Can you ever outrun your past?
“She can run faster than me,” James said out loud, between breaths. Eleanor always could outrun him when they were younger, even though she was smaller, she could run faster. When they raced to the lake, or home from school, she’d always get there first no matter how hard James tried to beat her. He ran as hard as he could until his chest burned and his legs wobbled, and yet Eleanor would always close the gap at the end and catch him a few paces before their destination, panting a little and giggling more.
What chance was there that he could outrun her tonight?
He shook the thought out of his head and picked up his pace. He had a good head start and unlike all those races they did as kids there was no finish line, just the pursuit, and she didn’t know where he was going. The ruddy gray light in the sky was just enough to backlight the mountains in the distance as the full moon still hung low and yellow in the sky. He sprinted along the dirt road between the fields, putting the house and Eleanor further behind him. The air was thick with moisture and both cool and warm at the same time the way it can only be on a farm. He settled into the rhythm he mastered as a miler when he ran track and looked over his shoulder. She was back there, in pursuit, but he couldn’t tell where. He could hear her howl his name somewhere behind him.
James made a sharp left turn into the cornfield between two of the wider rows. It was harder to run here, the earth was soft and gave with every footfall, but it was also quiet, and he’d not be in Eleanor’s line of sight once she cleared the yard and reached the dirt road.. He tucked his arms close turned to the side, it was slower running but he didn’t want to disturb the corn and give away his position. He can’t outrun her, but maybe he could outwit her.
His spine chilled as he heard her make another sound, closer this time, something between a growl and a laugh. Something hard to describe.
In middle school they didn’t race each other as often, and when they did, James was happy to be caught. She was fast transforming into a beautiful young girl and he was realizing that having a beautiful young girl as a best friend felt a lot differently than it did a few years earlier, and having her chase him was better still.
But once they were In high school the running stopped. It was James who drifted away from her first when he started dating other girls. He wanted to be with Eleanor, but she didn’t see him that way and wasn’t interested in dating anyway. She was too focused on college and her big plans. To James, it felt like it always did with Eleanor, like she was always running faster than him, so he let her go.
That was ten years ago. They’d kept in touch off and on, swearing to visit each other every year but they never did. Not until this year. Not until tonight.
James came out the other side of the corn field. No need to look over his shoulder this time, he could hear the leaves hissing as she thrashed through the corn rows in pursuit. He still had some distance on her and the old barn was not far off. He could make it.
He picked up his pace as he reached the hardpacked dirt road. The heavy barn door should slightly open like it always was, enough for a person to slip inside but not enough for the wind to rip through and make a mess of everything. Behind him the thrashing of corn rows had stopped, which meant Eleanor was on the dirt road too….and closer still. A growl confirmed it.
James looked over his shoulder to gauge her position. It was a mistake, he was running too fast and the motion threw him off balance, his legs melted beneath him and he tumbled and skidded in the dry dirt for a few feet. He pushed himself up and back into a sprint as quickly as he could and made a final dash for the barn. He could hear Eleanor’s relentless footfalls now, rhythmic and perfect and faster than his own stride which was now a scramble.
The barn door was there. He deftly slipped through the gap at a full speed and caught the door frame with one hand and spun himself around, nearly pulling his shoulder out of socket in the process, and heaved with all his might at the barn door to drag it closed. Through the narrowing gap he saw Eleanor closing in, growling, her shape at once recognizable as the girl he grew up with, it was definitely her, but at the same time, something else, something powerful and predatory. He didn’t have time to think about it back at the house, he’d only caught a glimpse of her on the porch and she contorted and snarled like something other than human. Instinct took over and he started running then without fully grasping what he was seeing, what she might be. It wasn’t possible.
He pulled the barn door closed and slid the latch closed. On the other side Eleanor, had stopped short of the door. James pressed his face up to the crack in the door, straining to see her in the subtle glow of moonlight. He could make out her silhouette, a confusing shape that was both feminine and beast, and then she was gone.
“I beat you this time” James said. As he did, on other end of the barn, the door slid open.