The man ran through the wooded park. Despite the cooler than normal day, his hair was plastered to his sweating skull. Adrenaline surged through his system.
He felt himself sliding into the zone, the rhythm of his feet slapping against the hardened dirt, in sync with his breathing–inhale, slap, slap, exhale, slap, slap.
He glanced ahead. This was his favorite stretch of trail, looping through the untamed western-most section of Patapsco State Park. The narrow path was carved out of the side of a ridge, a wall of slate and clay to his left and the embankment down to the river on his right. His foot kicked a small stone. It flew over the edge and rattled down through dry weeds. He was several steps further along before he heard it hit the water below with a soft plop.
He was considering picking up his pace on the straightaway–maybe he could beat his personal best–when he glanced up again. The decision was taken out of his hands. A man on a mountain bike was headed his way, helmeted head down, pumping hard.
Slowing his pace, the runner moved to the right side of the path to give him room to pass. The cyclist kept coming full tilt down the center of the trail.
Doesn’t he see me?
“Hey,” he yelled with as much breath as he could muster.
The cyclist, head still down, seemed to pedal faster.
Now slowed to a jog, the runner moved onto the strip of scraggly grass between the path and the drop-off. “Hey!” he yelled louder.
The cyclist, less than thirty feet away and closing fast, finally looked up. Aviator sunglasses covered most of his face.
Hope he doesn’t wipe out when he hits the brakes.
There was a quick flash of white across the cyclist’s lower face, then he ducked his head and kept pedaling.
What the hell?
Survival instinct overrode confusion. The runner dove off the bank.
He had no idea how long he’d been out. His training kicked in, despite his fuzzy brain and the years that had intervened since he’d last used that training.
Lie still. Assess the damage. Locate the enemy before you give away your position.
His head hurt like hell. Something warm and sticky oozed down his cheek. His body ached in multiple places, but there was no screaming pain. Probably no broken bones or major lacerations. Just the sting of many smaller cuts and scrapes.
It took a moment for him to realize that his feet were higher than his head. Water lapped against his left arm, flung out to his side. Something slithered along his wrist. He fought the urge to flinch away.
There were no sounds other than those made by the river. Either the creatures of the woods were still reacting to his swan dive off the cliff or his assailant was nearby.
Opening one eye a slit, he gave his brain a moment to process what he saw. A trail of flattened weeds, crushed underbrush and scraped earth, punctuated by a few jutting rocks, marked the path of his descent. Almost at the top of the image being projected into his brain were the toes of white sneakers, hanging slightly over the edge of the embankment.
He slowly opened his eye a bit further, until he could see the owner of the sneakers. Black track suit, fingerless black biking gloves, the sunglasses and red helmet still in place.
A flash of white teeth against darker skin, then the man turned away.
Lying still as death, the runner watched the top of the bank through one slitted eye until the bushes began to rustle and a bird chirped in one of the trees along the riverbank.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish