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Fred Strydom Imagines a Post-apocalyptic Betty’s Bay – Read an Excerpt from The Raft

The RaftRead an excerpt from Fred Strydom’s highly anticipated debut novel The Raft, which was published in April.

Umuzi announced recently that United States publisher SkyHorse Publishing had acquired the rights to publish The Raft in North America, with publishing editor Cory Allyn commenting: “It’s Lost meets Life of Pi meets The Road.”

The Raft is set in a world where humankind has lost its memory, and for the novel’s main character, Kayle Jenner, all that is left of his past are the haunting visions of a boy he believes to be his son, leading him to embark on a voyage across a broken world to find the boy.

Read an excerpt:

Remember Jack Turning—

I fell out of my dream.
      It took me a while to figure out where I was, where I had fallen asleep. It was the familiar scratch of sand beneath my clothing that first became apparent.
      The beach.
      I sat up and looked towards the sun. It was sinking into the ocean, layering the sky in uneven smears of purple, yellow and red. The day was ending and I’d already spent most of it asleep, which meant I’d spend most of the night awake. Again.
      “Do you know about the alp?”
      The deep voice belonged to the large and swarthy man sitting beside me. Ropes of sun-bleached dreadlocks slung over his shoulders and down to the small of his back. His name was Gideon and he was as much of a friend as I could claim to have in that peculiar place. Still, I knew so little about him – where he’d been born, where he had originally lived, or what it was that he loved in this world. I didn’t even know his last name. All I knew was that he had been taken to the beach as I had, all those years ago, and that, like all of us there, he was a far and unconquerable distance from where he truly wished to be.
      Through his hair, one eye glistened back at me, the mossy green of pond water. He slid his feet into the sand in front of him and wrapped his arms around his knees.
      “No,” I replied. I dusted the sand off my shoulder, trying to seem unaffected. I wondered how long he’d been sitting there, watching me sleep. I wondered if I’d said something I perhaps shouldn’t have.
      “It’s a creature,” he said, “that sits on the chest of someone who dreams. It squeezes all the breath out of the body. There was such a thing on your chest while you slept.”
      “I wouldn’t know,” I said.
      “Well, maybe you know this story,” he went on. “There was once a cabinetmaker who lived in a place called Bühl. Have you ever heard of this place?”
      I shook my head.
      “At night he’d sleep in a bed in his workshop. Around midnight, something would crawl onto his chest and sit on him until he could hardly breathe. After several nights of this, he discussed the matter with a friend. The friend advised him to stay awake in order to catch this märt. So he did. The following night he lay awake in bed, waiting, and as the clock struck twelve, saw a cat slip into his room through a hole in the wall. The cabinetmaker quickly blocked the hole. He caught the cat and nailed one of its paws to the floor. Then he went back to sleep. In the morning he found a beautiful woman sitting where the cat had been. She was naked and one of her hands was nailed to the floorboards. He was so taken by this woman that he decided to marry her. Many years later, after they’d already had three children, he returned with her to his workshop. He pointed to the blocked hole in the wall and said, ‘My darling, my love, mother of my children, it was from here that you came into my life.’ He bent down and opened the hole to show her. And as soon as that hole was opened, the woman changed back into a cat, ran out through the hole, and was never seen again.”
      “I didn’t have a dream.”
      “Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t, but there was a märt, my friend. Anyway, it is okay to talk about our dreams. I think it’s a good thing.”
      He spoke with such authority that, for a moment, I believed him. I believed it was fine, regardless of what we had so frequently been told.
      “No one can stop you from dreaming, Mr Kayle. But go on. Let us dream and hide our dreams from each other as we’ve been told. It is ironic, yes?”
      “What is?”
      Squatting on his haunches, he dusted his large dry hands together. His hair rolled over his shoulders as he swivelled in his spot towards me. The dreadlocks on the right of his face blazed; to the left his face was caged in twisted bars of shadow.
      “They wish us to keep our dreams a secret from each other, to keep them trapped inside us, when it really only makes us dream more. They are making sly, beautiful women of our cats, no?”
      Gideon stood and turned his gaze to the shifting ocean. I stared up at his broad and towering form. There were very few people on the beach as large as Gideon, even fewer with the capacity to command the respect that he could, in his own quiet way.
      “Strange days,” he murmured under his breath, possibly only to himself. He used his foot to smooth out the print his body had left in the sand, as if in denial of ever having sat beside me, and began to walk away. “Mr Kayle,” he added, looking back over his shoulder, “the märt on your chest. I’ve seen it before. Stealing your breath in your sleep. For now, know that it is getting bigger, my friend.”
      At that, he set off along the white sand towards the group of communers at the end of the beach.
      They were going about their usual business, dancing around their colossal fires, yelling their prayers, invoking their stars. Whether they were finding the answers to the questions in each of their steps and mantras, I didn’t know, but I wasn’t even sure that was the point. Perhaps I had missed something. Perhaps it didn’t matter whether they ever truly understood this broken world, only that they considered themselves privileged enough to be seekers within it. For some that may have been enough.
      A warm wind whispered in my ear then slipped away, gesturing me to follow it to some secret place. I got to my feet and trudged up the dune towards the road. Next to the road, a rusted signboard read WELCOME WELKOM BETTYSBAAI. Over time, the wind and the rain had faded its colours and eaten into its metal surface. It creaked and teetered from a pole, each geometric letter glaring like the vacant eye of a dead god, a fallen Argus without sway over a nameless world.
      The sun had already been swallowed whole and night draped the land. The large bonfires along the shore licked the darkness between the silhouettes of anonymous men, women and children – strangers to each other, strangers to themselves – dancing and chanting the last rites for their left-behind lives.

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