Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Cross Country
(from my WIP: The Sleepless)
After morning break, we changed for PE. I was raring to go but didn’t like the orange t shirt I had to wear. Despite the cool temperature, I omitted the trackies in favours of shorts. It suited my running style. However, my shorts didn’t suit my whiter than white British legs especially against everyone else who seemed to have a healthy glow. I wouldn’t care once we started. My legs would redden quickly and probably be covered in mud (which was the best part of any cross country).
After a few stretches, we were off. The boys had already gone but it wasn’t long before I overtook the stragglers. The terrain was bumpy and then into woodland with tree roots, bracken and small rivers. I’d never run a cross country course like it but it was a challenge and I loved it. Soon, I’d overtaken the bulk of the boys, a few cheers made me smile but didn’t distract me. Then I was on my own with only orange markers to guide me which was perfect as I welcomed the peacefulness and abundant bird song. The pounding of my feet, my steady breathing and my thumping heart accompanied the bird song; a cross country cacophony.
The glade thickened, preventing the sun’s autumn rays peeking through. It was like dusk which changed the atmosphere completely. I felt out of my depth and anxious. Which was silly but I couldn’t shake it. As long as I could see the orange markers, I would be fine and that’s all I focused on. I splashed into another cold shallow stream but didn’t care my feet were sodden.
Shadows started to move, gliding across in different directions. I kept running forward, my stride longer. Another shadow. A chill ran through me. I looked around. There was no one, not even orange shirts in the distance. My heart raced and my breathing lost its controlled rhythm. I started swearing to myself, talking to myself, trying to calm my nerves. I needed to escape the darkness. I felt I was being watched, forest eyes upon me. I shuddered, feeling isolated.
Spinning around, turning my head in all directions, disorientated and panting. Where were the markers? I didn’t see the vine sprawling across the forest floor until I was flying through the air with a scream and landing with a thump and roll. My knees grazed, pride dented and palms sore, I sat, gingerly brushing the debris from my bloodied knees before rising up, wincing with the pain. Something moved . . . in front of me . . . something black, in the shadows . . . moving swiftly. I strained my eyes but couldn’t see anything. I wanted to walk but I didn’t want to go on. I was sure something was there, waiting, watching. I stood still, listening, met only by a dark silence. I realised even the bird song had ceased. No orange shirts were coming up behind me. None were in front. I was alone in a wood. In the dark. A fear began to creep over me. There it was again, the shadows moving, creeping closer, like a blanket of darkness gliding closer and closer. I tried to scream but my throat dried up and closed. The cold shadow was going to swamp me . . .
The forest lit up, with a bluish tinge, like someone had opened the curtains or switched on a light. The shadows vanished. The birds began to sing their chirpy song. A faint smoulder travelled on the welcome breeze. And then I saw an orange shirt running towards me and I’d never been so glad to see someone in my life, even more so when I saw it was Ethan.
“I heard a scream.” Ethan looked around him then back to me. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” I didn’t know how to answer that one. I didn’t know what I’d seen but I knew how I felt, empty and scared. “Can you walk?” he asked, spying my scuffed up knees, blood slowly trickling down my legs.
“Of course.” I wasn’t some needy-female-damsel- in- distress- type- person. “But I intend to run back.” I needed to get out of the woods, back to open spaces.
“Ok, I’ll run with you if you like.”
“With?” I eyed him, my competitive nature winning through my embarrassment and pain.
My knees stung, but I ignored it, as the cuts split open as I ran, keeping up with Ethan. It wasn’t long before we were out in the open, in natural daylight, bright and beautiful, feeling alive when I noticed what had caused the sudden light that banished the shadows.
“Did you notice the floodlights?” I panted as I saw them looming over the forest.
“Yeah.” Ethan was equally out of breath and there was the finish line and no orange shirts were back yet. I could do this.
Somewhere from deep inside, I found my reserves and picked up the pace . . . so did Ethan. His long stride matching mine and he had longer legs. I had to push and find some more. This was my thing. There was nothing else I was good at and Ethan was not going to take my running away from me. I took a deep breath and found a sudden burst. The finish line was getting closer. We were neck and neck. And with one massive lunge, I broke away and ran as fast as I could, ignoring my aching chest screaming for air, bursting through the finish line at least two seconds in front of Ethan where I collapsed on the soft grass.
“Where did that come from?” he asked as he pulled up next to me as I gulped from a bottle of cold water. I smiled and shrugged, looking over his shoulder at the forest as orange shirts could be seen dotted along the route, the floodlights still burning brightly despite the sun shining overhead.
My run was now the talk of the dorm and the canteen. Apparently, I set a new academy record, thrashing the boys too and even with my fall and slight injuries. But all I kept thinking about was the forest and how it made me feel, and why there were floodlights needed in broad daylight. I didn’t tell anyone about what I had seen or thought I’d seen, didn’t want to be seen as different especially when I seemed to be fitting in now.
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I dream of sharing my work with the big wide world one day as a published author. Right now, I share flash fiction with a wonderful community of writers and friends. If you liked this story, then why not visit my blog at http://40somethingundomesticateddevil.blogspot.co.uk/ for more. Thank you. Love Lizzie x