Fear pierces my chest like a needle of ice. A ring of giant droplets sprays up and out from the impact, surrounding the car like some crown of the Leviathan. We sink into the depths, the water’s surface moving too quickly from below, to eye-level, to the top of the windshield, then retreating upwards into the murky darkness. The tires make contact with the ground, and the metal coffin shudders like an ancient beast felled at last.
Panic. I turn to—Dahlia? This unidentifiable woman who somehow knows me. Flirting with me in the bar—the kind of flirting that hides sadness. She didn’t seem surprised by my confusion, by my having no idea who she was. Treated it like an exasperating game I’ve subjected her to one too many times. Have I? Do I? How did I, we, get here? How did ice suddenly spread across the bridge’s surface like dark, shimmering cancer? How did the steel bend and snap, causing us to slip into this frigid soup of death? I look at Dahlia, touch her shoulder. She is literal ice.
How is this happening? Is this happening? The water lapping at my knees, sending creeping chills down my shins and numbing my feet, feels beyond real. My head clears as I realize there is still air. I am still breathing. There is air. There is time.
I peer through the car window. Can’t see much past the few feet in front of me. There is wreckage? Metal beams, maybe. The interior of the car is dark and somehow red at the same time. I try to remember how to escape from a submerged vehicle. I read about it once. Something about pressure? The water is at my waist. I watch as my own hand slogs through the glacial wetness towards the manual window handle. I turn it. The window moves down four inches then sticks. Polar river water pours over my head. I pull the door handle but the demon steel won’t budge.
The water’s at my chest, and now rising even more rapidly. I kick my legs against the dash and move backwards to the rear of the car. My flashlight floats serenely behind the passenger seat, its beam of light swinging sideways from my disturbance of the indoor pool. It’s working? It’s working. I clutch it, and the feel of the metal cylinder in my hand brings me a small, cold comfort. Perhaps if I shine it through the window I can signal…
The creature’s chest slams against the window with a repugnant splat of flesh. My heart leaps into my mouth and I careen backwards through water again, cracking the back of my skull on the opposite pane of glass. Its shriek reaches an ear-splitting decibel, and it too flings itself backwards into the darkness. The cancerous ice returns, spreading across the outside of the car windows.
The water flows into the cabin more slowly. Messages appear scratched into the frost on three sides of the car.
“It will be over soon.”
The bitter water is at my neck. I feel the urge to slip under; to open my lungs to the hypothermic liquid and sleep at last. I wonder at my chance of survival out there with those—things. But instinct reigns. I tip my face towards the ceiling and peer downwards at the dial of the radio—now a glowing hot ember underwater. I reach out and turn it.
And then, a faint something. I move the dial again, searching for the ghostly signal. The sounds of a drowning man grow clear. His voice, what little I can hear of it through the sputtering and the coughing, is familiar. I move the dial again.
More static, then something else. A woman this time, singing a recognizable melody with previously unheard lyrics. No, no. It’s the other way. I know the song, but not the music.
I look again toward the immovable door. The locking mechanism is engaged, marked in red. Of course. I pull it, then try the door again. It opens easily, and I force my body through the arctic fluid to the outside of the car. I can’t feel my hands and feet; my arms and legs barely move. What little air is stored in my lungs struggles to burst free, but I turn towards Dahlia once more.
She’s no longer a statue of ice. Her eyes are open, her gaze pointed towards me.
There is no light within them.
I turn away and struggle upwards, towards the surface I can’t see but will to be there, towards a halo of light that may be coming from the bridge. Or is it two lights? Three? Now a million. I kick. And kick.
Mario Katharsis Rating: Spiked shell when you’re in 1st position, including the moment you see your in-room co-op buddy pull it up from their item box.