She was running. She was always running, but this time it was different, this time there was a void, three days of darkness, and a promise.
The promise had not been hers to make, but it had been hers to keep. And in this topsy-turvy world with no relevant regulations, she thought it wise to comply with the outline of the bargain.
Three days, that’s how long the clock had been ticking, that’s how long she’d been running in the black, that’s how long an eternity could last when stretched around someone like a blanket. Up until then, she’d been a normal albeit hormone-ridden, teenager. A knock on the door that should have been her Saturday night date had been a promissory note on her mother’s longstanding debts.
The guy who’d been on the other side of that knock was short and squatty. His wool suit had been worn down to a few threadbare patches that seemed to be strung together by sheer force of will. She leaned out of the door to ask him what he needed, and was quickly greeted by the smell of tobacco and mothballs that rolled from the dirty bowler hat that was perched on a meaty roll of his head.
At first she’d thought that she might actually laugh out loud in the man’s face, but her manners had held out. After all, this man must be in a great deal of distress or need to go wandering from door to door in those clothes. She’d thought that he would ask for food or money or maybe he would want to fill them full of stories from the good book.
But after a moment of silence in which she’d felt the intensity of his stare marking her pale flesh, he’d asked for her mother, and she’d obliged, wondering if this man was someone from her mother’s past, someone who could fill in the blanks on a life her mother refused to discuss.
Hiding behind the doorway, she’d learned of the promise that had been made, of the sacrifice that was now needed.
It was only a week.
Those had been his words, his guarantee to her that she would be allowed to continue on with her life when the debt was fulfilled.
Her mother had not seemed to care this way or that about the arrangements, only that she herself would be free of this burden and that it would be I who made the payment in full.
“It’s only running, and you do that all the time anyway.” Had been her flippant response.
And although the carelessness with which it was tossed into the air had stung, it had been the truth; she did run a lot. When she ran she liked the way that the earth seemed to tilt around her, pouring through her body until it came through changed and she knew for once that she had affected something.
This type of running was different
This time there was nothing. She was running through a void, and she could feel it pressing in on her, and everyday it changed her a little more; the darkness creeping in like a stain. She wanted to stop, to take a breath and let the tightening in her muscles ease for a moment, but she knew that it wouldn’t be possible.
The man had said one week: 7 days, 168 hours, 10,080 minutes, and 604,800 seconds.
If you sewed this much time together, they could easily form an infinity of unchanging years in the abyss.
Time bends. Time does not exist.
She’d been running for three days, the man in the bowler hat had whispered it to her earlier. And even though she had been unable to see him, she had not missed his scent as he exhaled on her neck, as she felt the inside of his thoughts turn against her.
Earlier it had been three days and counting.
In her mind she could she all of the movements in the heavens. She could feel each star burning its brightest against her bare flesh.
Four days to go—
But she knew she would never reach the goal, knew the debt would go unpaid, and something else the man in the hat whispered to her makes her wonder how long her mother had owed this promise, how many daughters she had burning through in her half-hearted attempts to pay it back. A stitch, previously sewn and embedded in her muscles reached up to squeeze its fiery grip around her longs.
She wonders what her mom got in the bargain—wonders if she will share her secrets, her bounty, when everything is done and quickly realizes it is a moot point. It is unlike her mother to share that much of herself with a child, let along any rewards she may have reaped along the way.
Maybe she was on Olympus, this whole thing some cruel punishment handed out by the gods. Maybe that is why she feels so close to the stars and so very far from reality.
Why did they have to take her eyes? Why leave her running through the dark? Why leave her stranded where she cannot even shed a tear?
Her lungs burn more with each breath, her feet leaking out small amounts of blood with each step. She can feel the end pressing down on her with the same weight and stench as the man’s breath when he whispered her timeline into her ear.
For a moment she thinks about her mother and whether or not she will miss her, but she immediately decides not. She cries out in her hopelessness and hears no echo to greet her.
And of course, she keeps running.