The woman tried to move her feet. However much she wriggled and jiggled her legs, they wouldn’t free. She stood up straight, hands pushing into the small of her back, closing her eyes with a weary sigh.
On every side the world moved around the mud puddle. Children danced and ran, energy pouring out of them and towards her in torrents, but the torrents died away to drips before they reached the mud puddle. Busy busy people power-walked, focused, in a straight line towards a goal she couldn’t see. Where their so-straight path crossed her puddle, it veered around the outskirts, as if repelled by the negative power like a magnetic forcefield.
She tried again to get free but her struggles only seemed to suck her further in. The mud crept up her leg, cold and dark, and she shivered. She started to call out for help. She called louder and louder; no-one heard, although every now and then someone would stop and look around them as if bothered by something they couldn’t quite work out. Shaking their heads, they always moved on.
To her left she saw, out of the corner of her eye, a dark cloud beginning to crawl over the sky. She sobbed once and the breath caught in her throat with the cold. Her legs were aching from the effort of holding her increasingly heavy body up, and she slumped, her hands resting on her thighs taking as much of her weight as they could. Shallow breaths turned to droplets in the damp air. As she began to give up her hands slid down her legs. She jerked herself up for one last look at the world around the mud puddle and saw, in the distance, other people stuck in their own puddles. One caught her eye and they smiled humourlessly at each other. He waved at her, and began to raise his leg. She watched him wobble as he managed to free first one foot, then the other, stepping out of his puddle and striding away, mingling into the crowd with only a watery brown mudstain on his clothes as evidence of his entrapment.
She gritted her teeth, grinding them until they hurt and her jaw was locked in place. She stared down at her legs and willed her foot to lift free of the slime around it. It began to move; still sucked under the surface but starting to shift slightly. At the edge of the circle the man stood waiting; he’d returned for her. Every ounce of strength was forced into that obedient leg and it juddered free. She took big sticky steps, wading through the treacly mud with aching slowness until she finally stood with one foot poised to step into freedom. She looked back over her shoulder at the ever-present, threatening dark cloud and then turned, put each foot in turn onto solid ground.
She stretched in the sunshine and revelled in the warmth seeping into her skin, like a lazy cat on some Mediterranean tiled roof. Her eyes narrowed against the brightness and the colour.
Then she walked away.