You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #55 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.
The prompt asked that we write a story based on three words:
Dog | Wheelchair | Addiction
This was a tough one for me because the three words seemed unrelated. The idea finally came to me when talking with a friend who is an avid runner.
* * * *
The man breathed heavily when he came to a halt. He removed his gloves and wiped the sweat from his face, plucked the water bottle from his backpack and drank half the Gatorade inside. A vast sky of crimson hues swirled above him, interrupted only by a ribbon of yellow that disappeared beyond the horizon. It was a perfect sunset. Only the muffled noise of distant traffic penetrated the quiet until a loud bark broke the calm.
He clenched his jaw when the dog continued yelping. A dog had changed his life five years ago, and each time he heard one barking, his back stiffened. He tucked his chin into his chest and tried to relieve the tension pressing against his spine.
The rain had stopped, but he was still soaked. Even though the downpour lasted less than a minute, his nylon jersey clung to his torso like static.
He was at the mid-point of his five-mile run, having stopped several times already to take a break. It had taken him a long time to build up his stamina again. He used to run fifteen miles without any problem. Now, everything was difficult where it once seemed effortless. He closed his eyes and felt his thighs tightening, burning from the run. How was this possible? He let out a heavy sigh before opening his eyes. The sensations below his waist disappeared when he peered at his body trapped in the wheelchair.
No legs. Both amputated six inches below his hips.
Phantom limbs, his doctor said. Because he had been a runner all his life, his muscle memory was better than that of other amputees who had lost their legs.
A runner, ha!
He could hardly call himself that anymore, could he?
Running was his obsession at one time. Similar to a drug addiction, he needed a hit of it everyday. He fed off the adrenaline, the pounding in his chest, the sound of his feet hitting the ground. Right before he lost his legs, he was training for his third New York City Marathon.
Now, when he tells his wife he wants to go for a run, she helps him pack up his wheelchair in the van, and they drive to one of several starting points. She picks him up a couple of hours later when he calls her.
Run. What a joke, but what else could he call it?
The same high pitch he heard earlier cut the silence again.
The barking persisted and grew louder. The sky darkened and heavy raindrops thrummed against the metal of his wheelchair. It must have camouflaged the sound of fast-running paws. He didn’t see the shaggy mutt until it leapt on top of him.
A young female in jogging gear came running behind the dog. “Chester, come back here!”
The furry creature pranced on where his lap should have been.
“Chester, off!” The woman yanked the dog by his collar away from the wheelchair. She immediately clicked a leash on him and tightened her hold. The dog had little room to move from her side. “I am so sorry. He got away from me down in the valley. Are you all right?”
The man looked up at her face. Her big blue eyes opened wide, a furrow in between her brow. Rain ran down her cheeks and made her appear as if she was crying, but she wasn’t.
“I’m fine,” he said. He brushed off the mud tracks on his jersey from the dog’s paws. “He’s a feisty one, you should keep him on a leash out here.”
She shushed Chester when he barked again. “I know. He’s still a puppy, too much energy … I took him off leash to let him run some of it off, but I didn’t expect him to get away from me.” She hesitated and her face changed. “Are you okay? I mean … will you be all right to get home?”
He recognized the look, an expression of someone who knew she could walk away, but was hesitant to do so because he obviously could not. It was sympathy. He didn’t want it, didn’t need it, but had learned to accept it. He likened it to the brief interaction one makes before throwing a few coins in a beggar’s cup. The act of charity makes it easier to keep going.
“I’ll be fine,” he said, releasing her of her guilt.
“Okay.” She smiled and loosened her grip on the leash. Chester took a few steps toward him before she pulled him back. “Sorry again about … you know, Chester jumping on you.”
He nodded and watched her jog down the valley. Even under loose track pants, he could tell she had strong, muscular legs—runner’s legs, like he once had before the accident. Chester reminded him a bit of that dog—the one he swerved to avoid hitting on that two-lane country road.
The dog survived.
The driver of the truck he collided with also survived.
The only thing that didn’t make it—his legs.
Has an animal ever crossed your path while you were driving? How did you react? Feel free to leave a comment or ask me a question. I’d love to hear from you. ♥