A short story based on a picture prompt for The Cliff Hanger Contest.
Callum Clarke had always been told to stay away from the mudflats behind their property. The housing development his parents had chosen was on the very outskirts of the community, built right up to the edge of the town’s habitable land. One direction would take them through increasingly developed areas until they reached the city center; in the other direction it was nothing but mud-caked flatlands with standing pools of water.
The Clarke family was a superstitious lot, but then again so was most of the town. Rumors propagated through the population on a regular basis about how the mudflats were cursed, a place where one went to make things - or people - disappear forever.
All through elementary and junior high school, Callum had been ruthlessly teased for being more timid than most. Since he lived right on the border of the forbidden land, his parents had been very strict and Callum had grown up accustomed to taking the safest path of least resistance by default. When his grade school buddies wanted to explore the mudflats, he always came up with a reason why he couldn’t. When his junior high school friends dared each other to see who could venture farther out into the mudflats, he always chickened out. And now that he was in high school, classmates found the off-limits area to be the perfect place to get drunk and fool around without worry about any uptight parents intervening... but Callum still couldn’t bring himself to shake off a lifetime of parent warnings.
Finally, he decided that enough was enough and he needed to get over his stupid fear. His parents were busy getting ready for a dinner party, so there was plenty of time for him to slip out of the house unnoticed and head down to the mudflats. He was, at long last, leaving the past behind. Venturing out, cautious step by cautious step, Callum noticed that his large, hefty frame left deep footprints in the mud, while the pools of stagnant water caught the sun’s reflection and threatened to blind him every few feet.
He ventured deeper into the mudflats. Farther than his grade school buddies explored. Farther than his junior high school friends dared each other to go. Farther even than the rock outcropping where most of the teenagers went to fool around. By the time he realized where he had gone, he was already so far out that his house was just a barely-visible speck in the distance. In retrospect, he probably shouldn’t have wandered out here with empty hands and no provisions.
Then again, he had done what he had come out here to do. He had gone farther out into the mudflats than any of those friends who had taunted him over the years in school. He had ignored his parents’ stupid fixation with myths and urban legends. He was his own man, making his own decisions... and there was nothing wrong with deciding now was a good time to head back home.
As he started his trek back to the house, he stepped into a particularly deep section of mud and sank halfway up to his knee. It took him a while to wrest his leg free, and no sooner had he taken another step, but his other foot did the same. Pulling it free, Callum resolved to watch where he stepped a little more closely and steer clear of the puddles that looked particularly mucky. But even on the more solid banks of mud, he could feel the mud loosening and becoming more sludge-like. He started double-timing it back to the house, but his hurry made his footfalls heavier, which planted them deeper into the mud with every step. Before he knew it, he was wading through knee-deep muck watching every step caused it to creep up his leg inch by inch. By the time the little trail leading up to the housing development came into view, he was wading through sludge that was up to his hips. It was an immense and increasing amount of effort with each and every step.
It didn’t take a genius to figure out that all of the town’s superstition had a completely rational explanation in that things that went into the mudflats sometimes sank, and thus explained their disappearance. It also didn’t take a genius to figure out that things were getting worse for Callum by the second. He could see his salvation just a few dozen meters away, but was now virtually wading through waist-deep muck.
He could see the lights on in his parents’ house, their tiny forms visible as they bustled around the kitchen making dinner. Oh, how he longed to be inside with them! But his progress was slowing to the point where every inch of forward momentum was a challenge. He was sweating profusely with the effort, his body worn out from the exertion.
Would he be able to make it to the safety of the trail in time?
If not, he could always call for help. But then a chill went down his spine with the realization...
Would anyone even hear me if I called for help?
Prompt: Write a story based on a picture prompt:
** Image ID #2150714 Unavailable **
Originally written for "Invalid Item" and "I Write in 2018" .