The Runner

ricardobessa.com
ricardobessa.com
Ricardo Bessa
Photo Credit http://ricardobessa.com  (Anabelle the human) used with Artist’s permission

Agnes told people she ran in the woods because she loved nature, but that wasn’t it. She was afraid to step on a crack. The sidewalks in her family’s neighborhood were riddled with them; not just the dividing lines between panels, but little fault lines too. Every time she walked out she had to hopscotch the safe spots between the cracks. Luckily, the trail was right out her backyard.

One day, she was sprinting through the forest when something caught her eye, and she tripped over a root.

Whump! She landed on her chest, hands barely breaking the fall, her cheek stinging where it had grazed the ground.

There it was, on the side of the path. A light, no, a flower — a dandelion. She focused her eyes and it was gone. That was odd. She pushed herself up, sat back back onto her heels and looked again. The dandelion had reappeared, but gone to seed. She looked down the path; the light returned in the corner of her eye, growing and flickering. She kept her focus trained away and observed as it rose and fell in her peripheral vision, reminding her of the balloon figure outside her uncle’s car lot.

She looked again directly at it. Now, a gold, translucent teacup-shaped lily with a tiny stem sat in a plate of gold leaves where the light had been. She got up, fixing her gaze on the little treasure, approached it with great care, and picked it.

Two things happened at once: The blossom turned into a sprite floating in the air, and the forest exploded with gasps.

Agnes darted away, but the sprite held tight to her hand, trying to pull her back. The gasps escalated into a chorus of cries.

“No!”

“Horror!”

“Don’t touch!”

“Get her!”

It was hard to run with only one arm pumping her forward while the spirit behind her yanked the other arm, but she struggled on. The menacing voices got louder. Were the trees growing red branches? No, it was arms, reaching toward her. She dared to turn her attention from the tricky route for a moment. The trees were covered in red grasping shadows.

She pushed on. Finally, her house appeared fifty feet away through the branches, giving her an extra spurt of speed. The sprite pulled harder, she strained against it, her balance off but her legs obstinate and her feet familiar with this part of the path.

In one last leap, she bound into her backyard. The sprite’s tremendous pull weakened at once. She fell onto the grass, chin digging a groove in the soft ground. She pulled her hand forward, this time it was she, gripping the other’s hand.

The sprite dwindled back into a flower that then melted in the bright sunlight, over Agnes’s fingers into a glittering pool on the grass. Agnes shrank back from it, wiping her hand on the soft green blades.

Behind her, moans and a growl lifted the hairs on her neck. The skin on her ankle burned. Had she stepped in poison oak? She rolled onto her side to see. The scarlet imprint of a hand wrapped around her ankle and up her shin. It throbbed.

She scrambled to her feet, took a step and paused. A strange sensation was traveling up her leg. It burned up her body to her heart where it squeezed and flamed. Suddenly, the terror stopped. Instead, she was angry, blind with rage, and driven by one urgent thought.

The humans must be stopped.

The back door of the neighbor’s house slammed shut. She loped across the yard, fists clenched, intent on her prey.

Inspired by Vicente L Ruiz’s weekly image prompt https://plus.google.com/+VicenteLRuiz/posts/SiY7hBTcEFe
Forest Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@zack_silver  – Link to photo
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