SHORT STORIES: The Lighthouse at the Edge of Heaven
Friday 25th June, Day 1 (Officially Day 5)
My first log. Four days later than planned. It’s also the first time I’ve had the stomach to step outside of my cabin since completing the climb. A wall of vertigo came crashing down on me as soon as I stepped off the final rung. My joints dissolved and nausea swelled like a tempest up into my gullet. I caught brief glimpses of the summer solstice between slimy, vomit-webbed fingers. It was breath-taking beyond anything I’d ever seen, somewhat akin to the opening of a peacock’s tail against a background of fiery autumnal foliage. Or, excusing the tasteless metaphor, to the detonation of an atom bomb, countless megatons of pearlescent solar energy spewing out into the fraying atmosphere like a huge, many-hued mushroom cloud. Tokyo must have anticipated that I’d be somewhat incommunicado at the beginning. They appear to have a lot of faith in me and hadn’t expressed a jot of outward concern during the dry run. The fact that a Brit had been chosen as the face of an all-Japanese venture was a strong indication of their confidence in my abilities. Either that or they appreciated that I didn’t ask too many questions. This was far from a routine mission. I doubt there had been a mob of applicants breaking down the doors of their recruitment building. More fool me; here I am, rapidly losing the sensation in my fingers. Small steps. Perhaps, I’ll attempt to eat something tomorrow.
Saturday 26th June, Day 2
Most of this morning was spent wrestling with the idea of throwing myself over the balustrade. Needless to say, my mind is playing some seriously disconcerting tricks on me. Tokyo was rather vague regarding the medical document I was given; in fact, several pages were left blank with instructions for me to fill them in as I go. Potential degradation of decision-making faculties at peak elevation. Desire to evacuate facility may be heightened. Fortunately, the impulses steadily relented, and by midday, I was scanning the seemingly limitless horizon with renewed interest. Below me is a dense, constantly shifting quilt of weather systems, replete with lightning bolts and oscillating spirals. When the clouds part, the entire world is reduced to a mere paperweight in my hand. I can trace a route from the Bay of Bengal to Baja California and pinch the horn of Africa between my thumb and forefinger. One could nurture quite the ego from this lofty vantage point, but I’m grounded by the thought that just one errant storm could send me plummeting to my death in a hail of iron girders. Thrilled too, if I’m honest with myself. Initial apprehension may quickly dissolve, replaced with a sense of reckless abandon.
Sunday 27th June, Day 3
Day three has blended itself rather seamlessly into its predecessor. The vast, imperial darkness of outer space quickly conquered my tiny mesospheric outpost at just after nine yesterday evening, unfurling an epic cosmic fresco of twinkling stars and sweeping nebulae. Lying flat on the main deck, I let that impossible vista excuse me from the insufferable boredom of sleep. I emerged hours later buried in a thick layer of frost. It wasn’t until the morning sun had recuperated its strength I could hobble back to my cabin to do the same. Salty ramen noodles and a block of raw lime jelly. I was back on my feet an hour and a half later to inspect the meteorological equipment on the roof of the cabin. Satisfied that everything was in order, I made my way over to the ladder that leads back down to the main deck. Before I could descend, however, a broad shadow loomed into my peripheral vision. It surmounted the balustrade like the prow of some colossal ship, obscuring the viewing platform entirely. I wrenched my head from my neck to discover its owner, only to find myself, once again, cheated by my own imagination. I was alone. Lurching disappointment thrusts a knife into my gut as the words spit like venom from my pen. What did I expect? Lack of sleep has made me look very foolish. Time for bed.
Monday 28th June, Day 4
Much nocturnal activity to report. At around two this morning, an unexpected gale swept through the station. The triple-reinforced structure of my cabin ensured my physical safety, but the unbridled alarm I felt at that ungodly sound has left me somewhat shaken emotionally. Oddly, the meteorological equipment is entirely untouched. Likewise, the balustrade remains intact. All that remains as proof of the event are several narrow, black streaks etched into the corrugated surface of the main deck. My first thought was that they vaguely resembled scorch marks. I suppose it’s not impossible that a meteor had narrowly avoided colliding with the station as it began its descent from the vacuum above. But the markings are so clean, almost uniform. I attempted communication with Tokyo twice this afternoon, once at three and then again at half past four. White noise. White fucking noise. That’s what eight trillion Yen buys you, I suppose. I’ve made a few sketches, at least; maybe when the mission’s over, I’ll still have some sort of flimsy, vainglorious legacy to cling to. Or not, in all probability.
Tuesday 29th June, Day 5
Tokyo sent a communication this morning, which I promptly ignored. Completely justified after yesterday’s no-show. With any luck, they’ll panic and send up a salvage party. The board would take an almighty beating, and it’d be nice to see familiar faces; I could show them the marks on the main deck. A second opinion would be useful, even if it was from one of those knuckle-dragging mechanics they continue to lavish with a salary. That way, I’d know if I was losing it. And if I was going mad, one of them could sign me off, and I’d find myself in some luxurious Pacific Shore Convalescence Centre with a nice Chesterfield armchair to relax in. They won’t send one though, not yet. My cynicisms were confirmed midway through the afternoon; fifty lines of additional meteorological data to be collected over the next couple of days, Priority-1. Fuckers.
Wednesday 30th June, Day 6
Twelve hours of uninterrupted data collection. Spools of prime numbers seared into my unblinking pupils. Afterwards, I confronted my reflection in the mirrored cabin windows. The thing that squinted back at me was not of terrestrial origin. Its skin was a sickly grey oil spill, atop which two small, bloodied ovals struggled to stay afloat. Thin and cracked lips housed rows of ugly, blackened molars. Maybe I’m being melodramatic. It’s only Day 6, after all, or is it Day 10? I loathe myself for feeling so helpless.
Thursday 1st July, Day 7
Unyielding sadness. The tablets come nowhere close to touching it.
Friday 2nd July, Day 8
I awoke at an unknown hour to an intense pain pulsating at my temples. Snippets of disembodied conversations were hurtling round in my head, like echoes of a half-remembered dream. The noise was unbearable, with absolutely no way to block it out. I staggered outside to get air, but the chatter only intensified. A rhythmic, high-pitched alarm mingled in with the phantom voices, until all at once, reaching a crescendo and dissipating completely. For hours afterwards, my ears felt like they’d been cleaned out with a power drill. Strange formations of golden light danced in front of my eyes, hinting at as-yet-undecipherable languages, somehow uniform in their nonsensical irregularity. I could no longer focus on the final datasets that needed collecting, so I lay on the main deck for a while and stagnated in the bright afternoon sunshine. After what could have been no longer than ten minutes of unsuccessful relaxation, my muscles tautened as a colossal weight came hurtling down onto my chest. Through fear or who knows what other agent, my eyes momentarily refused to open, and I squirmed pitifully under some unseen behemoth. My breathing slowed, and I lost consciousness, just as a metallic-tasting liquid passed between my lips and trickled down my oesophagus.
Saturday 3rd July, Day 9
On reading yesterday’s entry, I have no recollection of the events described. What’s more, I have no recollection of writing yesterday’s entry, which is alarming. I need to leave before my condition worsens. At best, I could be suffering from severe altitude sickness. I should prepare to descend, but something is holding me back. I can’t really explain it in precise terms, just an odd feeling of reluctance I can’t put my finger on. I feel like shit trapped up here, yet something is telling me to stay put, to wait a little longer. I felt like shit down there, too, so maybe feeling like shit up here is no worse a situation. I think I’ll stay. It feels like the right thing to do.
Sunday 4th July, Day 10
The headaches have degenerated into relentless, dizzying migraines. My vision is blurred to the extent that everything in front of me looks like an old oil painting. I’m writing blindly now, with no idea if what I’m jotting down is legible. No matter, I imagine I’ll be too weak to write for much longer. When I close my eyes, the black veil of sleep has been replaced with a viscous golden liquid. I’m fighting to keep them open, but my conviction is waning.
Monday 5th July, Day 11
I don’t remember falling asleep last night. I woke up outside of my cabin, face and bare torso covered in a fine dusting of what seemed to be some bluish variant of charcoal ash. My vision has returned to normal, but my left hand has lost all feeling, and I’m forced to write, ineptly, with my weaker hand. I tried breaking the skin on my paralysed hand with a pair of scissors I found in the first aid box. Oddly, I was completely unable to draw any blood. Even the smallest droplet evaded my efforts. I’m not sure why, but my mind is now even more firmly set on staying. Aside from that, it would be madness to attempt such a risky descent one-handed. It’s as if my brain has undertaken a comprehensive re-wiring, whilst my body edges closer to decrepitude. There can be no guarantee I’ll endure another night at this rate, so I pen my own obituary in this embarrassingly infantile new script:
Tuesday 6th July, Day 12
Still here. I can only assume I drifted off again before I could finish yesterday’s entry. I’m feeling slightly more upbeat today, so I will hold off from indulging in any self-pitying activities, hoping to regain some momentum. My right hand has succumbed to the same strange fate as its left-sided counterpart. I’m finding no small amount of amusement in writing today’s passage with my feet. If it wasn’t so ludicrous, I’d probably be throwing myself into the abyss. The dawn sky is particularly spectacular this morning, awash with glamorous swathes of ruby and gold. Today seems like a good day to sit and wait. For what, I don’t really know.
Wednesday 7th July, Day 13
Yesterday’s uncertainty seems like an aeons-old ghost of malignance. The clarity of vision that had blossomed in the outermost reaches of my primitive human brain has bloomed and forced itself upon on the rest of my body. My hands can, once more, put pen to paper, with an assuredness and a wisdom beyond that of my inferior terrestrial contemporaries. Such epiphanies I have experienced! After countless hours staring into the silent heavens, finally a companion worthy of exultation! The shadow that had so frightened me before has revealed itself as chief of herald angels, inky vanguard of the new people! Their Lord came to me in all his horrific magnificence. A metallic albatross, monstrous in scale and speed. His wings adorned with clusters of golden runes that spoke of hidden alcoves of civilisation across the cold, bleak deserts of time and space. With each prismatic blink of his vast eye, he gifted me with a billion light years of knowledge. We depart tomorrow, for parts distant and abstract.
Thursday 8th July, Day 14
A final dawn. I henceforth part with Earth, with Japan, and with unbearable loneliness. I part with them indefinitely. I part with my body, which would not survive the journey in its current form. I have been promised a new vessel upon arrival, one that transcends physical beauty and circumvents mortality. I will no longer suffer the sting of rejection or the gritty bite of loss. Sadness will cease to exist, erased by the mechanical apathy that pulses through Him like a gleaming network of neon blue veins. His call has begun to swing down from the doldrums above; with it I must eschew fear and assume my place on the highest point of the cabin roof. Potential degradation of decision-making faculties at peak elevation. Desire to evacuate facility may be heightened.