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jer_j
13th October 2009, 08:08 PM
The Hunt for the Black Whale

An American Epic, Condensed for Brevity and Ease of Readability




Call me Ishmael. Nine years ago – whether because of restlessness, curiosity, belligerence, or sheer stupidity – I began an adventure into the world of politics. It was a dangerous and daring one, I knew, one with potential for endless trouble.

I was what I would consider a moderate conservative. I felt too many of my kind were superstitious, closed-minded, or fanatical… Thus I found myself at odds with them on some issues – but not to an extent that (I believed) they would find me offensive, or that conflict would arise between us on our journey. In fact I felt I could have a tempering influence upon them were I to spend time in their company.

But as I boarded the Pequod, I found my stomach tightening, as if to give me some sense that I was a little too different in disposition to those I heard conversing around me – and that that difference would eventually be detected by the others, to my peril.

My nervousness was eased somewhat as we were called together for our first supper. The discussion around the table was pleasant, and I felt I indeed could fit in with at least some of this crew. Starbuck, the first mate, opined eloquently and intelligently on many topics. He was firm but dispassionate in his beliefs – he weighed both sides fairly and gave his opponents credit where due, and after doing so always managed to arrive at reasonably conservative conclusion. It reminded my why I still, to the extent that I did, identified with the right.

I was less sure about Stubb. He made me laugh, and to that extent put me at ease. And his humor added an edge to Starbuck’s insights, often summing up with pith and ridicule what Starbuck less vividly conveyed through formal argument. Yet I had an uneasy sense that he enjoyed irony just a bit too much, that he was there only for the joy of poking fun and getting a laugh – and that he could become untrustworthy or turn sour with a change in the winds.

My major misgivings were embodied in the person of Flask, who was an altogether disagreeable fellow. I could tell he found us all too moderate for his tastes, for he often grunted as Starbuck spoke and glared at Stubbs’ jokes. I somehow knew that he would quickly come to blows when faced with a liberal, and that he was almost itching to fight Starbuck on several points. I resolved to be cautious before speaking in front of him.

Captain Ahab, for reasons I had yet to understand, did not join us that night for supper.


**********************

“Thar she blows!”

The call rang out, and the crew sprang into action.

“Ah-ha,” called out Stubb. He had climbed half way up the mast and was looking out to starboard with a wicked grin spread across his face. “’Tis a lost cause – the whale’s life, I mean. ‘Twas a fool to cross paths with the Pequod!”

“He will pay and that dear,” Flask shot back. “But that you quit your climbing about and…”

“Boats in the water quickly, and silence from the both of you!” shouted Starbuck. “Precision is the order of the day! Crews a’ready, harpooners at the bow! Ready with your lances mates… Strike only when the time is right – but then stab them to the quick!”

“Full speed ahead toward the enemy,” Flask muttered to himself. “Enough of your prancing about the edges of the issue, Starbuck. Let the enemy feel our steel and spout blood.”

Captain Ahab, meanwhile, merely paced and scowled. I had seen him on deck only a few times and had yet to hear his voice.

This was the third whale we had encountered, and by now the routine was becoming familiar – familiar but still terrifying. As always, Starbuck took command. And as always, Flask chaffed at Starbuck’s calculated tactics while Stubb laughed and hollered at the thrill of the chase.

Our first encounter had been with flag burning. I had felt the best course would be to express indignation at the gesture, but legally to let it go on grounds of First Amendment rights. But I wisely kept my mouth shut. Starbuck also recognized the logical difficulty in attacking a form of free expression and tried organizing the boat crews into a series of careful flank attacks. Everything happens so quickly when a whale approaches, though, (you never understand until you’ve been there) and in the heat of the moment his delicate maneuvers fell apart. More specifically, Flask charged head-on toward the whale, foaming at the mouth and yelling something about the sacrifice of our forefathers and loving our country or leaving it, until, as he was about to close in, the whale made a hasty dive. His boat was caught in the surge and swamped instantly, so that Starbuck and Stubb had to devote their crews to his rescue as the whale swam away.

Our second was with abortion. Whether I was growing bolder or simply suffered a moment of stupidity, I managed to suggest something about how, even granting our premise that an unborn child deserves human rights, we had ought to be careful in how we approached this beast – simply on the grounds that there was no way we were realistically going to end abortion through legal means. After a few dirty looks from the crew (and a lingering suspicion of me, I feared) the Pequod was sailing full speed toward the beast. But before we could get our boats into the water, it had rammed us head-on. The week after it swam away was spend in repairs to the hull.

My misgivings in these hunts were only based partly on the actual danger in the attack; a deeper reservation lay in the attitudes of the hunters. I had joined the crew partly due to my conviction that, to a point, issues I held as a conservative had to be addressed and defended. But I found that this crew, for the most part, was looking to hunt down and destroy any whale it found – with little introspection about why they were hunting and to what extent the hunt should be conducted. They only knew that the world was full of whales, and they had grown to identify whales as “the problem,” so that they had a fervent desire to hunt them, to the detriment of any intellectually honest approach to a subject. I had trouble introducing them to any middle ground on the issue of whether or not to hunt any particular whale – and truth be told, I was not sure what their objective was, when they would believe they had hunted enough whales, or what they wanted the world to look like when the hunt was over. It was as if they had begun to exist for the hunt alone, and this to me – even as their fellow conservative – was deeply troubling. I had already seen this mentality in the more extreme liberals at university. Now, to see it so firmly rooted in my own kind, growing until it became part of the mainstream…

As we closed in on this our third whale, Starbuck stood shouting, “Bend those oars, men, close the distance. Row! Row!” And yes, we rowed – rowed until our backs nearly broke, sea foam spraying all about us until we were soaked to the skin. We were drawing nearer, nearer…

Then the whale dove beneath the surface, and water closed in around it. “Flask got ‘im!” grunted Starbuck.

I turned and looked to see a rope racing down into the water from Flask’s boat. They let it loose, pulled it in, and let it loose until the whale, exhausted, finally came to the surface – and Flask began lancing it, laughing a cruel, grotesque laugh until he was drenched in blood and the whale floated lifelessly on the surface. It was the only time I had heard Flask laugh.

We dragged our treasure back to the ship where it was hauled half out of the water and we began processing. Honestly, even now I do not remember which whale we had caught that day, so hollow became the victory.

All I remember was being midway through the butchering and rendering of our cargo when a call rang out and another ship was pulled up beside us. By the time the crew took notice, the ships had hailed each other, and Ahab called out, “Hast thou seen the Black Whale?”

I was puzzled by the question. But I gathered that the other captain had answered some kind of affirmative, and after frenzied discussion, Ahab began shouting a series of orders: “Unhook the tackle! Release the cargo! Unfurl the masts and set a course thirty degrees to port – steady as she goes!”

Flask was at Ahab’s side in an instant. “Drop the whale?” he demanded.

Ahab turned an evil eye to Flask, and the crew fell dead silent. “Aye, drop the whale,” he answered.

“After a hunt of five weeks, with naught but three whales found and two of those escaped, you would release the third?”

Over their shoulders, even the face of the level-headed Starbuck – while he would never so brashly question Ahab – demanded an explanation.

“Aye, we will release the third. For our quarry is not such whales as he – but the fierce Black Whale, he who took my country from me. Hunt ye other such whales as ye wish – as long as it interferes naught with our true hunt.”

The men broke into a rumble, and now even Starbuck spoke out, “But captain, we’ve come all this way to – ”

“This reward to the man who first spots the Black Whale!” Ahab ignored his first mate, stepping up and nailing a large gold coin to the mast of the ship. “Eternal renown – and the endless gratitude of all real Americans – to the man who leads us to our one true enemy!”


**********************

“’Unbelievable,” Flask nearly spat into his food. “At last, a whale in our grasp, and Ahab drops it into the sea – and declares our hunt to be but for this one ‘Black Whale.’”

Starbuck sat red-faced and quiet, while Stubb chanted, “Here we go ‘round, here we go ‘round, ‘round and ‘round the drain. Whales to be found, whales to be found, while we circle toward darkness and pain. Ahab obsessed, us never to rest, ‘till we’re sunk and not found again.” He chuckled to himself, and his eyes darted around the room.

Flask, knife in his hand, nearly shot up out of his chair…

Until I interrupted: “What is the Black Whale?”

The characteristic thumping of a peg-leg echoed through the dining chamber, and Ahab stepped out of the shadow. All at the table were quiet.

“Ye have heard naught of the Black Whale?” Ahab asked.

I shook my head. Now my face was red.

“The Black Whale – or Muslim Whale if it please thee better, for I, ahem, care naught that it be black – is the scourge of our nation. ‘Tis an evil creature, born not in our United States. Would take away our guns and our money, and would kill our grandparents and cancel our health care. Hast lit our Constitution a’fire, and would do the same to our precious country. This foul creature of darkness is a radical Muslim, a liberal extremist, and a communist. And his middle name be Hussein. Need more be said about this devil?”

“Hmm,” I answered. I had no concept of how a radical Muslim could possibly live next door to a liberal extremist without blowing him up – much less be a liberal extremist. But I wisely chose not to express my curiosity in this regard.

Strangely, Flask was now nodding in vigorous agreement with Ahab. It seemed that, distracted long enough from the loss of one whale, he could easily be whipped into a frenzy at the prospect of the next.

Starbuck looked straight down at his plate and chewed quietly, while Stubb kept giggling – I’m not sure at what.


**********************

Weeks passed, then months.

But a miserable three whales were harvested during that time, and Ahab took no joy in them. I’m sure that, earlier in his life, he would have been overjoyed in his conquest, in the progress it represented for conservatism – and would have hungered for more. He just sat and stared, however, even as a whale was hauled aboard, with a look almost of contempt at the catch.

Over those months a total of seven hunts were either abandoned or cut short whenever Ahab received news – or even felt a hunch – regarding his hated nemesis.

“Hast thou seen the Black Whale?” he would ask a passing ship.

“Nay, but I have news for ye – the birth certificate be but a forgery, and the Whale ignores all requests to release –”

“Aye, and such have I already heard – yet still the Black Whale eludes me. He conspires to hide the truth, but would someone bring me news I haven’t already heard a hundred times before, I could find him and I would…” Such was Ahab’s usual reply to the usual worthless news – some of his ranting directed to the neighboring captain, most of it (we were never sure where the line was drawn) muttered to himself until he eventually trailed off and retired to his cabin.

On those rare times where Ahab joined us on deck, he would read a book, or – even more rarely – discuss some work of literature or bit of philosophy with one of the mates. And it always seemed to end the same, with Ahab, out of the blue, going off on a tangent about the Black Whale.

“Aye, Oedipus married his mother – but were he half as depraved as the Black Whale…”

“But would Hamlet have ended the life of the treacherous Claudius – just as I would end the reign of that usurping Black Whale.”

“Aye, ‘twer a great many years that Rip Van Winkle slept – much as our country were asleep when they allowed that the reign of the Black Whale be forced upon them.”

And on and on it went. From dawn to dusk Ahab lived and breathed nothing but his hatred of the Black Whale. And at night he tossed and turned as it haunted him in his dreams – for we heard him mumbling, tossing about, and pacing in his cabin at the most unholy hours.

I, of course, regarded his monomaniacal obsession as a sickness, and a dangerous one. But the rest of the crew – whether or not they, somewhere in the recesses of their mind, observed the same in Ahab that I did – spoke nothing of it. Most nodded along with him and, I am convinced, allowed themselves to feel the same as he did.

Even Flask gave up the last shred of anger at Ahab’s singular pursuit, and allowed himself to become convinced that his rabid hatred of all whales was best focused upon the Black Whale – and that, somehow, all problems could be solved through the capture of that Whale. Would he really, if you asked him, believe the Black Whale’s destruction would be total victory for conservatism? No. But he allowed himself to feel that it were true, and so became almost as fervent as Ahab in the chase – and the disappointment at losing other whales was all but gone. He only insisted that health care be pursued insofar as its capture would assist in bringing down the ultimate prize.

Stubb no longer mocked Ahab’s chase, instead inventing new ways to ridicule the Black Whale. He livened the crew’s spirits with references to “The Black House,” drew caricatures of the Black Whale, and took all manner of humorous jabs at the Whale’s polices, personality, and background.

Starbuck remained totally silent on the issue, but I knew where he stood. He felt the Black Whale itself should not be hunted entirely, that only its policies should be combated to the extent that we had meaningful disagreement with them – but he knew as well as I that this was an opinion best not voiced aboard the Pequod. I could tell because of the way his neck or face turned red when Ahab brought up the Black Whale. And whenever Ahab conferred with him on the capture of the whale, Starbuck always tried to push for a cautious approach. Ahab would have manner of charts, graphs and pictures spread across the table; yet Starbuck disregarded them, always insisting that any of what he called “conspiracy theories,” often based on the place of the Black Whale’s birth, were a shaky method of approach.

This irritated Ahab to no end. “Perhaps Flask be better suited to help with the chase,” he would mutter after a fruitless conference. But for the value of Starbuck’s strategic mind (and the utter lack thereof on the part of Flask), I’m convinced Starbuck would have been relieved of his commission, even been thrown overboard, and replaced.

For my part, I found the hunt for the Black Whale utterly disturbing. Despite any impressions I may have given to the contrary, I did believe strongly in hunting whales – as long as it was done judiciously and cautiously, based on intellectually honest conviction and respect. And Ahab’s obsession with the Black Whale was starting to make that hunt more and more difficult: Not only did the chase distract from fruitful hunting, but his methods destroyed our credibility – and ratcheted up the rhetoric of politics until I feared any useful shaping of ideas would give way to poorly-planned, emotionally-charged mass hunts by liberals and conservatives both, the end result being intellectual logjam and eventual bloodbath. Ahab was helping set a tone for all future hunts, and I feared it would be ugly. Yet the worse things got, the clearer it became that I should keep my reservations to myself.

But I secretly resolved to do was this: discover what exactly was on the maps and charts Ahab so carefully studied in his planning of the hunt.


**********************

I had never felt such acute fear for my well-being. I had stolen away in the chaos of processing a whale (only our fourth successful catch of the voyage) and slipped into Ahab’s cabin. The captain himself – by sheer necessity, as he would rather have kept an eye upon the waters or spent time poring over his documents – was down in the holds overlooking some part of the storage process that one of the mates had a question on.

My heart thudded in my chest as I closed the door of his cabin behind me, half expecting to hear it open again at any moment. What drove me to such an insane venture? Perhaps it was a silent rebellion against Ahab’s chase. Listening to the sheer intellectual poverty, even self-contradiction, pouring out of his mouth, while being able to say nothing in return, drove me nearly to the point of insanity; and I developed an irritation with Ahab’s philosophy that almost made me start to sympathize with the Black Whale. Note, I did not agree with the Black Whale, and I would feel largely opposed to him in most any situation, but hearing the sheer volume of nonsense spewed against him made it hard not to, in some way, come to see him in a more favorable light. It was a most bizarre phenomenon, and I must confess that I developed a bit of an unhealthy fascination with opposing Ahab’s opposition to the Black Whale. Thus, while personal safety dictated that I not speak out against Ahab, I could at least sneak in and view his materials, and in doing so defy him – and glory in confirming to myself how ridiculous his information was. Yes, the more conscious part of me wanted only to inform myself and be sure conservatives themselves operated on an intellectually honest basis, but buried deep down was a feeling I could only compare to a form of teenage rebellion.

So there I found myself sorting through Ahab’s collection of papers.

There was, of course, the printout of the birth certificate, with annotations indicating outlandish reasons it was a forgery. Directly beneath that was a faked certificate of birth from Kenya, along with calculations constructed around the date of his mother’s entry into the United States.

Stacked neatly beside it was a list of “facts” from the Black Whale’s life: He had been quoted saying he hated the national anthem. He refused to shake a soldier’s hand when visiting a hospital. He used government funds to take his wife on a date. His college records had been sealed under suspicious circumstances. He was receiving money from enemies of the United States. He had spent ten years of his life in Pakistan… It went on and on, but I had gotten the general flavor of the list by then.

There I found references to the Constitution, with implications that the Black Whale was breaking the highest law of the land – taking away our gun rights, taking away state’s rights, and so on.

There were photographs of the Black Whale: as a Black Panther (obviously doctored), dressed as Hitler, flipping off a soldier, standing without his hand over his heart during the pledge of allegiance – then a series of caricatures so racist I decline to list them.

The search confirmed what I had expected: I was more convinced than ever that Ahab’s quest was utterly absurd and ill-informed.

Then, outside the door, I heard a familiar tick-thump, tick-thump, tick-thump.

It was Ahab! He stepped right next to the door, put his hand on the latch…

Then a distant voice called out with a question, and I heard Ahab mutter, “Worthless mates! Need Ahab attend every detail on his own…” and his voice faded as he walked away. Tick-thump, tick-thump, tick-thump.

He walked away – yet in the rapture of relief as his steps grew quiet, I had failed to notice the moment they had started again getting louder! He had turned and come back, and now the door was whipped open.

“What be the meaning of this devilment?” Ahab asked. His eyes were fixed upon me.


**********************

Within minutes I was standing on the deck of the ship, hands tied behind my back and the crew crowded in a circle around me.

“Tell me, boy!” Ahab demanded, pacing back and forth. “What business had ye in my cabin?”

“None,” I answered.

“Then what were the meanin’ of yer searchin’ through my papers? Thought ye, that thou couldst assist in the chase of the Black Whale?” he laughed angrily at the suggestion, then glared at me with expectation. “Or what was thy purpose?”

That’s when it happened: Somehow, standing there, I lost my inhibition. I was angry at my rough treatment by these ignorant radicals. And even more I felt that, doomed as I now was, I had nothing to lose by finally letting loose and spouting my long-held opinion before the crew.

“I was curious,” I said. I managed to hold my head up and speak proudly. “I broke in because I was curious what kind of idiotic rumor and misinformation could lead to your fixation upon the Black Whale, and to the ignorant way in which you chase him.”

Ahab limped forward and leaned within an inch of my face. “Ye love the Black Whale?”

“No, I love not the Black Whale… But I believe he should be given basic respect. I disagree with him on many points, but he is a human being, and in many ways he means well. And our opposition to him does not excuse using crackpot conspiracy theories to…”

My voice was quickly drowned out with shouts, implications that I was a traitor, a liberal, brainwashed…

“What shall we do with this treacherous scum?” Ahab yelled to the crew.

“Let us flay him alive!” Flask shouted. He was striding toward me with a knife.

I looked around at the crew. They were all watching with what appeared range from bloodthirsty pleasure to complacency in regard to my demise. Stubb watched with a glint of humor in his eye. Starbuck stood staring at his feet. And Flask continued to draw closer.

Ahab reached out and stopped him.

“We will not be killin’ anybody today, lest it be the Black Whale. If this be the road Ishmael wishes to take, he may take it – but we will countenance not his poisonous tongue in our ranks. He belongs not aboard the Pequod. Young man,” he turned a wicked eye toward me. “Thou art banished from my ship. Ye will learn how it pleases thee to drift in the waters of ignorant liberalism. Float adrift in the open waters while thy own kind circles thee, hungry for thy blood. That is the best pay for thy – ”

“Thar she blows, ahead and to starboard!” a cry rang out from the top of the mast. “It… It be the Black Whale!!!”

“All hands to their boats!” Ahab cried out. Such a mixture of urgency and sheer, enraptured joy I had never before heard in my life.

The crew scurried about, boats were lowered into the water.

“Mates, prepare thyselves! Harpooners, remember thy balance and thy throwing skill. All hands do thy work quickly, and eternal victory be ours!!!” In the midst of the rush Ahab, as an afterthought, turned to a nearby crew member and ordered, “Get him to a lifeboat and off my ship – straightaway, before the hunt begin!”

The crewman grabbed me roughly and led me away.


**********************

Nothing about shipboard life, including expeditions in the whaling boats, had prepared me for the feeling of being stranded in open water aboard that tiny lifeboat. It rocked, tilted, and swayed violently in the waves. It slid down to the bottom of cavernous gullies of water until I felt it would be swallowed before being lifted to the crest of a wave, where it nearly toppled. And stretching out to the horizon in all directions was an open expanse of water, and nothing else.

Except, of course, for the Pequod, which was sailing full speed away from me in pursuit of its quarry. Full throated shouts of celebration, interrupted only by sharp orders, rang out as the men prepared to drop the boats and the ship cruised out toward the horizon.

Then, at once, the crew cried out in unison. From my vantage point I was unable to gather all the particulars of the encounter, but I heard a crash, shouts of panic… Then the Pequod listing, then dropping slowly into the water. Finally the deck was gone, and the masts grew shorter and shorter. And the last thing I saw was Ahab at the tip of the main mast, having somehow climbed his way up to the ship’s uppermost point and now standing, waste deep in water, shaking his fist and screaming curses at the Black Whale as it swam off safely into the distance. Finally, Ahab and the mast were gone, leaving no sign of the Pequod, save me and my little raft.

The mission was finished. A sizeable part of conservatism had fractured off and sunk to the bottomless oblivion of irrelevance – the rest of the movement inheriting a damaged reputation that would leave even its brightest and most reasonable voices struggling to find credibility.

And me, Ishmael – drifting on an endless sea, wondering where I would end up next.

The Fool
13th October 2009, 09:10 PM
No car chase? No sex scenes? Think you may have trouble getting it published.

quixotecoyote
13th October 2009, 09:17 PM
This gives me hope that Moby Dick could actually have been a decent short story rather than the slog of a novel it was.

Darth Rotor
14th October 2009, 12:04 PM
No car chase? No sex scenes? Think you may have trouble getting it published.

Take ye a Nantucket Sleigh Ride, and ye'll be singin' a different tune, mate. :cool:

Madalch
14th October 2009, 05:33 PM
This gives me hope that Moby Dick could actually have been a decent short story rather than the slog of a novel it was.
I loved Moby Dick the first time I read it.

Mind you, I was eight, and this was a forty-page illustrated and abridged version.....

Tricky
15th October 2009, 09:59 AM
I loved Moby Dick the first time I read it.

Mind you, I was eight, and this was a forty-page illustrated and abridged version.....
"Classics" comic books? That's where I learned all I know about a number of famous books.

Madalch
15th October 2009, 11:47 AM
"Classics" comic books? That's where I learned all I know about a number of famous books.
No, this was at least one step above comics. Hardcover, no speech balloons.

jer_j
15th October 2009, 02:41 PM
I read a condensed version too when I was young - great story. I didn't read the full novel until a couple years ago. It was quite long, yes. A whole chapter on anatomy/history of whales (or why the color white is frightening) is not super enjoyable reading. Yet somehow, when it was all said and done, I felt more informed for having read it.

I'm positive "Black Whale" would never get published, and truth be told I never expected it to be a huge hit on the forums. It doesn't reach out and grab your attention or get you to laugh out loud, and the market for ponderous works based on Moby Dick is limited at best. But once in a while I just like to let loose and write something I enjoy - and I enjoyed this one.

Thanks to those who put the time into reading it! :)

Tricky
15th October 2009, 04:42 PM
I read a condensed version too when I was young - great story. I didn't read the full novel until a couple years ago. It was quite long, yes. A whole chapter on anatomy/history of whales (or why the color white is frightening) is not super enjoyable reading. Yet somehow, when it was all said and done, I felt more informed for having read it.

I'm positive "Black Whale" would never get published, and truth be told I never expected it to be a huge hit on the forums. It doesn't reach out and grab your attention or get you to laugh out loud, and the market for ponderous works based on Moby Dick is limited at best. But once in a while I just like to let loose and write something I enjoy - and I enjoyed this one.

Thanks to those who put the time into reading it! :)
It was well written. Perhaps the humor was a bit deep at times, but worth a second look.

Thank you for taking the time to create something like this and making the JREF the beneficiary of your creativity.