Prompt: A guy who can run extremely fast, but when he walks he’s extremely slow
All of the training meant nothing. I neutralized it completely. Seven months of getting up at five in the morning and going to run around the park before the early traffic made the air foul. Seven months of eating cereals with names like Bran Balance, Ultra Oats, and Royal Regularity. Seven months of my wife and daughter cheering me on and I threw it all down the drain. That’s what I couldn’t stop picturing. My little girl screaming her heart out over the edge of a cliff, because all her praise fell away into nothing.
I wasn’t even in the right position to cheat in a marathon. That was for the people who took it too seriously. I was just a guy rapidly approaching middle age, flailing and backpedaling, with a new year’s resolution. I was going to run a marathon. There was even a little laziness in the resolution, as I had the local marathon in mind. Traveling to the starting line would be a quick five minute ride.
I threw away all my practice, but it was only because that truck threw away its cargo first. I was out practicing that morning, about to finish my third lap around the park, out breath and with an embarrassing shade of pink surely covering my entire body, when the strange vehicle squealed around the nearest bend. The driver must’ve been startled by one of the park’s more aggressive trees. It had a branch hanging low enough to brush some windshields, and nobody had bothered to trim it yet.
Nobody could’ve been used to driving a truck like that. The tank on the back was such an odd shape, like a kid’s chemistry set covered in molten aluminum. He over-corrected his swerve and the whole thing ended up toppling in the street, screeching along with sparks and shreds of metal. It was shocking to see, and not just because it was an accident. I’d pictured something very similar during my practices, a nasty little daydream about me slowing down in the middle of the marathon, of my shoes somehow throwing sparks because I created too much friction against the street.
Here was a truck suffering that as reality, and spilling its guts as a result. They were festive guts indeed: an incalculable number of small colorful spheres like gumballs. They scattered everywhere, thrown with such force that some of them rained on me even though I was hundreds of feet away. Most of them bounced off, but one stuck to my exposed sweaty neck. Its surface immediately softened and smeared, the whole thing squishing between my fingers as I pulled it off.
Most attention was drawn to the wreck, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the little ball. It had an effect on me, the cause of which was not too difficult to figure out. I moved on tiptoe, which was pointless because I was still breathing like a hippo hanging upside down from a rope. I sought the cover of a nearby group of bushes and crouched down among them to examine my prize.
Such a thing was not new to me; I’d seen it on television and computer screens more than a dozen times over. These were the products of science, the new radical sort, which was the only sort the news ever paid attention to. There was a small logo on the squishy orange ball: a beaker with a fist rising from the top. It belonged to a biomedical conglomerate, and this was their project set to debut some time next year.
The news called it a metabolic enhancer. Surely it would eventually cost thousands of dollars, but for me it literally fell off the back of a truck. Letting one dissolve in your mouth was purported to make you superhuman. Faster. Stronger. Not smarter, but I wouldn’t know how to use any extra brain anyway. I would never have another opportunity like this one and it was dissolving in my hand rapidly. The crash had put it directly on me, so I didn’t even need to worry about the five second rule! There were others scrounging around the wreck, grabbing at the enhancers once they recognized them, and they took them out of the wet gutter.
It went into my mouth. It didn’t occur to me that I would be cheating until much later. The taste was tolerable enough: a distinct cross between cherry and medicine. It was rather large, but it was mostly liquefied by the time it hit the back of my throat. My whole body tingled almost immediately. I turned away from the accident, hoping nobody would associate my new abilities with the crash if I ran in the opposite direction.
Boy, did I run. Or did I? It was hard to call it running. My legs were moving. There was pressure under my feet… but the rest was different. I felt like I was gliding, like my head was weightless on my shoulders. My body was just a ribbon draped below me, billowing in the wind. My thoughts were a smear across my mind. I only saw things seconds after I passed them. Some primordial part of my brain directed me, kept me out of harm’s way.
I didn’t practice after that. It was only a week until the marathon. The metabolic enhancer would wear off eventually, but I knew their proposed shelf life was going to be several months. When I went out each morning, under the guise of practice, I tested my powers by punching the nearest tree. After the third day I’d left a permanent mark. It never hurt my hand, never so much as broke the skin.
Then came the day of the marathon. My family was proud before I even started. The guilt was there by then, accompanied by shame. I was a grown man who couldn’t avoid stuffing a mysterious chemical gumball in his mouth because he thought it might make him young enough to enjoy gumballs again. There would be no victory; that was already decided. It would be close. I would just miss fourth place.
The starting bell rang. We all took off. My number was 421. My water bottle bounced on my hip. I tried to breath and run like a normal person, but the enhancers worked without my permission. I started gaining on the others. Not just gaining. They disappeared from my sight. I could still see everything else, but my competition was gone. Erased. How does that happen? It didn’t seem like metabolic enhancement to me.
After that the crowds on the side vanished, dissolving like smoke that never rose. It was just me and the streets. Cars still moved a street over, but I couldn’t see anyone driving them. A dog leash with no dog and no owner moved jauntily on its own. The only theory I had was that this was some sort of new level of awareness. I couldn’t see them because they couldn’t compete with me. They literally didn’t matter. I was beyond their abilities, and thus beyond their impact.
It felt good and terrible. Good because my breath was perfectly toasty without burning. Good because my body moved on its own, past the finish line in a flash. Terrible because I remembered my family. I couldn’t see them either. I rounded the next five streets to run the marathon route again. They were gone, along with all the others. I couldn’t hear their cheers.
Something was very wrong. I couldn’t stop. I ran the route countless times, my mind swimming in a fog that suddenly became icy. I was locked in that ice, my movement now like syrup, for a strange incalculable amount of time. One second for every enhancer in that truck. Maybe one hour. Maybe one day.
I thought I had run myself into a new dimension, but I eventually spotted the finish line again. It was back, the ribbon in its proper place. Did they put it back up so someone who played fair could win? The smoke came back. It turned into people. I finally stopped, inches from the ribbon. Someone else could break it; it wasn’t my place.
My wife’s hand grabbed mine and pulled me off the street. I looked at her, breath ragged, ready to apologize for every one of those increments of time I couldn’t measure. She had new hair. New clothes. My daughter’s sad face was higher. I burned through the speed in the first few minutes of the marathon. After that I’d been walking, at a snail’s pace apparently. It was the drag from all the enhancement. They hadn’t quite worked that kink out yet.
My body was in a state of torpor, even while it stood, even while it stared, even while I walked the marathon long past its end. Medical professionals had warned everyone not to touch me. Any shock, any change in the muscle routine, could have caused cardiac arrest. For a year I was the shamed cheater shambling along a race that was no longer on. The new finish line was for the new year.
I’d enhanced myself out of a year of time. I was closer to middle age than ever. I looked at my wife. She would want me out of the house in the mornings again. I would need to run, live, and once again learn, like a toddler, not to stick colorful things in my mouth.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by nosie101 during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!