His last kill

It’s Friday Fictioneers time again. Thanks once more to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, who provides a weekly photo prompt for our 100 word stories, and gives feedback on all the contributions.

Copyright - C. E. Ayr

Copyright – C. E. Ayr

His Last Kill

Kazuki enters the shrine with a heavy heart, struggling to concentrate on the familiar ritual. He prays for the soul of the creature which has given itself to his harpoon, and begs forgiveness for taking its life, seeing again the red cloud that rippled, silk-like, on the ocean.

He is old, diminished. He will become dependent, now, on eldest son Susumu, who sparkles with new ideas, like sunlight on granite. Susumu speaks of nets, huge whaling fleets, wealth unimagined.

Kazuki smiles as clever Susumu welcomes him home, but Kazuki hears the keening of the distant whales, and senses a crumbling at the edge of things.

*****

Kazuki is retiring on the cusp of a dramatic change in whaling methods. Like generations before him, he used his hand-thrown harpoon to hunt whales from his whaling boat at sea. The targets were most likely spotted from observation posts on shore, chased by the whaling boats and killed with harpoons. This was a dangerous and highly skilled activity, where the whaler might need to climb onto the whale to  cut a hole near its nose to attach a tow-rope, by which means the animal would be brought to shore for processing.

Kazuki and his forebears held deep reverence for the spirit of the whales killed, engaging in rituals to ensure the ghost of the whale did not return to haunt other whalers. Whale stocks were not over-exploited, and virtually every part of the whale was used.A Japanese proverb has it that ‘there’s nothing to throw away from a whale except its voice.’ 

 In 1675, the net method of whaling was invented by Wada Kakuemon, in Taiji.  Using large fleets of whaling boats and enormous nets, groups of whales were driven into controlled areas near on-shore processing facilities, and, thus confined, many more were able to be killed. This new method spread rapidly, as whalers travelled widely to different whaling centres to learn new techniques.

 The new method required substantial capital investment, and wealthy individuals became involved in financing the operations. Whaling quickly developed from a local, village focused operation to a large scale enterprise.

 No need for me to point out how all of this, not to mention the arrival of the technology of our own time, impacted on whale numbers. Kazuki’s fears were justified, I believe.

 **Kazuki means ‘harmony’, and Susumu means ‘advance, proceed’.

 Bill Reiswig 'Whaling' (1967) by Japanese-born, Canadian-based artist printmaker Naoko Matsubara. Woodcut, 53.6 x 99.1 cm. via the artist's site


Bill Reiswig
‘Whaling’ (1967) by Japanese-born, Canadian-based artist printmaker Naoko Matsubara. Woodcut, 53.6 x 99.1 cm. via the artist’s site

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38 thoughts on “His last kill

    • Thank you, Rochelle. I’m wondering if perhaps I shouldn’t have added the last section. I meant it more as additional information than as an explanation of the story. In any case, I’m happy it’s meaningful on its own. Cheers, Margaret

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  1. I loved your opening paragraph, particularly the ‘red silk’. And thank you for the information too. The things we do to our planet and our co-inhabitants never fail to depress me.

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    • I’m so glad you liked it, Sandra. Thank you for the encouraging feedback. We do seem to becoming more destructive – of each other and of the environment, and it can all be a bit overwhelming.

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  2. What a great story, and I appreciated the background info as well. Decades ago, my geology professor warned that we were ravaging the oceans with overfishing and pollution. He said, “When the oceans die, so do we.”

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    • Your professor must have been a very wise man. It’s sad that we can be so short-sighted about preserving the limited resources of earth. I’m glad you liked my story. Thanks for leaving feedback.

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  3. Great story. I can imagine how he is feeling given his reaction to the death of just one whale (killed for survival presumably), knowing that these new methods will prove so much more effective and will be killing for profit.

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    • I’m happy the story was pleasing, Draliman. Kazuki sensed the new methods were wrong, I think. Actually, his rituals and prayers for the the whale were a regular part of every whale hunt, apparently. I’m not sure how long the spiritual dimension to whaling continued, or even if it’s totally disappeared today.

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  4. Great story, Margaret. I loved the characters and appreciate the old man’s honoring the spirit/soul of the animals they killed. It wasn’t all about money then. People in his generation understood they were taking the life of another being. You did a great job telling the tale.

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    • I appreciate your lovely feedback, Russell. Thank you. The old Japanese customs do suggest that they were aware of the oneness of life a bit more than we seem to be today. They were also afraid, I read, that the soul of a slaughtered whale would come back to haunt the whalers if it wasn’t properly laid to rest with these rituals.

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  5. Great flash and background information. Whaling with the huge processing ships and modern methods mean the whale doesn’t have a fighting chance and of course it diminishes the numbers. The whales not only have to contend with this but also climate change. Your flash made the situation come alive and showed past and future, caring and not caring well.

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    • It seems to be a losing battle, at times. I sincerely hope it isn’t. I’m so glad the story spoke to you, and that you found the additional information of interest. Thanks for your lovely comment, Irene.

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