Many speeches given in those days on banks of insidious rivers. Born from the dreams of the new king. Speeches pounded onto goldleaf sheets, sent to libraries, reprinted in text books for schoolchildren to memorize and recite. Speeches compulsorily reenacted years afterward by professional actors on river banks throughout her great nation. Speeches originally composed after dreams prompted the king to harvest the mysterious and bountiful leviathan: “For too long we have ignored these magnificent creatures, these ‘fleshy tools’ to use the Almighty’s words (He speaks to me nightly, you know). Due to misguided former regimes, we have neglected a limitless— perhaps self-perpetuating (we are looking into it)— natural resource.”
Those were the days of great public service. When thousands of blue eyed dreamers drifted slow out to sea, blaze orange men in canoes and hunting caps and rifles, pin pricks against the steel gray immensity. To “return with whales or return not at all,” came the cry.
Soon, the rivers became fat and pulpy with whale flesh, gathered flies, birthed plague. The stink cleared shore-line shanty towns into ghost towns. Stray dogs and rats swarmed the public schools and jaundiced school children collapsed or died mid-lesson. Limp yellow bodies piled ten, fifteen feet tall in hallways and against shop windows because, years before, short-sighted officials outlawed the public disposal of “childish corpses.” The stray dogs and rats picked at the mounded flesh until shanty-town refugees wheel-barrowed the dead to nearby tire pits for cremation.
Smoke of children and tires mingled and fogged the moonlight.
In the midst of the plague, the new king appeared on television in blaze orange and a hand stitched wolfskin cap. Her hunting rifle at the ready. Hurried questions from reporters: Would the new king “assure the populace of a swift resolution to the plague?” Comment on the “recent riots and insurrections?” “What are these strange redflames on the horizon?” Rifle raised, a blood spatter, a puff of gunsmoke. Handkerchief from unseen hand mopped the gore from her brow. “I come to you this evening, humble salt of the earth citizens of my great nation, not to comment on rumors and hearsay, superstitions and delusions, but to offer a few simple, homespun words extolling the limitless virtues of our neighbors in the deep: the beauteous, fruit-tree of the seas, the leviathan.”
Unpaid workers, escaped from their shackles in the chaos, were shot and beaten with clubs on sight. Infected cities razed to cinders by government employed hoboes. Canisters of gasoline and lit matches. Healthy children quarantined on islands where they sang songs, chopped and skinned whales. Jaundiced children disappeared into flatbed trucks while parents of these infected children “volunteered” their lives in service of whale meat processing and packing factories. They subsisted off meat-globs stuck to their palms. They slept in burlap sacks on the processing floors. They died and were honored by a “burial at sea”—
Steaks. Tins of heartmeat, fins. Blubber.
Days of innovation and change. Unpaid workers dug morning to night, and soon the infected waters were rerouted, filling radish valleys into lakes and here nature’s largest and most intelligent fish was grown for harvest. Here, dissections and experiments with torches. The king’s scientists developed extensive theories about the fish and its long rumored reserves of “black-gold.” Pamphlets claimed an entire family could subsist a week on a single roasted whale heart. Circuses traveled to landlocked rural towns and charged $45 a head to view the “miracle fish”—a blue-whale corpse floating in a yellow tank of formaldehyde, trapped in suspended decay—and there many a potato farmer claimed to “see the future” in the milky dead-eyes of the whale-fish.
Schools reopened. Boiled whale-skin hotdish lunches. Heartmeat salad sandwiches. Whale leather bookbags. Shops and businesses thrived and bustled and out their chimneys, black and marvelous, coiled whale oil smoke.
“We understand the universe now in ways ‘intellectual elites’ of yesteryear scarcely dreamed,” said the new king. “We understand now that all animals, no matter how great, have a role in our industry.” Trailed by television crews, the king toured her factories, gussied in designer goggles and a wolf-fur lined lab coat. Her advisors later admitted, this “was when the king let her hair down. When she most seemed at peace.” Indeed, court historians insist the king’s ghost even now wanders those abandoned hallways. Her dustbones swim yet in the emptied vats.