She's gone. Really gone.
Mick counted his steps in the dust, always capturing that ideal one-second stride. Some strides were lengthier than others, if he needed to get over a sand dune but couldn't achieve it in the typical length.
"Always the same amount of time," the old man had said. "One second stride will maintain your pride. " Sure enough, the best way to keep time had always been counting it out loud. Mick shuddered to think of how a fraction less than a second-long stride, compounded over a twelve hour jog, could affect his time reports.
Twelve hours, give or take thirty minutes, put Mick back in Somatis. His route was simple but wonderful. Distracting.
Nine hours put Mick in the Dusts. Mirages of a black dot wavering in the distance reminded Mick of the powerful sun looming directly over his head- and the comfort of the night when he returned to Somatis.
She says she doesn’t know how often she dies anymore. How does she not know?
Mick marked the passing of a minute out loud when he was in wide open spaces. He had tried to do that in Kosric, and a shopkeeper who couldn't catch him (no one could catch him) threw a broom like a javelin at Mick's head.
It missed, but it made Mick consider that maybe saying the minutes out loud was a little disruptive to businesses. And this… this was an open space.
For miles in all directions, the ethereal quiet of a windless, sandy desert crept under Mick's skin. The orange silhouettes of Solace's mesas loomed ahead, promising a brief cool respite before the final stretch of dryness and dirt.
The blood pooled in the tile gaps on the bathroom floor like she was making a miniature irrigation system. How many hours had she laid there before he arrived?
Constant dryness eroded the senses in these parts of the world. Moving through the Wasteland and Vaust to the Dusts was exhausting. Definitely the worst part of the run. The first was a landscape so cracked and arid that Mick often drank half of his water before he was through it. Even leafless grey brush was scarce in the Northwestern part of the Wasteland.
The Dusts were simply blinding. Mick's bronze-hued skin suffered little of the sunburn that other pale white runners complained about, but his eyes consistently saw doubles of Cair Mallus when he reached it. Two images of the Sea Tower danced beside the perpetually moving, yet slow Marshland waters.
Where did that water go? It must have fed back to the Mt. Aramis reservoir through underground springs. That must be it, Mick decided. Suddenly thirsty, Mick took another swig from his large canteen.
The fourth time she just laughed at the mess, smearing blood across tiles to make a checkerboard, razor at her side. Had she been waiting to show that to him?
The latticework of houses in Decalante. Was it latticework? Tan buildings with crisscrossing squares of brown wood. Compared to many other cities, Decalante was so ostentatious that Mick felt a certain gratification that his travel through there was only about twenty minutes.
Mick was no architect, but he preferred the stark clay coated houses of Vaust. He could overlook the fact that Vaust always reeked of burning Ophelix for the brief respite it gave him from the Wasteland.
Laura needed a blanket every hour after being pulled from the icy waters. "It just chills through." The chills killed her first.
He met Laura mere weeks after starting as a runner. One of the older runners disappeared, and John, his boss, picked him off of the street. Passing through Somatis, in a high window, a young woman with hair the color of the sands in the Dusts. He waved at her and nearly lost his count.
Precious seconds in his feet. Precious seconds in his stride. His boss then had demanded it. Now a new man was in charge; Mick maintained his rigorous counting and reporting even as the younger supervisor seemed uncertain in his duties.
She said "I'm starting to like it, Mickey." She never called him that. "I'm good at dying," she laughed with vacant eyes.
Precious moments he could have spent warming her body with his under the blankets that had been keeping her alive until that night when they were simply not enough. She wasn't breathing when he found her icy fingers clutching the bottom of the closet door as if she had tried to open it with her last ounces of strength.
If one wish could return that first love… the woman gradually became like a stranger. Never again warm to the touch.
Athletic urgency howled through his freezing muscles as he dove into the cracked ice to pull her out. She simply wanted to wave goodbye. Why did she come out so far?
Roads changed. This was one of the first things that a runner learned, never pre-explained. There appeared to be about six permutations of a given road that could occur on a given trip. It was hard to explain, Mick thought, that one day the road may wind against the frosted pines all the way to Coburntown. The next day it may actually cross the ice lakes.
Out here in the Dusts, Mick could not perceive the differences between trips. He knew that they were different paths, intuitively. All things under the sun were beginning to take on a piercing sameness. He glanced over his shoulder to see if he could still see Vaust, at least--get a visual marker of proximity.
She left the front door hanging open so that frost had crept into half of their house. No clothes were packed, no food taken, and it's been six days.
Shuffling behind him, a blackness that reflected no light, like a charcoal imprint on the white paper of the landscape. Red eyes burned inside of its head with no other discernible facial features. It was like a man and only twenty strides away. Probably about eight feet tall, with arms far longer than its upper body.
First, Mick thought, huh. That's strange, I've never seen that before. There were many strange creatures living in this tiny new world, many of which Mick had noticed, almost none of which had come this close to him. Second, Mick thought, how is this thing keeping up with me?
Most creatures, dangerous or otherwise, would not be capable of catching a runner or simply disinterested in doing so. Mick figured his standard pace to be roughly six minutes per mile. This creature merely ambled, and it was still moving slightly faster than Mick.
Mick increased his pace. Never stop running.
The feel of her smooth cheek in his hand while he stared into her green eyes. He looked the whole world over, and he still couldn't find her. She had started cutting herself in the hours without him--where is my love now?
Mick's foot caught on a small orange sandstone, and he tumbled down a dune, hot sand searing the sensitive skin in the middle of his back and behind his legs. Oh no, he thought. I'm dead.
But the creature simply stood at the top of the dune, not even nine strides away now. Was it mocking him? Grinning while its onyx body blocked the sunlight from falling on Mick?
"Damn you!" he cried. He had lost count! Too many thoughts, too much distraction fluttered through Mick's head.
He was suited for only two things in this world--being a loving boyfriend and being a runner. Now he couldn't do either.
Dragging himself to his feet, Mick tried to resume his stride, but his ankle was twisted. He took slow, small steps just to get the numbers right.
The creature also took small steps, slightly faster.
He pulled her out of the ice waters and carried her home and resumed running. Why didn't he stop for just one day? One day and she might still be alive!
The creature would be upon him in five more steps. Mick bent down, noticing that the creature had stopped moving once again. He picked up a hefty piece of sandstone and lobbed it at the creature's head.
She is alive, though, Mick contradicted himself. She's just… different now.
The rock glanced off of the creature's face without making a sound. Mick slowly backed away while it closed the remaining distance between them.
She's gone! I'm gone.
In one movement, the onyx creature lifted Mick into the air by clutching his entire face in one outstretched hand. Something about the palm of the hand felt overly smooth but stone-like and wet.
Maybe now I'll know where she has gone. After I've died, I'll find her.
He felt surprisingly peaceful in his certainty of death--so much so that he almost didn't notice the faint smell of lavender emanating from the creature's skin. Huh, he thought, as a short, shearing sensation ripped the front of his skull and face from his head, leaving only a blank space for the body walker to crawl inside.
The Desert and the Dot
In the first minutes
it's just a dot
a pock mark on
vision or dust on the end
of your hat
or concept but there
On the second glance
it's a slash on the horizon
dimly noticeable if you
squint, marked because it moves
when it should be
stationary, staying still
it should be
where were we?
On the third look
it's an idea,
a black idea, utterly dark
in a landscape of pure light
and sand a hell of
pure light and sand
a world of heat and
On the fourth examination
it's a head,
and a body, and arms
and legs. Right away it's wrong
arms are much too long
head too oblong
you almost swear you see
something deep within
no listen, I swear
it is red.
In the last hour
it's doom, a being of purest
night walking through the sun
itself reflected on the sand
leaving no shadow behind
you know it's coming
it's coming for you
soon you will know the shape
but now, a red eye just
watches you, though you never see it
until the end.