An extract from Across the Risen Sea, the new climate-fiction novel from junior fiction superstar Bren MacDibble.
We’re off the coast of Australia. Survivors of a calamitous sea-level rise live in small island settlements, gardening and fishing and scavenging in wet-to-the-waist skyscrapers. There are sinkholes, storms and massive sharks, and lots of crocs.
In this scene, our hero Neoma has nicked a catamaran to rescue his best mate Jag, who has been taken by a group of powerful visitors. He’s just spotted Jag on an island and dropped anchor a little way offshore.
Up on the beach the dark sand is moving … no, it’s crocs. Dark sand-coloured dried-out crocs, sunning themselves. Seeing me in so close to their beach, they’re coming to investigate. I’m definitely not getting off here. I don’t even wanna hang about in the boat and have them swimming around me. These crocs ain’t as huge as the ones near home. These is prolly young males, all driven out of good hunting spots by big ones, left to swim up and down the coast looking for a new home, resting where they can.
I sail up on the anchor I’ve only jus’ hooked and try to work it free. The first of the crocs reaches me. It’s only a bit taller than me if I lay down beside it, which I’d never do, not so scary. More arrive, larger ones, and circle Licorice. Now I get nervous. I go up to the bow to pull up the loose anchor, and find myself staring down into so many eyes, pale greenish speckledy eyes staring, leathery snouts bobbing in the water, trying to work out if I’m a meal. Their bodies hang down, straight down. They know they’re easier to spot when they’re swimming horizontal, so they hang in the water, tails down, pretending they’re invisible.
“I see you!” I mutter, as I haul up the anchor. Then they do something I’ve never seen crocs do before. They sink out of sight. Jus’ drop, like they’re going down for a bit of a chat or something.
I lock the anchor and start back up the hull to the deck. There’s a splash, and then a thump, and then a croc slides back into the sea behind me. It jumped right up onto the hull! I’ve never seen a croc this size try to jump into a boat. Normally that’s a trick only the bigger ones try on tiny boats.
The next wave laps at the hull.
There’s another splash, a thump, a splash, a thump! I run back to the deck. They’ve all learned to jump onto boats! The hulls is tall and they slide off, but there’s three already on the netting between the hulls.
Their claws grab at the knotted ropes of the net and they’s crawling up towards me.
I leap into the deck area, run up the sail and spin the boom about. I ain’t sitting round to pick up more crocs. One teeters on the edge of the net and slides back into the water, but that leaves two with claws reaching, grabbing for the rope netting. One’s feet fall through, first one front foot, then the other, and it’s left with its front feet helplessly waving above the sea on the underside of the net. The other croc clambers over it, using it like a bridge, and keeps coming after me.
I winch the sail so it’s taking me out to sea, and pick up my fish clubber. I can’t believe that Jag was right about crocs jumping into boats!
This croc stumbles and slaps its tail, thumping the other croc in the head. It’s still pushing itself towards me, muscly legs reaching, claws scraping, and mouth open showing rows of the large triangle teeth it wants to sink into me, but I dunno how it could get up and into the deck to get at me. Crocs ain’t good at climbing on upright smooth surfaces like the bit of wall between the deck and the net.
I dunno whether to go and give it a thwack on the nose now, or wait and see if it can even get closer to me. I’ll thwack it while there’s a good hunk of wall between us. It’s scraping its claws on the black fibreglass, head flopping side to side on the wall, not going anywhere, still thinking it can get to me this way. Crocs is cunning but also pretty stupid sometimes.
I lean over, swing hard and bop him on his nostrils with the fish clubber, and he turns tail and runs back over the stuck croc, right back out of the net, and sploshes into the sea with a massive tail flip.
I drop the sail. I’m far enough out now that the other crocs won’t follow, but how do I get rid of this one?
I need to pee. Normally I jus’ squat and pee through the net, but who can pee with a croc thrashing around down there?
I check for crocs and sharks, then hang out from the ladder attached to the stern of the boat we use for climbing out of the sea, pee, then go back and check the croc. He’s got all four feet through the net now, and he’s thrashing his tail and snapping his jaws like someone did it to him.
“You stuck yourself, you numbat!” I tell him.
I get out some dried fish and water and have a little breakfast while I wait to see if he can get himself free. Foot wiggling and head and tail thrashing gets him nowhere, and I can’t see that he knows how to do anything else.
I scoop a bucket of water out of the sea and fling it at him. Crocs go in and out of the water to keep their temperature even and this one seems a bit hot. He opens his jaws wide and shows me all his teeth. “You’re going to have to get yourself out of this, Uncle Croc,” I tell him. “Ain’t much I can do. I ain’t hauling no snapping croc out by his tail!”
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