CutFreeze – Chapter 5 and 6
Chloé was dragged through the water at breakneck speed. The Morass eel swam with ease, unencumbered by the weight it had its tail wrapped around. It maneuvered through the murky water with purpose. Air bubbles escaped Chloé’s mouth. Desperately, she held on to the last oxygen she had, unwilling to drown, dreading her death. She had stopped struggling since the creature held her in a vice grip.
You’re going to die anyway. What’s the point? Let the air out. Give up.
The snake dove deeper and pulled her to the bottom of the swamp. It dug into the mud, burrowing in the ground. Sand and mud crept into Chloé’s mouth as it hauled her underground. She could no longer cling to life. The last air bubbles rose from her mouth, floating to the surface, leaving her body behind.
Sand and mud closed over her, burying her in a secret underwater grave. The snake let go of her legs and rested its weight on her back. She felt its sleek skin on her neck. Weak and disoriented, she gave in to her fate. Her father appeared in those last lurid moments before death. He wagged his finger at her and said, “I told you so.” Her mother smiled and shook her head, then she turned and entered a blurry room that looked like a kitchen. Caleb laughed when she dropped her knife during training and Canea flashed her irresistible smile. There were so many things she wished she had told her. She now wished she had dared to tell her father who she really was. Now it was too late.
Mud filled her mouth and her nostrils. She gasped for air she couldn’t get. The morass eel pushed her down harder. She didn’t understand. Besides drowning and burying her, it now wanted to flatten her too?
The water was gone now. She was surrounded by mud as if imprisoned by a quagmire. The world was black and getting blacker. Yet, far in the distance, a light beckoned her.
Oh, how beautiful, so it was true! There truly was a light when one came to the end of one’s life. Chloé’s heart filled with hope, and relief at finding out that the afterlife existed.
Finally, she fell through the mud into an empty space and landed hard on rocky ground. Her lungs filled with oxygen, bringing life back to her. Desperately, she gasped for precious air. Life slowly invigorated her blood and returned to her limbs. Her head felt lighter again. She could breathe!
Still weakened by the ordeal, she lay on the ground in the wide cave below the swamp, unaware of the morass eel next to her. It slithered around her and held its head right over her face. The tongue slid out. Its hypnotic yellow eyes held Chloé’s. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t evade its gaze. Its weight was on her again, keeping her pinned to the ground.
The morass eel hissed and raised its head. Its cold stare turned hard, and the beast flashed its murderous fangs. Then, it attacked.
Its sharp fangs dug into the skin around her lips, and while blood ran over her cheeks and chin, the reptile suddenly released its grip and then dove into her mouth, forcing its long body into her, stretching her lips to inhuman lengths to fit its long frame.
For the umpteenth time, Garin checked the message she had sent Canea. It was still marked as sent, but not as read, not even as received. Something was wrong, and if she didn’t take action now it might be too late. It was impossible not to have internet in Dacaria, especially for Squadron members. This situation just screamed emergency.
A glance at the clock on the wall told her that it was 10:06 p.m. Too much time had elapsed. She had to get going.
At that moment a call came in from S-A Junior Willis, a young recruit who had just left the academy.
“Yes,” she barked into her phone, hoping that he had some news.
“Sergeant Garin, we found Delu’s and Zettanu´s patrol car. It crashed not far from the swamp.”
She knew they were gone but she asked anyway. “What about Delu and Zettanu?”
“They’re not here. We found Zettanu’s weapons and Delu’s gun near the scene of the accident. They must have dropped them in the impact.”
“They could be in the swamp.”
“I doubt that anyone would go in there, Sergeant.”
“Sweep the swamp in the morning and send a search party to Terraria as well.”
She hung up, hoping that their names wouldn’t be added to the list of missing persons. Why the swamp, though? No one could survive in there for more than a day. It was dangerous, home to strange creatures they didn’t even know everything about. The only reason they hadn’t razed the swamp to the ground was because of a lack of fauna in Daccaria and its neighboring countries. Many forests were still recovering from the damage of past generations. The Amazon Rainforest would take decades to regrow the thousands of acres that had been destroyed. The horrors nature had to endure in the late 20th Century and the early 2000s were the only reason that swamp was still standing. If their forefathers hadn’t done their best to end the natural world, that swamp would not be here. Garin herself would then have petitioned the government to burn it down with its creatures. Now, however, they needed the plants and trees from that cursed wetland ´to be the lungs of Dacaria´ as environmentalists liked to describe it.
What if all the missing persons had perished in the swamp? Wouldn’t that be a good reason to finally get rid of it?
Don’t be silly, she scolded herself, No abductor would voluntarily use that place as a hideout. They’d probably rather be in prison than in that swamp.
She holstered her gun, grabbed a knife, and headed out the door. This couldn’t wait until morning. Delu and Zettanu were in trouble and time was of the essence. She had no doubt about that. Before she shut the door behind her, she remembered to make that loathed call to the Director. Instead, she sent him a quick text with an update. Then she ran down the metal stairs to the ground floor and headed to her Savvydae motorcycle. She raced off the parking lot and went into flying mode, straight to the swamp.
Canea held her knife firmly, grateful that she had been able to hold on to it during their crash. It wasn’t much but she knew how to handle it. It was better than nothing.
An owl hooted and frogs croaked nearby. The tree crowns formed a black canopy above her, forbidding her any view of the sky and keeping the feeble light of the half-moon out. She walked in absolute darkness. Strange, how after spending at least an hour – or who knew how long – in here, her eyes seemed to have grown accustomed to the dark. She could even distinguish some shapes, but it was still unclear. She often had to feel for trees, bushes, or other obstacles she could not make out. She hoped that no giant crab was lying for her in wait, its pincers immobile to fool her into a false sense of safety, waiting to strike.
The image terrified her. What if there was one here? Her knife would be useless on its hard shell, and to cut its flesh she had to get really close.
Damn Chloé! Why had she insisted on going through here? She should have known better! Canea knew, however, that she was just as guilty. She could have put her foot down, not let Chloé’s high status call the shots. Now she was gone, and she had no idea if she would ever see her again.
She heard the rustling of water, probably a large animal moving through it. Maybe a crocodile? A morass eel? Something else? The sound came from her right side, so she made sure to keep to the left. She didn’t want to tumble into the water and fall prey to whatever was swimming there. Either way, she had to get away from here.
Suddenly, something hummed in the sky. It sounded like a large growling predator. Canea froze. No, it couldn’t be. There were even flying creatures? However, when she listened closely, she recognized the familiar sound of a flying motorcycle.
She knew there was no point shouting. The rider wouldn’t be able to hear her over the din of the motor. Her notepad had no light left, so that was useless too.
“Damn it!” she swore.
Rescue was so close and she had no way to notify her position. The rider couldn’t see her either through the thick tree crowns. It was hopeless.
Fire! Make a fire, she thought and her hand dove into her pants pockets to find the matches she knew weren’t there. She didn’t smoke and she never needed matches for anything. It would have been great if she had kept Chloé’s matches there for her, or someone else’s …
She had no idea how to make a fire in the middle of the night in a cold, damp place without any tools. The motorcycle rider would never notice her unless she went to an open area where he could spot her.
The water was the only open space. No trees hung over it. The moonlight fell on the surface, illuminating it gently, lending beauty and light to a place of darkness. It provided false hope for the stranded because one step into the water could mean certain death.
It was her only chance.
She kept her knife in her hand. Clipping it to her belt would be a bad idea. She might need it. She shuddered at the thought, hoping that she wouldn’t have to use it. Despite being a trained S-A Junior, the academy did not prepare recruits to fight crocodiles or any other scary creatures. It focused only on combating two-legged fiends, humans. She stood no chance against a crocodile.
The motorcycle circled over the lagoon, and she saw its silhouette in the silvery moonlight. It looked stunning as if the rider rode out of the moon itself.
Canea’s mind was made up. She waded into the water.
When Chloé awoke in the cave, at first she had no idea how she had gotten there. The last thing she remembered was a giant snake pulling her to the depths of the swamp. Slowly, she sat up and looked at her surroundings.
A wide cavern led into several tunnels. There were at least five of them. The ceiling was so low that she was sure she would have to stoop if she stood. No, this was definitely not heaven. She was not dead.
Or was it hell?
She was, after all, underground.
Oh shut up, stupid, you’re not going to hell, she thought to herself.
She felt different. An unknown strength she hadn’t had before seemed to shelter inside of her. She felt it course through her veins, dominant, leading, knowing what to do. Her mind fought it, questioning its animal instinct, but its power was stronger than her mind, and it forced her to rise. When her head hit the ceiling, she immediately lowered herself, but her body paid her no attention and her upper torso bent forwards as if her bones were elastic. Shocked, she stood still, taking in this weird supple form of her. It was nearly snakelike. What in the world had happened to her in the swamp?
The unknown force in her pushed her forward and so she walked to the other end of the cave and entered the second tunnel, once more trusting some wild instinct she didn’t know she possessed. The tunnel’s roof was a little higher; she was relieved to be able to walk upright again. She stretched her arms before her, wondering if they were as supple as her back. Again, she stopped and she bent both arms backwards. Stunned, she watched as her arms twisted, doubling over her elbow wrist, and her wrists touched the back of her forearms just under her shoulders.
What the …?
She didn’t know if she should cry or laugh.
The snake …
It had pulled her down to the bottom of the lake.
And then, what?
She racked her brain but couldn’t remember anything else.
She flicked her tongue and hissed in frustration, shocking herself in the act.
She leaned against the wall, both hands on the hard surface. She was still human, she looked and felt human. She couldn’t have transformed …
No! That happened only in the comics she used to read as a teenager. The swamp was known to have strange creatures but not to the point of turning people into hybrid reptiles.
Or perhaps she was in hell, after all, and made to believe that she was a snake.
That wasn’t her voice in her head. It had a high hissing tone, as if another serpent were communicating with her through her thoughts.
How does it know my name? she wondered silently.
I’m in you. Surely you know that.
This has to be my own voice.
Stop denying it. You humans always make things so hard. Just believe.
I’m in you.
Just when Chloé believed she was going mad, a vision was sent to her. In her mind, she saw the snake bite her around her lips and then force her mouth wide open to enter her body. In horror she watched the full 3 feet of the snake enter her through her mouth. After the tail slid in, her inhumanly stretched lips closed.
You will soon know.
Can’t you tell me?
How crazy was this? She was talking to a snake as if this were an everyday occurrence.
You will know.
Chloé tried to ask more questions but the snake was quiet now, refusing to divulge more. It pushed her forward even though she didn’t want to. All she wanted to do was to go home, but this inner force had her under its spell and she couldn’t fight it. Another annoyed hiss escaped her mouth.
“Can you at least stop making me hiss?” she demanded.
It’s my nature.
Grunting in frustration and thinking of a few swear words to keep the snake busy, she balled her fists and followed the trail the serpent had sent her on.