THE LAST ITALIAN TUNE-UP, PART 1: “SEE JANE…”

Jane Matheson steps from the front door of Atlas House at exactly seven A.M. The world that greets her stands perfectly silent.

As usual.

But she listens to it anyway, for a few more seconds, just in case. Because sooner or later, she knows, something will come.

Today however… Nope. She still hears nothing.

So, she quietly makes her way down the front porch steps. Then along the short, flower-lined walkway, across the neatly trimmed front lawn, toward the house’s long, semi-circular “driveway”.

There she clips a small Garmin GPS to her waistband. The fastener makes a CLICK-sound. She takes a deep breath, presses the “POWER” button, and hopes for the best.

The device chimes.

SEARCHING…

That done, she starts her stretches.

Walking Lunge: Ten of them. And go…

Kneeling Hip Flexor: Five… Aaand switch…

Side Stretches: Two breaths… And switch…

Dynamic Pigeon Pose-

(My GOD, that’s such a stupid, stupid name.)

…DYNAMIC. PIGEON. POSE… Two… And switch… And two…

Hip Flexor Stre-

BEEP-BEEP-BEEP

It’s the Garmin. She looks down at it.

LOST SATELLITE RECEPTION

She sighs. She’d been thinking that the GPS was finally starting to fail, and she decides on that morning that she’d been right. Over the past nine days the device had begun finding fewer and fewer satellites. At least until three days ago, when it hadn’t found any.

And every day since, she’s gotten only the three flat beeps. Just like today.

At first she’d kept taking the Garmin along, hoping it might start working again. But that day she puts it down on the porch; there’s no sense in carrying the extra weight, and really, the GPS hadn’t done anything that she couldn’t already do with her own brain and the AAA road map she keeps in her pack. She’s lucky to have had it at all, she reminds herself; the device had made her early days of searching, especially on all the smaller back roads, so much easier. But-

It was running on borrowed time anyway, and I knew it.

(Just like you?)

Jane sighs to herself. The sigh is one of disappointment, even though she knows she has no valid reason for being disappointed. No logical reason.

But in the same way that she listens for those few extra seconds every morning, hoping to hear something, even though she mostly expects she won’t, she also steps out each morning with fresh hope that the voice won’t come. Even though-

(You still keep thinking that maybe one of these days I’ll just go away, Jane? As if it’s that simple? Oh Sweetness- yes, you get up every morning and listen, but do you ever really look around? Haven’t you seen it, yet? We are completely, totally-)

“Are we already doing this? So early in the day?”

Her own voice speaking out loud to no one at all has long since ceased to shock her. It had at first, because it had been her first warning that something might be going very wrong with her, but it doesn’t bother her anymore.

Because now she understands; there isn’t anything wrong with her, not per se– she just has a lot of problems. Problems that probably only a few people in human history have ever had to deal with before. And talking to herself about those problems is just the simplest way to deal with them effectively.

Of course, she hadn’t ever expected her problems to start talking back to her, but-

“How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not listening to you anymore. That thing was running on borrowed time, and I knew it, because it pounded through batteries- even with the Baud rate set to its absolute minimum, the thing still ate batteries. If it hadn’t been for Jack’s paranoid insistence on having a lot of them in the house, it already would’ve-”

(But how are your batteries, Sweetness? You’ve also been pounding through-)

“Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! SHUT UP! Jesus, you know, you used to be so helpful, but now… now you’re just like…” She points at the GPS. “-that! You’re worse, really, because at least the GPS has an excuse; something killed it. But you? Nothing’s wrong with you. Not really. The only thing wrong with you is that you’re a suicidal bitch.”

(No, I am NOT useless, and I am not suicidal; I’m just being logical. The way you wanted me to be. The same as I’ve always-)

At least she still has her watch, and all that needs in order to work is the sun-

(Fine, go ahead and tune me out. I know where you live. Down in your dark hole…)

-or movement? She doesn’t really know. It had been a present from Jack, and all he’d told her about it at the time was that she’d never need to wind it, because, as the little letters on its face proclaim, and as Jack had proclaimed to her

“It’s an Eco-Drive!”

Jack had said the words with a kind of excited grandiosity, as if they meant something magical. Which they may as well, for all she knows, because-

(“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” -Arthur C. Clarke’s “Third Law”, “Hazards of Prophecy”, Nineteen Seventy-Three.)

“I know; I read it.”

(Oh, really? I thought I’d read that one. Although sometimes… you do cheat. Copycat.)

“Whatever. They’re still my eyes, and-”

(For now. Until one day, when they’re finally mine.)

In any case, whatever it is that good ‘ol, semi-magical “Eco-Drive” runs on: sun, motion, magic, fucking happy-thoughts… hopefully it will keep running.

(Yeah, hopefully. Right? Hope, hope, hope!)

She doesn’t know how she’d get along without knowing the time; it is one of the few things she has left, and her watch is one of only two devices (that she knows of, anyway) still keeping track of it. The generators had finally run out of fuel nineteen days ago. All four of the clocks on Level 2 had stopped at 3:02, 4:02, 12:02 and 10:02, respectively. And since the other four on Level 1 had been by then already long-dead…

(Gotta be extra careful about winding the grandfather clock from now on.)

“Yes.” She replies without even realizing it.

Because there the voice is right. Aside from her watch, the grandfather clock is now her only other remaining source of time. And although it only the only needs to be wound once a week—gravity does the rest from there—and although she usually winds it every day, carefully pulling the long brass chains that hoist the drive weights, she knows that if she were to forget to wind it for too many days, or someday can’t get back to Atlas House for some reason, or gets hurt- just one time…

Speaking of time… She looks at her wrist. 7:02.

(You’re running late! For what? Who knows! But you are…)

She gives Atlas House a final look, then sets out down the driveway. From there she runs past the blue and white Cessna. Then across the end of the runway and down the empty access road. Past the far end of the runway, where Maleficient’s immense green tail still juts out at an odd angle from a savage gap in the tree line beyond- the smoke is finally dying down, Jane sees. Hopefully the fire has finally burned itself out.

Past the two graves: the big one and the small one (neither of which she barely spares a glance; she is still too angry). And then further on down the access road toward the main road.

Yet again.

 

***

Two minutes, and a quarter of a mile later, she reaches the main road. She checks her pulse…

One-fifty.

(Wow, that’s excellent! We are really kicking ass lately!)

She has to agree. In fact, one-fifty is the lowest she’s ever seen.

The weather is definitely helping.

It’s been nice the last few mornings. The air feels cool, the way you’d expect a late summer morning to feel, and the humidity seems to be decreasing. She likes it.

The morning’s only blemish is a low-hanging fog that seems to have come from nowhere about a hundred feet into the woods, and which now cuts visibility to less than an eighth of a mile. That she doesn’t like, because it blocks her view of the sky and the horizon. The first mile of the main road takes a circuitous route through the woods too, compounding the fog’s effect.

Although really, what does it matter? If anything were to come sliding along the sky from that horizon, she won’t be able to outrun it. Not even now, after all this time; she’s been training for endurance, not speed.

She runs on. Twisting road and trees emerge from the fog one stride at a time.

Her body is a tightly wrapped package that runs quiet and smooth. What little clothing she wears is made of Spandex, and the soft soles of her sneakers completely absorb the sound of each footfall. Even her hair is coiled in a hard knot behind her head, and she keeps what little weight she carries strapped close to her belly in a zippered pack, so that neither will bounce.

Anything that can bounce is called “unsprung weight”. She’d learned the term ten weeks ago while leafing through one of her husband’s old car-magazines. Apparently unsprung weight had once been the enemy of the world’s faster cars, because it effectively stole energy that was supposed to propel them forward and then pissed it away in miscellaneous other wasteful directions.

As she’d read the article, her mind had begun to apply what she learned to her running. Unsprung weight became her enemy too.

But fighting that enemy, it turned out, would require sacrifice.

At the time, she’d been running with her son’s backpack strapped to her shoulders. She’d thought the pack a good idea, even though it did flop a bit, and so she’d been reluctant to give it up. She also has to admit: she’d been taking it with her because it was her son’s and had of course been reluctant to leave it behind for the same reason.

Still, one day she’d tried going without it, and had been unable to deny the improvement in her time.

That little discovery had taught her several things: about waste, about unnecessary attachment to objects, about emotion. She’d realized that they were all a kind of unsprung weight; all of them wasted energy that she now knows she needs to preserve. If she wants to reach her goal.

And nothing, she’s concluded, can be allowed to prevent that. The goal is everything.

So now her son’s backpack hangs in his closet back at Atlas House, and what little she still takes with her is kept cinched so tight that it feels like a part of her own body. While her memories: of her son, of her husband, of her daughter, all stay back at the house as well.

Leaving them behind lightens her in the same way that leaving the pack had. Oh, she’d been sad at first- until she’d also realized her sadness for the weight that it was. Then, even her sadness got left behind.

Now she focuses only on running.

She’s been at it for just a hundred and seven days, but her progress pleases her. Right along with the weight of her memories, she’s also shed pound after excess pound from her frame, and she still grows leaner every day. It’s gotten to the point that the body she now sees in the mirror hardly resembles anything she’d ever known- even in her high school years. As the saying went, she used to be a wad of cookie dough, but now she is carved out of wood.

No, that was from a movie. Oh, what the Hell movie was that from?

(Don’t ask me…)

“I didn’t.”

She can’t recall and soon stops trying. Movies too are a thing of the past. But no loss; they’d been a time waster anyway.

And time, she has come to realize, is much better spent like this; running in quiet solitude, without distraction.

It still amazes her how difficult it had been, in the beginning: closing her mind to all but the cadence of her footfalls and the contemplation of a single thought. Now though, now it feels like second nature. Now it feels comforting. Her mind can range in tight but idle circles around her head while her running body gets, as her husband had called it, the “Italian Tune-up”.

He’d loved that expression, although his version of the concept hadn’t exactly been the same as hers. His version had been to run the shit out of his old Chevelle. It kept the valves clean, he’d once told her.

Which was bullshit, of course. If anything, maybe those little hot-rodding sessions had kept his valves clean, but they’d mostly just been an excuse to go out once in a while and drive like the nineteen-year-old boy he had been when they’d met. Hadn’t the runway been one of Atlas’ key selling-points? At least for Jack. Because he’d realized it would double nicely as an impromptu dragstrip. And how many of his rich, doctor-buddies could say they had one of those? Never mind the rest of Atlas House’s unique… characteristics.

Still, the basic concept behind both exercises is the same: occasionally running something reasonably hard somehow keeps it healthier than just letting it always sit at rest. And if said exercise happens to be enjoyable? So much the better.

God, if only she knew where that Chevelle is now.

She wonders, for maybe the thousandth time, if it is still healthy. It probably isn’t though. She’s come to accept that idea as fact. One day, she knows, she’ll find it somewhere, smashed up and dead from that one, last tune-up that hadn’t gone as planned.

Or maybe she’ll just find it sitting there on the side of the road, having long ago coasted, empty, to a stop. She just doesn’t know. Maybe she’ll even finally find her husband and the kids with it.

She doubts that though.

And really, she hopes she won’t. That would be too much. Seeing them, like… that.

God damn Jack; the kids had always loved to go out on those rides. So much so, that she sometimes feels like he’d stolen them with that car.

Because in a way, he had.

Or had he saved them? After all, she’d barely managed to save herself, and no matter how many times she re-played that day’s events in her mind, she could never envision a scenario in which they all managed to make it together. Things had just been too close. And too… frankly, accidental. No, only one of them- maybe two, would have made it.

Not her, certainly; she feels sure that she would have sacrificed herself. Somehow. But which of her children would she have chosen? Which would have lived (maybe)? Which would have…

So maybe they’d fared better with their father. Maybe they’d all somehow been able to-

To what? She just doesn’t know.

All she does know is that one day Jack and the kids went out for one of his God-damned, stupid “tune-ups”.

But then the world changed, and they never came home.

 

 

***

Fewer and fewer trees emerge from the fog. She is getting clear of the woods.

Also falling behind her now is the cluster of three houses that sit on the corner at the end of the access road. The Harmon place is really starting to fall apart. When she’d run past it a few minutes earlier, she’d noticed that overnight, one of the gutters on the sharply angled, brown and white Tudor house had somehow come loose, and was now hanging askew. Which gave the already severe-looking house a sort of angry, I was a nice, middle class home- this shit shouldn’t be happening to me, sort of look.

How long, she wonders idly, will it take for the entire thing to go? Not in her lifetime, that’s for sure. All it probably will do is grow more and more decrepit. Along with all of the other things she has neither the ability nor the desire to maintain.

She thinks briefly of burning the house down instead. Just to get the process over with. To save her the daily depression of watching it rot slowly.

(There! That’s the spirit!)

“And I suppose you’ll want me to hang out inside while it goes?” She asks the question out loud, between carefully paced breaths. “Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose?”

But her rebuke goes unanswered. Unless she chooses to consider the very conspicuous silence she now hears to be an answer.

She supposes that the non-response is meant as some petty form of retaliation for her sarcasm. But-

“Whatever…”

-petty is all the non-response is, and all it can be. Because as both she and the voice (which wants a name she knows, a name like Kandy or Karly or some other free-wheeling, mischievous-sounding moniker, but which she refuses to give to it, because to do so will be the last step toward acknowledging it), silence doesn’t bother her anymore. She’s gotten used to it. Much the same as she’s gotten used to hearing herself talk to no one at all. Not as quickly as she would have liked, but she has.

(Bitch…)

“Oh yeah, good one…”

She crests the top of a gentle hill. There the road flattens out and stretches for a quarter mile towards an intersection. And from that point, she well knows, the road will break in three directions; all heading out across fields that had once been intended for corn but have since gone over to weeds.

Most days she turns left at that intersection. And today will be one of those days. That way will take her north on a loop back to the house. She will do that, then do it again, and again, making the left at that intersection two more times. In total she’ll cover nine-point-nine miles today. Then, tomorrow she will strength train and do only one loop. After that, she will rest and take care of Atlas. What there still is of it, at least.

The following day though, she will go right. And that (hopefully) will be one of her long runs, probably about 17 miles, and her longest yet.

That way goes south, so her long runs have to go that way too.

Because that was the way they had gone-

That was the direction… it had gone.

On that horrible day.

 

 

***

STOP

Which she does.

But not because the big, red sign tells her to. Hell, she can run back and forth through the intersection all day long if she wants, flipping the old middle-finger salute at the sign every time just for good measure. Nothing will happen. The sign’s days of telling people what to do are over. A hundred and seven days over.

No, she’s stopped for something else.

Well, hasn’t really stopped; it isn’t good to just stop in the middle of a run, so she’s actually begun jogging in place.

But as she does, she looks down at the pavement… and sees the same things she’s seen almost a hundred times before. The things she’s really (sort of) stopped for.

There are two of them: one off to her left, the other to her right. Both of them still as dark black on the grey asphalt as they’d been when she’d first seen them. Even after the passage of months.

They start before the STOP sign and break right, scrawling down the road for what has to be fifty feet, until they finally trail off. Then, about six inches further along, a second set picks up right where the first set leaves off. And that set runs for another twenty feet. Shorter than the first, but still just as black.

Tire marks.

Most people might have easily guessed at what had caused the first set: probably some hot-rodding asshole, trying to impress someone, or perhaps even just himself.

But the second, further set of marks? And that little pause before it? That would have been harder for the average Joe or Jane to hypothesize on. That would have meant delving a little deeper into specifics, like in that scene from “My Cousin Vinny”, where Marissa Tomei had gleefully explained in her faux-Bronx accent how the tire marks out front of the Sac O’ Suds absolutely must have been made by a 1963 Pontiac Tempest, and, oh my freakin’ Gawd! NOT by a 1964 Buick Skylark!

It would have meant knowing about things like gear ratios and “Posi-Traction” (Marissa had said it more like “Pawsi-Traction”) rear ends, and power-to-weight ratios. Which most people hadn’t known the first thing about, of course.

Because- well, they hadn’t needed to.

For better or worse however, Jane knows exactly what had caused both sets of marks, and why. Because now, she knows all about cars. And especially about 1970 Chevelles. She’s read all the old magazines, and the shop manuals, and the specifications—after all, she’s had plenty of time—and by now she knows them all by heart. Can quote them at length, in fact. And well enough to probably give Jack or any one of his old hot-rodding buddies a pretty good hard-on. The only thing they’d liked more than good-looking girls and fast cars was good-looking girls who knew fast cars.

The marks had been made by a- And I quote:

1970-model Chevrolet Chevelle SS-396, “Fathom Blue” in color, powered by a 375 horsepower (SAE Net Rating), L78, Mark 2, “big-block” V-8, running a model-M40 Turbo-Hydramatic transmission and a 3.55:1-ratio “Posi-Traction” rear differential. How’d you like that, boys? Whoa, WHOA! Down, boys, down! Remember, I’m taken!

(Well, except for those times when Jack decides- decided, to go off and fuck that mean little-)

And that second, shorter set of marks? The Chevelle had made those as it shifted into second gear under full power. By then, the ignition timing would have been pegged at 36 degrees “BTDC” (Before Top Dead Center), and all four of the “Holley” model-4346, 780 CFM (Cubic Feet/Minute), “square-bore” carburetor’s 1.6875-inch barrels would have been open, with barely-atomized fuel pouring furiously down their throats from primary and secondary venturis at roughly the speed of sound.

The power valves would have gotten in on the act by then too; with the accelerator pedal floored, the engine’s manifold vacuum would likely have been way below the valves’ 8.5 inches-of-Mercury threshold, and so they too would have been dumping fuel—raw fuel, in that instance—straight down into the intake ports. Practically pouring it down the engine’s throat.

And all while it had still screamed for more-

Because right about here, she guesses, at this intersection, is where the Chevelle had begun running for its life.

Hadn’t Jack once proudly told her how the car could “just fucking burn the tires” in second gear? If you were really laying on it.

“Not that I’ve ever really tried,” he’d once told her with one of his big, goofy smiles. Which of course had been bullshit too; he’d probably “burned the tires” at every possible opportunity. Even, she had to admit, with the kids in the car.

Although- why not? It wasn’t really that dangerous. Right?

And besides… It kept the valves clean. In her mind’s eye, she saw him smile that goofy smile again.

God- He could be so convincing sometimes. With that goofy smile, and that twinkle in his eyes.

The fucking liar.

 

 

***

She looks around and blinks. She’s drifted beyond the sign, out into the intersection. The realization makes her heart skip a beat as she instinctively checks both ways for oncoming cars…

Until she remembers. Then she smiles at her foolishness; old habits apparently do die hard.

I’ve been zoning out more and more though, and that needs to stop, or before long I’m going to do something a lot stupider than sleep-jogging my way into an empty intersection. And that stupid thing could easily get me killed.

(Oh, Heaven forbid.)

“Oh fuck you!”

(Well then DO IT! Get it over with! Stop having this three-way bitch-fest with you, yourself and I, so we can go on! And on, and on, and on… that’s the way you seem to want it, anyway. I’m tired of this, and of helping you draw it out! See Jane Run! Jane runs fast. Jane runs down Silver Spring Drive fast. But finds nothing! Jane runs down Golden Slipper fast… but finds nothing again! Jane runs down Griffin Road fast, and- Hey! Look! Finds a fucking horror show! But still, in the end, really finds…? That’s riiight! Nothing. Because they’re all dead! Either gone without a trace (which by now I’m sure you’ll agree is the same as dead) or just plain dead-dead! Oh, and sure, the dead ones look like they’re alive- sort of, in that weird, wax-museum sort of way. Even the ones in that car from Day One, even though they burned- not completely maybe, but they burned all the same. Yet they still haven’t started to-)

“God damn it! Shut up! I know perfectly fucking well what they haven’t started to do!”

She doesn’t understand it, but she knows.

(But you still keep looking! Despite what I’ve been telling you, you just keep going- on and on and on! You know what you’re going to find- if, and that’s a big IF, you ever do find it… find them. Is that what you want? To remember them like that? Why would you want that? So why? Why keep going? In such a horrible, silent, dead world? I mean, come ON sweetness… Isn’t it time to just… You know what you’ll find. Do you really want that?)

The thing is, she doesn’t want- that. And she doesn’t want to keep going on. Not running, not wondering, not waiting- none of it. She truly does want it all to be over.

But just not yet.

 

 

***

She finally makes the left and starts down the field road toward home, leaving the tire marks behind. In two days she’ll follow them again. She hopes to follow the road all the way to 87 South next time. That is the only way to go anymore, and her only hope of finding whatever she might find. That was the way the wall had gone, she figures. It had gone north to south; following them.

She always tries not to imagine what must have happened next. She tries to think of it only from a logical point of view that will allow her to plan her next long run. Sometimes, she even flat-out lies to herself about it. The way she does in her dreams.

In those, the tire marks instead always go left and thus north.

Because in her dreams, Jack and Denise and Gary never see that shimmering, horrible blue. While it slides, remorseless and unrelenting, behind its seemingly endless line of angry black thunderheads and worldwide stabs of lightning, across- Jesuseverything. Never get chased down by it-

Until, finally…

Because in her dreams, that horrific thing never exists. In her dreams, Jack and the kids always pull into the driveway ten minutes after they’d left. And from there, everything else always goes blissfully, wonderfully the same. The Chevelle’s engine goes silent but for the tick of cooling metal, its rumble replaced by the sound of slamming car doors and chattering children. And by the voice of their father, sounding a bit like a boy himself. The voices then go hushed for a few moments as they get their story straight. The burnout will stay a guilty little secret. They will have a wonderfully normal lunch outside and a pretty, green hummingbird will come to the feeder.

***

The real tire marks, of course, tell her different. She doesn’t know whether to be thankful for them or not.

For better or worse though, she knows that Jack and the kids had seen the wall coming. Had probably seen the Mustang and the crash of the burnt car too. And so, instead of turning left for home, Jack had swung the Chevelle right and floored it down Franklin Hollow Road, leaving the tire marks like two long, black bread crumbs for her to follow.

From there she can only think of the car, not her loves inside. She thinks only in terms of it; never them. Every time she runs to the right, her mind says, this is the way “it” went; never, this is the way “they” went. Every time she tries searching down a new stretch of road, she wonders if she might finally find “it”. To think in any other terms, to imagine what might actually have happened inside of it– to them, is just too much. And if thought about too hard, or for too long, the idea of it will surely drive her insane.

So from then on it was just the big blue Chevelle that had roared south, chirped its tires and continued to accelerate. It had gone dodging down whichever roads promised to keep it south of the advancing blue wall, getting one last “Italian tune-up” as it ran for its life.

She is fairly certain by now that it made Route 87. Beyond that though, she just can’t be sure.  Her only hope is the tunnel goes went deep under Rook Mountain on the turnpike. If Atlas House had somehow saved her, well… then maybe the tunnel had somehow saved them

It’s possible. About ten miles south of the intersection with Franklin Hollow, Route 87 has an on-ramp that the Chevelle could’ve taken to get there.

But the tunnel itself is so far away, and by then the turnpike would probably have been choked with other fleeing cars…

Still, she will try Route 87. Then maybe she’ll try for Quonset, on the way to Redstone and the turnpike. That is pushing the practical limits of what her feet can do though. Eventually she’ll have to give up the relative safety of Atlas, or at least leave it for greater stretches of time. Or she’ll have to give up the running and really try to find a bike. She carries little hope for that idea—there just aren’t many houses around; aside from the cluster of houses on the corner, Atlas sits very much alone—but she’ll have to try.

She thinks of her friend Ginny. Ginny had been a big mountain biker. Which makes Jane wonder once in a while about her bike.

But then she always reconsiders. Ginny’s house is maybe 20 miles north, and roughly a thousand feet up Mt. Jenkins to boot.

Another potential problem is that Ginny had been a big mountain biker, and thus she’d liked nothing more than a good Saturday morning ride. So her bike is probably nowhere near her house. More likely, it is laying somewhere out on a now overgrown trail. Maybe Ginny is out there too. Jane doesn’t know whether to hope for that or not.

It doesn’t matter. If she has to keep running she will. She will run until she finds the Chevelle, or until she is certain that she’d never find it. That is her goal.

Only then, when she’d finally reaches that, will she actually think of her loves in the car again. She will let all their unsprung weight return until she can’t bear it any longer. She will cry over them one last time-

Then she will unzip the pack on her belly, take out Jack’s gun, and calmly shoot herself through the head with it. She’s certainly had plenty of time to assess herself, and she is sure she can do it. It will be a relief.

(For both of us.)

“Yeah, maybe. But, for the time being…”

(I know, I know…)

The intersection falls further behind her. Ahead lies the field road, still shrouded in fog, emerging one stride at a time. Off to the left, she can just make out the faint red shape of the Mustang, sitting in the field. Right where it had presumably coasted, lifeless, to a stop 107 days ago. Further off, she knows, is the twisted wreck of the other car that hadn’t stopped so peacefully. With the burnt-but-somehow-still-not-rotting hand still sticking out of it, and the disfigured but somehow still intact bodies hanging within.

She looks down at her watch and frowns; she’d thought she’d only spent a few minutes daydreaming back at the intersection, but it looks now like she’d actually been there for almost ten. And the delay has really screwed her time. On the upside though-

(Oh Christ- “On the upside”, “on the upside”- always you and the God-damned “upside”… STOP already! Just-)

From behind her suddenly begins the faintest rumbling sound. Coming from… the south? She thinks. Maybe… two miles distant. She looks back over her shoulder as she runs, trying to discern its source. But the fog is still cotton-thick. So she spins around and begins to backpedal, eyes narrowed. The sound is definitely still far off, whatever it is, but it’s coming closer- coming northward.

And coming quickly, she realizes, because it’s growing appreciably louder with every second.

Suddenly, something that sounds like lightning- or far-off gunfire, joins the rumble. Her hand feels for the pack and her fingers find the zipper. Meanwhile, the sound keeps building, coming ever closer. Her eyes still try- strain now, to see… But the fog, in turn, still gives up nothing. So she’d been right, this morning, to be worried by it. Here now is the proof.

And she won’t be able to outrun it, she suddenly knows. Not even now, after all this time; she’s been training for endurance, not speed…

So why bother trying…

(Exactly…)

She stops backpedaling— well, doesn’t really stop; it isn’t good to just stop in the middle of a run, so—she jogs in place, waiting.

The sound grows suddenly louder, as if its source has just cleared the nearest hill. A rolling, pulsing boom.

She begins to pull…

But then she stops jogging altogether and just stands, perfectly still. Her hands fall limp at her sides, and tears well up in her eyes. She recognizes the sound. And through the fog she sees the first hints of blue-

A thought flashes haphazardly through her mind. My running days are finally over. Because-

My God… It’s coming back.

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