“Ben!” I bellowed into the cool spring morning air. “Ben! Get back here now!”
For the outsider looking in, this would undoubtedly be quite the comical scene; on the left side of the screen, a slightly out of shape and very out of breath person of dubious athletic prowess running across a dew-covered field shouting ‘Ben!’, while a very fast-moving dog disappeared off the right-hand side.
And yes, my dog is named Ben.
The Nike tracksuit I was wearing was more an aspiration than a declaration of fitness. Although, to be fair, Ben had four legs and I only had two, but of course I was wearing trainers that should help me and he was not. A nice pair of hyperblue Nike Tns to be precise, which nicely paired with the tracksuit. If I couldn’t be athletic, I was damn sure I was going to coordinate!
Crouching slightly, my hands rested on my thighs, I drew in sharp gulps of air that burned the back of my throat. I cursed the stupid rabbit that had caught the attention of my stupid drooling mutt. I have to say I am very impressed with the speed of the rabbit, less impressed that Ben shot off after it, tongue lolling around as he bounded away from me.
It was about then that I realised that my phone was no longer in my pocket. In fact, nor were my car or house keys.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” I yelled, causing several birds to fly off in panic at the commotion. The question was, do I catch the dog or go find the keys, wallet and phone? I had proven that I couldn’t do the former, and the keys would be required to get home.
I backtracked a few minutes and eventually spotted my house keys just at the side of the path. Then, almost immediately, my phone, lying a metre or so off the edge of the path down a slight slope. It was face up and not cracked as far as I could tell, which was the first bit of luck I’d had today. I scooped up the keys, then quickly darted across to rescue the phone. But with the first step I took after crossing the path my left foot promptly sunk into the soft mud.
“Fuck!” Before I could react, the mud swallowed my leg up to my shin, my purposeful stride seemingly having made matters worse. I tried to pull my foot up but I could barely move it. I grabbed my leg with both hands and pulled hard, which me a little more movement. Encouraged, I tried again. On the count of three (no, I have no idea why either), I yanked as hard as I could. There was a huge sloppy pop as my foot unexpectedly released with ease, throwing me completely off balance. After a slow-motion but unstoppable sideways motion, I toppled over forwards. I managed to get my hands out in front of me to break the fall, but they just sunk into the cold mud. The result had to be the slowest faceplant in history.
I thrashed around like a fish on the harbourside until I managed to get an arm free and use that to extricate the other one. Gingerly kneeling on what appeared to be a mostly solid piece of ground next to a tree, I looked down to see my white Nike baseball cap stuck up, peak embedded in the goo. The front of my tracksuit, from head to toe—as well as both arms—were caked in mud. So was my face.
I stood up, realising that although my foot had made it out of the mud, my shoe had not. My white football sock was no longer white and the other Nike Tn was slathered in thick mud. My thoughts quickly turned to the rest of the Nike England football kit I was wearing underneath the tracksuit, hoping the nylon covering would afford it some protection.
Determined to retrieve my hyperblue Tn, I looked around for the muddy hole where my leg had been trapped only moments ago, but in all the commotion it had sealed back up. My phone was nowhere to be seen either. I cursed under my breath and glanced back to the path; it was now well over two metres away. I had no idea which areas in front of me were safe or would swallow me up again. I didn’t want to go through that a second time. In truth, it had been a bit worrying; what if I hadn’t been able to free myself?
Now, the thing I learned in this whole sorry tale is that the human brain makes extremely bad choices when in stressful situations. Spectacularly bad, in fact. In this case my brain decided that the best course of action was to shimmy up the tree, then across the branch that hung over the path and lower myself down to safety. This appeared to be based on several successful tree climbing attempts when I was in primary school, while completely ignoring the last time that I climbed a tree while at university; that one ended in a broken arm.
So, up the tree I started. A task made more difficult by a) the fact I was covered in mud, b) I only had one trainer on, c) the weather was cold, but mostly because d) I was far too old to be climbing up trees. This fact became readily apparent as I was already puffing and panting as soon as I was resting on the first major branch in my ascent. It also seemed a lot higher looking down than it did looking up. Still, I was nothing if not stubborn . . .
As I approached the branch I needed, I lost my footing. I quickly hugged the trunk to try to arrest my descent, only to be met with a loud tearing noise. I managed to get my foot on a small branch and steady myself so I could look to see what had torn. It appeared that a stub of a branch had caught on my track top, puncturing it and ripping a nasty tear from bottom to top. On the plus side, it had probably slowed my fall and given me the chance to recover. Still, it now billowed pathetically, exposing my white top underneath and held together by just the sturdier hem and collar.
I cursed again, then resumed my climb, making it to the required branch and edging across it until I was positioned out over the path. Looking down, I realized the drop was going to be a lot further than I had hoped. This plan was complete bobbins. Utterly ridiculous. However, there was no going back now.
I swung one leg over and tried to reach for the ground; I was quite a long way short. It looked like I'd need to lower myself carefully from the branch, then let go and gracefully land on terra firma. Well, that's how I imagined it. The reality turned out to be somewhat different.
As I repositioned myself there was a terrible cracking noise and the branch snapped. The jagged end went through the large hole in my jacket and ripped through the back. The rest of the branch fell, leaving me suspended in the air with my feet dangling pathetically about a metre above the ground. I was stuck; I couldn’t lift my arms up to free the jacket, and I tried waggling my feet to dislodge my top from the broken branch, but to no avail.
I sighed, and after several contortions that would do a gymnast proud, I fished my house keys from my track top and transferred them to the bottoms. Then, I unzipped the top, imagining a soft and simple drop to the ground. Well, that happened—but I landed on my toes, and with the weight of my thick ol’ head, momentum propelled me forward over the steeper embankment on the other side of the path.
Now out of control—doing the horizontal version of a free fall—I crashed through the brambles and stout shrubby trees, their sharp fingers and thorns clawing mercilessly at me. Before I could stop it happening, they had grabbed my track pants and yanked them down. I just managed to hold onto my shorts, but now my trackies and my other trainer were gone, rudely stolen off my body and tauntingly held captive in a thorny prison.
After stumbling out of the other side of the thicket, I continued to careen down the bank, twisting and turning in the muddy muck, my pristine white England football kit now just a mud- and grass-stained mess. When I hit the bottom of the slope I shot into the air with arms and legs flailing, and landed unceremoniously in the silt and alluvium of the small stream below with a resounding ‘splat’.
Momentarily stunned, I stared up at the sky and the tree branches looming over me. I could feel the sludge in my hair and just about everywhere else. Exhausted and defeated, I shut my eyes.
I don’t know if I passed out or fell asleep, but I was eventually roused by a series of short, wet and warm sensations across my face. I opened my eyes to see a huge nose staring down at me, the head it was attached to cocked inquisitively to one side.
“Oh, you’re back then?” I muttered.
The only response was for him to drool all over my face.
“Aww, for fuck’s sake, you hideous mutt!” This time I didn’t mutter.
I pulled myself up and my stupid dog bounded around in the mud, sending it flying everywhere; we were both definitely going to need a shower when we got home. I looked up at the bank and couldn’t really see where my pants were. Even though they held my house keys I didn’t fancy climbing back up the slope and fighting through the thorns. Hell, I wasn’t really sure if I could climb back up there.
I sighed again. No house keys, no car keys and no phone. I had no choice but to walk the mile or so back to my street, wearing just football gear caked in mud and no trainers. Then I would have the ignominy of calling on my neighbour to pick up my spare keys. I already knew he wouldn’t give them to me until he taken some photos. And then he would share them to all our mutual friends. I would never live this down. Why on earth didn’t I just give my keys to very nice Mrs Gilbert at number 42, who had no comprehension what a digital camera or smartphone was?
I sighed a third time, looking down with my eyes narrowed at my troublesome but faithful friend. I couldn’t stay angry at him for long, and my face softened as his big dopey face looked back up at me.
“Well, boy, this is another fine mess you’ve got us into.” I took the muddy lead that dangled from his collar and we began the long trudge home to the humiliation that awaited.
Written by sneaked666
Edited by sz1415sneakers
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