Coming home from very lonely places, all of us go a little mad; whether from great personal success, or just an all-night drive, we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever seen.
- John le Carre
- John le Carre
This would be the first time I'm participating in the #SampleSunday party.
I chose an excerpt from the story "The Faster You Run" from my short story collection Bad Juju: Vol. 1
Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or gazelle. When the sun comes up, you'd better be running. - Anonymous
Morris had been running with his old hound dog since before daylight broke through the skies. He looked up and around and gauged it to be late in the afternoon. The temperature dropped slightly which caused his joints to ache just enough to bother him. This wasn't part of his scheduled stop but even his old dog lagged behind and so they took temporary shelter just off the main road to rest their aging bodies, catch their breaths and get their bearings together. He took a swig from the water bottle and poured some into a collapsible bowl and set it down for his canine companion. About 15 minutes of deep breathing and stretching later, they were back on the main road for another hour of steady running. They've covered a tremendous distance since this morning and had slowed down to a walking pace when the old hound started barking the way she would when she'd caught a whiff of a stranger.
"Shhhh, now, Fang! Settle down girl," he grabbed her collar and tugged it enough to distract her. Fang ceased her barking but remained on alert as her master did the same.
He'd already pulled his pistol from his hip holster and had it pointed to the stranger ahead who was barely visible from where they stood. They approached cautiously as they reached midpoint. He saw that it was a man slumped with his back supported by an old rotten tree. His head was down to his chest and arms sprawled to the side. He walked closer, never moving the pistol away from its target. He poked the stranger on the leg with his walking stick.
Once. Twice. Not a movement.
He poked one more time right at his sternum, more forceful this time. The stranger came to, startled. The setting sun lit his face a flash of bright orange as he turned quickly to his side to spew vomit. He crouched, gagged and wiped his face with his sleeve. The stranger staggered up and shielded his face from the brightness. With the pistol still pointed to the stranger's chest, Morris knew that this was a straggler. Past his youthful unshaven face, unkempt hair, he can smell the scent of despair and alcohol. He secured the pistol back into its rightful place and extended his hand towards the straggler.
"Hello, my name is Morris. This here is my hound, Fang. Don't be afraid," he smiled. "I'm here to help."
The straggler scooped a second helping of stew from the pot into his plate. "Man, this shit is real good Milton. Real good."
"It's Morris, and thank you."
Hey, whatcha making there," the straggler asked from the corner of his full mouth and pointed to the wood burning kettle with flames blazing from underneath.
"Preparing water for tomorrow," Morris replied.
"You're taking this shit real serious aintcha? You're a pro at this. I mean, just lookit," the straggler gestured his spoon towards the tent, the fire pit, and the bug out bag.
Morris said nothing as he ate another spoonful then saved the last few bites on his plate for Fang.
The straggler licked his plate clean. "I've met people like you before." He lit a cigarette, took a long drag and offered it to Morris.
Morris refused politely. "People like me?"
"Yeah, runners. You know, people who think there's this magical place to the west that's gonna save and protect them from those things out there. So they keep going, usually traveling with friends, family, or whoever. And they run as fast as they can. Like it's some kinda race that you can win or something. Like in the end there's a ribbon and some fancy people giving out medals. Only it ain't medals. It's the keys to this shiny new fantasy land. Where people live amongst unicorns and gnomes." The straggler gulped down the rest of his water.
"Personally, I'm in it for the cheese at the end of the maze," Morris poured himself another cupful of water.
The straggler chuckled. "That's funny, man." His smile turned into a nervous smirk. "But what if a giant rat's waiting for you instead?"
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