The sun had gone down a long time before I laced up my shoes, but I was determined to get in my daily run. My cell phone was dead again, so I left it behind. I wasn’t going to be more than three miles away, anyway. Tucking my earbuds into my ears, I left the house and tucked the light into my waistband so cars could see me.
My feet were a thud—thud—thud on the pavement, like the beating of a heart. The music began as I ran down my street and toward the quiet roads that were my usual route. I like things a certain way. From the music I listened to, to the exact cadence of my feet on the road, it’s always a pattern — always.
The first song took me by surprise, and I yanked out my MP3 player to check the name. There was no way “I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight” was supposed to be on there. Did I even have that song?
I live my life a certain way, though, and I don’t skip songs, and I don’t change my route.
The shadows as I left the neighborhood behind were longer than normal. It was a quiet night, and still my feet thudded on the ground in sync with my heart. I tried to shake the eerie feeling that someone was watching me. It was the darkness, and maybe I was too tired to be on a run.
“My Little Runaway” came on, and I yanked my MP3 player out again. I definitely don’t have that song. The previous song might have snuck on with an ‘80s compilation, but no—I didn’t have that song. Behind me, a pair of headlights illuminated the street, but when I turned—nothing. There was no car. “Freaky,” I whispered to myself.
“I Will Survive” by Cake started up—and while I have that song, it wasn’t supposed to be on here. I have a routine—a set routine. Besides, the scrolling letters said, “I Will NOT Survive.” It would have been funny—except that it wasn’t.
I was skirting the forest, and a strange breeze fluttered through the trees and chilled my arms, which already were covered in goose bumps. Nearby, a dog howled just as “Thriller” began. “What is going on?” I asked my MP3 player, and then felt stupid. It was like an homage to strangely titled songs for running in the dark, but it was a weird fluke.
Once again, headlights swung past, but there was no car behind me. There was a dog, and it was getting closer. I didn’t change my route, but I did pick up the pace. The thump of my feet still matched the beat of my heart. I ran faster. I hit the hill I despised going twice my usual speed. The dog was coming, and it was big.
My MP3 player started to play “Helter Smelter.” There was the sudden spot of light from headlights that I knew weren’t behind me. A spot of uneven ground made me stumble, and I caught a glimpse of something large pursuing me as I twisted before recovering.
I ran faster. My throat felt torn and painful. I was back in the neighborhood and the headlights swung around again. I couldn’t look. Whatever was behind me was coming faster. My heart was pounding. My feet were pounding. Faster. I had to go faster.
Hitting the end of my street just as “Silent Night” came on, I yanked the earbuds out of my ears. A quiet rain fell around me, but that was the only sound. I turned to look behind me. Nothing. Nothing was there. I held one of the headphones up to my ears—nothing—my MP3 player was dark as if turned off. My breath was the only sound in the silence. Nothing. It was a quiet run, and nothing had gone wrong, had it?