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The drive over to the high school was tough. Main Street was over flowing with cars and people. Jane tapped her fingers on the steering wheel impatiently. The heat was blaring from the vents in the dashboard. People shuffled from one side of the street to the other in search of the perfect holiday gift. Jane glanced from one window to the next, recognizing some of the shoppers. A few teachers from school, a couple classmates, no one of high interest.
There was a man sitting on a bench outside a small shop, dressed in a charcoal gray trench coat and a matching fedora. He was looking at something across the street intensely. Jane glanced across the cabin and out the passenger side window to see what it was he was looking at. The sidewalk and shop was empty. She looked back towards the man. He was gone. A bird cawed from up on the overhang above the now empty bench. Horns wailed behind her. Jane lifted her foot off the brake and eased forward with the flow of traffic.
Soon enough, she was caught in another seemingly endless line. Jane spotted the man standing on a corner, seeming to wait to cross, in her rearview mirror. When she turned around to get a better look at him, a car passed by, obscuring her view of him. When the car was out of the way he was nowhere to be seen. Jane turned back around and faced forward. She stared absent-mindedly at the rear windshield of the mini van in front of her.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the man again. But when she looked toward where he stood, he dissolved into the rushing river of pedestrians. Shaking her head, trying to erase the images of the man from her mind, her foot slipped from the brake and she began to slowly roll backwards. Hitting the brake pedal with her foot hard, Jane’s car jerked to an abrupt stop. She could hear the muffled yells of the angry driver behind her.
Turning at the next light, Jane drove the rest of the way to the high school without so much as a glimpse of the mysterious man. Feeling more at ease, the tension left Jane’s body. She took a right and then an immediate left and parked near the opening in the fence that led to the track.
The parking lot was deserted. Not a car in sight. Jane grabbed her gloves from the glove compartment and opened the car door. The cold air rushed into the cabin. She zipped her sweater all the way up. She slammed the door shut, locked the car and pocketed her keys. Leaning against the hood, Jane retied her shoelaces and knotted them, making sure that they wouldn't come undone.
A black bird flew low overhead. Ducking her head, Jane just barely missed the swooping bird. It landed of a low branch of a nearby leafless oak tree. Jane just stood and stared at the bird. It looked familiar, but she couldn’t place it. Putting the thought out of her head, she doubled checked her keys then jogged off towards the track.
Once her sneaker hit the rubbery pavement, Jane quickened her pace. When she ran, the rest of the world dissolved around her. The surrounding trees and bushes all blended together in an extravagant shade of green, the fence and bleachers blurred into gray; a world in which you could never be touched. As soon as Jane fell into rhythm, she could run forever and never tire. Then she stumbled, throwing her out of her state of bliss.
She regained her balance, slowed her pace and glanced back. The man in the trench coat and fedora was standing in the middle of the track. Jane quickened her pace again and looked forward. She swerved just in time before she ran into someone. Stopping she turned to apologize to whomever it was.
"I'm sor-" When she saw who it was that she almost ran into, she stopped mid-word. It's the man again. Jane squeezed her eyes closed and shook her head. When she opened her eyes the man was gone.
Before the man could reappear, Jane started to run again, faster than she previously was. She was pushing herself harder than she usually did. Breathing was getting harder, her calves and thighs were starting to burn with pain. Out of the corner of her eye, Jane caught sight of a charcoal figure standing at the edge of the woods. She pushed herself even harder. The figure was now farther up the track, on the bleachers. She stopped short and started to run in the other direction.
Jane ran faster than she ever thought possible. So fast and hard that her knee gave out. She went tumbling into the pavement, rolling to a stop a few feet from where she fell, whimpering in pain. Her ankles were searing with pain along with her left elbow and hip. She rolled onto her stomach. She opened her eyes to a pair of black men's dress shoes and a pair of pressed trousers. She looked up towards the dark silhouette of the man. He bent over her, closing the distance between them.
Birds shuffled in the nearby treetops. Jane could hear cawing in the background. Soon the man's features became clear. His face was angular and sharp. His nose was long and pointed, like a beak. And his eyes were dark and beady. She instantly thought of a raven. Then he opened the flaps of his trench coat, like giant outstretched wings, and her world went black.