Urban Legend 2
The Exploding Whale
This story is often reported as an Urban Legend, but is actually based on fact! The original incident occurred on Nov. 12, 1970, in Oregon. Literary license has been stretched to its limit on this one! Most of the facts regarding the whale and explosives are correct, but everything else is transplanted and twisted. Much like my mind.
Jim Ellison bolted up in bed, chest heaving, stomach roiling. What was that smell? What the hell was that obnoxious odor? His nose wrinkled and he opened his mouth, breathing shallowly. Unfortunately, that just ignited his sensitive taste buds and he would later swear that he could taste the fetid air. Well, he didnt have to put up with this.
The former Army Ranger and current Cop of the Year climbed out of bed and stalked downstairs. Ten to one it was something Sandburg had thrown away, or rather, not thrown away, that had now taken on a life of its own. Nostrils flaring, Jim turned on the light and began searching the kitchen. He checked the trash; not there. He looked in every cupboard, behind every can and cardboard box. Not there either. The refrigerator proved likewise barren of offending organic materials, for once.
So intent was he in his search for the offensive odor that Jim did not hear the French doors to Blairs room open. Deep in the farthest regions of the freezer, Jim was startled when a sleep roughened voice sounded.
"Midnight snack?" Jim jumped, banging his head on the side of the freezer compartment. "Or should I say three twenty-seven snack? Whats up, man?"
Rubbing his head, Jim glared at his roommate. "Where is it?" he growled.
"Where is what?" A newly wakened Blair was not the sharpest tool in the shed.
"You know perfectly well what," Jim snapped. "Dont tell me you cant smell it. What is this, some kind of sick test of yours? See how long it takes the Sentinel to find the rotten meat youve hidden?" Jim stalked to the living room and began searching under the chair and the couches. He lifted the cushions and peered beneath each one, leaving them strewn every which way.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Blair exclaimed. "Whats going on here? What smell? What test?"
Jim glared at Blair, and then shifted his gaze. Blair was stunned when Jim headed directly for his room. Without so much as a by your leave or get the hell out of my way Jim had turned on the light in Blairs room and was searching every nook and cranny.
"Hey, isnt this a violation of privacy or something? Why dont you just tell me what youre looking for? Maybe I can help you." Jim completely ignored Blair and continued his search. He thought he had found his prize when he dumped out Blairs backpack, finding a half eaten loosely wrapped turkey sandwich of indeterminate age inside. A quick sniff, however, proved the sandwich was bad, but wasnt the source of the noxious fumes.
Frustrated, Jim turned in a circle, focusing his sight on every inch of the room. A strong hand on his arm stopped him in mid-turn. Jim had to struggle to focus on the man standing in front of him, straining his ears to understand the words pouring over him. As his sight cleared, pulling back to normal, he could see the concern in Blairs eyes.
" dont know whats bothering you, but dial it down, dial everything down, take it all the way to one except your hearing. Listen to my voice, let me guide you back. Start with smell, take your sense of smell down, down, down "
Almost automatically, Jim listened to Blairs voice and followed his directions. He found himself sitting on the couch with Blair perched on the coffee table in front of him. Jim blinked and looked around, confused, trying to determine what had upset him so much earlier.
"Here, man," Blair said, holding out a bottle of water, cold and dripping from the fridge. Jim gratefully took a deep drink, then sighed and leaned back against the couch.
"Okay. Now, you want to tell me what the search warrant routine was all about?" Blair demanded.
"I smelled something," Jim said, somewhat abashed.
"Do you know what it was?" Blair asked.
"Im not sure, something dead I think," Jim replied. He really really really didnt want to smell it again.
"Okay, lets take this real slowly," Blair said. "Close your eyes and relax. Good. Now, visualize your dials, especially the one for smell. Where is it?"
"Good, good, just where I told you. Now, turn it up slowly, just a little at a time, and tell me when you recognize the smell again. Where are you now?" Blair coached Jim through the routine, which was becoming more and more familiar to him.
"One and a half. Two. Two and a half. A little, I think. Three, now. Im starting to smell it again. Phew, that is something nasty. You sure you cant smell that?" Jim wrinkled his nose, his instinct telling him to dial back down.
"No, I cant. But that doesnt mean anything. Try to isolate that smell. Got it?" At Jims nod, Blair continued. "Okay, can you tell where its coming from?"
Jim turned his head, closing his eyes to better focus on where the odor might be coming from. He opened his eyes and stood up, moving toward the balcony doors. Blair followed, watching him closely.
Hesitantly, Jim let his hand hover over the handle, and then pulled the doors open. Immediately, he gagged, whirled and raced for the bathroom. Even Blair could smell the taint in the air now. The sounds of Jims retching reached Blairs ears as he quickly closed the balcony doors. Blair hurried to the bathroom, only to see the strong sentinel on his knees, worshipping the porcelain gods.
He grabbed a face cloth and wet it with cold water from the sink, holding it out to Jim as he coughed and spit, then finally leaned back against the bathroom wall. Jim gratefully took the cloth and wiped his face, which was uncharacteristically pale and sweaty.
"You okay now?" Blair asked, worried.
"I think so," Jim replied. He climbed sheepishly to his feet. He hated losing control of his body, something these damn senses seemed to force him into time and time again. Blair wisely stepped out of the bathroom and closed the door to give Jim the privacy to regain his equilibrium.
When he came out, the balcony doors were closed and Blair had a vanilla scented candle burning. He handed Jim the half finished bottle of water, and Jim downed the remainder, washing away the memory of his sickness.
"Damn," Blair muttered, looking around the loft. "Any idea what that is?"
"Theres something dead out there," Jim said, staring at the balcony doors. "Id know that smell anywhere. And its either really close or really big or a whole lot of it."
Blair shuddered at the implications. Jim sighed and headed toward the stairs to his bedroom. Sometimes ones duty weighed heavily on ones shoulders.
"Where you going?" Blair asked.
"To get dressed," Jim said simply, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"Get dressed? For what?" Blair stared at him stupidly. "Oh, no. No, no, no. Youre not going out there, are you? At this time of night? Morning? To look for what, exactly? Something dead? Ive got news for you. It will still be dead four hours from now. Its not going to come back. Jim, are you listening?" Sighing, muttering, and swearing, Blair headed to his room to get dressed. Above, Jim smiled as he pulled his shoes on.
Outside, they stood for a moment as Jim cautiously tested the air. After turning a full circle, he nodded and led the way to his truck. Blair followed, still grumbling about being dragged out in the wee hours of the morning, when the human body got its best rest. Everybody knew that. But oh no, they had to go traipsing around the city looking for something dead.
Jim waited patiently for Blair to settle in his seat and fasten his seat belt. After a moment, Blair turned to him. "Well, what are we waiting for?"
"You ready, Chief?" Jim asked.
"Yeah, yeah, sure. Lets just get this over with," Blair growled.
Jim headed toward the harbor. As they neared the beach area, even Blair could see the reflection of red, blue and yellow lights on the surrounding buildings. He sat up straighter.
"Whoa, man. Looks like we found something." He rolled down the window, sticking his head out like a dog. He immediately pulled back in, blanching.
"Oh, shit! Is that what you smelled?" He rubbed irritably at his nose.
Jim just grinned. "Oh, yeah, that and more. Whats the matter, Sandburg? Dials out of control?" Jim laughed at the finger Blair shot him, and then pulled carefully in behind a city animal control truck.
As he and Blair got out of the truck, he noted the myriad vehicles parked around the public access to the beach. There were a couple of Cascade squad cars, three sheriffs office vehicles, a state highway patrol truck, city animal control, city and county health department vehicles, and a street sweeper.
"Whats going on?" Jim asked one of the Cascade officers.
"Dead whale washed up on the beach. A jogger called it in. Huh," she huffed, "jogging at three in the morning."
"A whale?" Blair exclaimed.
"Dead whale," the officer clarified.
"Yeah, dead for a while, Id guess," Jim added. The woman nodded in agreement. "Come on," Jim said to Blair.
"What? Come on where? I am not going any closer to that thing," he said, following Jim toward the beach. The passed several onlookers watching the scene, some with their t-shirts pulled up over their noses, and several with bandanas tied around their faces. Blair emulated them and pulled his t-shirt up, glaring at Jim who strode purposefully ahead. Sometimes he hated Jims ability to dial down his senses.
Topping a dune and staring down at the beach, both men halted in surprise. Ahead of them lay the rotting carcass of a sperm whale. It had to be at least forty feet long, maybe longer, and had obviously been dead for quite some time. Bits and pieces of it floated on the gentle waves lapping the shore.
"Damn!" Blair exclaimed. Jim agreed. "Wonder what that thing weighs?"
A man standing near them turned around. "Oh, probably about eight tons," he said. He was wearing a shirt that showed him to be with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Blair whistled in awe. Jim turned to go. "Hey, where are you going?" Blair hurried to catch up.
Jim turned in surprise. "Home. Theres nothing we can do here."
"But " Blair started. Jim looked at him. Not just looked, but that look. Quietly, Blair followed him back to the truck. Once inside, he turned to Jim.
"What will they do with it?" he asked.
"How should I know?" Jim asked.
"Well, what do they usually do?" Blair asked back.
"Usually big dead whales dont wash up here." That reply seemed to stop the conversation for a moment.
"How do you get rid of eight tons of rotting meat?" Blair wondered aloud.
"Have a really big bar-b-q?" Jim suggested.
"Oh, gross, man. Thats sick."
They finished their trip in silence. Once back at the loft, they headed back to bed for a couple hours more sleep, if possible. For Jim, sleep came easily now that he had solved the mystery of the smell. He kept his senses dialed down as he drifted off.
Blair tossed and turned through the remainder of the night, unable to get the sight of the floodlit carcass out of his mind. His active imagination worked on the problem of dead whale removal until dawn broke and it was time to get up. As Jim scrambled eggs, Blair turned up the television to listen to the newscast.
" a forty-five foot sperm whale, obviously dead for some time. Officials estimate the creature could weigh as much as eight tons. The question now is, how do they get rid of it?"
The blond woman disappeared, and a man took her place onscreen. He was standing as close to the beach as possible, the sea breeze ruffling his hair in the morning sunlight. "Lisa, as you can see behind me, officials from several different federal, state, and local agencies have arrived here on the beach in Cascade to try to determine what to do with this whale. All they have told us so far is that the whale has been dead for quite some time, and the stench is almost unbearable." He held up a popular brand of mentholated gel, and deliberately dipped his finger in and smeared a large glob underneath his nose.
"Out here, this is about the only way you can stand the smell. Now, many solutions have been proposed, including towing the carcass out to sea or burying it here on the beach with bulldozers. But each of those possibilities poses problems of their own. We have been told that there will be a meeting later today in city hall and that there will be a press conference immediately following that meeting. In the meantime," he held up the small jar again, "get some of this or get out of town."
The picture switched back to the newscasters in the station. The two men listened as the local anchor informed them that representatives from the Navy, the Coast Guard, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission and the federal governments department of Health and Human Services were all on site, not to mention local agencies of every kind, all claiming some piece of the deceased cetacean.
Jim groaned, thinking of the jurisdictional squabbling that always attended such events. "Its going to be a madhouse at the station today," he grumped. "Are you coming in?"
Blair shook his head as he swallowed his last bite. "Not until after lunch. Ive got a faculty meeting at nine and a ten-thirty class. But hang in there. Im sure youll be okay. Hows your sense of smell, by the way?"
Jim frowned, walking out to the living room to watch the images on the television. "Fine, turned off, in fact," he answered absently. Blair was about to make a comment when Jim burst out, "Oh, for the love of Where do these people come up with this shit?"
Blair hurried out to join him, staring in disbelief. On the television, there was a close up of two officers dragging a screaming man away from the whale. He could be heard shouting, "Unobu is there! He will rise from the flesh of death and will smite you all! He is calling " The mans voice cut off as Lisa reappeared.
"The unidentified man has been taken to the local hospital for evaluation. In another incident, two students from a local university were arrested earlier as they tried to sneak past the barricades with a box full of plastic sandwich bags. Apparently, they planned to cut off pieces of the whale, freeze dry them, and sell them over the internet."
The scene switched to the young, impossibly good looking male co-anchor, who shuddered. "Oh, yeah. Thats something Id bid on," he commented sarcastically. "But you know, Lisa, there are people out there who " His voice stopped abruptly as Jim switched the television off.
"Thats what I have to look forward to." Jims voice dripped with disgust. He didnt even want to think about the protest groups and rubberneckers that would be sure to arrive en masse. Blair sympathized; secretly glad he had obligations at the university.
However, at Rainier, the whale was also the center of attention. Everyone was talking about the smell, which had permeated the whole city. The entire Department of Marine Sciences had flocked to the beach to take samples and measurements, and to offer their advice on how to get rid of eight tons of dead meat. Classroom attendance was so sparse that the university administration finally conceded defeat and cancelled classes.
Blair locked his office and headed for the station. The national media was on hand, trucks and vans clogging the roadways and blocking access for more official vehicles. It took Blair three times as long as usual to make the short trip.
Once he arrived, he found that virtually everyone had been pressed into service to help keep the beaches and roadways blocked off. Blair found out where Jim was stationed and headed out to meet him. On the way, he stopped by three different stores before he found one that still had a small supply of mentholated petroleum jelly. With the arrival of the sun and the heat of day, the smell had gotten worse and worse.
Approaching the beach, Blair had to show his observer ID five times before he found Jim, stationed near the police command post trailer. Jim was standing with Joel, Simon, and Rafe, talking. The other three man all had gauze masks over their faces, but Jim seemed unaffected. Blair had already smeared some of the gel under his nose, but was wishing fervently that he had picked up a mask as well.
"Hey, guys!" Blair greeted them. "Whats up?"
Joel snorted. "The damn whale, apparently."
"Huh?" Blair asked.
"The state police have come up with a plan," Simon began, his voice muffled behind his mask.
"Theyre going to blow it up," Rafe added, snickering.
"Theyre going to what?" Blair exclaimed.
"Blow it up," Joel repeated. "With a half-ton of dynamite. Stupidest thing I ever heard of."
"What why " Blair floundered to a stop.
"The theory is that if they blow the whale to smithereens, the little bits and pieces will be taken care of by seagulls and other natural means," Simon clarified.
"But " Blair thought for a moment. "Eight tons of whale is a hell of a lot of smithereens."
"Exactly," Joel agreed. "And theyre not planning on directing the charge or trying to control the debris field. I dont know who came up with that idiotic idea, but Im sure as hell glad its not us."
"When?" Blair asked.
"Tomorrow morning, bright and early," Jim answered. "Just after the seagulls wake up for their maximum feeding period." He shook his head. Simon, Joel, and Rafe moved off, leaving Jim and Blair alone.
"So, how are you doing?" Blair watched Jim closely for any sign of distress.
"Fine, really, now that I know what it is," Jim answered. He sniffed. "Cant smell a thing." The both turned as a young patrolman stumbled past them, gagging. Blair held out the container of mentholated gel and the young man scooped up a finger-full gratefully.
With a wave, he headed back for his post and Blair turned back to Jim. "Weve talked about completely turning off your senses before, Jim, and I dont think its a good idea. Id much rather see you try to filter this out and still retain the ability to smell other odors that might be present."
Jim stared at him in disbelief. " Filter this out? Were talking about sixteen thousand pounds of dead, rotting meat. I dont think thats the kind of thing I can filter out, Chief."
Blair nodded, thinking. "Well, how about "
"How about I just leave things the way they are and you get off my back?" The tone of Jims voice told Blair the discussion was over.
The smell had permeated every corner of the city; even working its way inside buildings. At the loft, Blair gave up on eating and just took a shower and went to bed. Jim had a sandwich then followed his roommates example and got some sleep.
The next morning, the two men, as well as most of the city and much of the state, gathered down by the beach for the detonation. The media was calling it the new big bang and was out in force with vans, trucks, and helicopters. Just before zero hour, Simon pulled up, parking several blocks away, in his brown Chrysler. He climbed out, puffing on a cigar, counting on the smell of the smoke to counteract the stench of the whale.
As Simon joined them, Joel reached into a plastic bag from a local sporting goods store. "Here, I bought a bunch of these. Better put them on, just in case." He began handing out cheap plastic rain ponchos, the kind that campers often kept in their backpacks.
Blair watched as the officers slipped the ponchos over their heads, and then groaned as the implications hit him. He quickly put on his own poncho. Turning to Jim, Blair quietly reminded him to turn down his hearing for the explosion.
The dynamite was prepared and set. The onlookers were moved back. Joel shook his head. Brown had brought a video camera, along with about ninety percent of the others gathered. All eyes turned to the beach. There was a muffled whump. The mass shuddered then exploded upwards.
People began screaming and running as bits and pieces of rotting flesh fell from the skies. Some of the more intelligent onlookers had, like Joel, brought some kind of protective clothing or umbrellas, but the majority of the spectators were totally unprepared for the fallout.
Jim stared in fascination as a particularly large piece of the dead whale sailed over their heads. His mind, trained to calculate trajectories and ballistics, leapt to a stunning conclusion. Sight locked in on the loathsome chunk as he tracked its flight. He turned his hearing up again.
"No," he muttered. "No, no no."
Blair turned to Jim in concern. "Jim? You okay? Jim?"
"No, please, no," Jim murmured again. He winced as a sound, similar to the explosion but so much quieter that no one else heard it, reached his sensitive ears. Jim turned stricken eyes to Simon.
"Jim, youre freaking me out, man," Blair said. His words caught the attention of the other officers standing with them. Simon turned to Jim, frowning at the expression on the Sentinels face.
"Ellison? What is it? Whats the matter?" he demanded.
Jim just stared at him. "Your car," he finally said.
"My car? What about my " Simons face paled visibly. He looked around at the stinking mass about him, noting the varying sizes of the remains scattered about the streets. All around them was chaos as the onlookers tried to avoid the larger pieces of the dead whale and the various agencies began denying responsibility and assigning blame for the fiasco. But Simon moved in a bubble of silence as he turned and slowly walked down the street. The others followed him.
They stared, stunned, at the crushed remains of Simons car. A chunk of foul-smelling, rotting whale blubber, about four feet across, had soared the almost quarter mile inland and landed square on the top of the Chrysler. Simon sank slowly to his knees, heedless of the smaller bits littering the streets, the cigar falling forgotten from his mouth.
The other men shuffled nervously as the choked sounds came from the kneeling form, his shoulders shaking, hands covering his face. Finally, Blair stepped forward to comfort the sobbing man. "Hey, Simon, its not so bad "
He jumped back as Simon dropped his hands suddenly and threw his head back. There were tears on the big mans face, but he wasnt crying. He was laughing, almost hysterically. Exchanging worried glances, the officers wondered if their captain had finally lost it.
Finally, Simons laughter died down to exhausted chuckles. Wiping his eyes, he turned to look up at the others. "Damn," he said. "How am I going to explain this to the insurance company?"