The moon is so full and bright that its beauty could bring tears to my eyes.
But I can’t see it, because I’m running through the woods. A dense forest of oak towering over me blocks out nearly all moonlight, making my run harder than expected. Trees rise to my left and right with their twigs sticking out to surprise me every couple of feet. They mostly hit my legs, but there’s an occasional slap to the chest or arm. The trail itself is rocky and full of holes, causing my pace to be dictated by how often I twist my ankles.
Thankfully, the person running in front of me is providing some guidance. I don’t know who he is, but he’s been running in front of me the entire time I’ve been running. I can’t seem to catch him, though I want to. I trust that he knows where he’s going, so I’ve been following him through the darkness.
Every time I speed up, he speeds up as well. When I slow down, I feel him pulling away, and I get nervous. I don’t want to fall too far behind, not able to follow him through the woods, because I don’t know that I’ll be able to find my way back home.
I start to get tired. And with my exhaustion comes skepticism. Does he know where he’s going? A small ray of moonlight shines through the trees. How do I know he’s taking me in the right direction?
I cross into a small clearing and am drowned in moonlight. The stranger ahead has already crossed back into the darkness. I pause briefly in the clearing and reconsider my options. Should I keep following him? There’s got to be another trail I can take. One I would enjoy more than this. Isn’t this my run, not his?
But I’m lost. I don’t know where to go from here. I know which way he went, and he’s got to know where he’s going. So I hop onto my right foot and continue through the forest, chasing after the stranger.
Back into the darkness, I’m running faster than before. I’m not worried about the bumps and twigs and rocks. I need to catch up so I an figure out where he’s taking me. He’s still ahead of me, running unimpeded. Each twist of my ankle motivates me to move faster.
As moonlight penetrates the trees, I see him up ahead. I run faster, this time faster than he’s running. I have to get there. I have to to know who he is, where he’s taking me. As I get closer I realize we’re wearing the same shoes, same shirt, same outfit altogether. He’s just feet away from me now. I stumble over a rock and let out a yelp as my knee hits the ground. If he hears me, he shows no response.
I look at my knee and see that it’s bleeding. I can’t stop, not when I’m this close. The moonlight speckles along the ground. The once dark path starts to become navigable. I look up and see him farther ahead. I wipe the blood off of my knee and take stride once again. I look down, able to dodge the rocks and holes and twigs that once impeded my path. I gain on him quickly. He looks so familiar.
I’m within three feet of him. Two feet. He still shows no sign of acknowledging that I’m there. I shift over to the left of him, aiming to pass. The moonlight now lights up enough trail to see several feet in front of me.
He’s to my right. I’m a half step behind him. I’m confident that I can make the pass now that the trail is lit brightly. But I can’t pass without looking at him, without knowing who this person is. I’m directly to his left. We’re matching stride for stride. Left, right. Left, right. I take my eyes off the trail and look to my right. He turns his head left, finally acknowledging my presence.
I recognize this man. His height, his weight, his hair. I stare at a reflection of myself. A terrifying reflection.
No eyes. No mouth. No nose or ears. He cannot make a sound, take a breath, see for himself. He cannot think nor feel. He runs blindly through the woods. His hands shake.
I stare at this creature – at myself – and do not feel scared. I do not feel angry nor confused. Rather, I feel sad. He doesn’t know where he’s going, what he’s doing. He’s running the trail because he knows nothing else. He cannot smell the forest, hear the wind swaying the trees, see the moonlight shining through the darkness.
I know he can sense me. His head is still turned towards me. I cannot look at this monstrosity any longer. I must go. I turn back to face forward, trying to block what I’ve seen out of my mind.
I run fast. Faster than I’ve ever run before. I hear him pick up speed. I feel him at my back, refusing to let me go ahead of him. I cannot let him do this. I sprint as hard as I can towards the edge of the woods. Fifty feet away, I see the last line of trees – the edge of the woods. I must get there before he drags me back into the forest.
Faster now. His feet pound the trail as hard as mine. I breathe heavily, sweat running down the side of my face, eyes laser focused on the forest edge. He’s silent, but he’s there. Twenty feet away. I feel his fingertips on brush my right shoulder as he snags a piece of my shirt. I twitch my shoulder forward and loosen my shirt from his grip. Ten feet. My heart races. Five feet. I feel both his hands on my shoulders now, trying to pull me back. Three feet. I’m stretching for the forest edge. His fingers dig into my collarbones. One foot.
I throw myself across the forest edge and into the moonlight. I feel his fingers release from my shoulders and disappear. Before me is a field so wide I cannot see the other side. The moon lights up the entire clearing so I can see the blades of grass ahead of me swaying in the wind.
I know the person chasing me has not followed me into the field. I don’t turn my head to see what’s happened to him. It does not matter. I look up at the moon so bright, so full in the clear night sky, and vow never to let him catch me, to never go back into those woods again.
I continue to run as fast as I can. I do not know where this field ends, nor what lies on the other side, but I know that I’m choosing to run through it on my own.
A smile finds my face. I sigh heavily. I look up to the moon.
A tear rolls down my face.
Left, right. Left, right.