They used to appear everywhere, breaching through the busy streets. In those days, we expected the chaos at the start of every summer. It was never before the sun touched the edge of the horizon, but as soon as dusk approached, we waited for the whales. The small mounds in the earth would grow larger and larger until they sprouted supermassive, torpedo-shaped mammals leaving chunks of pavement falling everywhere. They would take off into the sky, streaming trails of clouds behind them. But most of all I remembered the ships, vast wooden vessels propped up by propellers, sails, and improbable precision. They raced off, chasing the whales into the fading light of the horizon, knowing they would only return months later, after the creatures burrowed back into the earth.
Every year, the ships went out with less and less regularity, until only one left every year, coming back later and later until no one could remember if the last one ever came back at all. The people stopped setting up their chairs in the early summer heat, and the memory of whale-watching faded into the comfortable haze of a childhood dream.
With a couple exceptions, most ships were designated to return within the year, and most did, and even then, they were larger and more equipped to handle long voyages. We’d been out three at this point, and hadn’t even spotted a whale for the last six months of it.
“… running out of canned goods, and also the engines down again,” Kira’s voice drifted into my ears, barely registering before my brain had time to rewind and reprocess the notes.
“Okay. I’ll get right on that,” I replied. “You’d think a smaller ship would have fewer issues.”
“Oh, the larger ships had many, many more issues. There were just more engineers on board to lend a hand is all,” she smiled. All the experience in the world reflecting in her eyes and even she couldn’t simply will the ship back into movement. “The planters are still going, but we’re going to need to harvest some more clouds to get enough water for them.”
“Right, right. Engine first, though.”
“You can have one of the last beers as a reward,” she gave a thumbs up, holding up the cooler with her other hand.
The last gear clicked into place, and, by all rights, the engine was fixed. Still, it would require a couple hours to gather enough water to replace all that was drained to fix the chamber. I walked up the hollowing stairs and felt the routine that wore down the steps carving a rut directly into my brain. The third step from the top creaked especially loudly, always.
“Good news is the engine should be fixed. Bad news we can’t run it until we get-” the ship rocked violently, throwing everyone against the rails.
I could see the world before me, the shapes of land and water outlined in perfect clarity, and, for just a moment, the world blinked. The massive form of the whale spiraled upwards, trailing gusts and streaming clouds behind it. It flew higher and higher into the sky until the pinpoint disappeared into the sky like a star returning to its place in the heavens.
The clouds began to settle and form around us, tinted a beautiful pink-orange from the sun setting beneath the curved lip of the earth. I heard the crack-pop of a can being opened, then another.
“Have you ever seen one go that high?” I asked.
“I didn’t even know that was possible.” Kira said.
“Guess we’re officially unstranded.” she handed me the can.
I took a sip and stared up. The clearing haze making childhood memory as sharp and as aching as it was meant to. We chase the whales at the ends of the skies because without us they will cease to be.