Note: This is a post for a writing prompt for my local writer’s group. The prompt was the picture below, which was one of the sand sculptures in a world-class competition held a few miles from where I live on Treasure Island, St. Pete Beach, Florida. Picture was taken by myself.
Running, as fast as his stout legs would carry him. Running across brush, and tree roots, and puddles filled with leaves and other debris. Tom looked back over his shoulder. He couldn’t see them, but he was pretty sure they were on his trail. He was afraid to stop, and listen, afraid to lose time and distance from them.
Oh what a stupid thing he’d done! He knew it was risky but was sure his luck would hold out. Not so, this time. He’d opened his mouth one too many times to people he shouldn’t, just to feel like a big shot. He should have known, should have learned by now, that eventually, no matter how lucky you are, the luck will run out. He’d been playing 2 ends against the middle, and now both ends were unified in their desire for justice. You know, street justice.
So he ran, he ran until he collapsed. Or maybe he tripped. Or just fell down. But at any rate, he found himself face down in the sandy wet dirt. He leaned forward on his hands so he could get his knees up under him to get up. But his hands just pushed through the sand, offering him no support whatsoever. He tried to scooch back on his knees but they too just sunk into this wet sandy muck. He lay still for a few moments and tried to gather whatever wits he had left (which, he was realizing, weren’t much to begin with or he’d not have been here….)
As he tried to pull his arms out of the mire, his knees went deeper. His feet, well dammit, they were attached to his knees, weren’t they? They followed the knees into the muck, and he finally came to the realization that he had fallen in quicksand. He raised his hands and clutched his head, trying to keep it from exploding.
What if, he thought, panic-stricken, they came upon him NOW, trapped in the muck? What would they do to him? Laugh? Shoot? Beat him? All of the above? Certainly not help him. His heart raced as he imagined the torture he might have to endure. Terror raced through his heart and mind. He held his head tighter, covering his ears, eyes tightly shut, feeling faint. In that moment, he saw his life, his values, his priorities, his behavior, and had the realization that he’d done himself in. He was in quicksand, and sinking.
He had been holding this position for a few minutes, as he contemplated how he’d ended up in this mess, when he felt something on his arm. Reflexively he opened his eyes to find a large and beautiful dragonfly perched on his arm, staring into his own terrified eyes. He realized there was a whole spiral column of these dragonflies from his arm to above his head. Tom stared at the dragonflies, which hovered around him without a sound. In fact he realized that there was only silence now. There were no angry voices approaching, no one breaking twigs on the path, only the sound of the breeze ruffling the leaves on the trees far overhead, and birds chirping every once in a while.
So, he wasn’t being chased, at least not any longer. But he was stuck in quicksand. It occurred to him that if he could figure a way out, he might live. And if he lived, he thought, he had a lot of questions he needed to ask himself, and answer. First things first. How to get out?
As these thoughts swirled through his head, the dragonflies began to move as one entity, away from him, only to land about 5 or 6 feet away, on a large branch laying on the ground. There were still leaves on the branch, as if it had just been blown down.
The dragonflies began to fly in a spiral pattern, around up, back down, as if they were trying to get Tom to notice the branch. Finally, the huge dragonfly which had been sitting on his arm flew straight for his eyes, stopping just short of his nose, shaking him from his reverie about them, seeing the branch they were all abuzz about.
Tom reached out slowly for the branch. Very slowly he began to try to move his body toward the branch, thinking it might somehow help him out. With each movement, he was getting sucked down further, but he was almost within an arm’s length. He kept believing that this branch, laying on the ground would help him. “It’s gotta help me. Gotta.” he repeated it over and over as he finally was able to reach it. He pulled on it, and it refused to move. He pulled harder, still, it didn’t move.
Again, he pulled. He realized he was pulling himself up. The branch wasn’t moving. He could see the notch of a lower branch jutting out from the main one he was pulling on, digging into the ground. Which appeared to be solid! Arm over arm, he pulled, and each time pulled himself out of the muck a little more. When he finally got half his body up onto the ground, he was able to pull his legs up out of the quicksand.
He lay there on the ground, catching his breath and doing something he’d never done in his life….praying. Thanking whatever powers were out there for his life. Thanking the dragonflies, thanking the tree that shed its branch that saved his life. As he lay there, looking up at the sky, with clouds floating by, through the tops of the trees, it began to occur to him that perhaps something amazing had happened today. He thought about the moments when he held his head, sure he was about to be tortured. He thought during those moments that he’d done himself in, with his big mouth, and oversized ego. He’d seen and regretted spending his life trying to prove he was tough, living on the edge.
And then, the column of dragonflies flew over to him and hovered over his chest. Over his heart, he realized. His heart! They began to fly an intricate pattern. As he watched, he could see that the dragonflies were creating a heart whose point was at his own heart.
He knew, even though he didn’t know, that everything, from the chase to the falling in quicksand, to the dragonflies, and the pulling himself out, right to magical dragonfly heart, was the universe, not only working in his behalf, but carrying a message to him as well. It occurred to him that everything that happens to us brings us to where we are.
He’d heard once, that ruin is a gift, the road to transformation. Of course he’d scoffed at it when he’d heard it before. Not so this time, as it echoed through his brain.
Less than an hour ago, he’d been on the verge of total ruin. And here he was, alive, safe, sound, and now, willing, and amazed…. He got up, dusted himself off as best he could and walked out of the woods, transformed.
By Deborah E. Dayen