As they enter the tunnel the turbulent flow forces Mark and the boy underwater and spins them end over end. He struggles to hold his breath and the lad’s hand, instinctively curling himself up to protect his head from underwater obstacles. What seems like minutes later the flow steadies and he thrashes to the surface, gratefully sucking in greedy lungfuls of dank air. After a moment he realises that the boy isn’t breathing.
Back down the tunnel Mark can hear a series of outraged croaks as the frogs react to what has just happened. He holds the boy’s head above water but knows it will do no good until he can get the water out of his lungs, get him breathing again. It’s pitch black and he can’t see what’s to either side of the tunnel but he’s desperate to get out of the water and try to save the boy. Half-remembered lessons from his father come to mind and he rolls on to his back, holding the boy by his chin so he can frog-kick with his legs while keeping the boy steady.
The sound of giant amphibians plopping into the water a distance away lends urgency to his efforts and Mark kicks as powerfully as he can, puffing out his cheeks with each breath. Soon the echoes of his breathing change in quality and he becomes aware that he’s close to the side of the tunnel. He slows to swim more cautiously and finds himself half-beached on a muddy slope. He digs his heels into the earth and hauls the boy and himself to safety at the top of the…riverbank?
Not a moment too soon, either, for seconds later Mark sees one frog after another swim past underwater, the giant creatures visible thanks to the glowing algae that limn their bodies with green light as they forge through the water.
Mark lays the boy on his back with his head downhill and then hesitates for a moment. Water streams from his hair and down his face as he builds his resolve; he can’t give up now. He uses two fingers to clear the boy’s airway—the water-cool lips and tongue feeling corpse-like already—and as he does gravity causes a trickle of water to flow from the still lungs. He feels for a pulse at the lad’s throat and feels a surge of hope when he finds one; thready and weak but still there.
He pinches the boy’s nose and takes a deep breath, then forms the kiss of life and exhales a deep, forceful breath. He can see the bony ribcage rise, then fall as he takes his lips away. Another trickle of water flows over the boy’s chin but his ribcage stays motionless. He breathes for the boy again and then feels for his pulse. Still there, still weak, but perhaps a little stronger than before? Or is that wishful thinking?
Mark breathes for him again, and again, and again, each time pausing for a moment in hope that this time the boy’s hindbrain will remember its job and begin breathing of its own accord. He isn’t sure how much longer he can keep this up. Then before he can give another breath the boy lurches and coughs, a gout of water shot through with luminescence spurting from his mouth. Mark rolls him into the recovery position and is glad to see that his ribs continue to rise and fall without interference, his pulse growing strong and steady.
It’s not like the movies. The boy doesn’t wake up and look at Mark as if he’s some kind of saviour; his eyes stay closed and he remains unconscious. Mark’s shivering and wet so he takes off his shirt to make a pillow for the boy’s head. The air’s dank but still so he feels warmer once the clammy cotton is removed, and he begins to look around in the darkness to try and figure out where he is and how the hell to get out of here. There must be a ladder to the surface somewhere, surely?
His eyes have started to adjust to the darknesss by now so Mark can vaguely see through the gloom. He seems to be surrounded by towering organic shapes, giant plants, and he can hear eerie rustling off in the long grass. One plant in particular looks more like a tree stump of some kind, tall and ended with a round knob, and Mark tries to work out what he’s looking at.
Then the tree stump hisses sibilantly and Mark realises that this is no plant.