The cop stood in front of me with her arms crossed. Her bright incisors bit the air as she talked.
“Now tell me again why you're out at 2:00 a.m. walking barefoot?” She asked.
Her died-blond, pony-tailed hair, bobbed in a way that reminded me of a girl who once tried to slap me on the kindergarten playground. Her eyes were some lighter color I couldn't quite make out in the darkness. Her laugh lines and crow's feet were as much tokens of her authority as the silver Rampart Rock Police Department badge glowing on the black sea of her shirt.
“Listen, I know what you're thinking,” I said. "I'm not crazy."
She swallowed a laugh.
“You people have already questioned me twice this week. I just like to walk and run barefoot. It's natural. Look it up on the Internet. Besides, that's not why I flagged you down.”
We stood out front of the Rampart Rock police station. Her Lincoln Navigator cruiser idled in the parking spot next to us. I could smell the tax dollars burning. “What is it then?” She asked.
“Has anyone reported wild animals roaming the streets?”
“What kinds of animals?”
“I don't know. Big ones. They were strange looking. Its dark and they were far away.”
She squinted at me like I was getting crazier every minute.
“So there was more than one of them?”
“Yeah," I said. "They run fast. Like horses.”
“Well, the fairgrounds are just a couple blocks away,” she said, "and there's a livestock show this weekend.”
“These weren't horses though. They looked a little like bats too.”
“They were kinda batty huh?” She smirked.
“Nevermind,” I said, shrugging and turning. “I'm not crazy. I'm going home. Just be on the lookout for missing pets.”
“Why?” The cop asked. “What do you know about that?”
“About what?” I turned back toward her.
“The missing dogs.”
“I don't know anything,” I said. “I just saw these animals chasing a dog.”
“And you thought they were horses?”
“Kinda dumb-sounding I guess.”
“Yep,” the cop said. “Before you go, let me see your license. I need to be sure you don't have any warrants.“
“Fine,” I said, handing her the license and crossing my arms. She went to her cruiser and called dispatch. The cop came back and said, “Everything checks out. “
“Goodbye,” I said, spinning on my heel.
“Wait,” the cop said.
“Yes,” I turned my head toward her. My hair flagged in the cool wind.
“A pretty girl like you shouldn't be out at night in a town like this.”
“Thanks for the advice,” I said. “But I'll take care of myself from now on." Without your worthless help, I thought. Ewww, she just hit on me.
“I'll have dispatch radio all the cops on duty about some loose horses,” she said. Ignoring her, I started down a creekside path next to the police station. The smell of chilly creek water flowing over rocks and between sandbar willows made me think back to five years before, when Rampart Rock helped me live again.
My undergrad degree in journalism had not been an immediate gateway to a decent writing gig. I'd worked as a cashier at Tohl's department store, making a dismal commission and minimum wage. Then I got a job writing for a small newspaper called the Rampart Rock Reporter.
I moved from my mom and dad's house in One Tree, Colorado to a dingy apartment above a downtown Rampart Rock bar. My writer's wages wouldn't cover much else, but I eventually moved to a better abode. Until I moved to Rampart Rock, college and laziness had made me unhealthy. Something about that town changed me inside.
Like many undergrad writer and artist types, I had felt obliged to binge on various chemicals to “enhance” my chosen medium. Copious amounts of alcohol and caffeine were my vices. Plus, I'd eaten fast food every day.
My body fattened. I had once been a cross-country runner and skier in high school, but my motivation fled as coursework and partying siphoned-away my free time. My post-academic days in One Tree had only served to plumpen me up more. I was depressed and jaded over my failed writing career. That failure was all the excuse I needed to binge on food and alcohol nightly.
The wind stirred the sandbar willows, ending my reverie. Back in the present, I tried to block out the pervasive memory of those strange animals I'd seen. Rampart Rock nights had been mine for so long, but now something bigger, and possibly meaner, stalked the streets. Those things were real, and they were out there, no matter what the cop thought.
Those...animals...weren't like anything I'd ever seen on the Internet or in books or in person either. They could've been anywhere, and I was alone on an unlit path in the early morning hours. The starlight and the blue streetlights made for sparse illumination. All I could do not to panic was to run and meditate, both of which I'd learned while running in Rampart Rock.
My first days in town coincided with a sharp rise in gas prices. I had to get to work on the west end of town, but my apartment was on the east side. Looking in the mirror before my first day of work, I said to the girl looking back, “You're fat. Why would you drive a couple miles to get to work. You're gonna walk and start eating right.”
I had pledged to do those things before, but this time my promises stuck for some reason. I walked and ate less junk food. Pretty soon, I started to feel better. Getting outside and seeing nature on my way to work invigorated me. My mirror image became noticeably skinnier. I could see my curves again. No longer did I feel short of breath or the stick of sweat- soaked pants after a long session in front of the television. Nor did I smell like fried food after a meal.
I walked for longer and longer everyday, exploring the back ways, side streets, and trails of Rampart Rock. Eventually, I had the urge to run again. I began to jog and hike on the weekends, when I could recover with a warm bubble bath and a glass of Pinot Grigio afterward.
Shortly after my return to an active life, I became aware of the Primal Movement. It happened when one of my cross country teammates named Karen found me on Facebook. We chatted about running.
“Hey girl,” Karen typed. “How have you been? I missed you.”
“Fine,” I typed. “And you?”
“Great. I found this great new way of exercising, which helped me lose weight after I had my first two kids, you know?”
“Not really. I'm still single.”
“Lucky you,” she said. “ Must be kinda lonely though.”
“Not really,” I said. “Plenty of time to myself, so I've been getting back into shape too.”
“I'm surprised you ever got out of shape.”
“Sitting on your butt and writing all day will do that. What's this new thing you're into?”
“They call it the Primal Movement. But for runners that means going barefoot to develop your natural form.”
“Barefoot? That's nuts. Our feet weren't made for running bare on concrete and asphalt.”
“No. No. We just think that, but it's all a bunch of BS. Read about it here...”
She sent me several links to barefoot runner sites belonging to people like Barefoot Ken Bob, Ted, and Jake. I read their stuff, dismissed it all, and started reading it again out of fascination. Eventually, these websites led me to read a book called Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, which ultimately changed my mind.
I stopped wearing shoes unless it was cold. My body adapted to moving naturally. I began to place high in amateur 10ks and finish well in marathons. The Primal Movement gained ground by way of the Internet, and a teeny minority of athletes like me began to believe that people should develop muscle tone and agility through natural activities like climbing, jumping, and lifting our own bodyweight. I got rid of all processed and sugary foods in my diet, and ate only meats, nuts, fruits, and vegetables—like a cave woman without all the BO. In turn, my body thrived.
Lost in my own history of epiphanies, I'd failed to keep my eyes out. Some thing, big and dark, stood on the path fifty feet in front of me.
By Andy Petersen
I didn't have to get closer to know what the creature was. When I stopped, it dropped down to the ground like a cat prowling. I looked behind me to see how far it was back to the police station, but the cop shop was out of sight. I was only halfway home.
When I turned back to the creature, I saw it creeping toward me. Even low to the ground, its hulking form loomed over the sandbar willows along the creek. It flowed along the path like a mercurial pool of darkness. A rustling in the thicket of willows to my right told me that the thing wasn't alone. I'd seen three of them chasing a dog before I went to the police station. Now they were after me.
Two sleek, black forms emerged from the brush to either side of me. At the same time, the monster in front of me leaped forward. It was too late to run the other direction. Half-crouched, frozen, and wide eyed, I waited for the creatures to pounce.
I already felt the pain of being torn apart alive. The noises of claws ripping my muscles and teeth gnawing my bones sounded in my mind. I knew these noises from the chicken and turkey I devoured for dinner nearly every evening. I tasted the lime salt goo of my own blood filling my mouth and lungs as I tried, in vain, to breathe. In the end, these horrible visions saved me by making me freeze.
Something whizzed past my head and caught the creature in the chest before it could take me down. The thing raised its snub-beaked face. It screeched and roared at the same time. This sudden cacophony unfroze me.
As the creature reared on its short, but muscular hind legs, I saw the silhouette of a white spear protruding from its chest. The two predators flanking me turned their heads in the direction from which the spear had come. I ran past the prone creature that had almost pounced on me, but my head turned back to see the other monsters raise an enraged cry and lope after a man—apparently the spear thrower—who was fifty feet in the other direction. I turned away from the nightmare and bolted.
Visions of the creatures consuming me lit an adrenaline-fueled fire in my heart and lungs. My legs and arms chugged up and forward to the rhythm of my breath. My steps were light and quick. I sprinted the remaining two miles back to my apartment.
Rampart Rock had no crime, so I never locked my door. Turning the knob, I threw my shoulder into the metal slab, ran inside, and turned the deadbolt. My apartment was on the bottom floor. Those creatures had looked so strong and fast that I was sure one of them would try to come through my front door any second. My spear-hurling savior couldn't have survived a close battle with one, let alone two, of those things either.
Regardless of my own hopelessness, I went down to my bedroom and grabbed a can of bear spray, a long bowie knife, and a Bushmaster .450 rifle my father had given me when he found out I was spending long stints in the dark wilderness alone. Up to that time, I'd locked my father's self-protection gifts in a crawl space under the upstairs neighbor's staircase. The outdoors weren't as perilous as everyone believed they were—or so I'd thought.
I clutched the Bushmaster and waited for the creatures to come. Their beady-eyed faces haunted my thoughts. They seemed to have come out of one of my half-remembered childhood nightmares.
My breathing eventually slowed, and I quit sweating. After an hour, I started to doubt my own grip on reality. Maybe the cop was right, and I had gone “batty.” Nearly laughing at myself, but still holding the gun, I peeked out my living room curtain and stopped breathing altogether.
The shadow of a man, who was wearing only some kind of kilt, dissolved into the grove of Gambel Oaks in the open space across the street. “No,” I said. “That means all of it really happened.” I was just as afraid of the spear-thrower as I was of those creatures. He knew where I lived, which meant he'd been following me.
“I can't tell the cops about those things,” I said to myself. “But I can call them on you Mr. Skirt Wearer.” I dialed the police station and told the dispatcher that someone was stalking me.
The dispatcher noticed I'd already put in a complaint about “loose horses from the fairgrounds chasing dogs" that day.
“Listen,” I said to him. “I'm not lying, and I'm not paranoid. Some guy was just outside my window watching me.”
“Sure,” the dispatcher said. “I'll send someone over ASAP.”
A smirking guy cop showed up at my door two hours later. After he'd asked me a few routine questions and filled out his report, he said, “Girls like you shouldn't be out alone at night."
"You people are like walking cliche dictionaries," I said.
The cop shrugged and said, "Off the record, it sounds like you just got a little spooked and your imagination went a little wacky. We keep this town safe, but you ought to be careful anyway.”
It was my turn to smirk at the officer as I held the front door open for him. “I'm a journalist,” I said. “Nothing is ever off the record for me.”
This is the second chapter in an ongoing blog novel. Read the other chapters by clicking on the links below. This and all other stories on Tim's Blog are written and copyrighted by me, Tim Miller. Professional illustrations are by Andy Petersen. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org regarding publishing or redistribution of this story. Please forgive any formatting errors. I'm a writer, not a code monkey.
Chapter Sixteen: The Suburbanites
Chapter Seventeen: The Paralibrarian
Chapter Eighteen: The Blighted
Chapter Nineteen: The Captive
by Andy Petersen
Tags: walker barefoot movement primal movement monster horror cop mcdougall born run runner running health
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