It was a dark and moderately stormy night -- at least it was rainy and somewhat windy. Not exactly the kind of storm you’d harness in order to reanimate a corpse into a metaphor for man’s obsession with conquering death, but storms exist on a spectrum, and they don’t all have to be that dramatic. It was, however, exactly the kind of damp autumn evening when a slight misstep might set off a chain of events which would nearly put an end to life as we know it.
Elliott was running, enjoying the feeling of the wind in their hair, which fell over their brow in floppy brown curls. They had run cross country in high school and college, and while they’d never been a track star, they had built up enough stamina for running to be easy and enjoyable.
There was a route they liked to take through a nearby neighborhood with a large park. The park had a long, steep hill, and they had their route planned so that by the time they got to the base of the hill they’d be all warmed up. The hill overlooked the town of Madrona, Washington, and they found the view was good motivation to keep going up the steep incline, though after a few months of this routine it had ceased to feel difficult.
With summer over, the rains which would last all of winter and into the spring had set in. Soon after the leaves began to fall. This made the descent from the wooded hill treacherous, as it was often slick with wet leaves. It was under these conditions that a minor accident changed Elliott’s life.
They usually made three laps around the park, in order to get some good hill training in, since it was the only part of the run that still felt at all challenging. They’d done their first round without incident, and were just coming over the crest of the hill on the second lap when their foot hit a patch of wet leaves in the dark.
“Oh god!” they yelped as they hung briefly in mid-air like a cartoon coyote, before gravity took hold and they plummeted to the ground.
As they lay on the path trying to catch their breath, they took stock of their injuries. Their ankle hurt a bit, but didn’t seem to be sprained or broken, and while their right knee ached something fierce where it had hit the paved walkway, a quick visual assessment showed that it was just badly scraped.
They sat there in the dark for a few minutes longer, feeling grateful that nobody had seen what had likely been a rather undignified looking fall. Elliott was a slim person, with long limbs, which could give them either the appearance of grace or, more often, that of a baby giraffe learning to walk. The lack of witnesses was only a small comfort though, and they couldn’t help feeling sorry for themself, all alone as they were in this moment of minor distress.
They sat in stunned silence and watched the blood trickling down their leg from the scrape, only to bead at the back of their calf and fall to the ground.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
They were still being rained on, and the high from their run was wearing off, along with their body heat. Sighing, they picked themself up and began limping back home. They were definitely going to be sore in the morning.
As expected, Elliott’s knee was quite stiff by the following day, and so to their annoyance, they decided to take a few days off from running while they dealt with the inflammation. They’d always been irked by disruptions to their routine, but they’d learned from their years spent on cross country teams that runners who continue to run while injured are only setting themselves up for more injuries in the future. With this in mind, they begrudgingly spent the next few evenings watching videos and reading forums, trying to ease their restless mind.
It was only three or four days before they were sufficiently healed to go running again, and the weather was still damp. Not being a complete fool, this time when they got to the crest of the hill, they decided to slow their pace and just walk back down, rather than risk slipping on the wet leaf sludge which still lingered on the path.
They had only just begun the descent when they were startled by something moving in the shadows. Eliiott’s shoulders tensed as some primitive part of their brain was activated. This part of their brain was keenly aware that humans were not actually at the top of the food chain.
Frozen in place, they peered into the darkness off to the side of the trail, hoping it wasn’t a coyote or mountain lion, or any other wildlife large enough to cause them grievous bodily harm. When the movement started up again, this time joined by a clear rustling sound, their legs suddenly remembered how to move, and they jumped back in alarm.
Without thinking they bolted down the hill, forgetting all previous concerns about falling. To their horror, when they looked over their shoulder they saw that something was following them just off to the side of the trail. They didn’t have time to get a good look, but from its silhouette it seemed to be a good-sized animal, and they internally kicked themself for ignoring all the reports they’d heard about urban wildlife sightings.
Elliott full-out sprinted all the way back to the apartment, not stopping until they reached the door. They looked back once again as they fumbled for their key, expecting to see a rabid stray come tearing around the corner after them at any moment, but to their relief, no such thing happened. With shaking hands they slotted the key into the lock and opened the door, stumbling over the threshold.
As they turned to shut the door behind them, they were surprised to see a stationary figure down at the end of the block, silhouetted by the streetlight. It was the animal they’d seen -- now they could clearly see that it was not a mountain lion, but definitely a canid of some sort. At this distance they still couldn’t tell if it was a coyote or a dog, and as it didn’t seem intent on coming any closer, they took a moment to study it.
It was sitting completely still in the middle of the street, showing no signs of panting from the exertion, unlike Elliott. Its long, triangular ears were held erect above its head, reminding them of the fairytale line, “my what big ears you have.”
The animal suddenly cocked its head to the side, as if to respond the better to hear you with.
Elliott slammed the door and ran all the way up the stairs to their apartment.