This Thunderdome had the requirement of picking a They Might Be Giants song and taking inspiration from it. I chose “Birdhouse in your Soul“.
It was darker inside the cabin at the foot of the lighthouse than outside, especially after accounting for the stillness of the interior and the utter chaos outside. Air and water rushed against everything with the incalculable forces of the storm shrieking across the coastline. Martin dragged the pillow off of his head to let the tiny chirp of the alarm come into focus. He had to do his job.
The drumming of rain to kept tempo for the minutes it required him to wrap himself in the cynically iconic yellow oilskin coat. It was the uniform no one would ever see him in, except when they imagined what a lighthouse keeper looked like. He felt the weight of disappointing anyone who did such a thing, because he lacked a beard and had never smoked a pipe. He pulled the hood around his face, and stood by the door.
He measured his breathing with the gusts of wind. The cinderblock mass of the lighthouse could be felt through the door. It could be heard cutting through the wind that was cutting through everything else. No one would be sailing in this. There were no souls out on the water that needed guidance. He would be the only one in the world to know if he did his job, and that made it more important to him than anything.
Martin had inherited this duty through the force of his own will, rather than the black and white postmortem decree of someone else’s. His parents had left him money, and insurance payouts, and a great deal of amateur art. His mother painted lighthouses from photographs she took motorcycling up and down the coast. They were practically traced. There was no compositional merit. They were beautifully simple. When he was brought home from school by the police officers and told about the accident, he’d spent a great deal of time crying into every one of them.
Thunder shook the cabin, and Martin struck his hand out to the doorknob. Had there even been lightning? He drew back from the door and knelt. To the left of the door was a single electric outlet, and sticking halfway out of it was a nightlight he’d always had. It was a purely utilitarian object now. All of the paint had rubbed off, but he could still sometimes see it as the pale blue bird it once was. He pressed it fully into the socket and flicked the switch on the its tummy, which filled with a feeble golden light. He opened the door.
He walked a straight line from the cabin to the lighthouse proper, fighting against wind and rain that rasped him from all sides. Heat was pulled out of him despite the layers of wool and canvas, and as he gripped the lock to the lighthouse, the steel threatened to turn the blood and bones in his hand to ice. He raked the lock with a shaking key a few times before striking true, and elbowed the oak door open. Elbowing it shut against the wind required multiple steps as his boots slipped in place on the stone floor. It took some seconds to re-acclimate to the relative stillness of the interior after the sudden bout of frantic exertion.
Red canisters of kerosene lined the bottom of this circular building, all but three with the spouts turned to face the wall. All but three empty. No truck would make deliveries in this. He grabbed the first full can in line and circled the room to the staircase. Every few dozen steps he switched off arms, each only strong enough to play pendulum for so long. The building narrowed as he felt his way up the steps, the revolutions of the staircase becoming tighter. The sloshing of the kerosene became more pronounced, between the centrifugal action and his arms stiffening up.
His head poked up into the glass dome of the lightroom, the enormous ridged lens distorting a lightning strike some miles off over the ocean. It vanished an instant before he recognized what he saw. He braced for the thunder. He loosed a steam laced exhalation through his teeth. Nothing. He continued his work. He carefully poured the canister into the reservoir. He carefully closed the caps on both. He set the canister down and stepped towards the railing. Beyond the inches of glass he was entirely open to the interchange of heat and pressure and water and electricity and air all around him. He shouldn’t be this close to the railing. The worn down sticker said so. Safety precautions were in place for reasons. But stickers and railings and precautions were never enough.
At the nuclear power plant, there was an equipment failure resulting in two fatalities. They had both been trained. They had made no mistakes. Things break. Friction wears down pipes; water lapping away at metal. Stress fractures form; expansion and contraction caused by the rhythms of heat and cold. Radioactive materials react with themselves; the same back and forth of physics right on down to the subatomic level. A pipe tore open and vented steam onto a woman trying to shut off the reaction. A man wearing flame-retardant protective gear asphyxiated while trying to rescue her, or at least her body. Martin’s parents had been burned by water and drowned by flame. They had been doing their jobs.
There was a dull boom that spread across the surface of the ocean and wrap itself around the lighthouse like fingers around a neck. Was that the thunder from the lightning bolt he’d just seen? He couldn’t bring himself to do the mental math to determine how many miles away it must have come from. He leaned over the edge peering to the horizon, and then dragged his sight down towards the cabin. There was a warm, golden light shining through one of the windows. Martin made a mental note to order some pale blue paint when the storm finally ended.