There once was an old man in a lighthouse. At the base of his towering candle-shaped home sat a weathered mailbox reading, “Residence of Johnny Orlando.” With his trusty Galápagos penguin Jalapeño at his side, Orlando climbed the spire every morning to activate the beacon in order to assist incoming shipping vessels. His deep hazel eyes would stare into the ocean void every day, reflecting the infinite grey and blue storm clouds beyond the horizon. The old man waited patiently for seabound visitors searching for lodging in the cliffside town of St. Bonneville. No one ever came, of course. After 86 years on the job, Orlando had never seen a single ship enter the bay with the help of his lighthouse.
His only customers nowadays were the city folk, desperate to make a name for themselves by charting the roaring sea. The routine was simple: Jalapeño would squawk whenever he spotted a sailor and their crew marching towards the water, Orlando would help them prepare their boat for their voyage, and he would give them his warning, “No one has come back from these waters in over 100 years.” As the vessels disappeared into the fog, the old man would shout, “Farewell and goodbye, children!” Orlando had guiltlessly sent thousands of adventurers into the tumultuous ocean. While he had admittedly overstayed his welcome in St. Bonneville, there he remained. He thought that his final resting place would be his lighthouse. Perhaps Jalapeño would be at his side as his fate was sealed far from the dangers of the stormy void. One thing was certain in the old man’s eyes: he would never doom himself to the water.
On one sunny morning, a few days before summer began, Orlando found a letter inside his mailbox. He walked to the top of the tower to read in comfort. The soaked paper had been blasted by the ocean’s foam and was barely legible. As the old man squinted his eyes, the words became clear.
To Mr. Johnny Orlando,
In order to expand the beautiful town of St. Bonneville, you will be removed from your sky-scraping lighthouse on the evening of June 2nd. The lighthouse will be demolished thereafter and you will be provided with a room in our luxury hotel. Accept these terms or be doomed to the stormy sea you have subjected the townsfolk to for decades.
Love, Mayor Wagner
Orlando crushed the paper with his dirt-encrusted fingers. He turned around to shout and curse his frustrations to Jalapeño, but his loyal penguin was nowhere to be found. The old man hobbled down the spiral staircase and swung the weathered front door open. Perched directly on the coastline was Jalapeño. Orlando knelt next to his 20 year old Galápagos penguin and began to cry. The warm tears felt foreign against his coarse cheeks, as did the feeling of fear in his heart. Suddenly, Jalapeño waddled towards the water. The penguin’s wings shook with what could only be anxiety. Despite the bird’s fear, it leaped into the silver ocean and swam into the void.
The old man sat on the coastline for a long time. Why had his penguin left him? Why was he being forced out of his home? He felt safe there and did not want to leave. As he saw a couple of bounding dolphins resist the waves and disappear into the clouds, he came to a realization. If women, men, penguins, and dolphins can conquer the sea then so can I, Orlando thought.
There once was an old man in a boat. After gathering up food, water, and a compass, the former lighthouse caretaker set sail. What rested beyond the sea no longer mattered to Johnny Orlando. The ocean was his to discover, and he hoped to find Jalapeño again someday.
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