The Last Lamp Lighter

The mist comes early tonight.

That means they’ll be here soon; they hide in the mist.

The last of the day revelers seeks shelter from the chilly night, and I take my lantern, its little light a small but comforting protection against the things that walk in the starlight.

It allows me to see their eyes, which is only less terrifying than not seeing them at all.

They greet me now, some with sibilant whispers, some with solemn nods.

Why they stay, no one knows. They wander, lost, soulless, fleshless, without a destination. All their plans rot alongside them with whatever remains in the old graves, the headstones crooked and faded, broken teeth knocked out of nature’s mouth.

The tip of the ladder clacks against the cobblestones as I walk, tapping out a dirge to my own eventual demise. The ladder gets lower with every passing year as my strength to carry it fades, but they still expect me to do my job.

I must light the streetlamps.

The scrape of my own worn shoes gets swallowed up, the echo choked off by the thickening veil of fog.

It gets difficult to see, so I must hurry while the lamps are still visible; painted black, I will lose them in the darkness.

I walk a little faster.

They’re here now. Soft laughter, whispered conversations, arguments and vows of undying love, the laughter of a child, the song of a musician, sung in a language I don’t know, all swirl through the streets like autumn leaves caught in an eddying wind.

I hear my name, called in greeting as I climb to the first lamp, and open the creaky gate.

The wick sizzles and pops as the oil catches, and the flame grows and swells with its greedy need for air.

Satisfied it will survive the night, I close the creaky gate and descend.

Walking against the traffic of ghostly strollers, I feel the feather touch of ethereal bodies brushing against me, the hair on my arms wet, even as they stand on end.

The lamps, not at all high above, have gazed on these streets for time untold, and the people, long past and forgotten, still remember living life in the night because of those who came before me.

Long lost is the name of the first, but I am the last, and when I go, they will doubtless convert them to something more modern.

I don’t know what these wandering spirits will do then; indeed, I may walk among them.

For now, they rely on me to keep them from being completely obscured, however slight, and for now, I can oblige them.

Clack, clack, clack, creak, creak, clack, clack, clack.  The lullaby with no words awakens them, and I see them taking comfort in the small fires. I see them glowing like souls with memories against the misty onslaught of Time, who will reach down to scoop them all away again when my aching bones make the morning rounds.

And the small fires, like the distant stars, will be snuffed out one by one by one, until the day comes when Death places the bell over me, my own light pushed into darkness, and I join the midnight miasma of melancholic souls.

 

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