Chapter One

 

Vincent stumbled as he climbed the stone steps to the main door of the old lighthouse, watching with detached amazement as his hand shook, making it difficult to fit the old-fashioned key into the lock where it turned grudgingly.

He was weaker than he’d thought. The short hike from the end of the lane, where the local taxi had dropped him off, left him trembling and gasping for air, but it didn’t matter. He had made it, and that was enough.

The door was stiff, resistant even, and he shouldered it open as the warped wood stuck slightly to the frame, seemingly determined to deny him entrance. He dropped his pack down in the middle of the floor, listening as the assortment of medications rattled in their plastic bottles.

His nose twitched at the stale and fetid odor he attributed to disuse. A few open windows would take care of it. Vincent walked over to the front room and tried to open the rusted locks in the casements with no success, tugging before he just shrugged and gave up. He’d figure it out later.

What mattered was that finally he was alone.

He knew there would be a small uproar when it was discovered he’d left the hospital, but he couldn’t seem to make himself care. Vincent had discovered that a chronic illness didn’t make him a nobler individual—not even close.

Instead it had left him angry and discontent, selfish and introverted. He cared, he still cared deeply about those he loved, but right now he needed all his energy, all his emotional strength just to get through each day and he didn’t have any to spare.

Tired; God was he tired of the hugs and the suppressed tears of those around him, platitudes that were voiced because no one knew anything else to say. Vincent wanted to scream and yell and wallow in what lay ahead and he couldn’t do that when he was expected to be strong for everyone else.

Those that he loved each had their own perception of how he would face the end—one based on their own immediate needs—and he found that he simply couldn’t bear it any longer. What about his needs? What about his wants?

Why was he constantly torn between doing what was best for those around him and doing what was best for himself?

Vincent needed to do what he had always done; he needed to immerse himself in the moment. He needed to paint and write and find a way to cope with the end of this life. He couldn’t do any of that surrounded by the hushed voices with their demands that he rest and save his strength.

Rest. He’d be resting soon enough.

Luckily his doctor had strong views on the rights of the dying, and with his help Vincent had readied himself. He’d gone over his decision with both a counselor from the recommended hospice and his physician. They had given him a timeline of what to expect and enough pain medication to hopefully see him through it.

Even taking residence at the old lighthouse station had been at the suggestion of his doctor. He knew the Preservation Society had been renting it out for the last few summers.

Now here Vincent was, on his own, crawling off like a wounded animal, every instinct telling him to find a place to die alone. He was afraid, he wouldn’t deny that, but at least in solitude he could face his fear without distraction, absorb it and let it consume him until he could hopefully emerge on the other side—ready.

Vincent joined his pack on the floor of the hall, placing his head on the bulky surface and closing his eyes for just a moment. He’d look around soon enough. His tiredness made it easy for him to drop into an uneasy slumber and he never noticed the shadow that crept over him and hovered, motionless, watching as he slept.

 As one, the sealed windows on the first floor opened, shutters slamming against the stone sides of the old lighthouse as the cold breeze off the lake blew in one side and out the other.