The Whale at Tipton (rpg)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Things change in the small town of Tipton when a 60ft sperm whale is washed up on its shores...

Submitted: June 28, 2011

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Submitted: June 28, 2011

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“I’m coming, Lucy.”

Willie reeled and staggered over the sand, the bottle of scotch in his hand already half-empty. Traces of distant lightning lit the sky over the sea, the water below shimmering in an effervescent blue haze. Thunder growled, but it was remote and far-flung, emanating from somewhere far out over the Southern North Sea. It had rained for three days, almost without cease. Willie’s hat and ancient denim jacket were heavy with water and the rains dripped from his beard, that mess of grey and matted hair that hung down over a foot from his chin. He was covered in mud from his scramble over the cliffs and a dark red stain marked his trouser leg, the blood oozing from some unknown wound in his thigh. He stood in the shallows, the water crashing against his knees.

He was alone on the beach, tonight; he could at least be thankful for that. The waves rolled and crashed against the shore, rolled and crashed against Willie’s legs. The sound was one of peace, and of distance. The sea had always calmed him, even at its most violent. He’d lived most of his life on the water, trawling and whaling, yet now he could do little more than look at it, to stare into its bleak emptiness. Somewhere in its depths lay his dead wife, Lucy, whom he had buried there ten years before. Tonight, he would join her, and they’d wake up together in some other world, a world where he could be free of this pain.

“Wait for me. I’m sorry, Lucy.”

The bottle was almost empty now. Willie downed another mouthful as he waded further out into the sea. The cliffs hung over him like two impossible hands, ready to crush his skull between them. The waters smashed across his chest, knocking him onto his back. He rose, drenched, and stood looking out across that colossal emptiness, that darkness. This was it. He wouldn’t be going back, not this time. The tide was going out. With a little luck, he’d be dragged right out into the North Sea, towards the Artic, a long way from anywhere. Besides, this part of the beach was all but abandoned now. A rocky enclave, accessible only after a steep climb across the cliffs; it wasn’t easy to get here, and would be more difficult to return.

Willie downed the last of the bottle and sent it flying through the air, over the ocean. Then he screamed into the darkness.

*

Awaking just before the dawn, Willie had two immediate thoughts. The first was a simple acknowledgement that the rains had stopped and the seas were calm once more. The second, somewhat more existentially, was along the lines of ‘fuck, I’m still here.’

With some difficulty, he got to his feet and waded out from the water. His head was reeling and he had to put a hand on the rock in front of him to steady himself. The rock had the feel of wet rubber, like a wetsuit pulled tight over muscle. Apart from the barnacles that speckled its surface, it was smooth to the touch, and grey in colour. It was around sixty feet long. Yesterday, it hadn’t been there.

As his dulled brain tried to reason out such peculiarities, Willie stumbled around the perimeter of the rock. Through blurred eyes, he saw that the squarish mass in front of him was in fact a huge, rectangular head. Half opened before him was the largest mouth he had ever seen, jutting out like the base of a surfboard and lined with a fierce array of pointed, triangular teeth. Out of proportion with the immense head and mouth, a single grey-lidded eye adorned one face, closed to the elements.

Willie turned and surveyed the beach, the ocean around him. Unsurprisingly, there was no one else in sight, and no ships yet visible on the horizon. He stood and stared at the gargantuan creature that lay at his feet, at that single, closed eye. And then, the eye winked open.

*

Outside the Blinking Owl café, Willie stood, peering in through the glass door. Four men sat at a table inside, eating a breakfast of toast, eggs and strips of crisp bacon and arguing over a newspaper. He recognised the men, friends from his fishing days, not yet out on the boats. That meant it was still early, night almost. He fought with the handle, leaning his weight against the door. His eyes found a word, ‘pull’, and after a pause it registered in his mind. He stepped inside. His head was pounding.

“There’s a whale”, he said.

“Mornin’ Willie. Another late one?”

“Get him a cuppa will you Jenny? Here, have a seat Will.”

Willie sat down with the men. Jenny, the young waitress, poured him some tea. He sipped at it gratefully.

“You look like shit.” That was Pete. They’d worked the boats together for ten years, before Lucy died. There wasn’t more than a few years between them; Pete had to be getting close to sixty. But their faces looked ages apart.

“I know it.”

“You want something to eat?”

Willie shook his head.

“There’s a whale on the beach”, he said, “out by Jackson’s rock.”

“A whale?”

“Yeah.”

“What kind of a whale?”

“A grey-head. Cachalot. A big one.”

The men considered this.

“I can tell you something about Wales”, said one.

“What’s that?”

“It ain’t in England.”

The men groaned in unison. They slurped their tea and clinked knives against plates.

“It’s dying out there”, said Willie.

It was another half an hour before Willie had convinced the men to follow him down to the beach. By this time, the tea was beginning to take effect, clearing his hangover, leaving him sick, nervous and alert. He’d half hoped the whale would be gone by the time he returned, that he could strike it off as a sign of the coming DTs, only another nightmare.

“Well, I never.”

“That’s a sperm whale all right.”

“That it is.”

The great bulk looked so out of place on the shores of Tipton, it may as well have been the Leviathon itself. It looked too huge to be alive, an impossible animal. Not an animal at all, but an island. An island, risen from unimaginable depths, to die on the beaches of Tipton.

“We better go tell Tom.”

*

“I expect by now you are all aware of the reason you were called here. Most of you I know have already been down to the beach, despite my instructions to the contrary. The question of the evening is what is to be done about the whale.”

Mayor Thomas Chapman had arranged the meeting after being awakened early that morning by three lively elder fisherman, knocking down his door. They’d told him a whale had beached itself on the shores, a massive one, bigger than they’d seen in years of fishing. Mayor Chapman couldn’t fathom what the inconvenient monster was doing, dying there. Though hardy seamen had reported sightings far out from the harbour, and indeed, had once hunted the animals out at sea, Tipton was hardly renowned for its whales. A sleepy fishing village, it was not renowned for anything besides a conspicuous lack of activity. And that was just how Mayor Chapman liked it.

Anyway, it was impressive turnout, with virtually the entire population of the town crammed into the tiny hall. He couldn’t remember having ever called a meeting before, but then it wasn’t every day you woke up to find a 60ft whale marooned on your shores.

“This is the first time such an event has occurred in Tipton. We believe this to be the largest whale ever beached in England, and the story will surely be covered by the major national networks. Make no mistake; the spotlight will soon be on us. We are hardly equipped for a full-scale rescue effort, but this is what is expected of us now. This is our chance to shine.”

A hand went up from the crowd.

“Yes? Mr. Johnson, go ahead.”

“We’ll have to tow it. I don’t see how else it’s gonna be moved. Tie it up to a boat, or a few boats. It may need a few. Drag it out to sea.”

“It’s too heavy to move like that.” A woman spoke up. “Out of the water, imagine the effect gravity will have upon an animal that size. It’s not built to carry that kind of mass on land. Dragging it along could crush its organs, under its own weight.”

“Then we need to get it into water. We’ll have to dig, dig until we have a trench big enough to float it.

“You have any idea how big that trench is gonna have to be? We don’t have the equipment for it. It’ll take us weeks to dig!”

“No, listen, he’s on to something. If we could just get it into the water, even just a little, the weight wouldn’t be such an issue. We’d be able to tow it back to sea.”

“You know, in Japan, they’d count themselves lucky. There’s a lot of meat on a whale, not to mention oil.”

“Hunting whales is illegal here, John, you know that.”

“Who’s talking about hunting?”

“I heard whales often get beached when they lose their sense of direction. Something blows out their sonar and they lose their way, or end up just following the currents. What if we get it back out to sea and the thing just swims straight back up onto the beach?”

In the brief silence that followed, Mayor Chapman took the chance to try and regain control. “That’s a chance we simply have to take. What’ll people say if we just leave it to die?”

“Mr. Chapman? I have an idea. If we could only make some kind of slope, like a slide, lubricated with oil or something…. we may be able to slide the whale back into the sea.”

“A slide?” laughed John. “ You want to make a whale slide?”

Willie watched from the back of the hall, trying not to be noticed. While they were talking, the whale was out there, dying. It would be losing water fast, drying out and dying from dehydration. They had to keep it wet. He had to keep it wet.

Willie slipped out from the hall. He would return to the beach. He didn’t know how to save the whale, but at least he could help keep it alive.

After all, it had saved him. It had kept him alive.

*

The whale lay there still, sinking into the mud. It seemed to Willie that its flesh had begun to discolour, becoming brown, orange like the sand and the rocks. It was to die silently, without a whisper. It was to leave the ocean behind, becoming one with the sand and the rocks.

It was not alone. Photographers, both professional and opportunist, had gathered around its body. A group of college students sat in a circle around a bonfire, playing guitar and downing cans of beer. Small children clambered over the whale’s back, posing for photos or sliding down over its skin into the sand. Their mothers did little to discourage them. The scene resembled nothing so much as a surrealist painting, as though the great beast was no less absurd then an elephant, flamingo, or a melting clock. The whale opened a lonely eye, briefly, as though in appeal.

Willie stood looking over the scene, a great sadness welling up inside him. He was thirsty, by God he was thirsty. It’d been hours since his last drink. But, for the first time in years, he felt he had a job to do. For the first time in years, he felt that there was something he could do, however small. The photographers, the mothers and children, the college kids with their guitars and their beers, they had all come to see the whale. They had all come to watch the whale, as they had, for years now, been watching him die. Willie was going to help it to live.

Held up beside the great bulk of the whale, the bucket appeared pitifully, pathetically small. Willie himself looked small. He felt small, he had done since Lucy was taken from him, since he came home to nothing and took to the drinking. But there was no time for such thoughts now. There was nothing else to be done. Ignoring the children, paying no mind to the mothers whose photos he obscured, Willie marched into the sea, dunked his bucket into the salty water, filled it to the brim and returned to toss it over the back of the whale. Once more, he strode out into the shallows, bent and dunked the bucket and returned to the whale, this time sending the spray over its head. With the third, he continued down the body, and with the fourth and fifth also, taking care not to fill the blow-hole. It was steady, honest work. It was good work, and he kept at it.

It was a long time before Willie looked up, before he looked to anything but the whale. When he did so he saw that he was not alone in his work. Some of the children, using tiny buckets more suited to building sandcastles than saving whales, had begun to copy him. Their mothers returned with pots and pans, and larger buckets, to join the effort. Six men had also joined him on the beach, carrying great metal pails of water, one between two, which they swung in turn over the whale. Willie was at the head of an operation that numbered twenty or more, all striving to keep the whale from drying out, to help it to live until something could be done to help it back to sea. Many of them were to stay all night.

*

The media arrived early the following morning.

At first it was no more than a handful of reporters, newsmen and women, a few photographers. They hung around the beach, asking questions and snapping pictures, generally getting in the way. Tourists soon followed, mostly from adjoining villages, though some had now began to arrive from further afield. By the afternoon, the town’s few guesthouses were booked out, and the population of Tipton were bracing themselves for their first ever tourist boom. Some of the more enterprising residents had set up stalls on the beach, providing drinks and snacks, even souvenirs. This was only to increase as the local and national TV crews descended on the town.

“A remarkable rescue attempt is underway in the tiny fishing village of Tipton, Kent, where yesterday, the largest whale ever seen in England was discovered stranded upon its shore. At over twenty metres in length, it dwarfs the men who surround it, working frantically to shovel away the sand. They are working to create a trench, a canal of sorts, along which the whale may be buoyed up and towed back to sea. It is hoped that once in the water, the whale will be strong enough to swim back to its pod, which we believe have been sighted some distance offshore.”

It was a simple plan on paper, but one that would prove very difficult to execute. The sheer size of the whale meant that the hole would have to be over twenty metres in length and deep enough the help ease the weight of the whale. No one really had any real idea how deep that was, or how long it would take to dig.

More than thirty men had volunteered to help. They arrived early in the morning, each carrying a shovel. Willie worked with them, despite having not slept the night before. The women continued to bring buckets of water up from the sea to douse the whale and keep it from drying out.

Willie paused for a moment to observe the woman commentating on the proceedings. A slim and primly dressed brunette, sporting high heels and a heavy dose of make-up, it was obvious she wasn’t local. The national media were covering this, meaning the rescue, or failure thereof, would be all over the television news. She circled the dying animal as she gave her report, the soundman struggling to keep up with her, holding aloft a boom microphone. The cameraman, close behind, surveyed the scene, moving in for the occasional close-up. His huge camera tracked alongside the whale, zoomed into its closed eye, pushed into the faces of the volunteers. The whale was news, and they had come to record it; that it should live or die was of no real consequence. They were the first, but more were sure to follow.

“Let us try to talk now with the man who found the whale here in Tipton. William Sterling, you were walking along the beach shortly after dawn when you came across the whale, is that right?”

Willie looked up from his shovel to find a microphone thrust into his face, a camera close behind it, and a beautiful woman waiting for a response.

“No, I wasn’t walking.”

“Well, anyway, you were on the beach. It was just a day like any other, until…”

“Not for me.”

“Excuse me?”

“It weren’t no day like any other.”

“Well, of course it wasn’t. It’s not every day you bump into a giant like that! Please, let me ask, what were your first thoughts on finding the whale?”

Her voice was very high, he thought, like a strangled chicken.

“I thought it was a rock.”

The Sun was becoming stronger now, as the morning wore on. The women raced to fill the buckets, pouring water over the whale in a continual stream. But it wasn’t enough. They were losing the struggle. They had been digging for four hours already and the trench was barely a foot deep. Sand continually slipped back in to replace that which they took out. It wasn’t enough.

He felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Willie, that’s enough.”

“I wasn’t walking, Pete. I fell asleep.”

“Excuse me, mam. He’s been working all night.”

“That’s ok. Perhaps we can talk later, Mr, Sterling. Thank you for your time.”

Pete guided Willie away from the crowd.

“I wasn’t walking. I was drunk. I fell asleep here.”

“It’s ok, Willie. Take a rest. Get some sleep.”

They were interrupted by a scream from behind them. A woman was stood beside the whale, shrieking. Willie and Pete turned with the cameras. A young boy lay on his back in the sand, under the tail of the whale. His mother held him up, shaking him. His head fell limp against her arm.

“It hit him!” She cried. “The whale hit him. Please, someone call an ambulance! Help him!”

The rescue attempt stopped all at once as people rushed over to see to the boy. He had been slapped by the tail of the whale, caught full in the chest, and now lay unconscious. The reporter rushed over to her cameraman. She grabbed him by the shoulders, shouting into his face.

“Did you get it? Tell me you got it!”

Willie walked away from the carnival and sat himself down in the sand, at some distance from the crowd. Within minutes, he was asleep.

*

This is a disaster.”

“Yes, it is. But it wasn’t your fault.

Mayor Chapman was currently working his way through his fourth Mars bar of the evening, while searching the fridge for a fifth. His wife was doing her best to calm him down.

Of course it was my fault. I’m the mayor. I’m responsible.”

“It was an accident, Tom. No one could have predicted that.”

Tom slammed the fridge door and tossed the wrapper of his chocolate into the bin. He took up his keys from a hook on the wall.

“I’m going out to get more chocolate.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? You’ll be sick again.”

“Of course it’s a good idea. When is chocolate not a good idea?”

A loud knock surprised Tom as he went to open the door. He knew who it would be. The last person he needed to see right now.

“Hello, John. Good to see you.”

John bowed his head slightly, to Tom, and then to his wife. The expression on his face marred the politeness of the gesture.

“Tom. Good evening, Lisa.”

“Evening, John. Come in, won’t you?”

“Thank you.”

“Have a seat. You want something to drink?”

“Something strong. You heard what happened today?”

“Lisa? Get us a brandy would you. I’m so sorry, how’s Timmy holding up?”

“Sarah’s at the hospital now. He’s conscious, but bruised bad. He’ll be kept in for a while.”

“I’m so glad he’s ok.”

“He’s not ok.”

“No, of course, I mean…you know what I meant.”

Lisa returned with a tray, two glasses and an unopened bottle of brandy. She set the tray down on a small, circular table between the men.

“I’ll leave you to it, if you don’t mind.”

“Thank you, Lisa.”

The men sipped at their brandies. The grandfather clock counted the silence between them.

“I keep watching it on TV. My boy, laid out on the sand like he was dead. I thought he was dead.”

“Really, Tom, if there’s anything we can do to help, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

“There’s nothing you can do. For Timmy, or the whale. The trench ain’t going to work, and everyone knows it. They’re just all so fucking polite they can’t admit it.”

“Well, we have to try.”

“Because the cameras are watching, right? No one wants to be seen standing by the wayside. Watching a whale die. Watching its body flatten into the earth, deflating like a punctured tire, watching it rot and get chewed up by the scavengers. It just ain’t good TV.”

“John, look…”

“Now. Seeing the good townsfolk coming together, doing their best to save this wonderful animal. And then to see the tragedy, a young boy, struck a blow from the tail of the beast, perhaps even killed. That’s TV. That’s real human drama, for you.”

“I can’t control the cameras. They’re just there to record what happens. It’s news, that’s all.”

“Just keep them the hell away from me. Can you do that? Just keep them away from Sarah and me, and the boy.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“That wasn’t what I came here for, anyway. What I wanted to say, is that when you decide on destroying the whale, I know how to do it…”

*

The whales were crying; a chorus of despair, emanating from somewhere far off shore. Struggling to his feet, Willie looked out over the water. Under the moonlight, he could just make out the fins of whales, and their tails, black against the sky. They cried for their lost companion, and he answered from the sand. We mourn you, they cried. Come home, come back to us. They longed for him, as he longed for the pod. Willie knew, from experience, that there was a chance they would beach themselves alongside him, rather than leave him alone to die. He had seen it before.

He wondered whether anyone would cry for him, if anyone would come for him, if he were stranded. It didn’t seem likely. Who was there to come?

*

Considerably fewer volunteers returned to the beach the next day. Disheartened by little Timmy’s accident, or simply having come to the conclusion that the whole operation was futile, they returned to their jobs, or their families, and tried not to think of the whale. Some found new employment tending the needs of the ever-growing visiting population of tourists, TV crews and journalists that had descended on Tipton. The small group of volunteers that remained were now surrounded by small food stalls selling cans of coke, trays of fish and chips, or ice-cream cones. There were booths offering to print photos of the whale, of visitors with the whale, and souvenir stalls selling trinkets and tat. All had apparently sprouted up overnight, whilst Willie slept on the sand.

Worst of all, those who had abandoned the effort, they were right to. It was futile, especially with the handful of volunteers that remained. People had come in numbers to see the whale, to record it, to profit from it. None had come to save it. They had brought hot dogs and ice cream, cameras and key rings; no tools, no rescue teams, nothing that could help. The place was a carnival, a carnival surrounding a dying whale.

Willie slumped down onto the sand. It was useless; why pretend otherwise? There was nothing he could do, nothing anyone could do, but bear witness to the tragedy. He opened a can of beer and downed half of it. The whale watched him from one, lonely eye. Willie sat and drank and watched the whale die.

“Hey, mister! Hey!”

Willie looked up. A young boy, perhaps eight or nine years old, stood blocking the sun in front of him.

“Hello.”

“You wanna buy a key ring?”

“A key ring?”

“Yeah, with a whale. You know, a souvenir.”

“No.”

You sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“How about your friends?”

“What friends?”

“Your friends wanna buy a key ring?”

“I ain’t got no friends.”

The boy paused for a moment, realising this was probably true.

“You know why?” he said.

“Why what?”

“Why you ain’t got no friends?”

“No. You gonna tell me?”

“’Cause you don’t have no key ring.”

Willie considered this. He wasn’t sure it made sense. He finished his beer. The boy was still waiting.

“How much is it?”

“Just ten pence. You want one?”

Willie fished around in his jeans for some change and handed the coins to the boy. The boy dropped a key ring into his hand.

“Thanks, mister. Have a good day.”

Once the boy was gone, Willie opened his palm. He looked at the key ring. It consisted of a plastic whale, pierced with a metal hook, with a huge smile and large cartoon eyes.

Willie thought it just about the saddest thing he’d ever seen.

*

“Come on, Willie. We did what we could. It’s time to go.”

They were leaving, packing up and going away, leaving the whale to die. It was weak, helpless, and they had given up on it. They had given up on him.

“I think I’ll stay a while.”

“”Suit yourself.”

Willie found himself alone with the whale once more. The tide was coming in, faster now. The hole they had dug was filled with water, almost enough for the whale to float. Almost. He lay in the water and cried out to his companions offshore. The pod cried back in chorus, but it sounded duller now, more distant, and less in earnest, as though they too were preparing to abandon him.

Willie laid his hand on the dying animal. His skin felt dryer than before, older even. He sighed through his blow-hole, sinking now, into the sand, where eventually his bones would be buried.

The tide was rising. Water swept across the sand where Willie stood, soaking him and the whale. Willie reached into the pool of water, splashing it over the whale. He stroked his hands along his flank, hoping it calmed him, that it made it easier, somehow. It would be over soon.

The whales offshore once more began to cry. It was heartbreaking to hear, to hear them calling out to one so close, to have to watch him die.

“Come on”, he whispered to the whale, where he knew his ears must be. “They call for you. Go to them.”

“Let the water take you. I know you can. Go to them.”

Willie reached around the whale, as best he could, and began to heave. He leaned his body against his, as though by sheer will he would be able to move the fifty tonne animal.

His arms shook with the effort. He felt the blood rush to his face. His whole body shivered, until he felt he would fall.

“Come on. Go to them. So close. You’re so close. Move!”

Willie pushed, and the whales cried offshore.

“Don’t die here. Don’t die on this beach. They cry for you. Move!”

And then, he did.

It was so little, at first, only centimetres. Had he imagined it? The tide rolled in and out. He pushed. He pushed, and the whale moved, a little more. This time he was sure.

“Yes! That’s it boy! I’m right here.”

He was moving. The whale was moving, crawling almost, edging back to the ocean. He moved with the tide, inches every time, inching ever closer to sea.

“Can you hear them, crying for you? Go to them.”

He was so close. He was there. He was almost there. Just one last strain, one last giant effort. The last giant effort.

Willie strained with everything he had. He would carry him if he had to. He would drag him into the sea. His head thumped with blood. His arms and legs shivered where he stood. His heart, he felt it crash against his chest. Ba-Boom. Ba-Boom. Ba-Boom.

And then, just as suddenly, it stopped. And Willie found he couldn’t breathe.

*

“Hey mister, you ok? Mister?”

The eldest of the three boys edged forward a little, but with caution. Their shouting hadn’t woken the man, but perhaps he was only pretending to sleep. He may only be waiting until they were close enough, close enough for him to grab them and take them away. Or he may be drunk. And the boy was old enough to know drinking could get men angry pretty fast.

“Do you need help, mister? Are you hurt?”

The boy crouched down beside the man. His face was turned into the sand. He rolled him over onto his back. As he did so, the man’s head fell limp to its side. His eyes were open, but unseeing, speckled with grains of sand. The sand dripped from his open mouth.

“Ben? Is he dead?”

“I think so.”

The younger boys joined Ben at his side. They had never seen a dead person before. One of them reached out a hand to touch the man’s face. His fingers recoiled almost immediately, shrunk back from the touch, as though stung.

“He looks real bad.”

“We better go tell someone.”

The boys got up to leave.

“Ben?”

“Yeah?”

“Where’s the whale?”

*

In the years that followed, never was another whale stranded upon Tipton’s shores. Those that still remember the incident, do so only vaguely, as of something that happened in another place, another time. Some speak of the first time they laid eyes on the whale. They tell me it was as big as a truck, a bus, or a plane. Some remember, more than anything, the smell. It was so horrible, one lady would tell me, so horrible to see it die. It was sinking, its whole body was sinking, flattening into the sand, like a punctured tire, deflating in slow-motion. The town was filled with the stench. For months after that part of the beach was off-limits, though people hardly needed telling; the smell was enough. Eventually, of course, the whale must have decayed completely. I think maybe someone took away the bones, she told me, to a museum or some place. Yes, that’s it. They must be in a museum.

There are those that tell me a more curious tale. There are some who do not remember the whale dying. They remember sighting it upon the beach. They remember its crying, to its brothers offshore. They remember the efforts to save it, and their failure.

They remember the old man, the town drunk, crazy but harmless. He spent long hours looking out over the ocean where he’d worked much of his life. They tell me he worked hard to save the whale, that he refused to abandon its side, when all others had given up hope.

And there are those that claim, though they do so in whispers, that on returning to the beach they found the body, not of a whale, but of a man.


© Copyright 2019 RGilham. All rights reserved.

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