Flash Fiction Challenge: Guiding Light

fort oswego lighthouse ny oct 2008Mr. Grogan had been the keeper at the lighthouse for thirty years before they cut off the funding.

They said we didn’t need the lighthouses anymore – said what with the GPS and the satellites and computers, lighthouses was a waste of money.

Old Grogan stayed. Kept his watch as always. It was a good thing, too. When the hurricane hit, all that fancy equipment failed. Only the beacon in the lighthouse worked. Funny thing is, it shouldn’t have worked at all…

In 250 words or less, tell us a story incorporating the elements in the picture. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time.

On Wednesday afternoon, we will open voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Friday afternoon, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Then, at year end, the winners will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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12 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Guiding Light”

  1. I don’t know much, but I can tell you about the sea. And the sky. And the gulls perched between them. The restless gulls, always calling, always searching for home. I can tell you about the blues that stretch out to the horizon. Where the waters of heaven and earth meet and blend together. Where the clouds dip into the waves and pop up as foamy crests.

    I can tell you about old. The battered, wrinkled stones. The weathered hands. The deep lines around the eyes. The eyes that shone with youth once. The light that’s going out. And the light within.

    I can tell you about storms. The gray and violet palette. The cooling touch. The force that picks up metal ships, and twists, and carries them, and scatters them like wood chips. The deafening roar, devastation and despair.

    Do not be afraid. Look for me in the distance. I’ll be there for you. Put your trust in me. Let me guide you to safety.

    And when you feel land beneath your tired feet, come see me. Don’t leave just yet. My old man will open the aged brandy he’s been saving for visitors, and serve it to you in a heated glass to warm up your soul and loosen your tongue. He’ll pour some for himself and marvel at your stories of the impossibly beautiful faraway worlds, and his eyes will grow young again.

    And when your stories are all through, I will tell you about the sea.

  2. Old Grogan grumbled while he climbed from the watch room to the lantern room. “Gotta see what’s makin the light. Then gotta make sure it stays on.” He wheezed. “Ain’t gettin any younger. This is gonna kill me one a these days.” The distant ship was close to the rocks. But as long as the beacon stayed on, Grogan knew that the vessel’s crew would be able to navigate away from danger.

    The light grew brighter. It hurt his eyes. He squinted. The glare wasn’t coming from the lens, but rather from several lanterns placed around the perimeter of the room. He stumbled backward. And he almost lost his footing.

    A grizzled hand grabbed his elbow. “Careful. Watch your step.” The stranger tipped his hat. “Guy’s the name. Guy Wyatt.”

    The man looked vaguely familiar. Grogan stuttered. “I ain’t n-never seen l-lanterns so dang bright.”

    “Special lanterns, they are. Brighter than Fresnels, Vegas, and LEDs. We shall keep them going until dawn, shall we not, old boy?”

    The two men maintained vigil until the sea calmed and the sun broke over the horizon. Grogan succumbed to exhaustion as the first sunbeams stroked his face. When he woke at noon, Wyatt and the lanterns were gone.

    He hobbled to the pub and ordered a beer. While he sipped, he gazed at the framed photos of previous lighthouse keepers. He dropped his glass. He shuffled closer. There—in black and white—was the stranger. The inscription: Guy Wyatt. 1858-1932.

    Grogan got drunk.

  3. Grammar was not the lighthouse keepers strong suite.His voice was also not a very pleasing thing.And he was still waiting for his princess to come.
    “What the hell are you igits doin’ here agin?
    “Mr. Grogan,we have told you repeatedly you have to leave.”
    “I’m more likely to evacuate my bowels than this lighthouse.”
    “No need to be unpleasant.”
    “I’ll be as unpheasant as i want.”
    With that, the old man,with surprising speed, grabbed a double barrel shotgun from the wall,pulled both triggers and blew the two government men’s heads clear off.
    “Well now I got a mess to clean.”
    Grogan dragged the bodies to the waiting sea,tossing them in as he hummed a merry,if off key tune, “I Want to Marry a Lighthouse Keeper.”

  4. Old Grogan stared out his window toward the angry sea, stunned to see an intense beam of light radiating out from the top of the old light house. If he hadn’t decided to leave the shutters open on that one window until the last moment, Old Grogan might not have seen the light at all.

    “Now, how in the world do you suppose it’s doing that?” Grogan muttered to himself. “That light hasn’t shined in years, not since those boys from the Coast Guard put in all that fancy electronics up there on the roof?”

    With a resigned sigh, the old lighthouse keeper walked to the door of his small cabin, grabbed his yellow slicker, and stepped out into the storm.
    It was 152 steps to the top of the lighthouse. Grogan’s feet knew the feel of every step. His old legs did have the spring they once did, but he made only one stop, half-way, to catch his breath and look out the small window at the storm.
    The storm whipped the sea into such a frenzy that ocean and sky seemed one gray, indistinguishable mass.

    Topping the stairs, Grogan stared at the figure in the oilskin coat tending the light. “Who are you?” he asked, his voice accusing and fearful.

    “I am the First Keeper,” the figure answered. “I am here because of The Imperative.”

    “The what?” Grogan asked, confused.

    The figure pointed toward the sea. “When the angry sea shows it’s fury, The Light Must Shine.”

  5. The county cut the power to the lighthouse a month prior to the storm. But the thing is it worked anyway. I know what you’re thinking, right. It must have been a ghost or something. Truth be told they cut the power after old Mr. Grogan died.

    The man took pride in his work, even with the onslaught of electronics, even when they no longer needed him. He prepared the lighthouse for just in case. The man was a perfectionist if nothing else. Without the generators all might have been lost.

    Of course you might think the story would end there. But this, this is where it gets a bit strange. No one knew about the generators. We counted the lighthouse as lost when news hit of the approaching storm.

    It was Jim Trellik, he was the one that saved the day. Here is the crazy thing though, Jim is our town drunk. It was just the ravings of alcohol induced delirium. He swears Mr. Grogan came and saw him days before the storm hit.

    Jim was a maniac. He rushed through town and bought supplies and generator fuel. No one saw him when the storm hit but we saw the light.

    He must have stayed up for a week straight. After the storm, they found him dead, drained of anything that might make him whole. But the light stayed on, it stays on still.

  6. Craig’s prize possession for eighty-seven years came from Ireland. No need of it in his early years, his father’s carved blackthorn stick leaned against a wall. Now, he reached for, and wrapped his gnarled fingers around it, before opening the door to the gallery.

    As he made his way around the tower below the lantern room. Howling wind, and tapping of wood against slate, combined in a familiar rhythm. Waves crashed against the rocks below sending salt spray upward onto the deck. Craig wiped the mist from his face. Memories of his father’s voice filled him. “Get used to it mac, this is our home now. Remember, like the sea – life is constant change.”

    And, he did. He grew to love the sea just as his father did. He also learned that change comes when least expected.

    It happened late one night during the worst blow they’d ever weathered. They were on the widow’s walk when a gale blew his father off balance, causing him to fall over the rail onto the gallery deck below. Soon after, young Craig took his place as keeper of the light. Like his father before him, he spent his life guiding ships to safe harbor.

    These days, Craig was tired. Especially, this day. He dropped onto a bench against the wall and gazed at the horizon, smiling. As the walking stick slipped from his hand, his father’s voice whispered to him.

    “Let the light guide you, mac.”.


    The keel bumped into the breakwater. The oars creaked in their locks as the stooped old man in the faded leather jacket and jeans hauled them in. His ancient bones groaned in their joints as he hoisted himself up and on the crumbled breakwater granite. The weather vane squeaked on its base as it whiplashed in the rising wind. The boat slammed into the breakwater some more and bobbed away.

    The old man with an impossibly long snow-white beard looked up at the unmanned lighthouse. He labored his way into the tower and up to the glass-walled lantern room. He looked out at the dense black clouds. A light rain had started. It was getting dark; this time, the darkness would last a while.

    The old man sat down on the floor and leaned back on the lantern base. He took out a gadget like a smartphone from an inside jacket pocket and set it down on the floor, then nodded off.

    At midnight, the gadget buzzed, rousing the old man. He struggled to his feet, bent down and picked it up. He had waited for 2,000 years, and the time had come. His, and most of humanity’s. He pressed a few buttons on the gadget, and the lighthouse beam died. It was replaced by a harsh yellow light that sizzled up, vaporized the roof and shot out in all directions, gathering strength.

    His work done, the old man lay down and died.

  8. One moonless night great-grandfather took us far out on the prairie, starlight our only light.

    “Teaching ancient ways?” Wolf-Leader asked making his presence known.

    Grandfather smiled nodding.

    “May I help?” Wolf-Leader asked.

    “I welcome it,” Grandfather replied.

    Grandfather began, “When we were new on Mother Earth, we didn’t know how to get around. Often we got lost. We relied on our four-legged friends to help. But even the most patient friend grows weary of constantly saving another. We had to learn self-sufficiency.”

    Wolf-Leader picked up the story, “An animal council met. White Bear said he would give direction medicine to one warrior who would teach it to other two-legged humans. They chose Little Bear because he already walked his path mindful of seven virtues animals hold dear. (Love, Honesty, Respect, Truth, Valor, Wisdom and Humility).

    Grandfather added, “ Though they had many adventures Little Bear was unable to learn the secret medicine.”

    “So animals called another council,” Wolf-Leader continued. “They devised a plan whereby humans would know which direction to go. Eagle carried the two friends into the heavens where they became stars. Big Bear pointed to the Unmoving Star on the end of Little Bear’s tail.”

    Grandfather said, “Big Bear holds animal virtue within his constellation. Little Bear’s stars represent human warrior virtues (Authenticity, Candor, Compassion, Courage, Honor, Loyalty and Respect).”

    Wolf-Leader added, “To this day we can never get lost as long as we know how to find this heavenly guiding light, the Star that doesn’t move.’

  9. Ben Grogan stared at the illuminated lighthouse beacon at the top of the stairs. He’d been to the control room and knew the power was still off. Only one explanation remained. “Monsieur Laurent!” he called out. “Is that you?” Hearing no response over the howling storm, Ben grudgingly ascended the steep staircase. By the time he reached the landing just below the beacon, his shirt clung to his leathery skin like a wet rag. In a matter of seconds, the air around him turned frigid.

    “I see you found me, Mr. Grogan. How good of you to come.”

    Ben stared at the gray mist that vaguely resembled a man. Mr. Laurent perished over two centuries ago, the victim of a shipwreck in the waters below. “Why are you here, Monsieur Laurent? And what have you done to my lighthouse?”

    “I was marooned here many years ago, Mr. Grogan. So I believe I have more claim to it than you.”

    “You got me there. But I thought you hated us living folk. So why the beacon?”

    An antique telescope drifted toward Ben. “Gaze toward the horizon, starboard side. You will see the lanterns of a ship.”

    “I see it. Damn fool to be out in this storm.”

    “That ship carries a special passenger from Europe. She is my wife.”

    Ben blurted out a nervous chuckle. “She’d have to be more than two-hundred years old.”

    “You are correct. She will be so happy to meet you. And she will be hungry.”

  10. The storm taunted him from the other side of the windows as he inched his way up the stairs. He touched the stained glass window, lingering for a moment.
    Lance was trying out for the baseball team and threw the ball a little wide during practice. He wanted to throttle the boy over the broken window, but Alice wasn’t having any of it. She did the stained glasswork that became the lighthouse’s signature. Alice was amazing, so gentle and wise while he was rough and uncompromising. He faltered slightly at the memory.

    It was fitting that the storm of the century would happen this night of all nights. They were driving home from Lance’s last baseball game of the season. Grogan had to stay behind to work on repairs that couldn’t wait. He never forgot seeing the sheriff at his door. Thirty years to the day it had been. It felt like yesterday.

    At the top, he realized that the light wasn’t coming from the lantern. He saw a figure in the mist and shook his head.

    “Alice! Is that you, Alice?” He could smell her favorite perfume.

    Several windows were broken and the wind and rain were beating against him. Captivated by her smile and her beckoning stare, he never saw the pane of glass as it slipped from its casing and pierced his heart.

  11. “I’ve been the keeper here for thirty years… How can they just dump me? I’m too old to retrain… too young to retire! ‘Technology’, they say. ‘Have to move with the times’, they say… Decommissioned!… Bah!… Ridicules! I’ve given this job my life… what am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to go? There’s nowhere to go… Well, I’m not going anywhere!”

    Five years after decommissioning old Sam Grogan’s lighthouse, when the 150 mph hurricane hit the east coast, quite a few people died, but it should have been a lot worse. The commercial fishing vessels, charter boats and even a cruise liner that was caught up in that flash storm and swept towards the rocky peninsular, for all their GPS, satellites, computers and fancy equipment, that storm was such that none of it was of any use.

    The captains and crews of the nine surviving vessels swore under oath that they would all have perished had it not been for the constant, flashing, warning beacon of old Grogan’s lighthouse.

    The following week, when the coast guard went to the lighthouse to investigate, only a broken shell remained; a dilapidated, wreck of a building that might once have been a lighthouse but now there was certainly nothing there that could have generated any kind of beacon.

    Standing on the broken turret, once the lighthouse, the young coast guard officer looked down at the jagged rocks below where, five years previously, they’d found old Sam Grogan’s broken body.

  12. Grogan yanked the huge oil drum up another step. He was almost to the top of the lighthouse now. Pain lanced his arm, but he ignored it. He had to light a beacon and save the ships headed for the rocks.

    Outside the hurricane hammered the old lighthouse. For thirty years he’d been her keeper before they were both declared obsolete. Who needed a lighthouse when everyone had electronic guidance? Now the fancy new phone his granddaughter gave him spewed nonsense. It looked like the ships were fouled up as well.

    Good thing they didn’t force Grogan to leave when they cut funding and stripped her clean. But now the only way to make the lighthouse shine was to burn her. Tears streamed down his face as he pulled at the drum.

    “Sorry, Love. You know it’s the only way.”

    Another wave of pain shot through his chest and his foot slipped on the smooth stone steps. He watched with dismay as the barrel clanged to the bottom. Grogan doubled over in pain.

    “How can I warn the ships? I need help, Love.”

    Suddenly the pain stopped and warm arms pulled him up. Grogan took the last few steps in one stride. He knew what to do now. Fire radiated deep inside him. It burst outward in a blinding light. Almost as one, the storm-tossed ships turned away from the rocks.

    “Thanks for your help, Love. You’ve always been there for me. We’ll be together forever now.”

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