The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham
‘It’s going to be bad later on,’ was the opinion of most of those I spoke to. ‘Just now pretty well all those who are left still have a few cases of this and that stowed away, and the chief worry is stopping the other fellow from finding out where it is. But later on the worry is going to be the other way round; finding out where the chaps who do have some left are hiding it – and that’s going to be nasty.’
In the New Year the sense of things pressing in upon us grew stronger. The high-tide mark was now close to the seventy-five foot level. The weather was abominable, and icy cold. There seemed to be scarcely a night when there was not a gale blowing from the south-west. It became rarer than ever to see anyone in the streets, though when the wind did drop for a time the view from the roof showed a surprising number of chimneys smoking. Mostly it was wood smoke, furniture and fitments burning, one supposed; for the coal stores in power-stations and railway yards had all disappeared the previous winter.
From a purely practical point of view I doubt whether anyone in the country was more favoured or as well found as our group. The food originally supplied together with that acquired later made a store which should last sixteen people for some years. There was an immense reserve of diesel-oil, and petrol, too. Materially we were better off than we had been a year ago when there were more of us. But we had learnt, as had many before us, about the bread-alone factor, one needed more than adequate food. The sense of desolation began to weigh more heavily still when, at the end of February, the water lapped over our doorsteps for the first time, and the building was filled with the sound of it cascading into the basements.
Some of the party grew more worried.
‘It can’t come very much higher, surely. A hundred feet is the limit, isn’t it?’ they were saying.
It wasn’t much good being falsely reassuring. We could do little more than to repeat what Bocker had said; that it was a guess. No one had known, within a wide limit, how much ice there was in the Antarctic. No one was quite sure how much of the northern areas that appeared to be solid land, tundra, was in fact simply a deposit on a foundation of ancient ice; we just had not known enough about it. The only consolation was that Bocker now seemed to think for some reason that it would not rise above one hundred and twenty-five feet – which should leave our eyrie still intact. Nevertheless, it required fortitude to find reassurance in that thought as one lay in bed at night, listening to the echoing splash of the wavelets that the wind was driving along Oxford Street.
One bright morning in May, a sunny, though not a warm morning, I missed Phyllis. Enquiries eventually led me on to the roof in search of her. I found her in the south-west corner gazing towards the trees that dotted the lake which had been Hyde Park, and crying. I leant on the parapet beside her, and put an arm round her. Presently she stopped crying. She dabbed her eyes and nose, and said:
‘I haven’t been able to get tough, after all. I don’t think I can stand this much longer, Mike. Take me away, please.’
‘Where is there to go? – if we could go,’ said.
‘The cottage, Mike. It wouldn’t be so bad there, in the country. There’d be things growing – not everything dying, like this. There isn’t any hope here – we might as well jump over the wall here if there is to be no hope at all.’
I thought about it for some moments.
‘But even if we could get there, we’d have to live,’ I pointed out, ‘we’d need food and fuel and things.’
‘There’s – ’ she began, and then hesitated and changed her mind. ‘We could find enough to keep us going for a time until we could grow things. And there’d be fish, and plenty of wreckage for fuel. We could make out somehow. It’d be hard – but, Mike, I can’t stay in this cemetery any longer – I can’t.
‘Look at it, Mike! Look at it! We never did an ything to deserve all this. Most of us weren’t very good, but we weren’t bad enough for this, surely. And not to have a chancel If it had only been something we could fight – ! But just to be drowned and starved and forced into destroying one another to live – and by things nobody has ever seen, living in the one place we can’t reach!
‘Some of us are going to get through this stage, of course – the tough ones. But what are the things down there going to do then? Sometimes I dream of them lying down in those deep dark valleys, and sometimes they look like monstrous squids or huge slugs, other times as if they were great clouds of luminous cells hanging there in rocky chasms. I don’t suppose that we’ll ever know what they really look like, but whatever it is, there they are all the time, thinking and plotting what they can do to finish us right off so that everything will be theirs.
‘I dream about that sea-bottom; the great wide plains down there where it is always always raining teeth and scales and bits of bone and shells and millions and millions of tiny plankton creatures, on and on for centuries. There are ranges of mountains rising out of the plains, and in some places huge precipices split by winding gullies, and the things down below send the sea-tanks in regiments across the plains, and the regiments break into strings which go into the gullies, and come winding up in search of us in long, long processions; out of the gullies into the shallow water, and then through the towns which have gone under the sea, still searching for us and hunting us.
‘Sometimes, in spite of Bocker, I think perhaps it is the things themselves that are inside the sea-tanks, and if only we could capture one and examine it we should know how to fight them, at last. Several times I have dreamt that we have found one and managed to discover what makes it work, and nobody’s believed us but Bocker, but what we have told him has given him an idea for a wonderful new weapon which had finished them all off.
‘I know it all sounds very silly, but it’s wonderful in the dream, and I wake up feeling as if we had saved the whole world from a nightmare – and then I hear the sound of the water slopping against the walls in the street, and I know it isn’t finished; it’s just going on and on and on…
‘I can’t stand it here any more, Mike. I shall go mad if I have to sit here doing nothing any longer while a great city dies by inches all round me. It’d be different in Cornwall, anywhere in the country. I’d rather have to work night and day to keep alive than just go on like this. I think I’d rather die trying to get away than face another winter like last.’
I had not realized it was as bad as that. It wasn’t a thing to be argued about.
‘All right, darling,’ I said. ‘We’ll go.’
Everything we could hear warned us against attempting to get away by normal means. We were told of belts where everything had been razed to give clear fields of fire, and there were booby-traps and alarms, as well as guards. Everything beyond those belts was said to be based upon a cold calculation of the number each autonomous district could support. The natives of the districts had banded together and turned out the refugees and the useless on to lower ground where they had to shift for themselves. In each of the areas there was acute awareness that another mouth to feed would increase the shortage for all. Any stranger who did manage to sneak in could not hope to remain unnoticed for long, and his treatment was ruthless when he was discovered – survival demanded it. So it looked as though our own survival demanded that we should try some other way.
The chance by water, along inlets that must be constantly widening and reaching further, looked better. Our search for a speedboat had been disappointing. We had discovered nothing better than the fibre-glass dinghy. Into that I began to stow supplies that I hoped might at least serve to buy us safe transit.
We delayed a little in the hope that the weather would turn warmer, but by late June we gave up the hope, and set out up-river.
But for the luck of our finding that sturdy little motor-boat, the Midge, I don’t know what would have happened to us. I. rather think we should have tried up-river again, and quite likely got ourselves shot. The Midge, however, changed the whole outlook. The following day, we took her back to London. Navigation of the more deeply floode
An uneasy feeling that some of the others might wish to get away, too, and press to come with us now that we had more room, turned out to be baseless. Without exception they considered us crazy. Most of them contrived to take one of us aside at some time or another to point out the wilful improvidence of giving up warm, comfortable quarters to make a certainly cold and probably dangerous journey to certainly worse and probably intolerable conditions. They helped to fuel and store the Midge until she was inches lower in the water, but not one of them could have been bribed to set out with us.
Our progress down the river was cautious and slow, for we had no intention of letting the journey be more dangerous than was necessary. Our main recurrent problem was where to lay up for the night. We were sharply conscious of our probable fate as trespassers, and also of the fact that the Midge with her contents was tempting booty. Our usual anchorages were in the sheltered streets of some flooded town. Several times when it was blowing hard we lay up in such places for several days. Fresh water, which we had expected to be the main problem, turned out not to be difficult; one could almost always find some still in the tanks in the roof-spaces of a partly submerged house. Overall, the trip which used to clock at 268.8 (or .9) by road took us slightly over a month to make.
Round the corner and into the Channel the white cliffs looked so normal from the water that the flooding was hard to believe – until we looked more closely at the gaps where the towns should have been. A little later, we were right out of the normal, for we began to see our first icebergs.
We approached the end of the journey with caution. From what we had been able to observe of the coast as we came along there were often encampments of shacks on the higher ground. Where the land rose steeply there were often towns and villages where the higher houses were still occupied though the lower were submerged. What kind of conditions we might find at Penllyn in general and Rose Cottage in particular, we had no idea.
I took the Midge carefully into the Helford River, with shot-guns lying to hand. Here and there a few people on the hillsides stopped to look down at us, but they neither shot, nor waved. It was only later that we found they had taken her to be one of the few local boats that still had the fuel to run.
We turned north from the main river. With the water now close on the hundred-foot level the multiplication of waterways was confusing. We lost our way half a dozen times before we rounded a corner on an entirely new inlet and found ourselves looking up a familiar steep hillside at the cottage above us.
People had been there, several lots of them, I should think, but though the disorder was considerable the damage was not great. It was evidently the consumables they had been after chiefly. The standbys had vanished from the larder to the last bottle of sauce and packet of pepper. The drum of oil, the candles, and the small store of coal were gone, too.
Phyllis gave a quick look over the debris, and disappeared down the cellar steps. She re-emerged in a moment and ran out to the arbour she had built in the garden. Through the window I saw her examining the floor of it carefully. Presently she came back.
‘That’s all right, thank goodness,’ she said.
It did not seem a moment for great concern about arbours.
‘What’s all right?’ I inquired.
‘The food,’ she said. ‘I didn’t want to tell you about it until I knew. It would have been too bitterly disappointing if it had gone.’
‘What food?’ I asked, bewilderedly.
‘You’ve not much intuition, have you, Mike? Did you really think that someone like me would be doing all that bricklaying just for fun? I walled-off half the cellar full of stuff, and there’s a lot under the arbour, too.’
I stared at her. ‘Do you mean to say – ? But that was ages ago! Before the flooding even began.’
‘But not before they began sinking ships so fast. It seemed to me it would be a good thing to lay in stores before things got difficult, because it quite obviously was going to get difficult later. I thought it would be sensible to have a reserve here, just in case. Only it was no good telling you, because I knew you’d just get stuffy about it.’
I sat down, and regarded her.
‘Stuffy?’ I inquired.
‘Well, there are some people who seem to think it is more ethical to pay black-market prices than to take sensible precautions.’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘So you bricked it in yourself?’
‘Well, I didn’t want anybody local to know, so the only way was to do it myself. As it happened, the food airlift was much better organized than one could have expected, so we didn’t need it, but it will come in useful now.’
‘How much?’ I asked.
She considered. ‘I’m not quite sure, but there is a whole big vanload here, and then there’s all the stuff we’ve got in the Midge, too.’
I could see, and do see, several angles to the thing, but it would have been churlishly ungrateful to mention them just then, so I let it rest, and we busied ourselves with tidying up and moving in.
It did not take us long to understand why the cottage had been left unoccupied. One had only to climb to the crest to see that our hill was destined to be an island. Four months later it became one.
Here, as elsewhere, there had been first the cautious retreat as the water started to rise, and, later, the panicky rush to stake a claim on the high ground while there was still room there. Those who remained, and still remain, are a mixture of the obstinate, the tardy, and the hopeful who are continually thinking that the water will not come much further. A feud between those who stayed and those who went is well established. The uplanders will allow no newcomer into their strictly rationed territory: the lowlanders carry guns and set traps to discourage raids upon their fields. It is said, though I do not know with how much truth, that conditions here are good compared with Devon and other places further east, since a large part of the population, once it took to flight, decided to keep on towards the lusher areas beyond the moorlands. There are fearful tales about the guerilla warfare between starving bands that goes on in Devon, Somerset, and Dorset, but here one hears shooting only occasionally, and only on a small scale.
The thoroughness of our isolation, beyond occasional bits of hearsay, has been one of the difficult things to bear. The radio set which might have told us something of how the rest of the world, if not our own country, was faring, failed a few weeks after we reached here, and we have neither the means of testing it, nor of replacing the necessary parts.
Luckily, our island offers little temptation, so we have not been molested. The people about here grew enough food last summer to keep themselves going with the help of fish, which are plentiful. Also, our status is not entirely that of strangers, and we have been careful to make no demands or requests. I imagine we are supposed to be existing on fish and what stores we brought aboard the Midge – and that what is likely to be left of those by now would not justify the trouble of a raid on us. It might have been a different story had the crops been poorer last summer…
I started this account at the beginning of November. It is now the end of January. The water continued to rise slightly, but since about Christmastime there has been no increase that we can measure. We are hoping that it has reached its limit. ‘There are still icebergs to be seen in the Channel, but it seems to us that they are fewer than they were.
There are still not infrequent raids by sea-tanks, sometimes singly, but more usually in fours or fives. As a rule, they are more of a nuisance than a danger, for the people living close to the water post watchers to give the alarm. The sea-tanks avoid any climbing, and seldom venture more than a quarter of a m
By far the worst thing we have had to face has been the bitter cold of the winter. Even making allowance for the difference in our circumstances, we think that it has been a great deal colder than last. Our inlet has been frozen over for many weeks, and in calm weather the sea itself freezes well out from the shore. But mostly it is not calm weather; for days on end there have been gales when everything is covered with ice from the spray carried inland. We are lucky to be sheltered from the full force of the south-west, but it is bad enough.
We have now quite decided that when the summer comes we must try to get away. Possibly we could last out here another winter, but it would leave us less well provisioned, and less fit to face a journey that will have to be made sometime. We may, we hope, be able to find in what is left of Plymouth, or Devonport, fuel to replace that which we used in coming here; but, in any case, we intend to rig a mast so that if we are warned-off, or if there is no fuel to be found, we shall be able to continue southward under sail when our present supplies give out.
Where to? We don’t know yet. Somewhere warmer, where it will be easier to grow things and start again. Perhaps we shall find only bullets where we try to land, but even that will be better than slow starvation in bitter cold.
Phyllis agrees. ‘We shall be taking “a long shot, Watson; a very long shot!” ’ she says. ‘But, after all, what is the good of. our having been given so much luck already if we don’t go on using it?’
I amend the foregoing. We shall not be going south. This MS. will not be left here in a tin box on the chance of somebody finding it some day, as I had intended; it will go with us. Perhaps it may even be read by a number of people after all, for this is what has happened:
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