Well, no Manhire Prize for Che. Process got me writing though. Pity Kim Hill didn’t like my story! I guess the best I’ll ever be is, a blogger.

So here it is:

Island Bay.

He told me he didn’t know when he first sensed it. It was just that feeling, a knowing that it was swelling. Just out there. Just beyond the line of the palms that marked the edge of the main road. The water. The crystal clear water fading off to tropical blue. Growing. It was creeping closer every day, and soon it would be the end. Soon enough that his own children would not live on his grandfather’s grandfather’s island. Bulging up out of the deep in a slow-motion welling of white-tipped waves and churning tides. Ever creeping closer, a shark gliding past the other reef, the wash of its fins pushing water higher still, a plan to ensnare men.

* * *

It was a grey day and a skinny boy skipped quickly across the shoreline rocks. He stopped and looked out at the water of Cook Strait. An undulating green jelly rising and falling in great, long breaths. He looked past his feet and into a pool, his dusky-blonde hair falling into his eyes. Tiny crabs and anemones, sea grasses and cockabullies, the ocean in a space twice the size of his hand.

“Look out!” the voice cried. The boy looked up to see a wave breaking against the rocks, spray launching up into the air and raining salty mist onto him. “It’s coming again!” warned the voice. The boy stood and backed away as the next wave raised up and over the rock, smothering his aquarium in turbulence. He laughed, roared, waving his arms like wings and ran away from the shore towards the grassed hillside and the voice.

I thought it was going to get you too!” his companion yelled, “But you flew out of its way!” He flapped his arms too, and the pair charged up the hillside to collapse laughing. Sitting on the grass the pair picked at the yellow-flowering lupins and looked out over the water. That day the island that once gave the bay its name was still visible, a crown of greywacke jutting up through the lazy, playful breakers.

* * *

A dull garden. A country of dark green leaves and flowerless trees. Alien birds and alien gardens. A windswept people carried far on a gulls wings. A greedy people who fed an ocean and ate the whole world. Noah, he stirs in his chair and looks away from the window, his frame cracking and sore under the weather’s cold hammers. The television blares news of the changes to the walls keeping the waves from downtown, speaks of riots among the refugees sent to the central highlands, sings of the many things this land offers up for the taking. Everything but home, it seems.

* * *

“Where did you find it!” he gasped, gawking. He took a cautious step forward to look closer. “Is it… petrol?”

“Yip.”

“What… what are you going to do with it?”

“Make that motorbike over there go real fast.”

“But… but… isn’t that stuff illegal?”

“No-one but you and me will know man. No-one.”

“But what if someone sees us riding it?”

“They’ll just think it’s regular fuel. Most haven’t seen this stuff in years, so why would they be suss?”

“My dad reckons the smell is different, kind of… dirtier.”

“Doesn’t matter man. Even if we do get hassled, what difference would it make? We aren’t making the Warm worse with this little bit?”

He steps away from his friend, looking out of the shed door and at the driveway.
“I dunno aeh…”

“C’mon man, don’t be a sook. Gimme a hand with this bike.”

* * *

He said he knew that the storms were the first warning from Him. The storm surges would wash across the reef and force their way into the villages. The people would scramble to the safety of the high ground, returning to find their homes sodden or collapsed.

Next came the poisoning of the fields. The salt water was making its way up through the ground, and the crops would not grow. People ate from the reef and it was soon exhausted.

Him. He who knows what selfish people they had been. He who pushed the great mighty ocean up from the depths. The ocean to wash away the people and their wastefulness. The tide to draw the people back into the shallows, to wallow, waterlogged, and drowning.

The coastal people fled.

* * *

“Why did your Dad come to New Zealand?” he asked, brushing the hair from his eyes. He threw a lupin flower at his friend.

“Aeh?” came the reply as he batted away the annoyance, “What’s that?”

“Why did your Dad and your family come to New Zealand?”

“They had to. All the land was going, and everybody was real crowded.”

“My Dad reckons there’s not much here either, ’cause everyone wants to be here now, since the Warm.”

“More than where we come from. Dad says everything is underwater now.”

The friend stood up, brushing sand from his pants and onto his shirt before continuing.
“They say it’s like that rock out there in the bay. They tried to live up on long poles for a bit, but soon the water just got too high, and the hurricanes destroyed it all.”

“Cool… they lived up on poles?”

“Nah, not just poles, but houses raised up so the water could pass underneath.”

He looked back towards the blonde boy, and flicked a twig at him, “Your stink country did that.”

The blonde regarded him for a moment, uncertainty about his own blame showing. His stern friend and his dark eyes. He laughed, and flapping his arms jumped up roaring, “Fly! Fly away from this place, roooooaaaaarrr!!”

His friend smiled, and looked back to the bay for an instant, the island disappearing beneath the loping swell, the remains of partially submerged houses still lining the mainland. He laughed, and roared, and flapped his arms, and ran after his friend, towards the coast again.

* * *

He saw himself as a child, running through the sandy, shady, squalor of his village. A picture-postcard memory of a rural idyll. Happy families and gorgeous smiles. Healthy people living out of the garden given them by the Almighty. A paradise lost in the scramble to bring Eden to even the coldest climes. A apple bite that could not be rescinded. The Snakes oily kiss given all too lightly. A Judas kiss. A poisoned fruit. A crop his people never grew, but fallen upon them from on high.

He stirred in his chair, switched off the TV, and rose with a grunt. His aching knees carried him to the window to look outside at the clear blue sky, the cold sun mocking him. His boy would be home soon, to sit and listen to the tales of their island, long lost, never forgotten, one day reclaimed, wide-eyed and awe-struck.

* * *

“But… the Warm man. People take this petrol shit pretty seriously.”

“Mate, why are you such, a, damn, pussy?” He pulls the fuel can away from the funnel they’d been using and looks at him. “Look, we could take this can outside here and explode the whole lot and it wouldn’t make a dot of diff to the Warm!”

The friend drops the can and continues, “There’s those big carbonisers out there in Turangi right now turning trees to charcoal and putting that shit back in the ground. Meanwhile, here’s you freaking out because we’ve got 3 litres of old money! What the hell!?”

He stops to think for a moment, and looks at the motorcycle.

“I get to ride it first.”

The friend grins, “That’s the spirit…”

They finish filling the tank of the bike and wheel it out of the garage and round to the side of the flat, he pauses, “What about the carburettor seals? I’ve heard they perish with some types of old fuel?”

“Thought of that. We shouldn’t be running this bad boy long enough for them to be eaten through. So it should be sweet as.”

“Cool.” He climbs onto the bike and kick-starts it. Once the petrol works its way through the bike it roars into life. The blue smoke that belches from the exhaust is acrid, heavy. He guns the engine and his friend leaps onto the pillion. He shouts, “What’s the worse that can happen, right?!”

They explode down the drive and onto the empty Kilbirnie roads.

* * *

He said they had called it The Great Leap Forward. A six generation vault into the future. Humanity learned to cross the skies and power through the oceans. We pushed out of our shell and into the Void. A Great Leap Forward… A springboard that exploited a billion years of captured sunlight. A leap forward followed by a momentous crash, the most basic provisions now beyond our reach.

All that energy, spilled. All that hope, dissipated into space. The amassed, latent blood of countless generations, a legacy, squandered. A cargo cult waiting at the shores of a tomorrow burnt in yesterday’s excess.

* * *

They had run back from the high ground around Island Bay and were heading towards the Dairy down the street from his house.

“Do you reckon the ocean’s going to get higher?”

“Dunno. My Dad says it’s too late for many places, but there’s not enough water to flood the whole world.”

“Is that why you came to New Zealand?”

“All of the fugees were coming here, ’cause Australia was too dry.”

The friend stops, picks up a bottle cap, kicks it. He chases after it, kicking it back. They walk in silence for a time, the rattle of the aluminium the only sound as it skittles backwards and forwards on the concrete roads.

They stop at the Dairy. They watch the Saturday afternoon bicycles trundle back and forth. They eat ice creams and poke fun at some girls, their parents in the local shops. They pull one girl’s hair and run away laughing, stopping at a safe distance to hoot and wave their arms.

They turn back to the road when the girls disappear into the shops, the lazy pohutukawas waving in the gentle summer winds, beckoning them back along the quiet, empty streets.

“I gotta go.” says the friend, “My dad waits for me in the afternoon.”

“OK,” He says, “I’ll come too.”

The noise starts as a dull rumble. A kind of muffled roar echoing down from the hills above. Their eyes light up.

“What’s that?!” He exclaims, and looks to see the wariness in his friend’s eyes. “Dunno… where’s it coming from?”

“Dunno… is it coming towards us? Let’s look!” He runs down the street towards the roar.

* * *

He works his way to the front door and looks out at the street. He looks up at the hills above. He sees the stately homes, sheer and sleek, impervious on hilltops. He sees his own home, the homes of his neighbours, left to the risk of the low ground. He, still at the mercy of the oceans temper. He, the lucky one, who had escaped the refugee camp in which his father had died feeding the tree machines. He, who had escaped the crowded, tumbledown South Auckland slums to this place, a better place. He, who had watched his wife die of despair when the last of their islands drowned beneath the waves. He, who clung to the promise of a better life for his boy.

* * *

He walked to the gate, and leaned on the fence-post. A tui sings in the trees above, and the sunlight is warm on his face. He waves at the palangi man over the road, who waves back and compliments the weather. He smiles and looks down the street, and there, where the road bends back from the shops, where the pohutukawa always begins to flower first, is his boy, running excitedly towards… a noise.

* * *

The motorcycle carries them quickly out of Kilbirnie and up into the hills above. The engine strains to make the inclines and roars when they struggle onto flat stretches. The power is unlike anything he’s experienced before. Biofuel is too narrow, too clean. Electric cars too quiet, too clinical. But this… this is like being strapped to a rocket. The roar is deafening, the squeal of the tires exhilarating, a barely controlled explosion happening between his thighs and vibrating up his spine.

They swing round corners and past windmills, chop, chop, chop. They drown out the sounds of poor families on the steepest slopes. They raise the ire of rich families in their secure, insurable homes on the high ground. They burst into laughter when the bike throws itself over and down dips and declines.

The unadulterated joy fills and inflates them as they ride a bullet in a cloud of gunmetal smoke, a magic carpet on wind made of ancient sunlight. He whoops with delight and opens the throttle as the bike hits the flat ground in Island Bay, the tires slipping on the smoothened concrete roads, the risk of it all pushing his adrenaline through the roof, his friend gripping his waist tightly as they lean into the winds.

And then it ended. A boy had run out onto the road.

* * *

He told me all hope was lost when the last of the deadly machines visited him, stalking him oh-so-many days until it found him happy, briefly, in the most fleeting moment. He who had borne the weight of a selfish world squarely on defenceless shoulders. He who wore with melancholic good-nature the disasters visited by others. He who never took more than his share, and returned all he was able.

He said the memory had ended, the long line of stories cut. The promise of a return, like Lazarus, risen from beneath a watery tomb, the sea grasses his funeral wrappings, the stoney weight of the ocean itself, was broken.

Lives squandered by another’s foolishness. The trade they made between safety and the joy of power. The trade they made between their own future and the effect visited on others.

Even though they themselves hurt. Though they themselves had to ‘adjust’. It was he who suffered. It was he who became Job, the Devil’s endless testing levelled upon him. It was he who lost that which he had nurtured, the one thing holding him to this life, this world. The one thing keeping his body from the pit. One more life, one more trap of sunlight, sinking in the oceans, to nestle in the depths, to be crushed, to merge, a band of former lives, a black blood, innocent, split across stone, delivered up to the altar of folly.

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