by Than Pence
Steve the whale wants to save the Ocean... even if it means talking to a Human.
|Featured in the "Short Stories Newsletter (March 8, 2006)"
In the deepest depths of Ocean, a whale named Steve existed. He was a normal whale, comprised of ordinary whale parts and parcels.
Steve was a young whale too, not knowing too much about the ways and means of his whale companions. Whenever he or any of the whales that lived in the deepest depths of Ocean felt they needed air for their massive lungs, they made a trek upwards to steal it away from the surface. Steve was often told during group time that, eventually, all the air from the surface would be gone because those creatures dubbed as “Humans” were destroying it. Steve felt cross about this. He did not want his air to be gone, destroyed, maimed, missing, harmed, or corrupted in any fashion of the definition.
In a manner meant to stop the Humans before they finished taking up all the air, Steve decided that he would like to talk to a Human about what needed to be done in order to preserve the air for himself and all other whale residents of the deepest depths of Ocean. If nothing could be solved with communication – as was dictated heavily in common whale cultures – then Steve decided that he would have to take more drastic measures. The thought of having to possibly destroy, maim, harm, or corrupt a Human did cross his mind but it would serve only as a last resort.
The other whales forbade Steve to set out on the journey that he proposed. Steve’s father, Pummeltone, said that he should not attempt to contact a Human for that could only lead to large amounts of woe, torment, pain, and an execution of bad manners on behalf of the Humans. The common belief was that Humans were creatures devoid of knowledge and that they only performed destructive acts because they knew no other way. Steve did not understand exactly what was being said because he actually knew very little about Humans. Steve was not a good listener.
Pummeltone then decided to tell Steve the truth about Humans. “Steve,” he began. “Humans are said to be like us but that is more akin to saying Ocean is like the tears we shed.” Steve began to hum a tune that was outdated by three years. Pummeltone whacked Steve slowly with his tail – as whales are not capable of bringing their tails around in such quick manners – and Steve stopped humming, for he was not quick to dodge the tail, despite the fact that he watched the movement right up until contact. “Listen, Steve!” bellowed Pummeltone.
“I am!” cried Steve, who began to hum again but saw a cross look in his father’s eye and decided to stop.
“So, the Humans are like us but how can that be? We are heavily invested with knowledge and they, upon the surface of Ocean, know only means of destroying each other and the world around them. It is inevitable that they will come after our deepest depths of Ocean in time, though I pray that to be in a far and distant future.” Steve nodded as if in understanding but he actually only heard the word “world” and began to think of how big Ocean truly was and why Humans were not already here. “In effect, if we taint ourselves with Humans, we will end up destroyéd and not in a pleasant manner.”
Several of the whales that had gathered around to hear Pummeltone speak – for he was a most excellent orator – hummed in appreciation for what he said and for the fact that he was so large. Larger meant better in whale culture and since Pummeltone was the largest of whales in this community that resided in the Gruffle Tree portion of deepest depths of Ocean, he obviously knew what he was talking about, which explained why everyone was so quick to agree with him.
Everyone that is, except for Steve. Steve decided that the Ocean had not been invaded by Humans yet because they could not sustain the openness. From the numerous trips to the surface – which were always a risk of life, limb, and lung anyway, in the eyes of even the largest of whales – Steve was able to deduce that Humans were restricted to means of living upon solidness that a whale knew nothing of as whales floated indefinitely. Not even Steve had seen the bottom of Ocean though he often wondered what was down there. He looked downwards with that internal thought and Pummeltone made a bumping gesture into Steve’s frontal lobe, doing no damage but bringing his attention back to the group.
“Steve, do you understand?” Steve did not but nodded anyway.
“Then what am I talking about, Steve?”
“Um, about Humans and how they’re bad for the environment and how they’re like us but not because, um--- Because we’re--- We live in Ocean and they don’t! They can’t handle the openness!” Pummeltone slapped his son twice with a fin. It took fourteen minutes.
“No, Steve! The point is that the Humans are smaller than us! Therefore, they do not think well and can only manipulate thoughts that center on destruction! With that kind of thinking, every time they see us, they destroy us because we are bigger than them! We scare them!” Steve shrunk back in fear, bumping into one of the listening whales – a whale named Forgetuan – and whined internally.
Why is my dad so mean? thought Steve though he did not want to voice that question. Pummeltone was so much larger than Steve and that meant Pummeltone was better with logic and advice than a medium-to-large-sized whale like Steve. He sighed and nodded in a complacent manner just to get his father and the other whales away, for Steve knew that he could not just let this go; he had a mission to fulfill.
Though day and night are not easily discerned in the deepest depth of Ocean, Steve knew that the whales of Gruffle Tree were sleeping. He decided to take this opportunity to venture towards the surface in hopes of finding a Human and having a nice and informative conversation. The trek upwards was just like always, except Steve was alone. Ever since the first Disappearance of a whale, Pummeltone insisted that all whales travel to the surface in groups for air. Pummeltone had recently led the largest of groups to the surface and back so they would not need air for a good long while, which is why Steve knew they were sleeping.
The whale named Steve felt a little uncomfortable because he had actually never been to the surface of Ocean by himself. Even before the Disappearance, Steve always went with his father because Pummeltone made him, even when he did not need the air. Steve grew less weary as the murk around him lessened for it was bright on the surface of Ocean. That meant he was close and he began to quicken his pace through the water.
The surface of Ocean became larger as a result of the whale named Steve drawing closer to it – though depth perception was not his field of expertise – and Steve noticed that there was an object of the tiniest proportions resting upon the surface of Ocean. He slowed himself as a tingly sense of fear crept up his massively solid spinal cord. “There were not objects of that silhouette when we came up here before” said Steve in a soft manner. He then feared that the object was larger than he assumed and that his depth perception was not just irregular but totally askew.
The thought of turning back entered Steve’s lobe but that meant the Humans would eventually just take over the deepest depths of Ocean without anyone attempting to approach them on the subject beforehand. The whale named Steve decided to push through the fear that dwelled within his large amounts of blubbery tissue and proceed to the surface of Ocean. Perhaps the silhouette was that of a Human. Then, this would turn out to be Steve’s lucky day!
He thought it best to approach the potential Human slowly and with much care for he did not want to frighten the delicate creature into eventually destroying him, the whale named Steve, because, from the random scraps of information that he managed to remember and from what his father had said many times, that is exactly what a Human would do.
Steve also looked around, knowing not what to expect in these suddenly fearful waters. During usual surface of Ocean trips, it was straight up and straight back down. No sightseeing for his company of whales. At this moment in time, Steve saw that there was hardly anything at this level of Ocean. There were no other whales, as it was no company’s scheduled airtime. There were no larger fish, small fish, red fish, blue fish, not one fish or two fish. There was nothing at this level of Ocean to be scared of, he decided.
Then, a thought of terror entered Steve’s lobe: What if the Humans had already taken control of this area of Ocean? That would explain why there were no other living creatures as Humans were told to simply have knowledge of easy destruction. Steve felt yet another urge to swim back down to the deepest depths of Ocean but knew in his gigantic heart that he needed to pursue this possible Human because if he did not do it now, he may not have another chance and, before he could even blink, the deepest depths of Ocean may just be overrun forever.
Steve tried to puff himself up by repositioning the air in his lungs but was unsuccessful. He decided to simply push forward yet again, ignoring the fear.
The whale named Steve decided not to come up underneath the silhouette and he moved to the right to come up alongside it at a distance for he wanted to instill as little amounts of fear as possible in the potential Human. The last thing Steve wanted was to be destroyed by a Human. As he broke the surface, he saw that the air above Ocean was rather puffy-looking and mottled in colors, reminding him of the deepest depths of Ocean. Steve then wondered what types of whales lived up there in the Ocean above Ocean and how often they broke the surface for air.
What Steve also noticed was the little form on the surface of Ocean. It was mostly brown and the center was mainly white with other near-white colors. The center was also moving very little but was producing a loud sound. Steve was reminded then of his fellow whales and wondered if that would be the sound produced by whales if they were constantly exposed to air. Steve was not sure of the time table in which he had to examine and possibly discuss events with this item on the surface of Ocean but he knew he had a good deal of time because he had waited for the last shift of whale groups to bring air down to the deepest depth of Ocean and start the rest cycles. The trek up had taken longer than expected though as he had swum slowly due to fear of the unknown.
At the moment, he did not know what the object was doing but he knew, somehow, that he need not fear such a tiny thing. “If this be a Human,” muttered Steve to himself “then what are the other whales so afraid of?” The object was still wailing in a near-unpleasant manner. Steve decided to move closer in hopes that the object would be lulled by Steve’s massive presence. If anything, the noise became louder and more unpleasant. Then, the whale named Steve felt a tickling sensation on his underside, as if from air bubbles. He descended into Ocean and looked down, immediately spying a pack of whales that were coming up though they were still a fair distance away.
Without thinking, Steve breeched the surface of Ocean. He looked at the object and decided that if it was a Human, he would have to rush any conversation. “Human!” said Steve and the object stopped wailing.
“Wha--?” muttered the object in awe.
“Are you Human?” asked Steve. He thought Please say no for I wish not to attempt to carry on a conversation with such an impossible speaker. The object nodded a few times, signaling to Steve that he was indeed a Human. Steve sighed slightly and asked the first question, becoming more anxious of the tickling bubbles that came from the first flock of whales below. “Human! Why do you know nothing but destruction?”
The Human seemed completely incapable of answering and if he did not hurry soon, Steve would be captured speaking to a Human, which had been forbidden by Pummeltone, his father. “Answer, Human! Why do you destroy?” The Human could do nothing but stare, apparently. Feeling ridiculous and angry, Steve sunk back below the surface, noticing the Human watching his every action.
As Steve went below the surface of Ocean, he decided that there was not enough time for such a slow moving creature as a Human to move away before the other whales came up. They had obviously seen him too as they were headed towards him. They would see the Human and know what he was doing.
Acting on impulse, Steve decided to do the only thing he knew how to do. He gently charged back up through the surface with his mouth agape and put the Human in there to hide him. If anything, he could sit a while up here on the surface of Ocean and let the Human go when this flock of whales was done taking their air. Inside, the Human was still screaming and the whale named Steve severely wanted it to stop. Steve tried to mutter the words, “Be quiet!” without moving his lips so the nearing whales would not see him talking to himself. That was another wrong act to perform in all whale cultures.
Surprisingly, the Human did quiet itself and Steve felt pleased for the first time since meeting the creature. The other whales arrived finally, breaking the surface of Ocean in various locales around Steve. The largest, a whale named Trajiday, simply glared at Steve because this was obviously not Steve’s time to come up for air. The airtime had been set in stone for many days since the Disappearance and everyone knew the rules, yet they thought that Steve was up here breaking them on purpose, taking in more air than he needed.
“You know,” said Trajiday sternly and with a gleam in his tiny eyes “that if you breathe too much air, Gruffle Tree, that you will eventually depend upon it and you won’t be able to enjoy the deepest depths of Ocean like the rest of us.” Steve felt nothing for the remark because he knew perfectly well what could happen if he came up for air too long.
Why Trajiday used the dwelling depth’s name instead of Steve’s – for Trajiday knew exactly what his name was – was a slight mystery. Perhaps this other whale from another community and different dwelling space entirely was trying to provoke a fight? The whale named Steve hoped not because to fight with a delicate yet destructive Human – though that could just be a rumor, he thought at this point –would be working against what Steve was trying to do.
Trajiday huffed at the lack of response and all the whales around did likewise. After drawing in the air that they had wasted on huffing, Trajiday and the other whales departed for the deepest depths of Ocean once again, muttering to themselves. Steve cared not to know what they were muttering for he was delighted to see them leaving.
The Human inside had said nothing and Steve wondered if he had accidentally swallowed the being. He asked the Human to speak and a whelp was echoed easily inside Steve’s mouth. Steve immediately opened his mouth and slowly withdrew into Ocean to allow the Human to get out of his mouth with ease.
The Human had been smaller than he was before entering Steve’s mouth for the brown had gone away. “You have become even smaller, Human!”
The Human nodded and finally said, “You capsized my boat and it’s now sinking in the water.” Steve did not know what a boat was but did look into Ocean to see the brown that had surrounded the Human. If the Human needed this is speak more easily, then he would save it.
Steve put the object called a boat into his mouth and, through many misunderstandings that consumed large amounts of time, the Human was back in the boat and outside of Steve. The whale repositioned himself in front of the Human so as to better speak with it. “Human!” The Human seemed kind of scared by the loud voice of Steve but did not wail at least. “What is your name?”
“I’m Jonah IV” said the Human with trepidation. Jonah IV? That was an odd name.
“Where do you come from?”
“Er, a, ah, township called Good Measure!”
He decided that, in order to get the best results, he would have to speak to this Human in a respectful manner, calling upon his full title. “Jonah IV of Good Measure! Why do you aim to destroy the deepest depths of Ocean!”
“I-I don’t want t-t-to destroy the deep Ocean!” said Jonah IV.
This puzzled the whale named Steve. Had his father, Pummeltone, been wrong? “Then why are you, Jonah IV of Good Measure, resting on the surface of Ocean directly above the deepest depths of Ocean?” Jonah then shuddered and began to sob uncontrollably. “Stop blubbering!” yelled Steve. He still did not have a lot of time as the next whale community – from Gyrile Poor actually – would be upon the surface of Ocean soon for their air.
Jonah IV stopped and only sniffled. He finally spoke. “I’m out here, Whale, because my birthday was two weeks ago today, on February 1st, and nobody in my family, none of my friends and out of all the people I know, I didn’t even get a birthday card.”
The whale named Steve knew not what this was in reference too so he decided to chalk it up as lying. “Liar!” he yelled, scaring Jonah IV tremendously. This seemed to break Jonah as he began to sob even more. Just then, Steve felt bubbles against his underside again. He ducked beneath the surface of Ocean quickly and looked to see Pummeltone charging toward the surface! That ratty whale Trajiday must have told his father what Steve had been doing! A flash of anger seared through Steve but subsided as he realized he would not be able to hide Jonah IV from Pummeltone, except in the manner he had performed with Trajiday and that other pack of whales.
Steve immediately put Jonah IV in his mouth, feeling the boat capsize within, and Jonah IV began to cry again. The whale named Steve muttered yet again that the Human needed to be quiet or else suffer as Pummeltone would likely destroy a Human before allowing one to go free. Steve actually dwelled on that thought a moment because Pummeltone had said that Humans only knew destruction and, on several occasions before, that if he ever encountered a Human, he would destroy it.
The whale named Steve then wondered why that was, as that would possibly make Pummeltone a creature that dwelled upon thoughts of destruction just as he claimed that Humans did. Steve thought again, while listening to the sobbing cries of the actual Human, about how unlikely it was that a Human of such tiny proportions would ever attain enough knowledge or power to destroy a terribly mighty whale such as him.
Pummeltone broke the surface of Ocean just as Steve assured Jonah IV that everything would be okay. “What are you doing up here, Steve of Gruffle Tree?” yelled Pummeltone in a manner that suggested Steve was either crazy or stupid or a myriad combination of both.
He knew he was in trouble for a full and proper title (especially from a parental figure) was meant for respect or immediate attention and Steve sure did not feel respected at the moment. Steve also had no answer so he simply sat there, floating on the surface of Ocean, hoping Pummeltone would just go away. He could not justify anything to his father in any fashion and there was no hope in trying, so his best and only hope was in playing dumb.
Pummeltone would have none of that though so he bumped Steve in the lobe. Steve winced in slight pain as it had not been gentle like the one long ago – it was not too long ago but started to feel that way ever since Steve encountered Jonah IV – and hoped that the Human inside was not damaged. Steve tried to feel inside himself, being careful not to overwork his tongue as he feared for Jonah IV’s safety.
He muttered under his breath to Jonah IV that the Human needed to hold onto a tooth or something for safety issues. Pummeltone asked what he was saying and, after waiting a large amount of time to feel a tug on one of his teeth – for the Human had failed to understand what was being asked until Steve mumbled it twice more – he answered his father finally.
“I was just keeping an eye out for those... those pesky Humans, Dad! Just makin’ sure that they don’t try and… and, er, do somethin’ to the deepest depth of Ocean!”
Pummeltone eyed his son carefully, causing Steve to wonder if he would be believed or if a pack of mercenary sharks also lay in wait below the surface of Ocean. With a guffaw of laughter from his father, Steve assumed it was the former as Pummeltone also sidled up to Steve, nudging him in a rather affectionate manner.
“Now, Steve of Gruffle Tree, why didn’t you just tell me before you left? If I had known that my speech about the Humans – as I know I am a good orator – had had such a profound impact upon your lobe, I would have easily accompanied you on this useless hunt for Humans!” Steve felt waves of relief wash over him as his father had bought the story. “Come now, Steve! We descend, for your mother has rounded up a fine horde of kelp. It is kind of blue in color and texture! We go!” With that, Pummeltone went under the surface of Ocean and Steve was frozen in place.
“It worked!” he said aloud, hearing Jonah IV inside cry out with exuberance for the Human obviously wanted to be away from these large and feared whales.
Then, Pummeltone broke the surface of Ocean again and bellowed that Steve follow immediately. “The kelp will not last forever and I’ll not force your mother to keep it stationary, young pup! It floats wildly! Move!” With that, he nudged Steve again but gently as if in good fun.
Steve decided to follow his father’s orders and, clamping his lips tightly, descended alongside Pummeltone. Jonah IV was none to pleased. “Whale!” shrieked Jonah IV. “I need to be released!”
Steve attempted to mumble as best he could with his father so close at fin. “I will do so at another time, Jonah IV of Good Measure. I cannot disobey my father. He respects me now!” He glanced over to see if his father had heard any of it and seemed satisfied to hear that Pummeltone was humming a tune that was at least twenty years old.
“But Whale! I cannot live in the Ocean! I need air and food!”
“I will hold the air in my mouth and then I will return you once I get the chance, Human! I will place food in my mouth – I can do so without flooding out my gums, mind you – and you can partake. I promise!”
As the whale named Steve and his father quickened their pace towards the deepest depth of Ocean, Jonah IV began to shriek as if he had seen a monstrous whale inside Steve. “You cannot be seeing me in there, Jonah IV of Good Measure!”
“Something aches tremendously! I am becoming compressed by some force!” cried Jonah IV between gasping breaths. Steve could feel the Human pressed against his front teeth, moving around in questionable fashions. They had entered Gruffle Tree, Steve’s area of dwelling, when he felt large amounts of liquid upon his teeth, gums, and tongue. Steve halted the taste of this new concoction in his mouth. What had happened? Was the Human trying to destroy him after all with some viciously tainted liquid? He had saved the little whelp’s life!
“Are you alright?” he mumbled but got no answer. Perhaps something had occurred inside that Steve was not aware of. He gently felt around with his tongue but only tasted the bitter liquid inside, mixed with some small pieces. Other whales were drawing near as Steve’s mother, Christiana, had apparently gathered enough of the blue kelp to feed the whole community. Now, they were being drawn to Steve for he was wholly immobile and not following his father as he was supposed to, but appeared to be focusing intently upon something else entirely.
The whale named Steve opened his mouth, letting Ocean gush in and whatever the bitter liquid was to leave, forgoing the quiet Human’s need and hoping it would not be a mistake as he could quickly lose the precious air within his mouth and then demand a speedy return to the surface of Ocean.
What floated before him was profound indeed!
The Ocean turned red as if Steve had damaged himself! The whales that had gathered around appeared shocked and in dismay, as was Steve. As a result, he was keeping his mouth open longer than he should have and lost large amounts of air for he had kept it all in his mouth to support that Human. His lungs were sufficiently empty then.
The whales were all moving around, murmuring, and wondering what was happening to Steve for the redness was enveloping the Ocean around his whale-shaped body. Steve felt a panic in his lungs then as they began to quiver a cry for more air. But Steve, not wanting his new knowledge to be for nothing for he felt he would not make it to the surface anyway, wanted to tell the other whales about the Human he had encountered on the surface of Ocean, but which was apparently no more.
As the redness expanded around him, Steve told them quickly about the Human. Pummeltone seemed angered by it but none of the other whales would listen to him for, in their eyes, Steve was the larger whale at this point in time due to the redness from within and they all felt that listening to his sage advice would be most wise indeed.
The whale named Steve proceeded in talking about how the Human, Jonah IV of Good Measure, seemed much too weak and afraid of a whale the size of Steve to pose as any threat against the deepest depths of Ocean. The whales nodded in agreement for they understood completely. Maybe the Humans were not so bad after all? Perhaps Pummeltone, with his talk of destroying a Human before a Human can destroy you, was wrong. Steve felt his lungs tremble inside as they begged for air but he did not want to miss the chance to lose the attention of his fellow whales. This was important!
After giving it little thought – as not much was needed – Steve decided that Humans could not even exist within the deepest depths of Ocean, as was evident by Jonah IV being replaced with large amounts of red, bitter liquid and bothersome bits and pieces. He told them and many seemed to visibly relax as they knew that a Human threat was impossible now.
With that last thought conveyed to the residents of Gruffle Tree, the whale named Steve decided to give into the desire for air and proceed back towards the surface in a rapid manner.
He did not make it though and expired, sinking back down past weeping whale family and friends, to finally rest on the bottom of Ocean that he had wondered about so often but had never been given the chance to enjoy.
About one whale month later, his corpse became bloated with gases and grew to twice the size of his normal Steve-sized self. As he rose back through Gruffle Tree on decomposed gases, Pummeltone, Christiana and others were shocked and attempted to talk to the massively deformed whale that was Steve at one time. They let him float back towards the surface unhindered though, knowing he was fully expired. They did wonder if his whale-sized spirit would go to live in the Ocean above Ocean that was rumored, among the elders, to house the ghosts of whales and all the knowledge which went beyond the destructive notions that Humans are said to conceive on a daily basis.