Will Jones and the Blue Dog by Greg Barron
Will Jones heard a shout and swivelled his head to see two men on horseback galloping down the hill. Jim was in front, his chest wet with rain, and shining in the gathering light. Sam came behind him, steady and solid, and Will called to them with a whoop.
Yet the swelling rush of water was close now, a flowing moving tide, and Jim reached Will just as it struck, grabbing his arm while the horse dug in, the water washing up over his back, and somehow Will clambered on.
As Jim urged his stallion back towards safety, Will shouted ‘Wait,’ for he had turned to see Johnson clinging to one of the posts Sam had erected around his vegetable plot, hanging on for dear life, giving out a loud cry of pain as the water dragged at his body. Will could not leave him there to drown, no matter what malice and mischief he had wished on them.
Catching on, Jim urged his mount back towards the stricken man, but Cartridge was losing both his nerve and his depth. Sam’s horse was worse, trying desperately to turn and skip back towards dry ground.
‘It’s too deep,’ yelled Jim.
‘Just a little closer,’ urged Will, and Johnson’s eyes were pleading as Will reached out an arm for him.
Johnson hung on by one hand now, extending his other towards Will. Close now. Almost close enough, but the water was still rising and Jim was only keeping control of his mount through near-supernatural horsemanship. Sam for his part, was using his horse to block the flow, protecting Jim.
Somehow, Will’s hand met Johnson’s, their fingers touching, then gripping. A momentary expression of relief lit the imperilled man’s face.
‘Lookout above,’ cried Sam.
Will turned to see that a tree trunk, carried on that flood, was on its way down. For a second it looked as if it would miss them completely, but it spun a little at the last minute, smashing into Johnson, punching into his exposed head and shoulders, tearing him away. His hand was snatched from Will’s grip by the force of the current-borne missile.
When the log floated downstream, Johnson went with it.
‘Poor barsted,’ wailed Will, but their own situation was still precarious. The horses were beyond tired from fighting the mud and water, and Jim leaned down close to his stallion’s ear. ‘Take us out now boy. Take us up to the hill.’
With Sam’s mount matching stride for stride, plunge for plunge, the stallion found his reserves; his will to live. He lunged forward, again and again, over and over until they reached the shadows where Little Blue was swimming beyond his depth but safe, and there was Johnson’s dog Rossie as well. There was no fight in them, for the water had become a greater enemy, and all others must take second place.
Jim, Will and Sam rode on up to the stony slope beyond the water and mud, where horses, men and dogs flopped in exhaustion, knowing how close they had been to a terrible death by drowning.
After a time, huddled close for warmth, Will thanked his mates for coming to his side when they did. Knowing that he too would be either drowned or close to it by now if they hadn’t come along.
And as for Johnson. They did not mention his name, but Will was determined that when the rains stopped, and the flood went down, that he would find the man’s body and bury him proper. Any man, even one so far off the rails as he, deserved a place to keep his repose in dignity.
© Greg Barron 2023