The Island

How do I find myself in Gower? Well, for the price of another rum I’ll gladly tell my story. Not so long ago I was working the vast and unforgiving cockle fields of Llanelli. One day while enjoying lunch with the Ho Chi family, who had taken me under their wing during my time in the fields, I was approached by a gruff but not unfriendly Welshman by the name of Evans who had an intriguing proposition for me. “E’er worked on lighthouse, boy?” I answered in truth, “no”. But as a man always at home with my own thoughts as much as any other, and want of the peace and quiet to reflect on the questions of eternity and reason that always try a young and inquisitive mind such as mine, I exclaimed loudly and with great enthusiasm that it had always been my dream to work that windswept and solitary occupation.

Little more encouragement was needed and I soon found myself in a small and somewhat rickety wooden boat chugging slowly towards Gannet Island. I sat there, eyes closed, my nose filling with the smell of the saline wash, my ears overflowing with the clamour of the ocean and cry of seabirds. As we approached the lighthouse island, no more than a rocky outcrop in the middle of the churning remorseless sea, it became quite apparent why the island had been so aptly named.

The atoll was bare except for the lighthouse and thousands upon thousands (dare I even say, millions) of white Gannets, cawing and crying: a legion of hell-bound harpies. My heart sank, the displeasure obvious on my face. Evans, always the cheerful fellow, slapped my back with the force that could knock down a child, “Don’ worry lad, you’ll get used it.” I was surely tempted to back out of my promise and return to the back bending work of the cockle fields, but a man who as a child was always taught the importance of his word, I carried on as any Englishman would do: with a stiff upper lip and a solid resolve.

The stained and worn wood of the jetty creaked as I awkwardly slung myself over the side of the boat. Slipping on rocks and bird excrement, we made our way perilously towards the lighthouse. It was late evening and it appeared the Gannets, my new neighbours I thought happily, were settling down for the night. I felt relieved after such a fierce introduction.

After a rudimentary overview of the workings of the beacon, I was left standing at its pinnacle as I watched Evans leisurely disappear over the surf. I would not see him again for two months, for the house was well stocked with food and fuel – all I would need to live a comfortable yet simple existence on the island. I stood there awhile looking out over the horizon watching the sea and birds until it grew dark. The
Dalen light behind lit automatically sweeping light from left to
right. Mercifully, at night the birds were quiet, barely stirring in the
heavy winds.

My duty on the island was to ensure the light never went out, a simple enough task and as it lit on its own accord at dusk, ceasing its arcing glow at sunrise. There was little else with which to occupy myself. I felt blessed on my first night there; I could have been cast adrift amongst the stars. The gentle swell soothed my tired body to sleep.

Uproar awoke me. It threw me from my sleep as ice water to the face. Drenched in sound, I lurched upstairs. It was daybreak. The giant bulb had switched off and the only light was a dull blanket from the east. I blinked, hugged my shoulders in the cold, and looked out across the crag. The sea and sky were an indistinguishable grey. The birds who also made home of the island had woken with the dawn. Hunger driving them out onto the sea they circled and cawed around the outcrop filling the firmament with their shrill cry. I couldn’t stand much of the sound and retreated to the security of the lighthouse. I found no escape, the din cut through the building as if I were standing bare on the island. I could not think let alone write, each wisp of thought lost in the tumultuous sea of noise. Even when I had, with cunning use of a curtain cord, affixed a pillow to each side of my head, the clamour could be heard throughout the day. I paced, sighed, and tried to take comfort in the canned food feast I prepared for myself.

All to no avail. I could find no escape from infinite cries. In the days that followed I began to lose any sense of time or date. Each evening in the twilight I would seize a fleeting redemption but it would swiftly give way to an exhausted sleep. In time I even lost track of when I would be saved from my avian damnation. Indeed each day materialised a fresh hell.

With my previous intentions to test my critical thinking and put answer to man’s eternal questions in considerable ruin, it was enough for me to keep my own mind in check. I was starting to erratically black out, only to revive some three or four hours later with no memory of the occurrence, sometimes in a different part of the building, once or twice outside laying in between the gannet nests covered in filth. These episodes culminated in a moment of intense anger. Bursting through the door of the lighthouse I fell upon the nests with fervent rage, tearing at wings, smashing eggs. For how long this slaughter continued I am unsure as I blacked out once again. I awoke wrapped in blood and feathers, the broken bodies of the gannets. I am not ashamed to say I wept for the humanity that deserted me that day.

My descent had begun. From then on I have no memory of the events that followed and can only go on what was written in my journal. My physician has diagnosed it as stress induced amnesia. I myself believe I had de-evolved to a primitive state; a state that allowed me to survive in the relentless extreme of the island. I gather all my information from my scribbled ravings. It seems that the power to write was one of the last sentiments of my old life to forsake me. I have learned from these notes that I had begun to study the birds. I would spend hours on the rocks imitating their movements and habits. I began to revere them, to worship a greater power; the great Gannet God, the lord of my avian brethren. I collected feathers and fastened them to each other creating a gigantic feathered cloak; it became my only garment during that time.
In the morning I would stand with my arms outstretched as the birds took flight to the sea, a hurricane of feathered gods churned around me. I wrote extensively of the collective power of the gannets, something I still feel connected to as I recount this. I would spend all day in the salty spray, huddled and cawing, running across the craggy island.

Shortly after my writing becomes nothing but scrawled images and hieroglyphs of my own invention. But there are many pages of this, so many discoveries. I believe that it will offer much insight into the true face of our primal nature: the beast of man. Evans does not wish to return me to the island, he found me two months after he left with a broken ankle, half-starved, covered in the filth of bird and man alike. I was rescued, but it would be weeks of isolated therapy, of electric shocks and deadening medication before my humanity had returned. Though something had been lost. A melancholic almost misanthropic attitude towards my fellow man had surged through me, had left me half a man. I poured over my writings in an effort to decipher the mysterious figures. But I had no Rosetta Stone. The connection was left with my mind on that island. I am Filius et Morus Bassanus and their cries still call me to rediscover what I once abandoned.

By Adam Warner


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