Chapter Nine: The Escape Plan.
Niamh was discovering that boredom was worse than fear.
She’d been trapped in the lighthouse for two days and she just wanted out. The dreadful occurrences in the basement felt distant now and it seemed unlikely the Man in the Hat would come back at this stage.
Besides, now she had a plan.
When she’d started up the spiral staircase from the ground floor she’d been terrified. It was difficult to see up the stairs because of the curvature, and the flashlight wasn’t very powerful. She crept up the metal steps, her ears pricked for the slightest sound.
Soon she arrived at the next floor. The tower was deathly silent and she was jumpy as she shone the flashlight around the room. It was octagonal, matching the exterior shape of the tower, and was furnished as a comfortable living area. The narrow beam of her flashlight picked out expensive leather furniture, sumptuous cushions and antiques. There was a dark red patterned rug covering most of the varnished wooden floor. She’d often wondered what was inside the Old Lighthouse but had never dreamed it would be like this.
As she stepped up into the room hugging the wall, her shoulder snagged on a light-switch. She flicked it, expecting it not to work but to her surprise, the octagonal room was lit up by a chandelier hanging from the timber roof. She held her breath, waiting to see if the light roused anybody in the lighthouse. Still the tower was silent.
She put the flashlight on a mahogany coffee table and looked around the room. There were tall windows that started at floor level in four of the eight walls. She knew this already from looking at the lighthouse for so many years but it was weird to be seeing them from the inside. In one of the windows facing the sea was a large telescope on a tripod. She went over and looked through it. Early dawn light was starting to creep into the sky over the horizon but it was still too dim to see any detail.
There wasn’t much else of interest. What she really needed was a phone or cell and the living room offered neither. She decided to keep exploring, and the only way was up.
On the next floor she had an exciting find. At the top of the stairs was a fire-door that separated the upper and lower halves of the tower. Next to the fire-door was a bathroom and mounted on the wall of the bathroom was a small metal safe. The safe door was slightly ajar and when she opened it, she discovered several keys with plastic tags hanging in neat rows on hooks. One of the tags read: ‘Front Security Gate’. Her heart leaped. She grabbed the key and scampered down the stairway.
Oh, please; oh, please; oh, please!
She reached the security gate and realized there was no keyhole on the inside; the gate could only be unlocked from the other side. With disappointment and fear gnawing at her, she studied the back of the lock. The area around the lock was solid metal and there was no way to tell where the keyhole was on the other side. An idea occurred to her and she ran back up to the bathroom. Near the sink she found what she was looking for and ran back down to the security gate. She pushed her arm out through the bars and held the newly discovered shaving mirror at arm’s length. By now, a fair amount of dawn light had filtered into the sky and she could see the outside of the lock well enough. She spotted the keyhole and memorized its location. Swapping the mirror for the key she pushed her arm out through the bars again.
But she couldn’t reach the keyhole.
There was so much solid metal around the lock that no matter what angle she tried from, her forearm just wasn’t long enough to reach the keyhole. She had no idea how long she persevered but by the time she gave up, the sun was fully up and her arm was bruised and grazed from the bars and the edge of the lock. She put down the mirror, sat on the floor of the lighthouse and cried again. It just wasn’t fair. Eventually she reasoned that, even in this remote place, someone would come along. She just hoped it wouldn’t be The Man in the Hat. She also hoped it wouldn’t be too long. People walked their dogs up here all the time, didn’t they? In the meantime, she was stuck in the tower and all she could do was wait.
Now, a day and a half later, she knew every inch of the tower, and had established that she was indeed alone. She’d discovered bedrooms, storage closets, and on the top floor a fully stocked kitchen. She’d also found a better flashlight - one of those big yellow ones that shine for miles.
But there was no phone and so far, no-one had come along.
She’d tried various escape routes but found herself well and truly incarcerated. There were tall windows - taller than her - in some of the rooms but they were too high off the ground. Even if she had broken one, there were security bars on the outside.
The boredom was the worst thing. There was no TV and no computer. There were books in various rooms but she really didn’t feel like reading. She spent a lot of time in the kitchen. The fridge was full of food and eating took her mind off things. The kitchen had tiny porthole windows and on one visit, as she wolfed through a packet of cooked ham, she noticed the sun glinting off a bright surface in the distance. It was the glass front of Mark’s house. She tried to see her own house through one of the other portholes but it was in the wrong place. That got to her. Over the two days she’d cried a lot and despaired – particularly when she thought of the body in the cellar. She tried not to think of her parents and how worried they’d be. She tried particularly hard not to think about Mira and the possibility that she might never see her again, and that really upset her.
Late on the first day, she’d locked herself into the upper-half of the tower and felt safe enough to sleep. Stretched out on the bed in the master bedroom, her dreams were dark and Gothic, and did their best to ruin her sleep but when she finally surfaced from them, to her surprise, she brought with her a fully-formed escape plan. The strange thing was, she’d dreamed that Mira had appeared in the room and whispered the plan in her ear.
Now she was sitting in the kitchen surrounded by her escape kit: She’d fetched the telescope from the first floor and set it up in the porthole window pointing towards Mark’s house. She positioned the big flashlight on top of the microwave and pointed it out the same window. On the table beside her was a large serving tray. Now all she needed was nightfall and the good fortune that Mark would be in his room when darkness fell.