Editor's Note: This 5-part installment is part of MANA's Short Story Series on the MANA Sunriser Blog. MANA's Short Story Series is a “throwback” to the days when print newspapers and magazines published short stories that appeared as a series. MANA has brought serials back to public life! We hope you enjoy this five-part series.
Sam is 11 years old. He lives alone with his father Jake. Their home is a small cottage made of fieldstone along the Northern Maine coast. The Great Depression has just entered its second year.
Sam’s life is highly regimented. His father is a cold, hard man who demands obedience. Sam is homeschooled daily by his father and their routine is the same every day. Jake has a small lobster boat that he and Sam set out each morning before the sun breaks over the horizon.
Sam has no other human contact aside from his father. He is neither happy nor sad; neither motivated nor melancholy; neither bright nor dismal. The best word to describe Sam, and Jake for that matter, is morbid.
There is an old stone lighthouse about three-quarters of a mile south of their cottage. The keeper never seems to leave the lighthouse, and Sam has never visited. Aside from the cottage, that lighthouse and the lonely old boat are the only other signs of civilization in Sam’s life.
Sam knows no other existence than the one he lives. He knows he must have a mother. The subject is never addressed with him. He is not inclined to ask.
Sam wakes one hour before the sunrise. He quietly gets out of bed, dresses himself, walks into the main room of the cottage, and waits for his father. Within minutes, they are down at the old boat. The boat looks like it should be condemned. Jake and Sam head directly East toward the rising sun.
As the boat leaves the breaking waves, a layer of fog sets out in front of them. It gets thicker. The fog bank grows, swallowing up the sweeping beacon of the lighthouse. Soon, the foghorn of the lighthouse is the only perceivable stimulus.
The boat continues through the thick fog. Sam cannot remember a voyage without this blanket of grey mist leading their way out to sea. There is no conversation with his Dad. Sam cannot remember ever talking on the boat. As it always does, the fog clears as the rickety boat approaches their first float.
They have only one string of three traps. Sam hooks the line with his gaff, strings it on the pully, and pulls the line, bringing each trap to the surface in succession. All three traps are empty. It never really occurs to Sam that they are always empty. As he has every day before, Jake returns each trap to the water with no bait inside.
Sam is back at the small table inside the cottage. He sits there and completes reading a short story. Then, he recreates the sentence at the top of a blank paper repeatedly practicing his cursive writing. Finally, he accomplishes a sheet of math equations.
Jake checks the work with no expression. There is nothing for Jake to criticize, so Sam retires to his small side bedroom for the remainder of the day. Occasionally, Sam wanders outside the cottage, but never too far away. Jake and Sam repeat this exact routine, day after day, month after month. Until one day in September when events are different.
The leaves have changed to bright colors of red, yellow, and orange. As the two return from the boat, the wind begins to pick up. Soon the angry waves bring a significant storm surge up the rocky coastline. The rain falls sideways before turning to snow.
On that day, after Sam finishes his schoolwork, he notices the door to Jake’s room swing open by itself. Owning it to the fierce wind, Sam goes to his room. Once there, he finds several things to be out of place, and the room is quite warm for his liking.
Suddenly, Sam shutters; he can sense someone else’s presence. Indeed, he feels like a ghost has passed right through him as he is in his chair. Frightened, he yells out to his father, who never comes to check on him. Sam is too afraid to move from that chair all night. Sam doesn’t sleep either. Occasionally, Sam catches the faintest whisper of a sound. The sound of a voice, but not his Dad’s voice.
As the morning approaches, Sam dutifully gets dressed and gets out to wait for his father. He waits, and he waits some more. Nothing. Soon Sam dares to open his father’s door. There is Jake, wide awake in bed but unable to move.
Sam is concerned that his father is sick. Suddenly, Sam is distracted by the whisper again. It is repeating itself and getting much louder. Frightened, Sam runs into his father’s closet. What he sees next causes Sam to have an out-of-body experience.
In the corner of the closet is a newspaper whose cover story tells a gruesome tale. Sam reads the story given his daily schooling. The story tells of a desperate and wretched man, broken by the economic conditions, and full of hate. A lonely lobsterman named Jake had murdered his wife, Rose, and his son Sam before killing himself. These horrible things happened in a small stone cottage just north of the lighthouse!
Suddenly, Sam’s head is in a whirlwind. It makes sense! He has next to no feeling for as long as he can remember. Nothing to eat, no food, no water, no outside interaction. Sam can’t remember a time when it wasn’t so. How long has his spirit been imprisoned here?
To be continued