They say you should write what you know. And I have been doing a lot of running lately, so…
I’m up to week 40 of my short story writing challenge, which means I’ve only got 12 more to go. If it wasn’t obvious, the idea here is to write a short story every week for a year.
Want to catch up with the prior 39 stories? You can find the full archive here.
Not that this is my first short story challenge, mind you.
The first led to an eBook, called Fifty Two, so if you enjoy this tale, why not do me a solid favour and buy a copy?
If you’re more of a long fiction reader — and especially one who likes B-Movies about Australian secret agents featuring way more exploding sharks than any other novel* then I’ve got just the book for you:
*I feel confident in this claim, but I do welcome challengers to it — as long as they buy a copy so they can count and compare, that is..
This week’s story is based around the fact that I’ve been doing quite a lot of running over the past few years, including a local park run each Saturday. So I figured it was about time I used that in some creative way.
Although in all of my runs, I’ve never actually come across…
It’s Saturday, it’s way too early, and for reasons that I can’t quite explain right at this moment – I blame the cup of coffee I really ought to have had when I got up – I’m in a pair of shorts, an old scruffy t-shirt and pair of sneakers and I’m about to go and run around a seriously hilly park in the sweltering heat.
I blame Susan for all this.
It was her idea to start all of this “fun” running business, saying that we were wasting our time on Saturday mornings just sleeping in.
I rather liked sleeping in with Susan… or at least, being in bed-related proximity with Susan on a Saturday morning, if you know what I mean.
But instead of that kind of exercise, I’m here, doing this kind around everyone from mad dog walkers to pram-weilding maniac mums to slow-moving elderly folks. They certainly get a diverse crowd of people who don’t seem to believe in a good weekend sleep in, that’s for sure.
And like that, we are off and running… or in my case, jogging lightly. I’m not quite as quick as I used to be back in my younger days, when I was part of my high school’s track and field team.
Mind you, even back then I was only a substitute runner, because discus and shotput were where I really excelled.
Right now I’d like to shot put this lady who’s running just a little bit too slow but won’t move out of the way into those bushes. It would only take the smallest nudge… but nah, everyone would see me, and I’d have to stop, and it would ruin my time. Out and around her I go, and the sweating has started.
That’s when I realise what hasn’t started. My music hasn’t started. I can’t run without my beats! I tap at my buds, which are meant to start playing, but nothing. Nothing at all.
Oh. Right. I can’t feel my phone in my pocket, and that’s because it’s still at home. Susan was in such a rush to get me out of the door that I grabbed my headphones, but not my phone. That would explain it. Guess I’ll have to run in silence then.
Except it’s far from silent, because I can hear my breath getting heavier, as well as that couple I just passed having an argument about… purple plastic lawn tiles? Did I hear that right?
Never mind. Onwards, jogging, jogging and more jogging. Over that pothole, take the turn to the left, keep looking forwards although oddly at the backs of everyone in front of me.
There’s the bald bloke in the bandana, right next to the lady in the really tight leopard print jogging shorts. Susan would probably tell me to stop staring, but they’re right there in front of me, leaving very little to the imagination…
I think I’m slowing down to stare at the shorts. I should probably stop that, so I’ll overtake her. Keep on running, keep on running, legs keep moving, that’s the mantra…
This would be much easier to music, because I could sing along to it. In my head, that is. People would look at me strange if I started singing “Enter Sandman” while bounding past that pack of twelve year olds. Or they’d put me on some kind of list.
And then, around the corner I go, past the marker that lets me know that I’m half way done. This is where it gets hard, because my legs are starting to really let me know that lying in bed is much easier than running around a park.
Nobody seems to be in front of me, but then I’ve already been overtaken by the really fit young guys who seem to just bound around the course like a pack of gazelles. I would have been one of them, once upon a time. They’re probably totally finished now, enjoying a breather and some water and not having to run at all any more.
Hang on… to the side of those bushes… is that… a rabbit?
It is a rabbit!
And it’s… standing up on its hind legs.
Must be… some kid’s toy, maybe?
Eh, it’s not my problem, I’ll just run past it and try to think only about one foot in front of the other, keep the legs moving, don’t think about stopping to breathe….
What the…? Who said that?
“Hey, Joe, down here!”
I glance down, legs still pumping along the course, trying not to slip on the loose gravel.
It’s… the rabbit.
It seems to have sneakers on, and it’s running next to me. Not hopping, but running…
“Joe, why are you doing this to yourself? Why not take a breather?”
Maybe if I ignore it, it’ll go away.
“Joe, buddy, pal, friend, mate, me old mucker… you can take a little break here. Just to catch your breath. That’d be fine!”
“No, no it wouldn’t. I want to get this done, and I want to get a good time.”
“Why, Joe? Why does the time matter?”
“Because… because it just does, OK?”
“Oh, come ON, Joe. That’s the kind of excuse your Dad used to give you when you were a kid. You’re not a kid. You can make your own decisions. Like, say… stopping for a breather. You look like you’re pretty tuckered out…”
“I can’t do that, Joe. I only have your best interests at heart. So… why not take a short walking break. It’ll do you good, you know…”
“I can’t do that. I want to get a good time. Just keep moving, legs. Just keep moving.”
“Your legs aren’t listening to you Joe. But I am. Why do you want to get a good time? What’s so important about that good time?”
“Because… BECAUSE, OK? Because last week, I got overtaken by that man with the dog, and the eleven year old AND the lady who had a baby six weeks ago, and they ALL came in ahead of me. All of them.”
“Oh. Well, they’re probably not here this week anyway.”
“They are. They must be regulars. I saw all of them at the finish line. Just keep going, legs, just keep going, just keep going, hills are hard and I want to stop but…”
“So stop. Catch your breath. Breathe in a big delicious lung full of gorgeous air instead.”
“No! I won’t. I’m going to keep going, round this corner, up this hill…”
“That hill is steep you know. Your legs are going to hurt. Best avoided, I say.”
“Be quiet! I can do this. I can!”
“I wouldn’t be so sure, Joe. Wouldn’t it be better to just walk the rest, save your energy and all that? Busy day ahead…”
“For the last time, no! The hill is nearly done and you’re putting me off my pace…”
“Your pace? Your pace! Hah! You don’t have a pace, Joe. You look like a marionette with its strings tangled when you run, you know. Totally stupid.”
“I do not.”
“You do too. Especially from down here, where I can see all the sweat dripping off your forehead and down your nose. Disgusting, Joe.”
“Stop pestering me! Don’t you have some, I dunno, carrots to go steal or something!”
“Hey, don’t stereotype me! I’m just trying to help you, you know!”
“Could you stop distracting me, then? Because…”
And just like that I’ve crossed the finish line, and they’re handing me the marker for my time.
I check my watch and… that can’t be right?
I’m ten minutes faster than I was last week?
That’s when my legs give out on me, because it turns out running way, way faster than you usually would because you’re having an argument with a rabbit really takes it out of you.
As I tumble to the grass, I see the rabbit running away, backwards somehow.
“Great run, Joe! See you next week!”