The wind was so strong as Emily jogged towards the beach on the last night of her sponsored Jog-Along that the palm trees lining her route were bent over almost double. The palm trees were not native but had been imported during a glamourous phase in the nineteen eighties when these small oil towns were taken over by Americans and developed an obsession with American fashions. Now the trees were dated and unkempt. The cold salty air had withered many of the plants leaving gaps and stumps in the grass.
The route she had chosen was her favourite as it took in the widest range of the town. She would occupy her mind with memories of growing up here as she passed all the significant landmarks from her childhood. Almost every building held significance as the venue for a birthday party or where she first learned to ride a bike, or the park where she fell off the swings and broke her arm.
Emily had started her running as a distraction. It had given her a goal when she felt directionless and that all else in life was pointless. She had started with lots of mini goals: run to the palm trees, run to the beach, run round the town. Then when her stamina grew and she increased the goals it became; run to the next town, run a marathon, run to the moon and back. This specific run was the last stretch of her biggest goal yet. She had decided to do one five mile run a day, every day in January, thinking that if she was sponsored ten pounds per run then she would be able to raise at least three hundred and ten pounds for the Lifeboat Association of Aberdeenshire which had a station in the harbour. The support grew and grew leading to more money than she had initially hoped for, motivating her to continue with her runs in the rain and in the sleet and the ice, uphill, on rough terrain, cross country. By the time she set out on this last run she had raised five hundred and forty-six pounds.
The beach, which ran along the east end of the town from the river at the south to the harbour in the north, was the first stop on this running tour. But when Emily ran towards the steps which led down to the beach itself, she could see the waves slapping the harbour wall only a mile ahead and stopped. She had to think hard about which route she should take. The rising wind, here on the exposed Harbour Road, was whipping her in the face with loose strands of long black hair which had escaped her loose ponytail. She clawed these tendrils back and retied her hair in a tight bun fastened with elastic while she made her decision. Today she would stay on the road because the strip of sand running between the sea and the wall was becoming too narrow with the seafoam creeping inland. Her breaths, practised and focussed, were letting in the fish-tinged sea salt air which some people found disgusting, but she just found familiar, almost comforting.
Running along Shore Road, Emily felt that she was only just getting started when she saw a small fish carcass, half fleshed, with its skeleton poking out from under loose scales. She stopped to look, jogging on the spot to maintain her momentum. Plucked from the harbour, squirming, this little fishy had been pecked at and then dropped by a greedy gull, hanging from its beak before falling, half eaten, to land on a dirty pavement. Emily wondered at which point in this story the fish would have died and shuddered at the thought of her own bones being stripped of their flesh and dumped far from home.
Thinking of her own fleshy tendons, Emily remembered to stretch. She considered the initial distance to be her warm-up as she lunged inelegantly, using the harbour wall to balance against. Heel, toe, heel, toe, just like dancing. She had injured herself before when running and was careful not to do so again.
She restarted her run. As she turned left, heading towards the town centre, the rain began; hammering her back, chilling her toes and soaking through her leisure wear to reach her soggy bottom. Running along the beach had been her favourite route, past the school and the bus station, and the forecast was good. But when the weather turned nasty Emily always took the easy option. Round and round the town square she ran, past the baker, the butcher, the garage and the shop. The baker, the butcher, the garage, the shop. The baker, the butcher, the boy who she fancied in Primary Six’s mums house, the garage, the shop. At number six there was a cat in the window, pawing at the raindrops sliding down the glass.
As she ran round and round Emily was oblivious to the anger of the rain and the wind snatching at her; her focus was on the goal, the money, the promise. Every time she remembered a donation from an old school friend or an acquaintance she admired, she picked up her pace even more – charging into the eye of the storm, round and round the square.
When she was only half a mile from achieving her daily target, Emily started the run home. Going through the harbour, the final stretch, Emily thought it would be poetic to finish on the head of the little hill beside the harbour to see how far she had come. The ancient mound of grass was known as Bay Head because it protruded from the coastline and made for a scenic view of the harbour and cold North Sea. It looked small but the fall from the cliff face was a sudden and perilous drop of 25 meters. Climbing the hill was difficult: the path to the top was steep and the last stretch of every run was always the hardest bit. Today the hill climb was made even more tricky by the wind blasting Emily from the south and pushing her to the left of the worn gravel path. She planted her feet into the foot holds forced into the grass by generations of visitors absorbing this perfect vista, her short legs stretching on each step.
Tired, Emily rested at the top of the hill with her palms on her knees, gasping in the first few breaths of success as the wind whipped around her. Up here the wind was stronger, pulling strands of her hair loose from the tight bun she had tied. But Emily was happy; proud and relieved. She had completed her challenge, she felt free.
Triumphant, Emily stood up straight and threw her fist in the air with a little jump. This exertion, the force of her fist, challenged the wind. It rallied behind her and swept under her feet with great gusto. For the first few brief seconds her feet were off the ground Emily didn’t realise anything was wrong. But as she came down, her feet were gone: they were not where she had left them on the ground but up in the air, swept away. As Emily tried desperately to come back down to earth she found her back was curved, following her feet. She couldn’t stop. Her rain sodden bottom was flying through the air until it hit the ground with a painful thump. Slamming into the grass but still moving, her body was slithering through the mud which had been slicked by the rain. Emily couldn’t stop, she didn’t know how to. She slid over the cliff.
Falling, Emily thought about her family and her friends; about the people who had donated to her sponsored run; and about the money she had raised so far. She thought about how scared she was not to see them again. Emily hit the water before she could possibly have realised that this fall was going to raise even more money when news about her accident spread. It was all over in a matter of seconds; Emily was plucked from the ground and dropped in the sea. She floated dead in the water for fifty-seven minutes before her limp, broken body was found washed up on the rocks by volunteers from the Lifeboat Association.
This fiction prose story was written as part of my MLitt in Creative Writing at The University of Aberdeen.