Gus is a character who has appeared in several of my stories… so far his loneliness has not been explained, nor his sadness and depression. He has recently moved to a small village by the sea, and most days he goes walking along the beach or across the water-meadows and marshes, or a circuit along the banks of the little rhyne which flows into the river, which in turn goes into the sea.
This was ludicrous… ridiculous to be stuck in the mud… It had happened shockingly quickly. Gus’s evening wander over the water meadows and down beside river was along the same route he always took… although he occasionally reversed it and started at the boat yard and wandered round across the meadows until he hit the path beside the river.
One of the many dogs had come prancing along, over excited and friendly and for some reason Gus had stepped aside to let the creature past and his foot slipped on the sodden grass and his leg, then the rest of him had slid, carrying him still upright down to the mud where he plunged in up to his knees. He had laughed spontaneously with shock, terror, relief and a little hysteria. The suddenness of the Chaplinesque decent, and its conclusion, trapped and unable to move in the silt and clay of the bank, set him giggling… but he bit it back… these days laughter could turn to tears in an instant.
His heart was pounding and he took a few breaths to compose himself before climbing back up the steep bank… except he couldn’t… he was held fast by the mud. He looked round for something to hold on to pull himself out but there was just the same slippery grass which had sent him down here in the first place.
This was ludicrous! Ridiculous! He was stuck in the mud and could do nothing about it. He had descended sideways so he was facing down stream and trying to lie flat to pull himself free and escape was impossible… if only he had twisted so he could lie back and try to hitch himself out, or if he’d slipped face downwards on the sloping bank so he was lying on his front and could drag himself…
“Help!!!” but his voice seemed to travel along the river and not up the bank. The dog’s owner must be around, there were never dogs without people.
“Help!! Help!!! Help!!!!”
All he could hear were the gulls and the rattle of the rigging of the boats in the yard.
He shouted again but there was nothing in reply. He cursed out loud… he was stuck in mud, in the dusk and the tide would be coming in and…
He shouted again… He searched his pocket for his phone… Found it… but there was no signal and somehow as he tried to find the light it spun from his hands and he actually heard it plop into the water below.
It was ironic… he had been so miserable, so utterly miserable, that at times life had seemed worthless, and not that he had considered any drastic solution to end his loneliness and despair, but now it seemed as if fate was intervening… He swore again and shouted again and swore and shouted.
There was a bark… a dog!!! Where there was a dog there was a person!!
“Help! I’m stuck in the mud! Help me!!”
“Hello? Where are you? I can’t see you!” a woman’s voice called back and she was shining a light across the river bank. She was somewhere on the path above and suddenly there was the sound of someone slithering down the slope… but not a someone, the dog…
The over-excited creature was barking and jumping at him, and he caught hold of its collar… but it was too small to pull him out.
He was blinded as a torch or phone flashed over him.
“Don’t come down here – it’s really slippery, it’s really dangerous – call 999!”
“I see you!! Wait there!!” she called… as if he could go anywhere…
He began to shake… the realisation of what had happened overcame him and he could have wept…
“I’m chucking this down to you!”
A lifebuoy came tumbling down the bank and he caught it awkwardly and then slipped it over his head… there were the sounds of more voices above another shout and then a sudden yank.
“Heave!!” shouted a man and was joined by others, and suddenly Gus was hauled out of the mud, with a terrible dragging sensation as if it was a living creature clutching on to him.
In a blur of joy and relief he was dragged up the bank and arrived on the path among a group of people… They had looped the rope round the post of the style, and between them… three of them they had heaved him to freedom.
The mud had claimed his shoes and socks and phone, but he didn’t care…
He was surrounded by the three rescuers who hugged him and cheered him and the woman kissed his cheek and they were all laughing. Someone replaced the lifebuoy and, barefoot but uncaring he walked back with them along the path. He was shaking, with relief and release, and he had his arm round the woman’s shoulder, her arm round his waist, supporting him. There was a muddle of explanation, of stories of similar happenings, of his thanks and gratitude – the whole thing was now a funny.
They reached the car park and the lack of shoes began to impinge… well, he would limp home, have a bath… but no, his new friends would walk with him, make sure he didn’t have any more dangerous adventures… the road led past the rhyne, they couldn’t risk him falling in!
As they reached the pub where he would turn to head home he suddenly couldn’t bear the thought.
“I’d like to buy you fine people a drink!” he exclaimed and the two men cheered.
“Don’t you think you should go home and have a bath and get warm?” the woman asked and with a shock he realised he still had his arm round her shoulder, was still leaning on her as he tottered along.
“He can get warm by the fire! He can steam gently and buy us beer all night long!” it was the younger of the two men, taller and with longer than fashionable blond hair – that much Gus could see in the orangey streetlight.
“That sounds like a plan!” he shouted, suddenly excited, and the dog barked in agreement!
“Pub, pub, pub, pub!” sang the blond man and they crossed the road together.
© Lois Elsden 2017
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