This is a rough draft. It has undergone little editing and no re-writes. Enjoy as this story comes together.
The early morning air brought thick, damp heat as only early September could. Odi bounced on the balls of his feet, dew from the grass flicking at his legs. He closed his eyes. The wind played at his shirt and caught in his bristly hair. He breathed, sending a ripple of tingling warmth through his limbs. He opened his eyes and shook his head, knocking away sleep and rousing his stiff joints. The faintest of oranges and pinks greeted him from behind a skyline of weathered apartment buildings.
His backpack was on the edge of bursting. Among its contents; a change of clothes, a ruddy bar of soap, a few rather dingy notebooks, and a sack lunch. The school provided meals to kids who couldn’t afford better but Odi was determined not to be among those many. The wages Mr. Ujazdowski paid him behind the government’s back were plenty enough for a large sandwich and chips from Kent’s that could be strategically cut to fill three days’ sustenance requirements.
He checked his watch. This was purely habitual as the hands never ticked anything other than half-past four. It lost the will to turn long before his eldest brother had passed it down.
Water bottle in hand and his apartment behind him, he set off at a light jog into muggy morning.
Odi turned left at the end of the block, ignoring the smell from the sewer lid and Cranky Ed asleep on the unused bus-stop bench. He preferred running this early because he could run in a street that was entirely his own. He didn’t have to avoid side-walkers or uneven pavement. It wasn’t really a broken law, but it felt ever so slightly more freeing to be running in the middle of the road.
Wrappers and greasy fast-food bags lay in the gutter, their intended use long spent. Almost every apartment complex was made from the same aged red brick. Most had dead vines climbing their exteriors. The remainders were covered in a vinyl siding that had yellowed from sun and smog. The areas that had grass were fairly untamed. Not like the pristine yards found in the wealthy suburbs.
Odi ignored all of this as he ran. In his head he was running through the forests of Scotland or the streets of Camorr. The worlds of books filled his mind’s eye.
Reading was the most cost-effective form of entertainment. It required no additional people and no electricity. Books could be obtained for free at the local library on Seventh Avenue but those tended to be stained or missing integral pages.
He found that, no matter what sort of story he fancied, Mr. Ujazdowski had a recommendation. At the end of his shift, Odi was allowed to borrow any book from the shop, so long as he had returned his last book and had given Mr. Ujazdowski a full summary of the plot and guessed the reason for its recommendation. Last week’s choice was The Great Train Robbery for, “its use of plot to keep the audience guessing about true intentions of the characters’ schemes.”
On Franklin Lane Odi took his occasional detour across a spindly bridge over the drainage reservoir. It meant he’d be a little later than he liked but it was a small penance to pay for what he received.
Once over the bridge, he could cut through the market parking lot into the Ever Groves part of town.
The smell of musk fell away and was replaced with fresh asphalt. The apartments and businesses in Ever Groves were made from the same red brick as Odi’s neighborhood but these were freshly power washed, the vines that clung were green, the window-boxes were filled with flowery colors, and there were actual trees that towered overhead.
As he reached Baker’s Row he slowed to a light jog and breathed deep. Inside the various food establishments that lined the street, many of the purveyors had already begun their food prep for the day. The scent of bread and wood fire ovens filled his lungs.
A few people were outside. Though this route wasn’t common for Odi, one or two of them gave him a friendly wave that he returned. No one ever cast him a wary glance, not in Ever Grove, at least.
In the morning heat, Wilona awoke less lady-like than usual. She was splayed across her four-poster bed, her covers kicked to the floor and her nightgown bunched at her tummy in an attempt to keep cool. Her curly, golden-brown hair radiated from her head like sun rays.
September first. The date crunched her stomach and sent her fingers tingling. Junior year was here, banging on the door and shouting her name. Maybe she didn’t have to answer. Maybe…
She rolled off her bed into the blankets below causing a deadened thud that shook the old three-story house. Maybe the blankets would swallow her up. Keep her from having to fulfill her worldly obligations.
They didn’t. So, she grunted to her feet and stretched her muscles, though they seemed to be further behind on their morning routine than she.
With some difficulty she threw off her gown into the hamper and donned the first sports top, shorts, and long socks she pulled from the dresser. For good measure, she threw on a loose white shirt that she tied tight to her waist. After a quick mirror assessment, feeling no brush could ever tackle the task, she loosely tied her mane with a ribbon and let it bush out down her back.
Wilona stepped lightly to her door, opening it just slow enough that the friction of the iron hinges didn’t yell out in protest. At her feet was a colorful shoe box with a note scribbled on it. Her heart rose slightly.
“Have a great first day,” it said in freakishly tidy scrawl. Her mother’s hand. Inside was a pair of pure-white runners. She rolled her eyes but smiled. Just once, she’d like a little color in her shoes. Still, she put them on and began working her foot around to loosen them. They were perfect… nearly.
She slipped to the bathroom, careful to step toe-first so as not to wake anyone. She brushed her teeth and washed her face. Showering was out of the question. The copper pipes were loud, and she would need another one in an hour anyway. Besides, this early in the morning, the school showers would be empty, and she could sing— err, wash as loud as she pleased.
With her backpack loaded with textbooks, a clean uniform, and some money stuffed in one of the extra pockets, she descended the spiraling stairs, careful to step where they wouldn’t sing out her presence and slid out the front into the early dawn.
Bouncing lightly on her feet, she drew her backpack straps tight so as not to have any loose weight. She cracked her shoulder and shook her arms, breathing in the thick air. Her hair had already started to frizz but it was hardly worse than her usual shrubbery.
Two houses down, Mr. Thompson strolled out his front door, a shiny black briefcase swinging jovially. He threw it in the back of his car before noticing Wilona stretching in the street. He saluted her, and she nodded back. Then he literally hopped into the driver seat and sped off toward his office downtown.
She rolled her eyes and smiled while sticking her headphones in her ears. A particularly warm tune sounded through the peripherals and she set off at a light jog.
At the end of the road, before the turn onto Hennick Street, something caught her eye. High above, on the third-floor balcony of the old Allerton home, someone was sitting, and watching her.
Wilona took a step back and squinted up in the morning darkness. It was Mr. Allerton himself. He was fatter and balder than she remembered, and he was dressed in colorful pajamas, but he waved lightly from his perch. She mimicked his wave and returned to her route.
By the time she had gone a block and rounded onto Hennick, she was soaked into her music and had forgotten all about Mr. Allerton. He, however, leaned back in his rocking chair and smiled as the orangey pink of the morn engulfed and reflected off the skyscrapers in the distance.
In the early part of the nineteenth century English schoolchildren invented a game inspired by one of the less dignified past-times of the wealthiest class. “Hare and Hounds” was a direct reference to their tendency to hunt rabbits through various sorts of terrain (often forests) using trained bloodhounds to track the critters.
Likewise, one child would sprint into the woods, leaving behind a trail of paper scraps in place of a scent, as children are notoriously worse at tracking than dogs. Victory was had if they could reach the end of the race before the other children found and caught them.
Adults took the game up as a form of physical exercise and it grew in popularity. Over time, they forwent the need for a chase and simply ran through trees, fields, and hills. This became known as Cross Country.
In the early twentieth century, this found its way into the Olympics in both team and individual competitive forms. Championships have been held all over the world and it is now a regular team sport at the high school and collegiate levels with thousands of runners all over the world.
In reference to their English origins, Cross Country runners are colloquially referred to as “harriers”.