It was Wednesday, and that meant waking up early to do his run. He thought about sleeping in. The warmth from Butch, his old mutt, was convenient, but he decided to head out anyways.
After the run, the usual feeling of mediocre accomplishment that largely went unnoticed washed over him. Maybe he did need a running partner after all.
Hogan had read up on the subject. He knew that having a running partner kept you honest, accountable. Any more than one running partner increased the accountability.
On days that people don’t feel like running, when it seems it’s not worth it, such as Wednesdays, having that partner waiting for you, depending on you, giving you worth, could mean the difference between giving in and persevering.
He knew this. Hogan’s problem was that he had always done things on his own, and running was no exception. In fact, he ran to be alone. He knew that no one that he fraternized with on a daily basis actually enjoyed running, neither did any of his friends. The threat of social interaction was remarkably low when he went on a run, which was what he preferred.
He would always head out before dawn, at dusk, or on a trail that wasn’t highly inhabited by other humans. Any time or place that was sure to not attract too much attention was all the better.
“Ma,” Hogan yawned, “I’m heading out for a run.”
“At this hour? It’s raining you know.”
“Be careful Hogan.”
Hogan was out the door before his mom could relay this last bit to him.
To Hogan, having a running partner seemed unnecessary. Sure, there were days where he felt like quitting, succumbing to the pain of running on empty, running with no goals in mind, just running regardless. He always found the strength to trudge on through the morass of weariness though. It was a game he played with himself called “When Will The Willpower Finally Fail?”
Remarkably, he would harvest the most willpower in the worst of days. Raining, freezing cold, unknown territory; whatever the world could throw at Hogan, it all allowed him to muster untapped power from within to conquer whatever problem he was faced with on that day. At least he had that.
“I’m sorry to hear about your dad Hogan. How are you holding up?”
“I know it’s not easy to deal with something like this. Do you have everything squared away with the hospital and such? What did the doctors say?”
“Everything is handled. We have our instructions from the doctors. Don’t worry about us Brenda, we’ll be ok.”
“I just know that you are so close to your dad, and…”
“Yeah, I know. Look I’m gonna head out for a run, but I’ll keep in touch, ok?”
The days that threatened Hogan with failure the most were always the easy, patternized, day-like-every-other-day days. What was the point of those days?
The point, he would tell himself, was to build a base. A foundation of miles ran so that he can, in the future, run even more miles.
At least that’s what he had read. It reminded Hogan of everything else wrong in the world. It was the proverbial hamster wheel of life, and we were the hamsters, constantly running for the next milestone in life just because that was the plan that was taught to us. That’s when we realize what a waste it’s all been, spinning clockwise, to the right, always. Then the hamster gets off the wheel and slowly decays by the prison wall.
Soon, even the rainy days became monotonous. The harder it rained, the more Hogan didn’t care. He would just shelter himself with a jacket; a forcefield of polyester, garnering protection from the torrential downpour. He wondered if he was learning how to deal with the rain or merely hiding from the problem. Come freezing cold, unknown territories, or whatever else, he had ways to mask the problem.
Hogan became adept at hiding rather than running. What was the point of any day now?
So Hogan finally caved to his willpower one Wednesday. He figured people probably thought he would quit at some point anyways. He decided he would make this run his last. He would take it nice and easy, try to enjoy it for what it was. If this was going to be his last run, he wanted it to at least mean something.
Dear Mama and Papa,
You won’t find me in my room when you wake up. I know this may be selfish, or idiotic even, but I know that I have to do this. This will be my last run. I cannot go on another run with no damn meaning. What is the point of it all? The greatest thinkers have asked this very question time and time again, and not one could hammer it down. Do you know what that means? It means that we really do exist just out of pure happenstance. There is no reason for our existence. There is no reason for me to run except that I do. I cannot run in a world with no reason. So this will be my last run. I won’t be taking my phone, nor my keys, nor anything else besides my watch and my self. Please do not fear, nor fret. This has NOTHING to do with you guys. Anyone else really. It’s all on me. I plan to run as long as I can until I cannot go any further. We’ll let nature take its course as they say. Please take care of Butch, he’s an old dog and needs close watching. See you guys past the finish line,
Heading out the door around five in the morning, Hogan decided to do something that he had always thought about, but never had the guts to: run without a plan. He had always structured his runs, meticulously planning them out so that he could get back to his meticulously planned out life. He usually ran with water at the ready, his phone and bluetooth headphones, and music. On this last run, he left it all behind.
The run started out well enough. When he rounded the second corner to the right, he realized he was just running the same route he had always run before. Afraid he had already messed up his last run, Hogan quickly started to look for another path. He saw a small side street on the right that he had passed every day. Hogan always wondered what was down there.
Turning down the dark street, Hogan realized the mistake he made by veering down this path. There were no lights on this street, and at this hour of the morning, it was even difficult for him to see his own shoes.
It was brisk out when Hogan had left his house, but now he was downright cold. Hogan had never really gotten colder on runs since his body heated up within a half mile after starting his run. He got chills from the thought of what kind of sinister demise was awaiting him down this lonely street.
After passing the third house on the left, he saw something move up ahead. Slowing down a bit, he looked back at the comfort of the main road that he had always run on. The allure of going back to status quo was strong. The reliable old route beckoned Hogan to come back, calling to him through the darkness. He actually tried to stop and go back, but then he saw the movement again out of the corner of his eye.
Was it a dog? Or a cat? Maybe a mountain lion? Hogan knew mountain lions have been known to lurk up here on these streets, especially at this hour.
Remembering it was his last run anyways, Hogan kept going down the street, albeit at a cautious pace. He felt a gentle breeze crawl down his back, his shirt, and into his soul. Everything in his earthly body was suggesting to go back to safety.
“Come what may,” Hogan heaved between heavy breaths.
Hogan saw it move again, this time in an awkward, jaggedy fashion. It was definitely something big, like a bear that had quickly stood on its hind legs to impose its strength, and then dropped back down to all four just as fast. It was waiting for Hogan.
Taking advantage of the refreshing morning air, Hogan took in a deep breath and kept going forward. As he got within twenty yards of the mysterious shadow, it jumped up and started towards him. Hogan quickly shuffled across the street and readied himself to succumb to the bloodthirsty beast.
Hogan gulped, swallowing his fear.
“This is it, the end of my run. At least I will die with some dignity.”
Hogan thought about how they would find him: Bits and pieces all over the place, blood smattered throughout the street. Residents would have to try and go to work and school later in the day despite the carnage. Hopefully the coroner would tell his parents that he put a fight, but the beast was just too big and that there was nothing anyone could do.
Hogan closed his eyes just as the Shadowbeast got close enough to mount an attack. The Shadowbeast wrenched upwards, displaying its sheer size for Hogan to fear. Then in a flash, it deflated. Hogan knew it was not of this world. That’s when a faint light creaked into view, and Hogan realized what the Shadowbeast actually was: a torn-up garbage bag fluttering in the wind.
“How foolish!” thought Hogan.
He was so afraid of that garbage bag. In the darkness, it looked like a creature of the night. He was so sure that whatever it was, it would be making sure he didn’t go back on his promise of this being his last run.
Hogan was elated that he was, in his mind, ready to die honorably just a moment ago. That familiar breeze acquainted itself with his back yet again to offer support.
“What had just happened?” thought Hogan. “I’ve never felt that afraid in my life before. Hell, I’ve never felt that brave either.”
Hogan heard his name in the wind. He stopped running to listen again. He quickly spun around, but no one was there. Except for the moon. And the darkness. And the garbage bag.
Continuing on and heading past the last house on the street, he came to an intersection. He decidedly decided, maybe for the first time in his life, to go right.
Being that it was so dark still, Hogan wondered how he was able to perceive that the garbage bag was, in fact, just a garbage bag. There were no lights on that lonely street; he was shrouded in darkness. Hogan glanced down at his hands. There was a comforting glimmer on them, allowing him to see the blue-green veins on the back of his hands.
The moon was shining down, giving off just enough light to make sure he knew he wasn’t alone. Hogan had always been aware of the presence of the moon, but never paid much attention to it, until today.
The Moon wasn’t always out; some days it would be elsewhere, shining its light on another hapless runner. On Hogan’s last run though, The Moon made sure to be there for him. Hogan appreciated that.
With a new sense of power and courage imparted in him from the company of The Moon, Hogan set out to feel that rush of heroism he felt when confronting the garbage bag Shadowbeast. He looked ahead to see if he could “see” anything again in the darkness. The darkness wouldn’t comply with his wishes.
About halfway down this new street, Hogan heard something. Scratching noises, to the right side and a little behind him. No…shuffling noises, like someone was outside a door trying to get in. Hogan quickened his pace and dared not look back, at least not yet. He would get a nice lead on it, a good distance, then glance back.
The sound was insistent on making Hogan nervous. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t let him out of its sight. It was mocking him, assuring him that he would never outrun it. Hogan wanted to hide, to circle back and go home. He instinctively reached for his bluetooth to call 911. It wasn’t there.
Then he remembered—his watch! His watch had a light on it. Maybe he could blind the murderer that was following him in the darkness.
Hogan gathered himself and devised a plan in his head. He would blind the murderer, then when the murderer put his hands up to his eyes to shield the light, Hogan would kick him in the shin, thus incapacitating him. Then, when the murderer was truly vulnerable, Hogan would kick him in the face, knocking him out and defeating the enemy. It was foolproof.
Slowly moving his right arm up towards his chest, Hogan stealthily slid his left hand over and on to his watch, positioning his index finger over the “Light” button. His hands were shaking, heart was thumping, fingers trembling. Running was difficult, but he managed. He couldn’t stop now. Not now, maybe not ever. Well, at least not while the deranged murderer was gaining on him.
Springing into action, Hogan twisted his body around to face the perpetrator, raised his watch and shone a light unto the murderer’s doomed visage.
The murderer screamed out, collapsed and sprawled out on the ground, writhing in pain. The plan had worked! His watch did more damage than he had imagined.
The light from Hogan’s watch had mortally wounded the murderer. Standing over the heap of agony, Hogan again noticed his old friend, The Moon, had come back to help. The Moon shot a death ray of light at the cold, dark figure on the floor. The murderer, who had haunted Hogan’s every move, was put out of its misery. Hogan high-fived The Moon and, together, they continued Hogan’s last run.
“Hogan…Hogan, we need you…hogan…”
Hogan was invincible. He glanced down at his watch. It had been about an hour since he left his house, and he wasn’t looking to head back any time soon. His “last run” had thus far been an enthralling success. Searching the darkness for a chance to thwart more threats, a shadowy figure materialized ahead on the corner of the street to the right. It looked as if the figure was on the edge of an elementary school.
The human-like figure emitted a bruiseish color, bubbling with dark energy. Hogan could smell the evil even from this distance. It smelled of ammonia and sulfur. This is what death would look like if it had become mortal. This was Death Incarnate.
Hogan knew, without doubt, that there was absolutely no way he was going to let this evil terrorize the world. With the darkness at his back, and The Moon lighting the way, he head forth to confront Death Incarnate.
“Moon, why weren’t you there when I needed you most?”
“I’ve always been here for you Hogan, you just never asked for help.”
“I’ve been on so many meaningless runs.”
“I know. I should have said something.”
“I know you were there. I just took you for granted. I’m sorry…”
“Don’t be sorry Hogan. I’m just glad you are finally realizing the power you have inside you.”
“Power? And what about…”
Before Hogan could ask The Moon about the nature of the darkness, and why, now, he was able to see things that weren’t always there, he realized they had come upon the corner of the street.
Not hesitating, Hogan stepped up to confront Death Incarnate. He had his watch light ready to go. He backed up a bit, drew a breath…then charged. The figure floated ghastly right past Hogan, leaving him dazed.
Hogan followed the figure across the street, but the deathly figure emitted a power that made it difficult for Hogan to keep track. The figure kept floating, leaping, vanishing in and out of existence from one point to the next.
Hogan tried to keep up. Finally, the figure seemed to find a home down the street a bit, in the lawn of a church.
As he charged in with the last of his willpower towards the elusive figure, he shone the damning light from his watch on it. Hogan was met with what looked like a scarecrow, not the evil frame he had assumed.
As Hogan went closer to investigate, a glaring, burning light permeated the entire street, making it look as if the sun had suddenly, finally, realized its power and decided to kill the residents of this planet with its tremendous might. Hogan grasped at his head, his body; it felt as if the light was suffocating him. The Moon was nowhere to be seen. Hogan longed for the darkness.
After struggling for a couple of minutes, the light vanished. The scarecrow was gone. So was The Moon. He was alone, cold, wet. A void had swallowed him. It felt as if he had slipped into a dreamstate. Then, a righteous chorus of voices spoke to him.
“Hogan: Your time has arrived. You must come with us. Only those that have seen the light, felt the heat, approached the shadowy figure, are selected. Although you had plans of making this your last run, I assure you, you will be running again. We need you Hogan, our world needs you. You are absolutely perfect for the job. Our world is dying. It is being consumed by a false light, by lies. Only those that have been able to utilize the darkness, those that are not afraid of the darkness, those that understand the darkness is just as important as the light, can help this world now. That is you. The Moon is counting on you as well. Your imperfection is what makes you so valuable to us. Please, accept our plead, and promise to continue to run.”
“I, I…can’t. I’m tired. I’m done with running, because running is done with me. Why run when it is so much easier to sleep…”
Hogan awoke from his dreamstate back on the street. It was day. The Moon was still nowhere to be seen. His watch with the light on it was missing from his wrist. The school and church were gone. All that was left was the street and the scarecrow, which stood about a football field away from him. Hogan kept his eyes on the scarecrow and slowly approached it. The scarecrow stood looking lifelessly back at him.
Thunder shook the sky. Lightning created intricate patterns of deathly beams that bolted down all around him. A mighty wind and rain started to fall. The elements were all trying to keep Hogan from reaching the scarecrow.
As Hogan slogged fifty yards closer, the world threw the most devastating earthquake it could muster at him. The ground split open underneath him, the street parting like the Red Sea. Hogan tried as best as he could to keep from falling in.
Struggling, he dove for a tree root that was sprouting from under the street, hoping it would be enough to hold him steady until the earthquake subsided. He fell into the crevice the earthquake had created, but the root was just strong enough to keep him from falling in.
The world did not seem to like that. It angrily shook Hogan harder than ever, causing the root to start to come loose. Panicking, Hogan looked around for another way out. He was too far from the surface to get up, and below him was nothing but darkness.
“The darkness!” realized Hogan.
Seeing no other way, Hogan decided to take a final leap of faith into the darkness. Anything was better than dying scared and alone, hanging pathetically onto a tree root. Just before he let go, a shadow befell him from above.
The scarecrow stood above him, looking dead in Hogan’s eyes. Terrified, Hogan froze. He stared at the silhouette looking down at him. The scarecrow twitched a bit, and then started to extend its hand downward, the right arm of the scarecrow growing in length, creeping its way slowly towards Hogan.
When its arm got within a couple of feet, Hogan finally realized who the scarecrow was. It was himself but from before. Decked out in running gear, his past-self had on headphones, a fuel belt, a phone armband, sunglasses. The arm being extended down by Hogan’s past-self housed the same GPS watch that Hogan had just used a little while ago to defeat the murderer.
The light on the watch suddenly turned on, shining brightly down on Hogan, blinding him. The hand of his past-self was within reach. He had a choice.
“Come and take my hand. We will complete our final run, finish what we started. Why do you fight it? Isn’t this what you wanted? We can…sleep…now…”
Thinking of how wonderful sleep had sounded, Hogan reached up and grabbed the hand of his past-self. It was familiar and comforting. It started to pull him up, and Hogan knew it would be ok.
Flashes of his family, his friends, his dog, a woman he had never met before but loved intimately, The Moon…they all flicked through Hogan’s mind. Hogan opened his eyes.
“Sleeping will have to wait.”
In one fell swoop, he let go of the root and let his weight pull the arm of his past-self down with him towards the darkness. As he and his past-self plummeted down, he felt unusually reassured. Hogan looked at his past-self, and saw that it was weeping. His past-self knew that it would die. Hogan knew that he would live.
Hogan landed lightly on his feet back in front of his house, which stood to the left. His past-self fell violently on the street, shattering nevermore.
He looked at his watch. It was 7 o’clock; two hours had passed, and the sun was starting to peek out from behind the hills. He could see The Moon, faintly, tears of relief in its eyes. It was a hell of a run, but at least it wouldn’t be his last.
A gentle breeze reassured Hogan he would be alright. The breeze lifted him from the street and cradled him into his bed. The Moon watched over him, ever so closely. It made sure Hogan knew he always had a running partner waiting for him when he was ready.
All Hogan could think of was getting back to his daily runs, even the Wednesdays. Especially the Wednesdays. He thought of his parents again, his dog, his friends, hell, even Brenda. Hogan closed his eyes to welcome the comfort of the dark.