A Wisconsin Parable

by Emily G. Bettis

There was a great hubbub in the town of Algoma, Wisconsin. Newspapers were selling out. Selling out! No one buys newspapers anymore, not in 2023. But this was a small town, and they still printed every story they could and for this story, people wanted the real thing. After all, who wouldn’t want the physical evidence that someone from their own town was noted as “the most foolish in Wisconsin.” It was all because of one article, one piece of news that was just too funny to be true.

Robin Arnold and his brother Lester Arnold got into an argument about whether anyone even cared about the Algoma lighthouse. The town was getting fewer tourists each year, and the souvenir shops were gathering dust. These days, no one seemed to want a Lake Michigan T-Shirt or a stuffed seagull. Even the ice cream shop was only crowded on the weekends. Was it the lighthouse? Was it just not interesting enough? Tourists seemed to drive straight through the town without stopping to look at the little red lighthouse built on a concrete slab out on the sharp rocky jetty.

Lester Arnold was a very competitive man, and his brother was very rich, so he proposed a contest. A rivalry between the brothers. Each would build a lighthouse in a different location, and whichever attracted the most tourists in the next year would be considered the winner. Robin agreed and set out to find the perfect location for his great creation. He settled on a beautiful rocky pier that jutted gracefully into Lake Michigan. There were several islands in the area, and it was a popular place to take your boat out to sea. The location was rather far from the road, but Robin didn’t mind. His lighthouse would be so popular, people would be willing to hike to it. 

Lester had some trouble finding a location. He was determined to make his lighthouse visible from the town, and better yet, from the highway itself. If he could just get people to notice his lighthouse first, then it didn’t have to be as pretty as Robin’s. He finally decided to go with a place on the beach in plain sight from the town and road.

“You can’t build a lighthouse there!” Robin laughed. “It’s just sand, you won’t have a foundation.”

“Perhaps,” Lester replied. “But I will steal all your tourists before they even know your lighthouse exists.”

“Yeah, but it’s still a bad idea,” Robin stated.

And so, the construction began. Robin made his tall and graceful. Lester built his even taller. Robin added a balcony ringing the top. Lester added red and white stripes spiraling round the structure. A few months and several million dollars later, both lighthouses were constructed. They were both stunning.

The evening before the grand opening, each brother added the finishing touches to his lighthouse, and headed home. Robin texted a picture of his finished lighthouse to his brother. Not to be outdone. Lester sent one of his at sunset with a small fishing boat gliding in the background. “I’m going to win.” Lester added. 

Robin silenced his phone and went to bed. He knew that his lighthouse was beautiful in its own right and trusted that the lovely rocky peer that he built it on would make enough of a difference. 

Fog crept across Algoma, cold and gray, until the presence of the lake could be felt from anywhere in town. The fog grew so dense that you could hardly see the gleams from the three lighthouses on the shore. Pretty soon, the only thing that gave away the presence of land at all was the steady lapping of the waves. Lightning forked across the sky and the glare of it sparkled for a moment in the violent waters. Gulls began to squawk as the storm grew closer, till they were finally driven away by the heavy onset of rain. The rain continued deep into the night. 

At some point, Lester’s lighthouse fell over. Yes, fell over. The water rushed up onto the beach and the sand shifted beneath the new construction. The tall, graceful building began to tilt to one side. For a moment it teetered like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, rain pouring down the side like a giant waterslide. Then a wave crashed on shore and the whole thing toppled over. It landed sideways across the sand, the light immediately extinguished. The inhabitants of the nearest house woke up in a panic from the loud crash, but thinking it was only thunder, they rolled over and went back to sleep.  

The morning dawned bright and clean. The air smelled sweet and at first glance, there seemed to be no effect from the storm. Indeed, the skies were clear, and the day was greeted with the loud, excited squawks of seagulls who had found fish delivered directly to them. Robin put on his best shirt and headed over to his beloved lighthouse. Halfway there, he got a call from his brother.

“I’m doomed,” Lester said. 

“Yeah, you are,” Robin replied.

“No,” Lester said, his voice shaking. “My lighthouse is gone.”

This shocking fact was faced with silence. Robin really didn’t understand what Lester meant by that. “Okay,” Robin finally said. “Do you want me to come and see it?”

“Yeah,” Lester muttered. 

That day was bleak for Lester, but when Robin saw the lighthouse lying across the beach, he couldn’t stop laughing. It was just so absurd. Of course, a lighthouse built on the sand would fall over. 

A year later, when a team finally came to demolish the lighthouse and haul it away, Lester was relieved. “I don’t think I could stand another tourist commenting about the foolish builder whose lighthouse fell over.” 

“Hey,” Robin said with a smirk. “You won fair and square. Your lighthouse made the papers.” He carefully slipped the picture frame he had just bought into a bag so that Lester wouldn’t see it. He was going to hang up a particular newspaper clipping in his lighthouse. 

“Yeah, I suppose it did,” Lester replied dryly. 

Emily G. Bettis is a student at the Colorado Christian University studying English and Creative Writing. She enjoys writing fiction and poetry and hopes to use her talent in writing to bless her community and bring glory to God. 

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