Freddie Jones tramped over spongy ground with a gun in one hand and a split stick in the other. He was making enough noise to scare off any wild thing within a half mile radius, but he didn’t have a damn to give; the sun was shining in a raw blue sky, and Freddie was waist-deep in reminiscence.
Reminiscence, in this case, took the form of sawgrass and mud, the staples of Freddie’s sweaty boyhood. Marriage had driven Freddie and the swamps apart, and business made the afternoon sun a stranger. But today was for seizing— seizing and then shooting, right through its flat reptilian skull.
One thousand dollars were waiting for the man who bagged the longest python, and fifteen hundred for the hunter who could kill the most. A snake shot into two pieces was acceptable; three was suspect. Freddie didn’t need to splice his snakes together— he had a secret. Not two days earlier, he’d spotted one of the scaly bastards sliding across the asphalt into the preserve that backed his local gas-n-go, and he’d be damned if it wasn’t the longest snake he’d ever seen.
After two hours of prodding logs and stones, the would-be hunter had uncovered three sluggish king snakes and more black racers than he’d bothered to count. Sweat ran down his neck and back and the sound of the highway was the only confirmation that he hadn’t been swallowed whole by brown and green wilderness. Freddie was crouching in the sand, cursing the fire ants that had raided his left boot, when he caught a glimpse of something smooth and blotchy.
The blotches moved, glinting in the sun. The undulation of scaly skin over muscle was unmistakable, and Freddie nearly tripped over his feet to cut a path through the brush. He could see a tapered tail, now, but the animal was outpacing him. Slicing and scrambling, heedless of cut shins, he pursued the creature's end half until he saw it curve abruptly to the left. It stopped moving, and so did Freddie— winded, heart thumping in his ears.
He realized that he was shaking, violently, sweat dancing over his forearms. For a moment, he was certain that he had given himself a heart attack by running through the sand with the recklessness of a younger man. Blinking at the ground with a hand over his heart, he could see that the sand was shifting, too. The earth beneath his feet was trembling.
In the same instant, not fifty miles distant, a weather station was sending a coded signal to a secluded facility on the East Coast. Research Sector-09 received the untimely alert that SCP-1108 was manifesting over Tampa. Aerial observation confirmed that the anomaly was significantly larger than previous manifestations, and growing. Office windows vibrated with the sound of thunder, and children shrieked when the classroom lights flickered.
Half a country away, a hunter heard the same thunder. He grabbed his son by the jacket collar and tried to haul him out of the way of a buck with antlers that spread like a sycamore. Low-lying branches couldn’t snag the proud head— only snapped, showering splinters, as the beast carved a trail of wreckage through the woods.
The thunder that sounded from the depths of the sea was too faint for human ears. But along the New England shore, seventeen pairs of binoculars caught a flash of white, before their tour boat was crushed by a skyscraper’s weight of barnacled flesh.
No tourists or hikers had ventured far enough afield to see the strangely bulging earth in South Dakota's Black Hills. Alone, surrounded by locusts and prairie grass, the ancient bear-king pawed his way toward the sunlight. He lumbered out of the dirt and collapsed, panting like a hatched chick. His curving teeth were longer than a grown man's arm, and the fur and skin that once stretched over his bones had long since rotted. The beast shook off his old flesh like dust and reared upon two legs. The lightning recognized his roar, and raced to join him.
In a similar wilderness, a tumble of rocks that had once been a mountain shook itself and groaned. The commuters on the highway looked toward the horizon to see the hunched back of a massive buffalo.
In Texas, the cacti contorted themselves to make a path for the queen of armadillos. The bullfrogs hollered in the Louisiana swamps, drowning out the screams of boaters caught up in the paws of a hollow-eyed raccoon. A panther scream split the quiet of California vineyards, sprawling mansions enveloped by its shadow, and every sky was blotched with nervous clouds of grackles, blackbirds, pigeons, starlings.
Freddie Jones was deaf to this great revival, too busy trying to keep his footing. The tremor passed almost as soon as it had begun, and Freddie glanced up to see that his prize python had not stirred an inch. If anything, there seemed to be more of it. He could make out its patterned back more clearly, and began making his way sideways along its length, guessing at the location of the head.
He took six steps, moving loudly and awkwardly through wire grass and saw palmetto. The tawny body stretched on and on. He took a step back, and another, trying to scope out its size, when the whole length gave a great shudder. Freddie glanced behind him and saw brown blotches in the brush. He turned, and turned again, and found himself surrounded by the same gleaming pattern, peeking through sand and greenery. There was no way to tell where the python began and where it ended.
He raised his gun and shot at one broad side, which seemed, impossibly, to have swollen to the girth of a horse. The crack of the gun echoed over the swamp, but the scales slid on unblemished. Freddie gaped, too astonished to shout. His gaze was so fixed on the body growing thicker and longer in a loop around him, that he never saw the great flat head that was rising above the trees— not until it dipped to cover the sun.
The yellow eyes never met the watering grey ones, nor did the creature pay much heed to what flora and fauna were crushed beneath its coils. A tree-sized tongue flicked once, twice, and the beast turned to make its way toward the sea.