It took Olivia several minutes to locate the utility box behind which she always stashed her supplies, creating her own personal aid station. She would lap this spot four times during the next twenty miles. She placed the cooler and bottle on the concrete slab behind the box and looked around nervously. She couldn’t make out the numbers on her watch but guessed it was nearly a quarter past five. It would be six o’clock by the time she finished the first loop. She turned toward the main thoroughfare and started jogging. She ran steadily uphill toward the fork in the road a mile from her house, the mist enveloping her and making her feel wet before she’d even begun to sweat. Her rhythmic breathing became heavy and sounded shockingly loud to her in the silence of the sleeping neighborhood; she was used to her running playlist blaring in her ears. She turned her head to the left and right constantly, her eyes darting but seeing nothing. She ran lightly on her toes and tried to quell the sounds of her breathing in a subconscious effort to sneak by whatever evil lurked in the pall.
When she finally reached the top, she stopped to catch her breath and to decide if she should run on the trail or in the street. The trail meandered several feet below street level and was flanked by thick bushes and trees on both sides of the next two-mile stretch, preventing the soft glow from the street lights and occasional headlights to penetrate. She almost never ran on the trail after dusk or before sunrise, but now she had to worry about her visibility to oncoming traffic in the fog. She decided her fear of getting hit by a car was more valid than the sinister notions she imagined and headed down the slope and onto the trail.
Within minutes, she regretted her decision. As she ran farther on the trail, an ominous presentiment crept over her, and she knew with certainty she was being watched. Someone or something was stalking her in the vapor and shadows. Forward was the only direction in which she could run, and she began to sprint as if her life depended on it. Foliage from low-hanging branches slapped Olivia’s face as she raced past. At one point, she stumbled over the uneven terrain and lunged into a bramble bordering the trail, and she braced herself for the attack. It didn’t come, and she scrambled to right herself and pushed on, running frantically through the interminable dank forest. She thought of the 4:13 on her arm, no doubt by now smeared illegible by the damp air. I can do all things, she told herself repeatedly. Finally, she emerged from the other side of the trail and powered up the short hill to the street, her legs and lungs burning from the effort. As she struggled to catch her breath, Olivia noticed that the air around her was somehow different. The fog had begun to dissipate, and the faint morning light was beginning to seep through a narrow fissure in the sky. She turned around slowly to peer back toward the trail through which she had just run and to face what preyed upon her so insidiously. What she saw made her gasp in horror and run into the street.
Excerpt from “Windmill Ridge”
By Michelle Arch
“Windmill Ridge” was presented at the 2012 Big Orange Book Festival.