Disclaimer: Wildkratts and the characters who appear here or are mentioned belong to their original creators. They are not mine,
with the minor exception of the Nigerian guide, Abiona, and the ghost snake. The title comes from the Dire Straits song.
"Down to the Waterline" by Karrenia
He'd never seen a puff viper before with the minor exception of a picture in their amphibian database so when his brother had informed them that they'd been going on safari in Nigeria on the trail of a rarely seen species. Chris had held out a mingled sense of anticipation and anxiety.
The locals who had allowed the team to set up a base camp in their village had informed them which species to avoid because they were venomous and which species were not.
One particular kind was so long and sinewy that oftentimes even the locals were fooled into thinking that they had come across very large, and very submerged vines. This was, so the locals said, was how these long snakes tricked their prey into coming close enough to be pulled down into the water.
Martin wasn't afraid, not one bit. After all, he'd wrestled with alligators, well, once.
And after all, what was wrong with water snakes and grass that could mimic their coloring to match their surroundings; well, then they would just have to take all the necessary precautions. After all, animals would always have to have unique abilities in order to adapt to their environment.
In fact, when he mentioned this to his brother, they had both come to the conclusion that it would make for an excellent segment for their show. So, gas up the Land Rover rental Chris, his brother, Martin, and the rest of the team set out for the countryside.
Aviva had insisted on driving, and as second in command of the Tortuga gang once she's made up her mind it would take appealing to her emotions and providing evidence to support it to change it. Martin had not argued as strenuously as he might have otherwise.
Chris thought it might have had something to do with the fact the Martin wanted to admire the scenery rather than keep his concentration on the driving. And it required concentration
Chris held onto the arms of his seat and gritted his teeth. "Hey, Aviva, would you mind very much about missing the bigger potholes?"
"Sure, thing," Aviva sang out as she swung around several farmers coming from the opposite direction bring their produce to the village market and making the wheels of the Land Rover screech. "Eek!" Chris whined, "that actually hurt."
It's a good thing that we left Jimmy back at base camp," remarked. "Since he's not feeling well and all."
"Yeah, I guess," Chris said.
"Like you worried about him," Aviva griped.
"Stop it, both of you!" Martin said.
When they arrived at the river marked on the map that matched up with the known habitats of the wild coral kraits Chris and Martin immediately jumped out. Aviva brought the vehicle to a stop, turned the key in the ignition, then opened the door, and got out, too.
The site was a wild tangled branch of the river that runs north to south. They had come at a good time when the river fed from its much larger cousin to the north had swollen its banks.
Martin looked down at his feet when he thought he felt a sudden motion near the soles of his boots and laughed when he realized it was just a bunch of black hard-shelled water beetles.
Chris was studying the variety of different trees and vines, and grasses that lined the riverbank through the interlacing of a finger trying to distinguish the shapes made by the movement of the water and the lancing of sunlight coming down from the strong sunlight.
If he could just wade out far enough maybe they would get lucky and the wild coral kraits would come out and play and he would get a chance to photograph it.
By this time all of their boots were wet and they had worked through the noon hour, so they agreed to stop and take a break for lunch. When that was done they went back to work.
"Hey, guys, Abiona says we should travel down the river and we're going to see something to behold! Aviva sang out.
"What is he talking about?" Chris asked, interested.
"I don't know, exactly, but he sees we'll only find out once we get there. He says that whatever it is it can't be explained."
As they walked Aviva began to sing snatches from an old tune that had been running through her head:
"Up comes a coaster fast and silent in the night
Over my shoulder, all you can see are the pilot lights
No money in our jackets and our jeans are torn
Your hands are cold but your lips are warm
She can see him on the jetty where they used to go
She can feel him in the places where the sailors go
When she's walking by the river and the railway line
She can still hear him whisper
Let's go down to the waterline ."
"I thought the snakes close to shedding their old out-worn skin go blind," especially in the heart of summer," Chris remarked.
"I think that's a misconception," Martin replied. "Snakes do not simply go blind based on the seasonal temperature, but you've got to admit it is really hot out here. Martin paused to tighten the bandanna that he had tied around his brow but he was still sweating profusely. "Anyways, as I was saying, snakes in the summer do sometimes experience a temporary loss of vision. During this time, their eyes appear a milky grey-blue."
The snake that emerged from the knoll was the one of the largest that any of them had ever seen. It was easily the size of a rock python and when it reared up on its coils and began to wave from side to side it was as stood about a meter high. It was big and thick around as the tree limb that it had slithered down from.
The thing of it was, Martin and Chris thought, it was really quite striking, and aside from its size, it did not appear threatening. It had grey-blue coils streaked in alternating chevron patterns with a shock of black and white on the top of its head.
"Hey, where did Abiona go?"
"Huh. I thought he was with you," Chris replied.
"He was right behind me and then he was gone," Aviva said.
"Maybe he just went to answer the call of nature; get it? Get it?"
"Yeah, we get it. Well, we'll worry about him later, Martin said.
The ghost snake or whatever it was decided to take matters into its own hands and before they knew it pulled them with intangible and irresistible force deeper into the river; feet first, then up to their shins, then their knees and then chest high, and finally until all three of them were completely submerged.
The wonder of it, was Martin who was the best swimmer among them and could hold his for longer than any of them even Aviva did not think that they were in any danger. Chris started to panic but when he stole a glance at his brother; he calmed down.
Aviva, for her part, felt she could taste/sense what it would have been like to be a part of the life of the river. The touch of the ghost snakes coils present yet not threatening seemed to her; to make it possible for them to breathe underwater.
She passed this on to Chris, who agreed with her.
And in a way that she could not explain there were more than just a reptile; that it knew them somehow. It might have been just her mind playing tricks on her. or the unreality dream-like nature of the experience, but the ghost snake's sensory input seemed to communicate itself to her, and Aviva thought felt a bit like being around Abiona.
In the back of her mind, Aviva though, "Could it be? Nah, it just doesn't make any sense.'
Martin, for his part, wanted to resist the tug, that whatever was happening they should fight their utmost to get away from it; however the more he exerted his strength to resist the inexorable pull the more it increased.
When they came to a blockage in the river the invisible pull split and widened and flowed around like a natural current.
"I think it wants us to see something around here," called out Martin.4
"I think so, too," Aviva replied.
At the other end of the blockage was a cave, more of a hollow in the rock, but big enough if they bent over and went in one at a time. Inside it was glowing with a kind of phosphorescence. The ghost snake was there and it blinked its eyes and regarded them.
"Saying, I brought you here not just to indulge your curiosity; but also because I wanted you to understand that the demarcation between what you know as real and unreal is much more tenuous than you might think."
"I, think, I understand," replied Aviva.
"Is that true, especially here where people closer to the land and the water than say other places," Martin said.
If snakes had faces which were capable of a smile the ghost snake could have said to have been offering them a crooked smile. "Ah, a certain philosopher once said that bonds bond him to this earth and the only thing he would regret leaving was the rivers and the sky."
"Ah, that's awfully cryptic," Martin said, but I think maybe that I understand what you're getting at. I still think that we've been out in the hot sun too long and this is some kind of fever-dream."
"It could be, but it feels real." Aviva trailed off.
"You think?" Chris challenged her, more because of force of habit than for the fact that he disagreed with her.
"How are we gonna get back? Chris asked.
"I will send you back, Don not worry," replied the ghost snake.
"Look, we're serious researchers and I'm as skeptical as the next person whenever we encounter anything smacking of the supernatural," Aviva began as she shuffled her foot into the pile of the carpeting back at their rental bungalow.
"But what we encountered could fall into the realm of possibility," Martin added.
"A honest to goodness ghost snake!" Chris crowed.
"What did I miss," Jimmy asked, sniffling from his summer cold.
"You heard me," Chris replied.