Jared groaned to himself as he peered out the widow at the deep charcoal clouds hunkering down across the jagged horizon. He had been trapped inside for days, impatiently trying to wait out the seemingly endless string of storms. Forehead against the glass, eyes narrowed in an icy glare, he attempted to will the unwelcome intruders to end their over-long stay.

He might as well have asked the mountains to uproot and bring the flower to him themselves.

At these altitudes, flowers only lived a few short weeks to begin with and this year’s nonstop rain ate into his already-narrow time frame. With one last huff to fog over the windowpane and its offending view, Jared resigned himself to a soggy tromp through rocky trails. He only hoped it wasn’t too late.

The sky grumbled and creaked overhead as Jared trudged across the field toward the trail barely visible against the northeastern tree line of his property. He entered the forest and immediately began the steep incline. Thankfully, the path hadn’t shifted too much in the past year and Jared was grateful for the conspicuous absence of detour-causing landslides. Still, he took extra caution in the rain, using his trusty walking stick here and there to navigate safe footing among the rain-loosened boulders.

Around midday, the trees began to thin, the ground grew sturdier underfoot and Jared started looking for the only thing that would bring him out in this weather. After scouring the grounds for over an hour, Jared began to fear the worst. He threw his head back in a fit of frustration, cursing the leaden skies. In that moment of desperation, mid-scream, body arched toward the heavens, one lone shock of blue caught his eye. There, nestled in a crevice just above his head, grew his yearly offering.

*****

Heel strike, roll through the toe. Heel strike, roll through the toe. Abs in. Pelvis tilted. Active quads. Head up. Knees soft. Shoulders squared. Face relaxed. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

Heel, roll, in through the nose. Toe, push, out through the mouth. Own the stride. Heel. Inhale. Surrender to the cadence. Toe. Exhale. Freedom in the rhythm. Heel. Inhale. Comfort in consistency. Toe…

Comfort in consistency: the very thought made Rachel laugh to herself. The only consistent things in her life these days were the nightmares and the morning runs she used to try to chase them away. Neither of which were what a sane person would consider particularly comfortable.

Maybe that was it. Maybe she had lost her sanity. Maybe she was never sane to begin with. It wasn’t the first time the thought had occurred to her, but it troubled her all the same.

That one moment of hesitation was all it took. Rachel broke into an all-out sprint. But no matter how hard or long or fast she ran she would never outrun her demons, because she could never outrun herself.

Still, she tried.

*****

Every morning Anne awoke with the rooster’s crow. After a few hard blinks and a deep breath or two, she would then dutifully roll out of bed and shuffle to the windows. There she knew if the soft rustle of the opening curtains didn’t rouse him, her dear Micah would soon stir to the sound of the footfalls coming up the road. Anne could almost set her clock by counting the time from the cock’s call to the faint padding in the distance. It was just enough time to slip on a robe and slippers, draw back the panels, take care of morning business and make two cups of coffee and four pieces of toast (with jam, of course). By the time the harried woman from down the lane turned the corner, Anne was back in bed, next to her paralyzed husband, watching him watch her over their morning repast.

While most people would think nothing of a man watching a woman run, those same people might find the thought of his wife watching him watch the woman run rather unsettling. For Anne, however, it was anything but unsettling. Thanks to this mystery runner, Anne was able to find the long-lost glimmer in her husband’s eyes…and it wasn’t the girl. It was what she was doing. It wasn’t the runner. It was the run.

Micah loved to run. He loved the freedom of the run.

*****

Jared’s fingers instantly tightened around the fateful flower. He was sure the piercing cry had come from the elderly woman next door, though he could hardly imagine such a petite person wailing so. One glance at the pot told him he had plenty of time. All he had to do was check on the woman; then he’d be back for the potion and clear for another year. With that, he rushed out the door.

On the road, Rachel heard a second, nearer scream. She was getting closer. A nagging in her head told her press on; it was none of her business. But a tugging on her heart kicked her heels toward the gravel drive.

He came out of nowhere. The man she had seen here and there around town literally knocked her off her feet as he burst through the trees and onto the drive. He offered her a hand up, his left hand, while sputtering explicit apologies. A third cry split the air in two and the couple sprinted for the front door without another word.

From the outside, the little house sat serenely against the mountainous landscape. The front room proved just as pristine as the exterior suggested. Inside the master bedroom, however, the strangers found a chaotic mess.

The little old woman crumpled to the ground, sprawled over a heap of tangled sheets near the window. Broken pieces of plaster and toast lay strewn across the floor. Sticky jam spattered the walls and carpet, deep crimson splotches marring the neutral shades of beige. Jared thought the woman must have fallen and hurt herself until she slumped to the side, revealing the source of her agony.

There by the bed, sheets twisted around him like a shroud, lay the woman’s husband. Color faded from his face, even as they watched. Jared thought the man seized as though possessed by something otherworldly. That one thought led him to an act that, in retrospect, could only have been defined as utter thoughtlessness.

In that instant, Jared was on the ground, gently pushing the woman aside. The man’s face was almost the color of the precious petals still clenched tightly in his fist. Jared knew this man had even less time than he did. Without a second guess, Jared crushed the petals and put them under the man’s tongue.

The running stranger stroked the old woman’s hair in awe and silence as color slowly crept back into the man’s face. As his seizing calmed, so did the woman’s sobs, though she still trembled from the shock. Both women looked at Jared with eyes as large as the saucers now broken and scattered across the floor.

But they weren’t as mesmerized at his miracle as they were by what their eyes saw in his.

The change had begun.