Bewildering Stories

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Two Miles of Life

by Landon Hughes

The mirror image of self-doubt stood over Stanley with its hands on his shoulders. Stanley was sitting on the ground stretching his leg muscles. The mirror image smelled of tobacco and unwashed clothes as he bent over and whispered into his ear.

“You could die ya know. Yer heart isn’t as strong as it used to be. It could just give out on ya. A vein in yer head could just... burst. I bet ya don’t even make it a mile.”

Stanley couldn’t help but listen to the mirror image. He was right. Stanley hadn’t ran since before Karen had died nearly three years ago. Cigarettes and beer had filled the hole she had left in his life. They soothed his mind and made him think that everything was going to be alright.

They lied to him, the Bastards. They had been slowly killing him. Backstabbin, no good, two-faced killers is what they were. He’d had a hard time kicking them out of his life, but he had done it by god. They were finally gone.

Once again it was a woman — like his wife twelve years ago — that had made him want to get healthy. Amy was wonderful in all ways. Her beauty stunned him and her charming ways left him helpless. He was in love once more, and all the good things that come with love were there making him want to get healthy for her even more.

“Come on man, don’t a nice cold beer and a burger and fries sound good right about now? We could just sit in the easy chair like always and put our feet up. Wha’da ya say?” Self-doubt said.

It was tempting, and for a moment Stanley almost got up to go into the house. He paused and stared at the grass for a few seconds.

“No,” he said. “I got ta do this fer Amy.” He continued to stretch.

Caves, hamstrings, and all the other ones, were all stretched out. He was ready to rock and roll, just like back in High School during his track star days. Stanley walked for a few feet on the hot black road and then picked up the pace to a light jog.

He felt no resistance from his body except for the minor pain in his left knee. It would work itself out soon enough. Just old joints stating their protest to a little extra strain of long overdue exercise. It felt like a good start to his new healthy lifestyle and he was proud of himself for taking the first steps.

Now things would be different. Now he would eat whole grain cereals for breakfast and skip the mid morning snack. There would be no more fast food and no more soda. Yes, he would be healthy and live longer for it.

He would live longer, that is, if he didn’t die from this run first. He wasn’t even a quarter mile when he began to wheeze and feel a burning sensation in his chest. He tried to control his breathing and take in deep breaths from his nose, but he couldn’t. His mouth gasped in heaping amounts of air that still didn’t seem like enough for his lungs which were working over time.

“I told ya Stanley my boy. I told you that ya wouldn’t make it. Why don’t ya just quit now and head on back home where ya can sit in the nice cool air conditioner and eat that last cup cake in the cabinet. Ya know, that one you’ve been thinkin about all day? It‘s not that far to the easy chair.”

Stanley thought of the cupcake with its delicious chocolate outside and creamy filling. His stomach growled even though he had eaten just two hours earlier.

“No,” said Stanley. “I won’t stop now. I’m only at the beginnin.”

He kept running. His beer belly and love handles and even his breasts bounced up and down on his body as he trotted along, the mirror image of self-doubt not far behind him.

“Ya know, everybody is watchin you. They’re all sittin in their nice air conditioned homes and lookin out the winder at you and sayin ’What a retard. What does he think he’s some kinda athlete?’ They’re laughin their heads off at you right now Stanley.”

“I don’t care. This isn’t for ‘em. This here is fer Amy.” Stanley said. He barely got the words out as he was gasping for air.

Half a mile down. That’s half a mile to a better life. Just gotta keep on keepin on. Just put one foot in front of the other. That sounds easier than it really is.

Stanley saw the iron bridge up ahead. When he reached it he would be half way to his goal of two miles for today. He thought of the mile he still had to run back to his house after he got to the bridge and lost a little hope.

“Ya still got a long way to go and yer already about to puke your guts out. Is all this really worth it? I mean, you could really die doin this.”

Stanley clinched his shirt and pulled it away from his flopping belly as if to pull himself forward. Come on man, gotta keep runnin, fer Amy.

The bridge was closer now, only a quarter mile away. Stanley looked toward the sky and almost lost his balance. A skip got him back on track again.

He saw a blue house with red shutters and knew who it belonged to. The Hart Family. The name conjured up a single image of fangs in a rabid foaming mouth.

“That’s right Stanley,” Self-Doubt said. “The Hart’s Dog is gonna tear yer leg off. Ya know they don’t chain that thing up. What is it, a pit bull? Oh yeah, those suckers are mean.”

Stanley slowed his pace and almost stopped. He tried not to make a sound as he past the Hart‘s house, but it didn’t help. He saw the dog as it got up from its position on the porch. It stared at him for a moment as if sizing him up for the kill.

He continued to trot along, hoping that the dog would let him pass by. Just let him go on about his business without harm. It wasn’t to be.

The dog took off toward Stanley like a race horse coming out of the gate. Stanley’s heart jumped into his throat and he leapt forward and landed wrong on his ankle. A sharp pain shot though his leg and he dropped.

For a moment, the pain in his ankle made Stanley forget about the raging mouth of teeth headed at him like a freight train.

He crawled back toward the side of the road and reached into the grass. He frantically grasped at the dirt and small clumps of clay, trying to find a rock to throw at the dog. His hand meet stone and in an instant it was flying through the air like a missile.

Stanley’s aim was true and the dog got it right between the eyes. It yelped and retreated back to its demon lair. Bastard.

Stanley climbed to his feet and tested his ankle to see if it was able to handle the strain of the rest of the run.

“Yer done now; might as well limp on back home. Ya put up a good fight, but in the end we both knew there was no way you could make it. Yer too weak. You know it, and I know it.”

“Shut up!” yelled Stanley.

The shadow mirror image laughed then put a hand on Stanley’s shoulder.

“I know you Stanley. Yer too weak to finish anything.”

A well of anger sprang up in Stanley. He looked at his fat belly and felt disgusted. How could he have let Karen’s death affect his health this way? She would never have let him get so out of shape. He missed her more now than ever.

He looked toward the bridge, now less than a quarter mile away. He took a step toward it and a sharp pain shot through his leg. He took another step and then another after that. Soon he was jogging once again.

The pain in his ankle was intense but Stanley kept going. He thought of Karen and Amy. Two women that he loved and who loved him back. The thought of them was enough to keep him going, enough to make him forget the pain and the mirror image of self-doubt.

At the bridge he turned around and headed back toward his house. One mile down, one to go. He began to breath hard again. His vision began to blur and his head was spinning wildly.

“Gotta keep on runnin. Just keep runnin.” He said to himself.

In the sides of his eyes he began to see black lines. He ignored them and kept running. His arm began to throb with every beat of his heart, but he shrugged off the pain.

The lines on the sides of his eyes began to move inward. Soon the blackness consumed his vision. Stanley felt his legs give way to the weight of his body and he soon was on the ground clenching his chest.

His arm hurt badly, as if someone was squeezing it with a vise. He gasped for air but got nothing. Stanley smelled the stench of tobacco as he drifted from conciseness.

“See Stanley boy, I told ya... I told ya.”

Stanley woke up and was still on the road. He had no idea how long he had been out, but it must not have been long because nobody had found him and tried to help.

He stood up without any trouble. The sweat had dried on his forehead and he felt fantastic. A few minutes rest had did him well. He began a light jog toward his house.

He passed the Hart’s place without any sign of the mutt. Bastard must have learned its lesson. He picked up the pace a little. His ankle felt numb but the sharp pain was gone.

By the time he was in sight of his house he was at a slow sprint. A woman sat on the porch. At first Stanley thought it was Amy, but as he came closer he saw that it was Karen.

“Karen? Baby?”

“Yes Stanley, it’s me. Oh it’s so good to see ya again.” She said to him.

“But you’re...” Stanley thought about the run. He saw himself falling to the ground and clenching his chest. He remembered the pain in his chest, right where his heart would be. “So this means I’m...”

“Yes honey, yer dead.”

Copyright © 2004 by Landon Hughes

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