by students: Margaret Wadsworth, Michael Warker, & Adam Kimbrough and by teachers: Mr. Pete Follansbee & Ms. Allison Seay
Even though the backs of her thighs began to tighten and ache, she always looked forward to her early morning run, the last stars blinking out as the dawn’s orange light edged up the black-turning-to-blue early-morning sky.
Once she rolled out of bed, her body went into its routine: swiping open her iPhone, checking the outside temperature, and dressing accordingly before she slipped down the apartment building stairs, shaking off the early morning rust in her bones. This morning’s warmer air felt good, as she heard the door lock and buzz behind her, took the marble stairs in two quick steps and a bound, and then strode down the lamplit street, off on her approximately three-mile loop run.
And yes, about a third of the way through her run, her right hamstring was still a little tight, but after she finished the slight uphill, her body warmed and hit an even pace, almost a glide, like one of those last lit objects in the sky moving through space. And as the sun continued its push up the sky, she passed by the gas station that always priced their gasoline higher by about ten or fifteen cents; as a result there were fewer customers there than at the nearby Exxon or Sunoco stations. As she ran by, she imagined a gas station that really didn’t want business, that was some sort of front for dark schemings and machinations, shadowy mechanics whistling in the dark about plans that would one day be unveiled into action, so that, yes, we would all become unsuspecting victims: our morning coffee somehow tasting different, the streets we drove to work somehow altered, and our personal lives–as we looked across the table to our loved ones–somehow askew or tragically turned or twisted.
She was happy she only had to ride her bike to her nearby job; there wasn’t too much that could go wrong she thought, as she bounded up the stairs, opened her apartment door, and saw Zach, groggy and hunched at the kitchen table, his lips pushing down toward that first cup of morning coffee.
But she hadn’t always been happy, and Zach hadn’t always been at the apartment with her. Things had not always been as they were now, just as things were not likely to stay the same. This was a recent realization for Lucy, that the world could be both beautiful and unfair, generous and cruel at once.
Falling in love with Zach, for example—one of the most beautiful feelings she had ever felt—had come at a price. The very thing that gave her the most joy had also been a source of ache and agony. She loved him: his eyes—almond-shaped, glistening, dark as wells; his face open and readable like a kind globe; his way of telling stories; his gestures; his laugh. All of these things she loved. And she loved living with him, too, even when he irritated her. She could live with him for a hundred years and never understand why he folds his shirts with a crease down the middle, why he won’t turn the faucet off when he brushes his teeth, why he lets the tea kettle whistle so long before he moves it from the eye. And why did he have to listen to his music so loudly? And why did he have to slurp his coffee instead of sipping it? Lately, as soon as she noticed herself being critical, she tried quickly to re-start, to consciously redirect her energy. She wanted to be gentle. She wanted to appreciate every moment.
Even now, watching him stare into a coffee cup, was a moment she wanted to savor: early spring, sunlight across the kitchen table, the open window with a morning breeze, his rust-colored hair sleepy and soft.
But from the window came a piercing scream, startling Lucy so badly that she jumped backwards into the kitchen table, knocking over Zach’s coffee cup. Lucy’s heart sank as she realized her moment was over, and she felt that whatever came next would not be one she wanted to savor. She and Zach looked at each other, eyes wide, before running outside to see what had happened.
Upon opening their front door, the two saw nothing. Then another scream ripped through the air, startling the couple into a run. As they ran, Lucy realized another thing she loved about being with Zach: he always knew exactly what she was thinking. And while that could be both a blessing and a curse at times, Lucy had to appreciate it as they ran, the wind whistling strongly past them, almost as if it were trying to get them to turn around.
As if she wasn’t sore enough from her morning run, this extra bit of exercise had Lucy’s muscles aching. As much as she wanted to stop, she knew she had to find the source, and the cause, of those screams. She glanced at Zach, seeing her own determination reflected in his eyes.
Lucy and Zach began to slow down, feeling as though they must be near the source of the screams. As if on cue, a third scream sounded, drawing the couple’s eyes to the same gas station Lucy passed every morning on her run, the one whose owner always gave her the creeps, whose high prices were what scared customers away, whose front door was now shattered, hanging off its rusty hinges and creaking as it swayed in the breeze.
Zach, as if carried by the breeze, walked through the remains of the front door towards the owner’s crumpled body. Lucy screamed and reached for her iPhone to call the police, but Zach grabbed her arm, taking the phone out of her trembling hand. He turned and ran towards the back of the store. Reaching the door to the back room, he knocked three times and whistled. Three men in tattered clothes opened the door with guns drawn. They smiled and ushered him into the backroom, leaving Lucy in the desolated gas station.
Thoughts began to dart in her head. Her heart began to ache as she wondered what Zach had done. She began to question their past together: his late nights playing poker with friends she never got to meet, his job as a mechanic giving him a few too many bumps and bruises, and his heated midnight phone calls with “clients worried about their cars.” She made her way towards the back room’s rusty, metal door. She knocked three times and whistled, just like Zach.
There was no answer. She knocked again, and then began slamming on the door. Pushing harder, the old door gave way and she fell onto the floor of the mysterious room. She pushed herself onto her feet and began to scan the room for Zach. She found, instead, a trashcan filled to the brim with shredded papers, and with a newly cleaned gun sitting on top. Then the glimmer of a key brought her over to the table in the middle of the room. She recognized it as her apartment key immediately; she clutched it, holding it close to her quickly beating heart as she made her way outside towards her home.
About half way home, apartment key in hand, Lucy abruptly stopped when she recognized something. Why was she relentlessly chasing after Zach, when it was obvious he wanted nothing to do with her? He was just a useless beast, eating her food and sleeping in her house. He’d never spend any time with her, but instead cared only about himself. And now, he had just ditched her at a time when she needed him most. This was the last time she’d have this scrounger around her if she could help it. Having come to her senses, Lucy knew what she had to do.
Turning around with haste, she fast-walked the dirt road back to the gas station where the worthless bum left her. After passing through the broken old door’s wooden frame, Lucy went straight for the paper-filled trashcan, her eyes focused on the shiny, silver pistol sitting on top, and her mind completely ignoring the dormant owner slouched in the corner. She picked up the gun and held it firmly in her hand and checked to see if at least one bullet was present. Clearing the doorway, Lucy raised her weapon and scanned for Zach. Seeing nothing, she begins to walk forward when suddenly Zach stuck his head up from some sort of secret passage in the floorboards. As soon as he spotted the pistol in Lucy’s hand, he snatched his own from the holster on his right hip and clumsily took a shot from outside the trapdoor. Lucy heard the whistle of the bullet as it flew inches from her left arm and then sliced through an oil barrel encased in rust. Lucy felt her heart ache, but wasted no time in pulling the trigger. She fired one round back at Zach, striking him directly in the middle of his neck. Lucy dropped the gun and exited to the main room until glancing up to find the owner hunched at the doorway. He points his finger at her and whispers in a weak voice, “I’ll have what she’s having.”