Chapter Five: The Old Lighthouse.
Niamh was grounded. First day of the summer holidays, glorious weather, and she was bloody grounded!
She sat on her bed and looked around her attic bedroom. It was a bright, airy room with dormer windows on the front and skylights at the back. Usually she loved spending time up there but now it was a prison cell. Other than meals and bathroom visits, she was confined to her room. No reprieve, no exceptions; her Dad and her step-mum were quite clear on that. Her summer job started in a week and she’d planned on using the free time to visit the beach, go shopping with her friends and spend some time with Mark. So much for those plans! And her first four weeks’ wages would go on replacing the gym window. So much for the new shoes and hairstyle too! It was going to be a long and lonely week with only her cat Mira for company. Mira was very affectionate and quite clingy for a cat but she was, Niamh reflected, a bit short on conversation. She was also remarkably adept at disappearing inside a small three-bedroom house, when one needed her companionship most.
At least I still have my computer privileges, Niamh thought. With access to her computer, she could work on her poetry, write code, surf the Web and use Facebook and Skype. She wondered if Mark was on Facebook. Unlikely; it just wasn’t his style but he was almost certainly on Skype. She had no idea what his contact details were though. It pained her how much she and Mark had lost touch since Christmas. Before, she would have known everything about him but he’d changed so much...
Thinking about Mark depressed her. Now that he had invited her back into his life, the thoughts of not being able to see him for a week tortured her. She reached for her phone and found Mark’s number. Should she call him? It had been less than twenty-four hours since they’d last spoken; she didn’t want to seem too needy. She tapped the phone against her teeth and considered it. Nah; best not. The cell landed back on the bed. Mira, who had been asleep near the pillow, lifted her head and peered at Niamh through sleepy, ice-blue eyes. Niamh smiled and rubbed the top of the cat’s head. Mira lifted her head further and pushed it into Niamh’s hand, then ran the side of her nose along Niamh’s fingers, baring her teeth slightly. She emitted a low, gentle purring. Niamh tickled her under the chin for a few minutes then kissed her on the top of the head. The cat rearranged herself on the bed, curled up with a paw over her eyes and went back to sleep.
Niamh sighed and stood up. Stretching her arms above her head she walked over to the dormer window brushing her hands along the low ceiling. The window gave her a great view of the sea and of the Old Lighthouse on Long Hill. She’d been looking at this view her whole life but with her new glasses it took on a different quality. Now she could see the Old Lighthouse properly; the six levels delineated in the exterior granite brickwork, the way it tapered slightly towards the octagonal cap with its domed roof and the quoins where each of the eight walls met its neighbors.
She liked the Old Lighthouse. She preferred it to modern lighthouses: Ugly things, in her estimation; short and squat and painted white and red. The disused Front Light was like that, except the paint had peeled off leaving it shabby. She thought it a poor cousin to its elegant, elder counterpart. She couldn’t see the Front Light from her room (no loss, she thought) because the Old Lighthouse obscured it. Were her house a few feet to the left or right she would have been able to see one or other side of the Front Light. She realized then that the two lighthouses and her house were directly in line with each other. She smiled at that. It was the sort of thing certain people got excited about but, to her, it was just poetic.
There was a lot more activity than usual around the Old Lighthouse. Several large trucks were parked near it and there were many more vehicles driving up the narrow, rutted access road. Dozens of people milled about, unloading stuff from the trucks.
What’s all that about? she wondered. Probably a movie-shoot; they’re always filming around here. Wonder what it’s about.
She leaned her forehead against the glass and watched the activity at the lighthouse, the cars going past and the occasional jogger and dog-walker. She wondered if these people fully appreciated their freedom, and decided they took it as much for granted as she did when she wasn't incarcerated.
This is wrecking my head, she thought. There’s no way I’ll last a week in here. And I need to stop thinking about Mark McHewell!
She turned on her computer and sat down at the desk. After a quick look at her emails she opened up some poetry she’d been working on. That always passes the time.
And it did. Sometime during the day Mira needed the litter tray and mewed at the door to be let out. Later, Niamh’s step-mum called her for lunch. They didn’t talk much as they ate. It wasn’t that Niamh disliked Martha, or vice versa; they just didn’t have much in common, and even less to talk about. Martha was the sort of person you could never have imagined being fourteen; one of those steady, boring people who seemed to have been an adult their whole life. Niamh hardly knew what to say to her and she certainly had no idea what to say to Niamh.
After lunch Niamh went back to her poetry. Sometime later Mira came back upstairs and was needy. She did her best to demand Niamh’s attention by sitting by her chair and mewling piteously while looking up with big, sad blue eyes. When that didn’t work she jumped up onto Niamh’s lap and from there onto the desk where she proceeded to parade up and down the keyboard with her tail brushing Niamh’s nose.
“Oh great, Mira. ‘Mjndxctfg.’ What am I going to get to rhyme with that? Shakespeare you’re not. Get down.”
Niamh lifted the protesting cat and put her on the floor. Mira was having none of it. A second later she was back in Niamh’s lap but this time she sat there watching the screen as Niamh typed. Occasionally she made little jumps at the screen as the mouse pointer moved but a firm hand from Niamh held her in place. Eventually she lay down on Niamh’s lap and went to sleep.
The girl and the cat stayed like that for several hours. Around six Niamh’s dad Kenny came home and they had dinner, then it was back to her room. She watched a little TV then lay down on her bed to read. Mira snuggled in behind her knees and purred softly. Before long the book fell from Niamh’s fingers and girl and cat were both asleep.
Niamh awoke with a start. She had no idea how long she had slept – or what had woken her - but she had the distinct feeling that something was wrong. She couldn’t figure out why she felt like this until she saw Mira standing in the dormer window staring towards the Old Lighthouse. It was dark outside and she could see Mira by the dim yellow light of the street lamps. Mira’s fur was standing on end and she was growling. Her tail flicked back and forwards.
“What’s the matter, Puss? Why are you …?”
She gasped as a sudden blinding light lit up her bedroom. Mira shrieked and flattened herself to the floor, hissing and growling. The blue-white intensity faded and a softer light swirled on the walls of her room, multi-colored like the Aurora Borealis. Eyes wide, she watched the variegated patterns as they danced across the roof and walls. Slowly, they faded. She jumped up and looked out through the window.
The men in the trucks had been busy during the day: A security fence surrounded the Old Lighthouse and powerful spotlights stabbed upwards to illuminate it. A mobile crane was parked close by. The crane’s telescopic arm stretched up to the lighthouse’s cap and from the hook hung a metallic dome-shaped object, larger than the cap itself. It looked to Niamh like a large upside-down colander. Thick cables hung from the colander thing and snaked down the side of the lighthouse and across the grass to a boxy vehicle. Niamh had been on enough building sites with her dad to recognize the vehicle as a power generator. As if to confirm her hypothesis, bolts of electricity started to arc across the suspended colander thing, slowly at first then faster until it was crawling with blue-white serpents of electricity. Then, in a startling explosion of light – so intense it almost made her ears ring - the entire tower was drenched in a flowing, roiling plasma of electrical energy. She threw her arms up to shield her eyes. Mira spat and ran under the bed. The light faded and once more her room and face were illuminated with the swirling Aurora colors. It was beautiful. The colors danced around the Old Lighthouse and a shimmering effect, like the air above a hot road, surrounded it. The shimmering intensified and it looked as if … Surely not! She couldn’t believe her eyes: In the shimmering haze, to the right side of the Old Lighthouse, she could see the outline of the Front Light. It flickered like a badly-tuned television, then snapped into sharp focus. The image stayed solid for a moment, flickered, then the mirage, the shimmering and the swirling lights disappeared.
But that’s impossible, she thought. You just can’t see the Front Light from here. What’s going on?
She sat back on her bed.
I’ve got to tell Mark about this. I bet he’ll be able to see this from his room. Wonder if he’d go over there with me to take a look? What time is it? Wow, it’s after midnight; I wonder if he’s awake. He’d never be allowed out at this hour. Wonder if he’d sneak out? Where’s my cell? Oh, there it is on the floor.
Niamh picked up the cellphone and texted Mark:
r u awake?
After a few moments her phone chimed.
Yes! She grinned and clapped her hands together, nearly dropping her phone. She dialed Mark’s number. It rang then went to voicemail. She frowned. Strange; he could’ve just ignored the text if he didn’t want to talk. Again, she dialed his number and again it went to voicemail. This time she left a message:
“Hiya Mark. Don’t know what happened there. I got cut off then I got your voicemail. It’s gone midnight so maybe you’re too tired to talk, I dunno. Anyway; oh-my-God, I have to tell you this: There’s something really weird going on at the Old Lighthouse. There’s loads of men and trucks up there and bright lights and loads of machinery and everything! They’ve been coming and going all day. And, oh-my-God, there was this weird light – like the Northern Lights – shining into my bedroom. It was so bright it woke me up. And the cat’s going mental! She’s all puffed up and hissy staring out at it. Anyway, I just wanted to know if you could see it from your room. I’d love to go out and see what’s going on but Martha and Daddy have grounded me. I suppose I was hoping we’d both sneak out tonight and take a look but anyway …” Look, sure you’re probably tired, and erm, well, I guess I’ll call you tomorrow. Erm, see you!”
Niamh stood up and walked around her room. The bright light blasted through the window again; and again faded. A low growl came from under the bed. Niamh knelt beside the bed and pulled the reluctant cat out. She sat on the bed and put Mira on her knee. As Niamh petted her, Mira was jumpy and kept eyeing the window. Niamh held the cat gently and waited for the light to come again but after ten minutes she decided the men had finished whatever they had been doing. Mira jumped off her lap and settled on the bed. Niamh went back to the window. There was still plenty of activity by the lighthouse but a couple of the searchlights had been turned off, and as she watched, one by one, the rest went out.
The moon was full and the moonlight lay across the sea like gossamer, fluttering at the edges as the waves moved. Now that the searchlights were out, the moonlight was bright enough to throw shadows and she could pick out the men as they moved around.
Curiosity got the better of her. I’m gonna get killed for this if I get caught, ‘specially at this time of night, she thought, but anything’s better than staying in this room for a week. She shed her tracksuit and pulled on jeans and a tee-shirt. She paused by her shoe-rack for a moment, then grabbed her walking boots. Sitting on the bed, she pushed her feet into the boots, tied up the long laces and adjusted the tongues. As she adjusted her jean-legs over the boots, her hair fell down over her face. I need something to tie up this hair – and a warmer top, she thought. Aha, I know! Two birds with one stone. She opened her wardrobe, took out her zip-up hoodie and slipped her arms into it. In the pocket was a hair elastic. She tied her blonde hair into a ponytail, stuffed her phone into the pocket of the hoodie then looked up at the skylight over her computer desk.
Thank you, Moon; no need for a flashlight. OK, here we go.
She stepped up onto the chair, then onto the desk. She had to stoop while she opened the skylight but once it was open, she slid out through it and onto the gently-sloped roof. Mira watched with interest from the bed as Niamh’s legs disappeared through the opening. A moment later Niamh’s head popped back in.
“See you later, Mira. Don’t make any noise and give me away,” she whispered. The cat blinked then looked away and laid her chin on her paw.
Crouched on the roof, Niamh listened for any noise from her parents’ room. After a moment, satisfied she was in the clear, she put the window-latch in the closed position and eased the skylight shut. The latch rested on the window-frame and prevented the window from closing fully.
OK, that’s my way back in. I hope it doesn’t rain. Fat chance in this weather, mind you.
She crept across the roof-tiles to the corner of the house, above the oil tank. She rolled onto her stomach, dropped her legs over the edge and started to lower herself down. As she did, the edge of the roof rubbed along the pocket of her hoody and her phone started to work its way out. As she dropped down to the oil tank, the phone slipped from her pocket and landed in the gutter. She never noticed, and made the short jump from the top of the oil tank to the ground. Again she paused to make sure she hadn’t disturbed her parents. All was quiet. She took a few breaths, adjusted the bottom of her hoodie and tiptoed around the side of the house then down the short driveway to the road.
Now that she was outside she realized she didn’t really have a plan. The road south - towards Mark’s house - sloped upwards and she had a vague notion of heading to the top of the hill from where she’d have a better view of the lighthouse. Somewhere deep inside there was also the impulse to walk all the way out to Mark’s house and throw stones at his window. But the gates would be closed. I’d have to climb over the wall. Maybe I could get into their property from the golf course …
As Niamh dithered, her mind was made up for her.
Something light-colored and very fast streaked between her feet and onto the road in front of her. Niamh jumped and nearly cried out. What the bloody hell was that?! Standing in front of her, eyes glistening, was Mira.
“Mira! How did you get out? You shouldn’t be outside. Come here.”
Niamh reached down to pick up the cat but Mira, who was normally house-bound, had her first taste of freedom and had no intention of coming quietly. She ran up the road, tail bushed out and back legs kicking like a racehorse. After thirty meters or so she stopped and looked back at Niamh. Panic set in. Oh God; Mira! She’s never been outside before. If a car comes, she won’t have the sense to get off the road.
Niamh ran up the road towards the cat. She realized instantly it was the wrong thing to do. Mira recoiled then took off again, running straight up the middle of the road along the dotted white line. Tears flowed down Niamh’s face as she ran after the cat. Oh God, please don’t let a car come. Oh please let me catch her and take her back home safe. I swear I’ll stay in my room for the rest of the week. I’ll never sneak out again, I swear. Oh please, please, please.
But her worst fears were realized: Headlights blazed around a bend further up the road and the noise of a highly-revved engine grew louder. A car appeared and sped along the road towards them. Niamh screamed: “MIRA!” The cat stopped and looked back at her, then turned to look at the lights coming thundering down the road. She lowered her neck and crouched back as if sizing up the menace. Niamh ran up the road waving her arms, her strength sapped with fear. “NO!” she screamed, the word catching in her throat as she blubbered. Then, just as she was sure the car would hit Mira, the cat darted into the entrance to a field on the left. The car flew past Niamh, the young driver making rude signs at her.
“Idiot! It’s 50 KPH along here!” she yelled at the retreating car, then turned back and ran to the field entrance. Mira was standing several meters into the field, oblivious to her near miss, sniffing at some long blades of grass. She started to chew on one of the blades, then flinched as Niamh climbed over the gate. She looked back, saw it was Niamh, and put up her tail. She ran over towards Niamh and stopped a couple of meters away. She threw herself on her side and started to pull herself around in circles with her front paws. Niamh wasn’t amused.
“You stupid, stupid cat!” she cried. “I was sure you were a goner. Let me get you back home.” Once more she reached down to pick up Mira and once more the cat darted away. She galloped through the grass towards the opposite ditch, the silver in her fur glinting in the moonlight.
“Aughhhhhh! MIRA!” Niamh shouted through gritted teeth but she had no choice. She ran after the cat again. Mira led her through the next ditch and into the next field. As she ran, Niamh was filled with a strange combination of concern and annoyance. It occurred to her this might be how her parents felt when she came home late or didn’t check in when she was supposed to. She hoped not; it was a horrible feeling. God, I meant what I said; please let me catch her and I’ll never sneak out again, I promise.
Mira had other ideas. She was investigating discarded hay bales, cow-pats, bits of machinery left in the field; anything she came across. But as soon as Niamh came within range she was off again. Niamh had no idea how long the chase lasted – it felt like hours - but she eventually caught up with Mira at the wall near the Old Lighthouse. She saw Mira go around the corner and under the pedestrian gate into the lighthouse grounds. When Niamh got through the gate Mira was preoccupied with some small creature at the bottom of the wall and didn’t seem to hear her approaching. Niamh scooped her up and said ‘Gotcha!’
At that moment a hand grabbed Niamh’s shoulder and a deep voice said “What have we here, then?”
Niamh screamed and dropped Mira. The cat hit the ground running and disappeared back out through the gate. Niamh tried to turn around but it was difficult with the man gripping her shoulder.
“How long have you been here? How much did you see?”
“I, I …”
The man spun her around. She looked up at his face but he was wearing a hat with a low brim and she couldn’t make out his features. There seemed to be something unusual about one of his eyes but she couldn’t be sure. None of it really registered, though: She was petrified. Her heart thudding, she tried to stammer out the story of the runaway cat. The man spoke across her:
“My God, you’re only a kid! Still, we can’t take any chances. You’re coming with me.”
He walked towards the Old Lighthouse, dragging Niamh behind him. She was crying uncontrollably.
“Please Mister, don’t hurt me. I didn’t see anything; I only wanted to get my cat.”
The man ignored her and strode on. Around them, men were breaking down the equipment and pieces of the security fence were being loaded onto a trailer. One of the men stopped what he was doing and his mouth fell open in disbelief.
“What the hell are you doing? Who’s the kid?”
“Shut your mouth and get that trailer loaded,” growled The Man In The Hat, wrenching Niamh’s arm. She pulled against his grip, dug in her heels and kicked at his legs but his grip stayed strong and he didn’t react. This lack of reaction scared her more than any expression of anger would have.
Moments later they arrived at the open door of the lighthouse and he pulled her inside. There was just enough moonlight to see by. Still gripping her wrist he reached down and pulled open a trapdoor. He dragged her down some wooden steps and into a circular cellar. At the bottom he pushed her hard and she flew towards the curved wall and fell over. The man strode back up the steps and out of the cellar.
He was going to lock her in!
Niamh scrambled to her feet and raced up the steps. He bolted the trapdoor just as she reached it. The moonlight was cut off leaving the cellar in total darkness.
“NO!” she screamed. “Don’t leave me down here. Please don’t leave me down here. My cat’s out and she’ll get killed on the road. And my dad will kill me. He’ll be worried sick. Please! PLEASE!”
But the man didn’t answer. Niamh heard the front door of the lighthouse close then a metallic clank and the grate of a key turning in a lock.
She banged on the trapdoor and screamed until her knuckles and throat were raw but no-one came back. Shortly she heard engines starting and the vehicles moved out. Soon, even the sound of those faded and it was silent.
For a few moments she stood in the dark, not quite believing where she was and what had happened to her. As the reality of the situation descended on her, panic threatened to engulf her. A low moaning noise escaped her lips. She felt her way back up the steps and reached the trapdoor again. She felt around the inside of the trapdoor but couldn’t open it: it was bolted from the outside. Sitting on the steps she put her head in her hands and sobbed. The tears racked her, and she cried until the lump in her throat felt like a burning coal.
Then she remembered her cellphone. She felt in the pocket of her hoody then frantically went through her other pockets but the phone wasn’t there. This was too much. It hurt to cry now but she couldn’t stop. She cried until a coughing fit punctuated her sobs. In between coughs and taking huge gulps of air, she thought she heard a noise beneath her. Her breath caught and she stiffened. Trying not to make a sound she turned her head this way and that, ears straining.
From somewhere inside the cellar she heard a low groan. She shrieked then clapped her hands to her mouth. Her pulse hammering in her ears, she pressed herself back up against the trapdoor. The groan came again; then a man’s voice – very low – said:
Niamh’s eyes widened and the moaning noise started again in her throat. Terror paralyzed her but something about the voice made Niamh realize the man was in a bad way. She crept back down the steps and whispered:
“Where are you?”
Again the voice said: “Help me.”
The voice was coming from under the steps. Niamh moved around behind the steps, feeling her way. Her arm brushed against something and she realized it was the man’s leg. She knelt down and shuffled over to where the thought the man’s head was. Her knee knocked against something small and hard on the floor. As it rolled away from her, a light erupted from it, scaring the hell out of her. She covered her eyes until they adjusted then realized the object was a small flashlight. She picked it up and looked at the man. Her heart skipped a beat.
“The Kung-Fu priest,” she whispered. Mark had told her about the weird priest with the neck tattoo and the ponytail he’d seen in the village, now here he was trapped in the same cellar as Niamh - and seemingly very ill. She put the flashlight on the wooden steps and bent down to him again.
“Are you OK?”
The man’s breathing was labored. His skin looked grey and there were beads of sweat on his forehead. He struggled to speak and failed. Niamh put her ear down to his mouth. He drew in a ragged breath, wet his lips and tried again:
“It’s Magus … he’s trying to get … free again. His minions have come back … to this tír. “
He had a foreign accent. It sounded German to Niamh.
“Who? Who’s come back?”
The priest raised his hand and brushed her cheek. The touch felt brittle, like the crumbling rasp of a dead leaf.
“Ah, Mädchen; there was a time the … mention of his name would have str … uurrgh … struck fear in your heart. The good tír folk taught rhymes to their children lest they forget.”
The priest took a gurgling breath, as deep as he dared, and started to chant:
Spiteful, sinful Simon Magus,
Brought his armies to enslave us.
Opened gates from tír to tír
Rent and robbed and razed for years.
He rolled his head around in pain, hissed air in through his teeth and spoke again:
“We thought we knew better; thought we had banished him forever. We wanted folk to … forget who Magus was and … what he had done – forbade them to speak of him - forbade the rhymes and stories; and when that did not work we rewrote history. We were … too successful, too arrogant. And now that the danger has returned … no one remembers … no one understands the threat. Ach, du lieber Gott, if he gets loose …”
Niamh started to talk but the priest shook his head and touched her mouth with his hand.
“Listen, Mädchen: He must be stopped. The Sentinelium has been infiltrated and destroyed. I was the last Proctor in this tír. They killed e… everyone… except… The Mason. He got away through … The Saiph … to join … the Felkynd Allegiance. He needs help. Find the new Mason; The Apprentice… find Oisín. He has to follow… has to go through. He needs the four Tetroi – the four parts of The Index to open the gate. Find Oisín and tell… tell him to collect all four Tetroi – The Mason, The Templar, The Nobleman and The Cleric.”
“What? Who’s Oisín? And who are these people he has to gather? You said they were all dead except the Mason.”
“Not people. Not people any more. The Tetroi are pieces of a key called The Index. Each Tetros has a guardian – a Proctor – and the location of each Tetros is known only to its Proctor. We were supposed to keep them separate so the gate could never be opened again but now The Apprentice must gather the Tetroi and reconstruct the Index to open the gate and go through.”
“But, what gate?”
The priest shook his head violently from side to side.
“No Mädchen, there isn’t time. I cannot tell you where to find the other Tetroi but mine is hidden in plain sight. It’s …”
The priests eyes started to become unfocused. He coughed then, to Niamh’s horror, he started to laugh hysterically.
“Hah hah hah! They’ve been staring at it for years, not even knowing it was there. Hah hah!”
“The… the penitents… it’s been right there under their noses. Hah hah hah!”
“Oh, you’ll see it. If you’re truly penitent you’ll see it. Ah hah hah hah! Oh, but you’ll need the key. You can’t just take it … that would be crazy … ah hah hah hah!”
“The priest stopped laughing and a choking sound came from his throat. His eyed widened and a look of fear crossed his face. He clutched Niamh’s arm.”
“I don’t want to die.”
Niamh stifled a little shriek. She began to stammer something in response but the priest started to roll his head from side to side.
“I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want …”
Niamh took the priest’s head in her hands and looked into his eyes. She had no idea what he was talking about but she felt in her gut that it was important.
“Father,” said Niamh, “Where’s the key?”
He looked at her transfixed then raised his hand to her face again. His eyelids blinked several times and his eyes rolled upwards.
“The falls. The falls are the key. The falls along the way.”
The priest’s head fell to the side. He was dead.
Niamh screamed and scuttled back until she hit the wall. Her skin crawled as the priest’s dead eyes stared across at her. She thought she should probably close them - isn’t that what you were supposed to do? - but she couldn’t bring herself to touch him. After several moments of indecision, she crept forward, snatched the flashlight off the steps and darted back to the wall. She turned off the flashlight but the darkness was worse than the priest’s eyes. She turned the flashlight back on and took off her glasses. That was better. Now she could see enough to move around but not the detail of the man’s face.
She took stock of her situation. Being trapped in here had been bad enough but in the back of her mind, she had believed The Man in the Hat would come back and let her out. Now somebody was dead. That changed everything and strangely, it gave her more resolve. She thought it entirely possible that the man wouldn’t come back; that he had left her there to die; or worse again, that he would come back and kill her. She knew then that she had to get out of the cellar.
Now that she had a flashlight she could search for her phone. She put her glasses on and avoiding the priest’s face, looked all around the body where she had been kneeling. Nothing. She checked the entire cellar – even places she hadn’t been – but the phone wasn’t there. Oh, well; it was a long shot anyway, she thought. It was far more likely she’d dropped it while running after Mira – or when she’d slid down the roof of her house.
Not quite sure what she was looking for, she shone the flashlight around the walls of the cellar. Apart from a couple of loose stones on the floor, the walls were solid. Anyway, she reasoned, even if I could break through the walls, I’m still underground. She checked the roof too. It was a stone roof and the only way out was through the trapdoor. Taking a deep breath she went to the top of the steps. With the flashlight illuminating the trapdoor she could see the wood was old. She put her shoulder against the underside of the trapdoor and pushed up with her legs. The trapdoor creaked against the bolt but it stayed firm. She pushed a little harder. To her alarm, the step under her feet creaked and emitted a very slight snapping sound. Ooh, I’m not doing that again, she thought.
She put her glasses on and shone the flashlight around the edges of the trapdoor. There was a narrow gap between the trapdoor and the edge of the cellar ceiling, and she could see the metal bolt through it. She put her finger up through the gap and managed to touch the bolt. She put sideward pressure on the bolt with her finger but it wouldn’t move. She realized the weight of the trapdoor was creating too much friction between the bolt and the hole it was secured in. Standing on the top step she bent over and put her back against the trapdoor. Flexing her legs she lifted the trapdoor slightly and tried the bolt with her finger again.
It was almost imperceptible but the bolt definitely slid back. She tried again. Again it moved.
It was a fiddly process, and it took half an hour but by rocking the trapdoor up and down and pushing the bolt with her finger, she eventually slid it all the way back. She gave the trapdoor a good push and it swung upwards and fell back against the wall. Niamh climbed up the last step and out into the lighthouse. She was out of the cellar! YES! She punched the air in delight.
Eager to get out, she opened the lighthouse door. Her heart sank as she stumbled into the security gate. No! She grabbed the bars and rattled the gate hard but it stayed fast. It was agony: she was so close to freedom, yet no better off than she had been in the cellar. She could see the outside world, feel the summer night air whisper across her skin but there was no way past the gate. She pushed her face up against it and closed her eyes as if willing herself to pass though like a phantom.
“No! Not again!” she shouted. She felt the tears welling but they were overtaken by an overwhelming anger. How dare that man lock her in! How dare he terrify her to the point of insanity! She kicked the gate then turned around and slammed the trapdoor shut. She stomped around the ground floor of the lighthouse screaming in rage and pulling at her hair.
Eventually the anger cooled to a steely resolve. She’d gotten out of the cellar, and by God, she’d get out of the lighthouse too! She looked around for other possible exits. There were no windows and no way past the locked gate. Her only option was to go up the spiral staircase to the floors above. She shone the flashlight up the steps but nothing she could see gave her any clue as to what was up there.
She put her foot on the first step. Hoping there were no more surprises, she held her breath and started up the stairs.