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I hate running, hate it with a burning passion. Loathe it almost as much as crappy teen romance-fantasy novels. But here I am, every morning of my pathetic life, worn shoes tapping out the pattern of 17 wasted years on the concrete. I watch the sunrise and the sky come to life every day. I say get as much beauty and life in as you can; there'll be time to sleep when you're dead.
This particular morning was unnaturally cold; the dawning hours of an early May first (ode to flowers and sweet air) are usually as warm as the feeling that fills my heart every May Day. Except for the silly crickets desperately crying out for a mate, the air was still and eerily silent, like the climax of a scary movie.
A boring kind of run, my least favorite sort, and was I glad when the white picket fence of my lovely (boring) dream (nightmare) house (prison) came into view. My parents were still asleep, paranoid insects wrapped in the cocoons of sanity. I hate sleeping almost as much as running. It's a cousin of death, I believe.
Up ahead, I noticed a walker, dancing along the street (this city's too cheap to install sidewalks) with too much pizzazz for an early morning wanderer. Most people up this early are insomniacs, half asleep and dragging their feet with thoughts of king-sized beds, or drunkards staggering home after another one-night stand. None of those early morning inhabitants ever seemed this happy to be alive, though, so this guy sure didn't fit in.
Maybe he's a stoner; the meth making music in his mind, melodies of love and rhythms of desire, dancing feet just another side effect of an illegal chemical happiness. Maybe he's a crazy, who'd killed his wife and was glad he did. Wouldn't be the first stark raving freak around here.
Curious, I picked up my pace. I had to see this one.
The crazystoneddrunkinsomniac stopped dead, freaked at the sudden noise of my footsteps, I guess. I continued to run, though, not wanting to look too obvious or anything. The frolicking man turned to glare me down or tell me to go stick my head in a rather unreasonable place, I assumed, and then he was gone. It was like his happiness was gone, and the wind blew away the fragile shell that remained. Dust to dust, baby.
Fight or flight told me to run, stupidity told me to stop, and I couldn't have told you where common sense was at this point. Unsure what to do, I slowed to an awkward walk and smacked my face a few times, throwing in an arm pinch for good measure. I must be nuts – that couldn't have happened. People don't just disappear. Maybe my hatred of sleep was finally catching up with me.
Suddenly an arctic breeze raised the hair on the back of my neck. I whirled around, clearing a five-foot space in the process. Behind me stood the scariest thing I'd ever seen in my pathetic 17 years. Worse than the crumpled nine-year-old body that lay before me after I tripped and collided with my best friend, Patrick, accidentally knocking him into incoming traffic. Worse than the bruises on my sister's arms and the terror on my mother's face. Worse than everything.
Tall with limbs as long as an interstate, a figure like a kindergartner's stick man stood before me. Black as night and frightening as terrors the night holds. So skinny, so freakishly, freaking skinny, like a two-dimensional doodle on the back of a math test.
To be honest, its appearance was odd, but not scary in the least, truly. However, the air of it, the horror and despair that became stronger with every second I stared into its (empty midnight) face, was enough to make a proud man scream bloody murder.
It stepped closer, leaning in as if getting a good look at me. I instinctively stepped back, fear controlling me as opposed to logic. Obviously someone had drugged me, or this was a lucid dream. But, no, I was awake. I had pinched myself. Doesn't that always mean you're awake? That's what the movies say, at least.
Fear ejected venom into my legs, and I shot off like a lit firework, looking back, never forward. Don't ask me how I didn't hit a tree – I've asked myself that and still don't know. The thing, the monster, the result of scary movies and too much time to think, turned to the right and was gone in a flash. I knew it could move faster than I could ever dream of.
I hurdled over the white picket fence like I did it every day, face first, and ninja-kicked the front door open like a detective on “Law and Order.” They say when you know you're about to die, you can do things no human would be capable of otherwise. All in the genetics of survival, I suppose.
In a fraction of a second, I'd locked the door and sunk to the floor, rolled into a ball, eyes shut and arms over my head. (If I can't see it, it can't see me.) Time passed like it does on an international flight – slowly and painfully, zapping you awake every second with anticipation.
Crap, I thought, as I realized the curtains were wide open in the back of the house. But it was too late, and that feeling of being watched filled my every cell and the blood in my veins turned cold.
But the sun was rising, thank you, Lord O Lord O Lord, it was turning the sky the color of rosy skin instead of bruised skin. And then my hair fell flat against my neck, and my muscles unlocked as if the sun had held the key tauntingly over my head all along. (Cruel universe we live in, it really is.)
Still, I remained curled on the floor like a dead bug. When my mother finally shuffled downstairs, she questioned my health in a shrill, panicked voice. I couldn't answer. Cat (or creepy stick figure) had my tongue.
Mom fled to the refuge known as my father, who knelt before me and sighed, like I was wasting his precious time (which I kind of was).
“Alrighty, son, what can we do to help? What d'you want from us?”
In a heaving, terrified voice, I responded: “A treadmill.”
It'll come after me, don't worry. I still see it, lurking discreetly in the shadows. Sometimes sight fails me, but my senses never do. Frequently, there is the feeling of endless horror, and I know it's there, waiting to strike. Old age may force me to forget, but it never will. I sleep in fear.