By the time Bibi’s class graduated from high school the water level had been the same all their lives. The story of its rising, for them, began with “a year or two before you were born.” It covered the rumbling in the night, the dash for higher ground and Marcus Silverpenny in his vastly inadequate, improvised flat boat pulling sodden people out of the torrent to miraculously get them to safety. The water had risen to Hagan Street and no higher, thanks to the old highway cutting to Hadley. It was not a river, it was a lake.
It also meant that the only way in and out of town, if you didn’t count helicopter, was by boat. By boat you could get to any of the other towns on the edge of Silver Lake, which was what the locals called the body of water filling what had been a valley. Most of the towns were as cut off by the water as Bibi’s hometown, but at Bannock’s Knob and Chifley what had been back roads snuck over the hills to the outside world.
People had wanted to leave the newly lakeside towns, the stories said, but the government had persuaded them to stay. First they made it difficult to leave, and then they made it easy to stay by putting infrastructure in that the towns could only have dreamed of before Silver Lake. They even built a college at Bannock’s Knob so the local kids didn’t have to leave to get an education.
It was probably because the government didn’t want the outside world asking where Silver Lake had come from. The water poured in a waterfall out of a mountain at the head of the valley and had obliterated a government research station that had been up there. There’d been no springs on that mountain, so where had the water come from and where was it still coming from? At the other end of the lake, the government had blown up the river gorge that had been the original access to the valley the day the water rose, damming the water so the valley stayed flooded. They probably didn’t want that talked about either but, when you considered what got pulled out of the lake water sometimes, no-one could blame them for stopping the water from getting away. Hatchets and shotguns were standard fishing gear now. You did not fish the deep sections of the lake with a heavy line. You did not get any sort of blood in the water. You did not go out on the water in the mist and if the mist came up, you did not hail any boat you might come across.
Bibi saw the government boats go up the lake about lunch time. She thought that zodiacs weren’t a good choice for Silver Lake, but they would be easier to transport by road than anything else. Certainly the government always seemed to use them. She vaguely hoped they had their overnight stop all planned out because it looked to her like there was likely to be evening mist on the lake.
The mist had come up by the time the Hagan Street lights came on. Bibi had gone down to her family’s pier to make sure her younger brothers had tied the boats up properly for the night. It didn’t hurt either to make sure that there were no blown bulbs in the street lighting. It might seem odd to keep the street lights along the water’s edge working but there were few enough navigation markers on Silver Lake and the old lights acted as a beacon.
She heard the motor first. It was racing and coughing at the same time while it came towards her. It must have been heading for the newly lit lights. Then there was a scream, abruptly cut short. The motor seemed to come towards her a fraction faster than before. Then more screams and cries of, “Get it out! Get it out!” followed by a loud splash. Only then did the overladen zodiac come into view, labouring under too many people. Bibi didn’t hail it, because the rules still applied, but she tied off a coil of rope to the pier and prepared to throw them a line. As the zodiac came closer she could see the dark shapes in the water behind them and swore; she had neither hatchet nor shotgun with her.
They caught her rope with thanks and she didn’t answer them, even when she caught their rope and used it to tie off the backend of the boat. They’d probably been lucky their engine still worked at all, an arrow protruded from the casing and the propeller angle looked all wrong. Dark shadows in the water passed under the boat and pier, and between the shouts of the people on the zodiac Bibi thought she could hear paddles in the water.
She stared helping the twelve men out of the zodiac, giving them a hand up and a push in the direction of the shore. There was a smell of blood on them and in the boat, and blood was dangerous, particularly with those shadows around. The sixth man had stood to get climb out of the boat and Bibi was leaning forward to take his hand, wishing that they would all shut up because there were other things she needed to hear besides their thanks and panic. Things like the swish of water as one of the long, spiked, toothed reptilian things that had been shadowing the boat launched itself out of the water at the man whose hand Bibi had just taken. Or things like the cessation of paddling and the twang of a bowstring.
The airborne reptilian slumped in mid-air and ceased leaping, falling instead athwart the side of the zodiac with an arrow in it that matched the one in the engine. Bibi’s eyes tracked back along the arrow’s trajectory and the longbowman standing in the canoe amidst the paddlers, silver eyes and white antlers gleaming in the dusk, touched the top of his bow to his head in salute.
“Oh, great,” Bibi muttered to herself, “you just had to hail another boat, didn’t you?”