A while back we announced the AJ Hayes Memorial Writing Contest.
There's still plenty of time to enter. Here's a recap of the rules;
– Flash fiction (under 1000 words)
– Crime fiction, mystery, noir, suspense are all accepted
– AJ loved to write poetry, so that’s good too
-Your story must feature a character named Bill.There are some great prizes up for grabs, cashy money for the winner as well as publication in Needle Magazine. Most of all, though, there's simply the chance to honour and remember one of the community's best people.
I've had a short story in my head for a couple of weeks now, and the contest reminded me it's been a while since I've written any flash. This piece isn't for entry into the contest, if I'm honest I don't really think it even plays by the rules. It's not a crime, mystery or noir. It's simply a story I wanted to tell.
Get your stories in by June 1st, in Word format, to email@example.com
I love running after dark. The air is crisp, it feels pure. It hits your lungs like a cup of cold water.
I run along the path beside the football pitches. Above the music in my earphones I can heat shouts and laughing of the people playing. On one pitch I can see middle aged men letting off steam after a day at work, their replica football tops stretched across beer bellies, the floodlights reflecting off their scalp through thinning hair. On the other pitch I can see teenagers, maybe one of Bill’s youth clubs or a local team.
It’s been a while since I’ve been out. In my head they can all see it. In my head they’re all pausing to watch me, to talk about how I’m out of shape or slow. In reality, nobody notices. Just another woman running around the edge of the pitch at night.
Before the accident I wouldn’t have cared. Before the accident they wouldn’t have time to notice me. I’d have been going up through the gears and moving quicker than any of them.
At the Polmadie footbridge I turn down the hill that takes me to the side of the river. I leave the light behind as the floodlights from the football pitches disappear beyond the crest of the hill. The darkness swallows me as the path levels out at the bottom of the slope. There are no lights down here, just trees and shadows. My heart grows a couple of sizes in my chest every time I come this way, but the fear helps me, it pushes me to keep going, to hit those final miles.
It's cold and wet. My brain knows the only people likely to be on this path at this time of night are other runners. Nobody will be hanging out here on the off chance they'll be able to mug a passerby.
I'm rusty. I’ve been sitting on my arse for too long. My Doctor told me to take it easy after the accident, but I went further than that. Six months of sitting on the sofa eating Ben & Jerry's and watching Veronica Mars DVD's. Waiting for the phone to stop ringing. Waiting to hear Terry’s keys in the door. I can feel every minute of that time now. Not in my legs or my feet, not even in my damaged spine; I feel it in my lungs. They're burning. I fight it, try to breathe in deep, from my belly.
This was all second nature to me before the accident. Like driving a car, operating the gears with one hand, the pedals with my feet, the steering wheel with my other hand. Like driving a car. Easy.
But sometimes cars can go off the road.
In the darkness ahead I see movement. The shadows twitch then gather around something, and the dusk turns into the shape of a running man. He’s large, not a natural runner, he rocks from side to side as he strides. For a second I imagine a blade in his hand and I fight the panic. He smiles. It’s a friendly smile. Then comes the nod of the head, the code passed between all runners at this time of night. He senses that I’m tense and goes wide on the path, giving me plenty of room. Through it all, I keep going. Breath, run, move, live, go.
My spine starts to hurt, but I keep going. My Doctor told me it would hurt for a while. My therapist tells me it will hurt for a lot longer. Association issues, she says. Grief. A phantom pain for something I can’t change, something I’ll never be able to change.
On the far bank of the river I can see the modern apartment buildings, the new face of Glasgow. People leave their curtains drawn late into the night forgetting there is a path across from them hidden away in the trees. I’ve seen all manner of things from here. Couples fighting, couples screwing, couple’s breaking up or making up. All the things that me and Terry will never get to do again.
The fire builds in my lungs. I suck in the cold air to put out the flames. That sip of ice cold water. It hits home better than any drug. I manage to pick up my pace again, feeling the old me push on out, easing into the run. I come around the corner and the path straightens out on the run-up to King’s Bridge. On the road above, the bridge connects traffic between the north and south bank of the Clyde. Down here on the path, it leads into Glasgow Green, the public park. The streetlights from above cast light onto this stretch of the path.
As I near the bridge I feel a flicker of doubt. The streetlights cover me in light, but by contrast the path beneath the bridge is in total darkness. Again the fears. Again my back hurts, and I remember I’m alone out here, and that I’ll be alone when I get home, too. Nobody there anymore.
I reach the edge of the shadows and there’s movement.
Hoods. A group of kids. Teenagers. Half a dozen of them, right in front of me. They move around me, on either side. They’re close. I feel them staring at me. They move. I flinch. I think I flinch, anyway. Then I get it; they’re moving out of my way, making room for me. I catch one of their faces beneath the hood. A girl. She looks about twelve. She offers me a smile. I laugh.
Past the bridge, I’m into the Green now and my back is finally saying, no, it’s time to stop. I slow to a walk, and my breath comes sharp and hot. I laugh, at myself, at my fear, at the world.
Fuck it. What else can it do to me?
I wait for a moment, then I start moving again.