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Jethra’s footsteps sounded abnormally loud to her as they rhythmically crunched the gravel. The air was starting to chill the sweat on her arms and legs as the day lost the last of its meagre warmth. Around her the grey of dusk turned the landscape an inky black, looming shadows appearing among the trees. The glowing outline of her watch told Jethra that she had already missed dinner, and so she forced herself to jog faster, ignoring the protest from her calf muscles.

She rounded the familiar corner and turned into the last underpass on her route. It was only a short one, but she could barely make out the end of it, the outside being almost as dark as the unlit tunnel. Jethra’s panting breath echoed off the cavernous walls as she entered the underpass. Her watch cast just enough of a green hue so that she didn’t trip over the cigarette packets and McDonald’s bags littering the concrete. So concentrated on her own feet, Jethra smelled the person before she saw them.

She stopped running and went still, peering into the darkness. The figure was huddled up against the wall a few metres ahead of her, a silhouette sitting on the ground with their head between their knees. Jethra knew that she should be turning and sprinting back in the direction that she had come, but her legs made no attempt to move. A breeze blew through the tunnel, causing the hairs on her arms to stand up, and she saw the person draw into themself, wrapping their arms tighter around their legs.

“Are you alright?” The shaky voice shocked her as she realised it came from her own mouth. Yet there was no movement or sound from the person.

Jethra turned her wrist slightly so the light lit up a circle around the person. It was a man, about middle aged. He wore a beanie with a hole in it, and dark black clothes that hung loosely off his body. Somehow he seemed to blend into the graffiti on the wall behind him, almost as if he was a statue, an outgrowth of the underpass.

She should be home. She shouldn’t be lingering here. But Jethra stepped tentatively towards the man instead.

“Are... are you hungry?” she asked.

There was no answer. The silence was suddenly all that she was aware of, and it stretched on threateningly, filling her mind with fearful images. Jethra’s heart began to hammer. She was so stupid. Any moment he would spring. Her legs went weak. Any moment now. What if this was a trap, and a whole gang would run in to ambush her any second? She wouldn’t be able to run fast enough, not nearly-

“What do you f#$^@#!& think?” a gravelly voice burst from the curled up figure, somehow managing to be both explosive and quiet. Jethra jumped backwards in surprise.

“Of course I’m hungry!” The man looked up at her for the first time and Jethra inhaled. His face was drawn, huge black crevasses under his eyes aging him indefinitely. A purple bruise spread like a spider on the dirty surface of his left cheek. But what really caught her were his eyes. They were brown puddles of pain, transforming the intended harshness of his words into an unintended plea. Jethra knelt down quickly and pulled her energy bar from her pocket. It was her emergency supply, meant to quell any diabetic attacks on her longer runs. She pushed the bar at him. His rough, icy hand brushed against her own. Then he tore into it, chewing roughly and loudly.

When he was done, he looked at her, and nodded. Jethra took the wrapper back, pushed it deep into her pocket, grasping for something to say, to do. “I want to help you. What… How can I... would you like me to bring you more food?”

He was silent.

“Do you need somewhere... I mean, we have a couch and...” Jethra trailed off, nervous that she had overstepped the line, the sanity line.

“I can’t.”

Suddenly Jethra was sure. “No! You can! There’ll be dinner on the table, and blankets!”

His eyes narrowed, almost angry. “I can’t.”

“We wouldn’t mind.” Jethra finished meekly.

He looked at his feet, and as her eyes finally adjusted to the dark, Jethra saw that his shoes were the duct tape kind, wrapped over and over around his feet. Pieces of tape hung off in all directions, and Jethra wondered if he was weighing up her offer. Surely he wanted to come to a warm home with his whole being. The memory of him tearing into the muesli bar replayed itself in her mind. But then the man’s brown eyes met hers, and it was clear to her that he was not weighing up anything. The molten eyes had become steel, black almost.

“You don’t unnerstand. I can’t. There’s you and then there’s me. I gotta take what’s for me and nothing more. Unnerstand?”

Jethra looked at him, and willed herself to be brave. “But there’s more for you. If you’d come.” she whispered.

He shook his head. Sighed. “No. It ain’t mine. This world put a gap between me and you, a big rift. And I gotta stand on the edge and catch what nice folk like you throw at me. Take too much of a step toward ya, and I fall right over the edge. Unnerstand?”

The wind picked up again, nudged at them both. The man huddled into himself.

“I understand. But I don’t like it. And I don’t believe it, really.” Jethra said boldy.

“Then you go and change it. Fill that gap in.”

Jethra didn’t say anything, sure she could do no such thing. But the man looked at her and nodded anyway.

She resumed her run.



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