Salzwedel was the first to see the light, or at least to recognize it aloud. The teacher's blurted “Look!” had an effect on Blow of mitigated surprise as his eyes already had registered the feeble glow while his mind had yet to process its significance. The luminance wavered like a dying moon's vestiges in the encompassing blackness. As an ocular phenomenon it fared poorly against the adversity of sporadic lightning sheets, warping rain and the intermittent flashes from Frank Rust's lantern as the old mariner navigated through unfriendly terrain.
For Blow and Salzwedel the distant light held a mingled attraction, an alchemy of the hypnotist's dazzling amulet with the emanating grace of a beacon's welcome. Dutifully they lurched and sloshed behind Rust, while his attention solidly fixed on determining evidence of secure footing left his companions free in their trust to beseech assurance with their eyes the fragile glimmer ahead was true. Their confidence grew as the focus of light enlarged and became steadier.
Visually concentrated as they'd become, when the feral screech again accosted them it erupted with a volume so huge in timbre and proximity Blow thought for an instant Rust had been stricken. Blow jerked backward, making contact with Salzwedel whose hands this time kept him from falling. But Salzwedel's action was more reflex this time as he also staggered and was clutching Blow as well for support.
“Jeezuz,” the teacher said. Rust's lantern burst alight, aimed straight ahead now enlisting the streaking rain as a broad particulated reflector while it wigwagged with the clatter of rubber boots away into the dense obscurity. The light span narrowed as the distance stretched. Blow saw that it was rising steadily as well, which could explain the diminishing water beneath his feet. He turned his head back toward Salzwedel.
“We're climbing,” he shouted.
“Beating the tide anyway. Can you see anything?”
It was then Blow remembered the little Fenix LED flashlight in his pants pocket. He'd carried it for years, using it so rarely he'd long been taking it for granted as one of those precautionary accessories like life insurance or the sidearm of a beat cop who, prevailing with attitude and wits alone, retires after an exemplary career without once on duty even drawing the weapon from its holster. To an earlier generation the Fenix might have been considered a “penlight”, but the one Blow carried was surprisingly bright, putting out the lumen approximation of a larger, hand-held size in the penlight generation. He'd extracted it from its synthetic canvas sheath and depressed the rubber switch at the end, illuminating the narrow, shell-paved surface at their feet, when another concussive blast a split-second later felt so near it seemed lightning had in fact struck this time, right next to them.
“Lightning! Get down,” Salzwedel shouted. Even Blow, confused by the proximity of time and distance, wondered for a moment if Mother Nature had not preempted the action of his thumb on the Fenix for a bit of macabre fun at his expense. He had dropped into a crouch when he heard a man's voice up ahead. With the wind's continuous roar and the battering of rain at his head along with ringing in his ears from the blast, he couldn't make out what was said. Then Salzwedel spoke.
“He's coming back!” Blow raised his head and saw the spread of light from Rust's lantern bobbing up and down as it grew larger and brighter. He soon rejoined them.
Rust spit his words out between gasps. “He's shot...need...get 'im to...hospital.”
Blow: “Who, Frank? Who's shot?”
“You know him?”
“Nephew...retarded.” Rust grabbed Blow's arm. “Come,” he demanded. He explained as they worked their way up the incline that Donnie had been shot in the legs. A lot of blood, but Rust didn't think it was arterial. Shock was the danger then, Salzwedel said. He offered to help Rust carry the wounded man down to the boat. Rust said Sarah Kellam was inside the house with the shotgun.
“Scared to death,” he said. “Fired at me too. I called to her but she don't know me.”
The trail of oyster shells serpentined as it neared the house taking them out of view of the ghostly light that had guided them from a distance. Rust veered abruptly to his left then and after several steps Blow was aware of something shadowy through the rain looming over him on his right. A couple more steps and he saw the light source, a greenish glow behind an open doorway.
Rust stopped and held up a warning hand. He called out, “Sarah! It's ol' Frank Rust. We're friends. Don't shoot at us!”
A hoarse female voice from beyond the doorway: “Go away! I'll shoot you. Y'all go away!”
Salzwedel stepped in front of Blow and cupped his hands on either side of his mouth. “It's Mister Salzwedel, Sarah. We're not going to hurt you. Please let us come in!”
“Mister Salzwedel?” The voice, less strident, a little shaky, had a schoolgirl tone.
“Sarah, I'm here with friends, Mister Rust and Mister Stone, the lawyer. You met him this morning.”
She relented then. Promised to set the shotgun aside and let Rust and Salzwedel tend to the wounded man. She wouldn't let them bring him inside, though, despite his heart-rending screams when Rust and Salzwedel lifted him to his feet. With each man holding an arm around his neck, they slowly started back down the trail into the stormy darkness.
“The sonofabitch tried to rape me,” she growled after letting Blow enter the house. He closed the door behind him.