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#5 Fresh Air, Long Run (2/3)
Welcome to Story Press #5. If you missed the fourth edition and the first part of Fresh Air, Long Run, click here.
Last time around, we met Michael, a strange young man with a bad memory, a passion for running and a protective streak for breakfasts. Michael learned of a murder that took place in the park opposite Mrs Goodenough’s house.
Read on to find out what happened next…
#5 Fresh Air, Long Run (2/3)
Next morning, Michael languished in his bed having tossed and turned all night. The sun pressed in through the gap in his curtains and no matter where he turned his head it fell on his eyes. He watched the space between his bed and the window where the dust swirled in the shaft of light slowly, and he reflected on the woman who was murdered. Who was she? Had he run past her? Had he waved at her and said good morning! in the way he was so proud always to have done? Had she looked at him before she died? Had his been the last non-murderous face she saw in this life?
At this, a face flashed in front of him: freckled, a spread of crows’ feet, shining blue eyes and a golden wave of hair. He sat up in his bed and craved a mouthful of water, a river of water to run through him. His head pounded. His mind wandered through dark caves.
He stumbled his way down the stairs and cooked a meagre breakfast, sat with a coffee and read the paper. It had a two-page spread on the murdered woman.
DEATH KNOCKS FOR LOCAL COMMUNITY AS WOMAN STRANGLED IN PARK
There was a picture of her. She struck him as familiar. He had seen her, coat buttoned to the chin, her bulldog’s lead wrapped twice around her wrist, standing with her weight to one side as she stared down at the dog. She glanced up as he ran past her and they shared a look, as though they each knew the fate that awaited her. Her face appeared to him as he had seen it some time before: searching, intrigued. But what did she have to do with him?
Reading on, Michael learned her name: Chloe Campbell. She was a sports photographer. She shot the Olympic games last year. Very impressive girl, they said. The first of her family to leave the town.
His chest fluttered. His hands couldn’t keep still. Her horrible eyes on the page wouldn’t leave him. He folded the page in half to cover her face; it crumpled loudly beneath his hands and sent his spine into a shiver.
His eye caught a crucial detail that animated the whole story: she was strangled not with hands, but with a very thin material, such as a wire or string.
He thought of an old movie he had seen where the bad guy lies down on the backseat of a car, fishing line wrapped twice about each hand. When the victim climbs into the driver’s seat, he silently sits forward and pulls the line tightly about their neck against the headrest.
And then he thought of an advert for fishing supplies in an old southern American rag, where an overweight redneck sits in his boat, wearing a checked shirt beneath dungarees, a fish hanging gleefully from his line. The words, ‘Come to Mike’s Tackle Supplies For All Your Fishing Needs. You’re Bound To Get A Catch!’ cover one side of the picture in abrasively yellow type.
And then he stretched for his coffee but knocked it over, sending the searing brown liquid across the table, soaking the newspaper, and slapping the linoleum flooring.
He picked up the cup, threw it in the sink, wiped down the table and floor with a cloth and dumped the soggy paper in the bin. Damp coffee lines still stretched about the table in faint circles.
In those minutes, something changed within him and he felt a new determination. He went upstairs and put on his running gear, stretched in the landing and headed out down the grey street and towards the entrance to the park.
That day, he remembered his run. It was hard not to. There was a faint breeze that pricked the hairs on his arms and neck. The clouds were more grey than white and they oppressively filled the sky. The trees wavered down at him, as though begging for his attention. He saw the same faces he always saw - the father of the family with the pug-faces; the old man sitting with a coffee on the bench, blowing on his drink to cool it down; the young, interlinked couple who smiled constantly. Except this time the father of the pug-faced did not respond to his good morning! and the old man with the coffee did not even look at him. And the couple walked side-by-side but with a definite space between them. They did not even hold hands. They wore plain expressions, without a smile close to their faces.
It was not long until he ran with his head down, as fast as possible, hoping to have it all over and done with in the next moments. Between heaves and breaths, he questioned himself: What is happening here? What has got into these people? Do they think worse of me for all of this?
He turned a corner and the next, his mind sprinting through these questions faster than his legs carried him, until he careened down one side of a hill and was stopped in his course by police tape. He followed the tape with his eyes, wondering where it ended in order to find a path through.
‘Excuse me, sir,’ a short policewoman said. ‘You can’t be here.’
‘I’m sorry, I was just on my morning run. I didn’t know you had blocked the path.’
‘D’you not read about this murder?’
‘Well, you’d do best to avoid the park for a few days.’
Michael nodded, looked about him as the wind wavered the hairs at the back of his neck.
‘You can go around and carry on home.’
‘How long will you be here?’
‘As long as we need to be.’ The short woman looked him up and down, and a moment later, continued: ‘What are you doing here, sir?’
‘Yes, but why here? Everybody knows what happened here. Why would you want to come here?’
‘I always run this route.’
‘Didn’t just want to come and check out the crime scene?’
‘Not at all.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘Michael. What’s that any business of yours?’
‘What’s your last name?’ The woman took out a notepad and pen.
‘Listen, I’ll be on my way. I didn’t mean anything by it. I don’t know the woman, I don’t know what she has to do with me but I don’t want any part of it.’
At that, Michael started to jog again. He left the path and crossed the dewy grass, around the tape and onto the path on the other side. He looked back and saw the short policewoman watching him as he ran around those wavering trees and out the park.
Michael had a friend called David who lived three blocks over in a top floor flat. He lived like a house cat, roaming from one part of the building to the next, finding new spots to doze off in and new foods to nibble at. Michael visited him after his run and told him what he thought of the Chloe Campbell debacle. David made them tea and they sat on the sofa watching cartoons. As Michael finished recounting events, a small boy materialised a ginormous hammer and squashed to the floor a stealthy cat in a long coat and hat who had been following him.
‘Sounds to me like you’ve got a guilty conscience, my friend.’
‘The very fact that you’re here telling me all this, rather than mourning the murder of an innocent young woman. You’ve got a complex. You feel guilty.’ He took a spoonful of milky cereal from a bowl Michael could not see.
‘Why do you say that?’
‘The explanation is obvious: you are guilty. I think you murdered her.’
David sipped his tea and wiped the sleep from his eyes. ‘I think you murdered her without knowing. It happens all the time. I read on the internet about a man who was going through a messy divorce. One day, he had been watching the news and eating his breakfast, when the police barged in and found his wife’s body in the basement. His fingerprints were all over the place, and they found her blood under his fingernails. But he really knew nothing of the whole thing. He was a weak, middle-aged man, and psychoanalysis proved he thought he was telling the truth.’
‘Ha, ha. Stop it, David. You read too much on the internet.’
‘Well, you said it yourself. You don’t remember anything of that run. Or do you?’
‘I don’t know.’ Michael had started to sweat. His hand shook as he held his tea, and he did not know what to do next. He stood slowly.
‘If you do not remember anything, then you do not remember what you did! Where are you going? Are you leaving? You don’t like what I have to say? Is it because it’s true? I don’t hate you for it! I can’t judge you for something you had no control over!’
As David spoke, Michael left the flat, ran down the stairs and out onto the street. The fresh air punched him and his eyes immediately watered. He pulled his jacket tight about his chest and scurried down the street. He didn’t believe what David said, but he didn’t know what else to believe. It seemed to him to make sense - true, objective sense. He didn’t remember anything of that run, just a black, fuzzy thirty minutes on the tape of his memory.
Is it an issue with the recording or is the machine just not working?
Michael was not walking, nor was he running, but he moved in that mysterious, panicked middle-ground that attracts attention in the worst way. He scuffled along the pavements, crossing the road and back again - aimless, endless, mindless. In one instance, he was nearly hit by a car. They slammed their brakes on and all the passengers flew forward, and the driver’s horn screamed at him and shouted out the window, What yer doin’, yer daft git!
But Michael did not react. He did not even hear the man. He was terrified as this new truth revealed itself to him.
As absurd as it sounded, and as much as he disagreed with David’s theory when he heard it, this walk had seemed to convince him otherwise.
In short, by the time he reached home, he was convinced that he had unwittingly strangled Chloe Campbell on his run two mornings earlier.
There could be no other explanation.
Thank you for joining me for the second part of Fresh Air, Long Run with me. Let me know what you think will happen in the final part of this story. For those joining late, you may be able to jump straight to the next edition by clicking the link below.
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