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The Run of Charles Emerson

by K.H.A. Wassing 4 months ago in Sci Fi · updated about a month ago
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by: K.H.A. Wassing

The time is 4:58 am. The farce that is Charles Emerson’s alarm isn’t set to go off for another one minute and thirty-nine seconds. It was almost twenty years ago when he last heard the screeching of this alarm clock. Okay actually it has been exactly seventeen years, two months and twenty-eight days since Charles needed the thing to wake up. Accurate statistics are important to Charles Emerson no matter how trivial they may seem to others.

Charles grabs the clock from his bedside table clicking the alarm off before it can ring, keeping the streak alive. He nuzzles the brown faux wood grain clad useless device back to its proper spot while knuckling the sleep from his eyes, then stifles a yawn.

Charles Emerson hops out of bed with a bounce in his step. He’s a well-built man with long lean muscles, nearing the edge of sinewy. Charles stretches his tired muscles while admiring each one in the full-length mirror hanging on the back side of his bedroom door. Like every other morning he saves the calves for last as these are his favorite part of his Adonis-like body. He ran his hand through the well-groomed jet-black hair on the top of his head that isn’t as thick as it once was, but the man is nowhere near balding.

If Charles had to pick one part of his body that he wasn’t particularly keen on it would be that sixth and peskiest ab that for whatever reason refuses to properly locate itself under the others on the right side. His stomach is flat like a hard washboard, but it always appears disproportionate to Charles. Proportion and numbers, specifically even numbers, are the two things that matter most to Charles in life. For him to only have five defined abdominal muscles, three on the left and two on the right, throws off what could be a perfect body in his opinion.

Feeling the urge to hide what he viewed as a lopsided deformity, Charles slides on his skintight hyper-colored Adidas shirt and running pants to match. Charles sits back on the bed, retrieves his shoes and begins meticulously lacing them. Undoing the laces completely, pulling them from the shoes and inspecting every inch for scuffs, tears or other damage. Most people skip this step and just leave their shoes laced from their previous runs, but most people are not Charles Emerson. Charles goes through multiple laces a week because of this tedious ritual but how else is he to ensure the quality of his morning run? Fortunately, today’s laces made it through the approval process. He bounces on the balls of his feet, testing out the tie on his Adidas footwear.

Finally satisfied, Charles makes for the door of his room, down the stairs and out of the house. He spills into the back yard, high stepping past his garage into the alley on nimble feet to loosen his tired muscles. Charles finishes his stretching, while walking to the mouth of the alleyway. Before he reaches the end of the block where Charles Emerson’s preferred starting line is located, he hears the unmistaken thumping of a fellow jogger approaching from behind him. He instinctively shuffles to the right of the alley, to let whomever it is pass him when the footfalls slow. He spins on his heels to confront the person and inquire why they won’t just pass by but the alley is empty. No one or nothing passes Charles save for a lone leaf floating by on the wind. Confused he turns back and continues on, chalking the noise up to the echoing of Charles’ own footsteps throughout the vacant alley.

From the alley, Fulton Street and the starting point of Charles’ run becomes visible. Charles runs the same route at the same speed every single morning, five miles at eight minutes twenty-four seconds per mile yields a run of forty two minutes exactly. Numbers, proportion and routine, without the three of these Charles’ life would feel incomplete.

Charles filters out onto Fulton stretching any remaining fatigue from his body. He finishes his short warm up, sets his watch to ensure his time and begins the run. One block south on Fulton pours him out onto Randolph Avenue where he turns left. Up ahead he can make out the hustling of cars that is West 7th Street, other early risers off to their day of work. It is rare that Charles would see another pedestrian but this morning there is a man standing at the corner by a rod iron fence surrounding the perimeter of the pizzeria’s parking lot. The man, tall and slender is just standing there, not moving. His stagnancy sticks out like a sore thumb against the back drop of the cars cruising past behind him. Minding his own business Charles shrugs this off having no control of the bizarre doings of other folks. Plus, when Charles looks back after glancing down at his wristwatch the stranger has moved on. He reaches the corner where the man was just standing, no sign of the former weirdness so Charles Emerson turns left onto West 7th Street. The distant downtown view floods his vision as he runs Northwest past the old brewery turned condominium building.

The third odd thing to happen this morning occurs when Charles Emerson runs past the old run-down bar called Overtime. The sports bar once was a hot spot for professional drinkers and was always a little too dingy for Charles. The establishment hasn’t been open since the early nineties when the owner of the bar was convicted of murdering his own daughter. Erica Fitzgerald went missing and a couple weeks later her remains were found on the banks of the Mississippi River. The story always stuck with Charles because he was the same age as Erica around the time she went missing. He remembers it well because all of St. Paul’s if not the entire state of Minnesota’s teens were on lock down, due to the breaking story. Now in adulthood he runs past the former workplace of the man convicted of the murder, Erica’s own father Darryl Fitzgerald. Apparently, Darryl was an abusive drunk who one day snapped and now is serving a life sentence for his crimes. Ever since his arrest, Overtime has been closed and shortly after the windows were boarded up and doors barred. The building grew more and more derelict but today that was different.

A thin white sheet hangs over the window that once donned boards and light spills out onto the sidewalk interrupting the dark path Charles now jogs on. As he passes through the contrasting light, a loud bang comes from inside Overtime, startling Charles and drawing his attention to the window where the silhouette of a person stares out from behind the hanging linen. The shadowy shape remains motionless in the window as Charles picks up his pace to leave the creeper along with the watering hole in his dust.

Leaving the ramshackle bar well behind him Charles Emerson notices nothing else of question for the next mile. He rounds left on to Grand Ave, crossing over the freeway where a gaggle of commuters inch bumper by bumper closer to their final destinations. On the other side of the bridge, the headlights and impatient horns in the rearview, Grand Ave veers left but straight ahead is Ramsey Street. The first real challenge of Charles’ run is on this short stretch of Ramsey. His run travels on this street for only one city block but for that one block he must run up a precipitous hill. The hill is what separates the serious runners from the posers. Once on top of the amazingly steep hill, Ramsey Street spills onto Summit Ave, and Summit is why Charles runs this route.

Charles is only on Summit Ave until he reaches Victoria Street, which is only nine tenths of a mile, but he finds it the most enjoyable part of his run. Mansions well out of the realm of affordability for Charles Emerson line the street. Not unlike most residing in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul, Charles likes to ogle at the oversized houses. It might be one of the simple pleasures in Charles’ life, but it makes running up to Summit worth every inch of that wretched hill. Today however a man stands peering down the hill at the approaching Charles Emerson.

Confused, Charles’ pace slows slightly. He could be mistaken but the shadowy figure looks to be the same shape and size as the person lingering earlier at the pizzeria. Of course, this couldn’t be the same person because how would he have beat Charles from the pizzeria to here on foot. Unless he drove a car, but Charles would’ve noticed a car pulling out of the parking lot. The man or at least Charles assumes a man because the person is tall, slender and has a bigger almost oblong head, was just looming above with his head cocked, as if he was observing Charles as he ran closer. The creep was standing just outside of the illumination of a nearby streetlamp obstructing Charles from an identifying glimpse of the stranger. The distance between Charles Emerson and the shadowed figure is reduced by half, when its knees bend backwards and leaps into a nearby tree.

Startled and unsure he saw what he thinks he has just seen, Charles stutter steps and slows. His run time is going to be all off because of these people messing with him. Charles, still thinking of them as people, refusing to believe that the man jumped from the ground to a tree in a single bound. Especially now that he’s standing next to the tree in question and the nearest branch is easily ten feet from the ground. The man must have simply stepped behind the tree and Charles is more tired than he originally thought. Just to be safe he circles the base of the tree and even peers into the leafy branches above but sees nothing out of the ordinary.

Usually, Charles prefers to run alone but today he finds himself wishing he had a companion with him. Certain what he saw was a figment of his imagination, he is still freaked out. Just over halfway done with the run, he has never wanted to be further along than he did right now. Picking up the pace he tries to finish in record time but not for the usual reasons like pushing himself but because he wishes to be done. The sooner Charles is done with the run, the sooner he can put all this weirdness behind him. If things go his way, he’ll be able to salvage what he’s sure will be his worst time recorded in quite some time and he can do so without further incident.

But Charles Emerson wouldn’t be that lucky. Focusing on the sidewalk ahead, another shadowed figure walks into his path twenty paces from him. He had noticed its height before but now that he’s level with it, he sees just how tall it truly is. Charles stands six feet two inches and this thing towers over even him; it’s easily upwards of seven feet tall. Fed up with the molestation of his run and subsequent sanity Charles yells out “FUCK OFF,” trying to scare off the freak more than anything. The creature remains unfazed. A bizarre rapid clicking comes from the direction of his tormentor. The noise is so unhuman Charles doesn’t notice when the creature bends backwards at the knees once again and lunges, halving the distance between them.

Screaming with panic Charles put the brakes on, skidding to one knee and scrambling back to his feet darting for the opposite side of the street. But by the time he was back on his feet the creature had vanished again. Charles sprints off down the road at wild speeds leaving more of that clicking behind him.

Without consciously choosing to do so Charles continues along his normal route, barely slowing to sneak peeks back where he’d just come from. The sinking feeling in his gut presents itself when Charles catches sight of two of those things standing no less than thirty feet behind. Their heads are cocked, those weird backwards knees poised, and the arms outstretched as if ready to tackle. For the first time Charles recognizes each hand is equipped with three long skinny claw-like fingers and a matching thumb. His attention is on the freaks slowly making up ground from behind, causing him to miss what obstructs his path until he is crashing into it. The collision sends Charles and the creature tumbling through the cold dew-covered grass on the front lawn of some mansion. Breathing heavy and bruised, Charles Emerson sits up from the wet grass. He notices the two pursuers have disappeared and the one he collided with lies motionless on the lawn before him. For a fraction of a moment Charles thinks his collision victim is another human and even begins to apologize before he gets a good look at the thing.

The creature’s leathery skin is a deep midnight purple and has hard armor-like carapace growing from it. Its gaping maw is edged by razor-sharp teeth, framing a long proboscis jutting this way and that, prodding the air as if searching for Charles himself. The mammoth of its heaping mass seems to be unconscious or at very least incapacitated. Charles stands over the creature with a fleeting look of curiosity that fades into disgust. Shaking off his confusion and remaining soreness from the collision he turns to run away, leaving what remains of his bravery and the sprawling beast in the rear view.

With nothing but the scraping of his Adidas on the sidewalk Charles is seemingly alone for the first-time since seeing the first creature. He turns South on Victoria, nearing the home stretch of the run. Only ten more total blocks until this nightmare is over and Charles will be back in the safety of his home. Usually not one to cut corners but with the present situation Charles decides that in eight blocks he will be cutting through Linwood Park. In order to solidify the final quarter mile of Charles’ run he would need to run on the sidewalk that hugs the border of the park but bailing on the run all together feels more appealing to Charles right now.

He takes a breath to calm his heartrate, but Charles has no time to relax because as soon as he slows his pace, the nightmarish rapid clicking begins again. The clicking, although faint, cuts Charles to the core. It reminds him of a velociraptor hunting its prey but of course that’s silly because outside of cinema, those dinosaurs haven’t existed in seventy-two point one million years.

Any other day Charles would have been nothing but impressed with himself at the speed he reached Linwood Park, today however only terror floods him. The clicking has grown to a loud steady hum that vibrates the entire surrounding area. With the stitches growing in his ribs, Charles darts onto the wet grass and across the dirt of the deserted baseball diamond. He dares to sneak a peek behind him and to his horror the park is flooding with the monsters. Some of them running up right while others take a more streamlined approach, dropping to all fours and tearing towards him like the largest dogs ever.

Charles is running faster than he has ever run before, yet the things are still gaining on him and there is no keeping up his current pace. He eyes the nearby trees, hoping he can lose them by winding and weaving around their trunks and the other foliage. He makes for them without giving it any more thought. Charles lets himself feel a sense of security but quickly realizes this is too hasty of an emotion, as forty paces from the trees he experiences the worst pain of his life. As he swings his hand back one of the creatures bites down, separating his pinky and ring finger from his right hand.

The dark purple creatures are right on his heels, and ahead of him hundreds more dropping from the trees. Charles slows but before he is allowed to come to a complete stop he is lifted and carried forward towards the awaiting group. When the sea of creatures collides with the others is when Charles gives in to his fate and stops struggling against his abductors. His scream is muffled by the creatures’ deafening clicking and he falls to the grass below, being completely consumed by the towering crowd. As teeth sink deep into his well-toned flesh and claws rip at opening wounds Charles feels every single tear, bite and limb being pulled from its socket before his brain finally shuts down to protect him from any further destruction.

Charles Emerson blinks the sunlight, just peaking above the horizon, out of his eyes. He sits up from the grass wet with dew. His hyper-colored shirt is in ribbons and his running pants aren’t in much better shape. Charles rips the shirt off and discards it into a nearby bush. His five rippling abdominal muscles alongside the muted one he hates, glisten with sweat and moisture from the grass. Standing up he completes the tearing on his pants, creating makeshift shorts that look ridiculous but not much of his run remains. He shakes off the embarrassment and continues his way through the park.

On the South side of Linwood Park, he spills back out onto Victoria. The end of his run passes by in a blur and flurry of shaking out the cobwebs. This is the second time this week that he has lost consciousness in the park and it’s really taking its toll on his run times. It seems to be happening with greater frequency as of late and he never remembers why he had passed out in the first place. Only that he was on a run and now needs to finish it before he’s late for work. Before the day is over, he’ll forget even waking up in Linwood Park.

Before he knows it, Charles Emerson rounds the corner on James Ave and starts his cool-down walk. He reaches the corner of James and Fulton. Finished with the run and the cool-down Charles checks his time and frowns. He can’t comprehend how his run took him nearly an hour today. In fact, the total time of the run was fifty-eight minutes and forty-nine seconds; that’s over Charles’ regular time by exactly sixteen minutes and forty-nine seconds. If his numbers are off, it’ll throw his routine off and today his numbers were off. Numbers and routine matter to Charles Emerson. Because of today’s lag, Charles will be late for his day of work. Charles remembers feeling like he had a strong start of the run too; he must have slowed with the wandering of his mind in the middle of the run. Usually when that happens it leads him to get in the zone and run better but not today.

Charles bursts into his home already shedding the remainder of his clothes. He’s upstairs in a flash and turning the shower’s faucets within seconds of getting home. The shower head spits out a steady stream as Charles climbs inside wasting no time to scrub the sweat and grime from his rigid physique.

Done, Charles Emerson rips the curtain back and steps from the shower, admiring himself in the mirror. He almost misses the figure rising behind him from the shower he just emerged from. It stands to its full height, head brushing the ceiling, hands greedily poised with claws out. The creature opens its mouth, revealing the razor-sharp needle like teeth in a gaping drooling grimace, emitting that horribly guttural rattling noise one last time before hurtling itself at Charles Emerson.

The End!

Sci Fi

About the author

K.H.A. Wassing

Kyle Wassing (He/Him) is an aspiring author who lives in Minnesota with his wife Jess and rescue dog Cooper. When not writing dark and ominous horror short stories, he and his wife enjoy recording their comedy podcast Passive Aggression.

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