Just past the table of contents page on what might be called the title page of the short story Leviathan by Saul Tanpepper we see this: “a short story about the end of the world.” There is something appealing to me about the contrast in the phrase. This short story was published in 2016 and was free through Instafreebies and the author’s newsletter. On the Amazon site, it costs USD 0.99. The tale produces its own kind of horror, particularly for those who are concerned about the steady deterioration of our planet as manifested in the steadily growing extinction of a number of species. In this case, what is extinct is (almost) all forms of animal life. As Father, or Hunter, said to Child (no name) “You don’t know the taste of flesh, he once told me. You don’t understand the sweetness of meat, why we hunted them all, down to the very last one.” (Kindle location 93-94).
If the story itself doesn’t scare the reader, an endnote titled A Word about Leviathan might do the trick. The author affirms his belief in the survival of the planet; it is humanity that is in danger. Saul Tanpepper is a pen name for Ken J. Howe, a retired Ph.D. molecular biologist, and biotech entrepreneur. For me, that kind of background brings a lot of credibility to the table. I had to read the story twice because even with the limited number of characters I got confused after the rather startling ending. I didn’t mind reading the story twice, this is a really good story. There is room for reader interpretation and some may find that uncomfortable.
The story opens with a section in italics. A girl is preparing a meal and reflecting on not having a name. He had not given her one. She is not happy about this and concludes to herself “Names were important things. They were all you had left when everything else was gone.” (Kindle location 27).
The story switches to non-italic printing. We find out that Father is a hunter. From here on out, we will call him Hunter. Child does not have a name and asks Hunter for one. Hunter says names are useless since there is no one left to tell them to. Also, there are no animals left in the world so Hunter is the last of his kind, there will be no hunters after him. Child becomes more confused, not only does Child have no name, there is no definition of purpose. And if there are no animals left in the world, why does Hunter leave every day on a search for what he says no longer exists?
But Father does go out every day. Child tends to food preparation every day. This routine goes on until one day Child hears a song, possibly in reality and possibly in the mind, but Child repeats the sound aloud so that father hears it. When he does, Hunter becomes completely agitated and goes out to sea for longer periods of time until the time the boat comes back and Hunter isn’t in it. This leaves Child with nothing to do but load the boat with as much food and water as possible and go looking for the source of the song that had so agitated Hunter. Child had described the sound to father as the sound of Annabeth, the mother of Child, a mother who had disappeared so long ago that Annabeth was not in Child’s memory although Hunter had told Child of mother Annabeth. It is because of Annabeth that Hunter had left on increasingly longer voyages to sea. Ultimately, the longer voyages resulted in Hunter’s disappearance and a separate quest begun by Child.
The food runs out. The water runs out. But Child is rescued. And then the strange questions and speculation really begin.
This short story offers so much in relation to its short length. The imagery of the sea is wonderful. The descriptions of such utter, stark loneliness in a devastated and barren world were vivid and real for me. The story is scary without overt intent to be scary. The uncertainty as to just what is going on will appeal to readers who like challenges. I look forward to reading more from this author under whichever pen name he uses. With quality writing like this in a free book, I don’t mind paying for future works by this talented author.
And, are you ready for this? There is no sex and violence. A reader might disagree with that a little bit after the second reading. Definitely no sex. Maybe a little bit of implied violence.