Contemporary Fiction Inspirational

The incoming gale was furious, pounding the hurricane-resistant windows lining the south wall of the control room, and howling like a banshee at the front door. Yet, the violent center of the storm, where the wind screamed as if damned to Hell and mountainous waves rolled at sixty feet, was still one hundred and fifty nautical miles out from St. Pierre and Miquelon Islands. It was there the tempest turned its course away from the Canadian Maritime provinces and headed two degrees north. The new line put the storm on the southern coast of Newfoundland around midnight. 

Jules Beaudoin, a twenty-six-year-old former Royal Canadian Able Seaman, and now a communications expert with the Oceanic Security Detail, was seated in front of his blue and green radar screen, eyes fixed on the 360-degree sweep-line. Head bent forward, his neck straining, he searched for any unfortunate mariners caught in this monster. And the storm had become a monster.

Just a couple of hours ago it was a garden variety nor’easter, not small, but certainly not a budding cat-1 hurricane threatening the coastline of this small Canadian province.

The year was 1977. The Canadian government had recently provided top-of-the-line technology for all seventy-five com-sat specialists on both coasts. Beaudoin was proud to have been chosen to operate such powerful new equipment, and, with his extensive training, he had become a certified expert.

Amid the relative calm inside his office, but with lights flickering and the roof rattling, Beaudoin noticed a faint orange blip on the screen. The blip indicated a vessel at 160.3 nautical miles out from the main islands and 150.7 nautical miles from Beaudoin’s rocky peninsula on St. Pierre.

Beaudoin checked his logbook for a ship scheduled to be at Latitude: 46.7791, Longitude: -53.8573, the coordinates indicated by the radar blip. What the log told him was a surprise. A French vessel would be en route from the Toulon naval port in the Mediterranean to Halifax NS. The reason given for such a craft in those waters was brief but to the point: Aquitaine-class frigate on planned NATO exercise.

Beaudoin, a young, determined com-sat specialist with eager eyes and a square jaw, focused on monitoring the storm's fury with his weather instruments. He was able to estimate the windspeed at seventy miles per hour with possible gusts over ninety. A frigate with an overall length of 500 feet should handle the storm, Beaudoin thought. But…he decided to contact his boss in St. John’s and let him know what he found.

Using ship-to-shore communication procedures, Beaudoin dialed in the call frequency and squeezed the microphone. “This is Beaudoin on St. Pierre. Come in.”

A moment later the speaker crackled. “This is Louis Montague,” the voice garbled but understandable. “Beaudoin, go on.”

“Monty, I marked a vessel, an Aquitaine frigate, one hundred and fifty miles out, east-southeast, smack in the middle of the storm.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that vessel. That’s Captain Claude Dupont’s boat, it’s named the L'Agile.” Montague paused a couple of seconds. “C'est un tyran et têtu comme une mule,” he muttered in French.

Beaudoin raised an eyebrow. “Sorry, sir, I didn’t catch that.”

“I said the man’s a bully and stubborn as a mule. I was on a frigate with Old Claude for six long months with him.” Montague paused. “You didn’t know I was a Frog, eh.”

“No sir. I thought you were a Canuck like me.”

They both laughed.

 “Well, Beau, it’s no matter, everyone on the bloody ship hated Old Claude. Don’t worry, the man’s mean as a viper. He won’t let a Cat-1 stop him.”

Beaudoin chuckled to himself.

“Just the same, Beau, keep an eye on that boat. Oh, and what’s its course?”

Beaudoin reported the lat-long coordinates. “And about ten minutes ago he made a two-degree turn to the north. Now he’s heading straight for St. Pierre.”

“Ole Claude probably got tired of fighting the waves and made a weather-inspired correction. He’ll let the storm push him for a while.”

“Monty, one more thing. I’ve been on this God-forsaken peninsula for 49 hours. I’m on overtime now; are you okay with that?”

“Yeah, no problem. Your relief will be there when the storm lets up. Probably in the morning.”

Beaudoin made a fresh pot of coffee and settled down to track the L'Agile and anything else he might see on the water. Over the next five hours, he watched the orange blip as it got closer and closer to the island. The L'Agile had slowed considerably, but it maintained the same course. During that time the storm weakened enough for Beaudoin to see out of the windows. He could see the peninsula’s jagged outcropping now that the heavy wave action had dwindled. God, storms in the Atlantic are so unpredictable, he said out loud.

At four a.m., Beaudoin recorded the L'Agile blips thirty nautical miles out and running at under 15 knots. At that speed, Old Claude should be well out of the storm, he mumbled. I’m surprised he hasn’t returned to his original course for Halifax. He’s still headed at me.  

An hour later, the storm had completely subsided, and Beaudoin’s office was peaceful and warm. He was getting drowsy and looking forward to ending his long shift. Out of the quiet, a staticky voice barked into his headphones. “Il s'agit du FS L'Agile, une frégate de 5700 tonnes de la Marine Nationale. Détournez votre cap de 15 degrés vers le nord pour éviter une collision.”

Three seconds later the message repeated in English: “This is the FS L’Agile a 5700-ton frigate of the French Navy. Divert your course 15 degrees north to avoid a collision.”

Beaudoin bolted straight up and looked out the window. What the hell, he yelled. It was still black except for the glow of the lights on the rocks. He didn’t have a visual on the ship, but he strained to see as deep into the night as possible. His hands shook as he reached for the radio and fine-tuned the frequency. The static now gone he cleared his throat, this is Jules Beaudoin with the Oceanic Security Detail, come back, he said with as much authority as he could muster. Then he waited for a response.

A long thirty seconds went by with no reply. Beaudoin reached for his coffee, now cold, and started to put it up to his lips but stopped as the voice broke in again.

“Sir,” the voice in English this time. “This is Ensign Jean-Paul Canet aboard the FS L’Agile, a Fourth Constellation Class French frigate surveillance vessel, you must divert your course 15 degrees north immediately to avoid a collision.”

Beaudoin checked his radar sweep. The L'Agile was now six miles out and closing at 18 knots. At that speed, the frigate will be sitting in Beaudoin’s office in a matter of minutes.

“FS L'Agile,” Beaudoin responded. “Divert your course 15 degrees south. You are getting dangerously close to the rocks. Alter your course immediately."

As the storm raged, Beaudoin's heart pounded with each blip on the radar screen. The L'Agile drew closer with every passing second, its orange blip inching ominously towards the rocky coastline.

Beaudoin's fingers flew over the controls, his breath coming in short, ragged gasps. He couldn't shake the feeling of dread as he watched the frigate's relentless advance, knowing that disaster loomed if he couldn't convince the L'Agile to alter its course.

With a shaky hand, Beaudoin reached for the radio, his voice strained with urgency. "L'Agile, divert your course immediately! You're headed straight for the rocks!"

After a full minute, the response he received sent a chill down his spine. A booming voice was on the radio. "This is Captain Claude Dupont of the FS L’Agile," his tone dripping with arrogance and contempt. "We are aware of our surroundings, Ensign. Stand down and allow us to pass."

As the L'Agile continued its relentless advance towards the treacherous rocks, Beaudoin's pulse quickened, his hands trembling as he grasped the radio, his voice strained with urgency. 'Captain Dupont,' he pleaded, 'you are on a collision course with disaster. Alter your course immediately or risk running aground.'

But Captain Dupont's response was unwavering, his voice dripping with arrogance. 'We do not take orders from a lowly Ensign,' he sneered. 'Stand aside and let us pass.'

Beaudoin rubbed his jaw. He thinks I’m an Ensign.

“Captain Dupont,” Beaudoin said. “You have faulty information. There is something wrong with your radar. You are on a direct course for St. Pierre and Miquelon, Newfoundland.”

The reply was immediate, “We have been watching your lights, stand down now Ensign!”

Beaudoin grappled with the gravity of the situation, his jaw clenched. With every passing second, the frigate drew closer to the perilous rocks, and he knew that time was running out. 'Listen to me, Captain,' he implored, his voice laced with desperation. 'I am not an Ensign. I am the keeper on St. Pierre. And if you do not alter your course, you will find yourself at the mercy of the rocks.'

A tense silence gripped the night as Captain Dupont processed Beaudoin's words. And then, slowly but surely, the L'Agile began to change course, its massive hull veering away from the imminent danger.

The St. Pierre beacon shown at 750,000 candelas and could be seen from sixteen miles away on a clear dark night. Tonight, however, its penetration into the darkness was limited. Beaudoin now knew it had reached the L’Agile at approximately six miles.

As the danger passed and early dawn settled upon the sea, Beaudoin let out a shuddering breath. He knew that the captain's arrogance could have cost the lives of many sailors.

But the tension between them was far from over. As early dawn settled upon the sea, Captain Dupont contacted Beaudoin demanding an explanation of how his light appeared as a ship on his radar. “I was told your light showed as a small vessel in our system, probably a fishing trawler.”

Beaudoin, his voice tinged with exhaustion, explained the situation calmly. "Captain, your radar may not have shown it, but this is a real lighthouse."

"Mon Dieu, tu es un phare!," his booming voice feeble and pathetic as the magnitude of his mistake hung in the air like a black cloud.

Beaudoin’s reply was steady and firm. "Yes, I am a lighthouse. Captain, I spoke the truth. Tonight, this lighthouse, like God, saved you and your sorry ass from a fate worse than death."


March 07, 2024 20:18

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Kristi Gott
21:03 Mar 11, 2024

Well written and lots of drama in the stormy night on the sea and at the lighthouse. Vivid details and imagery. Well done!


Uncle Spot
23:45 Mar 11, 2024

Thank you Kristi. I checked out your website. I see how my story about the lighthouse leaned into your space. Looking forward to reading your reedsy submission tonight.


Kristi Gott
02:36 Mar 12, 2024

Thank you for checking out my website. I live near Heceta Lighthouse on the central Oregon coast and I love lighthouse stories


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Uncle Spot
01:46 Mar 12, 2024

Good to have Coos Bay Beat on your side. Very creative yet light and airy. I suppose this is part of your Mystical Coast series. Nice work.


Kristi Gott
02:38 Mar 12, 2024

Thank you. Yes, good to have Coos in the stories plus the real Coos Bay Bear at my side in real life too!


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Alexis Araneta
11:08 Mar 08, 2024

Ooof, so close ! Great job on this !


Uncle Spot
12:49 Mar 08, 2024

Stella, thank you for reading The Keeper's Warning.


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Mary Bendickson
00:41 Mar 08, 2024

Disaster diverted!


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