur and a lighthouse to thank for the biggest monster of them all, the cementation of the kaiju as an international force of nature, and thousands of action figures and t-shirts worldwide. And if anyone is an old-school Pokemon fan, go back and watch the episode ‘Mystery At The Lighthouse’, an episode which you probably forgot about completely and yet will instantly remember as soon as you’ve read this. A massive dinosaur-like pokemon with shining eyes emerges from the sea to the summons of a fog-shrouded lighthouse, it’s one of the most haunting images of many people’s childhoods at a certain age. Coincidence?

And then let’s wonder if other lighthouse-based stories have been influenced by this classic short. It’s been stated by Leonard Nimoy that an episode of Star Trek was inspired by the story, but could we also include 2019’s The Lighthouse as having been influenced in some way by Bradbury? Two male lighthouse keepers trapped far away from civilization, seeing ancient things rising out of the depths? Seems familiar. And what about the 1977 serial of Doctor Who, ‘The Horror at Fang Rock’, where again, a lighthouse shrouded by the mists comes under attack from a strange, monstrous presence? How far does Bradbury’s tale’s influence go?

Far beyond what he intended, that’s for sure. The little lighthouse that could, it seems to have a great legacy in the world of horror, science-fiction, and fantasy; one that has left it forever changed.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter/Instagram: KJudgeMental