The rain was done driving itself into the ground. The smell of wet pavement drifted up to my nostrils. If I had had the time, this would have been around the point where I’d let memories wash over me, of a time way back in the past when running was a pastime, not a survival tactic. But that wasn’t possible anymore. I slipped around a corner, slamming my back against the dumpster, sinking to the ground. This would do for a bit.
Breathing was a laborious process at that point. I focused on taking as deep a lungful of air as possible while making as little noise as possible. I could hear the skittering and scratching following behind me. It wouldn’t be very long. Somehow I’d get caught up and the running would start again.
Some time ago, I would have considered this a ridiculous situation that no one would ever find themselves in. I can’t really remember the exact chain of events, just that, in a moment, everything in my life was flipped onto its head. Friends were turning on me, confidants taking their deep knowledge of me and turning it against me. Running, it was the only way.
And I’d been doing it ever since.
My pursuers were relentless, at times I wondered how much they still retain of their humanity. It didn’t seem possible that a normal human drive could push them as far as they’d gone. But then, they were just following me. I guess that meant I’d always been going that far as well. I wonder what that said about me. No, that’s stupid, it’s pretty obvious what it said about me.
I was just as bad as they were.
Nothing I could do would really change what the outcome was going to be. Running from a predator only ends one of two ways, and it was clear that one of the options wasn’t really available to me. Inside me, I could feel that I was already turning into one of them, relentless. Hitting this dumpster was the first time I’d stopped since the rain had started.
I stood up. It was time to go. As I took off down the alleyway, I thought about animals in the wild. It was pretty well established that they didn’t think like we do. They don’t really process fear the same way, with a conception of their own mortality. They flee danger with a single-mindedness I used to envy. Would I still be running the same way if I didn’t fear for something like my life? Would it matter if I realized that my life was over, no matter what, and I was just prolonging the inevitable?
I took a turn around another building, jumping over a fence behind it, almost effortlessly. That sort of thing used to be beautiful to me. Like a gazelle leaping around boundaries, flowing over the landscape like water, but light as air, I had made my way through cityscapes night after night and day after day. But then, one of those days, all the beauty left it for me, and it was simply cold and utilitarian, another tool for me to use on my never-ending flight.
The last building in the block was coming up, and I slowed down. It had never occurred to me, but I should be happy. I still had my sense of self, in spite of everything that had happened. In between fighting to stay fed, to stay one step ahead, and to stay running, I had brief lucid moments where I realized that I was still alive. It was one of those little miracles that only occasionally made itself readily apparent to me. Even so, it had never made me happy until that moment, under a cracked street lamp next to a burnt-out office building.
I slowed down.
I turned around.
This was it, I decided. My life was still my own, if only for a little while longer. I’d spent my life living as a plains animal might, fleeing at danger, moving around the landscape, disturbing little. But it was time to change my habits. In that moment, I felt more alive than I ever had before. My blood was rushing through my ears, my breathing came rapidly, and my heart pounded in my chest. The skittering came closer.
A brief flash of doubt crossed my mind. This is stupid, you know there’s no chance, I was thinking at myself. Still, it turned out, that didn’t matter as much anymore. My life was still my own, and this was the choice that I made. Who knew, maybe it wasn’t so hopeless after all. But I was done with not facing down my problems. I was done with fearing my problems, and they would learn to fear me. The earth was solid beneath my feet, and I felt alive at last.
The skittering had become a clattering and soon it turned into a thundering, and washed out the rest of my thoughts.