The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham


  We had the Midge pulled up on shore, and were working to get her ready for the journey. Phyllis was painting, and I still had the engine apart, trying to get the valve-timing back right, when a dinghy came tacking into our inlet, with only one man aboard her. As he came closer I recognized him as a local whom I used to see about when times were normal, and had come across once or twice since. I did not know his name. But there was nothing to bring anyone up the inlet except us. I took a look at the gun, just to make sure it was handy. He kept on on a tack that brought him a little above us, and then turned into the wind.

  ‘Ahoy, there!’ he hailed. ‘Your name Watson?’ We told him it was. ‘Good,’ he called. ‘Got a message for you.’

  He shortened his sheet, put the rudder over, and ran straight towards us. Then he dropped his sail and let the dinghy run right on to the heather. He jumped out, pulled her up a bit, and then turned to us.

  ‘Michael and Phyllis Watson? Used to be with EBC?’ he asked.

  We admitted it, wonderingly.

  ‘They been putting your names out on the wireless,’ he said.

  We stared at him blankly. At last:

  ‘Who – who has?’ I said, unsteadily.

  ‘Council for Reconstruction they call themselves,’ he told us. ‘They’ve been putting out a broadcast every night for a week or ten days now. Every time they end up with a list of people they’re trying to find. Your names were among ’em last night – “believed to be in the neighbourhood of Penllyn, Cornwall” – so I reckoned you’d better know about it.’

  ‘But – but who are they? What do they want?’ I asked him.

  He shrugged. ‘Some party that’s trying to straighten this lot out a bit. Good luck to ’em, I say, whoever they are. It’s more than time somebody did.’

  Phyllis went on staring at him. She was looking a little pale.

  ‘Does that mean it’s – all over?’ she said.

  The man looked at her and then turned to regard the water spread over former fields, the new inlets that reached back into the land, the abandoned homes washed through by every tide.

  ‘No,’ he said, decisively, ‘that’s not what it means. But trying to make the best of it is going to be a lot better than just putting up with it.’

  ‘But what is it about us? What do they want?’ I asked.

  ‘They just said they want you in London – if you think you can make it safely. If you can’t, you’re to stand by for instructions later on. They give lists of names of people that they want to go to London, or Malvern, or Sheffield, or one or two other places – not many for London, but yours was.’

  ‘They don’t say anything about what it’s for?’

  He shook his head. ‘There’s not really a lot they have said yet, but they’re going to be dropping small radio-sets with batteries soon, and later on some transmitters, too. For the present they’re telling people to form groups for local government until communications get working properly.’

  Phyllis and I looked thoughtfully at one another for some moments.

  ‘I think I can see what we’re going to be wanted for,’ I said.

  She nodded. We let the idea sink in for a bit, then I turned back to the man.

  ‘Come on,’ I said, nodding towards the cottage. ‘There’s a bottle or two up there that I’ve been keeping in case of something special. This seems to be it.’

  Phyllis linked her arm in mine, and we went up the hill together.

  ‘We want to know more about it,’ I said, putting down my half-empty glass.

  ‘There’s not much yet,’ he repeated. ‘But what there is sounds like the turn all right, at last. Remember that fellow Bocker? They had him on talking a night or two ago – and a bit more cheerful than he used to be, too. Giving what he called a general survey of the position, he was.’

  ‘Tell us,’ said Phyllis, beside me. ‘Dear A. B. being cheerful ought to have been worth hearing.’

  ‘Well, the main things are that the water’s finished rising – could’ve told him that ourselves, near six months ago, but I suppose there’ll be people some places that haven’t heard of it yet. A big lot of the best land’s gone under, but all the same he reckons that if we get organized we ought to be able to grow enough, because they think the population’s down to between a fifth and an eighth of what it was – could be even less.’

  ‘All that?’ said Phyllis, staring at him incredulously. Surely– ?’

  ‘Sounded as if we’ve been pretty lucky round here compared with most parts,’ the man told her. ‘Pneumonia, mostly, he said, it was. Not much food, you see; no resistance, no medical services, no drugs, and three hellish winters – it’s taken ’em off like flies.’

  He paused. We were silent, trying to grasp the scale of it, and what it would mean. I got little beyond telling myself the obvious – that it was going to be a very different world from the old one. Phyllis saw a little further:

  ‘But shall we even get a fair chance to try?’ she said. ‘I mean, the Bathies are still there. Suppose they have something else that they’ve not used yet – ?’

  The man shook his head. He gave a twisted grin of satisfaction.

  ‘Oh, he talked about them, too, Bocker did. Reckons that this time they’ve really had it.’

  ‘How?’ I asked.

  ‘According to him, they’ve got hold of some kind of thing that’ll go down in the Deeps. It puts out ultra-something – not ultra-violet; a sort of noise, only you can’t hear it.’

  ‘Ultrasonics?’ I suggested.

  ‘That’s it. Sounds queer to me, but he says the waves it puts out’ll kill under water.’

  ‘It’s right enough,’ I told him. ‘There were a whole lot of people working on that four or five years ago. The trouble was to get a transmitter that’d go down there.’

  ‘Well, he says they’ve done it now – and who do you think? – the Japs. They reckon they’ve cleared a couple of small Deeps already. Anyway, the Americans seem to think it works all right, ’cause they’re making some, too, to use round the West Indies way.’

  ‘But they have discovered what Bathies are… What they look like?’ Phyllis wanted to know.

  He shook his head. ‘Not so far as I know. All Bocker said was that a lot of jelly stuff came up, and went bad quickly in the sunlight. No shape to it. Not the pressure to hold the things together, see? So what a Bathy looks like when it’s at home is still anybody’s guess – and likely to stay that way.’

  ‘What they look like when they’re dead is good enough for me,’ I said, filling up the glasses once more. I raised mine. ‘Here’s to empty Deeps, and free seas again.’

  After the man had left, we went out and sat side by side in the arbour, looking out at the view that had changed so greatly. For a little time neither of us spoke. I took a covert glance at Phyllis; she was looking as if she had just had a beauty treatment.

  ‘I’m coming to life again, Mike,’ she said.

  ‘Me, too,’ I agreed. ‘Though it isn’t going to be a picnic life,’ I added.

  ‘I don’t care. I don’t mind working hard when there’s hope. It was having no more hope that was too much for me.’

  ‘It’s going to be a very strange sort of world, with only a fifth or an eighth of us left,’ I said, meditatively.

  ‘There were only five million or so of us in the first Elizabeth’s time – but we counted,’ she said.

  We sat on. There was planning, as well as the reorientation, to be done.

  ‘As soon as we can get the Midge ready?’ I asked. ‘I think we’ve still more more than enough fuel to take us that far.’

  ‘Yes. As soon as we can,’ she told me.

  She went on sitting, with her elbows on her knees and her chin on her hands, looking far away. It was getting chilly again as the sun sank. I moved closer and put my arm round her.

  ‘What is it?’ I asked.

  ‘I was just thinking…. Nothing is really new, is it, Mike? Once upon a time there was a great
plain, covered with forests and full of wild animals. I expect our ancestors hunted there. Then one day the water came in and drowned it all – and there was the North Sea….

  ‘I think we’ve been here before, Mike…. And we got through last time…’

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  First published by Michael Joseph 1953

  First published in Penguin Books 1955

  This edition published 2008

  1

  Copyright © John Wyndham, 1953

  All rights reserved

  The moral right of the author has been asserted

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  John Wyndham, The Kraken Wakes

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