It’s been a little while in waiting, but here is the second edition in my short story collection of hardcore stories, noir fiction, and terror tales.
Not that this story will fit into any of those categories perfectly, but these stories seek to find light in the dark sides of the human spectrum.
It’s high summer time, the streets are ablaze like the fiery tongues of traffic-light preachers, and the joggers are out in ferocious numbers.
Enjoy the second story in my series.
Amy runs every night.
She runs through the dark, winding trails that lead their way around the university, on the outer edge of Lake Menomac, under the railway bridge, behind the towering cylinders of the factory standing quietly under the stars, and along the straight pathway behind the farm research center and old warehouses.
She runs after nightfall, because she likes the isolation that the dark provides, the way the movement quiets, how the trees pull together and the leaves blend into rustling shadows.
Amy likes the quiet and solitude, and when she jogs, she clarifies her thoughts and concentrates on the moment, each breath exhaling between her lips, the pavement landing below her heels and then rolling under her foot until lifting off from her toes.
She thinks about where she is as well, not on the jogging path, but her prospects in life, her studies, her boyfriend, her job, all of the things that make up the routine of her daily life, the things that seemed to drive her to jog each evening, to release the stress, and to get some exercise as well of course, but mostly, she likes the meditation, the place her mind goes when she is inbetween the beginning and the end, somewhere along the path, breathing hard, feeling the beat of the cement under her feet, sweating beads in the cool nights.
As she winds around the path tonight with dusk settling around her, the passing joggers become fewer and fewer.
She always jogs at night, but she knows it is dangerous.
There have been 3 muggings this summer already. Nobody has been hurt, but the robber has held them at gunpoint and demanded their wallets before escaping into the forest that borders the lake and surrounding parks and blends slowly back into the city.
Amy still runs at night though, because the robberies have happened on the south side of town, and not directly around the campus where she mainly remains, and certainly not further north near the parks and piers where the trail borders the lake for a long stretch.
She is too busy to run during the day anyways, and besides, she doesn’t like being seen while she is exerting herself and enjoys the privacy of the empty path at night where no prying eyes will judge her as she passes.
So she keeps running at night, despite the threat of burglary, and her mom’s worries over the phone, and her boyfriend bitching about it, and the university’s postings around campus, she maintains her routine and runs along the trails in her silent meditation.
She turns under the railroad bridge, where the trail lays out along the lake and moonlit rocks, and it is particularly quiet and beautiful. The waters lightly brush the shore and trickle over the rocks back into the sifting tide.
She is at peace, at her perfect pace, breathing steadily, her legs and arms in rythm, her thoughts centered, her eyes focused straight ahead, and everything that is behind her is leaving and everything ahead is awaiting her, but she is in no hurry to be there as it will come when she is ready.
On the other side of the shoreline, where the trail turns back into the park, through the forested soft upward climb that curves around the outer edge of the acreage of national protected forests, she leaves the open moonlit lake behind and disappears into the darkened dewy air that invigorates her lungs and increases her stamina into the climb.
This is Amy’s favorite part of her run, where she works her muscles their hardest and presses her lungs to expand to the accept the pressure of her hard-beating heart.
She picks up speed and focuses on the dark trail as the trees become a blur of tall shadowy bars between her and the moon above them. The thick bushes and vines wind around stranded veins of the night, where the rustle of the forest floor footsteps through the shadows.
The air becomes stiller the further she climbs up the hill bending around the upper trail that winds back and forth to absorb the steep slope.
She can feel the chill of autumn biting on her back, itching up behind her, and she savors the adrenaline, the fear that makes her peddle her feet faster, running from the shadows that she dare not turn to face, her imaginary and real fears that she faces throughout her days, her fear of failure, of facing the unknown, what could come up from behind and snatch her away from her comfortable existence, slice her life at the throat and let her swallow what she hoped she could achieve.
So she runs away from it, runs even harder to get away from what she can’t face and probably isn’t even there, until she hears the distinct snapping of a stick from an indinstinct distance beyond the edge of her vision in the forest.
She stutters her step for a second, but doesn’t stop running, and as she turns her head to stare into the forest for a second, something she never does, she trips off the side of the turning trail where the tree roots grow out from under the sides of the blacktop.
She falls into the rocks along the side and skids her knees until she flops onto her side and shrieks from pain.
Instantly she hears sticks breaking in the darkness and brush being pushed aside as an unknown assailant tears through the blindness toward her.
Amy jumps to her feet and pumps her legs as hard as she can up the hill as she hears a heavy body clear the brush behind her and trip across the trail with a hard thud and low-throated growl.
Her heart races faster than her feet as she speeds away, and she hears the man get to his feet and start to run after her again.
She has a good head start on him, but she doesn’t dare look back, and she can hear him coming at a faster pace than hers, his footsteps getting louder and thudding the path behind her until she thinks she can feel both of their footsteps together, him just paces away from snatching her neck from behind and tearing her down onto the concrete.
She thinks about her mom warning her now, about how annoying she has been, and her boyfried sitting back in his dorm room waiting for her to come back to hang out that night, and how she hates her classes, but keeps going to them and studying harder to get good grades, to keep passing, to graduate and get her degree, but mostly about getting back to the beginning, back to her room, where she can start her day again tomorrow, can keep up the pace of her life and pass along the trail she was on, racing by the empty scenery that is blocked by the night, that is breathing down her now, hot on the hairs of her neck, searing the sweat that is tearing down her back.
She can feel him now, his hand reaching out for her, just steps behind her, and she feels her legs will break like the electric socket has been pulled out of her, will just flop to the ground like dead wires, when suddenly the trees start to break open and the first lamp of the park hanging under its curved pole is visible in the exit of the forest, where the trail opens up into a field full of picnic tables and iron standing grills, spotted by lights that are surrounded by full garbage cans and a sand volleyball court.
As she breaks free of darkness’ grasp, her assailants footsteps mutter to a mute, and she realizes he has stopped chasing her, that she has escaped, but she doesn’t slow her pace, because the fear is still following her.
She runs further, past the basketball courts and the baseball diamonds, and when the trail turns back around toward the lake again, she turns off the path and cuts through the parking lot and sprints under the lights toward the main avenue leading back to the university.
Amy doesn’t turn back or tell anyone about her attacker.
She doesn’t want to report anything to the police, and she hasn’t actually seen anybody, so she wouldn’t have anything specific to tell.
She isn’t even sure now if she didn’t just let her fears get the best of her, if it hasn’t all been put into her imagination by her mother’s constant nagging and her boyfriend’s worries.
And besides, if she tells anybody, they won’t want her to go jogging at night by herself anymore, and it is the only time she really feels at peace when she is alone.
Hope you enjoyed, and as always, please feel free to leave comments, criticisms, or just say whatever the hell you want. Who cares? Anybody?