Fiction · 04/04/2018

The Whale

Why are the whales all throwing themselves up on the beaches; do they not know by the scraping of sand on their belly, by the flush of air along their flanks, that this is not the place for them? Can they not feel, as the water recedes, that they need to twist and thrash their way back to deeper water, until the brine soaks their dorsa? Do they not know that they’ll gasp and die, or do they remember a time when they could run?

They know now. They cry as they realize, their plaintive clicks and creaks carried by the wind into the shush of the tides. Too heavy for their own innards, they sag on the wet sand, where they groan as their breath escapes. Birds land on their drying haunches, drawn to the stench of meat.


There are two hundred whales. Three hundred people run to the beach to watch, and they push a handful out to sea, but the handful return, landing farther along. No one knows why, and the question hums its way down the lines: Why are they going the wrong way? The people need to hear that some polar magnet has skewed, a moon has waned, or a star spun out of orbit. It can’t be anything other than the cruelty of the elements. It cannot be that the whales were always going to land on the beach and die at the feet of people purely to show them how.


You said to me once, “I don’t have anyone like you.”

I didn’t dare ask. I half-told other people, hoped they might explain what you meant, but they had no answers. I wanted to know if there was a knowledge in me, or beauty, or skill that you had never found before. Or was I flawed; had you chosen, for some reason, not to have anyone like me?

I tormented myself, hurled myself into the sea, swam miles, sought sign posts in the deep green, in the endless cold, in the white-blue air above, and in the dark of my closed eyes. I searched the octopus cracks and the oceanic swell, but found no direction.

I landed at your feet, creaking, asking. You pushed me away. The water lapped and mocked, drowning any answers. I needed to hear how, and why, you didn’t have someone like me? I needed you to be fully sure that you didn’t have someone like me.

You came again, eyes on mine, and shoved me harder. To save me? I swam back, but you just pushed again. The people shouted, “Push! Push!” and screamed at me, “Go! Go!”

So many people, so obviously right, but it was cold out there. It was cold, and I needed to know.


TM Upchurch lives and writes in a small house overlooking the Atlantic, and is on the web at