It’s been a while, but I’ve finally written a new story for #fridayflash. This one was inspired by a trip to Hermanus, South Africa. If you haven’t heard of it, Hermanus is the world’s top place for whale watching from the coast. Between April and October, Southern Right Whales head to the coast to mate, calve and generally roll around in the kelp. They do amazing things like ‘sail’ with their tail fins sticking out of the water, and ‘spyhop’, which is when they poke their heads out to have look. All this can be seen at close quarters from the cliff tops. This clip (which is a tourist info video) gives you some idea.
Hermanus is also home to the world’s only whale crier. I heard him blowing his kelp horn, which he does to let everyone know that whales are in the bay. It’s an amazing place. I hope this does it justice. (My whale crier is, of course, entirely fictitious).
The Whale Crier’s Last Post
Albert wasn’t used to competition. As the town’s, no, the world’s sole whale crier, he enjoyed the fame and celebrity which his unique situation attracted; it was an unexpected, but welcome joy at his time of life.
So, on the bright spring morning when the unmistakable sound of a horn drifted across from the other side of the bay, he was understandably concerned.
Until that moment, Albert’s professional worries extended to the small number of tourists who were concerned that the sound of his kelp horn represented a danger to the health of the whales; his explanation that it was outside of the animals’ sonic range appeared, somehow, to satisfy them.
But this was a new and altogether more worrying development. He listened carefully for a minute: it was definitely another horn, but not kelp. He listened again, recalling the days he spent playing in the brass section of his school orchestra (he had the perfect lip formation apparently). If he wasn’t mistaken, the horn that was now causing so much interest, at least amongst the whale watchers currently assembled along the cliff top, wasn’t orchestral at all, but a traditional hunting horn; the type so beloved of generations of English aristocrats.
Albert was not given to expletive utterances. He was, after all, a public figure; one of not insignificant importance to the town’s economy. However, he made an exception on this occasion. Not that it mattered: the tourists were already migrating towards the new, vibrant sound, scampering like hounds around the cliff edge.
This wasn’t good.
He peered over the edge. The whales he’d spotted, and whose presence he’d announced so ably not half an hour ago, were gone. He looked out into the bay.
They were lumbering steadily through the swell towards the new horn, whose brass rim Albert could see twinkling in the sun.
Sensing a threat to his future prospects, Albert tucked his kelp horn under his arm and joined the throng in their progress through the strengthening breeze.
‘Excuse me,’ said Albert, during a break in the young pretender’s trumpeting, ‘the town has only one license for a whale crier; I am its holder.’
‘Perhaps, old-timer, the town should reconsider its selection.’
‘But I’ve been the crier for years.’
‘Indeed, and look how you rush about with your seaweed horn, trying to catch up with the whales like the fat kid in the back row of a marching band. I however, have studied the hydrophonic qualities of their sonic vibrations.’ The young pretender now blew his horn to demonstrate his theory. ‘I can dictate where the whales will appear. I am the maestro, old-timer; I conduct the whales.’
And he did. With astonishing precision. Before the week was out, the young pretender had become the de facto whale crier, revelling in the glory, not to mention generous tips, which his new status afforded him.
But still Albert blew his old kelp horn, standing alone on the cliff top. He blew it all day, in the gaps when the young pretender took a breath or posed for photos. He blew it not to announce the presence of whales in the bay; rather his own. But far from being a rallying cry, the town’s people assumed he was playing his Last Post.
Yet still he blew. And as he blew, his horn’s resonations surfed the air’s waves across the bay to the narrow headland upon which the young pretender performed his baleen symphony. He blew until the rocks began to crumble and the headland disappeared into the ocean; swallowing both horn and much-surprised maestro.
There were many explanations for the unfortunate accident. One which was given little credence by the local investigators was based on an old paper buried in a defunct scientific journal. It centred on the stability of certain coastal rock types and the possibility of sudden and destructive erosion caused by unusual sonic resonance.
None of which mattered now to the town’s reinstated whale crier, Albert van der Berg, Professor (retired) of Geology.
© flyingscribbler 2012
By the way, this isn’t my first story inspired by whales and Hermanus. I wrote this one last year after my first visit to the town.
Head over to fridayflash.org to see what other #fridayflash writers are up to.