Until it was Too Late

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
A girl goes for a run on the levee and encounters someone she didn't expect.

Submitted: December 09, 2011

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Submitted: December 09, 2011

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I didn’t see him until it was too late.

Some people become hyper-observant when they run. They notice the size and shape of the leaves in the trees. They notice the architecture of the houses they pass, and they remember the faces of the people on the porches. For those runners, every run is a mental scrapbooking session.  

They are also usually the runners without earbuds jammed deep in their ears, stifling all sounds of outside life – and all sounds of approach. They don’t require a constant stream of fast-paced, motivational jams to push them further and harder. Their only soundtrack is the thump of their own feet on the pavement, a lively drumbeat, steady as a pulse.

When I run, however, I fold completely into my own little world of pain and concentration. I don’t see that the leaves in the trees have faded to crumpled brown paper hearts. I don’t notice the charming shotgun houses with their crowns of Christmas lights. I don’t see the cute old man rocking on the porch or the massive white cat curled at his feet like a dollop of icing. I can only see the terribleness of the road before me, stretching on and on and on like an endless gray snake.

I can’t hear anything, either. This is partly due to the earbuds shoved in my ears – Ludacris gently encouraging me to “move bitch, get out the way,” of course - but mostly I just can’t hear the sounds of the outside world over the din of my own thoughts. Tired, tired, so tired, tired, tired! is one of my brain’s favorite chants, though most of the time my thoughts are just one profane, incoherent tangle. Every time my foot strikes the ground, the pain shoots up my leg, rattles my ribcage, gives my lungs a friendly little squeeze, rakes its claws up my throat, and then clangs the warning bells in my mind.

I am new to all this pain and madness; I only started running three months ago. I’m constantly picking up new hobbies in my quest to find my one true talent. It’s a bit of an addiction, really, and I suspect I’m just as addicted to the inevitable disappointment as to the hobbies themselves. They make good stories, you see, these harmless little failures of mine.  “Guess what I did yesterday, you guys! I tatted a doily! And no, it did not go well!”

Although I do enjoy regaling friends and family with stories of bad runs, aching calves, slow race times, untied shoelaces, and embarrassing clothing malfunctions, running has become more than just a source of silly anecdotes. Despite the pain, despite the wheezing, despite the endless gray road, I actually like it. There are moments – rare, but not totally absent – when I really fly, when all the noises inside me fall reverently silent, when all my muscles and bones and bits and pieces agree with one another. Perfect accord.

I was swept up in one such moment when a man stepped out of the trees up ahead.

I didn’t see him until it was too late.

The world was suspended in that strange transition between late afternoon and early evening, and I ran through a murky mixture of inky shadow and dying light. My feet crunched on the gravel as I sprinted, though I hardly felt the impact, so euphoric was my flight. A small voice in some isolated corner of my brain whispered, there’s a man. Three words – quiet, but authoritative. I glanced up and saw a tall, solid shape, webbed shadows from the trees thrown over his shoulders like a cloak.  I remember thinking it so odd, the way he stood there, a gargoyle poised motionlessly in the middle of the path. Most people don’t go up on the levee to stand and skulk. They go for a stroll, they walk their cocker spaniels, or they run. Like me.

People are usually polite enough to step out of a runner’s path, too. But the man didn’t move, didn’t flinch. I could feel his eyes on me as I loped past him, staring at my face as I shifted awkwardly to get by. And even though I couldn’t see it, I sensed his smile, still and quiet as brackish pond water.

The euphoria of my runner’s high swiftly became something more like fear. There isn’t much difference between the two, when you get down to it. Both light you up from the inside-out, both slam your heart against your chest, both turn your blood to molten silver. He’s going to make some stupid comment, I thought, gluing my eyes to my feet. Men had hollered at me before; the sight of a girl bouncing along, running by her lonesome seems to trigger a senseless kind of stupidity in some people. But he remained totally silent, almost eerily so. I almost wished he would say something, even if it was “Hey baby, nice tits!” Anything would be better than the ominous silence that had settled over my world like a death shroud.

I tried to regain my former pace, eager to put this smiling gargoyle behind me. But things had changed. My confident gallop now felt desperate. My speed, once jubilant, now felt necessary. My skin crawled with the terrible anticipation of the man’s hand on my shoulder or his breath on my neck. The waiting was eternal, maddening; a wait like that could turn even the sunniest optimist into a stone-faced cynic. He’s going to grab me. I’m going to die. I was so certain of my own doom.

And yet so surprised when it actually happened.

There is no sensation worse than knowing you’re about to be taken down. It’s not just your brain that knows, it’s your entire body, too. I could hear him as he came for me, boots pounding, breath panting. My brain screamed at me to run faster, but I was an animal snared in a trap of my own panic. What I did instead was yank my earphones out of my ears and whirl around, whipping out one arm in a clumsy sort of rainbow punch. The back of my wrist whacked against something solid, but then my arm buckled, crumpling me to my knees. His hands were on me immediately, grabbing, groping, pushing. It was easy for him to shove me onto my back; I had done half the work for him, after all.

He was on me like an eclipse, covering my world in a black panic. The screams that tore from my throat were shrill and wild, and some distant part of my brain acknowledged how awful they sounded. My vision zipped and swam, affording me quick, dizzying glimpses of his shoulder, his face, the sky. I’d expected his eyes to be black, but they were pale blue – icy lakes with pupils as tiny islands. His smile had become a grimace, teeth displayed in a curved white blade. I fought back without thinking, swinging my arms, clawing at his face, kicking at his heavy body. I landed a few hits and earned a few grunts, but he never swayed. Leverage was on his side. His thumbs burrowed into the tender hollows above my collar bones, and I gasped, air scratching painfully in my throat.

Even in the midst of this chaos, a small part of me sat apart, shaking its head at how unfair the whole thing was. This little piece of me was a shard of self-righteousness. I’m a good girl. I do my best. I try to make people happy. With a list like that, how could this possibly be my fate? How??

But it was. I was in the process of discovering just how little my list of positive attributes mattered.  There was no jury to hear me out and proclaim my innocence. There was no judge to bang a gavel and deliver justice. There was just me, the bits of gravel digging into my neck, and the man on top of me.

He wouldn’t be on top of me for much longer, though. While his hands closed over my neck and began to squeeze, I managed to unpin my right knee and ram it into his lower belly. He gasped and released my neck, hands clutching at his stomach. There was no coherent moment of “A-ha! Now I shall escape!” or any flash of triumph. I was beaten-down, desperate, driven strictly by instinct. So I scrambled out from under him, gravel spraying in all directions as I tried to scoop myself to my feet and run away at the same time. My legs were scraped, numb, and felt as steady as paper. I stumbled but kept going, clawing at the ground on all fours before I found purchase again. I half-ran, half-tumbled down the levee, the tears in my eyes turning my vision to smeared wax.

On the river road below me was a truck barreling by at 60 miles an hour.

I didn’t see him until it was too late.

And he didn’t see me.


© Copyright 2017 Corinne. All rights reserved.

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