Gathering every ounce of courage he could muster, he took the step. He felt nothing but thin air under his feet. He wobbled, stumbled and fell through the air watching the cobblestone street below him rushing up to catch him in a final greeting.
He woke back in the hot sun on his beach towel, stretched out next to his friends on the sand. Jan sat up shaking, looked over his shoulder at the red lighthouse up on the hill behind him. Still vividly seeing the images from his nightmare while he had dozed in the sun, and feeling queasy from both his hangover and the terror of the dream, he dug out the key from his red swimsuit pocket. He had been given it by the lighthouse keeper when he lost a bet at the bar the night before. Jan stood up, walked across the sand toward the beach and threw the key on its old key ring into the water as far as he could. It sunk below the surface and disappeared.
He turned to rejoin his buddies. Above him he could have sworn that he saw the old lighthouse flash for a moment in the bright sunlight, as if it was winking at him in jest. Jan shivered and sat down again on his beach towel, never looking back toward the silent guardian for the rest of the day. “After all,” he said softly as he sat watching the North Sea, trying to justify his actions to himself, “Stupid bets made when you are drunk don’t count as bets at all.”
Hungry, the four men walked toward the crowded walkway lined with shops and restaurants that overlooked the water, looking for something to eat.
Jan’s buddy stopped remembering suddenly, “Hey, what about that bet you lost last night. Time to go for a climb before dinner, Jan,” he teased his friend.
Jan stood still and snapped, “I lost the key in the water when I was swimming.”
Bored with the bet anyhow, the other men shrugged and headed toward the nearest source of food and more beer. Jan took a deep breath of relief and quickly caught up with his friends.
On the beach, a cute little girl wearing a polka dotted bathing suit with ruffles that made her look like a flower blooming on the sand, walked up to the lifeguard holding a wet key ring in her hands. She pulled the lifeguard’s hand to get his attention, pointed at the men disappearing toward the crowd in the distance and said to the lifeguard, “That man in the red swim suit lost his keys.”
The old giant on the hill flashed in the sunlight again as if laughing at the turn of events taking place down by the water. The keeper stood on the deck at the top of the lighthouse, his extra key in hand, with his stony silent friend and laughed along with the flashing light. “I guess we win the bet after all, my old friend,” he said, patting the lighthouse wall.