They’d been discovered on an iceberg, floating along, happily minding their own business. Claudette often wondered who was the first person to gaze upon the gargantuan snails and think ‘I wonder what would happen if I stuck my face in their trail?’
With a sad inevitability, someone had and discovered the incredible rejuvenating properties of those trails, glittering with ice crystals, just begging to be admired and collected.
‘Age at a snail’s pace’ had become the slogan on everyone’s lips. The inoffensive creatures, eight in all, each the size of a mountain, had been dragged unceremoniously on their iceberg and confined to a penned area. Gunboats patrolled constantly and only a handful of personnel were allowed onto the berg to gather the trails. There was also Claudette.
She’d been tucked away in a basement office, collating information about the snails of the world. Like the enormous beasts, she’d wanted nothing more than to be left along, sailing along happily on reams of facts and figures. The government, no less, had tracked her down and assigned her to the ice snails.
Every day she visited the berg, checking over the snails, seeing that they had the correct amounts of food – they ate a rare species of ice kelp, now grown in a lab because it cost too much to harvest in the wild conditions of the Arctic – and watching out for injuries or signs of ill-health.
All she ever saw was sadness. The snails no longer traversed their berg, simply sitting in place and leaking trails instead of tears. They were perfectly happy, but their misery was a thorn in Claudette’s heart. Then she had a plan.
It took a few months of experimentation on normal snails in her lab. Nothing that would harm; just a way to change them. Almost a year later she had her plan perfected. She told ‘the powers that be’ of a deficiency in the snails, a dietary requirement which could impair their production if left unchecked. Greed ushered her away to ‘fix them, fast.’
Daily she began giving her ‘supplement’ to the snails. It was probably her imagination, but they seemed to know she was trying to help, occasionally nuzzling her with a long neck. Within a month she knew it was working. ‘They’ started to panic as the quality of the trails changed.
A little thing, but the addition of some chalk, a little ground granite; even a touch of cornflour, mixed with their kelp, had caused the trails to lose their sublime silky properties; the exact components which gave the trails their regenerative abilities. Time would wear away the effects, but for now it might just work.
Claudette shook her head sadly, when asked for advice. Natural evolution, she theorised. A survival mechanism. A reaction to being caged. She confirmed it was permanent, that the perfect trails would not return for too much damage had been done to their DNA.
The world turned its back on the snails, seeking eagerly for the ‘next big thing’ in the eternal hunt for the fountain of youth. Only Claudette remained, watching from the shore as the chains were released, the iceberg free to float off, the snails with it.
‘Fare well’ she whispered and thought she saw a great head turn, look back, dip slightly, and then the snowstorms swallowed them.