The concept of 'unlucky' numbers has always confused me. I mean, what exactly made a little digit (or two) or a value placeholder in a counting system unlucky? What made people think that, 'oh, this number, non-distinguishable from any of the numbers beside it is obviously one that must be associated with misfortune and misery?' By this, I'm largely referring to the number 13 in western culture, and the 4-7 in Chinese cultures. Oh sure, I've read all the religious back stories and historical reasons, but it always just seemed so stupid to me. After all, do you purposefully avoid letting black cats cross your paths in fear of 7 years of bad luck? Or making sure you avoid cracks to help your mother's back? No? Then why do people designing apartments purposely leave out the '13th' floor, needlessly confusing people from other cultures and backgrounds living in our otherwise great accommodations? Your guess is as good as mine.
But at this point, I'm just rambling. Not without a purpose, mind you. Because this is very much a story about numbers. A number already mentioned in fact; the number 13 to be specific. A number I've always remembered fondly throughout the majority of my life, and one that has certainly never brought me any great misfortune. In fact, you might even go as far as to say that 13 was my favourite number. Though at the end of all this, I might have to seriously start reconsidering….
Now, with all my talk about numbers and the number 13, you'd probably think that there's a common predictable theme coming up. Like, for example, this story taking place right after my 13th birthday. Well, sorry to disappoint you, but such isn't the case. I was 16 at the time, when everything started. 16, at the start of the school year, with my birthday several months behind me. 16, in the third gym class of the year. Yup, I was 16 and some odd months, on that day that I now realize was far more important than it seemed.
"Run you maggots, run! 8 laps around the course and NO STOPPING!" The sound of Coach Ryan's snarled voice as he shouted at us.
The third gym class of the year, and we had already gotten quite a good idea of how the year was going to be. The newest addition to Molren High's phys Ed department, Coach Ryan looked like a retiree from the state marines. 40 going onto 50, he still looked like a man in his prime, with just the barest hint of muscle fat to hint at an aging male no longer receiving his daily marine training regiment. Which would be all good and well, if he didn't seemed so intent on forcing said regime down 11th grade throats.
"Make it a race, you guys! Last HALF OF THE CLASS TO PASS THIS LINE 8 TIMES RUNS ANOTHER 4 LAPS! And NO STOPPING!" With the shrill of the whistle around his neck, the coach signaled to a line drawn into the sand by his foot.
Immediately, the pressure was on. You could feel the sudden change in atmosphere, as the gym class switched from "have to laze my way through this jog" mode to "gotta at least beat half of these guys" mode. The strongest runners increased their lead immediately, setting the pace for the rest of us to follow. Everyone pretty much upped their level of effort, except those guys who knew they would be at the bottom of the bottom half, even with their best efforts.
I found myself picking up speed as well. After all, I wasn't anywhere close to being the fastest in my class, but on the other hand, I wasn't exactly bottom of the barrel either. If I had to rate myself, I'd probably put myself close to the middle of the pack, neither exceptionally fast nor exceptionally slow. That meant I had about a 50-50 chance of ending up in the bottom half. And I really, really didn't want to end up in the bottom half.
Run run run run run
'ah ahh. ah ahh'
The sound of regulated breathing as everyone settles into their respective speeds and jogs their way around our school's track and field field. The third lap goes by, then the fourth. The fifth passes without any significant incident, though I think I saw some of the ones in last place start walking. By the time the sixth lap came around, the differences became more pronounced.
'pant pant. pant pant.'
Laboured breaths start emerging from the majority of us in the middle of the pack. The ones at the lead are starting to pull even further away from us, as if to use their slowly-receding shoulders to shout to us, "you'll never catch us, so better start thinking about how to get ahead of the rest of those guys beside you."
The seventh lap swings around, and we try to increase our pace again. For us average guys, the more we push ourselves, the more panting erupts from our chests that badly urge us to stop. I'm pushing myself over and over, telling my body, "keep up with the guy beside you, don't let him overtake you for anything". All the while, my body is screaming at me, "dude, we can't keep this up for much longer!"
That's my breathing pattern, in case you were curious. I always keep it a point to keep my breathing regulated when jogging, even though I might achieve greater speeds by letting it run a natural breathing rate. I find it keeps my endurance up. Each count is both one single exhale and one single inhale.
Slowly, at the mere periphery of my vision, the people at my side begin pulling forward. Slowly, but surely, I'm falling behind.
We pass the midway point for the 7th lap. The people around me continue to pull ahead. None of the bottom quarter of the class has any chance of beating me, but at this rate I'll probably end up in the bottom half...
Ah to hell with it.
I switched breathing patterns, and began to use my mouth to breath instead of my nose. In other words, I completely stop trying to breathe regularly, and push my body to move even faster!
Exhaling and inhaling twice per count or more by now, I began to close the gap between myself and the ones immediately in front of me...
But it's not enough...they're still maintaining their lead over me!
We pass the marker for the eighth lap.
My body is screaming a different message now. One more like, "I'm at my limit, you son of a b***! LET ME STOP ALREADY!" Such is the price of disregarding a regulated breathing pattern.
Pumping my arms and legs, I keep trying to go faster. But to no avail. I just couldn't increase my speed anymore. Each individual action, from lifting my leg to pumping my arm, felt like moving lead. Every part of my body screamed at me to stop, and take a break.
I have no idea why I chose to count the 13th breath. Really, I don't. Normally, I'd stop at the 12th breath and start counting backwards. Maybe it was the desperate need for oxygen getting to me. Maybe it was because 13 is my favourite number. Maybe it was a completely subconscious thing, that my conscious mind was ignoring in lieu of other pressing concern.
Either way, when I counted that breath, a miracle happened.
The feeling of lead left my arms and legs. My breathing completely stabilized, and I found I wasn't even out of breath. And most importantly of all, I was suddenly flying.
No, not flying as in superman. Flying as in, I was running really fricken fast. I overtook the pair of runners in front of me with no problem. Effortlessly, I breezed past the leaders of middle pack. And I was still going faster.
Soon, I had quite literally left them in my dust. To the front of me, nearing the half-way point of the eighth lap, I caught sight of the fastest people in my class. In what seemed like no time at all, I caught up to them.
My name's Jackson Ray, by the way.
And incredibly, impossibly, in just a few more effortless strides, I passed even the fastest kids in my class. Overtaking them, I passed the designated finish line. I had won the race, and more likely than not, I'd probably broken some running record to boot.
The coach, having already judged me previously, was naturally quite surprised.
Being lost for words for a few moments...he could only stare at me, slack-jawed, when I arrived faster than the class' fastest.
In another few minutes the rest of the class finished the final lap...
"Uh...right, good hussle, group! And you bottom half, GET STARTED ON YOUR EXTRA LAPS!"
With more than a few groans and moans, the unlucky and untalented second half began lazily jogging their penalty laps.
"And Jackson...where have you been HIDING that speed of yours!"
I flashed a tired smile to the Coach, and opened my mouth to answer...
Then promptly collapsed onto the grassy field.
Looking back at it, this was the day when I really noticed something was different about me. Looking back at it, this was the day when it all began.
A/N: A new story, a new start! This will actually be just a collection of shorts involving this character of mine, Jackson Ray. But hey, if you look closely enough, you may notice a thing or two!
P.S: Don't worry, I haven't given up on War of Wishes. Just school and all that stuff has made me want to write some shorter pieces to up my grammar/writing styles.