The following is a project I had no intention of making before I started to put words on the page. It’s not in any way the review I thought I was writing, instead, it’s a somewhat faithful adaptation of Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, possibly the best movie of the year (I know, I’ve said that a hundred times), which means this post is full of juicy spoilers, so be careful. I don’t often write creative fiction anymore, so I’m surprised my fingers took me where they did, and I have no clue whether it turned out well or not. Without further ado, I present to you The Lighthouse: A Short Story Adaptation by Joey Caplan.
A man named Thomas sits and eats across from another man named Tom. Thomas Wake, the veteran wickie, is entirely unaware that he sits across from a fellow Tom; as far as he knows, the skinny figure opposite him is Ephraim Winslow, a callow, reserved man much younger than himself. They drink, and then they drink some more. Tom had been reluctant to drink with his employer at first, but has taken a liking to the bitter, tingling liquid.
It’s been a nice four weeks, it has. The lighthouse replaces isolation with serenity.
Except, of course, for the seagulls. Those bastards have no understanding of personal space, and Tom hates it. They go out of their way to be in his, and he’d love to wring each and every one by the neck. Thomas told him not to bother them – it’d bring wrath upon the rock on which they reside, he’d said – but what does Neptune need with a stupid, shitting seagull? He’ll grab the next one that bothers him, and that’ll be that, and so he does, beating the one-eyed feathery freak against the brick until it looks like the rorschach test he surely would have needed to take had he been caught the day Ephraim Winslow died.
The wind changes, and a storm brews faster than Thomas could have anticipated. Tom was scheduled to leave, but that plan was whisked away by unholy gusts. All that’s left is Thomas, Tom, a lighthouse, and drink. Drink turns to drunk. No, I’m Tom, slurs Tom, his Ephraim guise swallowed up in a swelling tide of inebriation. Thomas Wake doesn’t follow. Ephraim was a man Tom left to perish among the hollowed logs, and instead of finding in himself a hero, Tom found an opportunity, he explains. Taking Ephraim’s identity allowed him this job, and though at the moment he may be stranded, there are worse jobs than those in which getting drunk is a nightly activity, or perhaps hourly at this point.
What’s in the light?
The lighthouse’s glow eats at Tom, but what eats at him more is the fact that Thomas knows and won’t tell him, or show him, or let him near the key that leads to the mystery’s end. With each passing night, the light grows brighter in his mind, gradually engulfing logical thoughts. The drink doesn’t help. Masturbating only ejaculates memories best left unremembered. Tom needs to know what’s in the light, and Thomas needs him not to.
A silent siren beckons from above the stairs.
Lobster ends their tentative peace. Drink makes Tom and Thomas sing and dance, it coaxes out intimate conversation, and it reveals truths that will sting; filthy alcohol drenching an open wound. Tom’s drink says to Thomas, I hate your cooking. Thomas says, even the lobster? Thomas can’t, won’t believe it; he’s seen Tom eat and he knows he loves that lobster. But Tom doubles down; he claims he always has hated the hoary man’s cooking, even the lobster. Thomas can contain his righteous fury until the ruthless slandering of his irrefutably delicious lobster, at which point he calls on Neptune himself, titan of the sea, to set upon Tom agony unknowable. Tom, piss drunk but not yet insane, submits. I like your cooking.
A brilliant shriek, so close.
The tempest never grows, but it never yields. This rock is their entire world, a terrifying thought for Tom, and a comforting one for Thomas. Madness lurks behind every corner of their rickety, cramped domicile, and while Thomas has learned how to keep it at bay, Tom’s mind was never meant to remain lucid. He listens for the faint call of the gulls as Thomas tells him that none of this is real. Thomas jests, or he doesn’t. What’s real is that light, Tom knows, and that’s all he needs.
Who chases who with an axe, it doesn’t matter, what matters is that it ends up embedded in Thomas Wake’s head. Tom strides up the lighthouse’s winding steps as he had every day prior, but this time he has a key and a pair of eyes designed to gaze upon the effulgence. He turns the heavy key in the lock and swings the metal door upwards. Icarus never made it this far. The light begs him to touch it, and it sears its voiceless words into Tom’s skin. Only he knows what the light says before he tumbles backward, his body contorting and fracturing as it clangs against the cold stairs.
A hushed, ignorant darkness.
Gulls pull and peck, and Tom whimpers, his body immune to nothing but the pleasure of mortality.