There had been times like this ever since Major Harden became headmaster at Clinton Hall, down on the seaside flat below the lighthouse. Zack could tell, by the way the boy climbed the hill and stood over at the top of the cliff, what he had in mind.
That had been the case with this fourteen-year-old boy, Samuel, who Zack had helped through the crisis and had convinced that he could return to Clinton Hall and endure.
“So, you think you might be OK, now? A different perspective, I hope?”
“Yes, yes, thank you ... You know I haven’t gotten your name. I feel so...”
“No need to, son. You can just call me Zack. And I won’t be seeing you up here again, I do hope.”
“Umm. I kinda hoped that--”
“Oh, I didn’t mean it that way. Of course you can come visit me whenever you have a hankering to. I meant I hoped I wouldn’t see you climbing around on the cliff top again. It’s mighty dangerous over there.”
“No ... no, sir, I don’t think you’ll see me ... walking around there anymore.”
They looked at each other, both knowing what was meant but not said.
They were standing, awkwardly, at the door to the lighthouse in the evening mist so heavy now that, although the structure stood at the edge of a precipice over the entrance to the harbor and they could hear the surf pounding on the rocks at the base below, they couldn’t see the water.
Zack watched the boy as he, mercifully, took the path leading down to the shore rather than the one that ran precariously out along the top of the cliff. Then Zack sighed a satisfied sigh and withdrew into the base of the lighthouse, which was also his living quarters--his bedroom the next level up and then the bath and a small laundry. Two smaller floors of storage rooms rose above that in the narrowing tower, with his “operations” room at the top, capped only by a strobing light chamber bulbing out over the whole, erect structure.
You had to be in great shape to manage the stairs in a lighthouse, and Zack was, even though he was well into his fifties. He was in great shape. Working out was his second favorite activity. There wasn’t much else he could bide his time with on this isolated promontory jutting out to sea over the entrance into the harbor. It was a solitary life, and the requirements of the lighthouse weren’t onerous. The harbor town, such as it was, was a good twenty miles inland, the harbor being long and narrow, and the shipping and fishing industry hereabouts not being what it used to be.
There were moments when Zack was afraid they might close down this lighthouse. But the passage through the straits here was treacherous and there was a more modern, bustling, and heavily populated harbor city beyond here just up the coast requiring an assurance of safe passage through this patch of difficulty.
Zack didn’t know what he’d do if they closed him down. This had been his life for nearly fifteen years now.
There were no working family farms or sheepherding ranches out this way anymore. A large conglomerate had bought just about everyone out with the stated intention of putting a power plant out here and also going into cattle raising for the market down at the big city in a big way. But the downturn in the economy had put that on hold.
“Thank the gods for that,” Zack mused as he puttered around the semicircle of kitchen cabinetry that followed the curve of the wall on the first level. He hadn’t had time to put the tea things away before they’d gone up the ladder. He thanked the gods for the delay in settlement around here, because it would surely put this good thing--his whole life--in peril.
It was only Zack and this lighthouse for miles about--with the exception of the boy’s military school, Clinton Hall, on the shore just inside the entrance to the harbor.
An isolated, foreboding chunk of fearsome concrete, it was. Placed there to intimidate the boys sent there--of pre-university age, the youngest, as with the boy who had just been here, fourteen, and great athletic program material, most of them. But recalcitrant, lazy, slow learning, or, worse, criminal boys sent to this remote location to either straighten up or go down. Some of them were boys who just hadn’t fit into proper society, who had chosen what was not acceptable, who, on the whole wouldn’t be missed if they didn’t turn their lives around. It was an institution of last resort for most of them--shape up and meet the specifications for getting on that football team on a scholarship at Big U or shape up and take one last chance to stay out of prison or a life of unacceptance. Or else.
The or else was that they could always go into the armed services; that’s what they were trained for--that and the other thing, what Major Harden, the headmaster, indoctrinated them in at the age of fourteen when they first were sent to Clinton Hall.
They weren’t coddled at that school, no sir. And, being boys coming in with chips on their shoulders or fears in their hearts into a regimented institution that naturally formed its survival cliques and pecking orders, it was a stressful environment for any boy who couldn’t fit the mold, couldn’t knuckle under to the sort of discipline meted out by Clinton Hall--or couldn’t convince others he did. The only difference between the Clinton Hall Military Academy and a prison for hardened criminals was that more of the inmates at Clinton Hall were not hardened--in fact were quite vulnerable--boys, and that the students at Clinton Hall had periods in which they could leave the school grounds. Of course, not many left very often, because there wasn’t much of anyplace to go.
There was, though, a path leading up to the high cliffs overlooking the perilous entrance to the harbor--and there was the lighthouse.
Young Samuel wasn’t headed in any particular direction when he left the barracks. He’d just known he had to get out of there. They’d been teasing him again. Left that DVD on his nightstand so that any of the other guys who passed by--and a lot did--could see the photo on it, would know instantly what it was. And would assume he put it there--like he was advertising or something.
Why had that Rick Trailer from his neighborhood been sent here too? In truth, it was Rick who came here first--and he, Samuel, was only here because his parents had found out about the place from Rick’s parents. Rick was a senior boy at the school now--and a particular pet of the headmaster, Major Harden.
But for the same reason Samuel’s parents had sent him here, they shouldn’t have sent him where another guy from the neighborhood was sent. Rick’s issue was that he and some others had stolen a car one night and gone for a joy ride. He’d only been fourteen at the time. And drink was involved too. Rick had been a promising up and coming basketball player, so Clinton Hall seemed a good fit for him. If he could get straightened out, there would be a place for him, with a scholarship, on a university team. Major Harden had straightened Rick out, so that, four years later Rick was ready to go to college.
And straightening Rick out had entailed something Major Harden had being straightened too.
Samuel had been sent here for another reason. And Rick Trailer had known what that reason was. And even before Samuel had arrived at Clinton Hall, so did nearly every other young man in the school. Rick had made sure Major Harden knew too, so Samuel became an easy target for the headmaster as well as the other students.
They other students teased and harassed him mercilessly. And, from the first day, the major was at Samuel relentlessly until the day he laid Samuel out on his desk and fucked him. He fucked the boy the next day too, and the day after that, and Samuel was too cowed to tell anyone outside of the school that he was the headmaster’s sex toy or that the headmaster enjoyed filming DVDs of what he did to the boy. Anyone on the outside would say that this was what had gotten Samuel in the school to begin with, so it was something he had asked for.
After a month of hazing, Samuel couldn’t take any more. The DVD and the comments and threats and demands that came after that had sent Samuel stumbling out of the barracks and away from the school grounds at dusk.
He had no idea where he was going. He only knew what he wanted to do. What he was determined to do. The only thing he thought there was left to do.
He found his feet leading him to the path that went up to the cliffs at the entrance of the harbor. He’d been up there a few times in the daylight. And it had scared him. The footing was treacherous. The slightest misstep from the path--obviously made for goats--and you’d be tumbling down onto the rocks and into the surging surf thirty feet below. The cliff-side path had been posted, of course. They didn’t keep the guys from Clinton Hall from going out there, though. And it was one of the rites of passages at the academy--to make it all the way from one end of the path to the other.
Samuel had only been there the once. It had scared the shit out of him. He hadn’t made it down the path. It had been an easy way to die, he’d thought. And that thought now propelled him up the cliff--to the path leading along its top.
He had been standing there, for some time, on the edge. Crying quietly and going over all of the events of his life--all of the reasons why he’d do this, why there was no other choice. Trying to build up the courage to actually do it.
“It’s becoming a cold evening. Fancy a cup of coffee, son? I know I’m ready for one.”
The voice was soft, almost a whisper--coming from the edge of Samuel’s vision in the misty gloom.
Now that he’d heard it, he felt like it was at least the second time he’d been addressed. It was so easy for words to be snatched away and wafted out over the sea here on an evening like this.
“What?” His response wasn’t brilliant. But it was a response. He was engaging with the voice. And it drew him back a step from the edge.
“I said that I’d just put the pot on when I saw you walking up the path from down at the shore. I bet you’re from Clinton Hall. You wouldn’t have guessed, but I get a lot of the lads visiting me up here from the school--first-year students there. Fourteen-year-olds. I’ll bet you are fourteen to and just arrived at the school.”
Samuel didn’t speak, but he did nod.
“I’d like to think it’s the conversation. But I think it’s probably the coffee and cookies that has he boys returning here,” Zack continued. “Don’t get much of them down at Clinton Hall--or much other consideration, I wouldn’t imagine. It can be a bit too strict down there--and not understanding enough. Don’t you think?”
He was rambling, certainly, and Samuel had to strain to hear him. He was still doing barely more than whispering. Samuel had to step back a few more steps to hear him, even though the whisperer was drawing closer to him.