ByTyler Marshall thought Joe Butcher had stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting, or perhaps a 1950s television sitcom. Gray marine flattop haircut, red and white checkered shirt, dark blue pants with a sharp crease, and black loafers.

A firm, dry handshake. ?Thanks for coming. We?re off the beaten path. Have any trouble finding the place??

?Didn?t know there was anything out here.? Tyler pointed at the blue and white Cape Cod home, the similarly colored lighthouse, and the dirt road they had travelled along Chesapeake from Baltimore.

?Hard to find unless you are looking. We like it that way,? Joe said, hands in pockets. ?Ain?t that right, Thelma??

Thelma Butcher wore a dark blue cocktail dress, white high heels, a string of pearls, and white hair tied up into a bun. ?Yes. Just us, the sea birds, and the water.?

Beyond the lighthouse lay the deep blue waters of the Atlantic where it met the Chesapeake. A light breeze wafted in off the water, fresh, cool, and tinged with salt. Birds drifted on the breeze. A few clouds drifted across a glacier blue sky.

?Must be lonely,? Eryn said. Her short, brown hair stirred in the breeze, green eyes dazzling in the sunlight. They?d met in San Diego where he?d been stationed in the Navy and where she pursued a marine biology degree.

The Butchers grabbed each other?s hands. ?We?ve got each other,? Thelma said.

Tyler waited for the ?ah? from Eryn, or ?How cute.?

?Breakfast will be on the table at six,? Thelma said as they walked past the white picket fence and up the sidewalk to the door. They entered into a foyer with a living room to the right, a kitchen to the left, and stairs leading to a second floor. Thelma opened a cupboard under the stairs and pulled out towels, hand towels, wash cloths, and pillow cases.

?Your room is at the top of the stairs on the right. Bathroom is next to the bedroom. Our room is down the main hall to the left. If you have any questions, or if there?s an emergency, don?t hesitate to knock.?

Joe flicked on the light to the upstairs hallway. Eryn took the towels and started up the stairs. Tyler followed with their bags. ?By the way, how did you find us??

Tyler paused. ?Airbnb I think. It could have been another listing. I can give you a credit card number if you need.?

Thelma shook her head. ?No. No. It?s all paid for.?

?What do you kids plan to do this afternoon?? Joe asked.

?Any good hikes around here?? Eryn asked.

Joe explained they could follow a path out the back door that would afford great views of the Bay, ocean, and birds. Tyler explained they?d packed a picnic dinner and would be back by dark. Tyler and Eryn then went to their Subaru Outback, grabbed their water bottles, hats, and picnic basket, and headed down the trail.

They returned at dusk.

?Where did this day go?? Eryn said as they walked up the stairs.

?Time flies when you?re having fun. And this was a fun day.?

?Except for the drive.?

?Except for the drive.? They?d gotten sidetracked, off track, and just plain lost. Big city traffic? Or where they just tired? Woods that weren?t on GPS, housing subdivisions that came out of nowhere, shopping malls that didn?t look familiar.

Upstairs they settled into their room. It was decorated with a nautical theme. Light blue curtains covered with painted fish, a lighthouse lamp, and blue and white anchor comforter. A ship?s wheel clock hung over the bed.

?Joe and Thelma are nice people,? Eryn said after brushing her teeth, undressing, and climbing into bed.

?A bit of Ozzie and Harriet.?


?Google it when we get home.?


?What now?? Tyler asked as he undressed and then brushed his teeth.

?The sheets are cool and feel new. Crisp. Or too much starch. Pillows are nice.?

Tyler slid in beside her and spooned next to her. They warmed up and fell asleep.

It had been a long day.

Tyler woke at dawn, showered, and dressed while Eryn showered. An enticing smell of coffee and bacon wafted up from downstairs. They made their bed and packed their bags since they?d planned on heading to Annapolis and Washington D.C. that afternoon.

Once downstairs they found a full breakfast on the oak table in the kitchen. A platter filled with scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage, plates piled with toast and English muffins, jars of jam and butter, juice, milk, and coffee on the counter next to the sink. Two empty plates with cutlery sat on blue and white place mats.

No Joe or Thelma.

They searched the house. Joe and Thelma?s bed was unmade, the closets empty, drawers filled with dust bunnies, and bathroom empty of toiletries.

?Did they move out?? Eryn asked.

Tyler shrugged and sat down to eat.

?There?s nothing of them left here,? Eryn said. ?No personal photos, paintings from a hotel room warehouse. Nothing.?

Tyler washed down a mouthful of eggs and toast with coffee. ?Perhaps they are at the lighthouse??

?Perhaps,? Eryn said.?

Tyler sat back after finishing off a plate. ?We can at least do the dishes for them.?

?Aren?t you the softie?? Eryn smiled. ?If we were at a fancy restaurant up the coast you?d left it all and not a tip to be found. Or take from the register.?

?I?m not that greedy.? Tyler took the plates and ran water as he found dish soap under the sink.

?Knock, knock.? A tall, white-haired man wearing a denim shirt, jeans, and work boots came into the kitchen through the back door where a wooden walk led to the lighthouse.

?Hello,? Tyler said. ?Who are you??

The man extended his hand and Tyler pulled a hand from the suds, dried it on a towel, and felt a warm and firm handshake that was also light and feathery.

?Mike. Caretaker.?

?Where did Joe and Thelma disappear to?? Eryn asked with a bluntness that startled Tyler.

?They had to leave. Don?t worry. There are answers if you care to look,? Mike said. ?You could start with the lighthouse. I?ll clean the dishes and take care of the food.?

?Are you responsible for this spread?? Mike folded the towel and put it on the counter.

?I had help,? Mike opened the back door. ?Go to the top. You?ll figure it out from there.?

They walked through a patch of grass to get to the wood walk, hiking boots wet with morning dew. The lighthouse soared above them into another clear sky. Sea birds circled over the waves and mist clung to rocks, grass, and distant trees. They climbed the steps to the wooden walkway. The walkway looked new. The grass untrodden.

??That sea air is cleaning my sinuses,? Eryn said, grabbing his hand. Tyler felt light-headed. He leaned against the walkway railing. A vision of Eryn sneezing. A field of rocks and wildflowers rushing at him.

He shook his head. What the hell?

?You okay??

Tyler nodded. ?Just a little dizzy.?

?Should we go back??

?No. I?m okay.?

The walkway led to a wooden door at the base of the lighthouse. An unlocked door. Inside was a round room and a set of stairs spiraling up. They hung their coats on hooks by the door and climbed.

The air smelled of rusting metal, oil, and the odor of ozone as if lightning had struck.

?This is an old place,? Eryn said.

?Built in 1822 to guard against the shoals entering the Chesapeake. Automated in the 1950s and now a registered historic place managed by the National Park Service.?

?Wow, you?re a fount of knowledge.?

?A pamphlet in a kitchen drawer when I was looking for dish soap. The pamphlet calls it ?a beacon to those who are lost.??

?The only time we get lost is when you won?t stop to ask for directions.?

Another flash. An argument. Glacier National Park. Sunny day. Warm. Dirt road. Lost.

The spiral staircase ended at a walkway that circled the light along the inside wall. Though the iron walkway felt solid under their feet, flecks of rust spotted the railing, grill under their feet and the mechanism turning the light. The motor vibrated under their feet.

?Why is it on?? Eryn asked.

?Don?t know. Possibly in case of fog? Don?t know.?

The Fresnel lens of the light acted as prisms and threw rainbows across the walls, staircase, and their bodies. On the walkway, overlooking the junction of the Atlantic and Chesapeake, sat a wooden desk with a black log book, fountain pen and well, and a spyglass.

?Is that a museum piece?? Tyler asked pointing at the desk.?

?Probably,? Eryn said. ?But Joe and Thelma aren?t here.?

Just then the main light beam flashed over them. Tyler felt the beam penetrate him. Bright light filled his mind. At the edges of that light hr saw a crashed Subaru Outback, top caved in, top caved in, tires and glass missing. A blue tarp was draped across the front windshield.

?What?s that?? Eryn stood on the opposite side of the walkway from the desk. She pointed north. Tyler ducked the beam coming around and saw a black column of smoke rose straight into the sky, as if an iron column had been slammed into the ground.

?Don?t know,? Tyler said, knees wobbly and muscles weak.

?When the light hit I saw the smoke. Knew where it was.?

?I saw something else that doesn?t make a lot of sense. But the smoke might lead us to Joe and Thelma.?

?Let?s see if we can find them.?

They both ducked the light and headed down the stairs. At the bottom the staircase their coats were gone, but Tyler grabbed Eryn and they got into their Subaru Outback that looked much like the one in his vision. They belted themselves into their seats and they looked at one another. They used to laugh about not wearing seatbelts.

?I don?t feel good.?

?Car sick.?

?No, just off. Where did our coats go>?

?Don?t know. Maybe Mike took them.? Tyler and Eryn reached the base of the column of smoke. The smoke came from underneath a bridge crossing a creek that flowed to the Chesapeake. They got out and went to the bridge rails. Down below flames engulfed a gray sedan.?

?We should call 911,? Eryn said. ?Do you have your phone??

Tyler patted his rear jean pocket but it was empty. For the first time in a long time.

?No. Do you??

Eryn shook her head. ?Normally I feel naked if I don?t have it. What?s going on??

?Bad accident.?

Tyler looked next to him and stepped back. Joe stood with arms folded.

?Yours?? Tyler asked. Joe nodded. On Tyler?s other side Thelma stood with Eryn.

?How long ago?? Pain stabbed Tyler in the center of his forehead. A flash of his head hitting the steering wheel, being thrown from the Subaru, and staring at the blue sky.

?Don?t know. I would suspect 1951. We were at a party celebrating Ike?s inauguration. I think. There was a house out here somewhere. Drank too much I?m afraid.?

?Was it painful?? Eryn asked.

?Don?t remember.? Thelma put a hand on Eryn?s arm.

?Mike must know,? Tyler said.

?He might, but he?s not telling,? Joe said.

?Not many answers.? Tyler grabbed Eryn?s hand.

?Nope. I guess that is why we are all lost.?

?So the house is ours?? Tyler asked.

?I guess.?

?What happens now??

?Don?t know.?

Joe and Thelma faded. Tyler and Eryn walked hand-in-hand to the Subaru and drove home to the beacon.