A run; a run no different from any other morning that had come before. The sun groped with lazy fingers the mounds littering the reed-choked hills. Above the slickened grass, the evening gasped its last breath in wispy tendrils of fog. Boots pounded broken road; dew kicked up against sodden pants. A run; a run with the dirt-laden shovel cradled in his arms. The mounds forgotten at his back.
But on this morning the old-timer sat. Waiting.
He froze, keen to the presence of another set of eyes, sweat in long strands down his cheeks. Tongue darted corner to corner along his mouth, tasting, swallowing. He enjoyed the tang of his toil. Eventually he cocked his head. Saw the old-timer slumped within a rocker, set up on a sunken porch just off the lane. He stared the old-timer down. The old-timer stared back.
“Ayup,” old-timer grimaced, lips pinched by unseen fingers.
Gravel crunched beneath boots; slowly the shovel lowered from his arms. “What are you doing out here?” he uttered, stoic in the middle of the backwoods road.
Old-timer: “Naw much. Jus joyin anotha morn.”
Chest heaved despite his calm; he took a step closer to the old-timer’s ruined cabin. He had run past it a dozen times. Always seemed deserted. He regretted that he never checked. Never bothered to force his way inside. “Too chilly for your bones, don’t you think? A fellow your age should keep inside. Stay warm.”
“Wutha-man says gonna warm soon nuff. I believe in wut tha wutha-man says. Don’t ya?”
He looked around. Chewed at the bottom of his lip until it oozed coppery satisfaction. From the road: “I don’t believe in much at all.”
Old-timer: “Nope, I s’pose ya don’t. I s’pose ya don’t look tha type ta believe in anythin tha wutha-man might have ta say. Ya look a different type ta me.”
“And what type might that be?” The blade of the shovel tapped his boot; fingers squeezed upon its hilt.
Old-timer laughed; a warbled thing like a frog caught in death throes. “Type tha takes mattas into his own hans.”
He propped the shovel against his side, studied his hands. Nails chewed and rimmed with dirt, calloused palms caked black. Intrigued, he looked back up. “Never seen you before.”
“Were ya s’posed ta? Ya do nuthin but run. Run is all ya do.”
His eyes narrowed into slits. “So you’ve watched me.”
Old-timer: “Ayup. Lotsa times.”
He clutched the shovel again, scraped it along gravel in the road. “I enjoy my runs,” hissed through clenched teeth.
“Course ya do. Yer fit as a fiddle. I wus like tha once. Long time ago… long time.” Old-timer shook his head, jostling sparse white hair. “But things change afta long times go by, ayup.”
He stepped closer to the cabin’s decayed porch. “Time changes everything.” No bother taken to disguise the rattlesnake in his tone.
Old-timer, squinting: “Yer him, I’m sure ya are,” then swatted at ghosts circling his skull. “People been talkin bout ya ‘fore tha wutha-man comes on at night. Yer him, yessir ya are. Tha runner.”
Eyes drifted to his boots, laces awash in mud. “I told you, I enjoy my runs.”
Old-timer nodded, pleased. “Ayup, tha runner. Knew it was ya. Just knew all tha time. So tell me, runner, where ya runnin to?”
He stalked deliberately, leaning against the old-timer’s fence post, rotted and crooked as a hag’s nose. Shovel tap-tapped atop his boot. “I’m not running from a thing.”
“Nah, ya wasn’t hearin me. Ya wasn’t listenin careful nuff. Didn’t say ya was runnin from somethin. Asked what ya runnin to.”
Doubt lit his eyes. He always had answers.
“Man runnin from somethin is a man in fear. Man runnin toward somethin is a man ta fear. Ayup.”
Tongue slithered inside his mouth, toyed with a pulpy strip caught between molars. He had eaten not too long before; suddenly the urge to eat again seized him. He licked at his lips. “You have something to fear, old man? Maybe something like me?”
Old-timer quipped: “Fear ya? Not t’all.”
He always had answers. Now he searched for one.
Old-timer jerked his head. “Lemme see em.”
“Yer hands, course.”
Hesitation. Eventually he raised one above the fence. Old-timer, eyes sparkling a shade below madness, rose from his creaky chair. Head crooked atop stooped shoulders, old-timer hobbled down the porch steps, across the front path, alongside the fence. “Ayup, tha runner alright.”
“I’m getting tired of this,” he hissed, the shovel slowly ascending above his head.
With deceptive speed, the old-timer sprang over the fence, seized his free hand. “Tha runnerrrrr…” he cooed.
They remained that way, runner and old-timer, hands interlocked like lost brothers now found, eyes fixed and steely. The runner blinked first, noticing the old-timer’s chewed nails, crusty black around the beds, grime etched into wrinkled skin. The shovel lowered.
Old-timer’s hands. So much like his own.
He always had answers. Always, his victims spoke to him. Now he had none.
“I wus fit like ya once. Long time ago… long time ago.”
He jerked his hand back, but old-timer would not let go.
He glanced over old-timer’s shoulder.
“Somethin ya should know. Somethin ya should learn right quick.”
He looked beyond old-timer’s cabin. Glimpsed what had been hidden from his sight for so many runs. Glimpsed for the first time the uneven rows, the shovels pitched crookedly into the dirt, marking each grave.
Mounds littered the hills, both new and old.
“Ya see, I wus tha runner long before ya came ta town, son,” old-timer sang quietly. “And I gots no fear of ya t’all.”
He broke the old-timer’s grasp; shovel clanged to the road. For the first time, the runner ran from something. Ran, boots stumbling across divots in the backwoods road, rising sun looming large in his frantic eyes. Ran from old-timer and his dirty, chewed nails. Ran from old-timer and all the ghosts that kept pace at his side.
“Wus a runner long ‘fore ya came ta town,” old-timer continued to sing. He turned and hobbled back atop his porch. Hobbled into his chair. Sat. Waited. He had plenty of time. Even more shovels. “Be tha runner long after yer gone. Ayup.”
~ Joseph A. Pinto
© Copyright 2013 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.
46 thoughts on “Run”
I probably shouldn’t have read this story before going to bed. Really chilling tale. A meeting of two twisted minds. I love how the tables were turned on “the runner”. His bravado quickly fading to fear. The old-timer is quite a character, with his jovial menace. Very well written. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
Hi Sharon! Happy New Year, and thank you! I always enjoy shifting my styles & tone with each new project, & this fun little tale was no different. I admit, I’m curious to know more of the runner & the old-timer. I suppose that could be another story in the telling… 🙂
What a brilliant exchange! The tension between these two is taut, the atmosphere soaked in unspoken history. And the message, ”Run’, a suitable start to the new year, I think! Let’s hope it’s a year of running to things and not from them.
Love it, Joe!
Hi Tom, Happy New Year! Thank you! “Run” was one of those stories where, after getting behind the keyboard, I had no idea what was going to spill out of my head! lol Next thing I know, I’m on a backwoods road, and yes, this is but a snippet of dark history from both characters. I’m happy you felt the tension of their exchange in the sparse verbiage I employed.
Excellent story! I love the unveiling of the somewhat ignorant old-timer – who’s just sitting on his porch, speaking his ‘simple-speak’ – to the revelation that he is the same voracious predator as the runner, just a bit more seasoned and less twitchy. I always enjoy a ‘don’t read a book by its cover’ twist, and this is a very effective one. Great usage of dialogue and body language to tell the story. Excellent wind up, superb delivery in the end!
As always, I love your writing, Joe, no matter what style you (or your brain) choose to write in!! :}
Hi Nina, and thank you! 🙂 This was one of those “write it while I have no idea what’s going to happen” kinda stories lol I’m proud of how this ultimately came out: a clear storyline, good visuals, strong punch while keeping verbiage to a minimum. “Run” is the complete opposite of my last post “Grieve” but just as impactful, if I may say so (I think I already did! lol).
You may say so… If I remember correctly, you speak the truths others dare not utter. (oh, and Moooo – sorry – too easy!) LMAO
Great story Joe!
I was immediately drawn to the old-timer. His casual language and interaction with the malicious runner hinted at something special. When the old-timer’s true self was seen, the young runner was smart to run from the ancient evil.
Great stuff. This was written very well!
Hi Zack, thank you very much! I guess the old ‘uns can really teach a thing or two to us young whipper snappers, huh? lol In this story, I wished to stress that evil is found within even the most unassuming of characters.
I had fun with this. A friend came by just as I started, so I began again, reading aloud. I found both their voices easily, young runna and the Old Timer, and it was a great ride. You made a new fan tonight too.
You use a powerful tool in this one, as in your other works; brevity in action narrative.
“Hesitation.” One word. Done.
I have a recent piece that I must say is entirely influenced by the brief but brilliant bodies of work I have read here. I have been practicing flash fiction since my first visit and returning here to take a little more back with me.
I have written a lot here, I see, but I do not know how to express my thanks with the aforementioned brevity of Run. Then again, sometimes it just cannot be made brief. Thank you Joe, and thanks again, to all the Damned. My gratitude is simply inexpressible in a short comment post.
Hi Chris! Well, I had fun writing this, trust me! I’m a chameleon with my fiction; I don’t allow myself to be hindered within one “voice,” although I always keep my “style.” When you work out in a gym, you do different exercises to train the entire body. It’s no different with one’s prose.
Your post has made my day – it’s always been my intent to have Pen of the Damned serve as a source of inspiration within the horror community. I am thrilled that we have been able to spark you. But the thanks goes to YOU; thank you for becoming a fan and supporter. It means the world to both me and the Damned!
So cool. As a guy who has spent a lot of time in Maine all my life, I was taken right to my favorite place in the world by the old man. I’m going to be very leery of who I come across on my Main nature walks this summer! Well done.
Hey Hunter, thank you! I think the old man has a rich history yet (ahem) dug up. One day, perhaps, I’ll have to do some unearthing…
Great tale, Joe. I was a runner for many years but never ran with a shovel. Perhaps I should have. The grime, the grit, and the slang were perfect. Since I’m on the high end of sixty, I felt right at home with the old man being the victor.
Hi Blaze! I figured a tale of some old geezer would strike a chord with you! 😛 Seriously, though, thank you. This is a gritty kinda story. I’m glad you appreciated it!
Gritty is always good. I did a lot of running in New Jersey, so watch out!
Great story, Joe! Not sure why, but the tale gave me the same vibe as The Stand, and I mean that in a good way. The old man character was fantastic. Thanks for sharing this one.
Hey Tyr! Thank you very much 🙂 More and more I think the background of the old man needs to be “dug” up a bit. So many possibilities; so little time! lol I appreciate you stopping by
This was a great story! I very much enjoy when such happenstance occurs that those involved in similar nefarious deeds find themselves face to face. Your characterization of both ‘runners’ was masterful. And I could smell the sweat, morning dew (and perhaps even a hint of magnolia…) as your tale unfolded. It was quite an effective and engaging scene! *humbled smile*
Thank you, oh Wulven comrade of darkness and despair. Although this story was born of “nothingness” as I sat behind my keyboard, I believe, upon further reflection, that its roots take me back to a time as a youthful Tale Weaver, when my father, imparting words of wisdom, reminded me that there are always things stronger, bigger and more mysterious than what you are, so never allow your ego to be inflated. A reminder well served here…
I appreciate your kind words!
That was a great story Joe!
I appreciate that, Erin! Thank you for taking the time to read it 🙂
Thank you very much, Erin! I appreciate you taking the time to read it 🙂
Absolutely, it drew me in. 🙂
I like the voices in this tale. Strong and curious and then the twist at the end
The race is afoot
Thanks, Leslie! It was important for the dialogue to carry some bite in the style I wrote this; happy you enjoyed it!
Reblogged this on The Graveyard of My Mind and commented:
Enjoy, RUN, a piece of Flash Fiction brilliance from Joseph Pinto; Founder of Pen of the Damned, and member of the Horror Writers of America.
I dig it. ha ha. Actually no pun intended 🙂
Seriously, though. I love the setting details and the characters’ physical actions during their dialogue. Really brought it to life.
Hey Paul 🙂 Thank you very much!
Give thanks to the movie projector inside my head. I’m only reporting what I see 😉
Great tale. Well told. Good voice. Loved especially:
“Man runnin from somethin is a man in fear. Man runnin toward somethin is a man ta fear. Ayup.”
Hi Sandra, welcome to Pen of the Damned! Thank you for taking the time to read “Run.” I appreciate the kind words, and I’m thrilled you enjoyed it!
I hope you’ll visit me over at reliablyuncomfortable.com. I write a lot of horror and suspense….based on this story, seems like the subject matter that infects me is the same infection you carry, yourself 🙂
I’m already following your site, but to be fair, I don’t always get timely updates to all the sites I follow. If you aren’t already, please follow me on Twitter @JosephAPinto and shoot out links so i can get on, and in turn, shout out for you 🙂
You are the only writer that ever surprises me, Joe. No shit. And once more, I felt like reading more than the title and was not disappointed, as the stern critic I am, usually would be. Well done on this delightfully macabre trinket!
Hi Lady Axe! 🙂 Thank you so much for ! I allow my stories to write themselves; having said that, it means I never pigeonhole myself into redundancy. I strive to vary my “style” while keeping my “style” (and the trick to having a style is not knowing you have one lol). I’m thrilled I’ve managed to make a fan out of you. Thank you for all your support!!
I really like this piece, the language of the old-timer is well done and I can see him talking in my head. Chilling. Thanks for visiting my site. I look forward to reading more from the Damned.
Hey Rocco! You’re welcome, and likewise to you. Thank you, I’m happy you enjoyed ‘Run.’ I think dialogue is essential to any story; too often writers don’t put the necessary attention to it, nor do they make it believable. I made sure to listen to the old man very carefully!! 🙂
Powerful tale…had me hooked from the beginning. We never really think of our habits until they are pinpointed…the repetition of the chewed nails seemed to echo. Very well written!
Thank you very much, Daydreamer! ‘Run’ was one of those stories that came from nowhere. Everything appeared so vividly in my mind, so I let it write itself without knowing its direction. I’m glad I (and my story) hooked you in! That’s what you always strive for when writing 🙂
The pleasure was all mine!
Bellissima …had more thoughts hoped to share…left on reblog unfortunately …hope you see…appreciated your words true. Bells xxx
Thank you very much!! Share your thoughts anytime with me, please! lol I appreciate all your support 🙂