The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham

  John Wyndham




  Phase One

  Phase Two

  Phase Three

  Follow Penguin



  John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Benyon Harris was born in 1903, the son of a barrister. He tried a number of careers including farming, law, commercial art and advertising, and started writing short stories, intended for sale, in 1925. From 1930 to 1939 he wrote stories of various kinds under different names, almost exclusively for American publications, while also writing detective novels. During the war he was in the Civil Service and then the Army. In 1946 he went back to writing stories for publication in the USA and decided to try a modified form of science fiction, a form he called ‘logical fantasy’. As John Wyndham he wrote The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes (both widely translated), The Chrysalids, The Midwich Cuckoos (filmed as Village of the Damned), The Seeds of Time, Trouble with Lichen, The Outward Urge (with ‘Lucas Parkes’) and Chocky. He died in March 1969.


  The nearest iceberg looked firmly grounded. Waves, with the whole fetch of the Atlantic behind them, exploded upon it, just as they would upon solid rock. Further out there were other large bergs, also stranded by the falling tide, and looking like sudden white mountains. Here and there among them smaller ones were still afloat, with the wind and the current driving them slowly up the Channel. That morning there were more, I fancy, than we had ever before seen at one time. I paused to look at them. Blinding white crags in a blue sea.

  ‘I think,’ I said, ‘that I shall write an account of all this.’

  ‘You mean a long one, about the whole thing? A book?’ Phyllis asked.

  ‘Well, I don’t suppose it will ever be a printed book, with stiff covers and a cloth binding – but still, a book,’ I agreed.

  ‘I suppose a book is still a book, even if no one but the writer and his wife ever reads it,’ she said.

  ‘There’s a chance that someone else might. I’ve a feeling it ought to be done. After all, we know as much about the whole thing as anyone – in a general way. The specialists know more about their particular bits, of course, but, between us, we ought to be able to put together quite a picture.’

  ‘Without references or records?’ she questioned.

  ‘If anyone ever does read it, then he’ll be able to have the pleasure of digging out the documentation – what’s left of it. My idea is simply to give an account of how the whole thing has appeared to me – to us.’

  ‘Stick to “me” – you can’t do it from two points of view,’ she advised.

  She huddled her coat more closely round her. Her breath clouded in the cold air. We regarded the icebergs. There seemed to be even more than one had thought. Some of those further out were only visible because of the waves breaking on them as they wallowed along.

  ‘It’d help to pass the winter,’ Phyllis conceded, ‘and then, perhaps, when the Spring comes …’ She let the thought tail off, unfinished. At the end of some reflection she said:

  ‘Where will you begin?’

  ‘I’ve not got as far as thinking of that yet,’ I confessed.

  ‘I think you ought to start with that night on board the Guinevere when we saw – ’

  ‘But, darling, no one has ever proved that they had anything to do with it.’

  ‘An account, you said. If you are going to need proof of everything, you might as well not start at all.’

  ‘What about that first dive?’ I suggested. ‘The thing does connect up pretty closely from there.’

  She shook her head.

  ‘People – if anyone does read it – can disregard what you put in if they don’t like it – but it doesn’t help anybody if you go leaving out things that might be important just because you’re not absolutely sure.’

  I frowned.

  ‘I’ve never been really convinced that those fireballs were – Well, after all, the word coincidence exists because the things do.’

  ‘Then say so. But the Guinevere is the proper place to begin.’

  ‘All right,’ I conceded. ‘Chapter One – An Interesting Phenomenon.’

  ‘Unfortunately, in several ways, we are not living in the nineteenth century. Now, if I were you I should divide the whole thing into three phases. It falls naturally that way. Phase One would be – ’

  ‘Darling, whose book is this to be?’

  ‘Ostensibly yours, my sweet.’

  ‘I see – rather like my life since I met you?’

  ‘Yes, darling. Now, Phase One – Gosh! Look at that!’

  A large berg, thawed below and undercut by the water, began to turn over with a monstrous deliberation. A great, flat ice-face smacked down, sending spray high into the air. The berg kept on rolling, slowed, hung for a moment, and then started to roll back. We watched it loll lazily this way and that with decreasing swings until it settled down, presenting an entirely new aspect.

  Phyllis returned to the matter in hand.

  ‘Phase One,’ she repeated firmly, and then paused. ‘No. Before that you want a sort of key question, with a page all to itself.’

  ‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘I’d thought of – ’ But she shook her head, thinking. Presently:

  ‘Got it!’ she said. ‘It’s by Emily Pettifell, whom I don’t suppose you ever heard of.’

  ‘Quite right,’ I told her. ‘I’d thought of – ’

  ‘It was in The Pink Nursery Book,’ she said. She pulled a gloved hand out of her pocket, and recited:

  I shook my head. ‘Too long. And, if I may say so, don’t you think The Pink Nursery Book is a trifle out of key?’

  ‘But the last two lines, Mike. Just right.’ She repeated them:

  – But, Mother, please tell me, what can those things be

  That crawl up so stealthily out of the sea?

  ‘I’m sorry, darling, but it’s still “no,” ’ I said.

  ‘You won’t get anything more apposite. What were you thinking of?’

  ‘Well, I had in mind a thing of Tennyson’s.’

  ‘Tennyson!’ she exclaimed, painedly.

  ‘Listen!’ I said, and took my turn at recitation. ‘Not one of his major poetical works,’ I admitted, ‘but even Tennyson was young once.’

  ‘My last couplet was more appropriate.’

  ‘In words and at the moment, but not in spirit. Besides, mine may even come true in the end,’ I told her.

  We ding-donged a bit about it, but, after all, it is supposed to be my book. Phyllis can write her own if she likes. So here goes:

  Below the thunders of the upper deep;

  Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,

  His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep

  The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee

  About his shadowy sides: above him swell

  Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;

  And far away into the sickly light,

  From many a wondrous grot and secret cell

  Unnumber’d and enormous polypi

  Winnow with giant fins the slumbering green.

  There hath he lain for ages and will lie

  Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,

  Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;

  Then once by men and angels to be seen,

  In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.


  Phase One

  I’M a reliable witness, you’re a reliable witness, practically all God’s children are reliable witnesses in their own estimation – which makes it funny how such different ideas of the same affair get about. Almost the only people I know who agree word for word
on what they saw on the night of 15 July are Phyllis and I. And, as Phyllis happens to be my wife, people said, in their kindly way behind our backs, that I ‘over-persuaded’ her: a thought and a euphemism that could only proceed from someone who did not know Phyllis.

  The time was 11.15 p.m.; the place, latitude 35, some 24 degrees west of Greenwich; the ship, the Guinevere; the occasion, our honeymoon. About these facts there is no dispute. The cruise had taken us to Madeira, the Canaries, Cape Verde Islands, and had then turned north to show us the Azores on our way home. We, Phyllis and I, were leaning on the rail, taking a breather. From the saloon came the sound of the dance continuing, and the crooner yearning for somebody. The sea stretched in front of us like a silken plain in the moonlight. The ship sailed it as smoothly as if she were on a river. We gazed out silently at the infinity of sea and sky. Behind us the crooner went on baying.

  ‘I’m so glad I don’t feel like him; it must be devastating,’ Phyllis said. ‘Why, do you suppose, do people keep on mass-producing these decadent moanings?’

  I had no answer ready for that one, but I was saved the trouble of trying to find one when her attention was suddenly caught elsewhere.

  ‘Mars is looking pretty angry to-night, isn’t he? I hope it isn’t an omen,’ she said.

  I looked where she pointed at a red spot among myriads of white ones, and with some surprise. Mars does look red, of course, though I had never seen him look quite as red as that – but then, neither were the stars, as seen at home, quite as bright as they were here. Being practically in the tropics might account for it.

  ‘Certainly a little inflamed,’ I agreed.

  We regarded the red point for some moments. Then Phyllis said:

  ‘That’s funny. It seems to be getting bigger.’

  I explained that that was obviously an hallucination formed by staring at it. We went on staring, and it became quite indisputably bigger. Moreover:

  ‘There’s another one. There can’t be two Marses,’ said Phyllis.

  And sure enough there was. A smaller red point, a little up from, and to the right of, the first. She added:

  ‘And another. To the left. See?’

  She was right about that, too, and by this time the first one was glowing as the most noticeable thing in the sky.

  ‘It must be a flight of jets of some kind, and that’s a cloud of luminous exhaust we’re seeing,’ I suggested.

  We watched all three of them slowly getting brighter and also sinking lower in the sky until they were little above the horizon line, and reflecting in a pinkish pathway across the water towards us.

  ‘Five now,’ said Phyllis.

  We’ve both of us been asked many times since to describe them, but perhaps we are not gifted with such a precise eye for detail as some others. What we said at the time, and what we still say, is that on this occasion there was no real shape visible. The centre was solidly red, and a kind of fuzz round it was less so. The best suggestion I can make is that you imagine a brilliantly red light as seen in a fairly thick fog so that there is a strong halation, and you will have something of the effect.

  Others besides ourselves were leaning over the rail, and in fairness I should perhaps mention that between them they appear to have seen cigar-shapes, cylinders, discs, ovoids, and, inevitably, saucers. We did not. What is more, we did not see eight, nine, or a dozen. We saw five.

  The halation may, or may not, have been due to some kind of jet drive, but it did not indicate any great speed. The things grew in size quite slowly as they approached. There was time for people to go back into the saloon and fetch their friends out to see, so that, presently, a line of us leant all along the rail, looking at them and guessing.

  With no idea of scale, we could have no judgement of their size or distance; all we could be sure of was that they were descending in a long glide which looked as if it would take them across our wake. The fellow next to me was talking know-all about St Elmo’s fire to a partner who had never heard of St Elmo and didn’t feel she had missed anything, when the first one hit the water.

  A great burst of steam shot up in a pink plume. Then, swiftly, there was a lower, wider spread of steam which had lost the pink tinge, and was simply a white cloud in the moonlight. It was beginning to thin out when the sound of it reached us in a searing hiss. The water round the spot bubbled and seethed and frothed. When the steam drew off, there was nothing to be seen there but a patch of turbulence, gradually subsiding.

  Then the second of them came in, in just the same way, on almost the same spot. One after another all five of them touched down on the water with great whooshes and hissings of steam. Then the vapour cleared, showing only a few contiguous patches of troubled water.

  Aboard the Guinevere, bells clanged, the beat of the engines changed, we started to change course, crews turned out to man the boats, men stood by to throw lifebelts.

  Four times we steamed slowly back and forth across the area, searching. There was no trace whatever to be found. But for our own wake, the sea lay all about us in the moonlight, placid, empty, unperturbed…

  The next morning I sent my card in to the Captain. In those days I had a staff job with the EBC, and I explained to him that they would be pretty sure to take a piece from me on the previous night’s affair. He gave the usual response:

  ‘You mean BBC?’ he suggested.

  The EBC was younger then, and it was necessary to explain almost every time. I did so, and added:

  ‘As far as I’ve been able to tell, every passenger has a different version, so I thought I’d like to check mine with your official one.’

  ‘A good idea,’ he approved. ‘Go ahead, and tell me yours.’

  When I had finished, he nodded, and then showed me his entry in the log. Substantially we were agreed; certainly in the view that there had been five, and on the impossibility of attributing a definite shape to them. His estimates of speed; size, and position were, of course, technical matters. I noticed that they had registered on the radar screens, and were tentatively assumed to have been aircraft of an unknown type.

  ‘What’s your own private. opinion?’ I asked him. ‘Did you ever see anything at all like them before?’

  ‘No. I never did,’ he said, but he seemed to hesitate.

  ‘But what–?’ I asked.

  ‘Well, but not for the record,’ he said, ‘I’ve heard of two instances, almost exactly similar, in the last year. One time it was three of the things by night; the other, it was half a dozen of them by daylight – even so, they seem to have looked much the same; just a kind of red fuzz. Both lots were in the Pacific though, not over this side.’

  ‘Why “not for the record”?’ I asked.

  ‘In both cases there were only two or three witnesses – and it doesn’t do a seaman any good to get a reputation for seeing things, you know. The stories just got around professionally, so to speak – among ourselves we aren’t quite as sceptical as landsmen: some funny things can still happen at sea, now and then.’

  ‘You can’t suggest an explanation I can quote?’

  ‘On professional grounds I’d prefer not. I’ll just stick to my official entry. But reporting it is a different matter this time. We’ve a couple of hundred witnesses and more.’

  ‘Do you think it’d be worth a search? You’ve got the spot pinpointed.’

  He shook his head. ‘It’s deep there. Over three thousand fathoms: that’s a long way down.’

  ‘There wasn’t any trace of wreckage in those other cases, either?’

  ‘No. That would have been evidence to warrant an inquiry. But they had no evidence.’

  We talked a little longer, but I could not get him to put forward any theory. Presently I went away, and wrote up my account. Later, I got through to London, and dictated it to an EBC recorder. It went out on the air the same evening as a filler, just an oddity which was not expected to do more than raise a few eyebrows.

  So it was by chance that I was a witness of that early sta
ge – almost the beginning, for I have not been able to find any references to identical phenomena earlier than those two spoken of by the Captain. Even now, years later, though I am certain enough in my own mind that this was the beginning, I can still offer no proof that it was not an unrelated phenomenon. What the end that will eventually follow this beginning may be, I prefer not to think too closely: I would also prefer not to dream about it, either, if dreams were within my control.

  It began so unrecognizably. Had it been more obvious-and yet it is difficult to see what could have been done effectively even if we had recognized the danger. Recognition and prevention don’t necessarily go hand in hand. We recognized the potential dangers of atomic fission quickly enough – yet we could do little about them.

  If we had attacked immediately – well, perhaps. But until the danger was well established we had no means of knowing that we should attack – and then it was too late.

  However, it does no good to cry over our shortcomings. My purpose is to give as good a brief account as I can of how the present situation arose – and, to begin with, it arose very scrappily….

  In due course the Guinevere docked at Southampton without being treated to any more curious phenomena. We did not expect any more, but the event had been memorable; almost as good, in fact, as having been put in a position to say, upon some remote future occasion: ‘When your grandmother and I were on our honeymoon we saw a sea-serpent,’ though not quite. Still, it was a wonderful honeymoon, I never expect to have a better: and Phyllis said something to much the same effect as we leant on the rail, watching the bustle below.

  ‘Except,’ she added, ‘that I don’t see why we shouldn’t have one nearly as good, now and then.’

  So we disembarked, sought our brand new home in Chelsea, and I turned up at the EBC offices the following Monday morning to discover that in absentia I had been rechristened Fireball Watson. This was on account of the correspondence. They handed it to me in a large sheaf, and said that since I had caused it, I had better do something about it.

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