When a plane's instrument panel lights up with plenty of blinking, colored lights, pilots jokingly call it a "Christmas tree." The entire dash of the small Cessna carrying three passengers through the darkening sky was a sparkling Christmas tree, and it was no cause for celebration.
"Jared, we need to land, it's an emergency!" Nicole was clutching a small, golden crucifix pendant in in one hand, and holding another delicately manacured hand up to the headset into which she was shouting.
"I can't!" Jared's voice voice rattled into his own headset, "I'm VFR rated." The plane dipped suddenly as if it was an elevator falling one floor down.
"This is no time to brag about your pilot rating," Mary snapped irritability from the back seat, "You are the one who got us into this mess. I said turn back when the storm rolled in."
"VFR just means I am rated for visual flight navigation only." Jared shouted back hoarsely, anger melting through the panic, "we can't go where I can't see, so let's try to get above the cloud cover."
"Wait!" Nicole screeched, "I think I see a VFO!" She pointed across the crashing black waves of endless water to a dark outcropping of land on which an eerie green glow pulsated like a heartbeat.
"Don't be stupid, that's not a variable frequency oscillator!" Jared spat at Nicole through his headset. Mary craned her neck to see out Nicole's side of the plane. It was easy to see how the heartbeat pulses might be created by something spinning, lime a VFO or a lighthouse.
The small aircraft wheeled around to the left and the nose jutted upwards as the clouds instantly engulfed them. Nicole's lips moved in silent prayer as the plane banked right and slid downward back out through the bottom of the storm cell. Mary reached forward over her Nicole's seat to touch her shoulder and Nicole's hand sought her friend's.
The ghostly lighthouse throbbed its beacon in the darkness as the plane leveled out. Suddenly, a flash of lightning lit the sky like an atomic bomb as the thunderclap mimicked a sonic boom. All of the electronics on the aircraft went dark and they could no longer hear each other over the headsets. Only the roar of air across the wings could be heard as Jared struggled to land the Cessna on the water as his companions covered their heads and braced for impact.
As soon as the Cessna impacted the dark waves, water started rushing aboard through cracks around the doors, floor, and windows. Clearly the aircraft was not designed for a water landing. Mary shouldered open a door before the pressure of the rising water could make it impossible to open. Stumbling into the tropical water was cold at night, but Mary was relieved to find that she could stand in the waist deep waves as they shoved her onto the sandy shore. Jared and Nicole followed her as they pressed through the sheets of warm tropical rain towards the lighthouse.
Its beacon was somehow pulsing a crimson color now from a tall spire that rose from dark rocks at the center of the island. After the thunder and the crash, even the pounding rain seemed like a welcome quiet.
"My phone is drowned," Nicole stated bitterly, wiping the dark screen ineffectually, "Jared can we rescue the plane's radio?"
"The lighting fried it anyway." he said, grimly pulling his own smashed and sopping wet phone from his pocket.
"Thankfully the aircraft acted like a Faraday cage and protected us." Mary was patting her own pockets and finding nothing of use save for a granola bar and a pocket multitool. She pressed onward toward the lighthouse tower, clambering over wet rocks to the only apparent shelter on the island.
The door opened easily, any locks clearly rendered to rusty dust by the salty sea air. Inside, the tower smelled musty, as if no human occupants had been here for quite some time. There was no accompanying house for an operator, so the room with the spinning light would be the only place to sleep. The trio climbed the narrow, spiral stairwell to the top of the tower in total darkness.
Upon opening the door at the top of the tower, Mary was shocked to see that the enormous lighthouse lamp that dominated the center of the room was sitting quite still and looked broken. An eerie red glow spilled across the floor in a throbbing pattern and distant lightning illuminated the rain lashing against the windows.
"Where is that red light coming from?" Nicole asked quizzically, peering out from behind where Jared stood in the doorway. Bootsteps echoed across the old wooden floor as the ghostly, translucent figure of a man stepped out from behind the lighthouse lamp.
A crimson outline of a glowing heart throbbed from within his chest in that heartbeat pattern, casting light upwards towards his short beard and unkempt red hair. He wore a top hat, bow tie, and a captain's coat with epaulettes and brass buttons over pinstripe trousers. This ghost appeared to be from the Victorian era.
Mary drew her multitool and slid the pocket knife out automatically, while Jared stumbled backwards onto the stairwell. Nicole strode forward. This was her turn to shine. Despite her Christian faith, she was a big fan of ghosts and anything supernatural.
"What is your name?" Nicole intoned, like the psychic on her favorite reality TV show. The ghostly figure lowered his arms and the wrinkles on his forehead outlined by the glow of his pulsing red heart softened.
"My name is Ezra." The ghostly figure lifted one hand forward, as if to take Nicole's. She reached out and her right hand passed right through his. Ezra shrugged and smiled apologetically. "This is the first time I have had visitors. I am afraid my provisions may be expired, but there are some cots here so that you may take rest." He gestured towards footlocker-sized chests and folded, military cots alongside a wall.
Jared emerged, shaking, from the stairwell and set up the cots at Nicole's direction. There were only two, and after Mary flopped down exhaustedly into one, Nicole joined her with her head at the opposite end of the long cot. Jared pressed his lips together and looked down in his lap as he sat on the other cot.
"Are you mad at me?" Jared's voice was soft, as if to only project towards Nicole. Nevertheless, even Ezra, turned his gaze from the sea and attempted to subtly eavesdrop. Nicole turned towards the wall and closed her eyes. Mary's eyes met Jared's.
"Look, sometimes a gal just needs the comfort of her childhood friend." Mary brushed back her shaggy, golden hair from her eyes. "I think it's reasonable for your wife to take a break from your constant baby-like behavior to rest during a life or death situation." Mary broke apart her pocket granola bar into thirds and passed a piece to Nicole and Jared in turn. Nicole popped hers in her mouth without opening her eyes and chewed. Jared accepted his gratefully and pondered his words carefully.
"I'm glad that you're here for Nicole," he said slowly, "I love her so much even though I sort of lose it in an emergency. Nicole has always been stronger than me in that way." Tears rose to his eyes as he glanced over at his wife. Nicole rose slowly and wearily to a seated position and held a hand out to grasp her husband's fingers. Jared squeezed her hand gently and then let it drop with a wan smile. Mary tried to hide her own smirk. She was always the problem-solver, and had succeeded yet again. Remembering the chests of supplies, she pulled herself upright to use her multitool on the hasp of the closest chest.
Ezra's specter made a sound like a sharp inhale, even though he could not possibly be taking in air. Nicole's head whipped in his direction and her forehead wrinkled sympathetically.
"Ezra, what's wrong?" She rose to ineffectually put a hand on his shoulder, instead letting it pass through his bluish coat. The inside of his translucent form was much colder than the surrounding temperature inside the lighthouse, but became almost as warm as her own body temperature when it neared the throbbing heart's glow. Ezra turned towards the group and spread his hands.
"I've never seen such a display of friendship," he said, his voice full of emotion. "In fact, my own friends betrayed me for treasure. They betray me still." His hands and head dropped. "They guard the treasure so that I can never near it, even in death. If you would join me on an adventure to retrieve it, I will share it with you. They cannot harm you." He passed his hand through Nicole's shoulder as evidence and then placed his hand in the center of the group, entreating them to join him. Each friend put their hands on top of his cold one.
"Let's all celebrate with a toast of 120 year old Rum!" Mary lifted a bottle from an open chest.
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