Fiction

The Runner

Overwork and pressure have put grit in his blood. Skin shadowy, tanned ashen from artificial light, mouth soured by stale air, back teeth aching from the lock-jaw of stress. There is shrapnel in his back; shot through with gristle, steel cables of torsion in his neck. His blood pumps thickly and sluggishly, sludging through brittle arteries, pooling as concrete in his chest. Later that night, insomnia mocks sleep, acid burning through bone-dry eyelids. Blinking blindly in the sickly glow of dawn, the road offers an escape.

At the outset there is clunking dyssynchrony, the awkwardness of a mind and body malaligned. He takes long, clumsy strides, lengthening stiffened limbs, bleeding off tension from chronically knotted shoulders. Stretching the abdominal walls, he pulls and blows the bellows to fill the tanks, preparing the body for performance. This ritual reminds him of accomplishments past, assuring of capability. After a time, the machinery melts down into autonomy in motion.

In the forest dene there is a multitude of birdsong, wind rustling leaves, icy water sloshing over moss-glossed rocks. Deliberately lost in the solace of nature, he imagines himself as the last man on Earth. This isolation is life-affirming, every foot-beat taking him further from the mess of an interconnected world. There is no collaboration or competition here; he runs for himself.

The low-flying sun splashes weakly through the smashed branches of wintered trees, tethered to a silvered horizon, mourning summer skies. Frosted breath is whipped away in his wake, vapour dissolving into the ether. Picking up pace, he becomes thermogenic; encapsulated in his micro-climate. The elements are matterless now.

Burning desperation produces speed, a catalytic converter fueled by poison. He is pace-conscious, torching torpor in the furnace, breaking down walls of negativity. Drinking in the purified air, he visualises torrents of life-giving oxygen rocketing through sixty thousand miles of veins to set his frozen fingertips afire.

Approaching the escarpment, self-talk is the primer. With single-pointed focus propelling him into the climb, he accepts that pain awaits post-summit. Willing his numbed arms to pump like pistons, mind over matter launches his leaden legs against gravity’s grip. The jet fuel of adrenaline throttles his hammering heart, lungs screaming with air-hunger, too small for the task. Dry aspiration hacks his throat, a hot nausea washed away in victory.

In gentle descent, the storm subsides into awareness of foot-strikes. Flesh and bone slip through space, invisible contrails of energy pouring into the atmosphere. A rhythm regulates recovery; respiration slowing, pulse thrumming reassuringly.

Charged with vitality, gratitude springs from the depths of a memory: a near-fatal car crash, a shattered leg rebuilt, the end of anaemic convalescence in a bitterly black depression. In a foreign place he once called home, on an empty beach bordering a desert, he set out to test himself; to bring an end to his recovery. Despite the proof in the slow, painful mileage, he felt a maddening urge to sprint, the need to face down a spectre of doubt. In the roar of a scalding wind, he saw himself from above: the crescendo peaking, barely skimming the sand on the verge of flight, shimmering distance trailing triumphantly, sunlight sparking off the ocean. Crashing headlong into the purifying surf, he was suffused with existential awareness. The memory has never left him.

Running is his remedy for a darkening sky, a big warm breeze that blows in the blue. Running is the anti-venom, a coolant for an over-wrought nervous system and a trial by fire that offers redemption through suffering. In its afterglow, cognitive clarity and sentient calm bring profound peace.

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