The outcome of reading John's hauntingly beautiful story and hearing Hank sing Edison's last words over and over again.
Run run run run run.
My lungs felt like they'd been doused in kerosene and someone put a lit match to them, which, if I stopped to count the number of cigarette cartons I'd blown through this past year, probably wasn't terribly far from the truth. I wasn't so much breathing as gasping, sucking in ragged drags of thick, muggy air that only made the searing pain in my side burn more.
Takumi's voice was resounding inside my skull. No one can catch the motherfucking fox.
How long I'd been at this, I didn't know. A while, I guess. The sweat dripping into my eyes stung like all hell, leaving me half-blind as I flew past the towering trees. My heart seemed bent on breaking my ribs, my legs were cramping, my feet were beating almost rhythmically against the undergrowth and fallen twigs, but I didn't stop. There was nothing but running and breathing, breathing and running. There was no room for thinking, which was exactly what I wanted.
Ever since I had come home, all I had done was think. For the first time in my life, I wanted more layers to stand between me and something, between me and this feeling. But there were no layers now. None.
Run run run run run, Alaska whispered.
And then the world was ripped out from under me.
My foot snagged on an exposed root, and without enough time to even go through the motions of trying to catch myself from falling, my body did what I can only imagine was a midair somersault that ended with my back slamming hard into the ground. For a good couple of minutes, all I could do was wheeze and cough. Once my head stopped spinning and each punishing breath I took was downgraded to the sensation of a knife-thrust to my windpipe instead of the wrath of a very small but equally solar irradiant sun that was being self-sustained inside my chest, I opened my eyes again.
I was on a slope that was not steep enough to be considered a hill, but not flat enough to blend in with the rest of the terrain. I wondered if it felt like a geographical misfit, not being one thing or the other, just wedged in between.
I didn't bother getting up. Even the dirt and grass were hot beneath me, but I lay there feeling the heat of the baked earth seep through my clothes while I contemplated the implications of a landscape with identity crisis issues and let my eyes sluggishly stray to my surroundings.
They stopped on a lone tree growing out of the opposite not-hill. It was, in a word, fuckinmassive. Spreading out in all directions, it blotted out the sky in a thick tangle of branches and dry-looking foliage.
I stared. What I had thought were leaves began to shiver. I might have taken it for a passing breeze, but the air was as stagnant and humid as ever, and I realized what I was looking at—birds, hundreds of them, perched in that tree.
I couldn't look away. The sight was eerie somehow. It reminded me of those Magic Eye optical illusions, the ones where if you look long enough and hard enough, you find pictures hidden within the patterns. I was never really any good at them as a kid; I was the last to discover the secret every time. I had always wondered if I was really that bad at the game, or if the others kids were only pretending to see what they thought they were supposed to.
Like they had received a private cue, the birds took off into sky, all of the hundreds. I watched as they performed their swooping, intricate acrobatics. One moment they looked perfectly controlled, effortlessly and tightly gliding and diving in unison. The next they were wild, careening, spiraling, plunging, breaking apart into two groups that almost exactly mirrored each other until it seemed they would crash, only to seamlessly come together again.
If the Buddhists had it right, if reincarnation was what happened to us after we died, Alaska could be a bird.
She could be, came surprisingly savage from inside my head. Why not? Why couldn't she?
A dazzling slice of lightning split the sky, chased by a low roll of thunder that I felt rumble deep inside my chest. It wasn't really unexpected. The livid sky had been threatening to break all day. That was Florida for you. The birds, however, went ballistic, and for a minute I thought they would scatter in all directions in their frenzy. They didn't; they fled together, leaving me behind.
I made no move to go even when I felt the first heavy drops clash against my face. It was a long time after I was soaked through that I finally stood up and began to make my way back home. I walked slowly as it continued to pour in sheets. Walked and thought.
Maybe Alaska was rain and, at least for a little while, she had come back to remind me that I could be more than drizzle.
End Author's Notes
For Nerdfighters. You are made of awesome.