This motherfucker ain’t catching me!
A hot trickle of sweat slid down between his shoulder blades, his arms pumped furiously, adding more power to his stride. Fear and adrenaline propelled him and Unk felt as if he were moving at light speed, moving with the speed of wide eyed panic and a runner’s high.
“Police! Stop!” The warning carried as if it were uttered underwater, an undercurrent sending it eddying into the darkness.
Not today, bitch! Eat dust!
He felt the air flood through his lungs. His legs pumped as he stilled the panicked burst of energy that threatened to overtake him. He settled into a steady yet brisk pace and he let his heartbeat break back into the beat of his long stride. His mind told him that it was okay. That if the man pursuing him hadn’t caught him in the first one hundred yards of their mad sprint, then he couldn’t and wouldn’t catch him now. Unk took a quick check behind him. Yeah, the cop was still there, a good twenty feet behind him, but still there… but he wasn’t gaining any ground.
Unk’s body was a fine tuned machine. Built for the long haul. Built for distance. And all he wanted to do now was put some distance between himself and the horror that he was leaving behind. Visions of Michael, his best friend, crumpled and bloodied, flashed across his mind, an image quickly replaced by anger.
He felt the weight of the gun in his pocket. There was no stopping. There was no turning back. It was all so unfair. Life hadn’t ever treated him right. The good, the bad and the ugly… that is what seemed to always describe his existence. Michael was the proof. The image of Michael’s body, crumpled and bloodied, pushed Unk on. He leaned into his stride, determined to escape from the man behind him and feeling as if he could run forever. The sound of footfalls spurred him on as he dashed out onto Fairview Avenue, heedless of the traffic, his breath heaving in his chest as he crossed the four lane street, cars screeching as the drivers hit the brakes, before he bounded to the other side. A half mile up Fairview he powered the corner of Smithfield Lane, a side street that led to a bike path behind the baseball field. From there he cut down the pathway toward the city dump. He had to stay off the roads, had to go where no one could pursue him in a car, he had to run free. He was sure that after a few more miles, the man behind him would give up the chase too.
He stole a quick glance back and saw the cop chasing him. Still. The gun banged against his leg; a stark reminder. Unk was in trouble and he knew he wasn’t about to be caught. The first fifty yards, he knew, were the most important. If he wasn’t caught quickly then he wasn’t going to be caught at all. Every race he had run began with a mad sprint, heart beating, arms pumping, muscles straining, dashing… before the real race began.
“Stop running! You can’t get away!” The cop’s voice was strangely clear. Unk didn’t hear the strain of lost breath or even a hint of fatigue. “Stop! I just want to talk to you. Stop running.”
“Yeah, right!” Unk yelled out. He ran faster. The sound of sirens could be heard in the distance. Nearing. He felt a moment of desperation. A despair that was all too familiar and threatened to cause him to give up, maybe stop and throw his hands in the air. But he had seen that pose, the surrender, and he had fought past it all of his life.
But what would he do if they caught him? The very thought of it crowded all other thoughts from his mind. Life was unfair. His flight was the proof. And even though he couldn’t outrun the slings and arrows of his actions, he knew that there was no other way that his life would go… there was only one foot after the other until the journey ended.
It always seemed to end up in blood.
So I run!
He settled his breathing and settled into stride. He was a strong runner, a distance runner and had been since he discovered that he had the talent. When he was a freshman, he was determined to make the football team and even though he was slight of frame, he was a tenacious, fearless hitter. He loved the sound of a solid hit on a player who was much bigger than him and the satisfaction of bringing the bigger player to the ground. He mind smiled at the memory. The time when they did a nutcracker drill and the coach lined Unk up against Rod, a muscle bound linebacker and Unk took him down with a straight shoulder tackle. But the next year, most of his teammates went through a growth spurt while Unk gained nary a pound. While his slim build was ideal for the track team it didn’t serve him well on the football field. His frame remained the same even as all of his peers outgrew him and it wasn’t long before his friends talked him into going out for the cross country team.
“Come on, man! Run with us,” Dave said.
“You know that you aren’t going to start on the football team,” Bob said. “You might not ever even get to play!”
“And we can win the conference if you run with us,” Glennon threw his two cents in. In the end, Unk realized that they were right. He loved football but he was a natural runner, and after much pleading from Dave, Alan and Bob, Unk finally joined the team.
And he never regretted a single day.
Unk found a new set of brothers, Dave, Glennon and Bob were the leaders of the cross country team but they gladly welcomed Unk as a leader with a little something extra. An attitude of a nuanced Black man that added an extra edge to the entire squad. Unk only let a little of his Blackness show through; he felt like he had to, he was the only minority on the team and in all of the meets that they had, he rarely saw a Black runner on the other teams either. But that wasn’t ever a barrier between Unk and his friends; they were all a little young, a touch crazy and brazenly daring in their high school, sophisticated way. They rebelled together, big time! And their causes were cerebral, intended as complex resistance to those who were adamant about dictating the behavior of teenagers. They yearned for the ‘how did they do that’ reaction from adults and the ‘why did they do that’ from their peers. They reveled in their muted roles as outcasts and their quiet messages of defiance for the discerning grownups. “Let them sort it out!” was their rallying cry. They made running fun for him and Unk found that he was better than he ever imagined he could be; he had speed, stamina and a strategic mind – and they did win the conference that year. And every year after that. Their nearest competition was always crushed and playing for second place halfway through the season. No one could fuck with them.
Unk took a quick look behind him. The man still gave chase. He ran to be free.
And this bitch is about to get lost!
Unk quickened his pace, lengthened his stride and felt the man falling away behind him. He could maintain this pace for miles and he had found during cross country season, that there weren’t many who could keep up with him. He listened to the footsteps of his pursuer fade away. Unk was losing him.
The gun in his pocket banged against his thigh again. Visions ran through his head. Michael lay, slumped there. Bloody pouring from the bullet in his face. It poured out in a vivid red; bright and shiny and slick. Michael’s lifeless eyes were open. Vacant. “Huh! Huh!” Unk ran faster. Harder. He was haunted by the image of his dead friend, his blood. His breaths became labored. He felt his chest tug. And a heaviness began to creep into his legs. He focused. Slowed his pace.
And then he heard the footfalls behind him.
They were gaining ground.