Imagine 2200, Grist’s climate fiction initiative, publishes stories that envision the next 180 years of equitable climate progress, imagining intersectional worlds of abundance, adaptation, reform, and hope. This short story is part of our Imagine 2200 Editors’ Picks collection.
Listen to this story
The Stingray fangs along down the coast, long brown rat-tail streaming behind him and thrashing like a whip in the wind. The rest of his short hair is sun-bleached and wild. He rides heavy astride his jet ski. The sun gleams off its shiny black carapace. The ocean glimmers like hot silver around him, and its refracted light dances across his face. Dark goggles protect his eyes from the glare of the sun, and from the wind.
His bare feet rest on the pegs on the front of the ski, while his hands grip the hangar handlebars of his chopper-style ski, arms stretched out straight and wide to control the touchy throttles. Tanned and tattooed with huge knotty knuckles, his meaty hands are scarred from years of fighting blow-ins, posers and colonisers for the waves. With one hand steadying his handlebars, he unzips his rashie with the other to let some fresh air in; his hairy chest is covered in thick black tattoos. From a distance, his once-dark rashie looks like acid-washed denim, so mottled is it from years of sun and salt. The shoulders of the rashie are studded with hardwood spikes carved by his people, and shark teeth are sewn in patterns down the arms. His long dark pants are made of salvaged quick-dry fabric.
He reaches up and peels back the throttle and the ski revs and growls between his thighs. His club’s patch is stitched on the back of his rashie: on a black background, a white stingray with a mean face and menacing tail rendered in the local Goori art style. Their unique dot designs border the patch. The stingray was once the sacred totem of the olden day Goori warriors from the area who lived here before the ocean colonised the land. Their training temple, long underwater where the old industrial zone used to be, is full of rusting artifacts — weight sets and gym equipment and sparring spaces marked out like ceremony grounds. Sometimes the Stingrays’ new prospects do their initiation dives down there to see what ancient fitness apparatuses they can reclaim to bring power to them in their new lives. This is not just an aesthetic exercise. The chosen identities of the modern day Stingrays honor their olden day stingray ancestors.
Mirroring the creature depicted on his back, the Stingray’s face and neck are covered in white zinc, and the tops of his hands and feet are slathered in it too. Beneath his goggles, his eyes are outlined in thick black liner that covers them all the way down to the sockets. Like exaggerated eyelashes, squiggly lines extend from above and below each of his bright blue eyes, radiating out like the lashes of a demented doll. Dangerous eyes for a dangerous man. With his ghostly face and thick black eye paint, a design unique to him, this huge beast of a Stingray is quickly recognised from vast distances. For his face paint, this particular Ocean Bikie had taken inspiration from the singer of an old deathpunk band that once existed in the world before the oceans rose.
Like all Ocean Bikies in the area, Stingrays or not, our man Lenny here was patched in after having completed a years-long apprenticeship. He’d been apprenticed to his aunty. That was many years ago. When his aunty felt he was ready to be patched in, Lenny did his initiation dive in the old heavy metal dive bar beneath the faded pink hotel that pokes up just above sea level near the headland. All prospects must do their dive in a sacred site to begin their aesthetic differentiation within the group’s cultural identity. This is when they take their names and decide their face markings and tattoos. The only rule is that they must find names and designs that no living Bikie uses and make them their own. And they must do the dive without oxygen or snorkels.
This hotel is now Lenny’s main camp. The hotel’s once-pink paint is so bleached out it’s almost white, and the building is riddled with barnacles and rust marks climbing up the walls. Only the very top floor of the hotel remains above sea level, as well as a rooftop area where Lenny grows food and yarndi in pot planters.
There are still thousands of albums down in the heavy metal bar, packed in boxes in a metal locker. Every now and then a CD escapes, shaken from its slumber by the tides, and Lenny dries it out. Then, when the sun has been strong enough to charge the batteries in his salvaged CD player, he blares the music from the rooftop, heavy metal screaming across the water.
Now that he is closer to home, Lenny spies his people at the basalt rocks. These black rocks are all slick with spray — apart from one rock painted bright green with webbed feet, white eyes, and a pink smiling mouth. Nobody knows who is responsible but this frog is always freshly painted. It always has been this way; this is Minjungbal country, the place of the frog people. On the face of another large rock close to the frog, white block letters declare:
“Yewww!” Lenny calls out the ancient surf salutation to the other Stingrays, who return the greeting. He leans hard to the right, knee touching the water, and he pulls up sharp in front of them. Soon another Stingray arrives, then another, and another. Each one who joins them is greeted this way, and each returns the greeting in kind.
The Stingrays are dressed similarly to each other, with matching patches on their rashies, which are so faded and stretchy they look like denim jackets. Their white zinc gives them all uniformly frightful faces, but each of the Stingrays’ black face designs are unique. One Stingray has corpse paint in the style of the old Norse black metal bands; one face is painted like a grinning skull, another is like the Crimson Ghost, and another like the Phantom of the Opera. Together they’re an arresting sight — and you’d likely avoid them if you weren’t from around here.
Soon the whole gang is gathered together, bobbing on the water on their skis.
“So,” says Lenny, “Anyone seen anything worth yarning about?”
“Seen a bunch of boat people sniffing around further up the coast. Doubt they’ll be brave enough to come down here though,” says Kristy, his second in charge.
“They wouldn’t wanna try it!”
They all rock their skis back and forth in the water and whoop and cheer.
“We ran into your old girl too, Lenny. She’ll be here this arvo.”
Lenny nods. “Right, what about southside?”
“There’s a mob of them Gumbaynggirr surfers coming on a big boat. Just the usual crew, I think. They’ll be here in about an hour or so.”
“Okay then. What needs doing now?”
“We just gotta make sure the headland is solid while we wait for the other mob.”
The Stingrays tie their bikes together with stretch-cord, drop their anchors, then dive into the water and race each other to the headland.
The ocean is calm today, but it will soon become a raging, seething force of wind and water. A few big cyclonic cells are expected off the coast in the coming days. The start of this year’s cyclone season coincides with a full moon and the summer solstice, which means it will be a king tide — but the cyclonic forces mean this will be a much bigger swell than usual.
This is ceremony time for the community, whether they surf monster waves or not. Those who don’t surf big — whether they are too old or too young or not fit enough for the incoming swell — will make their annual inland pilgrimage to the mountains, taking the rivers south and west to wait cyclone season out. Those who do surf big will stay.
Anything not under shelter or strapped down to solid foundations will be washed away or damaged, so there’s plenty of work to do to prepare. Regardless of where they’ll spend the coming week, the whole Goori community is out and about on the waterways preparing for the carnage, gathering nets and packing up the oyster farms, pulling apart floating islands and fish traps, packing away their workshops and camps, and taking everything that isn’t strapped down to bedrock to bring inland with them to shelter and make repairs. The people of the community enjoy the calm day while they can. Soon they’ll either be testing their strength against the gnarliest waves on the planet, or otherwise they’ll be holed up in the mountain shelter for days, maybe weeks, all packed in tightly against the meat of other people.
The Stingrays reach the groyne, which is a structure of multicolored plastic scraps cemented together by shellfish. The Stingrays walk its length, testing the ground with their feet to ensure that every part of this inorganic outcrop is locked on tight like lego. They test the places nearest the waterline, and underneath it, and so on until they must dive down deeper to test the underwater foundation’s structure. The plastic is brightest closer to the surface, fading more and more the deeper down you go until you reach real basalt rock, which formed the original groyne. The Stingrays emerge, breathe in, and then dive down again.
* * *
A long time ago, the Stingrays’ ingenious ancestors grew the foundations of the plastic groyne upon the original bedrock. These ancestors had been inspired by the engineering of Ngemba people and other cousins who pioneered ancient stone fish trap technology. The ancestors grew corals and barnacles around waste materials to cement the plastics to the bedrock, and every year they grew the groyne taller, locking new material to the foundations of the old. The oceans continued to rise and so did the groyne. Successive generations refined their technique over hundreds of years, though the basic technique is still used to this day. And so the headland’s break wall rises as the waterline does, ensuring this ancient surf break that was world-famous in old times pumps out waves that are just as epic as they were back then.
Certain everything is solid and locked in, the Stingrays swim back to their skis and watch and wait.
“Ere la,” Kristy shouts out, eyes trained on the horizon. “Mob from down south coming through!”
“Bring ’em over, but make sure they’re only the ones who have the treaty with us.”
Two Stingrays ride up to the big boat and escort it back to the group.
“Yewwww!” the Stingrays shout on the boat’s approach.
“Yewwwwwww!” the crowded boat replies. Stencilled over the watercraft is a huge stylized symbol of a wave, an ancient surf cult symbol. The people on the boat all have the symbol somewhere on their person too, whether painted or sewn onto clothes, or tattooed on their arms.
The call flies back and forth between the groups for the next few minutes, and the air is ringing with the time-honoured friendship call: yew-yeww-yewww-yewwww-yewwwww-yewwwwww-yewwwwwww-yewwwwwwww!
“Otis you maddog!” Lenny calls out to his cousin who is leaning on the front railing of the boat. “There’s a few more of youse this season.”
“This is the only place that can still handle the waves, cuz,” says Otis.
“What, no good down your way?”
“Nah, she’s not far off from turning into a bay.”
Lenny shudders at the thought of one of his favourite childhood surf spots becoming a flat and soupy place.
“Your old people were onto it, I reckon,” Otis says.
Everybody nods and raises their hands in the horns in silent thanks to those smart old people.
“Right,” says Lenny. “Looks like you’ve brought a few blow-ins along. They’ll need to get the lowdown then sign onto the treaty.”
“No worries cuz,” Otis says. “You got any updates on your end?”
“Nah, not that I can think of. You?”
“Nah, but let us know if you think of anything and we can yarn it out.”
“Youse’ll be the first to know,’ says Lenny. ‘What offerings did you bring?”
“Not much, I’m sorry — mainly seeds and sprouts. We found a big old seed bank washed up in the rockpools. We’ve already started seedlings from many of them so we know they’re good to go.” He hands Lenny a large cloth packet wrapped in plastic. “We brought youse five of each seed, though we have no idea what they all are.”
Lenny’s eyes light up as he reaches for the packet. “Nice one cuzzie!” He secures the package in his waterproof pannier on the back of his ski. “We’ve been needing new veggies more than anything, so fingers crossed.”
Kristy says, “While the kids are out in the mountains I’ll get them to scavenge some pots and fill ‘em up with soil. Once they’re back we can start the seedlings on the high-rise roofs.”
Lenny says to the Gumbaynggirr Gooris: “Most of our people are heading inland so youse mob can make camp in any of the high-rises. Same deal as last time. Use whatever’s there, just leave everything as clean and tied up as you found it. Now, Kristy here will give you the lowdown.”
Kristy eyeballs the strangers. “Right, listen up you new mob! Youse better all be careful out there because we don’t want you dying on our country. We’ve had enough deaths here from tourists not listening to locals, and this goes back centuries, so we don’t want to have to mourn you and look after your remains. I know you’re all strong swimmers and that you’ve been doing this all your lives, but these cyclones coming in are predicted to be gnarlier than ever.”
Lenny says, “Like previous years, most waves will be surfable for around a kilometer. You’ll need to be very fit and fast to drop into these monsters from out the back there.” He points to the stretch of water behind the groyne. “You’ll get plenty of breaks between waves cos we take turns towing each other in.”
“Now, see those big crumbling buildings there?” Kristy points to the ruins standing in the shallowest water. “They’re good for camping in when it’s calm but they’re mad dangerous when you surf this front run. You need to have good eyes to judge how fast to go, and you need to be fit enough to hit that speed, otherwise you’ll end up as a blood and meat mural painted on the front of one of the buildings.”
One of the young Gumbaynggirr kids spits on the water. “Those old colonizers were dumb, huh? They built those big buildings too close to the water.”
Everybody laughs, and Kristy says, “True. They’d be more use to us inland these days. But they couldn’t resist having better views than everyone else back then.”
Once the Stingrays are satisfied the newcomers have the lay of the land, they show them around to their new camps. The sun sets behind the mountains, painting the sky nuclear orange and hot plastic pink. The colors reflect darkly on the ocean.
“Not coming?” Kristy asks Lenny.
“She’ll be here soon. I’ll wait.”
Lenny watches Kristy burn off, her mass of black curls bouncing behind her. At the eastern horizon, an almost full moon swims out from under the ocean and rises like a ball of pale light into the pinkening sky around it. The tide is so high it’s almost covering the top floor of the pink hotel; the paint almost looks pink again in this light. The sky turns lurid mauve, then darker violet, then deep blue. Across the way, the sun dives below the mountains. As the night sets in Lenny swaps his thin rashie for a thicker neoprene jacket, and waits with his hands tucked into his armpits for warmth.
* * *
From the north, finally, slowly, a flame comes forth from the darkness. The closer the fire comes toward Lenny, the more defined the floating camp becomes as the lantern throws its light around. The old driver is bent over the wheel. A swarm of smaller kayaks and canoes trail behind the main rig, attached to it with ropes.
“That you?” Lenny calls out.
“Who else would it be?” she calls across the water.
“The Blacksmith of the North arriveth!” He salutes her with the horns and she returns in kind. “Took ya long enough. I’m freezing my booras off here.”
“Yeah, yeah. You try towing this shit all the way down here in this decrepit body of mine.”
Lenny rides up to the Blacksmith’s rig, straps his bike to it and climbs aboard. They hug, and Lenny says, “Well you better let me drive then, if you’re gonna carry on like that.”
The Blacksmith yawns. “If you say so.” She throws her hood off her thick grey dreadlocks.
“Why aren’t any of your kids helping out?” he asks.
She stretches her arms. “Cos if I start letting them take control I’ll never get any back.”
Lenny sits at the steering wheel and guides the floating workshop toward his camp. The drag of the vessels behind the rig is strong.
“I swear this thing gets heavier and heavier every year.”
“You know I never throw anything out. And I just keep finding things.”
He looks around. Three surfboards are strapped to the ceiling: a small fish, a bigger shortboard, and his old mini-mal that he gave her when she stopped riding the shorter boards. The bottom halves of the walls are lined with drawers and cupboards, each one labelled with different types of plastics. All of her tools hang from hooks on the walls: mallets, moulds, shapers, chisels — and a blowtorch. At the back of the boat, in the open, is her smelter with its big steel sink and a smaller basin for tempering. She has everything she needs to melt scrap plastic and turn it into tools, weapons, floaties, boats, bricks, blocks, containers, or anything else you could imagine. Lenny stops the houseboat and drops anchor.
“I’m starving,” she says. “Have you eaten?”
“Not yet. I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Good. Kayden,” she yells out to the darkness behind the rig. “Let’s get a feed going mate.”
A kid paddles out of the darkness in an old green kayak. Its ripped-up side has been patched over with molten yellow plastic. The kid stops a little way out from the rig, just inside the lamplight, threads a hook through a worm and dips a hand line into the water. The Blacksmith takes two rods from the poles in the back of the boat and hands one to Lenny.
Soon, Kayden’s line straightens, and they reel the line in hand over hand, and pull up a great big slapping tailor. The Blacksmith rummages through one of her cupboards for a frying pan and lobs it over to Kayden. The kid scales the fish over the water, guts and fillets it, flops it onto the frypan and throws the innards back into the water, then paddles over and ties their kayak to the main rig. They take a banksia cone from their supplies, smear it with lighter fluid, and place it on the pile of sand in the bottom of their kayak. One flick of a lighter over the cone and a flame leaps out and covers it, dancing.
The meat cooks quickly over the high heat. Kayden flips the fish onto a plate and passes it up to the rig, then climbs aboard. The Blacksmith sprinkles it with saltbush and the older two tuck in. The hot flesh flakes apart in their fingers as they eat. They pass the rest to Kayden.
The Blacksmith gestures to them. “This is Kayden, my oldest kid. They’re Darumbal. First cyclone season for this one so this’ll be the beginning of their initiation. I was hoping you mob could take them on after this. They need to be around more exciting people, not a slow old thing like me. You taking any prospects neph?”
“Could do. But I’ve never sponsored anyone before.”
“Well speaking as your old sponsor, I reckon you two are a good match. Kayden’s a bit of a thief, and pretty good at it I might add! They’re absolutely useless at blacksmithing, but they’ve got a talent for picking locks, cracking old safes, you name it.” She musses up Kayden’s dirty blonde hair. “I’m gonna miss this one, but it’s about time they learnt some warrior ways.”
“How many kids you looking after now?’ Lenny asks her.
“I’ve got nine others at the moment. Just teaching ‘em the basics, you know? And they keep this old girl safe from all those pieces of shit out there who wouldn’t think twice about robbing a respected old lady.”
“Since when did you become a lady, and when did people start respecting you?”
She slaps his arm and Kayden laughs. The kid has cheeky eyes and they keep glancing at Lenny’s ski tied to the side of the boat.
“You like this one mate?” Lenny gestures to it.
“We’ll have to get you one of your own, once you’re patched in, huh?”
The Blacksmith laughs. “You’ll have to go raid some rich boat people for a nice ski like that. That’s how Lenny got this one here.”
Lenny nods and says to Kayden, “Your aunty here, when she was younger, she speared a big yacht once. She ever tell you that?”
Kayden shakes their head.
“Yep, I woulda been about your age I reckon. Bunch of loud, rich people sailed right into our waters, sniffing around for god knows what. They’d come in way too close for our liking. Maybe they thought their shiny toys would grant them safe passage in our waters, or their money would win us over. Ha! Anyway, your aunty here rode up to them and told ‘em to fuck off, and you know what they did? They ignored her and dropped their anchor and cast their lines instead.”
“Cheeky cunts,” the Blacksmith says.
“So anyway, she rides back to camp, and without a word to any of us, she gets her harpoon, and rides straight back up to them, and launches her spear fair into the side of their shiny white yacht. Tore a huge chunk out of it! They all shit themselves, especially when they spotted the rest of us riding over for a look. And off they went and never came back.”
“Colonizers and capitalists, thinking they can buy us and our waters,” says the Blacksmith.
“I shit myself too, just quietly,” says Lenny. “I’d just been nommed, wasn’t even patched in yet, and here’s my fucken sponsor going up and spearing invaders. I thought twice about talking cheeky round her after that.”
“That certainly never stopped you from being a smart-arse.” She points at Lenny’s ski with pursed lips. “And you forgot to mention the best part of this, as far as you were concerned anyway.”
Lenny smirks and nods at the Blacksmith to continue.
“See, Kayden,” she says, “while those boat people were busy carrying on about their yacht, leaning over the side to check out the damage, a certain young prospect had snuck into their cargo hold and made off with this very nice ski you’re admiring here.”
The Blacksmith and Lenny laugh, and Kayden looks at Lenny in a new light.
“Oh well, what do we say about private property anyway?” asks the Blacksmith.
Kayden pipes up: “All property is theft.”
“That might be right,” says Lenny, “but what’s the exception to that rule?”
Kayden answers, “Whatever we can carry with us is ours.”
Lenny nods. “So that ski is all I truly own.”
They finish eating and wash their hands off in the water.
“Right Kayden.” Lenny claps his hands together. “You can hang with me and learn the ropes. See how ya go, whether we think you’ll fit in here. We’ve still got a bit of preparation to do for the swell, then you can go inland with the others til the cyclones have passed through. Your aunty will probably piss off up north again after she’s finished scabbing through the rubbish. That the plan?” He nods to her.
She nods back. “This might be my last season surfing though, my nephew. I’m getting far too old for this.”
“I thought you were only as old as you felt? That’s what you always say.”
She looks out to the dark sea; a slight breeze blows into the boat. “True, but these bastards are getting wilder and wilder each year, and I’m really starting to feel it.”
* * *
As the cyclones approach the coast, the swell builds and rises. Kayden helps the Stingrays prepare, then they are sent inland to Bilambil with the rest of the community. Soon, wild winds whistle through the area and the water rises and whips in response. Waves break off the groyne and form perfect barrels that roll on for hundreds of meters before dissolving onto the shore.
On the first surfing day, the Blacksmith and the Stingrays head out to surf together again for the first time since last cyclone season.
“This’ll be my last season,” she reminds Lenny.
“You better make it a good one, then,” he says.
Lenny doubles the Blacksmith in on his ski. They each hold a board under their arms — he, his shortboard, and she, her mini mal. Lenny steers with his free arm, and she holds onto him with hers. They ride up to the high-rise closest to the break and hop off. Lenny lashes his ski to a sturdy wall divider in the middle of the building, then padlocks it tight with a chain against theft from wind and water and people. The two paddle over to the tow-in area on their boards and join their Stingray and Gumbaynggirr families, who cheer the Blacksmith as she approaches, happy to see their beloved elder back.
To stop overcrowding, and to make sure all eyes can stay alert for any danger, only six surfers at a time are towed out. Elders and other leaders are taken in the first cohort. The Blacksmith and the Bikie are towed in together, out past the colorful headland, out past the reefs the community has made, and zipping over a massive swell to the entry point. The two initiate the lineup as four others join in behind them. The Blacksmith takes off on the first wave and the others watch her and wait their turn. Next it is Lenny’s turn; as soon as he drops in, two more replacement surfers are towed into the end of the lineup. Each surfer rides a perfect, glassy barrel for almost a kilometer before the momentum slows and fizzes out beneath their boards, and they paddle to the waiting Stingrays at the shore, who then take them back, two at a time, to the main tow-in area, where they wait to get back into the lineup. And they all go on like this without a hitch for some three dozen surfers brazen enough to brave these waves — which are growing bigger and faster with each set. As the cyclones come ever closer, the swell rises, and the visibility becomes poorer as the rain starts, moving through the air this way and that.
At the end of the third run-through the Blacksmith is up again. She’s tired from the last three waves, but exhilarated, and she paddles out in front of the next incoming swell until she’s caught its sweet spot, and she stands up on her board as the bulge of the water sharpens into a wave. In no time at all the face of the wave is twice her height, and it curls down behind her body as its power thrusts her forward. The Blacksmith leans down into her forward leg to get up enough speed to keep up with the force of the wave. She splays her toes and grips the waxy deck for dear life. This is not the biggest wave that the Blacksmith has ever surfed, but it’s propelling her faster than she’s ever gone, faster than she can control, and now she’s coming up to the line of high-rises. Because of this face-tearing speed she’s going, she’s far overshot where she wanted to end up.
Two huge buildings loom; she is approaching them too fast. She’d like to pull up and miss the first building entirely, but there’s no point bailing on this wave because the next wave will just pick her up and slam her into one of the buildings anyway, and if she’s in the water at the mercy of these monsters she’ll have no control over where she ends up. Best to stay on the board and ride it as hard as she can so she has more control over where she goes. To miss both buildings she’ll have to go faster than humanly possible. She’s in good shape but she’s not as fit as she used to be — as she needs to be — to get clear. She must try to slide right between the buildings. She will have to look sharp and keep adjusting her speed to make it.
If she keeps this speed up, she will hit the second building. The Blacksmith carves up the face of the wave, and slices back down and around to cut back on some distance. But she is still going too fast. She cuts back again, then leans hard on her back leg to drag the board against the barrelling wave. She’s almost where she needs to be — but that second building is still too close. She rips down hard into her front leg, then releases her foot and flicks her tail, and jumps up the wave, using the speed of the wave to push off and get enough air. She spins and lands back on the wave a few meters ahead of where she was about to crash.
The wave breaks over the first building. The Blacksmith canes it through the gap between the buildings before the wave breaks on the next building only seconds later.
‘Yewwww!’ she yells out, as her mouth fills with water. Backwash from the force of both collisions turns the water between the buildings into a washing machine, and she’s sent flying off her board into the vortex. Under the water, the motion ragdolls her and her leg rope snaps, separating her from her board like a newborn from its placenta.
Her board is spat out into the air and is slapped onto the side of the second building by a spasm of backwash. It breaks apart like chalk. The Blacksmith pulls herself up to the surface of the water and gulps air, swimming like hell towards the shore behind the buildings. Another wave will be coming through soon, and as is the way of sets of waves, this one will be bigger than the last.
Before the next wave breaks over the buildings and sucks her back into its vortex, Kayden fangs through on Lenny’s bike and grabs the Blacksmith by the back of her rashie. The elastic material springs her into the air and snaps her back into Kayden’s arms. Kayden rides the ski so hard that they outrun the next wave. With the Blacksmith clinging to their back they make it back to the shore before the wave does.
* * *
Days later, the swell has died down. The cyclones have danced back out to deeper waters, leaving brown water behind and dirty foam covering the ocean. The beige froth is everywhere — all up the headlands and throughout the high-rises. The waters are teeming with new fish making use of the shade, attracting more sharks and dolphins to the area.
The other thing the cyclone has left behind is all the world’s rubbish. As the cell waltzes around the planet, it sucks up everything that is in its path, scooping rubbish up from the whirling water and pulling it into its body like a vacuum, then dumping it back in the water in its wake.
Gooris emerge from the inland caves and buildings, and at the next outgoing tide they follow the water out toward the ocean on a russet-colored river, tinted with the runoff of rich red mineral dirt. They travel back to the coast on jet skis, paddle boards, canoes and kayaks, in tinnies and bigger row boats. The stronger vessels trawl nets behind them to scoop up the rubbish for sorting. They scrabble through the carnage, evaluating the debris for treasure. There is an abundance of fishing gear — nets, lines, and hooks — and plastic containers, bottles, sealed food packets, driftwood, and assorted bits and pieces of rubbish. You name it: if it’s water-resistant and it floats, it’s here. Back at the coast, the oyster farmers spread their traps back all around the waters and anchor them down; the oysters will filter the water, helping to clean it over the coming weeks.
Kayden paddles the Blacksmith’s smelter back onto the open water and sets it up near the headland. The Blacksmith is perched up on a stool out the back, getting her workshop ready for everyone’s repairs. Lenny rides his ski over to them. It’s dented and demented-looking. When he boards the rig, he says to Kayden: “Half of me still wants to flog you for doing this to my bike, but the other half will be stoked to sponsor you for thinking quick and saving the old warhorse. Now piss off while we talk. Try and find some useful trinkets amongst all this mess.”
Kayden, hiding a smile, paddles away in their kayak.
Lenny asks the Blacksmith, “Now, are you gonna hang around for a bit or what?”
“I think so neph. Between you and me, I’m still a bit shook. Just goes to show, it doesn’t matter how much of a hero you used to be back in the day — none of us are a match for the power of the ocean at the height of cyclone season.” She coughs; she could swear that there’s still saltwater in her lungs. “Nothing like being faced with your own decaying strength to humble you, eh?”
“You’ll be right, old girl,” Lenny says. He puts his arm around her and wipes a tear from his eye. “Drop your anchor for a bit here and we’ll look after you.”
Dr. Mykaela Saunders is a Koori/Goori and Lebanese writer and teacher, and the editor of THIS ALL COME BACK NOW: an anthology of First Nations speculative fiction, the critically-acclaimed, world-first anthology of Blackfella spec fic (UQP, 2022). Mykaela won the 2022 David Unaipon Award for her manuscript ALWAYS WILL BE: stories of Goori sovereignty from the future(s) of the Tweed, forthcoming with UQP in 2024, and she has won other prizes for short fiction, poetry, life writing, and research.
Carolina Rodriguez Fuenmayor (she/her) is a 32-year-old illustrator from Bogotá, Colombia.