Throughout the night the cold North wind howled has the rain battered the glass in vain. The caretaker sat in his spot as he did every night making sure that all the machinery was running to keep the light on. In his modern lighthouse the duties are simple. If the main power goes out he flips the switch on the generator to restore power. He listens to radios in case of a distress call. That’s about it. To pass the time he tosses cards into a hat or plays solitaire. Sometimes he reads or works that Rubik’s cube that he’s never figured out. But tonight was different. Tonight one of the radios crackled to life. “Hello” was all the small voice said. There caretaker sat his coffee down with a thud that slashed a little coffee onto the 3 of diamonds. He paused and gave a disgusted grimace as he saw the stain form on the edge of card. He lifted the microphone from it’s bracket mounted on the side of the radio and gave his identification numbers along with asking what emergency was taking place. “Can’t sleep” was the only reply. The caretaker realized that the disembodied voice emanating from the overhead speaker in his office was that of child. The caretaker keyed the microphone and said ” well, you’re going to need to find some other way to deal with it. This is an emergency frequency and you can’t play on it. Go back to bed and you’ll be asleep in no time. ” After a few moments of silence the caretaker returned the microphone to it’s place. He was frustratingly trying to clean up the coffee from the edges of the cards when the radio crackled again. “I think it might be a emergency” the small voice said. The caretaker retrieved the microphone and spoke again. “Why do you think it’s an emergency?” We was dubious but his job requires him to respond. “Because I’m scared and that means it’s an emergency.” The child on the other said. “Obviously” the caretaker muttered under his breath. He keyed the microphone again. “Okay. What are scared of?” There was another long pause. “The storm. I can’t see the light of the lighthouse from here.” The child said. The caretaker thought for a moment. The lighthouse was on a hill but there was taller hills around. With the storm even the powerful beacon on his tower might be obscured by clouds and heavy rain. He transmitted his reply. “I am at the lighthouse and I promise you that the light is shining. Go back to bed and you’ll be okay.” He smiled at the cleverness of how he handled the call. But then the radio lit up again. “Yes but I can’t see it.” The caretaker knew he should have thought of that. He also knew that he couldn’t keep the frequency tied up in case a real emergency occurred. He could send a first responder to check on the child but he doubted that the child could even give the address. Then an inspiration hit. “Well then, there’s only one thing left to do. I’ll need to commission a deputy lighthouse and a deputy caretaker to be in charge.” The caretaker asked if the child had a flashlight and a roll of paper towels. The child found the items the caretaker radioed the instructions to let the roll of paper serve as a tower and to shove the flashlight into cardboard tube so that light could shine out in all directions. When the child finally stopped transmitting the caretaker looked out to see that the storm had passed long before the conversation ended. All the child needed was for someone to talk him through the darkest parts of the night. As the caretaker was locking up for the day he realized that that it wasn’t really light from the lighthouse that was needed. It was the light from inside that needed to be reveied.
Summersville Lake is unique in West Virginia in that we have the only lighthouse in the state. Standing on private land the lighthouse overlooks both the lake and the Route 19. The lighthouse is recent addition but when I was a kid there was a beacon light from the local airport. In stormy weather we would see the flash from the airport and think that there was a lighthouse that only lit up in storms. We couldn’t see the actual tower. Just the beam reflected off of the clouds into the window of our bedroom. It would light up the bedroom as we slept and we knew that somewhere out there it wasn’t so dark.
It’s good to have a guiding light when times are dark and dreary. We need a fixed point to center ourselves and a light to sweep away the darkness no matter if you’re on dark foggy water, traveling on a four lane highway or snuggled up under the covers on a stormy night.
As I sat down to write to write tonight’s post the wind is howling on the ridge above my home. I can hear the wind chimes ring loudly in the front porch. There’s a storm on the way. That’s the reason why I chose the picture of our local lighthouse. Lighthouses are the iconic representation of hope in the storm. I can’t look at a lighthouse without having a sense of peace and security. (That’s why I incorporated a lighthouse in my business logo.) Finding peace during a storm one of life’s necessities. It helps to have a lighthouse to provide a fixed point to focus on. Metaphorically speaking, we know that there will multiple storms in our lives. We will need that beacon of hope to focus on and guide us through the fog and blinding rain. For me, Christ is my lighthouse. That doesn’t mean that there’s never a storm. But it does mean that I have a fixed point to focus on and find that peace again.
I’m bringing the story to a close. I’ve enjoyed daydreaming and writing. The story started out as a way of drawing attention to the digital art I’ve produced and it took on a life of its own. I’ll probably have other stories from time to time. I hope you’ve enjoyed The Beacon.
The past few weeks had been pretty uneventful. The caretaker and his young guest passed the time with sharing chores and playing chess near the fire. Every so often the young man would take out the telescope and scan the horizon for any signs of a passing vessel.
He had been on this stormy and rocky little island for months. Even with the supplies he salvaged from his little ship they would not have much longer before rationing was not an option. The young man thought about his options as he prepared for sleep. He looked into the mirror as he washed his face in the basin on the far side of the little bedroom. He thought for a moment that he heard a voice calling out. He walked into the kitchen but it was empty. He checked the supply room and found nobody there. The top of the lighthouse was also void of any presence. The lamp was lit but no one tended the flame. Outside the window the wind howled as the clouds began their march towards his shelter. He strained his eyes and searched the rocks for the signs of the caretaker. Panic began to set in. He opened the glass door and stepped out to the balcony but it was gone. He looked up into the night sky as he fell. Just before he hit the ground his body jerked and he woke up in a sweat. The nightmares started with the fever but were growing steadily worse. He could see the sunshine peeking through the window. He got out of bed and washed up. The caretaker was sitting at the table with the morning meal ready.
The young man wondered what the dream meant. He had spoken of it to the caretaker before but their language barrier was still too great for a clear conversation.
As the caretaker slept the young man walked the shoreline. This had become his daily routine. As he walked in silence he continued his contemplation of the reoccurring nightmares. Once more he could hear someone calling out to him. He continued to walk. The voices were growing louder. He could hear them above the crashing waves this time. There was something familiar about the voices. The young man quickly spun around to see three men running up the shoreline in his direction. They were speaking his language! “Hello!” He called back. Behind them was a ship’s launch on the beach and on the horizon was a ship flying the colors of his home country.
“We’ve been spotting the light in the old tower for days but could not get a safe anchor until today.” The oldest of the three spoke. The young man was shocked and found it hard to form a reply. The oldest sailor spoke again, “We’ve got to hurry. We don’t know how long it will be before the wind picks up again. ” My things are in the lighthouse.” Was all the young man could say at the moment. The leader of the three men ordered the other two to go with him and help him carry out what possessions they could. As the entered the cottage the young man called out for the caretaker but there was no answer. Confused the young man began to head up the stairs calling out for his friend when one of the sailors grabbed his arm. “Sir, we’re leaving with or without you. There’s no more time. We have to get back to open seas before the next storm.” The young man understood. He regretted that he wasn’t able to let the caretaker know what was happening.
As they rowed for the ship the others just did their work without speaking. They were quickly hauled aboard as soon as they arrived. The young man was instructed to go below deck and get himself in order. His possessions were placed in storage and he was assigned a berth. As the ship was getting underway the young man ventured back to the deck for one last look at the rocky island that had been his home for nearly a year. There was something wrong with the lighthouse. The lamp was out and the storm was gathering. “We’ve got to go back! He shouted. There’s something wrong, the caretaker wouldn’t fail to light the lamp with weather like this setting in! Everyone just stared at him strangely. It was then that the captain placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Son, this lighthouse has been abandoned for almost one hundred years.” the captain spoke calmly. The young man protested and began to recall all that occurred when the captain handed him a telescope. “See for yourself” was all he said. The young man raised the glass. The lighthouse was falling apart. No smoke from the cottage fire, no lamp in tower. He just stared in disbelief as they sailed on.
The young man couldn’t explain the experience. The captain suggested that he go back below deck and try to recover. His personal surgeon would check in on him in a bit. The young man stuck his hands in his pockets as he walked due to the cold wind. Something brushed his hand in his right pocket. When he pulled out the chess piece get knew that something supernatural had preserved his life until his rescue could be arranged.
It was a full 2 years ago since the young man had been rescued. He worked hard and saved enough money for a second one man ship. He was able to gather extra supplies and was now beached on the island where he sheltered from the storms and helped the caretaker maintain its Beacon.
He hauled the cans of lamp oil and food to the small cottage. It was dusty and the rooftop was falling in. On the table was the chess set. He returned the missing piece to the board. He called out a few times but there was no answer. He returned to his ship and set sail for open sea. As he looked back to island the lamp began to glow once again. The young man whispers “I love you too father.” and returned home.
The young man decided to leave the cottage for a while as the caretaker slept. He walked along the the rocky shore and enjoyed the sun while he could. The weather was unseasonably warm. Knowing that a warm front always proceeds a large storm front he decided that he would holed up in cottage for the next few days. The golden sky was of particular concern for him. “Orange or yellow will hurt a fellow” he said underneath his breath. He searched the horizon for any signs of a sail for a moment. He could have sworn that he saw the glimmering of glass off in the distance but when no sail was spotted he presumed it was just wishful thinking. With the tide out he actually had a beach to stroll on. As he did so he continued to look out to sea. Just then he scuffed his foot across something half buried in the sand and fell face first on beach. He rolled over and looked back to what it was that he had tripped over. It was a wooden box approximately one foot wide by eighteen inches long and 8 inches deep. He dug out the other end of the box. It was a bit heavier than he expected for its size. The young man lifted the box to one shoulder carried it back to the cottage. The box could not have been lost for too long. There was no corrosion of the metal hinges or latch. Once inside he placed his newfound prize on the table and contemplated on how to defeat the lock. He walked into the supply room and found some tools. There was a hammer and chisel, a file and after some digging around he found a box of miscellaneous keys. He would start with the keys. He carefully began to remove the sand and debris from the lock. Gently tapping on the lock with the handle of the chisel would get the bulk of the sand out. He inserted the first key and it wouldn’t seat fully into lock. However, raking the key back and forth removed more sand. He patiently worked in this way for a few hours before he noticed a presence in the room. How long had the caretaker been sitting there watching him? The caretaker was just shaking his head when the younger man realized he was there. The caretaker was holding the hammer and chisel. With one pop of the hammer and chisel the lock opened. Inside was a fine navigational kit consisting of a sextant, a compass, ships glass, and a chart. In the very bottom of the box well wrapped up in oil cloth was a watch. The set was exquisite. The fine craftsmanship of instruments was second to none. The box was well fitted enough to prevent the sand from fouling up the instruments. There was a navigator somewhere that if still alive was mourning the loss of this kit. The placed the box on the hearth where the instruments could dry out and prepared the lamp for the oncoming evening. For the first time since he was stranded the young man had a way of plotting his position. This was also the first night with a clear sky. Although the watch had stopped he could still latitude and general Compass points. To the best of his reckoning he was somewhere between Greenland and North America. The compass had a sun dial on the lid which would make it possible to determine local time.
The young man was just putting away the last of his recovered belongings when the caretaker emerged from the bedroom. Determined to not be a burden the young man had already prepared the next meal from his supplies. It was early afternoon and dark clouds were already gathering to engulf the small island. At the first flash of lightning they began to count the seconds between the flash and the sound of thunder. This would let them know how many miles away the edge of the storm was. The second flash was a few seconds shorter between flash and crash. This one was coming in fast. The caretaker drops his spoon into the bowl with a splash and starts for the supply room . The young man catches him by the shoulder and motions towards the spiral staircase. The caretaker understands, the young man had already prepared the next round of oil in the lamp. They made their way to the top of the lighthouse and once more the beacon began it’s nightly battle with the darkness. They returned to the meal and stoked the fire. The little cottage had few creature comforts but the fireplace and generous supply of cordwood was one of them. It was while sitting by the fireplace that the caretaker noticed the small stack of personal items recovered from the wreckage. On top was an oilskin wrapped around a book. The caretaker gestured for the younger man to show him what was in the bundle. The young man handed him the oilskin and the caretaker removed a Bible. The leather cover was very worn and pages were falling out but it was all there. A certain look came over the caretaker’s face and a small tear formed in corner of one eye. The caretaker seemed to caress the book as he held it. Without lifting the cover he began to speak. It didn’t take long for the younger man to recognise that the caretaker was quoting scriptures verbatim in his own native tongue. After reciting a few passages the caretaker returned the sacred book to its oilskin and secured the closure. “It was my father’s book.” The young man said as he returned it to the small stack. “He was lost at sea when I was a child. It’s all I have left.” The caretaker placed a hand gently on the younger man shoulder as he spoke. After a few minutes of silence the caretaker motioned him to move back to the table and sit down. He disappeared into the back of the supply room and returned with a bottle of wine and a box. The caretaker pours each of them a proper glass of wine and opens the box. Inside was a chess board and pieces carved from shells gathered from the beach. They passed the evening with a few rounds of chess until it was time for the caretaker to focus on the maintaining the lamp and watching the rocks for the signs of ship in trouble.
The next morning the storm seemed to break early. The young man ventured into kitchen and greeted the caretaker. They had one more round of chess and the caretaker disappeared into the bedroom.
Before advancing the story I want to talk about the image. The base is is the lighthouse at Summerville Lake in West Virginia. The background is a manipulation of one of those surprises you find on your camera roll when you have accidentally hit the shutter button .
The storyline started out as a was of featuring the lighthouse images but has seemed to take on a life of its own. As fitting images and inspiration allow I will continue to advance the the story of the beacon.
On the following evening the storm came back with a vengeance. The old caretaker gestured for the younger man to help him carry a fresh supply of oil to the lamp at the top of the lighthouse. They each took a canister into a hand and began to climb the spiral staircase. In spite of his years the caretaker seemed to make the ascension with ease. The caretaker’s large hands kept a tight grip on the precious liquid during the climb. When they reach the top of the tower the first order of business is to fill the reservoir. The young man finished pouring his oil and paused to look out at the pitch black sea. The occasional flash of lightning revealed the angry sea below. He could see the broken hull of his one man vessel still hung up in rocks just beyond the beach. Judging by the number of oil canisters in the supply it could be months before he would be found. “At least I’m not alone.” He thought to himself as the caretaker pulled a striker from his vest pocket and lit the wick. The caretaker motioned him to move back down the stairs and he took one last look at his boat before descending back to the cottage. They entered the kitchen and soon the caretaker sat two more bowls of soup on the table. As they ate the younger man noticed that the caretaker’s bowl was only half full while his bowl was almost spilling out. There was sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. While there was plenty of oil to last a certain number of nights the rocky island only held enough food for one person to last the same span of time. The caretaker was rationing himself and sacrificing for the benefit of his guest. If the boat wasn’t washed away by the latest storm the younger man would have find a way to retrieve any supplies from the hold. Why had the caretaker not tried to make him understand about the food supplies? He would have understood. Was it pride or a sense of duty? The young man stopped eating at a half bowl thinking he could save the other half for breakfast. This resulted in a stern look from the caretaker as well as a gesture to finish eating. The young man recognized only one word of what the caretaker spoke during the exchange. “Wasted”. It was clear that the caretaker was insulted by any refusal of food. “Pride it is then” the young man thought as he finished the soup and began to formulate a plan to get to his boat.
As he tried to sleep the young man’s mind mused about what it would take to reach the boat. He had noticed a damaged sail in the storeroom of the lighthouse. If he could find something to use as framework he could fashion the sail into a skin boat. Another problem would trying to communicate his plan to the caretaker. As he finally drifted off to sleep he decided to present a sketch of his plan to the caretaker first thing in the morning just before the caretaker would be ending the night shift.
The morning sun broke through the clouds and the young man sprang from the bed and headed to the top of the lighthouse. The caretaker was just putting out the lamp to conserve the oil when the younger person reached the top. Out of breath he handed the caretaker the sketches detailing the construction of the skin boat. The caretaker looked at plan and smiled. He stepped onto the balcony at the top of the lighthouse and pointed towards the beach. There in front of the young man’s eyes was his boat fully beached.
The young man rushed out to his boat. By some miracle the water had not entered the large hole near the bow. He managed to get in through the cabin window and even though everything was tossed about nothing seemed to be missing. He began to gather his possessions into blankets starting with the canned goods. By the time he made it back to the cottage the caretaker was taking his turn in the bed. The young man started stacking supplies and replenished the pantry. His journey would have been three months between ports. The pantry now held more than enough food for two men to eat well until the next supply drop.