The interior of the lighthouse was damp and cool. At the top of the spiraling staircase, there was a cluster of windows that lined the top of the lighthouse. There were also three small breaks in the exterior of the building where tall, slim panes of glass separated them from the outside world. Sunlight trickled through the glass and lit up the entire one side of the tower. The area was cast in a burnt-orange glow from the morning rays. Mac’s blonde hair mirrored the orange light of the room as she slid down the door, her chest heaving.
Kris was bent over with her hands on her thighs. “I hope they don’t follow us,” she said between gasps. “I’m too out of shape for this shit.”
Mac’s laugh filled the hollow tower and she shook her head. “I haven’t run that much since high school.” The woman paused and looked over to Kris and added, “Lacrosse.”
“Oh, fuck that. I didn’t run then either. Nerds like me hung out in the art rooms and on the stage. I only run if I need to,” she paused for a moment and smiled before adding, “and even then, it’s a challenge.”
The two women shared a laugh and the tension dissolved out of the room. Kris made her way over to the staircase and sat down on the second run of the steps and noticed something odd. Normally by now, Kris would have had an asthma attack. Having poor lung capacity, frequent bronchitis and carrying an inhaler were all normal parts of her life. She was breathing hard, but the air passed through her lungs without any tightness across her chest. Joy and terror crossed through her mind simultaneously and she briefly wondered what else about her had changed since she was bitten.
Kris made her way over to the stairs, sat down on the second step and slid the pack off of her back. She unzipped the bag and began to pull every item out of the sack and placed them on the floor to take stock of what they had. As she scanned over the supplies, Kris realized that they wouldn’t be able to stay in the lighthouse for very long. They had enough for two days. Maybe three if they sparingly drank the water. Six apples and the crackers were more than enough but the water wouldn’t last. Mac was completely empty handed; it was obvious that she had left in a hurry. Kris glanced over to her new companion.
Mac had stripped her tank top off and was wearing just her bikini top. She used the cotton shirt to dab her forehead and wipe her face clean of the dried sand from the swap. Her skin was tanned from the summer sun and her slim, lightly defined stomach had a silver, dangling navel ring with a green, pear-shaped gem in it. The urge to stare was almost overwhelming and Kris forced herself to look away.
Opal. Sapphire. Ammolite. Malachite. Jade. Dematoid garnet. Peridot. Watermelon tourmaline. Gaspeite. Emerald. Jasper. Bloodstone. Green topaz. There’s more than that, but what are they? Shit. Kris shook her head, annoyed. Can’t remember. It matters. It matters because the memories matter. “Do they really matter?” Kris’s interior monologue was slipping out.
“Does what matter?” Mac’s voice pierced Kris’s thoughts. In her mind, the foreign voice split the sphere that surrounded her in a small wave. Her head snapped up and she locked eyes with Mac.
Kris shook her head again. “It’s nothing.”
Mac raised her eyebrow thoughtfully but didn’t say anything further. Between being able to hear absolutely everything and having the most absurd memory imaginable, Kris was beginning to realize that she wouldn’t be able to keep this “whatever it was” a secret for very long. The awkward silence was threatening to creep back into the room.
“Hungry?” Kris asked, gesturing with an apple.
“Starving,” her friend replied. Kris tossed the Pink Lady towards Mac and she caught it with ease. There was a satisfying CRUNCH as Mac sunk her teeth into the pink and green skin. Pink Lady apples were always something that Jeff and Kris had in their home. They would go to the local market, purchase fifteen of them in a single week and eat every last one. Jeff’s favourite way to eat them was sliced and slathered with peanut butter. One of Kris’s most cherished memories was sitting on the back porch with Jeff, watching the moon rise over the ocean. Between them, on a bistro table, were two sliced apples, a jar of peanut butter and a six pack of Sam Adam’s Summer Ale. They didn’t often have evenings to themselves, but when they had them, the couple always made them count. Finding that moment of solidarity in the current madness inside Kris’s mind was comforting. Even if that memory only lasted a moment, it gave her something to hold on to and it cleared her thoughts. Kris had her elbows propped on her knees and her face buried in her hands, breathing deeply. Now that she was left with her thoughts, it was getting harder and harder to ignore them.
By the door, Kris heard Mac sniffle and then run the back of her hand across her nose. Kris glanced up from her hands and saw that Mac had her face buried in her hands as well. The apple was sitting on the floor with two bites taken out of it. Mac looked up apologetically and met Kris’s eyes. Deep sadness was etched across her face and silent tears ran down her cheeks. “Sorry,” she whispered. “Been a rough day.” She sniffled again and looked away.
Kris smiled sadly and stood up from the stairs of the lighthouse and moved over to where Mac was sitting against the door. She sat down facing her and pulled her into a close hug. It didn’t matter that they just met and were still total strangers. What they both needed right now was real, human contact and as Mac’s nestled her face against Kris’s shoulder, her tears began to flow freely.
She had her cheek resting against the crown of Mac’s head and tenderly, Kris ran her fingers over Mac’s soft, blonde hair. As Kris sat there with her new companion, tears began to run down her cheeks as well. It was then that she decided that they would need to stick together. From the way that Mac was reacting, they only had each other now. Mac was here on vacation, so it was likely that she would never see her family ever again. For a moment, Kris counted herself lucky for not having any close family to speak of.
“I just wanted to come down here to get away from all the bull shit, you know?” Mac managed to say between sobs. “I mean, I never imagined I’d get fucking stuck down here and see my family ripped apart in front of me,” she wailed. “I just wanted to have some fun before starting my last year of grad school. I just wanted some time without Tommy. I just – “ Mac’s voice cracked and she dissolved into body wracking sobs and the words wouldn’t come out any more.
Kris wasn’t sure how much time had passed before they had both drifted off into blissful silence. Their sobs and sniffles had subsided and the only sound in the lighthouse was of their breathing. The temperature in the building had gotten hot and stuffy – they would need to open the windows soon but neither of them felt like moving.
“I’m scared too, you know,” Mac murmured. As she spoke, Kris was running her hand through Mac’s hair again. “I have no fucking idea what we’re going to do.”
Kris’s response sounded more like a strong exhale than a laugh. “Survive. What choice do we have?”
“In a fucking lighthouse?”
Kris shrugged. “It could be worse. I mean, it has one way in and one way out. It’s strong and will probably be our best chance of making it through this. I mean,” Kris laughed a little. “It survived all the hurricanes since 1872 and who knows what the hell else.”
Mac was silent for a moment, clearly weighing her options. She could either stay strong and live to fight another day, or join her family in death. The thought of the latter made her cringe again and fight off tears. Her family had gone down to the beach early that morning, eager to soak up the last rays of North Carolina sun before they would head back to Cincinnati, Ohio. It was the first time Mackenzie Hawthorn and her family had visited the Outer Banks and so far, it had been an amazing week. Not only was Mac taking a short break from her studies in graduate school, but she was also getting away from her (now ex) boyfriend Tommy. To say that their relationship was tumultuous was a grave understatement. Tommy would lose his temper over the smallest things and before Mac knew it, him stomping around their apartment in a huff quickly changed to him throwing fists at her body. This time, he had swung at her face. She had dodged the blow at the last moment and Tommy’s fist had collided with the brick wall, breaking his hand. Mac had violently driven her knee into his stomach, forcing the man to the floor. Through his vulgar, wheezing threats, Mac grabbed what she could and ran. She had filed for a restraining order, bought a gun and had moved across the city to get away from him. The amount of stress from Tommy alone was enough to almost put her over the edge; Mac’s parents reached out to her and offered to take her with them down to the beach. It was obvious she needed a little bit of time to unwind. Plus, her sister was preparing to start college in August. Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorn were rapidly becoming empty-nesters and they wanted to do something different to commemorate the occasion.
By the time Mac had woken up around noon, her family had already hit the beach. Her father was pushing the beach cart, packed to the brim. Mac pulled on her bikini, khaki shorts and tshirt and hustled down to the sand. It was only a few minutes later that she crossed over the dunes, but it was too late. She could only watch in horror as her family was brutally torn limb-from-limb.
And then, she was alone. But as she looked over her shoulder and into the face of Kris, she felt a renewed sense of hope. There was a trace of a smile on her face as she said, “Okay. Let’s do it.” Kris smiled and Mac snuggled back against her new friend. “What’s the plan?”
“I have a little food and water that’ll last us a few days. After that, we can probably take the two mile trek back to my place and pick up more supplies. There’s a local hardware store close by that we could stop at too. It’ll probably be all cleared out anyway, but fuck it! Couldn’t hurt to give it a once-over. And then…” she paused. “And then we can go from there. Take it one day at a time, yeah?”
Mac nodded. “Yeah, let’s do it.”