I have joined a gym, which brings with it a multitude of motivations and excuses. One being the distance: with moderate speeding, the gym is 10 minutes from my house. If it’s rush hour, the light is out, or there’s a cute boy following me, it can take anywhere from 17 minutes to three hours.
Now that I am forking over an arm and a leg for the privilege of making my remaining arm sore and sweaty on a weekly basis, I feel all the more inspired to stay home and “work out.” This means doing a few push-ups, 30 jumping jacks, and meandering down my street and back, covering approximately a mile of pavement.
On this particular day I set out with the lofty intention of actually running that mile of pavement. I had always perceived running as something best left to antelopes and skinny boys in shrink-wrap shorts but at this point, I was actually dating one of those aforementioned boys.
Yes, we all know how that goes. I was dating a dancer, so we went to a nightclub. I was dating a writer, so I read a book. I was dating a taxidermist, so I stuffed the neighbor’s cat. Things you would never do, things your rational mind has a permanent picket fence against - these things are attempted in declaration of that starry-eyed malady, love.
I was dating a runner, so I ran.
It wasn’t so bad. I would set goals: if I can run from here to the mailbox, I’ll walk to the driveway. If I can make it all the way around this curve, I’ll stop and breathe. If I can run past those kids on their skateboards without reacting to their catcalls, I’ll have some chocolate. Those kinds of goals.
I was doing great! A little short of breath, slightly scarlet in the face, but overall - great. My calves and thighs were screaming, “Yes! Yes!” After rounding both ends of the street, I was headed home to accept my gold medal (or at least a foot rub from my runner) when I rounded a curve and saw Death.
I will admit, I had my mind on other things, like getting home before the sun set and the temperature dropped 40 degrees. But there was no mistaking the tall figure in a long, black cloak gliding 30 yards in front of me on my side of the street, I might add. Just gliding along. Not bobbing or pacing or strolling, but moving very evenly. The figure would stop for a few seconds and lean against a post, then start back up in its creepy, gliding way.
Now, I am all for neighborly love, but not when the neighbor resembles a villain from Harry Potter. I jogged to the other side of the street. Yes, it was a blatant sign that I was avoiding this guy. But hey - he was Death. He was probably used to it. Besides, I just didn’t feel comfortable with a Grim Reaper staring at my backside.
As soon as I crossed, the thing looked at me and glided to my new side of the street. That was unsettling, but even worse was the fact that I couldn’t distinguish the face. Man, woman, melting skull? I had no idea. Five yards from my driveway, I crossed to the original side of the street.
The thing looked at me as I drew even with it, but before it could cross again, I booked it for my yard. I have never run so fast - my runner would have been proud. I hightailed it up the hill of my backyard, simultaneously crossing myself and praying, clutching the stitch in my side, and trying desperately not to pass out. When I reached my porch, my fingers were numb and I couldn’t get the code right for the lock on my back door. A million thoughts were chasing themselves through my brain, most beginning or ending with “Dear God” and “Holy crap!” But I couldn’t resist - I looked at the street.
There was that thing. And even though I had been running and it had been just gliding along, it was already at my driveway.
I punched in the code once more and threw myself against the door. It opened. I slammed it shut and locked it. I raced through the house, shutting the garage, locking doors, turning on lights; no one else was home, of course.
I set up camp at my kitchen table, clutching a phone (for 911 purposes) and a butcher’s knife (because I didn’t know how to shoot my father’s gun). I was convinced that the thing was going to glide to my door and slurp down my soul with a flexi-straw.
After calming myself, I called my runner and told him of my near-Death experience. Do you know what he told me?
“You shouldn’t go running alone anyway.”
I got a lot of ridicule the next few days but I find it a matter of irony that I ran over a squirrel for the first time in my life on the way to school the next morning.
This is a true story. So maybe it wasn’t Death, per se, but there was a very solid, very creepy person in a cape gliding down my street at sunset. Actually, he might live two houses down. He’s probably just going through an unearthly phase.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.