Tom was running the twisting path, leaves and thin branches whipping and spraying wet and dirt, mud-slipping underfoot. The jubilation of adrenline, the ache and need to push on and on and know he was alive. Wanting to run and shout and leap high, feel like flying, to catch the tips of the trees in flashing fists. Sure of footing, turning and jumping where the ground dipped. Never slipping, never falling, just to keep on running running running; faster and faster, leaves and brown ground blurred in a sheet.
He imagined, as a spur to speed, that he was chased. It followed after, a creature of rushing shadow with mouth stretched wide wide in jagged want. It was of the air, a clot of smoke polluting everything, a stain that spread. He went faster again, in the elation of his strength, perfection gliding, a dancer.
But it came to him then that it was real. The thing behind him lived, leaping from his mind’s eye into the concrete world. Tom felt a nagging fear, stricken seed of panic expanding inside. He remembered a conversation of the night before. He stumbled.
He said, she said, I said, you said.
He was arguing the point with a can of lager; with the liquid slopping over his fingers.
“It’s our perception that is our reality. What is it? Only what we see and hear and read, and the sense we make of it all. The concrete world is in our minds – this place we think is so safe and steady. It may as well be a dream. And what blurs those edges between our realities? Just conversations, and what we tell ourselves. That’s the only way our minds can meet. But really, we all live in our own heads.”
And now this thing had come at him from inside his head. It chased after him, and at once his perfection slid away. He was no dancer, no athlete, but a stumbling, shambling man. A stitch burned in his side, sweat itched and stung his skin, his heart and lungs heaving and struggling.
It was not real, not real. But why did he feel and know that it was; like magic, his imaginings becoming living things. Couldn’t be true, could it? Not possible, to think of a thing and for that thing to be. But he’d argued it all away last night. He had no reasoning left.
If his reality was inside his mind, who could set limits on it?
He tripped and fell, crashing into a bush of sharp thorns that nearly skinned him. He had no breath to scream, turning to see.
Imagining it was gone.
It was gone.
Nothing there but the muddy track, and he was an absolute fucking idiot for ever thinking it was real. He crawled out of the bush, aching and bleeding from thin scratches on his shoulders and arms. His heart-rate slowed, and he breathed out.
It had seemed real, to him.
He stared at his hands, and imagined them on fire, and screamed as flames flickered suddenly over his skin. Tom thought them away and stood up, wondering if he was mad.
He thought of wings then, and flew.
Chased by his dark imaginings, struggling to believe only in the good.