By Joy Prasch
Rain slapped the ground in sheets of water. The dirt lifted with the rain and sloshed around the hips of sporadic people. Lina stomped through the mud, lifting one short leg after the other.
Every few seconds, Lina whipped her head around to assure herself that Jackson was still above the surface, and every time she sighed in relief when she saw that he was. Lina pulled her body forward, steadying herself when the mud slid under her feet.
The slosh continued to multiply in size, and Harriet flew forward into the mess. A garbled cry escaped Harriet’s mouth and Jackson’s head twitched in the direction. His eyes darted through the brown, and he spotted a girl slump beneath the current. The layers of slop separated, and a gunk-covered arm reached out from the mudslide. The arm flailed around for a handhold, but the mudslide sucked it back in.
“Lina! A girl got stuck in the mud!” Lina looked back at Jackson with confusion dancing in her eyes. The patter of the rain roared in Lina’s ears, and the distance between them grew over the span of a minute. Jackson called out again, and his voice reached Lina’s ears. The request bore down on Lina so much that she slipped, taken aback by either the mud or the plea for help. The mudslide rose around her midriff, and her face wreaked of exhaustion. A skyscraper loomed ahead, standing tall and unaffected by the mudslide. “Jackson, I’m-I’m too small…I can’t possibly help her!” Jackson turned his back on her, and began to dig through the mud. Seconds ticked by like minutes, and Jackson continued to push through, his hands reaching deep into the mud searching for a hand, a shoulder, a leg. The rain beat down on Jackson like hail.
Lina watched him work away at the surface, barely making a basin in the river of mud. Safety slipped out of her mind as she struggled back toward him. Reason dropped like a fly as Lina built up all the courage she could muster. Lina’s body moved against the stream, remembering how much simpler it was to go forward.
Jackson’s arms tensed up the faster he pushed the sodden earth away. Beside him, the mud parted, and Lina, wearing an outfit of mud, began to dig. “I thought you were getting back to safety…” Jackson’s arms worked in sync with Lina’s. She shook her head, and sent splatters of mud across Jackson’s neck. In between strokes, Lina huffed out “I couldn’t just- Jackson! Help me pull her out!”
The wind flew across the landscape and pushed Lina chin deep into the brown sea. Lina’s throat formulated a growl, and she pulled with all her might to free the girl out of the clutches of the mud.
Harriet felt the grasp on her forearm, and then the fabric of her shirt being tugged. The blanket of mud suppressed Harriet, but the stranger’s heaves made the packed layers thinner. In quick jerks, Harriet was thrown about in the mud; up and left and up again. She was dimly aware of the presence of rain and the way air tingled around her; fresh and cold. Voices, a girl’s and a boy’s, were shouting at each other nearby. No sooner was Harriet hauled away from the chains of the mud and lifted into the arms of the stranger.
“WATCH OUT!” Lina yelled so loud that her throat yelped in pain. A thick, black shingle whizzed past Lina and collided with Jackson’s elbow. Another flying blur raced toward Lina, resembling a side-view mirror from a car. The breeze transported debris and threw it every which way. Smaller bits of glass showered down. One pointy shard, in particular, sliced Lina’s cheek. The girl in Jackson’s arms wriggled when a pipe crushed into her ankle, smearing away dirt and revealing a glaring bruise. The impact materialized a bump the size of a plum, and her flesh turned the color of one.
Jackson would’ve stood amiss the flying wreckage until he was demolished if not for Lina who jumped around him and screeched WE HAVE TO MOVE. The rain and the wind bit at Jackson’s elbow the minute he recovered from the shock of getting hit with a shingle. Objects of the unknown pelted Jackson as he moved forward, but he didn’t notice them when Lina fell back in the mud, disappearing like magic. Lina’s shrill wasn’t to compete with the howl of the wind and the pound of the rain; it was lost the moment it left her mouth. A tree branch, thick as Jackson’s neck, sunk into the stream just where Lina was standing.
Jackson grappled with the girl in his arms as he tried to reach into the mud for Lina. His hand only grasped something like hair when the lights left his eyes and the mud overcame him.
Harriet sunk like the boy and the girl, of whom she did not know their names. She chose her last words quickly. A whisper said thanks.
Photograph “Reach” by Emily McCormick