Short Story: The Runner

This is a short story I wrote last year as part of a creative writing class and after talking a bit with author Cliff Burns, he suggested that I put it online on my blog and see if anyone notices it here.  So here I am, putting up for the world to see, if the world looks at this blog, heh, and for anyone and everyone to enjoy.  Please, if you use it in anything let me know beforehand and make sure you have my permission for whatever you’re using it for.  Other than that, enjoy the story and any and all feedback and comments are perfectly welcome.

The Runner

“Children remind us of who we used to be

while showing us who we have become.”

 

            “I remember running through the snow in winter, the trees were dark and black.  Stephen, he was my brother, would always be in front of me.  I tried to catch up, but I never could.  You guys would, you run faster than I did then.  You’re all better runners.”

            The little children lay underneath their Great Grandpa’s big beard, his chin bouncing it about as he spoke.  They listened intently, interested, tired from the day of play outside.  It was Christmas night, and the entire family gathered to give each other love and thanks.  Snow sat on the windowsills outside, the children’s mittens sat on the hearth warmed by the big open fire; the warm tongues licked up the sides of logs and ashes, burning and blackening the wood.  A few parents sat around the fire, fathers with their wine glasses, tired eyes and half-buttoned shirts, making room for the full bellies leftover from dinner.  The mothers withered in the sofas, tired and drifting off into sleepy hazes, the snow outside and the fire inside comforted them warmly to sleep.  Great Grandfather continued his story, and the room lay resting, tired, breathing calmly and sedated.

            “The snow almost stung but it was cold and we loved it.  We just loved running, rushing past trees with the wind on our faces.  The cold and the white are mostly what I remember.  It was cold.  One time, we ran too far, and we were caught in a storm…

 

            The two of us ran through the woods, we raced and raced, stumbling over our own feet and the deep snow.  We kicked up clouds of snow like dust behind us as we dashed through it.  The trees were all black and gray, dark and dead; the branches stuck out like fingers and claws, grabbing at our coats and pants as we ran through the forest.  Stephen was twelve, and he raced after me.  I was ten at the time.  We came up to a clearing, and it was deep and white, the trees leaned in toward me as I stood underneath them.  I was smaller then, everything else was giant, and I was scared when I looked up at them as they quivered and bent in the wind.  They reached for me with their long arms and their talons, their fingers stretched out to grab me and clutch me in their huge hands.  Stephen came through the trees, panting, and fell beside me in the snow.  He made the trees stand back.  He was bigger, so they seemed a little bit smaller.

            I felt safer when he was around.  We both stood, he brushed the snow from his clothes, and we stared at the huge trees.  The snow was crystal white, paper white, like white-out, not erasing but covering up some mistake under the snow.  We stood with our mouths wide open, until little snowflakes began to drift down to the ground and into our mouths where they melted with the heat of our tongues.  The trees swayed in a wind and the snowflakes whirled around us, faster and faster they swirled, and the wind tugged at our hair and our clothes.  The trees shot their claws back at us again full force.  Now they were coming for both of us, and even though Stephen was there, this was the first time he didn’t make me feel safe.  He couldn’t save me anymore, because the trees and the wind and the white-out snow were coming after him too, to cover him up in the bleak, blank white.  The wind howled and whispered evil words in our ears, I could have sworn I heard it cursing our names, and felt it licking my neck as it whipped at my face.  The black trees continued to snatch at our clothes and we ran again, into the other side of the woods.  We ran and ran and the wind and the snow and the trees followed.  I could see shapes in the snow.  The flakes formed images in the air, the wind made them move, and the trees smashed them away like broken panes of glass on a cold misty morning.  I could see people and places in the snow, girls and boys, teenagers, friends and families.  I felt almost frozen, and yet I couldn’t stop running.  I could see my family, my friends, everyone I loved, all smiling at me and trying to hug me, then they were torn out of my sight by the trees.  I saw myself with a girl, we held hands and kissed, and the talons reached out and snatched her up, ripped her into a million pieces like shredded paper, and spread her out to mingle with the white-out snow.  I wanted to cry.  I felt something kiss my neck, my lips, I could feel the girls touch, or was it the wind?”

 

            Great Grandpa sat in the middle of the fireplace; all the children lay on his lap and the parents had trickled out of the room like the snowflakes to the ground outside the window.  The room was warm, full of soft, deep breathing, and youth.  Except for Great Grandpa, that is.  A few parents remained in the room, one lone mother of a child in Great Grandpa’s lap sat across from him, listening intently.

 

            “I felt hot, my body ached from running.  I felt fire surge through me like it does through a tube filled with gasoline; I was full of energy.  My body throbbed with heat, my legs ached and my arms stretched out in front of me.  I raced against the wind, my eyes searing with tears and the wind stinging my cheeks.  The trees slapped my face and the snow tore at my skin, but I didn’t care anymore.  I raced on, I could no longer see Stephen, but I heard his breathing, his near silent crying just like mine, and I wondered what he had seen in the snow.  We raced and ran, chasing something now that we didn’t know, couldn’t see, but wanting only to escape the claws and the evil whispers and the white-out snow behind us.

            All of a sudden another clearing appeared, and I couldn’t see anything but the sun, the bright light staggered my vision and blinded my thoughts.  I stopped to shield myself from the sun, putting my arm up in front of my eyes, and I heard Stephen running past me, and then I heard him stop too.  I couldn’t see him, and I didn’t want to look, for the sun was shining straight and hot, but I heard his running stop.  I felt warmer, the sun slowly glowing my skin back to life, the yellow warmth melting the white-out from my face and hands, cleaning my clothes of spattered snow, and healing my face of the whips and burns the wind had dealt so cruelly.  It felt like my skin was rolling itself back up onto my face, covering back up the scratch marks and sealing my blood and life inside.  Light burst from the clouds as if they’d been holding it back, and the fluffy reservoir had just been broken, the sheer luminous force unleashed.  I realized that the cold was gone now, and I turned to look at the forest.  The claws were retreating into their cavernous wood, the whispers grew softer, and the white-out snow was no longer stinging, but falling almost playfully onto my cheeks and face.  It gave me cool comfort in the blaze of the sun, and offered a refreshing splash of memory of that colder life in the woods to the healing of my scars from my journey.

            As my face and clothes warmed in the glow of the sun, I looked around for Stephen, for I couldn’t hear him anymore, no breathing, no exclamations of how joyous the day was, of how he loved the sun and all its beauty, not even a whimper of pain from the scratches of the claws back in the forest.  I saw nothing, and I heard nothing.  It became acutely clear that I was on a precipice of land, a monolithic rock face overlooking a vast expanse of… nothing.  Only more white as far as I could see, surreal, peaceful, and eerily so.  Stephen was nowhere in the white, but I already dreaded where he could be, and I already knew.  I stepped carefully to the edge of the cliff, watching the powdered-sugar snow in front of me, and I knew, even though I couldn’t see him below, that Stephen lay motionless at the bottom of the mountain.  We had never even known there was a mountain there, and now we knew more than we had ever wished.  My tears now fought against the comforting warmth of the sun, they shot to my eyes like shock to a brain, like a scare to a spine.  They froze on my cheeks, and then melted in the sunlight, carving little paths down my face, making wrinkles too early in my life.  I knew I had to go home now and somehow explain what had happened.

            I turned back to the forest, the claws stretched out toward me, the wind sucked at my face, and the snow began swirling again.  This time I walked.  The pain made no difference, and this time it barely hurt.  Nicks and bruises, scratches and cuts all seemed to sting for a moment and then disappear, Stephen’s death was too overwhelming, and even though he couldn’t make things better, the pain from his loss made this pain hurt less.  There were bigger things in the world, and now I had seen them.  I came home only wiser, and next time I went out to enjoy the snow, racing wasn’t fun anymore, chasing the snowflakes and climbing the trees didn’t make me smile in the way that it used to.  My heart ached whenever I saw the snow, and my eyes became nearly full wells, almost overflowing onto my cheeks, renewing those wrinkles, those little paths in my face.

            Now I have all the wrinkles I could want, but “Stephen’s wrinkles,” as I like to call them, are still there, and my heart still aches when the trees begin to sway and the branches look like claws.  I can almost see his face in the whirlwind of white-out anxious children crave on Christmas Eve.  Snow is beautiful, serene and calm, but to me it means death, and tonight, Christmas night, is the only night I can look around and remember myself before we raced through the woods, and remember Stephen when snow was still just snow.”

 

            All the children were now long-asleep, and the parents had filtered out of the room.  Great Grandpa sat talking almost to himself, his beard bouncing less now, and slower, the movement echoing the volume of his murmurs.  The dying embers behind him were still warm, just like that sun had been years and years ago.  But this warm was indeed comforting, and he was too lost in thought to relate the two feelings, so he let it warm him.  The rest of the room lay silent.  The children all slept, the benches and chairs empty, the stockings hung waiting for Santa Claus.  The one lone mother sat on the edge of a couch, her chin in her hand, her elbow resting on her knee, and she was staring in a trance at Great Grandpa.  She muttered an intent “hmm” of awe, her eyes wide and tired, her hair drooping, and her clothes creased.

            Her murmur stirred Great Grandpa from his dreamlike state, and he shivered off his memories for the night.  He looked to her with innocent, almost pleading eyes, then retracted his barren, vulnerable stare and replaced it with a somewhat melancholy gaze.  He pointed his eyes to the children, again innocent, and hopeful.

“I wish I could sleep that soundly,” he said, quietly.

“I bet that’s what you used to look like,” the mother replied.

            Santa’s eyes welled up with tears, his cheeks became red as roses, but not merry.  His belly jiggled but not with laughter, and the twinkles in his eyes as he looked back at her were not the twinkles of joy, but the shimmer of tears in the reservoir of his eyelids.  And then the tears were gone; he was left with dry, red eyes, memories of an old brotherly love, and the warmth of the fire and the small bodies on his knees, their deep, gentle breathing coaxing him to his own rest.  He lay asleep there with the little children, and the mother he barely knew stood, brushed out a crease or two, walked over to him, bent down and kissed his forehead.  She was quiet and gentle, but she smelled of sugar and plums, and the children stirred, and Great Grandpa nudged them out of his sleeping spot.  The worries lost, and the pain forgotten for the time being, the children and Great Grandpa Claus looked almost like the same person, only one with more wrinkles than the rest.

            The mother stood looking at them, then turned to take her leave.  She slowly walked out of the room, turning off the lights as she went, plunging the room into darkness illuminated only by the tiny flames and the dying embers of the fire behind the old man.  She smiled at him, comforting, sweet, loving, and she walked off into the darkness of the house.  Great Grandpa and the children slept that night, when all was quiet, and the wrinkles and the tears were healed in the firelight.

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3 Responses to “Short Story: The Runner”

  1. Hey, Blake, I can see why you might want to translate this into a movie. Lots of great imagery, the woods as dangerous as an old fairy tale, the mothers “withering” on the couch. The visuals would be fantastic. Your tale brought to mind a quote by poet Charles Simic: “The forest is a place in which everything your heart fears and desires lives”. And this one, from Leonard Biallas’ GODS, HEROES & SAVIORS: “Myths often find death’s origin in a punishment, a mistake or an agreement”.

    Keep writing and good luck with what promises to be a career in the arts worth watching…

  2. To get significantly satisfied to show this amazing web-site.I needed so that you can hi and thanks having behalf of your time in their love from the fabulous impute in the market to!! We all very definitely are getting any game smallish trace today we share people bookmarked up to inside visible bushy-tailed important things your business text.

  3. When a modern-day couple decides to discover through past life regression if their lives were linked in the past, a passionate 1930s love story emerges….

    […]Short Story: The Runner « blog of blake[…]…

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