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News & Features » October 2017 » “Fog Watch” by Ben White

“Fog Watch” by Ben White

Akashic Books introduces a new flash fiction series, Wilderness Wednesdays. Inspired by Nina Revoyr’s brilliant and chilling new novel, Lost Canyon, which is set in the Sierra Nevada and could be categorized as “wilderness noir,” this series will showcase hard-boiled short stories of men and women in perilous encounters with the natural world. But if you think surviving an encounter with a black bear, a 10,000-foot elevation, or a cell phone dead zone sounds difficult, try describing the experience in 750 words or less. Pretty wild.

This week, Ben White keeps an eye on the fog.

Fog Watch
by Ben White
The Bering Sea

It’s a duty. Someone has to be awake, listening to freighter captains chatter back and forth on the radio. Those guys have been everywhere and are headed back, so it’s entertaining to hear them talking, knowing they’re out there in the dark, navigating the night just like we are. Except to them, it’s a job; to us, it’s a duty.

We have a Junior Officer with the deck and the conn, a Quartermaster at the charts, a Boastswain Mate checking the decks, a Seaman on the helm, and another Seaman on the flying bridge freezing his asinine attitude off.

Some tanker is headed for Mumbai talking to a container ship headed into Anchorage. The tanker captain has to pick up so-and-so in Singapore, and the container captain assures him that so-and-so is a good hand.

“Bridge, Flying Bridge.” A voice comes down the sound-powered tube. 

“Whatcha got?” There’s not much military bearing between junior enlisted members.

“There’s fog coming in off our starboard bow.”

“Shiitake Mushrooms.”

Fog is trouble. Mainly because visibility is nice to have. Fog can cover the running lights of other vessels and give the Coast Guard the capability of running stealth. We could rely on radar to pick up contacts that are closing in on us, but Junior Officers don’t like having to be glued to a piece of equipment. The watch gets tense with the fog skating gently across the sea. 

“Ma’am, the Flying Bridge says we have fog coming in off the starboard bow.” Military bearing has a way of coming back.

She steps back from the starboard wing. “I see it. I’ll advise the Captain. Meanwhile, energize the fog horn, and set the fog watch.”

The flying bridge will be secured; in a few minutes he won’t be able to see anything, anyway. He will take over the helm, and the helmsman will put on a Mustang survival suit and go down to the forecastle (the fo’c’s’le) to stand on deck; listening, watching, hoping those freighters are paying as much attention as we are about to pay.

I have the first hour-long fog watch. I get relieved on the helm, and head down to stand on deck; listening, watching, hoping. It’s a duty.

I’m stupid, though. I have a genuine hate for Mustang survival suits, and don’t like to struggle with them to get them on over my work uniform. They’re a pain. I put on a watch cap and a foul-weather jacket, take the hand-held radio, and step into the night. 

The cold isn’t bad when you are on the weather decks looking at the stars and watching the bioluminescence rising from the depths with an option to go inside. Tonight, however, it’s not going to be that kind of pleasant walk about decks. Tonight, it’s going to be cold. Still, I won’t miss the Mustang as much as I’ll miss an extra pair of socks; the decks don’t hold heat unless you’re in the Caribbean. We’re not in the Caribbean. We’re in the Bering Sea.

I’m stupid.

It’s a duty.

We are in the fog now. The fog horn welcomes me by scaring me into thinking the absolute worst has happened. Suddenly, I don’t have any more Be-Jesus in me. Then I breathe again. Twenty-nine more blasts of that blasted, blasting horn, and I will be relieved.

I put the radio on the inside of my jacket, holding it in hands dug into the pockets. It’s April; April should be warmer. It’s not warmer.  It’s cold.

I’m stupid.

If we get hit by another ship, I am going in the water. What are the chances of that happening? I am on watch to prevent that from happening. I will keep that from happening.  Another blare; Jeeeesus.

What civilian job would be so adventurous? It’s not a job; it’s a duty.

The good news: I can feel my toes. The bad news: they feel frozen. The Mustang would not have helped; unless I go in the water. Don’t go in the water.  I strain to see past the tiny molecules swimming by in the fog. I can’t see Shiitake Mushrooms out here.

My lungs hurt. Can lungs freeze? Can eyeballs freeze? Can blood? There has to be other things to think about. I can’t think of any.

Wait. I wonder how that guy in Singapore’s doing.

That doesn’t help.

The horn blasts.

I have to inhale my Be-Jesus again.

Twenty-seven to go. 

It’s a duty.


What BEN WHITE writes is written from behind the wheel of a classic straight-eight idea rolling along forgotten highways with the windows rolled down.  His poems have appeared in various online journals from the As You Were Journal, the Exterminating Angel Magazine to Dry Land Press to Creativity Webzine. He has a forthcoming poem, “Cold Warriors” selected to appear in Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, Volume 6. He is also the author of an e-novel, The Kill Gene.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Wilderness Wednesdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Include the location of the story next to your byline.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions to Wilderness Wednesdays are typically posted 2–4 months after being accepted.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Oct 23, 2017

Category: Original Fiction, Wilderness Wednesdays | Tags: , , , , , , , ,