“I know. I understand. It’s a lot to ask. But please forgive us. We had no idea at the time of what was to come. After all, who really can tell what’s the difference between a banishing and a summoning. Who can? Not me. Not us. Not then.
I can’t say it was the most unusual thing we’d ever seen. After all, this rocky, biting cold, miserable little piece of coastline had been on our radar for years. Well, that’s more of a truism than you know; that’s literally why we discovered it. Radar had been brand new and the Home Office was having fits. Every time a plane or balloon or flock of birds flipped over that stupid spit of land, it was blip off the radar. They thought they had a failure. Or a hole. Or who knew what. They just got concerned that Jerry would find out and a fleet of Nazi bombers would somehow take advantage of the phenomenon and flit in to wreck the dreams of freedom, liberty and all that trap.
So, they co-opted a bunch of birdwatchers, too flat-footed to be on continental duty, and threw in a D-grade scientist or two to oversee the bunch, and set up Project Finch. Day after day, they’d go over to the coastline and run their little tests and watch for the fighter wings that never came. It would be delightfully ominous to say that the original scientists went mad or that there was an unexplained murder or two, or horrible mutation. Sorry. Nothing of the sort.
There were some lights. Certainly. Could have been the local equivalent of marsh gas. The smell of rotting sea was certainly notable. And a couple of the early folks got the screams. Nightmares, they said, waking ones sometimes. But they were sorted out and sent away and replaced by a hardier crew. After that, not much to report.
A birdwatcher and a scientist got married. Another more salacious but less legal coupling led to a Section 11 sentencing, the same thing that took down that chap, Turing. Oscar Wilde, too. That comes to mind. A little random but I suppose I can be forgiven for the slightest bit of whimsy, given the current circumstances.
At some point during the 60s, some idiot in America accidentally released information on the spot, during some old fart’s search for foo fighters. Across the pond, it turned into Project Blue Book. Over here, it turned into a very quiet diplomatic incident, where the Queen’s Service politely requested that the Central Intelligence Agency stop handing out their secrets like effing candy and then handed Project Finch a sizable check to protect the land against the inevitable lookie-loos.
I’m a little disappointed to report that my predecessors used most of it to update their scientific equipment and hold quite a number of lavish little parties for the local birds. A fence went up and a couple of chaps hired to walk the perimeter, but when the unwashed masses arrived, our ‘guards’ proved to be amenable to letting people have their look for a packet of fags and a couple of bills.
Truth be told, there wasn’t anything to worry about back then. I mean some flower power folks, in the 60s and 70s, claiming it must have been a vortex or a new Stonehenge or a fairy circle or a ley-line nexus. But the place was so gray and miserable that after a few stormy hours, no one saw the point of staying. There was that one time when a group of Satanists got out there and the local constabulary had to be called out to stop them from sacrificing a goat but that was the worst of that crap.
I do know a couple of folks who said we dodged a bullet; that a sizable percent of our visitors ended up having run-ins with the Bill long after their visit. Violent ones. The kind of cult violence you get with the penny dreadfuls back in the day with the stabbings and self-mutilations. But I can tell you, having read the files and seen a couple of the old reels, that wasn’t the case when those folks were here. They’d come, they’d dance or chant, then they’d get the hell out after the cold got into their bones. That’s about the extent of it.
I know it probably seems odd that folks were hired to still watch the place, even after the war, but it was an odd time. All the cockups with the Soviets, everybody thinking that this was going to be it, that some idiot in America would piss up the wrong rope and either the cowboys or the commies would let one egg loose and boom, there we’d all go. It didn’t seem to be all that hard to sign off on an “observation station”, especially one that guarded such a ‘prominent hole’ in our defenses and cost so relatively little to maintain. A couple of dozen lads and lasses. Most amateurs, a couple of professionals.
A little out of order, I know, but I want to talk about the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse was built somewhere in the paranoid 50s, I think, to cover the barracks that were Finch’s primary labs, spotty though the labs were. The local townies were actively avoiding the project members by then. Poor dears thought the Lighthouse was some sort of missile silo or radar base. Wish it was more interesting. It was basically a platform to look down on the anomaly, while keeping out of the weather. The Lighthouse also marked the edge of the phenomenon, so you knew there was that. ‘Here There Be Dragons’ some idiot carved in a rock on the other side of the boundary.
Boundary. Again, I make it sound so bloody spooky and it wasn’t. It really wasn’t. I mean, maybe if you were a scientist and you couldn’t figure out why your readings were so blooming off. Or some of the bird watchers noted that birds didn’t enter the area, except a rare few and they were just blinking mean. I can’t even tell you how many reports were written up on fish that were caught just off the cliff, for testing.
You’d have to go out in this boat, this tiny little dinghy, because anything larger would risk crashing on the rocks in that rough sea and, hell, dinghies were expendable and people, with their bright orange flotation vests could just cling to a rock and yell for help until somebody lowered a line and pulled them up the cliff. Happened more than once. The person would end up battered, bruised, and pissy about why they couldn’t get funding for a better collection system than a stupid boat but no one would do anything about it. Nobody ever died collecting fish.
In fact, the only person on base who did die in the seas was Skinny. That was around the early eighties, I think? Sandra saw it when it happened. Silly sod was out there on the edge when he seized. He was an epileptic and he pitched right over. She said he got the strangest expression beforehand, out there, watching the stars rise. Like someone looking hard in a two-way mirror, trying to see who’s on the other side. And this look of surprise, right before he soiled himself and tipped off.
He’d been with the project since the 60s, a bit of a hippy himself, but dedicated enough to volunteer to be a part of the Finch. The site manager had ended up teaching Skinny all that he knew; told a bunch of fellows how he thought Skinny should go to university and that just being on site was a waste of time. But Skinny liked Sandra and he liked the one-on-one mentoring and the quiet and reading, so I suppose it wasn’t a waste of time to him.
Sandra sort of wandered off after Skinny died. I want to think I heard someone say she’d slit her wrists but I doubt it. It’s not in her file. Not like Davis. Now there was a nut. Mid-eighties, I think. Berlin Wall coming down and some clerk with a wicked sense of humor sends Davis to the site. So get this: three eggheads in charge at this point; high-energy physics I think, but that might be too early for that, so forgive me if I’m wrong. About, no surprise, a couple dozen watchers who basically man the Lighthouse, watch the grounds, gather samples. And then this rabid we-need-to-stop-the-Reds shows up, orders in hand. Total stereotypical lead chewer. Watched one too many American action flicks, if you ask me.
Davis started out in a complete state; he was so sure he was being shipped off to a secret project to defeat communism. And here he’s got this steaming turd to deal with; his words, I might add, and his first words on the record to the bloke one step down from him in the very loose chain of command. About then, the townies were getting downright unfriendly. Words tossed around about us like ‘freaks’, ‘ pale as a dead fish’ and ‘moon-eyed.’ Truth be told, a lot of it came down to my father, Wooster, who turned heads even before he came to the project and the isolation did him no favors. But you get a draw for that sort of project and Davis, all bark and bristles, fed the flames high.
He was the one to start the exercises; sun-up and sun-down. He cut out the singing–a bunch of old-timers had taken up humming together to pass the time–on account Davis considered it ‘unnatural.’ Hell, everyone remembers the time he pulled a pistol on Wooster and threatened to plant a penny through each eye. The women, though, they had it the roughest. Davis held that the project leader, a position he unofficially held by benefit of rank, had certain privileges he had the right to ask for.
I don’t know of anyone who fell for that. I do know that the infirmary records of that time showed a marked uptick in reports of bruises and breaks among the women. Then the men, and finally Davis. It is known that about the time he ended up in the infirmary, he decided that taking out his aggressions on townie-women was a safer bet than dealing with the Finches. He never really was one of us.
I’d like to say his suicide was a surprise but after a couple of years of trying to get transferred, all the fight just seemed to drop out of him. The letters to Home Office were unanswered or, in some cases, intercepted by the team simply to torment him. The townies were banding together to minimize his damage while still parting him from his wages. The team only talked to him through increasingly complicated and deliberately incoherent reports that numbered in the hundreds of pages, weekly.
The site itself was hit by some sort of nasty mold or fungus or something. Whatever its source, it caused a skin rash that left scaly-looking skin for months at a time. Davis catching a nasty case of it in his crotch was the last straw. The books report he took the long drop off the Lighthouse during a storm. The body hit the mosses at the base of the structure with a quiet thud. Folks confused it with a possible pop of thunder and ignored it until they went searching for him the next morning. His head was never found, thankfully; that’s the issue with the long drop. The rope doesn’t so much as break your neck as it does yank your head clean off. The theory was that the head went towards the cliffs and the storm blew it over.
The local constable and a bloke from the Home Office came to take a look and that was what they both said. They didn’t take too hard a look though. Said that the storm would have washed away any solid evidence, so barring someone coming forward from the town or the base to confess to murder, it was a shrug, sign the death certificate, tag-and-bag it kind of moment. No one stepped up so the body got carted away. Things were a little less tense between the townies and the Finches for a time, a little while at least.
The 90s, when I was born; a few of us were born to the team at this point. It was kind of a thing, the Finches having been together in one form or another since the early days. Wooster met Sandra. Yeah, I know. Same name as the earlier lass who had loved Skinny. This young lady was a city girl, fan of turn-of-the-century dreadfuls, lover of walks under the “blasphemous moon” and adopter of goth about a half-decade too late for it to be fashionable. Needed a clean start and was clerking for the expenditures division at the Home Office when she came across the Project. Like so many before her, she thought it was a UFO thing and checked up on it for a lark, but the thought of doing it for real — being part of the Finches–appealed to her in an in-the-guts kind of way. So when she spotted a request for personnel replacement, the official paperwork for ‘someone’s died and we need another’, she was the first to file in.
Funny sense of humor, my mum. Thought my Da was “as ugly a halibut that could walk on two legs” but she loved his sense of urgency. When he set his mind to it, he’d move heaven and earth to make it happen, and by the heavens, it happened when Mum breezed into his sight. I was their odd little duck, growing up, schooled in the base after that bit with Lily and Max back in town. Truth be told, I thought they were my friends. Townie folks, they buttered me up for about a year before getting me to climb in a “fish box” for a “joke.” Joke was on me. The box was the freezer used to store the local catch and I would have kicked off right there if some sod hadn’t come through with an early catch to store, finding me wide-eyed, blue and listless on top of some salted cod.
I remember telling my story to the town council and the provost and a couple of other folks. I remember something like “boys will be boys” and “kids can be cruel.” Things like that. I had to wear some special goggles after that. Something about my retinas being scarred by the cold. I never got back all the feeling in my fingers or toes but it’s something you could live with, I suppose. About a year later, Lily and Max ended up in some industrial steamer, the ones that cannery used to take the flesh off the fish. I suppose some parts of them worked their way into some poor chump’s tuna dinner. I was never really told for sure. But the thought stuck. Word around the Finches was that the two were working out a prank on some other mark and it went wrong for them. Still, I remember the night when it felt like half the town showed up, guns in hand, screaming for us to come out and face the music.
Yeah, you got that one right; they blamed us. I remember the calls made from the lighthouse, the men stacking up stuff against the only door. The barracks burning. Home Office sent is some squadies to sort it out by the morning, quick as they could. End result? “Kids will be kids”, “kids will be cruel”, local constable and the bloke from the Home Office saying not enough evidence for anything foul. Terrible, terrible accident. That’s what they said. That was the year we started getting supplies by truck so no one would have to leave for town again.
The Finches, my make-shift crazy family, called it the Great Isolation, but hell, they were not unhappy with it. They had self-selected for folks who liked the solitude. I hope you get that from everything I’ve said. It’s not that we liked the placement. Absurd little crap piece of land. It’s that we found a community of loners that didn’t mind being alone together. Does that make sense? I hope it does. It might give context to what happened. To why it happened. That kind of, perhaps, siege mentality?
I want to carry that thought for a moment, three years out from the defleshing of those two kids. That’s the night that Wooster and Sandra, my mum and my da, took off for some personal time. That’s all the Finches would tell me, after it happened. Personal time. Not where or why. Just that it was going to be a short, short trip. I was safe and being schooled. There hadn’t been an incident between the townies and us for three years, remember? Both sides kept that uneasy distance.
Their car was forced off the road, off into the ditches just outside of the far side of town. Away from us, away from safety. The official report made it that a stone had penetrated their petrol tank. That a sparking electrical connection had lit them up. Every Finch knew that was crap. Scientists, remember? Or at least exposed to science, to the rigors of the scientific method. They saw right through it. The Home Office didn’t want to kick up another feud between the townies and the base. They didn’t want a repeat of that siege, didn’t want the expense. Yeah, the townies killed my folks. Blamed them for Lily and Max, waited for years. And yeah, I’m bitter about it. Wouldn’t you be?
But you have to understand the Finches. We don’t usually reach out. We retreat inside. There wasn’t a way to track down who specifically did the deed and general revenge was never my style. So I dove into my studies, worked to make my parents proud. And I’d like to think they would be. Youngest Finch to ever attain Project Leader. I led the push to link the site to the internet and I made the contact to CERN and the particle physics community. I invited leading scientists in to take their readings. None staid for long and none came out with answers but it was worth it. Worth overcoming my sense of social anxiety and existential dread to put our little project back on the map.
All of this leading up to what happened. Was it only a fortnight ago?
He appeared on the heath one morning. Middle-aged fella, solid build. Pepper hair and grim face. Walked down to the cliff, sat down and spent some time with a sketchbook. Just a couple of notations, nothing fancy. Not an artist. Not there to write notes. We first thought he was a townie. We never knew them all and he seemed so sure as to where he was going. Then he came back. Same time, same spot. Watch, wait, note, note, note. Get up, leave. Maybe he was a scientist? One of the younger ones, like that rockstar one on the TV that explains the stuff to kids. Too cool to meet with us until it was the right time.
It was about Day 10 that we realized he had a knife.
By Day 12, we realized that he was cutting himself on that cliff’s edge, the last thing he’d do before leaving.
We were up all night figuring out what to do. Call the local police? What if he was a townie and they just let him do what he was doing? Since when did the townies favor us? Call the Head Office? And get berated when it turned out we couldn’t take care of ourselves, that we’d pissed away any money for guards a decade ago, laying in fiber-optic networks and high-speed connections instead? What we did next wasn’t rational but you can see how we got there. We waited for him to return, to reach the cliffside, and then we jumped him. The struggle wasn’t pretty; it’s not like we were trained for combat. And to be frank, none of us were surprised when he fell over the edge, leaving us with little answers. At that time, we were trying to save Clifford, who almost went over the edge with him. What we were left with was a small speck of blood and the sketchbook.
This was what was in the sketchbook:
be ba bo bi be bo ne bo ne ke
| \ ~ ~ || \/ | ~| + |
be no ke
+ /| —
In between the phonemes and the symbols were smears of his blood, pressed into the paper. We sat there, even in our shock, and tried to figure it out. Why during the day? What did the words mean? Were they words? Why these symbols? Why the blood? We talked it to death and then ran an internet search and a reverse-image search, checked out star configurations. Nothing sensible. Someone suggested magic. Someone asked whether we would even know the difference between a banishing or a summoning. They were going for a laugh, to cut the tension. Instead, everyone got very quiet. Nothing felt very funny anymore.
The ping on the radar was quite the surprise. As was all the instruments, quiet for, since, ever, coming to life. The timing was so perfect, Allison started laughing hysterically. I’m sorry to say that Franklin hit her and I’m equally sorry that nobody stopped him. We were all moving outside by then. It just came coming out and coming out and coming out. By the time it was dark, its head had eclipsed the moon. And I’ve heard that its body can be seen all the way from the continent. From some of the major cities, now that the lights have died.
I can see the flames of the town from here. A bright glow to illuminate the bone white of the Lighthouse. Franklin was the first to take off his clothes, walk off the cliff to fall to his death. The others have been following his example. Sometimes in batches, sometimes alone. I haven’t been stopping them. There’s a place you go to when shock has left you behind. That’s where they are. That’s where I am. But I wanted you to understand, even as I peel away this last bit of my life, step back into what I was wearing at birth, that I am so sorry. We had no idea what was to happen and we have no idea what is to happen. Only the screams on the wind, only the storm and I’m so sorry.
Please forgive us.”