Wyld FLASH October 1st 2021
Any other day of the year, the sun would already be gone, but today it streams through the pines in pale ribbons. The girl beneath it stops walking at the slightest sound of someone else’s footsteps. She was only supposed to leave the facilities at night, but the sun set so late, and the scientists had been too busy analyzing her data to notice.
The footsteps belong to a boy running down the trail. He waves as he approaches. “Hello!”
Despite his heavy breathing, he spits out a million questions. “Hi! I’m Jacob Lente. Do you run? I didn’t think anyone else liked to run out here! I mean, I’m the only one on my cross country team. I guess that makes me the fastest!” He mimes running as fast as he can, his arms pumping at a rate that may look fast to him but is painfully slow to her.
She doesn’t want to get in trouble talking to him, but as she continues along the path, he follows. He’s the first person her age she’s seen in a long time. Nothing like the balding scientists who raised her. She studies him, and he takes this as encouragement to keep on talking.
“Y’know, I heard these woods are haunted.”
She raises an eyebrow. The word ‘haunted’ is unfamiliar.
“Yeah, haunted! My cousin told me that there’s a government facility here with the girl who broke the sound barrier like… ten years ago? Anyways, he said that after she broke it, the scientists didn’t need her anymore, so they chopped her up and scattered her remains around the forest. I think was just trying to scare me, stop me from running, but I’m still here, aren’t I?”
Shocked by the wrongness of it, she finally decides on saying something.
“It’s been six years since she broke the sound barrier.” This is a mistake, she thinks, but she doesn’t stop herself.
“If you believe it!” He laughs. “I think it sounds like a scam.”
I wish it was. What counts as a childhood memory flash before her eyes. I am too little to already be used to the needles and the testing facility, all white and concrete. I am at a quarter of the speed of light when my mother comes to visit. She looks at me sadly. I wonder why she isn’t proud. The next time she leaves, she doesn’t return. She is no longer my mother. Now I belong to my running. To my speed.
Maybe it is a scam, she thinks.
“If you say so,” she says.
He continues chattering, louder than anyone she’s ever met. “Hey, I gotta head home, it’s getting dark. Do you run? Do you wanna run with?”
“I don’t run anymore,” she says, but when he starts jogging, she walks beside him.
“You should! I like feeling connected to my body. Mom says it’s good for coordination.”
Connected to my body, she thinks, Is it even mine anymore? It hasn’t been mine since I started waking up in the middle of the night. My body ached so much I should have known something was wrong. The doctor told me I was only growing, but my fraction of lightspeed, almost at 0.65, decreased sullenly as I felt my body contorting into something that I cannot see as mine. They tell me my body is bigger now, stronger, but it cannot perform the miracles it used to, the miracles I took for granted.
He speeds up his jogging, she speeds her walking, but she refuses to run.
“Gosh, you’re fast! You should run again!”
I used to be so much faster, she thinks.
“No,” she says.
“Don’t you miss it?”
Yes, she thinks, more than anything in the world. I miss how it felt, laughing into the storms of my own creation. I miss running, really running, faster than the world itself, and knowing that I was the one who got me to that speed.
“No,” she says.
“I run a 7:28 mile.” He puffs his chest into the wind. “But I’m hoping on getting it below 7 this season. What was your best mile?”
She doesn’t say anything.
“I’ve been running since seventh grade, but I haven’t gotten much better. Do you know any tips?”
Don’t get better. She thinks. It’s not worth the heartbreak to get good, so good, incredibly good, so good that it’s euphoria, just to lose your talent and slowly get worse, no matter how much practice you put in, to never be able to achieve what you did just a few weeks, months, years ago; and they’ll say it’s not your fault, they’ll say that the mutation started declining when your body reached puberty, they’ll say it’s going to be okay, but it’s not, because you’ll never be able to feel that wind, to be that powerful, to know that you are capable of incredible things, because you can’t anymore, and you aren’t anymore; and to be that good and to become that bad is a pain nobody deserves to feel.
“I’ve heard practice is important,” she says.
He nods like this is wisdom. Maybe it is, but it doesn’t feel like it to her.
“What’s your name?”
He speeds up a bit. Now, she can barely keep up with him speedwalking.
“Do you want to run, Corrine?”
Do I? She thinks, remembering how she used to run. It wouldn’t be like it was when I was little. But I can still run, even if it’s only a six minute mile, not a six second one. I can still feel the wind on my face, even if it’s only a gentle breeze. I can still be powerful, even if it’s an ordinary sort of power.
The world is dimming and still, except for the boy. He jogs away from her, looking back expectantly. She doesn’t respond. Instead, she picks up her pace and breaks into a slow but steady run.
Author Bio: Claire McNerney is an actor, student, and writer from California, where she currently attends UCSD. She enjoys, among other things, warm drinks in tall mugs.
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