Sixteen-year-old Paul Logos, normally calmed by running, was angry – spitting angry – almost cursing angry. His only competition on the weed lined muddy trail between yet unplowed fields was himself. He increased his tempo to a lung burning and leg rubbering pace. Escalating his exertion gave him no decrease in mood. Approaching a rickety 100-year-old wooden footbridge leading to the graveled county road, his thoughts between breaths raced as fast as he ran.
There was no reason for them to move here from the City.
He day-trades from home; she can paint anywhere.
Paul’s jaw tightened and his chest and diaphragm labored to keep needed oxygen flowing into his lungs. His feet slipped on the rain dampened path. His drying throat ached. All that cooled his body and mood was the light drizzle in the air.
No college with my grades.
Would’ve gotten a scholarship when the scouts saw me run in the City.
No one’s going to see me run here in the middle of nowhere.
He dodged puddles, mud slowed his pace, and his feet slipped often making breathing more difficult. His eyes watered from within as he approached the bridge leading to the gravel road. Scouts probably never heard of the Podunk high school out here.
Paul, inattentive to his surroundings from his anger and physical stress, contemplated if or not he should cross over the flood-stage creek to get a better running surface. He gripped the rain-soaked moss on the bridge railing as he labored for air and cried – silently at first – then with a roar of anguish.
A scream piercing through the sound of rushing water got his attention. He saw an ATV stopped about mid-span with one wheel trapped by a break in the bridge surface; part of the rail next to it was broken away. He jogged to the idling vehicle where a girl, about ten, held the clutch lever tightly against the handlebar with both hands. Even through his watering eyes Paul could see the panic on her face.
The girl bellowed, “My brother! He’s in the water!”
Paul responded, “How long?”
She yelled out, “He held on to the rail as long as he could. He just went under the bridge.” Turning her head downstream, she shouted, “He can’t swim! But he’s still floating!” Releasing her grip on the clutch lever with one hand, she pointed and puffed out, “See!”
The ATV wheels spun between the broken deck boards of the bridge. Paul gripped the clutch, turned off the ignition, and lifted her to the bridge deck. He panted, “You have a phone?”
“He had it!”
“Take mine. Go to the road. Call someone.”
Paul went into sprint mode as if leaving the starting blocks in an adrenalin fueled competition. His lungs ached, and his legs were rubbering again before he passed the boy flailing in the stream. He dove in downstream from the struggling boy. The cold water restored his leg strength, and he pulled the boy into an eddy under an overhanging tree. He grabbed a low branch with one hand then got a scissor grip under the boy’s arms with his legs. The boy struggled as Paul went arm over arm on the branch bounced by the turbulence on their bodies. His arms started to feel like his legs did earlier, but his grip was determined.
Paul’s lungs still heaved, his body ached, but his thoughts about himself disappeared as volunteer fire fighters pulled them up from the water’s edge.
He refocused, I feel selfish! There is a reason for them moving me here.