Aurealis #89, available now on Smashwords, leads off with my short story ‘The Lighthouse at Cape Defeat’. I won’t say anything specific about the story, not before the statute of limitations on spoilers expires, but I did want to say something about where this story came from.
I have a strange relationship with the concept of duty. The notion of holding to an ideal so strongly that you give your life over to it, that you surrender part of your identity in service to some greater cause, fascinates me.
In this story, each of the three main characters are motivated by their sense of duty to their personal cause, but each of them comes to it via a very different path. One sees no other choice than to serve so that order can be restored, one serves in order to preserve their privileged position, and another acts from certain knowledge that giving up will have disastrous consequences.
I look at people in my life with a genuine dedication to an ideal, a principle or a community – hell, even a sports team – and I wonder how they do it. I’m not talking about blind, unquestioning devotion here, which I think is generally unhealthy. Rather I mean nose-to-the-grindstone, do-what-has-to-be-done persistence in the face of nagging obstacles, fair-weather support or the sheer impossibility of their objective.
I wonder how deep my own reserves of persistence go. I wonder what circumstances would drive me to throw myself into a daunting quest with passionate determination. I wonder what it would take to convince me to change my life to pursue some (hopefully noble) great cause.
My strong suspicion is that the answer would disappoint me.
I wasn’t thinking about any of this as I wrote the story. I just wanted to spin a yarn about a cranky veteran’s solitude being invaded by an annoying bureaucrat, plus ghosts. But as I wrote it I kept coming back to the question of duty and dedication. What started as a mildly spooky image of ghosts burying bones at the foot of a lighthouse turned into an exploration of different expressions of duty.
By the way, the mule is just a mule, but if you want to think of it as metaphor for stubborn, obstructive bureaucracy, I won’t stop you.