The Lightship Finngrundet was recommissioned and leased to England in 2023 when the “Queen’s Wall,” being constructed to preserve London from the rapidly rising waters of the North Sea. England moored the Finngrundet near the submerged Foreland Whitehouse.
Jonas knew he was lucky to have a job, even as a glorified electrical maintenance man. At forty-six he was too old to work on the Wall, and too young to sit around the Dover pubs whining. He soon learned that manning the old boat made the locals unhappy. He took to buying his provisions off passing supply ships. He was unaware when he passed into local legend.
It started when fourteen-year-old Anna Bagnold was found wandering the water’s edge during a hard blow. Wearing only a thin nightgown and with her hair twisting like Medusa’s snakes she made quite the picture. Her father threw a coat over her and tried to drag her away. She struggled, “He calls me…”
Rube, her father, heard the deep bellow of the lightship’s foghorn and could make no sense of his daughter’s words. Jonas was drowned and everyone knew it. There was no one out there but ghosts or demons to call his daughter to the ocean’s dangerous shore, so medicated her and sent her inland to live with her aunt.
In the months to follow eight young women drowned in the same area. Parents took to barricading their daughters in their rooms on bad nights until Caroline Skirrow escaped through a shattered window and was barely rescued, flailing in the sea, trying to swim toward the Finngrundet.
Jonas, unaware of the growing local hysteria, kept the lights and horns going. No one said he couldn’t adjust frequency of the horns. So, he played with the onboard gear until he could make the foghorn replicate animal sounds on a much lower scale. He played the storms, as if his horns were an enormous organ and the wind furies and waves were captive dancers to his music.
After Caroline escaped through her window the locals organized to solve the problem.
Jonas slept in the sway of his hammock. He didn’t feel the slight tug on the hull when the heavy mushroom anchor was cut. Alcohol laced exhaustion held him for ten hours before the urgency to pee roused him. He padded to the head. Then something in the movement of the boat pierced the sleepy muddle of his thoughts. He tried to switch on the light but nothing happened. Tightening his pants he crept through the boat flipping one switch after another. Nothing. Then he knew what was missing, it was the faint scrape of chain through hawsepipe.
He rushed up on deck, whirling from side to side seeking any trace of land lights. The Finngrundet had been towed to Dover. It wasn’t an operable ship and even if it were, it took a crew of eight to run it. He could run the inflatable but not if he were at sea. He screamed, knowing there could be shoals right in front of him and he wouldn’t know it until he hit them. He spent hours hanging over the bow looking for rocks. He kept thinking he heard the splash of swimmers but panning his flashlight over the water revealed nothing. Then he found the severed anchor chain. No electrical cables, only the backup system would work. He got the generator going, reasoning he couldn’t have gone too far. The sound of soft splashes and scrapes kept interrupting his thoughts, bringing him topside. Had some teenager cut the anchor as a prank and been somehow caught in the ships wake? He called out.
When the foghorn blared Jonas heard the sound of young women’s voices. He rushed to the railing. Voices? Claws? He knew the underside of his ship could be dragging all kinds of debris, everything from old nets to pieces of rope.
“Ahoy?” He panned the flashlight across the dark waves, grabbing a life ring, making ready to toss it.
“Ahoy there. I can’t see you?” He called again.
The scuttling sound returned.
Jonas stiffened as moonlight washed the deck blue and whispers of laughter teased terrors up his spine. The horn was calling them? Too late, he ran for the controls as the third blast of the horn ended in wet footfalls after the electricity cut off.