They went a little further out as sunlight spilt over them in a great comforting cascade, and the last of the ominous dark disc winked out of existence. Just one thing refused to go away in Kalli’s mind. She had noticed some time ago that the Moon had seemed bigger than she had ever remembered seeing it. What could that mean? What events could follow on from that size, that nearness?
They found a blowhole at last and took up their stations around it, harpoons at the ready. They stared into the dark water, eyes straining for the slightest movement in the depths. And then they saw it! A head broke clear of the water, a head with soulful brown eyes and a mouth fringed with a human-looking moustache.
‘Now!’ Jansen shouted and a ring of harpoons shot out, penetrating the seal’s neck. All but Kalli’s that is. At the moment of action, she had found herself staring into the creature’s eyes and for a moment compassion had seized her. By the time she had decided to strike, the animal was already slumping in its death throes, and her harpoon point passed harmlessly to one side.
Jansen hadn’t noticed her latest blunder in the excitement, and he yelled, ‘Kalli! Bear! Look for bear!’
She spun around, allowing her unbloodied harpoon to rest on the ice.
Bear. She must not fail this time. Her gaze swept over the ice field while her ears strained to hear the approach of heavy paws. She was on high alert for the faintest unusual noise.
And had there been a strange noise? A kind of rumbling.
One of the older men was standing next to her and was helping to drag the seal out of its hole. Pumping blood stained the whiteness of their surroundings in an ever-spreading scarlet patch.
‘Did you hear that?’ she said.
‘What?’ he said testily, ‘keep your eyes looking for a bear, Goddammit. We don’t want the bastard to jump us when he smells the blood.’
She did not comply but stood straight, eyes searching for the source of the noise which it seemed that only she could hear.
Then she felt a faint vibration in the ice, a jerking, throbbing tremor. A tremor that was growing.
In a sudden silent thunderclap of fear, she knew what it was. She pushed past the men on either side of her and rushed to Jansen. He was still tugging at the seal when she grabbed his arm, and with preternatural strength spun him around to face her.
‘Get back!’ she shouted, ‘we’ve got to get back to the shore!’
‘What the hell?’ Jansen said when he discovered the identity of who had spun him around like a top, ‘what’s the matter with you, you stupid girl!’
She stared up at him, her face a mask of cold resolution, ‘We’ve got to get back! There’s a Wave coming!’
The others heard the dread word and looked around anxiously.
‘Wave?’ Jansen repeated, ‘what are you talking about?’
But there was no need for further discussion.
Now they all heard it; they all heard the distant roar of kilotonnes of water being driven up into mountainous fury; the terrible rumbling, groaning noise of ice being smashed into shards and splinters by the irresistible power of a furious tidal wave.
It was difficult for Jansen’s weather-beaten skin to pale but to Kalli’s desperate gaze it seemed briefly to attain that state. Then he said: ‘Forget the seal! Run!’
As one, they turned and obeyed. ‘Don’t drop the harpoons and rifles,’ he said, ‘we can’t afford to lose them!’ The seal slipped back into the cold waters, unnoticed, unconsidered.
Kalli found herself at the back of the stampeding Villagers, and, as she ran, she could hear the thunder of the enraged waters grow louder and louder behind her, as if a terrible beast was closing on her.
Which was the exact truth.
They were nearly at the trawler now.
She slipped and fell. She turned to look behind as she struggled to her feet.
And saw it. A vast grey-green wall that stretched from arm to arm of the bay and was rapidly becoming mightier and angrier as the land shelved upwards below it. It seemed as if a living mountain range was bearing down on her and even in the few seconds in which she stared at the Wave it grew noticeably more tremendous and terrifying. Already it was necessary to lift her head to see the foaming crest. The noise was incredible: it was a physical force, shaking her like a rat in the mouth of a terrier.
Turning away from the monster, she ran again, but suddenly the air was full of flying splinters of ice like a thousand airborne needles as the Wave destroyed the ice sheet between it and the fleeing Villagers. One splinter caught her in the back of the knee and she went down again. Bright blood stained the ice.
Suddenly someone was there, helping her to her feet. It was Ethan. ‘We must take shelter in the ship!’ he shouted, his voice hardly audible above the thunder of the approaching Wave, ‘We’ll never make it to the shore!’ She nodded, and he guided her to the great rent in the side of the trawler. The air was now thick with flying ice particles of all sizes which formed a swirling white fog around the two figures. The ice beneath their feet shook and trembled as the titanic mass of water towered above them. With Ethan’s help, Kalli hobbled to the gap in the metal hull, and gingerly stepped over the twisted blades of torn metal around it. She turned. ‘Come on!’
As she reached out to help him over the lip of the hole, a flying spear of ice caught him in the neck and he disappeared into the ice fog. The next second the Wave hit.
She felt the trawler lift up like a cork in a whirlpool and hurtle towards the shore under the terrific impetus of the water. The vessel rolled on its side so that the hole in its hull was uppermost and she was tossed violently onto what had been a wall and was now the floor. Through the hole she could see the edge of a tremendous cliff of glaucous water, casting off streamers of spume and spray amidst a storm of shattered ice. Unable to move under her own volition, the shuddering trawler threw her up and down like thistledown.
And then the Wave broke. Cascades of icy green water crashed down through the gap as the trawler was slammed against the shore. Metal screamed as rivets gave way like wet paper, and the tear in the side widened before her terrified eyes. Certain of death, she closed her eyes and waited for the end. Water struck her in seemingly endless blows.
The trawler gave one last great shudder and stopped moving. A few seconds later the icy cataract ceased. There was an eerie silence.
Kalli lay there for some time, unable and unwilling to move. She waited for the ordeal to begin again, not daring to believe it was over. The hole through which she had entered was now some way above her, forming a ragged-edged skylight, and weak sunlight was streaming down on her. Finally, she accepted that the Wave had spent itself.
But she was now trapped inside the trawler. She could not reach the gap as it was now some distance above her. She smiled grimly. She had replaced death by drowning with death by starvation.
But no! That was not the fate which the sphere had promised—she would not die here today. She reached around to the back of her knee and felt the flesh. There were two flaps of torn skin, but the gash was not deep; she would not bleed to death. Slowly, carefully she began to move. Her entire body was bruised and sore under the pummelling she had received, and movement was painful.
Most of the water that had crashed into the hold had drained away through smaller rents in the hull, but a quick inspection proved that it was impossible for her to get through them. She tried to visualise the layout of the trawler. It felt like it was now lying on its side, which meant that the deck would now be vertical. To escape from this trap she had to get to that deck. She looked around, knowing somewhere in this hold there must be a door to other parts of the ship. In the gloom, she saw a horizontal rectangle in a far wall. A door—now on its side, of course. She struggled to it as fast as she could and was just able to reach the handle. She attempted to turn it but it did not budge. After looking around to see if there was anything she could use as a tool, she decided that there was not. Apart from a few small packing cases, the hold was empty. She returned to looking at the door. Beyond lay Life. On this side was only slow Death.
The choice was simple. The choice was stark. The door had to be opened.
She looked at the packing cases and it occurred to her that if she stood on one, she would be able to get a better purchase on the handle. Swiftly, she brought one over to the door and stood on it. It collapsed, throwing her to the floor.
Kalli sat there, rubbing her left arm, which now had bruises on top of bruises.
There was one more case. She brought it to the door and slowly, carefully, stood on it. It creaked alarmingly but did not break. She grasped the handle and flung all her meagre weight and meagre strength onto it. Veins stood out in her forehead and her arms as her face twisted into a mask of agony. For a few seconds, the weird tableau of the immobile young woman and the immobile steel door held and then there was the noise of groaning metal and the door opened outwards. The sudden release of effort flung Kalli onto the floor, giving her a fresh collection of bruises. Beyond lay a corridor clothed in darkness. She entered and began her search for a way out of the trawler, back to the outside world. Eventually, faint light in a passageway led her to an opening through which she could hear the raucous calls of gulls. As she thrust her head through the gap, she found herself looking down on the deck, which was indeed nearly vertical. She discovered that the trawler was lying sideways in a vast expanse of grey-black mud; the gift of the retreating water. She looked down the vertiginous wall that once had been the deck. Hesitation was not an option, she knew that. It was too far simply to fall to safety, so she was forced desperately to slide from one precarious handhold to another, down and down that dripping metal cliff, until it was finally safe to drop to the ground.
Or so it seemed. When Kalli did finally release her grip and fell to the mud below she sank up to her knees in grey gloop, and for a dizzying few seconds it seemed as if she were going to carry on sinking into a glutinous tomb. But soon her descent stopped and she was faced with the new ordeal of walking through clinging fingers of sucking slime in order to escape from the resting place of the trawler.
Progress was agonisingly difficult through the knee-high muck, and it was an exhausted Kalli that finally crawled out onto solid ground and collapsed upon it, bleeding and panting. She lay there looking up at a sky which was now cloudless and eggshell blue. The sun, long since freed from its encounter with the Moon, shone cheerfully down.
But when Kalli finally managed to stand upright again, it was no cheerful sight that confronted her. Out in the bay, the pack ice shelf had completely vanished and all that remained of it were a few, isolated floes, drifting upon the choppy grey water. Similarly, the last vestiges of snow upon the land had gone, either swept away by the might of the Wave or submerged under aprons of the mud. The land before this upheaval had been desolate; now it was ruined; despoiled. But she realised then that the delay in escaping from the trawler was one of the chance events that had saved her. Otherwise, she would have been sucked out to sea when the waters receded.
There was no more to say or do. She looked around for other survivors but saw none.
And so she began the long walk back to the Village; alone.