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Take your Marks

     Alison adjusted the position of her feet staring intently down the track. She’d been sprinting up and down for almost an hour now and her legs were beginning to ache with the effort. The world seemed to be holding its breath as the silence stretched on. She was starting to wonder if Jerry, her running coach, would ever give her the greenlight when suddenly...

 

     “Take your marks…GO!” She launched forward pouring everything into the sprint, breath burning in her chest, legs protesting painfully at the strain. But crossing that line was the only important thing right now. It felt impossibly long and no time at all before slowed and jogged to the far wall. Her heart hammered in her chest and she raised her fingers to feel the pulse in her throat as she walked slowly back. “12.27!” called Jerry from his chair at the finish line. She let out a massive groan sinking into a squat and hissing at the ache in her legs. “Could be worse,” said Jerry nodding sagely. Alison groaned again and sank onto the floor staring up at the high ceiling of the hall.

     “Not good enough!” she said, letting the cool floor soothe her muscles.

     “You’ll get there,” he said absentmindedly, still looking at the stopwatch.

     “You’ll get there,” she mocked in a sing-song voice. “Can we stop now?” she asked propping herself up on her elbows.

     “Once more.” She lay down, sighing. “Once more,” said Jerry his voice hard. Alison knew there was no arguing. Though it was the last thing she wanted to do she pushed herself to her feet and walked, sullenly, back to the start. “Ready?” She didn’t answer but crouched once again into the start position. “Take your marks…GO!”

     Her whole body exploded with pain. Everything was on fire. Her legs, her heart, her very mind was felt like it was being scorched. Every cell seemed to be being ripped apart within her. She could not tell up from down. Was she still standing or curled upon the floor? Was she screaming or had the pain taken her voice as well? Why? Why was this happening? All she knew was that it had to stop or it would kill her.

     And stop it did. It vanished as quickly as it had come. Terrified that any movement would set it off again she lifted her eyelids the barest fraction. Everything was blur. She blinked clearing her vision enough to see the wall a few inches from her face. Then everything went black.

***

     “Do you think she’d dead?”

     “No, you idiot, she’s breathing.”

     “Did you see how hard she hit that wall?”

     “Never seen anything like that.”

     Alison could feel a tingling in the tips of her fingers and toes, but it was nothing to the pounding in her head.

     “Look! Look! She’s moving?” cried an excited voice. Was she? Well now that this dummy had said she had she supposed she better do something. She shifted her arm that was thrown over her head, turning slightly to see a small crowd of people leaning over her. Everyone that had been in the sports hall was now watching her in concern.

     “Wha…what?” It was all she could manage, though she wasn’t sure what came out of her mouth were words or a kind of mangled moan.

     “Alison?” it was Jerry’s voice. He pushed to the front of the crowd and pulled Alison to her feet before she had a chance to protest. Next second she was sitting in his usual chair by the running track. “What happened?” he asked urgently, his usually vacant face now half panicked, half confused. Immediately she felt offended.

     “How the hell do I know?” she shouted, surprising even herself. “One second I was at the start of the track, then there was this…this…” she faltered as she thought back to what had happened. That indescribable pain. She didn’t want to think about it. “You lot are the ones that saw it, you tell me what happened.”

     They said nothing, instead they turned one by one to the far wall. There was a huge dent, filled with cracks and broken pieces of plaster. Alison knew that should she stand in front of it that it would be her exact size and shape. Like a cartoon character.

     “Huh,” she looked back to Jerry. “What time?” He looked at her, then at the stopwatch in his hands, back at her his mouth agape. “What time?” she repeated.

     “I…I didn’t get it,” he mumbled still staring at her with incredulity.

     “Aw c’mon Jerry!” she whined. She had run hard and fast enough to dent the wall and he hadn’t gotten the time?

     “Alison you don’t understand, you went too fast.” There were many nods of agreement from the group.

     “Oh please,” she said stretching. She was starting to feel a bit more like herself again “If you had just been paying a bit more attention then I’m sure you could’ve-”

     “No, you don’t understand.” It was a girl that she recognised from one of the relay teams, Francesca something or other. Her face was pale. She looked almost fearful. “You went too fast for any of us to see.” Elisha took a moment to process that piece of information, but she still didn’t quite understand.

     “What do you mean? You turned around and I had already hit the wall or…?”

     “No,” she said, her mouth set into a thin line. “I mean you went too fast for us to see. You were a blur; it was like you just appeared over there.” She trailed off, but many of the others were nodding in agreement. Alison shook her head, her long blonde hair sticking to her sweaty shoulders. She looked back to broken wall. Despite the protests she got up out of the chair and made her way over to it. At least she made the decision to make her way over there. Before she could blink she was there. Her feet had touched the floor, she went for a closer look, then she was there. She’d wanted to walk over there quickly, but this…

     “You see?” said Francesca behind her. Alison tried again, this time a light jog. It felt like normal, one foot in front of the other. Suddenly she was in front of the double doored entrance. She giggled; she couldn’t help it. This was brilliant. She knew she should be afraid but elation coursed through her. tried again, this time at a full out, joy-filled sprint. Big mistake. The wall loomed right in front of her face, then her vision went black once more.

***

It had taken a long time to get her home. Jerry drove but once out of the car it became very difficult. Each time she tried to walk on her own she would shoot forward like a bar of soap between desperately clutching fingers. When they had finally reached her front door a good few hours later, she tried to shake Jerry off but he was having none of it.

     “There’s something wrong, Alison,” he said still trying to support her by the arm.

     “You don’t say,” she snapped back, pulling her arm away. He continued to stare worryingly at her as she began to fidget on the spot. “I’m sorry,” she said after a moment “I’ll be fine.”

     She edged her way inside, trying very hard not to go shooting down the hallway. Jerry was stood on her doorstep and Alison softened slightly. “Look, I’ll call you tomorrow, okay? I’m sure I’ll be fine.” She gave a weak smile, and finally he turned to go. Before she could stop herself, she called after him. “Hey, at least it was under twelve seconds, right?” He looked back at her but did not smile.

***

     Alison woke with a start, the sound of hammering at her front door. Grumbled she turned to look at the clock on her bedside table. It was 7:13 in the morning; a good seventeen minutes before her alarm was supposed to go off. Whoever was robbing her of another seventeen minutes of sleep was going to get an earful. The knocking continued. She threw the covers back, muttering darkly, and stormed to her bedroom door. At least she hadn’t busted through it. It seemed her practise up and down the hall last night had paid off. However, steps were still a no go at high speeds.

     “Alright! alright! Give me a second!” she yelled at her impatient visitor as she carefully manoeuvred down the stairs. It took a long time to reach the front door and wrench it open. “What?!” she snarled trying to look as intimidating as possible in her pink pyjama top and rainbow shorts. There was a soldier on her front doorstep, looking down at her with an alarmed look on his face. He was tall, with dark skin and a friendly face.

     “Miss Gregory?” he asked, in an almost nervous voice.

 

     “Yes?” she replied, suddenly feeling a little sheepish. He gave a sharp nod.

 

     “Miss Gregory, have you exhibited any unusual abilities as of late? Specifically, after 1:36 in the pm yesterday?” That was specific.

 

     “What sort of abilities?” He pulled a folded piece of paper from a pocket and scanned it.

 

     “You’re a runner, apparently,” he said, reading off the paper. She leaned up on her toes to try and read it. “Miss?”

 

     “Yes, so?”

 

     “Well,” he hesitated “Has your running, um, changed in any way?” Alison took a step back, suddenly cold. Someone had told on her. Someone had gone running to the military, of all people. She said nothing, but the soldier seemed to take her silence as the answer he needed. Nodding all the while he put the paper back in his pocket. “Miss Gregory, I don’t suppose you caught the broadcast made by the prime minister yesterday?” Alison shook her head.

 

     “I was running,” she half whispered more to herself than to him.

 

     “Allow me to tell you about the Donatus programme Miss Gregory.”

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