The Runner

He re-strung his worn Aasic after tying a knot in the ripped lace. Both laces had many of these repair knots tied in them. The shoe itself was brown from months spent running on the muddy trails near his home.

Heavy fog poured from his mouth and nose as his warm breath hit the frigid, early-morning air. He was sitting up in his sleeping bag in a tent out in his friend’s backyard. Money was short, so the old, cramped tent was what he called home. Even in the dead of winter.

After pulling on tights and a hooded sweatshirt, the runner squirmed out of his damp sleeping bag, happy to be up and moving after a cold, wet night spent on a worn-out sleeping mat. He put on his shoes. His knees creaked as his gaunt frame crouched and ducked under the short tent door. He emerged on the other side, feet planted in the muddy grass. The night storm had passed. The runner now looked up into a patchy clear sky dotted with faint stars.

The brown earth squished under his brown shoes as he walked to his still-sleeping friend’s back deck. The hot tub’s motor was on, heating up in case his friend decided he needed a wake-up dip before driving to work.

The runner entered through a French doorway. Smudge marks on the glass near the handle marked the runner’s repeated entries over the past months. Warm air blasted from a heater vent by the runner’s feet. He closed the door quietly behind him and took off his muddy shoes before walking into the kitchen. The runner had his own cabinet, with his own food in it. He opened his cabinet and took out an almost empty jar of oats. Rationing the remaining grains, the runner poured a small bowl-full and popped it in the microwave.

The steaming oats went down his throat into his empty stomach in a few spoonfuls. He washed the meager meal down with a few gulps from the sink faucet, and crept back to the back porch door. He tied his shoes. A hole in the side of his shoe revealed another hole in his wool sock where his toe was poking through. This was the third day in a row that he had forgotten to take care of the sock. Too late now. He opened the glass door and stepped back out into the dark.
It always hurt in the beginning. The first ten minutes pounding on the cement jolted his knees. His cold hamstrings were tight, stiff as frozen taffy. But after a mile or two, he began feeling more comfortable. Strides grew more fluid and his pace quickened as he ran downhill toward the riverside.

The street lamps were still on, lighting a dim path before him. A few cars passed, spitting cold, dirty spray to the shoulder of the road and onto the runner’s dirty shoes. He didn’t mind, he continued on.
Six miles later, he reached the river trail. By now a glow from the eastern horizon lit up the muddy trail just enough for the runner to avoid the biggest roots. He jumped over trees, fallen from the storm. He flew around the bends of the single-track trail, up and down small rises and dips as easy as the river flowed silently beside him. The path escorted him farther into the depths of the evergreen forest.

The trail began to fade as he went farther. It turned away from the riverbank and began climbing uphill. A few minutes later, the trail ended, but the runner continued. He followed his footsteps from the morning before. Wet pine needles flew out behind him, spit out from his shoes as he turned the pace up another notch. The hill continued to grow steeper. The mud grew slicker and the underbrush thicker. Brambles grabbed at his legs while he ducked under tree branches.
The runner began gasping for air and his legs filled with lactic acid as the gradient shot up and up. His feet slipped out from under him and he landed on all fours. He was nearing the top of the hill. On hands and feet, he scrambled up the wet, muddy slope. The road was a hundred meters farther up the hill. Cars cruised on the pavement with ease while the runner’s lungs wheezed as he climbed to the top.

Back on the pavement, the runner did not stop or slow. He got back up to speed and his breathing returned to its normal rhythmic pulse. Mud covered his entire body. It squished between his toes let in through his shoe’s many holes.

The street lamps turned off as the morning came, but thick clouds had been forming over the past hour. The sky remained dim. The runner did not take notice, he continued to run.
Faint drops of cold water fell on his shoulders. They soon turned big and heavy. The runner’s shoes slapped on the wet pavement. His steamy breath shot out like a hot kettle’s. The rain came pouring now. No wind meant it came straight down in curtains of liquid. It was thick and cold, but the runner persisted without distraction. He turned off the road onto a small trail to his right. He splashed through deep puddles. His arms swung smoothly and his legs glided over the trail like a gazelle’s. The rain beat on the forested canopy above him. His shoulders brushed wet leaves as the trail narrowed and the vegetation closed in on him.

The trail ended and he burst through the dark hole of the forest and back to the civilization of pavement. He crossed over to the left side of the road. The rain persisted. It began washing the mud from his shoes and tights. His legs were burning and a cramp in his side told him to slow. He did not. He was a mile from home now and he turned the pace up as he ran along the dark country road. His mouth hung open, his vision began to blur just slightly as he dug into the last of his will power.

A sleeping driver’s head nodded behind the wheel. The car crossed the double yellow lines. It hit him at 40 miles per hour and sent him flying from the road. The driver woke with a start, realizing what had happened, and melted rubber on pavement while fleeing the scene.
The runner lay in a ditch off the side of the road, face up. His back was broken and his ribs were protruding into his lungs. Blood came from his mouth. No houses were nearby. Raindrops, released thousands of feet up in the sky, bolted down to earth, stinging his face and plopping loudly in the brown puddle he lay in. He couldn’t move or make a sound other than a faint gurgling as his blood bubbled from his mouth. He died in silent agony, in the mud. Just remember, if McCain wins: shit happens.

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