He looked left. A wide field, covered in grass and flowers, stood beside him. With a slow turn, he looked to the right. More grass, and more flowers, as far as his eyes could see. He looked forward, down the thin trail. On and on it went, layered in dry dirt, edged by the same grass and flowers. He closed his eyes and breathed in deep. An aroma of green slipped in with the air. Beneath that, lingering in his senses, the subtle hint of clean dirt. There was no wind, and no blistering heat. Everything was still and tepid. Calmness and serenity surrounded him.
A smile grew on his face. His eyes opened quickly. 'Now what?' he had wondered a moment ago. But the answer was clear to him. As clear as the bright blue sky above, as clear as the trail laid out before him. Without the heat to tire him, without the wind to challenge him, he had only one thought.
So he ran. This was no simple jog, no, not a pace for the peaceful. In an instant his legs pounded against the ground. He raced through the trail, the flowers that edged against it whipping him as he passed. However, these slight strikes did nothing to bother him. Each flower was a sharp caress, a life trying to touch him, to be with him if only for a moment on his charge. He laughed lightly, as much as his breath would allow during the sprint. As he continued the dirt beneath him shifted, slid under each step, threatening to come loose should his feet fail to take the next stride. Yet he felt no concern for the unsettled earth. Each threat was but another drive to move his feet faster, to pump his legs harder, to pick up his speed and leave the undependable dirt to wallow in its own dust. Another small laugh escaped him, caught between breaths.
As his heart quickened, and as his lungs awoke to the task at had, this breathing became strong. He drew in each bit of air offered to him. He pulled in that green scent, letting it fuel his body and calm his mind. The fresh aroma of life, of freedom, imbibed him with more strength than he could have mustered on his own. He was grateful for this air, praising it in each breath and thanking it with each exhale. Though he would have laughed at the happiness this brought him, he could no longer afford to waste the precious gift. If he were to continue at this pace he would need to conserve air, lest he fall among the shifting earth, or stop to wilt with the flowers beside him.
Calmness and serenity gave way to desire and passion. His smile had faded into the stern consternation of a man with but one goal. He would not allow himself to cease, to slow, or to even think of anything but his run. This was not the time for fancy and folly, nor subtle happenstance. He imagined not where he was going, for going was all that mattered. He reminisced not of where he had been, for that would only slow his charge. No, the time for imagining, for thinking, for remembering, was gone. This moment belonged to the run. It belonged to the feeling of the flowers whipping against him and the ground beneath his feet. It belonged to the air in his lungs and the life that powered him. He had neither past, nor future to call his own. He was movement. He was speed. He was pure force.
As he continued his body worked to meet the needs of its master, soon feeling the warmth of exertion. His legs began to stiffen, resisting the mind that led them. His chest heaved, swelling to sustain the pace, rattling through each breath. Sweat dewed on his brow and slipped into his eyes. Warmth turned to heat, heat to fire, and soon his body began to burn with exhaustion. However, he was met with a simple blessing. From the distance, from a land he could not see, the wind began to blow. Subtle at first, no more than a ghost, feint upon his skin. Yet the reprise was enough to soothe the aches that racked his body.
However, helpful as it may have seemed to the weary runner, the wind had no intention to aid or relieve. The slight breeze grew, pressing against the land and buffeting the man. Perhaps it noticed the fluidity of his movements. Perhaps it became jealous of his speed. Or perhaps it had simply wished to test his force. Whatever the reason, he paid no mind to this assailant. It's force was still no match for his own. He leaned into the draft, closed his eyes against the gale, and accepted the challenge. Not to be bested, the wind increased the onslaught. It coursed through the field, creating waves in the flowers and grass. It met the trail and lifted dirt and dust into the air. Still the man resisted. His body was soon to expire, yet he would not admit defeat in the face of such an officious opponent. He ran on, the wind blew hard. He leaned further and the wind pressed against him. Neither backed down, neither shuddered under the force of the other. His legs would soon cease to lift, his lungs ragged against the effort. The wind grew to the strength of a great storm. It ripped flowers from the earth and stung him with bits of dirt from the trail. It howled in his ears, careening toward him from the front and wailing after him from behind. His enemy was all around, gaining strength, building and screaming and crushing him from every direction.
Then his body had hit its limit. The flames in his muscles, the burn in his lungs, and the scalding blood that pounded in his temples, all these small fires assembled into one and burnt the last of his energy. His mind went black for an instant, then another. His legs wobbled under each step, his arms swung loosely at his sides. His whole body leaned to the side, brushing against the flowers. Between bouts of unconsciousness he attempted to correct his lean, swaying to the left, then the right. His body could no longer support the run. His legs could no longer stand. His mind now nothing but flashes of flowers and dirt, heat and wind. Soon, even those had succumbed to the darkness. All that remained was the goal. The force to continue. And even that glorious spark was dimming.
With his strength failing he took one more stride, bent his knees, and leapt into the air with the very last of that pure force. For a moment the wind was silenced. Perhaps it ceased only to build enough force to push him back. Perhaps it had stopped to watch his descent, to mock him as he fell to the earth. Or perhaps it had been surprised to see the small bit of strength left within him. Whatever the reason, the silence and stillness was of no concern to him. This was not the time for thinking. No, this moment was for flying. He closed his eyes and floated through the air, waiting for the ground to strike him.
But the ground never came. A sudden surge of air pushed behind him. The wind that had challenged, assailed him, attempted to steal his goal, had turned. It wrapped around his legs, supported his neck. It pressed against his back and carried him down the trail. The flowers caressed his limp hands, and his toes dragged gingerly across the shifting dirt. He let the wind have him, caring not for what it had planned. Together they were movement, speed, pure force. To him, nothing else mattered. How long the wind held him, how long he had been aloft, could have been an instant or an eternity. Unable to even think, the exhaustion of his body had taken over and he slipped into darkness.
When he awoke he was lying in the middle of the field. All around him were the flowers and grass that covered the land. Their sweet green scent filling him up as he breathed in short, raspy gasps. His legs were leaden and his arms refused to leave the ground. He was covered in sweat and sparkles attacked the edges of his vision. He lay in the field and thought for a moment of what had happened. Though this was the time to imagine and remember, very little came back to him. All he could do was let the cool breeze course over him, content to let it cool his sore muscles. He continued to breathe deeply, taking in the chill of the air and the aroma of life around him. And as he lied there, thinking of the calmness and serenity around him, a single thought came to mind.
'Now what?' he wondered. And smiled as it became clear to him.
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