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The Lighthouse

By Lee Weetman


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Beyond the stone walls the storm grew in strength. Robert West, the lighthouse keeper, was listening to the sea, calculating the intensity of the storm by the amount and audibility of waves crashing on the tower’s foundation of rock.

            From somewhere below the twisting staircase came forth the muffled engine noise of a generator. From high above, the hypnotic sound of a steadily revolving mechanism, as many brilliant lamps projected a cone of light for tens of miles, blinking in the night sky like a pulsating moon.

            ‘Well, Peter, I think we may be in for a sleepless night,’ Robert said, sitting in his armchair and puffing on a pipe. The room was small, circular and sparsely furnished. There was a small cabinet next to a desk. On the desk was a two-way radio for outside communication, and a pewter candlestick for frequent power cuts. A full bookcase stood opposite, beside that a birdcage.

            Peter chirped and flew from the floor of his cage to his perch.

            ‘This storm is only just beginning; I think our house will be lashed hard tonight,’ Robert said.

            The budgerigar fixed him with a single eye, his head cocked to the side. Robert frowned.

            ‘I wish you would learn to talk, just one word will do. I’ve the loneliest job in the world, so any form of companionship would be greatly appreciated.’

            Peter clucked, shuffled to the end of his perch and buried his beak in a trough of seed. Robert drew another breath on his pipe, and released a steady smoke jet from the side of his mouth.

            ‘Is it any wonder that I talk to myself? We’re fifteen miles from the mainland. Six weeks at a time I man this tower, alone, except for a feathery mute. People would think me mad, but if I don’t talk, then nobody will. So c’mon, Peter, give us a couple of words. Say your name at least.’

The budgie continued to sift through the seed. Robert sighed, extinguished his pipe and said, ‘Please yourself. I’m going up to the lantern room; I won’t be long.’

            He left his living quarters and climbed the dimly lit spiraling stairs thirty feet up to the lantern room. As he ascended, the gentle rhythmical sounds of the revolving lenses grew louder, so too did his breathing. At fifty-five years of age, the daily routine of cleaning, polishing and general upkeep of the lantern was becoming ever more arduous. His knees felt like they needed oiling every evening. His back seemed to creak when he stooped, and straightening it was like uncurling a horseshoe.

            ‘Too bloody old for this,’ he muttered, as he trudged upwards. ‘Thirty-five years of climbing up and down stairs. I must have been up a billion steps in my time. Roll on retirement. When they automate this place, I’m moving to somewhere warm and flat.’

            The stairs landed him in the lantern room, and he took a moment to regain his breath. The room was an octagon of glass panes. The light was situated in the center, around which revolved the prisms and lenses, floating smoothly through a rail of liquid mercury.

            As every night, he checked everything visually, and when satisfied that the lantern was functioning correctly said, ‘All’s well; time for bed I think.’ He started to descend back down the staircase when something caught his eye. Something outside.

            ‘What the?’ He moved to the glazing, conscious not to obstruct the light beam.

            ‘Something flew past, I’m sure of it,’ he said, looking in all directions. The light flashed outwards, searing the darkness for a moment, but unveiling nothing.

            ‘Strange,’ Robert muttered, scratching his head. ‘I could have swore I saw something – something big.’ He cupped his hands against the glass and peered outward, but could see little except rainwater and his own reflection; then the lantern threw forth its power again.

            And for a split second he saw the thing crossing the cone of light and flying into the wind, enormous wings beating against the storm and its tail stretched long behind its bat-like face. The thing’s eyes captured the light and gleamed back like burning emeralds, seeming to glare directly at him.

            And then it was gone.

            Pensive, Robert waited for the lantern to complete a revolution, but this time saw only a storm.

            ‘That was incredible,’ he said, his hands still pressed against the fogging glass. ‘Never in all my years on this lonely rock have I seen anything like that. I don’t think anybody ever has seen that before. It looks like a dinosaur, and I’ve discovered it –what a turn up. Years and years of seeing nothing but sea and seagulls, then I chance upon the most incredible animal ever. Maybe they will name it after me: the Westerdon - or something like that.’

            He turned and hurried down the stairs, excited about his discovery.

            ‘Peter, Peter, where’s my camera?’ He rushed into the room, startling the bird, which flapped off its perch.

            ‘There’s some kind of flying beast out there that you’ve never seen the likes of before.’ He took his camera and a torch from a wall cupboard and dashed from the room, still babbling to himself.

            At the bottom of the stairs he dressed himself in bright orange waterproofs and moved to open the door, then stopped and said, ‘Safety-line. Calm down Bobby, you could kill yourself.’

  On the wall, driven deep into the stone was a steel eyelet, secured to which was a safety rope, cut to length so it couldn’t reach the deadly sea. He tied it around his waist and opened the door.

            First thing to hit was the wind, hurling the door inward and wrenching his arm. The inrushing air bore a high-pitched whine that seemed to spiral up the tower like a fleeing ghoul.  Ten-foot waves pounded high against the rock, ejecting plumes of salty spray over the precipice. Robert stepped out. A low wattage over-door fitting provided some light. The noise of the wind whistling in his ears and the fury of the sea did not perturb him. He looked skyward, shielding the rain from his eyes. A sharp cone of white light tracked across the sky; the brilliance illuminated the creature that wheeled around the tower, slipping in and out of the beam. Amidst the cacophony of wind, sea and rain was the leathery beat of massive wings; they flapped intermittently, propelling the beast upward until it arced and fell into a swooping glide.

            Robert raised his camera and sent the shutter into overdrive.

            ‘Amazing! Incredible!’ He shouted, steadying himself as strong gusts pushed him around.

            ‘What are you? Where do you come from?’ Snap. ‘Are you a dinosaur? ’ Snap. ‘A pterodactyl?’ Snap. ‘No, you’re not that.’ Snap. ‘A giant bat?’ Snap. ‘Whatever you are,’ snap, ‘you’re unbelievable.’

            The button wouldn’t depress. Robert cursed.

            ‘Out of film. Hope I got a good one, otherwise nobody is going to believe me.’

            The creature suddenly released a sky-shaking cry, the caw of a hundred ravens; the sound drilled into Robert, resounded inside of him and awoke some primal fear. It was the cry of a predatory beast, a bird of prey.

            With a mighty beat of wings it drove upwards, then at the arc’s crest the wings folded, and it dived head first like a Stuka bomber.

            ‘Jesus!’ Robert flung himself to the floor as the creature swooped down. Cutlass-sized talons scrabbled and clawed at the rock inches from his face, then soared away. A great burst of wind rocked his head as the beast propelled its bulk back into the sky.

            Robert got to his knees. He saw his camera had tumbled to the edge of the rock. He checked the sky but couldn’t see the beast; he waited for the lantern to complete a full revolution, then dashed for the camera, but the safety rope snagged him back, and he slipped to the floor, arm outstretched but unable to reach.       .

            ‘Damn it! Bloody rope,’ he said, hurrying toward the door.

            Before he reached it, he heard sounds of splashing, like heavy objects dropping into the sea. Then the cry again: now thousands of ravens, screeching from above.

            He made it to the doorway and stood inside, then looked out into the black ocean. Somewhere above was the beating of many leathery wings and the squalling of a flock of creatures.

            From close to the rock he saw the cause of the heavy splashing. A beast punched out of the sea like it was sub-launched, unfolded its wings and soared into the sky.

‘My God,’ said Robert, ‘they’re from the sea.’ He looked up and saw many of the monsters wheeling around the tower, swooping then climbing; it looked like...

‘Moths around a flame,’ he said. ‘It’s the light that attracts them.’

            Then, out on the rock, he heard the scraping of heavy talons. Tentatively, he peered around the doorway.

A beast stood with its wings furled, regarding the dropped camera. Robert estimated its height to be about six feet. Behind trailed a long tail, its end flattened like a rudder. Enormous wings veiled its body, but the face was visible: it possessed large ears and flat features like a bat; and a mouth armed with fangs, the largest of which protruded up from the lower jaw, akin to a sabre-tooth cat.

            The animal leaned forward, using its folded wings as front legs, and assumed the stance of a quadruped, sniffing at the camera, nudging it around with its snout-like nose. It seemed unsure if the camera was a threat: prodding it, then quickly stepping back, preparing for a reaction. When it became apparent the camera was merely an inanimate object, it bit in half. One chomp and it was destroyed. The casing was splintered and the film exposed.

            Robert sighed, disappointed.

            The creature’s ears pricked up, and its head immediately twisted to face the source of noise. Robert snatched his head back, his eyes closed, willing the monster away. Slowly he reached for the door, but found it beyond arms reach. He lifted a foot to move, and then heard a terrible screech - the sound of steel skating over rock.

            He slammed the door and it struck the creature face on, knocking it off balance. The entrance was bolted shut in a second; thirty years of practice and the action was second nature.

            Robert stepped away from the pounding door and sat on the bottom step of the staircase.

            ‘Jesus,’ he said, breathing hard. ‘What am I going to do now? That door will hold, its made to withstand huge waves, but…’ The door was hit with sledgehammer force and vibrated in its frame; the noise of the impact reverberated throughout the lighthouse.

            ‘At least, I think it’ll hold.’


Robert ascended the staircase and entered his living quarters. Peter greeted his reappearance with a cordial chirp and feather ruffling.

            ‘Peter, you have never seen the likes of this before, I guarantee you. One tried to kill me, missed me by a whisker. Bugger destroyed my camera too. If they get in here, we’re in a lot of trouble. I’m going to open your cage so at least you’ll have half-a-chance of escape. Then I’ll try to raise the coastguard on the radio - we need their help.’

            He seated himself in front of the radio and clicked the handset.

            ‘This is Black Reef Lighthouse calling Coastguard, over.’          


            ‘This is Black Reef Lighthouse calling Coastguard, over.’

            The radio emitted a series of high-pitched squeals and reverted back to static.

            Robert tried again and again.    

            ‘Damn it! Of all the nights…’ He stared straight ahead at the wall, running his hands through his hair. Then his mouth dropped open. ‘The antenna – it’s on the roof. No, surely not!’

            He left the radio and Peter and once more climbed the staircase. As he rose, he listened to the continued booming of the entrance door, and muttered a little prayer. If the creature gained entry, there would be nowhere to hide.

            He wasn’t certain how he would accomplish it, but if the antenna was down, it had to be repaired. Around the tower at lantern room level was a small balcony used for cleaning the glass windows and accessing the tower pinnacle. It was here that he hoped to view the damaged aerial.

            When he walked into the lantern room, he nearly fell down with fright.

            The creatures were clinging to the external framework of the glazing. They smothered the entire lantern room; their faces were squashed up against the glass, teeth clacking against the panes. Beast clung to beast, not an inch of window was spared.

            Robert regarded the scene, mouth agape and with ping-pong eyes. Never had the view from the lantern room been so alive.

            As the lantern continued its relentless cycle, the brilliant beam swept across the heaving mass of monsters and transformed their desert hue to a sparkling white. Every animal closed their eyes when the light shone on them; some, if it were physically possible, twisted their face away.

            Robert thought this odd. If they were like moths and attracted to the light, they wouldn’t turn away when they found it.

            But that was of small concern. Apart from the problem of mysterious sea monsters laying siege to the lighthouse, the lantern was no longer visible from outside, and a dirty great reef was submerged and waiting.

            Back in his living quarters, Robert considered his options, bouncing ideas off his feathered friend.

            ‘I could switch the lantern off, and maybe they’ll fly away, but I doubt it. I think they’re after me, or even you, Peter. Besides, at least with the light on I can see where they are.

            Bang! Bang!

            The entrance door was taking a severe and sustained beating.

            ‘Another choice is to sit here and hope to wait it out…’


Louder than the others, as if a battering ram was leading the charge.

            ‘But I really don’t think the door will last much longer.’

            He moved over to a small window and looked out across the ocean. He waited a few moments, hoping the lantern beam would sweep across the water, but the creatures had succeeded in blotting out the light entirely.

            ‘My final option is to fire a flare, and hope to God someone sees it. But that also means stepping out onto the rock and confronting that thing again.’

            He moved his head nearer the window, squinted and said, ‘I’m afraid, Peter, it has to be the flare - because I can see the lights of a ship, and its headed this way.’

            He grabbed the gun case from the cabinet and opened it, then loaded the gun and tucked two other flares in his pockets.

            ‘Righto, Peter. Wish me luck!’ He left the room and began his decent down the spiral staircase.


As he moved slowly down the stairs with the flare gun pointing ahead, the noise intensified. He thought it sounded like the steely pounding of a heavy industrial press.

            Bang! Bang! Bang!

            He tightened his grip on the gun. The hum of the generator grew louder as each stair was cleared.

            Bang! Bang! Bang!

            The door drifted into view. He could see it shuddering on its hinges with every great thump. He paused, his nerves losing control, his heart yearning for mercy. The gun trembled in his hand; he gripped it with both and found it shook even more.

            Mustering some inner strength, he moved downward again, his legs feeling as flimsy as daisy stalks.

            Then the door exploded inwards, the hinges ripping away from the wall. The creature barrelled in, sprawling after the door. Robert felt a great rush of cold moist air surge through the tower.

            Then the beast stood up and looked directly at him. It snapped it jaws repeatedly together, fangs scraped against fangs and sounded like the sharpening of knives. It half-opened its wings like the cloak of a vampire and advanced toward him.

            Without thinking, he started to reverse up the stairs, the flare gun trained on the beast. The creature reached the first step and surmounted it; Robert quickened his retreat. He was reluctant to fire the flare, it was a tight, confined space and a burning ball would be devastating to all.

            The beast lunged forward, its great mouth chomping busily like clockwork teeth. Robert evaded the lunge, turned and sprinted up the staircase. Behind him came a hundred ravens and slashing steel talons. As he spiralled upwards his legs tired, his heart threatened to arrest. But the terrible sound of the pursuing beast spurred him onward; the threat of death gave him wings.

            The door to his living quarters beckoned; he snatched a glance behind and saw the animal attempting to bite his ankles. A fang connected with his calf, slicing it open, severing the main chunk of muscle. Adrenalin allowed him to ignore the pain. He dashed into the living room and slammed the door shut. It was immediately rammed from the other side but held firm. It wasn’t lockable, so he knelt beneath the handle and braced it with his shoulder. The door was hit again, but it lacked the ferocity that battered the main entrance door; inside the confines of the tower the creature did not have space to charge.

            ‘Bugger. What a mess,’ Robert said, watching blood pool around his leg. Peter flew from his cage and settled on his shoulder.

            ‘ Hello, boy. I don’t suppose you can hold this door for me while I fix up this little cut?’

            Peter bobbed his head and few times and clucked.

            ‘I’ll take that as a no, shall I? All right, plan B.’ Robert reached for the wooden chair positioned in front of the radio desk. The entire living room was less than twelve feet in diameter, so most furniture was to hand. He dragged it by a leg toward him, and immediately following a thump on the door, whipped it beneath the handle, wedging it in hard. The door banged again, but the chair didn’t yield.

            Robert hauled himself upright and limped into the armchair. Examining his calf, he saw the teeth had ploughed a gash the length of his hand; shock and adrenalin deflected the worst of the pain, his general doughtiness shrugged off the remainder.

            ‘I’ll just get this patched up, Peter, and then we’ll decide how the bloody hell we’re going to get the lantern shining.’

            Peter flew from his shoulder back into his cage. The door continued to pound.

            From the cabinet he took out a bottle of whiskey. Using a clean cotton handkerchief he soaked in the scotch and pressed it against the wound. The firewater seemed precisely that. Robert groaned as the alcohol seared his nerve endings and caused his entire body to flush with sickly heat.

            ‘What a waste of good whiskey,’ he said, grimacing. ‘Remind me, Peter; tomorrow, bring the first-aid box down from the bathroom.’

            Using a strip of cloth torn from his vest, he bound the sanitizing handkerchief to his leg, then hobbled to his feet. He looked out of the window and drew in a long breath.

            ‘The ship’s heading straight for us, Peter. I’d say we’ve got about twenty minutes before they smash against the reef. And by the way their lights are bouncing up and down, I’d say it’s pretty rough out there. Maybe they’ll see the window light before it’s too late.’ He looked at the flare gun resting on the arm of the chair. A smile stretched out across his face. ‘Of course!’ he said.

            The window could not be opened: it was simply a pane of toughened glass set into a hole in the tower’s side. Taking the heavy candlestick from the desk he began to hammer at the glass. The first strikes created no damage, but little by little, scratches and cracks materialised; as the beating on the barricaded door intensified, so too did his urgency. Eventually, after some minutes of pounding, the stubborn glass relented. 

            Immediately, the storm presented itself: wind whipped about the room and the horizontal rain blasted through the window like the jet of a water cannon.

            Robert picked up the flare gun and looked again toward the ship. It seemed to be struggling with the conditions; lights kept bobbing behind black swell and waves as it rolled around like a toy boat.

He extended his arm out through the window and pointed the gun straight up. He had to fire as close as possible to the tower, because the crew of the vessel had to see the lighthouse, and not believe it came from a floundering ship.

As he was about to pull the trigger, the gun was wrenched from his grasp. It felt like a gauntlet of barbed wire was yanked off his hand. He snatched it back inside and saw the skin had been stripped off the back, from thumb to little finger. Glaring red flesh that burned like acid was all that remained.

At the window, one of the creatures suddenly rammed its head through, its mouth greedily chomping at Robert. He quickly jumped away, but his calf flared up and he collapsed into the armchair.

The door continued to pound, the chair was beginning to rock under the relentless pressure. The beast jammed in the window squawked and gnashed; Robert shook his head, dejected and disbelieving.

‘I think, Peter, that I’m beaten. These things, whatever they may be, are tenacious and intelligent. How do we get out of this?’

The chair slipped backwards and clattered to the floor. The door was now wide open. Stood within its frame was the beast, scowling, hissing and flexing its wings.

Robert hauled himself up and grabbed the candlestick, his last line of defence. The thing edged inward, wary, eyes scouring the room as if expecting a trap to be sprung.

Robert squared up to his adversary, knowing that there could only be one winner, and it had wings.

The beasts great talons scraped across the floor tiles as it inched toward its quarry. The other creature in the wall continued to screech and squawk as if goading its friend to get on with the killing.

Robert saw only dentures. Four gleaming sabres straddled many smaller, pointed white teeth. The mouth was snapping open and closed; he raised the candlestick and prepared for attack.

Peter suddenly flew from his cage, and went into a dizzy tour of the room. The beast was startled and checked his advance. The creature in the wall fell silent; both animals watched the whirling bird.

Robert seized the moment. He lunged forward and brought the candlestick down hard against the beast’s eye socket. It squawked in pain and surprise and wobbled backward. Robert struck again, smashing the same eye. This time blood spattered forth and the thing issued something akin to a scream. The candlestick battered the eyes of the beast time and time again, until it lay on the floor, still and silent, black holes for eyes.

The wall monster roared out in protest at the murder, and struggled to free itself, but it was jammed fast. Robert strolled over and administered identical treatment, smashing the face to purée until the screeching stopped and the head hung limp.

‘Well that gave some satisfaction,’ Robert said, cleaning down the candlestick. ‘Thank you, Peter, for your timely intervention. I think I would have been bird seed if you hadn’t stepped in.’

Peter completed another circuit of the room then fluttered down to the top of his cage. Candlestick in hand, Robert headed out and up the staircase.

‘Got to warn that ship, somehow,’ he said, limping up the long flight as quickly as his slashed muscle would permit. ‘I’ll smash the glass and knock them off. They’ll probably swarm in and kill me, but if the light escapes just for a second, it may be enough.’

He arrived in the lantern room, wheezy and fatigued. As before, the glazed walls were squirming with the beasts. Their teeth began to chatter on spying him, and the spiky sound it made against the glass sounded like raining nails.

With a mustering of spirit, he stepped up to a pane and drew back the candlestick. He waited for the light beam to approach then swung his arm with all his dwindling strength.

The glass shattered first time, detonating a sound that seemed to skewer the air. One of the beasts fell inward and landed face down at his feet; many others fell backward and tumbled into the blackness. The light swept around and pitched its beam through the empty panel. Robert saw the night sky suddenly brighten and punched the air with delight.

The beast on the floor now stood like a dog, its folded wings acting like front legs. It glared at Robert, hissing and snarling, head rolling and teeth gnashing. Other creatures were flocking to the newly formed entrance.

Robert turned and ran.

Hurtling down the staircase, the fear of death imbued new energy. The pain in his leg was a memory; he bounded down the stairs three at a time. From above came the roar of ravens and sounds of steel on stone steps. 

He reached the open entrance to the tower and ran out onto the rock and into the storm. The sea immediately sprayed him, forcing him back against the wall of the tower. Looking up through the rain, he saw a flash of brilliant white light as the lantern revolved past the broken glazing. Then he saw the ship, and his heart fell silent. A harsh, metallic grating carried on the wind as the ship’s hull scraped across the submerged rocks. In moments, the vessel was listing heavily toward the starboard side. The sea seemed to reach up and embrace the stricken craft, as if pouncing on its weakness. Waves smashed down, pummelling the deck and dragging it ever closer to its doom. Fierce winds drove the ship harder into the reef, and it heaved and groaned like some dying dinosaur. Onboard the ship was much scurrying activity: the crew were launching the lifeboats.

Three orange self-inflating boats dropped to the ocean. Anything not fastened down on the deck slid and tumbled overboard. The crew had donned lifejackets and were jumping into the boats; some would miss and land in the freezing waters, but get hauled to safety by their colleagues.

Robert counted eighteen personnel in all, split evenly between the boats. Surfing the waves and battling the storm, they began to row toward the sanctity of the lighthouse. The crew were tossed around as if riding a marine rodeo, but somehow they clung on and drove their craft toward the rock. 

The crippled ship suddenly rolled over and sank. The crew had got clear enough to avoid being dragged down in its foaming wake. A torch was produced on each boat and a beam of light was flashed across to the rock and fell upon Robert, who stood backed against the tower wall.

‘Ahoy there!’ he shouted, cupping his hands to his mouth. Somebody waved at him, he thought a verbal response was also given, but the howling wind and raging sea consumed the words.

‘Thank heaven for that,’ Robert said, leaning his head against the wall. He touched his skinned hand and grimaced. ‘At least now I may stand a chance.’

Then came a distant scream.

Across the water a monster swooped on a boat. It plucked out some unfortunate wretch by the head and soared away into the night sky.

Like a squadron of dive bombers the beasts attacked the boats. Some landed on the craft and bit and slashed at whatever flesh opposed them. Others carried off their prey, kicking and screaming, between deadly talons. Some of the crew dived into the water but were immediately picked off by another wave of attack. One man was torn apart in the water by a beast hovering above, slashing at his head and torso until the screams turned to gurgles and the gurgles turned to silence.

Robert sank to his knees. From the lighthouse doorway a creature appeared; it looked at Robert, and he gazed wearily back, then it took to the air and joined the ocean feeding frenzy.

The screams continued for some time. Robert sat, head bowed, too exhausted to cry. He was empty, out of ideas and out of hope. He was the lighthouse keeper; had they seen his light they would have been saved.

The noise and lights of the coastguard helicopter circling the tower awoke him. The chopper fixed a spotlight on a boat. The creatures were gone. A rescuer was precariously winched down.

‘My God! Someone survived,’ Robert said, clambering to his feet. After some activity on the boat both people were hauled clear and into the helicopter. Robert waved both arms above his head, and the spotlight was directed on him.   Whether his injuries were visible or if he simply looked desperate, the coastguard also winched him of the rock.


The survivor was a woman. She was lying in the stretcher, her life jacket was shredded and her torso heavily bandaged. Shouting to overcome the rotor noise Robert said, ‘How you doing?’

She turned her head slightly and looked at Robert. ‘Not great,’ she said, her voice weak and tired. Robert moved close and leaned his ear toward her.

‘You’re lucky to survive.’

‘Am I? Doesn’t feel like it. Damned creatures. I knew they were intelligent.’

‘What do you mean?’

The woman closed her eyes as if to sleep, but said suddenly, ‘The ship I was on is a scientific research vessel. The crew were all scientists, including me.’ Grimacing, she shifted position. Robert saw her bandages were heavy with blood. The winch operator checked her pulse and whispered to a colleague.

‘We were fifty miles off the northern coast of Spain when we first spotted them,’ she said, her breathing sounding laboured. ‘We were excited; nobody knew what they were. It was a new species. We tried to study them but…’ her voice tailed off, exhausted.

‘Don’t worry, now. You rest,’ Robert said.

‘But they didn’t want to be studied,’ she said, determined to tell her story. Robert admired her courage.

‘One night, our cameraman, Andre, was shooting them feeding on the ocean. They must have spotted him. I know it sounds crazy, but they came for him.’ She coughed and a little blood sprayed out.

‘They attacked him on the deck of the ship, dragging him off and killing him in the water. I watched it happen. After they killed him, one of things returned to the ship, picked up his camera then dived down with it into the sea.’

‘They destroyed my camera, too,’ Robert said.

‘We had to return home when we lost Andre. But the beasts shadowed us most of the way. Occasionally, one would swoop down and try to pick one of us off. Then they destroyed our radar dish. Knocked it clean off its mountings. As we neared home, they disappeared. We thought we were safe; then the storm broke’

Robert took the woman’s hand and stroked it. Her breathing was wheezy.

‘We couldn’t see a bloody thing. The wind, waves and rain. The ship was struggling to keep a steady course. We thought we knew our position, but couldn’t be sure. Black reef is well charted, and our GPS said we were there, but it had to be wrong - we couldn’t see the lighthouse. With no radar, we only had our eyes. When I saw those things fly from the top of the tower it was too late: the reef had us. They knew. They knew how to kill us.’

‘Well they failed,’ Robert said. ‘You’re here, and so am I. We’ll tell the world about the buggers.’ He patted her hand and she returned a faint smile.

From the cockpit, the pilot shouted: ‘Get everybody strapped in. We’ve got something on radar; looks like a big flock of birds heading right for us. Might get a little bumpy.’

The woman looked at Robert and whispered, ‘You were saying?’