So Henry was this kid, about five and a half feet tall, sixteen, on the chubby side of stocky. The kid still had baby face but he looked old because he didn’t ever sleep and smoked and drank too much. Real dumb, too. Never stopped reading the kinds of books he got when he was 9. Reader’s Digest Explorer: Space and the Stars, Curious Critters vol 4: Centipede Central!, How Does Stuff Work?, The Illustrated Guide to History and so on. He carried them around in his backpack. Never had an iPod or a phone. Just those primary school books, and his dried out child face.
He was always wearing this backpack. I don’t know what else he kept in it really, just the books he’d always bring out. I never saw too much of him. We were in the den together maybe six times total. I’d go down, pick up, hang around for a while then get back in my car and go back. Usually twice a month – sometimes more, sometimes less. I might have been down there for a night once when he was too, but I can’t remember.
No one thought anything would happen to him. The kid was too dumb to get into real trouble. He’d pass out at eight after a few drinks without fail, unless we were going up for the night. Even then, it just zoned him out.
But something bad did happen.
I only heard stories about him, really. I do remember one night though, he had a black eye and he’d gotten into trouble with some delinquents at the local servo. I knew the kids he was talking about, and they were just pubescent loiterers. You’d have to be an idiot to get jumped by them. Henry didn’t like to fight, they say. He said that himself, actually, that night I saw him. Not to me, someone else. I remember kind of looking at him and raising my eyebrows as if to say, ‘what can you do?’.
Anyway, this one night Henry starts complaining about a sore stomach.
Everyone’s sitting around the room, smoking pipes. I’d just left to deliver. Henry’s sitting there complaining, and this kid usually never complained about his stomach. If he wasn’t staring into space or mumbling or reading those damn books, he was stuffing his face. And if he wasn’t doing that he was drunk, every time I saw him.
So, what I got told, was that no one thought anything of it. “Smoke a pipe, Henry”, shit like that. And what I heard was that he did, and then he was fine – for a while. It was weird for Henry to start complaining about his stomach, and weirder still for him to start complaining at all. Henry was a quiet kid. Didn’t do much.
I think he lived with his uncle or something.
He had some little sister who I saw once in passing – she was dressed up for her age and looked underfed. Had a tattoo on her neck.
I don’t think anyone knows if his family even got notified at first.
Anyway – that night, after the first bout of pain or whatever, shortly he was saying it again. But sweating this time, too. Henry starts to get a red face, but still no one thinks anything of it. “You smoked too many pipes Henry”, shit like that. But Henry keeps saying over and over about his stomach and someone tells him to call an ambulance if it’s so bad, but he can’t because the fee is $800 and his family can’t afford it.
So they start getting him glasses of water and what I heard was that Henry started crying like a sick kid, completely helpless. Then they see he’s starting to swell up.
So someone puts a pillow behind his head, I think it was one of the girls, and somewhere in the process someone bumps his stomach. Henry screams out in pain and clutches his hand to a spot on his torso. He was being so loud that the others all started to get paranoid, worrying about the neighbours. They tell him to shut up and Henry starts whimpering, lifts up his shirt.
And this dead bee falls out.
Someone checks out his stomach and this is when everyone started to freak. In the same minute, Henry starts to go blue then purple in the face. The sting on his stomach, by his belly button, is blood red and swollen with the stinger still there, the bee’s guts hanging off it, glistening under the lamp in the hazy room. No one knows when it stung him. He was fine for a while after he first mentioned that his stomach hurt, and all of a sudden he went downhill in ten minutes.
Henry was always a little porky around the neck so the swelling around his neck went unregistered initially. When he started gasping, they caught on. But by then it was too late, obviously. Henry was dark purple and his tongue was starting to go fat and discoloured, too. Eyes go blood red, each vein popping out. It really messed everyone up, because by the time they realised what was happening he was gone.
No one remembers if he ever mentioned being allergic. That’s what Darrell told me, anyway.
Thinking of the timing, it would have been around when I started getting ready to pass out on my bed that Henry died on the den floor.
Big, swollen Henry with his blue and purple child face.
At this point, they should have just hid everything incriminating in the den and called an ambulance. They could have lied if the cops came, and said they came back to find him there like that. There was a dead bee on the floor with its innards hanging out the back of it, so they had a smoking gun. In twenty minutes they could have packed up the cookware and just let the kid get taken away. But they didn’t. They panicked.
I didn’t hear much of what went down between Henry collapsing and the moment they shoved his inflated, blanket-wrapped corpse in the boot of the land cruiser, but I remember Darrell saying they all sat in a circle around Henry’s body, just looking at him. No one said anything. Some smoked. After about twenty minutes his body pissed all the beer out, so it couldn’t have been much longer after that they moved him.
The den isn’t far from the beach.
It’s about a ten minute walk, two minute drive. It’s early hours of the morning, and they all pull up in the land cruiser in the parking lot. It’s just them and the sound of the waves at night, now. The moon and the stars. And dead Henry with the piss soaked pants and the fat tongue hanging out his mouth with the dumb, purple child face. Wrapped in floral sheets.
I don’t know why they went through with it, but they hid his body. Who knows if they originally meant to put him where they did or not. That night, on the beach, they all saw something that they never had before. I guess they were desperate just to get rid of Henry, they didn’t stand around looking. So they flee the scene after dumping him and get back to the den, according to Darrell.
The next morning, it’s a Sunday. The moment the sun breaks over the horizon, it’s scorching. It was forty degrees at 9 a.m. or something.
By 12 p.m., of course there was a crowd gathered round the beach. Word of mouth spreads quickly throughout the town down there – not many people – apparently before it all went down, most of the others had already put forty kilometres of distance between themselves and the den. If they caught word in the morning about the beach and then fled, or just fled anyway, I don’t know.
Either way, at lunchtime half the town have rocked up at the beach, and half the town are now fanning themselves under the heat on the dry land, looking at the scene before them – dozens of children are making all kinds of gestures and exclamations to get away from bad odour. TV cameras were there and everything.
At some point the night before, a humpback whale beached itself on the shore. A day later, it’s still laying there under the forty degree sun.
Darrell was really fucked up when I saw him in jail. The guard who questioned me before I was allowed into visitor’s hall told me Darrell was the one who really got messy and lodged Henry’s corpse inside the whale. I asked a lot of questions, I know that, but I don’t remember any of it.
I think it was around one in the afternoon when the massive humpback blew open.
Baking under the sun like that, gases built up inside its stomach and the dead whale exploded.
And this whale really explodes, right.
Everybody at the beach that day, so like – half the town – received anti bacterial shots and hazmat cleandown afterwards. It went everywhere. Some nimble sections of its insides were flung up to sixty metres away. I don’t know what happened after that, but I figure it didn’t take long for someone to spot the off-pink faded floral sheets amongst the gore strewn across the sand and townspeople.
Darrell, who shoved Henry inside the whale, is ripped because he takes steroids. Although he looked like shit in prison. I don’t know how he did it or what else they did, but Darrell applied so much force when he stuffed Henry down the whale’s oesophagus, that its muscles contracted and Henry’s body was sucked into the whale’s tract as if it swallowed him.
So Henry stewed in the whale’s digestive acids for a good eight hours at least, most of that under the intense sun. It was enough to dissolve the tightest bonds of skin keeping Henry together, because when the whale exploded that day, they found his body in three different pieces. One inside the whale, one on the sand dunes, and one bobbing in the water.
Dumb Henry, with the child’s face and books, buried inside the whale and reincarnated, shot forth back into the world.
Like a phoenix from the ashes.
His joy and goodwill spread amongst the people. Flecks of his self spattered across dozens of beach towels. What didn’t dissolve: the fucking red backpack. More specifically, the glassware they all shoved in there. The rest of the story isn’t that interesting – group stupidity took over and they decided to dump the cookware in case someone came looking for Henry and called the police. I couldn’t figure that line of reasoning out either.
Because the backpack didn’t fly too far and landed in sand, the police found the red backpack a few metres away, stuffed full of half intact items all used in the manufacture of illicit drugs. Detectives pulled finger prints off a beaker or something, and once they nabbed one, they got the rest. That didn’t stop Henry’s face getting shown all over the news for a night with headlines like Clandestine Whale, Meth Pinocchio Busted, Young Man Found Dead Inside Whale Body.
Darrell tried to get into a psych ward, but they just sent him to jail.
He’s having a whale of a time.