Sprint

When I wake up, I do not know where I am.

The sun is bright and harsh, temporarily blinding me. It burns out of the center of a featureless sky the shade of an eggshell. Vague wisps of gray cloud hang at the horizon. The ground around me is loose red pebbles, stretching for miles in every direction before reaching a high bluff that looks like a mere shadow in the distance. I am in the middle of a valley, and there are no plants, trees, or wind. The entire planet seems to be holding its breath.

There is only one detail around me worth noticing. Half buried in the stones is a large mirror. A jagged crack has split the glass in two, and each half reflects a crazy image of me as I stare at it. Something must be wrong with it, because I can see myself endlessly repeated into its depths. Hundreds of thousands of millions of myself all stacked on top of each other, making the same face. I do not know what to think of it.

I stand and instantly feel dizzy. The heat is oppressive, pressing down on me with a physical weight. Everything around me seems hazy and distorted in the intense sunlight. How did I get to this place? And more importantly, how do I leave?

In the silence I suddenly hear a scuffling noise, and I look to see a small figure running in the distance towards the bluffs and away from me. I am not alone. Part of me wants to yell but knows that they will never hear me. My only chance is to catch them.

I start running.

I appear to be a good runner, for I am racing across the ground at a blinding speed, the stones blurring as my feet pound over them. Moving through the air creates a bit of a breeze, and I relish its cooler touch as it brushes over my sweaty skin. Running like this, I should catch this figure in no time.

The figure is almost to the top of the bluff, its white outfit standing out against the stones. I am gaining on it, but suddenly it reaches the top and disappears over the edge. I pour on the speed and soon reach the base of the bluff.

The ground here is rough and dusty, the same copper tones as the rest of the valley. There are many hand and footholds, and I seem to know exactly where to grab as I climb confidently. I will catch this figure and confront them, whoever they are. They cannot stay away from me forever.

I mount the crest of the rock expecting to see the figure only a short distance away, but they are still running at full sprint across a vast expanse of flat, featureless stone. There is quite a lot of distance between us now.

Quickly I vault over the rise and slide down the slope, landing on both feet hard and sprinting after the figure. My confidence is slightly shaken now; the figure appears to be just as fast as I am. I will have to work hard to reach them.

I run for a long time. I cannot tell how long for the sun is crawling across the sky at an unbearably slow rate, much slower than it should be. In fact, it hardly seems to be moving at all. Wasn't it directly over my head when I started? Isn't it directly over my head now? I cannot tell, for I am pouring every ounce of concentration I have into running. I am a well-tuned machine, my legs and arms and lungs and heart and mind working in perfect sync. I feel like I can run forever.

The figure I chase never relents, never lets their speed drop even for a moment. The sun is bright enough and they are far away enough that I cannot tell their age or gender. I cannot even determine their skin or hair color. All I know is their white outfit and their human shape, running with perfect form a set distance ahead of me. They never seem to tire.

"Who is this person?" I wonder to myself. How did they end up out here with me? Where are we going, and why in such a hurry? Why will they not slow down, so I can get close enough to call to them?

The landscape slowly changes the more we run. The flat rock gives way to a jagged, broken wasteland dotted by the sun-dried remains of long dead trees, withering in the eternal heat. Both the figure and I need to climb as much as run to pass over the massive sharp spears of rock, each taking the same route because it seems to be the only route. They are so far away from me, and I do not appear to have gained any ground at all. I desperately try to move faster, but it seems to do me no good.

The wasteland eventually gives way to a steep slope that leads down to a sandy desert. The dunes are tall and thick, and the sand slips under my feet as I run across it, slowing my steps. The figure ahead of me seems to be having trouble too, but manages to keep a steady pace. At one point, it slips for a moment. When I reach the same spot, I slip too.

What a strange place this is. Here I am cresting the tops of dunes, and yet there is no wind to speak of. Not a single gust or breath or even the barest suggestion. The sand does not stir except for when I move it myself. It seems right to me that deserts should have wind. This one does not, and it worries me. The sun still hovers above me, watching my every move with its unrelenting gaze. I must have been running for days, weeks, months, years. Wherever I am, it must be a place where the sun doesn't move and the wind doesn't howl. My endless reserves of strength are gone. I can feel myself beginning to weaken, but I dare not stop and rest. If I stop now, I will end my pursuit forever and will never find my way out of this place.

My boundaries are tested, then broken, then shattered. I would have never known that a human being could run for so long. The landscape beneath my feet changes a hundred times, always arid and dusty and rocky. I see a flickering shimmer on the horizon that I think might be an ocean if not for the hot, dry air that continues to hang about me. The only thing keeping me going, the only thing on my mind, is catching the figure that I continue to chase. It is always there on the horizon, a bright white beacon against the red ground and eggshell sky. The sun makes them glow like a star.

The land we run on continues to sink lower and lower until we suddenly reach a great jagged spine of rock sticking out of the desert like the blade of a knife. The sides look steep but passable, and sure enough, the figure starts to climb it. I am far behind it still, and by the time it reaches the top I am still heading for the bottom.

But then the figure stops. I stop.

We both stay like that for a tense second, the extreme silence deafening on my ears. The figure is staring in front of it, body rigid. And then, slowly, fearfully, it looks over its shoulder and sees me.

And then it falls limp and tumbles down the far side of the slope, out of sight.

Quickly I climb, clawing for the top, desperate to catch this person I have been chasing for so very long. Now might be my only chance.

I reach the top and see that beyond the spine of rock lies a valley filled with red pebbles, stretching a great distance until a bluff on the horizon. I look down and see where the figure has come to rest, right next to a cracked mirror.

My blood runs cold.

I watch, heart beating in my ears, as the figure slowly wakes up and looks around, shielding its eyes from the sun. It turns to look at the mirror, then sees something in the distance. A figure, running away. Quickly, the figure springs to its feet and runs after it, pounding over the stones.

I don't dare. But I do. Slowly, so slowly I can barely feel myself moving, I look over my shoulder. There is a figure at the bottom the cliff, watching me. It is dressed in white. The world spins, blurs, then turns to darkness as I fall unconscious. I tumble down the slope.

When I wake up, I do not know where I am.