I. The Jogger
Leaving the red and heat-scorched road behind, he veered down the trail into the shadows of the forest, grateful for the respite from the sun’s relentless burn. Tall, slender pines swayed with a breeze. Cicadas sang. Off in the distance, he heard the ancient warning of the rattlesnake, but he ignored the primal fear rising on the periphery of his senses. The bulk of his focus placed on his pulsating heart and the steady beat of his feet hitting earth as he jogged. The wilderness was just a passing landscape: a fading entity less real than the internal thrum of blood pumping through veins.
The humidity pressed down upon him. His sweat-stained shirt stuck to his chest and back. He felt movement all around, but shrugged it off, assuming it was the flock of wild turkeys he knew frequented this forest. There was a rustle in the wild blackberry bushes lining the path, but he left it behind without giving it any thought.
The kudzu laughed as it entwined itself along the trunks and branches, an exotic import dominating a new home. Dragonflies gathered together, forming thick clouds which hummed with the beat of millions of lacy and translucent wings. The ghosts of empires long gone – hidden beneath centuries of ancient hard-wood forests which preceded the current pines – whispered riddles in languages lost and forgotten.
And he jogged, oblivious to it all.
The mystery surrounded him, shimmering like heat waves on asphalt. There are windows into other worlds and realities that all too often go unnoticed as we run past them at a relentless pace. He left his past to find a temporary present sparing no thoughts for the darkness ahead.
II. The End of Everything
“We are nearing the end,” she said. Her hair shimmered beneath the sun as it waved, wind-swept and disheveled. I had never seen her look more beautiful.
“The end of what?” I asked as I pushed the throttle forward. The boat sped up and I squinted despite my sunglasses because the sun was magnified and fractured by the ripples all around us.
“The end of everything.” She smiled at me, her teeth fell from her mouth, and her beauty melted. She aged and degraded from beauty queen to corpse to dust, and then she blew away.
The lake became primordial ooze, and it stunk. It stunk with the rot of life, the stench of reproduction, a hint of honeysuckle beneath it all. With the stench there was beauty, the promise of spring, the rebirth from the wreckage. Roses fertilized by manure.
The vision passed quickly like a summer storm and I saw her again. Smiling and beautiful, she rubbed a swelling and exposed belly pulsating with new life as she lounged on the padded seat next to me in her maternity bathing suit.
“Or is it the beginning?” I asked.
Beneath open skies, flowers bloom and sway with a delicate breeze while casting shadows in silence.