Fat snowflakes ripped across the ground, through the air, swirling into whirlpools before disappearing. The wind howled and for a moment I was afraid the wolves had returned. The sun, lost somewhere above me in the clouds and snow, reflected into my eyes and blinded me.
The visibility was so bad I landed mere steps from the brick wall. The huge brown monolith was within 10 feet of me before I stopped. I slid up to it, glad for the scant shelter it offered, anxious for any sort of relief. I started grasping my way along the wall, following it towards the natural conclusion. I hit a corner and rounded with it, before gliding into another.
Something changed, and the snow gave way. With my back to the wall and the wind, the storm let up enough so that I could make out the rough shapes of the town that had once stood. I had wandered into a port town, and unbeknownst to me had been trudging across a glass body, some frozen harbor. I didn’t expect to find anyone, but at least there might be some supplies.
I found my way to the front of the building, which was easier protected from the snow by the stone walls. The huge doors had been boarded shut, presumably to keep out intruders. The years of disrepair had left the wood soft. Nails jutted out of the walls where more boards once stood. I pried the remaining boards apart and was inside.
The factory was so warm it was unsettling. I wasn’t used to anyplace being that warm anymore. The thick walls offered strong insulation even against the condition four weather outside. After rubbing my hands together, and regaining feeling in my toes, I began to assess the room in front of me. A huge roof sat over me, cavernous and concave, so imposing that the top lay hidden in the darkness.
The surrounding room was lit in spots by lanterns that somehow still burned, but gave off an odd pale blue color. I saw moths and nameless insects flying in and out of the tide pools. A moth wandered too close to a fire and sizzled as it burned. For such small lamps, they gave off a lot of heat. I could feel myself sweating, but knew better than to remove my coat. Still, I pulled my gloves off and stuffed them into my back pocket. I thought I might need to be as unhindered as possible if I ran into who lit these.
Aside from a few empty crates and wooden barrels, this room seemed empty before the divider. The whole building seemed sliced in two by an imposing wall. I followed it skyward with my eyes to see if it gave way.
Glinting from the firelight, something shone in the dark. I grabbed for my bow, as I thought it was the eyes of some hunter. As if anything could be so simple anymore.
As my eyes adjusted, I saw truth. Swinging silver hooks hung from a track. This was no factory. It was a slaughterhouse. The years had done nothing to dim their gleam, and the shimmered like they had never stopped getting use. Now I was on edge.
I considered going back, but the opportunity was too great. I didn’t come this far just to turn around. I walked through the little doorway into the next room and felt tears on my face.
On a huge stainless steel altar, a massive whale sat, half rendered. Its giant ribcage was exposed on one side like the bare wall of a tent. The head of the leviathan was intact, but severely scratched. Deep gouges raked the side and into the jaw. The tail was suspended by rope above the creature, and had a notch struck into its right side.
The whale was at least seventy feet in length. It must have been in the middle of processing when disaster struck, and got left in the wake.
I walked up to it, afraid, and put my hand to unbroken skin near the tail. I traced along cuts and scrapes, until the skin gave way, revealing the deep white fat beneath. This continued up towards the head, finally giving way again to the bright red flesh, and once again falling to white.
The ribs were stripped clean of meat and skin, and stood bleached and bare. I wondered if someone had been living in them. Perhaps the person who lit the lamps.
After the ribs, the meat started to thicken. I ran my hands across the scars on the neck of the beast, and down the cuts, almost fresh.
I made my way to the great eye. I saw myself in the black mirror. My hands looked thin, and my face gaunt behind the unkempt beard. My own eyes sat deep in my skull, hiding from the world. I was a step away from being as beaten up as the creature on the table in front of me. At least I was alive.
Just then, the whale blinked.
I fell backwards and was overcome with fear. It blinked again, and the tail swung fruitlessly in its bonds. There was a whooshing sound, a sullen rush and roar, like the wind in Autumn.
The whale was breathing. It had no lungs to speak of, and yet it breathed, wheezing and pained.
"STAND BEFORE ME, HUMAN," the voice beckoning me deep and ominous like the voice of God.
I did as I was told.
The whale rocked side to side on the table, swaying like a willow. It spoke with the voice of a thunderstorm.
"IT HAS BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE ONE OF YOUR KIND HAS DARED TO FACE ME," the whale said. "YOUR SPECIES IS WROUGHT WITH COWARDICE. WHO SENT YOU?"
Perhaps I had never made it inside, I thought. I was still out freezing to death in the storm and as relief or as punishment I was being subjected to this.
"DO YOU LACK EVEN THE COURAGE TO ADDRESS ME, WORM? CAN YOU NOT FIND WORDS OF YOUR OWN?"
"I am afraid," was all I could muster. The barest representation of my torrent of emotions.
"YES, WE ALL ARE IN THE FACE OF DEATH. BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR WORDS, HUMAN. IF WE ARE TO HAVE A DISCOURSE YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL MEN."
"What are you?," I asked.
"I AM A WHALE, LAID BARE BY YOUR KIND, MADE TO HOLD COURT OVER HUMANITY FOR THE DOMINION OF THE EARTH."
"How are you speaking?"
The whale wheezed, airy, as if coughing.
"PAINFULLY. MY KIND HAS LONG USED WORDS TO COMMUNICATE. NOW ON LAND, IT’S IN A NEW TONGUE... OR YOU ARE FINALLY LISTENING."
"I'm hallucinating or dead."
"NOT YET CHILD. YOU STILL HAVE CRIMES TO ANSWER FOR."
“What happened wasn’t my fault, I’m just —,”
“YOU ARE JUST A MAN, AS FOOLISH AND IGNORANT AS ALL YOUR KIND. MAN IS A CANCER, A SCOURGE ON THE EARTH.”
Couldn’t argue with that.
“We thought first we were here to own the Earth, and then protect the Earth. It wasn’t until it was too late did we try and save the Earth. Now we’ve doomed it.”
A great wind blew in, and I realized it was just the sound of the whale. It was breathing rapidly, it was… laughing. A terrifying sound.
“YOU FOOL! WHAT A PATHETIC SPECIES. HOW NARCISSISTIC, TO THINK YOU ARE TO SAFEGUARD THE HOMES OF MILLIONS OF OTHER LIVES. YOU HAVE NOT ADVANCED IN HUNDREDS OF YEARS. THE EARTH EXISTED FOR MILLENNIA BEFORE YOU CRAWLED INTO THE MUD, AND IT WILL EXIST LONG AFTER THE WAVES WASH OVER THE SHORES. YOU AND ALL YOUR ILK ARE BUT A SMALL PIECE OF A GLOBAL ORGANISM.”
“None of this would have happened without Humans.”
“OF THIS, YOU ARE CORRECT, BUT MISGUIDED. NATURE IS LIFE ETERNAL. MAN DID NOT KILL NATURE, YET NATURE WILL KILL MAN.”
I fell to my knees and began to weep. The whale sat on the table and laughed, coughing as it went. I saw the dust flow through the air in the lamp light, and felt the wood beneath my knees.
A sound came as sudden as doom, the sound of pure terror and destruction.
And the whale began to sing.