Beached

Burt Kempner

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“My people are dying,” said the whale. “Our only salvation lies in becoming land animals again. Each time the dolphins and we beach ourselves, we get a little farther inland. I’ve gone past where my father got and he outdistanced his own father. Eventually we will walk upon the Earth once more.”—Burt Kempner

Pinhead Angel 

By Burt Kempner

"Time," by Gediminas Pranckevičius.

“Time,” by Gediminas Pranckevičius.

Burt Kempner

GAINESVILLE Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—January 2019—The prophetic boy walked along the beach, wreathed in thought, so much so that he almost missed the dark form sprawled on the sand. It was a young pilot whale, breathing heavily.

“Don’t panic, my brother, “ the boy said. “I’ll run back to the village and return with enough people to push you back into the water.”

“No.” A voiced sounded in the boy’s head. “No, let me stay here.”

“But surely you will die.”

“I am sacrificing myself,” the whale said.

“Why?” asked the shaman.

“My people are dying,” said the whale. “Our only salvation lies in becoming land animals again. Each time the dolphins and we beach ourselves, we get a little farther inland. I’ve gone past where my father got and he outdistanced his own father. Eventually we will walk upon the Earth once more.”

The boy pondered this. He dug into his medicine pouch, extracted a few leaves and chewed them. Soon, he was flying through the spirit world in search of the Master of Swimming Things, whom he found in a watery grotto.

The boy explained the plight of the whales and dolphins. The Master listened intently, then began speaking. In an instant, the traveling youth found himself back in his body on the beach.

“It will take far too many generations for you to become land animals again,” he told the pilot whale. “The seas are growing poisonous quickly.”

The whale moaned.

“But,” the boy continued, “the Master of Swimming Things says if your people can’t come upon the land, he will send the sea to take its place. One day, whales and dolphins will glide through submerged cities and other works of men. You will tell new stories and sing new songs of happiness.”

“But what will happen to you?” the whale asked.

“We will either grow wise or cease.”

 The whale pondered the words of the far-seeing youth. “Perhaps I’ll take you up on your offer to return me to my home, then.”

The boy used the hem of his garment to wipe away the animal’s huge tear, and ran off to summon his people.

"Offline," by Gediminas Pranckevičius.

“Offline,” by Gediminas Pranckevičius.

Editor’s Note: To see more of Gediminas Pranckevičius’s work, go to http://www.gedomenas.com/. Pranckevičius, a freelance creative illustrator, lives in Vilnius, Lithuania. His work involves picture book illustration, music album cover illustration, character design, and illustration for advertising. Contact the artist at gediminaspr@gmail.com.

Burt Kempner

About Burt Kempner

Burt Kempner has worked as a scriptwriter in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Florida. His work has won numerous major awards, and has been seen by groups ranging in size from a national television audience in the United States to a half-dozen Maori chieftains in New Zealand. His documentaries have appeared on PBS, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, CNBC, and European and Asian TV networks. He has two dogs, a cat, a wife and a son and is randomly kind to them all. More recently, Kempner has written three rather subversive books for children: Larry the Lazy Blue Whale, Monty the Movie Star Moose and The Five Fierce Tigers of Rosa Martinez. Visit his Amazon author page: amazon.com/author/burtkempner
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4 Responses to Beached

  1. Diana says:

    Burt, I’m wiping a tear off my own cheek. Lovely parable. Amazing illustrations. Who found them?

  2. Burt Kempner says:

    Our indefatigable Elizabeth. Glad you liked the story, Diana.

  3. Will says:

    Burt, this is wonderful! I find that allegory in the hands of many writers is a very clumsy instrument; a parable seems to diminish into schoolmarmish lecture. But in these few lines you tell an exquisitely painful story with simplicity and elegance, its meaning borne by a reader’s identitfication with both suffering creatures and the sad wisdom each gains. How very lovely!

  4. Burt Kempner says:

    Thanks so much, Will. When we strip away our judgments and lectures, what’s left is compassion. I really appreciate your kind words. All my best, Burt

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