Word Count 474
Of Whispers and Whales
by G. Ackman
Fourteen year old Herman groaned as his mother woke him up. It was still dark outside and he could barely see her in the doorway, silhouetted against the weak lamplight. Today was the day he had to assume the duties his older brother had had on the whaling schooner Vanquish. George had been much more suited for the work, but his appendix burst last week and his spot would be sold to another family if Herman didn’t step up and take George’s place. It was going to be hard on Herman, who held the widely unpopular opinion that whaling was brutal and inhumane. Of course, Herman had a soft spot for all animals, always bringing home stray dogs, motherless kittens, and birds who had fallen from their nest. It had infuriated his father, who was a third generation whaler. His mother indulged Herman’s nurturing tendencies, but when it came to money, her heart hardened, especially since his dad hadn’t come home from last season’s whaling. “They’s just animals, Herm. They don’t feel pain like us do.” But Herman knew better. He didn’t know how he was ever going to participate. He knew at fourteen he would be merely a foremast hand and wouldn’t be allowed to handle one of the valuable harpoons, but as the youngest and smallest on board, he would be expected to crawl inside the murdered animal to pull out the oil inside the head. It was a smelly, nasty job, and he knew his stomach would roll and pitch more than the boat would.
Three months later, all of Herman’s fears were realized. The harpooners were chasing a huge sperm whale, its green luminesce visible under the surface. Herman wanted to shout “go away” to it, but it breached, slapping the water with its tail, sending spray several feet in the air, and exposing its vulnerable side to the callous hunters. With an excited shout, the harpooners, already in their small boats, readied their weapons. Gripping the rail of the ship, Herman saw the whale’s eye as it rolled over, an all-knowing, soulful eye that seemed to look right at him and mark him as an insignificant piece of nature. “Please dive deep,” Herman whispered. But the whale did not hear his plea and the men laughed as they drove their deadly spears into the noble creature’s body. The light went out of the whale’s eye. Herman’s tears mixed with those of mother nature’s as rain poured on the gruesome scene. That night in his damp and smelly sleeping space in the forecastle, Herman could not sleep, his mind seeing the whale’s eye again and again. “I will stop this somehow,” he whispered to himself, vowing to run away if necessary. As he finally succumbed to utter exhaustion, his last waking thought was “what if the whales started hunting us?”