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The Heretical Nine — Prologue

Carl spent a majority of Sunday evenings in his small yacht, sailing around the northern coast of Key West. He mapped the same route every Sunday—north around Dredgers Key, tracing Salt Pond by the coast, passing the Naval station and the College Road peninsula. He made his way south of Jewfish Basin, looking north at the scattered array of islands, feeling June’s breathy exhale of ocean mist sticking to his skin. It was the little things, he thought to himself. After his first heart attack a few years back, he retired and bought himself a white boat. He’d always wanted one. He named her Louise after the woman he should have married. He was older now and deserved to relax. The moon winked at him from behind a Van Gogh swirl of clouds. His yacht rocked and swayed pleasantly as he sat behind the wheel with legs raised, feet on the wall. The rubber soles of his Velcro sandals stuck nicely to the carbon fiber and supported his reclined posture, but despite that, he would have rather had a footrest. Every time he stepped off his boat for the evening, the mental note erased itself from his mind, and the cycle repeated. But today, the memory erased itself for a different reason. In the distance, but not too far away, Carl saw what was unmistakably a beam of light from a lighthouse. As a former certified public accountant, Carl had an interest in numbers and keeping track of them. It had been over a year, considerably, since Carl first purchased his yacht and began sailing this same route without variation. Estimating the few times he didn’t take his yacht out for an evening romp and subtracting that number from the number of days that he owned his yacht, he estimated that he’d been out on this path south of the Jewfish Basin just over four-hundred times, and never once had he seen this particular lighthouse’s beam of light. The curiosity provoked an excitement within him that he’d been actively avoiding. The thrill of adventure called to him, but his weak heart held his pursuit. What would his doctor say? He was lucky to survive two heart attacks as it were. Miraculous even. His doctor would tell him that it was imperative for him to relax and not heed the call to any strenuous or stressful activity. But it was strange, wasn’t it? The lighthouse hadn’t been lit in over four hundred days by his estimate. What if someone was in trouble? His mind resolute, he pulled his craft north and began towards the light. The lighthouse reminded him of Louise. In their youth, she loved lighthouses. In Cape Cod, Massachusetts, they spent several weekends on the rocky shores beside a lighthouse that was straight out of a Thomas Kinkade painting. Cape Cod was where they first met. The only memories Carl still possessed of those evenings were of low cloudy skies that broke and fell away at Louise’s brilliant smile. They ate peanut butter sandwiches, drank marmalade, and watched the boats sail by. Louise had always wanted a boat, so Carl had promised her a fleet. When cancer took her too young and too soon, Carl broke and never healed. The next forty years were a blur compared to memories of single moments with her. When his heart stopped the first time, he awoke with a vague memory of her calling to him as he fought for life, but now that memory only surfaced within the deep slumber of fitful nights. As he approached the lighthouse now and as it grew larger and larger, the mystery expanded. This lighthouse was set directly in the middle of a mansion. The mansion was two stories tall. Torn and wretched, a fist set in sand, scarred and emitting a darkness that obscured light from surrounding natural sources. His gaze was forced towards the lighthouse light, a sanctuary away from the contrasting darkness. The light spun around horizontally, innocent like a child with a false sense of immortality. Carl gazed upon it with a longing and an offer for mutual comfort. It stood from the mansion like an obelisk. He turned his gaze to the shore. Sand surrounded grass that circled the mansion. Scattered palm trees sprung about, leaves tossing in the wind. Carl squinted at the shore, seeing movement. Then, he identified the impossible. She had long hair, just like Louise’s. Slim, like Louise. The wind tore at her hair and whipped it about. The light spun around the sky like Hollywood searchlights. For moments the woman was lit as a silhouette, but then she disappeared into the darkness with the light’s rotation. On the shore he spotted a dock, and pushed his yacht towards it, begging his racing heart to still. He took deep breaths and tried to avert his eyes from the apparition, but every time he returned his gaze the slim silhouette remained, waving at him. He docked his yacht and, without bothering to secure it to the horn cleat, disembarked and approached the woman—the mansion—the lighthouse beneath the moon. The clouds were a dark jacket. Then the woman smiled, and the sky broke open.
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