Word of the Day: Vigilant

Word of the Day: Vigilant

In this series, I will take the Word of the Day from Dictionary.com and craft a short piece of creative writing around it.  My goal is to embrace the meaning of the word in some unique way, all the while trying out different styles, rhythms and characterizations.  It is as much an exercise in creativity as it is an exploration of grammar. Enjoy!

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By Alex Seise

He’d been there a long time. How long, he couldn’t say. The last time he’d left his perch at the top of the tall, crumbling lighthouse had been yesterday morning, give or take a few hours. Since then, the bearded man had subsisted on tin cans of pickled meat, salted vegetables and the occasional dollop of mustard to mask the preservative’s flavor. It stung on the way down, but these days, few foods didn’t upset his tract. He alternated bites with slow sips from a heavy metal canteen that was filled with cold, iron-tinted water siphoned from the well bored into the coastal rocks.

Scratching his beard, he pulled the binoculars to his eyes and scanned the evening horizon. Waves rumbled on the deep navy seas, but nothing was out of place. Still, he was vigilant; last week, a ship had spotted something amiss at the edge of the harbor.

Whether it was a rogue seal slipping through the currents, a flotsam of seaweed or something more sinister, he, again, couldn’t say. The mystery was gone before the old man could investigate after paddling out to the scene in a wooden rowboat with splintered oars. If younger, he would have invested in a new boat, or at least oars. But that time had passed a dozen years earlier.

If legends were to be believed, this was the year when the Great Dame would slither up a long, supple arm to the surface, caress a ship with her rose-colored suction cups and claim a sacrifice. In return, she would promise safe seas in the area around the harbor for ten more years.

The old man knew of this pact because he’d been the one to sign the deal in blood some fifty years before. As the first mate on a shipping vessel that had lost its captain to tuberculosis, he met with the strange old crone who covered her face with a blackened burlap hood. Her terms were bold and unmoving; but, as she put it, the blood of the few would save the livelihood of the many. No shipwrecks, no drownings, no accidental losses in a storm. The man weighed the choice for a moment, then ran his knife over the pad of his right pointer finger, spilled a few drops of blood onto a bronze plate, and signed the compact with a dirty old quill. The marked parchment disappeared into the crone’s robes, and she disembarked over the side of the ship into her driftwood canoe. The crew never saw her paddle away.

Since then, every ten years, the Great Dame would take her pick of the vessels entering or leaving the harbor. All others would be spared; in fact, the harbor had not experienced a single accident in the past half-century. But this year, the man grew frail, his stomach riddled with tumors that would surely claim him before her next visit. He needed to end the madness, and as the one whose blood was on the compact, he intended to make the final sacrifice himself.

On his next scan from the tower, he spotted a small field of bubbles and a forming whirlpool on the very edge of the ocean. Bubbles were common, but swirling waters were not. He quickly descended the ladder, launched his trusted rowboat into the surf and clumsily climbed in, straining for the old oars. His stomach burned from the exertion. The man heaved and hoed toward the disturbance, only once jostling the cargo he obscured under his seat wrapped in a canvas tarp: two dozen sticks of mining-class dynamite, an explosive package purchased with the last of the money he’d earned as harbormaster. The old man knew this was a one way trip to visit destiny and bring the vile kraken’s reign of terror to a thunderous conclusion. He loosened his hold on the oars for a moment and fumbled for the small box of matches he’d tucked into the cuff of his yellow oilskin jacket.

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