The Signal Station

Below are my posts for’s Microblogvember challenge, from first to last. For the challenge, a random word was generated each day in November and participants wrote a blog post that day that incorporated the word. I made mine a continual narrative.

I wasn’t quite finished by the end of November so I used the same random word generator and kept going on my own. I stuck to’s 280-character limit. The required word for each day is in bold and the end of November is marked.

A round, red building, with the appearance of a squat lighthouse

The figure in the vestibule of the Signal Station is unrecognizable. The verdigris has grown thick. But when the clock strikes sunset the beams shine behind it to reveal the profile of the Second Telegraphicker, familiar from gold coins, though lacking in gilt.

The circumflex window of the Signal Station was a more prominent feature than the beacon itself. “A feast for the eyes,” said Davies, gazing out and becoming master of cliché. But it was true — that unbroken blue — until the day the horizon was marred by a sail.

The sail approached. Davies said we should signal it. He jumped to the beacon before I could stop him. His codes were all wrong. Thus we learned he had no license as a telegraphicker, let alone spinefisher or smokeweaver. Ainsforth and I have no idea how he got here.

The only airdrop we’ve had to the Signal Station in the past 60 days was comprised of 37 one-pound bags of coffee. They have no label and list no country of origin. I have great admiration for the supply crew’s past persistence, but I believe they’ve given up on us.

Davies (it’s always Davies) says that there is a country of origin stamped in blue ink on the cellophane of the coffee bags. Yes, the stamp does say “Neverland,” but I’m sure that’s a company name. Or a joke. Always joking, that supply crew. No one’s exempt.

The sail approaches, miles away, though visible through the fog. I have not mentioned the fog. It obscures enough so that the sail is like a lantern in a snowdrifting night. And we’ve noticed (Ainsforth this time) an echo when we talk at the rail. Could the fog do this?

The fog surrounding the Signal Station plays tricks. I had already dismissed the double blue flames, the yellow cat eyes (big as dinner plates), the “candle in the dark,” and what we call the Flying Dutchman. And the sail? Such insight is hard to come by, but it’s real.

I wish we hadn’t reached a consensus. I would prefer to blame Davies as delusional. Ainsforth and Richards even climbed over the railing to make sure. We can’t see the support pylons to the station. Not because of the fog. It’s because they aren’t there at all.

I was the only one who wasn’t certain. So they all stared at me as if to say, “Well, go on, then.” Let me be clear. The Signal Station rests on pylons on a rocky promontory surrounded by surging ocean. And now? And now I was taking a good long look at the bottom hatch.

The Signal Station is built like a submarine. There are pipes, circular doors, and wheels for opening things. There is hiss and steam. The beacon periscopes. But the hatch, though round, is sharp. I can minister to the cuts and scrapes. “But what did you see?” asked Fane.

I must have made quite the display. I had Ainsforth tie the rope around me before going down the hatch. It didn’t help that the fog obscured. There was still the chilly wind and vertigo. The fear. It did help that I expected the ground to be 30 feet below. What a laugh.

“Down the hatch.” The wind blew me to one side. Dizziness took me. The world shot upward. I fell then swung. I pendulumed — clanged against metal and grabbed riveted iron. I had a suspicion the pylons were intact! With relief I looked down. I thought I was falling again.

My eyes had to adjust, but not from light. The concrete 30 feet below was shadowed in blue. Cola drinks had spilled to stain it. Planters had been arranged haphazardly. Then my arms locked in terror around the iron bar. Thousands of feet below were ocean, land, and trees.

Davies knew. Davies knew. I stormed through to look for him. Through some impossible how the Signal Station was floating thousands of feet in the air when it should be anchored to the ground like any other building. We can never leave. That wasn’t fog; it was clouds.

A spiral staircase leads to the main storage bin. That is where I found him, among verdigrised clockwork, aluminum congeries, Bakelite mannequins, and the mermaid. He was covered in textile, plain as burlap but stamped with that company name. “Did you hear me?” I asked.

I was furious. “The pipegyros. The steamcurloes. The semiirons. Lighting the beacon in the sunshine! You caused this. You think you own a franchise on the running of this station?” He was still holding the textile. “What is that?”

He grinned wildly. “Sailcloth!”

All this sailcloth came out of a barrel stamped with that company name: Neverland. I was going to ask “What do we need that for?” but what came out was “You work for them.” Davies was gathering it all up in his arms. “Everyone works for them,” he said. “Except you.”

Unfazed, Davies moved past me with a smile. “Don’t you tire of all this?” I asked.

“There’s not a moment to lose,” he said. “The others already know.”

“Know what?”

“That sail. It’s not moving toward us.” His feet clattered up the iron stairs. “We’re moving toward it.”

“Where are you going?” Up the clanging stairs, a spin of the wheel, the whoosh of air, and the sun. Well, this was novel, but I wasn’t budging. “The roof? With only that rail?” “The others know too,” Davies said. “They’re waiting.”

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon. That titanic space is something felt in your chest more than seen with your eyes. But this — I repeat — with the sun on the clouds below and the dizzy bright — we stood on the roof with the wind not so great because we were traveling with it.

Ice glazed the railing. The wind was brittle. My God, why the roof? Ainsforth and Fane looked stricken. “We have to raise the beacon,” one said.

“We can do that inside.”

“No.” Davies opened a hatch I had never seen before. Inside was a red wheel. “Like this.”

The edge of the sail grazed my cheek; the cold and the wind made it a knife. All four of us wrestled with it as it snapped and groaned. We had it attached to the lines at least. After the spin of the red wheel the beacon shot up and there it was, all 20 feet of it: a mast.

The sail approached. LIke I said before. Like you needed an update. But for one glorious moment in the sun and bracketing wind, our sail full and drawing — “Neverland” was printed on it too — it was joyous. One moment. Just one.

Four miles away. If I was to retain my sanity I could not look down. So I looked at Fane, notable for lantern jaw; Ainsforth, for green eyes (or one blue); and Davies, premature ruggedness but too young for this. I was on the job just five years myself. Three miles. Two.

It was a ritual by now, how we took turns working the sail. Then Davies instructed us how we were going to swing the boom to match the other’s course. “I though we were using this to get down?” I asked, frantic. “We have to go there,” he said, pointing to the other sail.

When it came my time to work the sheet I yanked the boom to the other side. I had to change the course. But Fane had me pinioned in two seconds. With that kind of commitmentfrom the others, there was no choice. The other sail was 200 yards away. We were drawing alongside.

I didn’t know Davies’ motivation in bringing us to this pass. Cloud curdled under the other sail. It was attached to something large. “Why?” I asked. Davies shook his head and pointed to the word on our sail. “It’s not ‘Neverland,’” he said. “It’s never … land.

The wind shifted and trended west, and what was under the sail burst out of the clouds. I saw the railing and the red paint. It had a beacon too. Under the sail across from us was a signal station, exactly like our own. It had an identical sail. Under it stood four people.

Four people under that sail. One with a lantern jaw. One with green eyes (or one blue). And one no longer rugged because he was older. All of them were older. I recognized myself too, but wild and ragged as if fished from the sea. They were the four of us, decades older.

A mirror. An atmospheric effect. Water droplets coalescing a rainbow. But it was real. We were ten feet away, rail to rail, and the two stations bucked like racehorses. Cloud ran like a river. Then Davies stood on the rail — safety thrown to the wind — and jumped.

{December start}

He landed on the other station and ran to his other self. But now there were not two Davies. There was just one, the older one. Then Fane jumped, his imperial bulk leaping a gap with thousands of feet of empty air below. He landed. Now there is only the elder.

They were motioning for Ainsforth to jump, but she held back. “I know you don’t want to, but you have to,” she said to me.

I wasn’t the least bit tempted and laughed instead. “Jump? Jump across that?”

“If you want to be here now, you have to be there then.”

Frozen in place, I listened. “Do you know how when you’re undecided about something and know the logical thing to do is one way, but then you get a feeling to go another? As if someone is guiding you, telling you?” Her eyes were pitying. “Who do you think sends that signal?”

“All your decisions have been the right ones because otherwise you wouldn’t be here where you are.” I could feel in my veins that she was right. “The signal is from the future you. Who else would know best? Who else could send it?

“You think it’s a paradox but it isn’t. Time is just a bubble. It’s not perfect. You don’t always listen. But if you don’t get there you can’t help yourself here. And once there, ‘there’ will become ‘here’ and ‘here’ will become ‘there.’ You can’t stay young forever.

“You need to jump. Everybody does.” She turned. “Don’t keep me waiting. It’s a wait of fifty years.” She ran to the rail and jumped across.

A wall of sheer terror blocked me. Then Davies’ words came back to me. “Never … land.”

No choice. I jumped.

I turned to look at the station we left behind. There was the sail, herding it in the wind, and four people standing under it. Davies and Fane worked our sail and we moved away. Ainsforth smiled and took my hand. There was a ring on her finger that I hadn’t noticed before.

Those others would continue to sail, by their own election of choice. Ainsforth was beaming at me. Her ring matched the one on my left hand. I hadn’t noticed that before either. Had I?

What was it she had said? Don’t keep me waiting. It’s a wait of fifty years.

We would be landing soon. Not much time yet to think about how happy that ring made me but I was confident in the knowledge of it. I went down the spiral stair to work the beacon.

I had a message to send.

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