| The Leviathan
By Zack Martin
fucking Christ, what's that smell?"
Fred Sweeney was almost overcome by the smell of death as he opened
the screen door of his house on the beach in Florence, Oregon.
"I haven't smelled anything like that since Iwo Jima," he said to
Fred started walking up the beach to Joe Kildare's house. Joe was
Fred's old Marine buddy and the two usually took walks on the beach
every morning to get some exercise.
"Holy shit, what the fuck stinks?" Joe asked.
"I dunno. Let's find out."
The two men started walking up the beach and knew they were getting
closer as the smell got worse. They could also see seagulls circling
something in the distance.
"That thing is fucking huge," Fred said as they approached a large
gray mass on the beach.
And it was. The cause of the smell was a departed gray whale.
"What do you think it weighs?" Joe asked Fred.
"A few tons at least. Let's head back. We should probably call the
Fred and Joe met Lane Country Sheriff Earnest Oakley on the beach
near the dead beast about 20 minutes later.
"Humph," said the sheriff, walking around the whale. Sheriff Oakley
was a tall, slender man. He was wearing aviator sunglasses, smoking
a cigar, and shaking his head. "Well, I'll be damned."
"Whatcha gonna do about it?" asked Joe.
The sheriff said nothing. He continued walking around the huge sea
mammal shaking his head.
Joe and Fred continued standing there for another five minutes waiting
for the sheriff to say something.
"I've never seen anything like this before," he finally said. "I better
get back to the office and make some calls to find out what I should
"You going to do something soon?" Fred asked. "I'm supposed to have
family over for a barbecue in a couple of days and this stink is revolting."
"I don't know," the sheriff replied, still dumbstruck. "This is the
damndest thing I have ever seen."
The sheriff got into his car and started heading back to town. He
was still shaking his head. "What the hell am I going to do about
this?" he said to himself.
During the entire drive back into town, the sheriff mulled over different
options. "Could we drag it back out to sea?" he thought. "I wonder
what it would take to bury it."
Sheriff Oakley climbed the stairs to his office in the county building,
still oblivious to everything going on around him. His only thought
was what he was going to do.
"Damn, sheriff, you don't smell too good," said the deputy as he passed
the sheriff on the steps. "What happened?"
The sheriff was oblivious that the smell of the beast had clung to
"We got a dead gray whale out on the beach," the sheriff said. "Damn
thing stinks like nothing you ever smelled before."
"Anything like this ever happen before?"
"Not that I know of. I need to figure out what to do."
Oakley walked into his office, poured himself a cup of coffee, and
formulated a plan. "First, I'll call the state, they'll know what
to do," he said to himself.
He called Commander Jim Lake, the commander in charge of the closest
Oregon State Police unit. "Morning, Jim, it's Oakley over in Florence,"
the sheriff said. "We have a bit of a situation over here and I need
The sheriff went into the details about the whale on the beach. Commander
Lake started to laugh. "Sounds like you guys have a whale of a problem,"
the commander punned.
"It's not funny," said the sheriff. "You should smell this thing.
Its stink just clings to you. I'm probably going to have to burn this
"Let me make some calls and I'll get back to you."
The sheriff leaned back in his chair, put his feet on his desk, and
lit another cigar. Florence was a small county, about 15,000 people.
Nothing much ever happened. The occasional drunk driver, teenagers
vandalizing some property, and maybe the occasional bar brawl but
that was about it. "Whale of a problem," the sheriff thought back
to the commander's comment. "What an asshole."
About three hours and 10 complaints later, Commander Lake got back
to the sheriff.
"The highway department is sending some people out there to take a
look and figure out what to do," the commander said. "They want you
to meet them out there at 2 p.m."
"The highway department?"
"That's what the guys from the state said. I don't think they've ever
seen anything like this before either."
The two highway workers were already on the beach when the sheriff
arrived. He thought it was strange that they were wearing yellow hard
hats and bright orange safety vests on the beach in the middle of
"So, you guys take a look at it?" the sheriff asked.
"Yup," said the older of the two men, who then proceeded to spit some
chewing tobacco. Dwayne Walton was a guy in his mid-30s who had worked
for the highway department for more than 10 years.
The sheriff was expecting more but nothing was forthcoming. "And?"
"Well, we have a couple of options," said Dwayne. "We could bury it.
But I don't think we could dig a hole deep enough to keep it covered,
and the stink would still be pretty bad. We could also chop it up
and then bury it, but I don't think anyone would want to do that and
the Teamsters would probably get all up in my ass if I asked my men
to do that."
Dwayne paused a moment to reflect.
"Which leaves an option that me and Mike were just talking about."
Mike was Dwayne's younger and less experienced coworker.
"And what would that be?" the sheriff asked.
"We could blow it up."
The sheriff was dumbstruck at this idea.
"You want to blow it up? Are you nuts?"
The sheriff wasn't too far off the mark with his assessment. The only
reason Dwayne Walton worked for the Oregon Department of Highways
was because his father had been a heavy political contributor. Dwayne,
more or less, was an idiot who couldn't hold down any other job. But
he managed to slip by all these years working for the highway department
and getting lost in the bureaucracy.
And the idea of blowing up this whale was a dream of Dwayne's. His
fascination with explosives started out with inanimate objects but
quickly moved on to small animals. And if the sheriff would have checked
his files he would have found out about a time when Dwayne tried to
blow up the neighbors' cat with an M-100. The only disappointment
for Dwayne was that the whale was already dead.
"You see, what we would do here is plant the explosives so that the
remains of the whale would be blown out to sea," Dwayne explained.
"The seagulls and what not would take care of the rest."
"You sure you're authorized to do something like this?" the sheriff
"Sure," said Dwayne, but in reality he wasn't sure. But if nobody
tried to stop him, he could do it. "We're going to move in some equipment
in the morning and start planting the dynamite. We'll be good to go
"Well, if you think this is a good idea I guess I'm not going to stop
you," said the sheriff.
* * *
That night the phone rang 175 miles away from Florence, Oregon.
"News desk," said Stan Ashland.
"I have a story you guys might be interested in," said the voice on
the other end of the phone.
"What is it?" Stan was annoyed. He hated working the phones, especially
when crackpots were calling. Everybody thought they had a story but
nobody ever did. He hadn't been on the street in weeks. Ever since
he tried to get the story about the city councilman having an affair
he had been banished to the desk answering phones.
"The highway department is going to blow up a dead whale in Florence
tomorrow afternoon," said the voice.
"What? You're kidding right?"
"Nope. This beast washed up on the beach a couple of days ago. It's
gotta be eight tons, and the highway department is going to blow it
up with dynamite. Damn thing stinks like nothing you've ever smelled
Stan's head was spinning. If this was true, it was a compelling story.
"Can you tell me exactly where it is?"
The caller did just that and now Stan had to figure out how to talk
Jenni Mulligan, the station's news director, into letting him take
a crew up there. He took a deep breath and walked into her office.
"Jenni, I just got a call about the highway department blowing up
a dead whale on a beach in Florence. It might make an interesting
story and I think we should take a trip out there."
"How'd you find out about this?" she asked.
"One of the residents who lives on the beach called in."
"Did you confirm it with anyone else?"
"Of course," he lied. This was the sort of thing that got him into
trouble in the first place. "I talked with the highway department
and they confirmed a large amount of dynamite was being used in a
project in Florence. Considering that no highway runs directly through
Florence this is interesting. They wouldn't give me anything else."
"Did you call the sheriff? How about other neighbors to see if they
heard the same thing?"
"Nobody is in at the sheriff's office and I haven't done a reverse
directory search of the beach yet."
"How far is Florence anyway?" she asked.
"About 170 to 180 miles. It should take about three hours or so to
get out there."
"When are they supposedly detonating the thing?"
"Some time tomorrow afternoon."
"Talk to some more neighbors and get back to me."
"That didn't go as bad as I thought it would have," Stan thought to
For the past month Stan had been the red-headed stepchild of the newsroom.
It began when he asked a Portland city councilman about an affair
he was supposedly having.
The problem was that he asked the question during the dedication of
a community center with hundreds of people looking on. If the councilman
hadn't been ducking him for weeks before the dedication he wouldn't
have done it, but he had been frustrated and he finally blurted out
the question. The crowd looked on in horror. This guy was a hero in
his district and nobody would dare accuse him of such things. "I was
lucky to get out of there without getting killed," Stan still thought
But the whale could be his chance to redeem himself. "Why would anyone
blow up a dead whale?" he wondered. "Who would do such a thing?" First
he had to try to confirm the story with the neighbors.
After three calls he had enough. All had confirmed the first guy's
story. He went back to Jenni and she gave him the okay.
"Go talk to Gus. He'll be your cameraman on the shoot," Jenni said.
Stan was getting ready to protest but then he realized he shouldn't
push his luck. Gus was difficult, he smelled funny, he wore those
yellow tinted glasses people wear on a shooting range, and he constantly
sharpened knives in the newsroom. He was pretty much a creepy bastard.
Stan tracked down the psychotic Gus in the motor pool. "Hey Gus! Looks
like you and I are going to be working together again." Stan tried
to sound excited.
"Lucky me," Gus said, as he whittled a small tree branch while sitting
on the bumper of one of the news vans, smoking a cigarette.
"The highway department is going to be blowing up this dead whale
on a beach in Florence. We'll probably need to get an early start.
We should probably be here around 5 a.m. so we can get out there early
"Fine. I'll be here at 5," Gus said.
"Great, I'll see you then."
* * *
As dawn broke the following morning Dwayne Walton was standing on
the beach, drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette. Dwayne
was waiting for the heavy equipment and dynamite to arrive.
"This will be a truly glorious day," Dwayne said aloud to no one in
Dwayne turned around when he heard the bulldozer arriving with the
dynamite. Besides Mike, Dwayne was going to have two other men at
his disposal for this operation.
As soon as the men exited the truck Dwayne gave the men their orders.
"Alright, guys, here's the plan. I need the two of you to get the
bulldozer going and start digging a trench around the leeward side
of the whale. I would say six to eight feet should be deep enough.
Then we'll fill the hole with dynamite, set the charges, bury the
dynamite, and get ready for the explosion. I would like to get this
done around noon so let's get to it."
The men had been working for about an hour when Fred and Joe made
their way up the beach.
"So, when's this thing going to happen?" Joe asked Dwayne.
"Should be around noon."
"If we wanted to watch, how far away do you think we'd have to be?"
"A few hundred yards. I'll have it figured out later."
The two old men nodded their heads and walked away.
* * *
Meanwhile, word stated buzzing around Florence High School about the
whale detonation. It was of particular interest to 16-year-old April
Oakley, the sheriff's daughter.
"I can't believe they're going to blow up that poor animal," April
told her boyfriend Paul.
"Well, it is already dead, right?" Paul said. "So it doesn't matter."
"It doesn't matter? How can you say it doesn't matter? This is one
of God's creatures and they're just going to blow it up. We have to
Paul had been starting to question his relationship with April for
some time. The two of them had fun together but April was too much
into the save-the-world crap. Paul's friends had started saying that
April was so granola she crunched when she walked. All Paul wanted
to do was have fun. Was that so wrong?
"I'm going to start a protest," April said. "I could probably have
a dozen people on the beach in an hour."
"Have fun. I have an English quiz fifth period and I can't ditch,"
April looked at him skeptically and then went on her way.
* * *
About an hour outside of Florence, Stan Ashland was wishing he could
get rid of his traveling companion. Stan was allergic to cigarette
smoke so Gus couldn't smoke in the van. Instead he was chewing tobacco
and spitting into a plastic 16-ounce Coke bottle, the sight of which
was making Stan ill.
"You know that could give you gum cancer, right?" Stan asked.
Gus just looked over at the squeamish reporter and spit another long
strand of brown liquid into the bottle.
"Just my fucking luck," Gus thought to himself. "I have to make this
three-hour trip and I get stuck with this pansy."
Stan just sighed.
* * *
Back at the blast site, things were progressing nicely by Dwayne's
estimation. The trench was most of the way dug and they were starting
to prepare the dynamite for the blast.
"That's half a ton of dynamite," Mike said. "Don't you think that
might be a bit overkill?"
Dwayne shot his underling a dirty look. " I know what I'm doing."
Mike wasn't as sure. Having been teamed with Dwayne for the last five
years Mike knew his penchant for explosives and wasn't sure if he
was going a bit too far this time.
"Do you hear that?" Dwayne asked Mike.
All of a sudden over a sand dune came about a dozen people carrying
signs and chanting over and over again, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, these damn
explosives have to go."
"Shit. Protestors," Dwayne said.
He pulled the cell phone off his belt and called the sheriff's office
to tell him the situation.
The leader appeared to be nothing more than a 16-year-old girl. People
in the crowd had a variety of placards, such as, "Save the Whale,"
"Make a Grave, Not an Explosion," and "Don't Detonate Mammals."
The leader started a different chant. "What do we want?" she asked
through her bullhorn. "A grave," the crowd replied. "When do we want
"This is going to get old real fucking fast," Dwayne said to Mike
and walked up to the leader.
"What seems to be the problem here, miss?" Dwayne asked.
"My name is April Oakley and we are here to demand that you not blow
up this whale. It's inhumane. It should be buried."
"You do realize that it's already dead, don't you?"
"It doesn't matter. It's still one of God's creatures."
"Well, it's a dead God's creature and it washed up on a beach in the
State of Oregon and that makes it my business to dispose of and I've
decided this is the best way."
Dwayne was getting ready to go on until he noticed a guy in a suit
followed by someone carrying a camera walking up the beach. "Oh shit,
it's the media."
Stan had thought he had heard some sort of chanting on his way from
the van, and when he saw the protestors his heart leapt for joy. "Nothing
like some protestors to make a story more interesting," he said to
Gus. "Get ready to shoot."
At the moment Gus was raising the camera, the sheriff walked over
the sand dune to see the commotion. "I don't need this shit," he said
to himself. "Protestors, the media, and some idiot from the highway
department who's going to blow up a dead whale." Then the sheriff
saw who was leading the protest. "Goddamnit."
The sheriff entered the crowd. "OK, alright, what seems to be the
Dwayne and one of the protestors started speaking at the same time.
The cameraman kept shooting.
"Alright, here's what we're going to do. First, you," the sheriff
said pointing at the cameraman and reporter, "If you could wait over
there I'll talk to you in a minute. Second, Dwayne, why don't you
keep doing what you were doing and I'll talk to you in a minute too.
And finally, April, shouldn't you be in class, dear?"
"But Dad, once I heard what was going on I felt it was my duty to
come down here and make sure things were taken care of," she said.
The sheriff was proud of his daughter. She was a good student and
didn't get into much trouble. The only time she did get into trouble
was when the environment was involved. First it was styrofoam cups
in the school cafeteria and then it was low funding at the animal
shelter. She meant well but sometimes she got a bit too caught up
in some matters.
"I suggest you get back to class. I don't want to have to arrest my
own daughter. All of you get back to class. These men are professionals
and they know what they're doing," the sheriff said, but he didn't
The sheriff then turned toward Dwayne. "What are you doing, baiting
a young girl like that? She doesn't know any better. You should have
waited until I got here to talk to her."
"She was holding up my work with that chanting," Dwayne said.
"You know what you're going to have to do now, don't you?"
"So that reporter doesn't show you on television yelling at some teenage
girl you're going to have to talk to him and make nice. Tell him what
you're doing and keep him up to date on what's going on."
"Fuck him. I don't deal with the press."
"You will if you know what's good for you."
Dwayne knew the sheriff was right. If he didn't want to be shown on
TV screaming at the girl he would have to cooperate. "Let's go make
nice," the sheriff told Dwayne.
The two of them started walking towards the reporter. "How you doing?"
the sheriff asked the two men.
"Fine. I'm Stan Ashland with WANC in Portland. We heard about this
story and decided to come down and take a look."
"Great. Well, I'm Sheriff Earnest Oakley and this is Dwayne Walton
with the highway department. Listen, we're more than happy to talk
to you for your story but we would appreciate that little flare-up
not being made into a big deal."
"I'll see what I can do about that."
"In that case, I'll leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Walton.
I'm sure he'll be happy to answer any of your questions."
"I appreciate the help, sheriff." Stan motioned to Gus to start taping.
"So, Mr. Walton, what do you have going on here?"
"Well, it appears this eight-ton gray whale washed up on the beach
a few days ago and we're going to dispose of the remains."
"And how are you going to do this?"
"We thought the best way to dispose of the corpse would be to blow
it up with half a ton of dynamite. It would be too difficult to bury
as is and nobody wants to cut it up and then bury it. The blast should
take care of the majority of the carcass and whatever remains can
be eaten by seagulls, crabs, and other scavengers."
"That sounds like a lot of dynamite!"
"We're actually not sure if it's going to be enough. We have some
extra in reserve in case we need to set another charge."
Stan motioned for Gus to stop taping. "Great stuff, Mr. Walton. If
you don't mind, my cameraman will take some footage of the whale and
you guys working and then we'll want to tape the blast. How much longer?"
"It'll probably be about an hour, an hour and a half."
"See you then," Stan said. "Gus, can you get some cut-away shots?
I'm going back to the van to give Jenni an update."
Gus nodded and lifted the camera to his shoulder. As crazy as Gus
may or may not be, he was a good cameraman. He walked around the site
for about 20 minutes taking footage and different shots.
"What kind of charge are you setting?" he asked Dwayne.
"It'll be a concurrent charge. We don't want to take the chance that
only half the load will go up. It takes a bit longer to set up but
there's no risk that anything will go wrong."
"That's the way I would have done it. I haven't seen this much explosives
since the service."
"Yeah, I was a demolitions guy. This stuff is right up my alley. What
about you? You serve?"
"No, I have a degenerative hip," Dwayne lied. He tried to get into
the army but he failed the psych test.
The two continued to talk about explosives for another 15 minutes.
While they were talking, groups of people started appearing on the
beach with chairs and coolers, ready to watch the show.
Dwayne had one of his men set up a 450-yard perimeter while he and
two of the others started burying the dynamite.
Gus found a good angle on a nearby sand dune, set the camera on a
tripod, and waited. Stan made his way down from the truck. "Did you
get any shots of the people watching?" he asked.
Gus just nodded; he knew what he was doing.
It took about another 20 minutes for Dwayne and his men to bury the
dynamite on the leeward side of the whale. Dwayne connected the final
wires to the detonator while the rest of his crew made sure the area
was clear. A crowd of about 50 people had gathered on the beach to
watch the detonation. Dwayne walked up to Gus and Stan and told them
what the sign would be for the start of the countdown.
As Dwayne walked back to the detonator he was trembling with excitement.
He picked up the detonator and gave the sign to the newsmen.
Dwayne yelled out, "5, 4, 3, 2, 1," and then he pushed the plunger.
noise was deafening. The dead mammal went up in a red and gray cloud.
The crowd cheered. "Ohh yeah," and "Whhheeewwwww," could be heard
among the spectators.
Ethel, Fred's wife, said, "It's OK, Fred, you can take your fingers
out of your ears now."
And then it happened.
"Oh my God, it's pieces of…" said Ethel, as the remains of the whale
started to fall back to earth. But they weren't falling in the ocean.
They were falling on the crowd.
It was chaos. Out of some instinct, Gus had already taken the camera
off the tripod and had begun running back to the van. It took a bit
longer for Stan to realize what was going on, so he followed a few
While Dwayne's crew hightailed it away from the beach, Dwayne remained
still, marveling at what he had done and laughing as small pieces
of whale covered him and larger pieces fell to the ground around him.
The whole thing probably didn't last longer than 30 seconds but its
impact was felt for much longer.
Fred and Joe had to go rent a power washer from the hardware store
to clean the dead whale bits off their houses.
While the story eventually won Stan Ashland a local Emmy, he was in
hot water after a 300-pound piece of whale flesh flattened the news
Furthermore, the blast failed to detonate the entire whale carcass.
The highway crew had to use the bulldozer to bury the remains of the
beast, which left a smell that lingered for the better part of a month.
And no amount of political patronage could save Dwayne's job. But
his father had the means to set Dwayne up in his own fishing business.
Two years after the whale blast, Dwayne killed himself trying to fish
for salmon with quarter sticks of dynamite.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: While it is true that the Oregon State Highway Department
blew up an eight-ton gray whale in Florence in 1970, the characters
in this story are completely fictional and bear no resemblance to
those actually involved in the incident. And for the record, the National
Marine Fisheries says the best way to dispose of a dead whale is to
drag it a half mile out to sea.
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