There really isn’t an elegant way to begin the story of how I fell into the bog, other than to say it happened, and when it did, I was totally alone.
I promise that everything you read here is true to my recollection.
It was late afternoon. I was fishing the local reservoir, off the path, a couple miles into the woods. I wasn’t catching any fish and I was getting pretty frustrated. So I wanted to try something else. Something *new*.
The water level receded quite a bit that week from the lack of rain. More than I had ever seen it go back before. Land bridges formed in between two of my favorite spots along the shore. I decided the ground should be sturdy enough to travel in between them. I took a chance and hopped over a moving stream at the mouth of the lake. I wasn’t thinking – if I was – I might have expected to lose a shoe, at worst.
Instead, I fell into a pitfall up to my neck.
All with one step.
The old action flicks of the day portray quicksand as this gripping force which pulls you under the waves. The adventurer gasps for air. His outstretched fingers grasp freedom one last time. Eventually the audience is left only with a cartoonish hat, like an X spot on the map, tragically marking the spot of our hero’s demise. But that shit is only half true. Quicksand encases you like a taco. You don’t really *sink* anywhere. You’re just stuck in between the beef.
I now know the strength required to move a millimeter in mud is the same as needed to lift a small car. I stretched my legs and they went nowhere. I kicked and fought to the point of exhaustion. I couldn’t have moved more than an inch before the fight tired me enough to force a break.
The mud bubbled lazily around me. Insects crawled back and forth over my skin. I looked around frantically for support. An old downed tree sat about three feet to my right. I quickly decided that reaching *this* branch would be my number one goal in life. I waited a moment and made my move.
I lurched forward towards it haplessly and my hands fell back into the mud. I felt around with my feet and found something solid enough to stand on. I tried not to think about what that could have been, six feet under the mud. Bones, maybe, or an intact body. A nightmare for another night. I pushed off the structure with all of my might and wrapped my fingers around the branch like a murderer does to a neck.
I lifted all of my body weight upwards at once. My torso began to slip from the mud. I sensed freedom and felt relief wash over me. I was almost entirely out. But I’m a big guy. Within minutes of pulling, the old rotted branch snapped under my weight, and the momentum of the fall sent me right back into the cocoon which spawned me.
I cursed until my throat went sore.
Better that than cry.
Bugs swarmed back around the surface. Little flies and gnats crawled in between the layers of muck. I stared at them piteously and wondered which ones might eat me first. The fight on the branch sapped a massive clutch of energy. I knew there wouldn’t be many left.
I looked around for other options. My cell phone was on the beach in my backpack. Stupid. My watch was on but out of range. Of course. My fishing pole was still by my side, but it was an ultralight Ugly Stick, certainly not sturdy enough to use as a crutch, and the thin frame broke after a minute of trying.
I knew no one would be able to see me. The trees and foliage blocked even the occasional fisherman from glimpsing my precarious position. Even then, I would be no more than a head above the muck. I shouted a couple times for help, but my voice seemed drowned by the rushing water. The energy it took to scream tired me out more. I rested the unsubmerged part of my body on the shore and worked myself through the remaining options.
I could wait for someone to pass. I could continue to fight. Or I could just expect that death was coming, one way or another, and that any resistance was futile. I tuned out that last voice to the best of my ability. I’m embarrassed by it, even now, but to say it wasn’t there would be a lie.
The sun started to set behind a cluster of clouds in the distance. I thought it was getting darker (the time felt right) before the first few raindrops fell on my face. At first, I welcomed the time in the shade. Then the shower turned into a downpour.
Panic pumped adrenaline into my body like a syringe. I set my sights on another tree branch about five feet to my right. The rain helped lubricate things a bit… but every shuck forward still drained strength. I can’t describe this horrible sensation abhorrently enough. Imagine trying to run in a pool full of mud without a reliable floor. Imagine trying to swim through it. I felt like a mouse stuck in cream. I churned and churned and churned without a single drop of fucking butter. The rain kept coming. The sun kept falling. But by dusk – I finally reached the second branch.
This time, I was smarter about my actions. I got the idea to try and level my body out like a swimmer. I pulled upwards and levitated. The plan worked. My legs slowly but surely surfaced. I pushed backwards and felt the rest of my body release from the stink like a suction cup. I shouted hoarsely as rainwater and muck filled my mouth in moments. I was a foot from making it.
And then the tree fell.
To be specific, the entire 15 foot branch came crashing downwards from the ravine above and down onto my head. I went under the surface for a moment. I saw stars and bugs and bass and my family at home. I was able to pull my head up. But once again, I was stuck, even worse than before.
And now it was nighttime.
I didn’t have the strength for another plan that involved movement. My body ached in places that didn’t make sense. I took to yelling for help for hours. I slapped at my watch. Eventually the rain slowed and my voice carried better. But my efforts proved useless. I passed out there, head on the shore, body still stuck in the mud.
I woke up in a kind of haze.
The rain had stopped. When, I couldn’t tell, but the water level had risen enough for the top layer of mud to recede. I moved around a bit and found some wiggle room around my stomach. With renewed strength, I resumed my quest for a branch, when a bundle of twigs snapped in the distance.
I shouted in a voice that must have been horrific to hear.
“Help, God, please help.”
The movement got closer.
“I’m stuck. Please. You have to help me. I’ve been here for hours.”
I got concerned with the lack of an answer.
I thought it could be an animal. I thought it could be Death. I accepted that either one would be here to end me before a flash of red clothing confirmed my original suspicion.
“Oh thank God…”
A small child no more than five years old emerged from the thicket. He had shaggy blonde hair and freckles all around his nose. In his hand was a toy. It looked like the old Stegosaurus I had as a kid. I smiled.
I waited for a response and got none.
“Hi. I need help. Can you get your parents? Where are your parents?”
The boy stared blankly. He waited a second.
Then he answered.
“You’re going to die out here.”
The surety of his words made my blood run cold.
“No… no. Buddy. I can’t die here. Not like this. I need help. Can you just… Can you get your mom? Or your dad? Please?”
The boy looked at me piteously.
“Nobody is coming to help you.”
I didn’t know how to answer.
“You’re here. You can help.”
But the boy just looked at me and sighed.
“No one is coming,” he repeated. “You have to do it yourself.”
With that, he took off the way he came, back into the thicket and into the moonlight.
“Please,” I cried. “Please no.”
I shouted after him only for a minute.
I spent the next hour fighting against the mud.
There would be no fucking pity party from that point forward.The breaks came more regularly. I could feel myself getting drained. But progress came steadily. In the morning, the sun could take everything, and then the boy would be right. I wouldn’t let that happen. I fought and fought until I couldn’t fight anymore.
*You have to do it yourself.*
The tree presented a few more options once it was in the bog beside me. I found the sturdiest branch and hung onto it. Satisfied with its load bearing capability, I used the last of my strength to pull upwards, until once again my legs released themselves from the mud. I inched backwards, bit by bit, break by break, until first my butt connected with the shoreline, then, mercifully, my legs.
I wanted to get up and run the fuck out of there. That was my first instinct. I fell flat on my face. My legs were pure jelly and my abdomen felt like it had been ripped open. I turned back to the horrible mixture behind me and promptly vomited. I laid there for a while, on good solid ground, and caught my breath. An owl hooted in the distance. A coyote howled. I wasn’t scared of them anymore.
I found my backpack where I left it on the shoreline. I put it on and collected the snapped pieces of my Ugly Stick, still in hand, though to this day I don’t know how or why. I looked back at the lake one last time, taking note of a big fish jumping just behind my treacherous mud pile. Then I left.
I took the two mile hike back to my car slowly. I had to stop and rest multiple times. I passed stay at home parents, retirees, and joggers. I’m sure I got some looks. I looked like Swamp Thing reborn. I didn’t really care. I was alive.
The picture attached is of me arriving home that morning.
I made a big stink with the town after my accident. The thought obviously occurred to me that someone else could get stuck, maybe a kid (hallucination notwithstanding) or an animal that wouldn’t be as fortunate as me. This being a reservoir, the county acted swiftly. The area was closed (goodbye fishing spot) and the quicksand was dredged. The findings were shocking and surprising to everybody but me.
They uncovered hundreds of bones in that one little area. A lot were the things you might expect. Deer, fox, squirrels, rabbits. Then they found the people. Men, women, and even a child. Make of that what you will.
I haven’t slept well since I got out. My dreams are horrible. To even call them dreams and not nightmares is a pathetic attempt to keep the worst of them at bay. I feel like I’m still stuck there. In the mud. Like I never survived. Like all of my normal life is just a dream.
And honestly… if not for that boy, if not for the rain, if not for a hundred other things that went right…
Wouldn’t it be?