Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
Let me begin by saying that I absolutely hate running. It’s not so much the grueling, physical aspect but it is just so boring to me. It’s a pointless activity, unless you do it for sport or you’re trying to lose weight or something like that.
A lot of people have been asking what exactly happened to me. It’s been quite a number of months now but what I remember from this experience is honestly pretty fresh and vivid in my mind, given the circumstances. Sorry it’s so long, but you people wanted details. You can choose to believe me or not, but this is what happened.
It was about halfway through the track season of my junior year and I was just ready for it be over. Like I said earlier, I hate running. My intentions at the start of the season were to drop a few pounds and hang out with friends but I had already lost almost 15 pounds and most of my friends at this point.
The first week that track began, my two closest friends along with the girl I loved and two of her friends were in the car on the highway when they had a head on collision with a drunk driver. Her two friends both survived, along with my best friend who I hear is just now able to walk again. My other good friend and my girlfriend (we’ll call her Nicole) weren’t as lucky. This might sound selfish or heartless, but dammit, I wish her friends were taken instead of her. I refuse to go into detail about their deaths, but that’s all you need to know for now.
After they passed away, I was completely devastated, as you would expect. Nicole and I were very serious, or as serious as a high school relationship could be. We had been together for a little over two years and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I would marry her after we graduated. I was utterly in love with her.
I never sunk to a state of insanity but I entered a massive state of depression and I pretty much cut off all communication with any of my other friends and even my friend that was in the hospital from the crash. I feel horrible for never visiting him but I just didn’t want to accept what had happened. I still don’t.
I don’t want you to think I’m insane, because I’m not. Obviously I’m sane enough to write this and I’m sane enough to come to the realization that I was depressed, which is normal behavior for what I experienced. The way things happened are confusing and the way that I present this story is the best way I know how to, showing you all exactly what was running through my mind.
I swear to God I’m not insane.
The rain was beating heavily against the already muddy ground, transforming the dirt path into a massive slide. I had to be careful with every step as I stomped down the momentarily steep slope. My feet were sliding in every direction with each forward motion. It was what seemed to be a horrible day for a run. But not for me. I only enjoyed running when it was in the rain. It was exhilarating.
I was stumbling quite uncontrollably down the trail, following the rest of the runners I was with. My momentum combined with inertia and the poor weather created an unstoppable force that couldn’t be slowed down. Unless, of course, I were to trip and face-plant into the mud.
I lay motionless for a few moments before I realized that I needed to get up and keep close to the group. These woods were incredibly dense and the trail parted many different ways more than once throughout. This was certainly not an ideal time to be lost. My focus instantly switched from getting all the mud off my face to catching up with the rest of the runners. I ran distance and on this day in particular, we were running through the massive forrest and trail system right behind our school. We technically weren’t permitted to run back there, but it was our only option when we need to run a lot of hills in our workout. Nothing could really go wrong, anyway.
I sprinted forward for a minute or so when I came to a part where the trail continued to go straight or you could make a sharp left.
Of course, I thought, there had to be a turn right now.
I stopped and thought which way I would go if I were a group of teenage boys, so I chose to go straight.
I picked up my sprint again and held it for no longer than 90 seconds before I had to catch my breath. I slowed down enough to breathe but my survival instincts told me I needed to find my group. I couldn’t figure out why they hadn’t turned around to come back and look for me. They had to have noticed I was gone by now. They weren’t leaving me on purpose, were they? No, I told myself they weren’t. That’s insane, they wouldn’t do that.
The rain was pouring harder and harder as I frantically searched for my team. Time was passing and I knew the run would be over soon. I kept searching long after I knew they were gone and there was no hope of finding them. I had lost track of time and I didn’t bring a watch or phone or anything. I couldn’t use the sun to judge the time because I had no idea where it was hidden behind the ominous clouds. I wasn’t familiar with these trails at all and the panic really set in when I realized how lost I was.
I continued running for what seemed like hours on end. Brutal exhaustion possessed my body by now and the temperature seemed to drop at least 20 degrees. I had to get out of here. The trail was never-ending, I swear to God I ran down that trail for 20 miles.
Haven’t I been here already?
This is the 4th time I’ve seen that tree.
I’m starving. I need rest.
It’s at least 10. My mom is gonna kill me.
This is the 5th time I’ve seen that fucking tree.
Why is no one searching for me?
My legs couldn’t take anymore. I had to stop. I collapsed into the soft, yet freezing embrace of the mud. In that moment, I was ready to die. I was losing my mind. There was no way that someone hadn’t come searching for me already. How had I not found the edge of the forrest by now?
I had given myself to nature. If I had died right there, I would have been just fine. As I was drifting in and out of consciousness, I heard a noise that was getting increasingly louder. Not louder, exactly, but closer.
Someone is coming for me! They found me!
“Hey, I’m over here! Help me, I’m right here!” I mustered up enough energy to yell.
I quickly realized that no one was there. No one was going to help me. It was just a dog. It was a big dog. Seriously, it was the biggest fucking dog I had ever seen in my entire life. You know those terrifying dogs that are as big as horses? This was bigger than those.
The dog’s incessant barking was muffled by the rain pounding in my ear, which had made me numb to most noise at this point. I knew that I was in danger as I heard the barking draw nearer and nearer. I jumped to my feet as the dog approached me, ready to fight for my life. To my surprise, the dog simply stopped about 10 feet from me and began barking even more rapidly. It didn’t appear to want to attack me but I knew that this was a very clear and present danger. I needed to make my move.
I knew I didn’t have nearly enough energy to out-run this horse/dog creature, so I scanned the ground for any sort of tree limb or weapon. The ground was pretty clear other than the inch-thick mud covering all of the green grass and the dirt path. I was standing in the middle of a forrest and there weren’t any sticks on the ground. This just was not my day. I looked up and the rain drilled into my eyeballs as I stared into the night sky. The moon was almost full and it illuminated the area surprisingly well through the looming trees overhead.
I wiped my eyes clear of the rain and faced the dog. Its blurred visage began creeping towards me slowly and I knew I had to attack. I lunged at it with whatever force I had within me and elbowed it right in the neck. I gave it a couple of quick blows to the head and jumped off to begin running away. It barked and whimpered furiously from behind me as I headed deeper into the forrest.
My running continued for a few minutes but I had no energy. I hadn’t eaten in about 8 hours and I knew it must have been close to midnight by now. The running had taken its toll on my body and I needed rest. I would have done anything to be home in bed. Fortunately, the rain was calming down quite significantly at this point. There was only a slight drizzle coming from the calm sky.
I came to a clearing in the forrest.
I haven’t been here before, I thought.
The clearing was empty except for a big tree stump in the middle. There were no trees inside of the massive, empty circle of land but trees surrounded the whole area. The moonlight reflected perfectly through the sky onto the stump in the very center. Words can’t explain how beautiful this sight was; it was truly a majestic scene. It was exactly how you would imagine, like something in a movie. I walked towards the center slowly but I stopped because I knew I must be hallucinating. There was no way this was real, it was all too perfect. I heard something shuffle around in the trees.
A bright red bird emerged and landed delicately on the tree stump.
I felt a lump in my throat. Instantly, memories came flooding back to me.
“Oh, so you’re saying you could beat me?”
“I know I could beat you. Don’t you remember that time on New Years? We didn’t get to finish the game but I was beating you so bad!”
“Oh, whatever! That doesn’t count, I hardly even remember it. I was too occupied by your drunk grandmother!”
“Don’t bring that sweet lady into this. I don’t wanna hear your excuses.”
We were always bickering about stupid stuff. It was never entirely serious and the conversation always contained laughter and playful flirtation. That’s what I loved about Nicole: she could take a joke. I could say something slightly insulting to her and she would return with something twice as mean. She was even more sarcastic than myself, which is difficult to find.
The air was fresh and the sun had just begun to set. It was the end to a perfect day together at the park where we had a picnic and made each other play on the children’s playground that was much too small for teenagers. There was a big hill that overlooked the entire area and that’s where we were to watch the sunset. A single, large oak tree rested above us as we hoarded its shade.
Nicole was leaned up against me, resting softly as our breathing patterns seemed to match to each other. A rustle was heard in the tree above us and a flash of red darted towards the ground a couple feet from us.
“Ooo, don’t scare it!” Nicole said in a somewhat hushed tone. “Look how beautiful it is!”
It was a little red bird with black wings and tail.
“It’s a scarlet tanager!” she exclaimed.
I couldn’t help but let out a laugh. “Why do you even know that? You nerd!” I replied playfully.
She hit me. I guess I deserved that. She laughed too, though, reassuring me that her feelings weren’t hurt.
“Shut up! You know I got put in that nature class this year on accident,” she said defensively. “It’s a beautiful creature and I’ve actually found a new appreciation for nature recently.”
“Gosh, Nicole, sorry! I never knew you were such a hippie.”
She laughed even harder at that one and hit me again. I love that girl.
I snapped back into reality and my moment of happiness was instantly washed away. I had been stuck in the forrest for hours now with no sign of help. The tanager flew away and I was only left with the memory. I was destroyed, physically and emotionally.
I saw something on the other side of the clearing.
It was barely moving between some trees, slowly. My first thought was that it was just an animal and I almost shrugged it off, but it seemed to be wearing some sort of robe. I walked even closer and I stopped beside the tree stump and I began to make out the image of a person. They were wearing what appeared to be a white dress and I was taken back by why someone was in the forrest wearing a dress. My heart jumped at the sight of another human being though and I began to rush forward.
I stopped dead in my tracks when I realized it was Nicole. She turned around and her long brown hair glistened down over the white of her dress. I recognized those bright green eyes instantly. She stared at me for a second and smiled but then she started walking away. I couldn’t let her get away.
My bewilderment and excitement turned my dead energy into pure adrenaline. My only goal was to catch up to her. I wanted to hold her and never let her go. I used whatever energy remained to sprint back into the trees after her. Why was she running away? Didn’t she want to be with me, too? Maybe she hated me.
Maybe she hated me.
No, she couldn’t hate me.
She loves me.
She loves me, right?
“Nicole!” I yelled as I ran. She didn’t stop.
I couldn’t give up. She couldn’t get away. She was so fast. She was outrunning me. She was barely in my sight enough for me to continue following her. My legs were just about to give out when I could feel my body ready to collapse again. Maybe I was already dead. I died long ago when I fell down and this was my Hell. I was trapped here forever.
I could see something bright in the distance. It was shining through the trees and around Nicole’s body until I couldn’t see her anymore because the lights were making me so dizzy. I was running as fast as I could until I broke through that last line of trees.
Cop cars. Bright lights. Dark figures.
There were 3 police cars and a couple other cars along with an ambulance scattered around the lot. I recognized the place as my school parking lot. I was on the very edge where it met part of the forrest.
“There he is!” someone yelled.
My vision was still slightly blurred as I tried to make out their faces. It was my mom! My mom and two other police officers were rushing toward me.
“My baby! My baby! I’m so glad you’re safe!” my mom muttered through tears as she embraced me. Her embrace was the only thing keeping me from hitting the ground. One of the police officers called into his radio that they found me and the search was off.
“Let’s get you to the paramedics,” the taller officer said.
They helped me over to the back of the ambulance where another officer was standing. He had bandages and bruises on his face.
“Well look who it is,” he said to me in a sarcastic tone. “You sure knocked me good.”
“What do you mean?” I managed to ask.
“You got a couple good hits on my face when I found you out there yesterday. Almost knocked me clear out.”
My heart skipped a beat.
Yesterday? I thought. My mind was racing.
“I never saw anyone out there. I didn’t hit anyone.”
“Yeah, I found you and told you to come with me but you attacked me. I didn’t mean to scare ya, I was just tryna bring you to safety,” he told me.
The dog! I must have been hallucinating.
“What did you mean by yesterday? I was only lost for a couple hours. During practice, I was running with the rest of the team out there when I got separated” I told them, confused.
My mom and the officers all looked at each other, bewildered. My mom spoke up.
“Sweetheart, you were missing for over 2 days. The track season ended last month… You weren’t running with anyone.”
2 days?! There’s no way I was gone for that long. I know the track season wasn’t over, I even talked to the guys before we ran.
My heart was beating very frantically and as I understand, I had a really bad panic attack and my body shut down. I was starving and exhausted from apparently being without food and rest for 2 days. I passed out.
The next morning, I woke up in my own bed. My sight was still blurry and it took a moment to readjust. I looked at the clock and it made out 11 something through my blurry vision. After my eyes focused, I glanced over at my windowsill, refreshed to see some sunlight.
A red tanager was looking at me through my window.
Credit To – Eli Lucas