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The Names of the Drowned are These

Every so often, there’s a chance for reversal.

For a thread pulled to drag things backwards.

For the drowned places to rise. For the dead to walk again. To breathe air rather than water.

Sometimes, there’s a chance.

Adie Kane came home last week—just as she has done once a year for a decade of searching—to visit Nessa’s View. She took a room in the tidy little bed-and-breakfast at Ganymede, unpacked her suitcase, then got back in her rental and drove up to the lake (dam). She parked, and went to sit by the shore, careful to ignore the spillway and great curving concrete wall to her left. She sat on a rock (the same one, each and every time), and stared into the same black, unmoving waters—surely it’s the same liquid, nothing flows, nothing shifts, not since that first flood settled—and thinks about the end.

Michael had been on the road for hours. Everything in Tasmania, he’d discovered, took precisely forty-five minutes longer to get to than Google said it would. It was his first trip, though his grandparents had both been bred here. And the roads . . . shit, the roads were an eclectic mix of blacktop, washed out gravel, and fuck-you potholes that turned into gullies, abysses, or crevasses, depending on the personal inclination of each and every bloody hole. Barely wide enough for two cars, he’d had to back up five times this morning to let someone else by, someone with a much bigger vehicle.

There was an etiquette to it, he realised, a hierarchy on which he was the bottom rung due to his shitty little hire. He might as well have painted a red mark on his forehead. He kept seeing lips move in the shape of “fucking tourists” every time someone drove past him, the gale produced by massive 4WDs with mud on their bullbars and back windows shaking his flimsy Hyundai i20. The really serious ones had winches and steel cables for pulling idiots like him out of ditches and lakes.

He was already regretting that he’d agreed to meet Adie here. That he’d agreed to meet her family. But the sex was good and he wasn’t quite prepared to give that up yet. Not quite. Michael smiled, thought about Adie. Felt things move lower down, thought about it too much and was almost run off the road by one of the too-big mining trucks that carried ore to the ports and took the ridiculous curves and corners as if they were auditioning for a Mad Max chase. Michael pulled over, half-on, half-off the bitumen; the engine coughed itself out. Kept his hands tight on the wheel because if he let go he’d see how hard they shook, and he wasn’t sure he wanted that knowledge. He inhaled a deep breath, started the car again, took a good look around then drove gingerly back onto the asphalt.

The first proper house had been the sandstone one built in the 1800s by Adie’s great-great-great-great grandmother, Nessa Kane. A structure built, rather, by convict labour, all the rough men assigned to the property that would eventually grow to a town. Adie’s aunt would tell tales of Nessa, though she’d never met the woman, and those stories were third-hand from her own mother. It was said Mistress Kane was far more feared than her husband or even the overseer. She would take the whip from that man’s hand and use it herself on any member of the work detail not pulling his weight. She’d make sure they bled, that she could hear the patter of their blood on the ground, on the stones. Like so many from the Old Country—wherever that might happen to be—Nessa Kane knew the value of red.

She also knew that nothing stable or worthwhile came for free, and she was smart enough to make sure someone else paid the price on her behalf. Others might have called her a witch, though not to her face—her husband included—but she simply saw herself as a careful builder and protector of the family that was to come. And her husband let her have her way. He saw how she brought him a prosperity he’d not have had the will to wring from the earth. He didn’t question her, in the cold hours of a moonlit night, when she left their bed in the little ironbark hut they shared while the big house was being built. He did not follow.

Nessa Kane led one of the convict men to the newly dug foundations. Younger and stronger than the others, he’d kept his shape better, not starved to string and sinew. He had good teeth, and was clean enough for her purposes.

She took him to the required place, and though he hated and feared her in full knowledge of what he’d seen her do—felt her do for he’d been no more proof against the bite of her whip than any other—she was beautiful, though older. She was alluring and demanding, and he’d not had a woman in months. So when she came to him warm and wet, half-naked with breasts dark-tipped in the moonlight, smooth-thighed and greedy, he did not seek a deeper reason for most men are fools.

He did not think as he came inside her, did not think as a sharp, hot pain tore across his throat in the wake of the blade. He remained nameless, this father of Nessa Kane’s first child, voiceless but for his final moan, last act, last coming. He was what she needed: a man no one would look for, who might truly have run away into the wilderness and been lost just as she would claim. Yet he stayed; not by his will but he stayed. Buried in the foundations, he formed the family’s first connection to the land, paid the required tithe, gave them an anchor to the earth.

A sacrifice to the past and the future.

His blood, it was, kept Adie Kane coming back, year after year, like a leash that let her wander only so far. Kept her searching for what was needed, following a trail of relocations and feints, dying outs and changed names, as if someone was trying to hide it.

It kept her seeking until she found it.

Adie’s hungry but she doesn’t let the rumbling of her stomach distract her. She’ll get something when Michael arrives. If there’s time. Instead, she sits on the rock, shivers a little in her coat—no matter how thick it is, there’s always that tiny piece of heart-ice to keep her chilly on the warmest of days—and this is not a warm day. The sun’s watery, too often behind the grey clouds that scud across the sky. The wind is like a slap in the face that she’s grown used to, can barely feel on her cheeks now.

She doesn’t look down and far to her left, to where the new town sits. Instead she stares out at the strangely still surface of the lake (dam). No waves are kicked up. It’s like glass. If she concentrates long enough, Adie’s convinced she might see the houses beneath, where Nessa’s View used to be.


Ganymede was on a lot of maps because its mine produced a lot of copper ore. It was on a lot of other maps because the process released arsenic into the soil, turned the water red as blood, poisoned the surrounding areas for years and years and years. Almost as if it could only protest its own birthing in the most toxic way possible. Adie the place, though she’d lived there much of her life. She hates how ugly it is, how it scarred the land. She hates that something so ugly had been allowed to live—encouraged to thrive—when Nessa’s View had been condemned. Flooded one town, built another further downstream.


Filthy word.

Poor excuse.

Not everyone stayed in Nessa’s View. Some moved away, to Hobart or the mainland. Some moved sooner, some later. Some even moved to the nascent Ganymede, got jobs in the mine. They found new houses, though not true homes; kept dying out until there was just Adie, almost alone in her generation. Aunt Miriam and Uncle Toby brought Adie up, however they didn’t thrive. They put everything into raising her, yet she couldn’t help but feel they continued living only out of duty, until she could stand on her own two feet. Toby died a few years after Adie left high school, but Miriam went on until the girl finished university, then promptly succumbed to breast cancer she’d not bothered to have treated.

Miriam taught her niece the things she needed to (Nessa’s ways hadn’t been lost, although not all the family approved), made sure the girl understood what she was meant to find. What she had to do. Miriam didn’t consider herself up to the task; she was too weary and worn by life and the loss of a home. Her niece and the other were the required vessels; two for Eden, two-by-two, two to tango. She’d left Adie alone with a burden to carry forward. The burden of names.

Michael locates the bed-and-breakfast some time after lunch. The woman at the front desk looks him up and down when he walks in, suspicious. Not the best way to encourage the tourist trade, he thinks, but feels too tired to make a point. Instead, he hitches a smile—the same one he deploys when he’s occasionally unlikely to make rent because the costs of being a millennial have caught up with him—and detects only the slightest defrosting.

“Uh, hello. My girlfriend’s already checked in? Adie Kane? A few hours ago?”

The woman’s expression doesn’t get better or worse. Michael accepts he’s not going to make any friends here; his hostess’s got permafrost of the personality and his charm is wasted. But she fishes about under the counter and dredges up a key, big and old-fashioned, attached to a small chunk of raw copper. She holds it out like a lure and he half expects her to tug it away when he reaches for it.

But no, there it is, hard in his hand.

“Back out the front, turn right and take the path to the rear garden. Foxglove Cottage.”

“Is Adie here?”

She shakes her head, and Michael feels he’s been given all he’s likely to get; he beats a hasty retreat. It doesn’t occur to him that the hostility might be directed mainly at Adie, and only peripherally at him. He’s the centre of the universe, after all.

The cottage is sweet, blue and cream walls and furnishings, a large open plan room; toasty air burring up through vents in the floor. A sofa, tv and coffee table mark out a sitting area; in one corner a small fridge with a kettle and assorted items on top. A brass-framed bed and a spa bath take up the other half of the space. One door leads to a cupboard (where he sees Adie’s overnighter), another to a small loo, shower and handbasin (her makeup bag already on the sink). Michael unwinds his scarf—one of the ones his grandmother made compulsively in her final years, like she could knit her world back together as the memories were plucked from her day by day—dumps his backpack on the sofa, and makes for the bed.

Starfished facedown on the soft mattress, he closes his eyes and moans. Stillness for a while, no more Tasmania roads, warmth. Food soon, Adie sooner, he hopes. His pocket buzzes and vibrates beneath him. He groans, wants to ignore it. Obeys and pulls forth the mobile.

At the dam. Bring food.

He considers ignoring this for a moment too. Thinks about filling the spa bath and soaking there until she comes back. Looks at the minibar bottle of local wine, the artisanal cookies and the cylinder of Pringles. Michael heaves himself up with a grunt.

The names of the drowned are these:

Rose McColl (single, fifty-seven, kept seven cats).

Agnew Foster (forty-five, widower, owned the local grocery store).

Sian Jones (eight-nine, blind, made jam).

Abel and his brother Cain Katzenjammer (fifty-three, unmarried, twin sons of religious parents).

Scout Taylor (twenty-six, pregnant, daughter of a mother obsessed with Harper Lee; her husband did not stay).

Elizabeth and Benedict Kane (Kane on both sides, a closer blood relationship than either church or state preferred, landowners); their daughter Sarah Kane (Adie’s mother; Adie’s father unknown).

All those too stubborn to leave, too foolish to believe the government wouldn’t flood the valley. They all bore, to some degree, the blood of Nessa Kane and her sacrifice.

These, they stayed.

These, they drowned.

In the end, the house of sandstone and polished wood sank beneath the black waters as easily as the corrugated tin shacks and small wooden abodes, the petrol station and the general store. Even the unnamed man’s blood wasn’t enough to keep such a flood at bay; perhaps age had weakened it. The magic had faded, paled, enfeebled.

The flooding of the valley was another kind of magic, an unintentional one but its power was enough to overwhelm what Nessa had wrought.

Not wash it entirely away, however.

A matter of potential floating beneath the surface.

But it was there.

And it waited.

A thread that stretched back. A thread that might as easily lead forward. A thread, waiting to be pulled. A thread of blood, thicker than water.

“Ganymede’s a shithole.”

The moment the words are out of his mouth, they don’t feel like a joke. They taste flat as they exit his lips and he regrets them. He sounds childish. He rustles the plastic bag from the takeaway shop as if it might cover up. It didn’t take him too long to find her—the rental car (considerably bigger than his, more expensive, less likely to be run off the road) was the giveaway—but the fast food’s cooling rapidly.

She doesn’t answer him, just shifts over so he can sit beside her. He holds the mouth of the bag open so she reach in.

“Sausage roll. Easier to manage than a pie.” He looks sideways at her: skin pale, green eyes bright, crow’s feet deeper than he remembers from a week ago in Brisbane, brows dark as a raven’s wingspan, lips full. He leans over and kisses them: so cold, a little chafed from the wind. How long’s she been here? He touches her face: icy. Reproachful as he says, “Adie.”

She takes two bites of the sausage roll before starting to chew.

“Thanks,” she says around the flaky pastry. “Starved.”

“Couldn’t we have had lunch in town? Together? Couldn’t we have met your family for lunch? Couldn’t we have stayed with your family?” Instead of staying at the Bates Motel, he thinks. Cheaper, he thinks.

“We are with my family,” she says, then polishes off her meal. She doesn’t offer to pay him back because she never does, and she never does because she always pays for the expensive things they share (like Foxglove Cottage). Doesn’t stop him from resenting it.

“Where’s their place?” he asks doubtfully and hunches into his jacket, burying his nose in the scarf.


“Adie.” He doesn’t know why he thinks of his grandmother and her dementia when Adie’s behaving like this. She’s older than him, sure, but not that much older. Not really. He changes tack. “Did you find what you were looking for?”

She’d arrived a few days before him on that pretext. She nods.

“Well. That’s good.”

“I found it before I left, really,” she says, and links an arm around his. There’s not much warmth coming off her; he feels like she’s stealing his. “You had family down here, right?”

“Yeah. Somewhere. Didn’t talk about it much.” He shrugs. He never paid much attention, but remembers Granny whispering Best forget as her fingers dug into the meat of his upper arm. “What is this place, Adie?”

“This is the drowned town.” There’s a catch in her voice, but no sign of emotion on her face.


“To make the dam. They keep calling it a lake like it’s a natural thing, like it might make people forget what was here. But we remember. There was a place called Nessa’s View.”

“Don’t they compensate people when that happens?” he asked and knew from the way she stiffened it was the wrong thing. Again.

“How do you compensate someone for drowning their home? Taking away everything they’ve ever had? The place they’ve bled into, onto?” She turns to look at him and he thinks for a moment she’s stared so long at the lake—dam—that it’s leached into her eyes, they’ve darkened so much.

“I . . . and they . . . ”

“The government sent officials with offers, then threats. Most of the population took the money and ran. But not everyone wanted to go. They didn’t believe it would happen. Nessa bound us here with blood, gave a promise, and her children believed they were safe.”


“My ever-so-great grandmother. She made this place. The day of the flood, there was a cursory sweep of the town, but I don’t think they really cared. The inhabitants had been so troublesome—sabotage, legal battles, whatever they could do—that no one really cared if they’d left or not. So the stubborn old-timers, young-timers, those with nowhere else to go remained behind their closed doors and drawn curtains, refusing to believe the morning would end in death. The waters rose and Nessa’s kin finished with their faces pressed to ceilings, pushed into corners where cobwebs had waited unspoiled for years, against crown mouldings that had once been the height of fashion. Gasping for a final skerrick of air. There was no point running.”

“When . . . when was this?”

“63?” she says it as if she’s not sure, as if Aunt Miriam hadn’t drilled it into her.

“You’re not old enough . . . ”

“To have seen it?” She stares at him and for a few seconds he thinks she is. She’s older and older. Then she grins, a spark of humour in a taut face. “No, my aunt told me. She watched. Her mother was one of those who stayed. And mine.”

“Why? Why stay?”

“They didn’t want to leave so they chose to sink, to be taken.” She sighs. “May as well ask why come back? Blood draws you places you don’t know or understand. You’re here, aren’t you?”

“Coz you asked me.” And he’s regretting it, oh so much.

That grin again. She touches his hand. “My family’s here. Yours is too. Your grandmother was a Kane.”

“Nah, Teague.”

“She married a Teague—after she’d married a Bowen, and a Smith. Was born a Kane. Here. Tried to hide but I found her—you.”

He shakes his head. “So? Are you telling me I’m fucking my cousin?”

“Pretty distant, but yes. But that’s not the point.”

“By all means, let’s get to the point.” He can’t keep the tone out of his voice. He’s regretting everything about this trip, about meeting her. Everything.

“The point is they remained. They’re shadows beneath the waters, the bones of the land. They were already held here by blood, choosing to die here gave their deaths meaning and power. Blood’s thicker than water, and their blood’s a thread that can be tugged at to create a path that might lead back. They’re at one end, we’re at the other. You and I? We’re the ones all the bloodlines end in. They need us.”

“Jesus fucking Christ, Adie. What are you on? Let’s just go back to the BnB and you can have a rest.”

She gets up and walks to the water’s edge. He follows with a sigh. And Adie takes out a knife. Nothing special about it—not the knife Nessa used on her sacrifice all those years ago, no grand history to it—it’s just neat and tidy, a Swiss Army knife, with that red handle and white cross.

“Adie, what are you doing?” Michael’s voice wavers.

He’s bigger than her but she’s quicker, got an older head; she’s watched him these months together and taken note. She knows what he’ll do, how he’ll react, so she’s ready when he raises his hands, palms out as if that might protect him. He’s a bit of a coward, but it’s not his courage she needs. She slashes up, catches one of those vulnerable palms, leaves a deep slice there, watches with satisfaction as the blood oozes dark and rich from the furrow in his flesh. He shouts and she slashes again, this time at her own hand.

“Oh, shut up,” she says matter-of-factly, although the cut does hurt. She grabs his injured limb and slaps their wounds together. Adie squeezes—he whimpers—so their blood mixes and drips quickly into the still liquid of the dam.

“Blood is thicker than water,” she mutters as if it’s a spell (and it is) then starts to recite a list of names that mean nothing to Michael, but she cycles through them, then repeats again and again.

The water nearest where they stand begins to bubble, sweeping out across the surface, turning into white horses that gallop all the way to the far side—but those horses are carried by a blood-red wave and Adie can smell a whiff of iron in the shifting air. Then shifts like a tidal wave dragging back, back, back, and finally charges forward, toward the dam wall. Adie and Michael watch, hand in hand: the tsunami hits and the concrete bursts out in enormous chunks as if charges had been laid and detonated. And the water follows it, pouring through the breach so quickly it takes Adie’s breath away. Her aunt told her what to do, but it didn’t mean she believed—truly believed—it would happen. It takes a lot less time than she thought.

Somewhere, downstream, Ganymede is being hit by a wall of water held back for years and years. Michael thinks of the frosty woman at bed-and-breakfast, wonders if her expression will change as the flood closes over her head.

And now, in front of them—these two children in whose veins the blood has come to rest—lies Nessa’s View, uncovered for the first time in years. Houses—those that are intact—are covered with the green of algae and weed, windows are dark with silt and mud. The remains of the petrol station looks like a dinosaur skeleton. Everything still, barely the flap of fish struggling in the rapidly shrinking puddles. Everything is a held breath, a frozen moment.

But then . . .

Oh then, the doors begin to open, with swollen wood and fractured frames, and things—green and bony, the fish-bellied dead—walk out, blinking in a sunlight they’d forgotten.

Adie stares, empty, her burden, her duty done. The names of the drowned suddenly forgotten. She’s made them saved.

Michael, still holding her hand, says in a strangled voice, “Oh, Adie. What the fuck have you done?”

“Time to meet the family, Michael.”

Originally published in Relics, Wrecks and Ruins, edited by Aiki Flinthart.

About the Author

Angela Slatter is the author of the Verity Fassbinder supernatural crime series (Vigil, Corpselight, Restoration) and nine short story collections, including The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings. Her gothic fantasy novels, All These Murmuring Bones and Morwood, will be out from Titan in 2021 and 2022 respectively. She’s won a World Fantasy Award, a British Fantasy Award, an Australian Shadows Award and six Aurealis Awards. Her work’s been translated into French, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Bulgarian and Russian. You can find her at, @AngelaSlatter on Twitter, and as angelalslatter on Instagram for photos of food and dogs that belong to someone else.