The Ten K

Submitted into Contest #235 in response to: Make a race an important element of your story.... view prompt

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Adventure Suspense Fiction

The Ten K

“You’re going to do what!”

            “I’m going back to Ghana on my vacation.”  Mike said this with more conviction than he actually felt, but it fell into the category of unfinished business.  Two years ago, he was doing a Foreign Service internship in Ghana that nearly took his life.  The embassy was being threatened by a menacing crowd when he suffered a nearly fatal neurologic event.  He could not be more specific as the government specialists seemed puzzled themselves.  Mike remembered getting off the plane in the Ghana capital of Accra, but after that his entire memory was a blank till he awoke in a military hospital stateside.

            His cubicle mate, Fred, was still skeptical.  “Why would you want to dredge up memories of that place.  I’m telling you, no good can come of this, and you’ll regret recovering any memories of that trip.”

            As Mike stepped off the plane, he was instantly enveloped in a wash of heat and humidity.  He could not remember that he had ever experienced such heat, yet, there was something familiar about the feeling.  The hotel was adequate, though not up to American standards.  In the lobby a kiosk had multiple brochures touting the vast tourist attractions of Ghana.  There were few.  There was, however one interesting item.  The big event of the next day was a Ten Kilometer foot race.  The start and finish line was close to the hotel and the layout of the race would encompass a good portion of Accra.

            Mike had a good runner pasta premeal that night, and some fruit the next morning before getting directions to the starting area. 

            Despite language difficulties, he was able to get entered and a runner’s bib and directions to the staring point.  As he arrived at the starting gate, he saw a variety of runners that varied from very ordinary, out of shape Europeans such as himself.  He felt that if they could complete the run, so could he.  The rest of the field appeared to be mostly local Ghana natives ranging from ordinary middle aged recreational runners, to absurdly fit runners displaying muscular bodies without a hint of fat.

            The starting gun caused an extra heart beat though he was expecting it.  He began his run with measured breathing and making an effort to run efficiently with some ease and little wasted motion.

            First Kilometer:  By the first kilometer, he was leading most of the casual runners.  Most of them were still chatting in some indiscernible but friendly language.  The serious runners were far ahead though they were not yet out of sight. He began to focus on the scenery.  After all, wasn’t that why he made the trip?  There was a quaint harbor, colorful hotels and homes that reminded him of the painted sisters of San Francisco Bay.  Then, out of the corner of his eye he saw a woman who looked familiar.  She was European, brunette, and wore an aqua or turquoise blouse. He turned his head to get a better look, but he was too far past to see.

            Second Kilometer:  The course left the business and residential area and changed to a pastoral-agricultural countryside.  The runners had considerably thinned.  The extreme runners had disappeared in the steamy avenue ahead.  Only three or four fellow runners were in conversational distance.  Mike found it necessary to begin his running chant to keep focused.  As his calves and shins started the inevitable burning, he mumbled under his breath—one potato, two potato over and over.  He knew from experience that the burning would soon diminish and then he could wait for a splint-like pain under his diaphragm to be the next discomfort.  The local scenery was beginning to show fields and orchards.  There were rows of trees.  He had known the type before, but now he couldn’t remember.  Was it ugly or dragon fruit or perhaps some other tropical fruit?  As Mike passed the end of a row of trees, he saw an orchard worker staring.  He knew that the run was an unusual event, but he seemed to be staring straight through Mike.  To top that, he held a machete menacingly, slapping the dull edge of the blade with his opposite hand.  He was to all appearances a typical orchard worker—not a thing out of place, but he gave Mile a shiver in spite of the oppressive morning heat.

Third Kilometer:  The road was now straight and flat.  The scenery now had an occasional local bodega.  Mike’s eyes were drawn into the small store.  A small table was there and he caught a glimpse of what appeared to the same blue blouse.  He was so distracted he had to turn his head back again to catch his footing.  When he looked back, he was too far ahead to see inside the store.

            Fourth Kilometer:  A sign showed a water stop coming up.  He was thankful since his clothes were soaked from his jersey to the soles of his running shoes.  Thankfully the calves and shins had settled down and the cramping in his sides was not yet severe.  At the water stop there were some runners standing by the table enjoying small gulps of water.  Since Mike was now feeling better, he took the water on-the-run so he wouldn’t have to risk his muscles freezing up when he stopped.  He noticed in the distance, a few yards from water table there was a brush fire.  Usual old field growth was aflame.  Mike again felt uneasy on looking at the fire.  Why?  He wasn’t sure and needed to be running rather than thinking.

            Fifth Kilometer:  Nothing unusual here—nothing unusual here.  Mike’s spontaneous mantra kept him on pace for the next kilo.  The shins, calves and sides had quieted down.  He could tell from a turn to the left and a change to rolling hill country rather than a flat course that he was on his way back to Accra.  Soon he passed a shady copse of trees.  Amidst the shade he passed a small shack containing a forge.  Not this specific site, but the forge and the bellows and the smith with scorched apron were somehow known to him.

Sixth Kilometer:  The rolling countryside was still there, but over-all he felt a definite though slight downhill tendency.  Mike was now over halfway and he felt it was time to firm up his gait.  It was no time to go slow or to show a weakness.  His chanting resumed but in the back of his mind images began to consolidate.  The blue blouse, the man and machete, the fire and the forge—were they connected or were they random thoughts of an empty mind?  Was there a connection?

Seventh Kilometer:  Mike knew there was a connection.  There had to be a connection or these random sights would not have triggered so much in his subconscious.  The forge—the key had to be the forge.  Mike tried to concentrate on what little he remembered of his short Ghana internship.  He had spent time in a forge.  He had some spare time and had been asked by a local in the office if he would like to see a working forge.  He took to the craft in a big way.  Somehow, he had acquired a steel chisel.  The blacksmith had told him that “You never know when a piece of cold steel might come in handy.”

Eighth Kilometer:  With a whisp of memory returning, his run became automatic.  The pain in his side, the bursting feeling of his lungs and the splinting pain in his sides disappeared as his mind struggled to connect the disparate points of his memory.  He remembered the embassy, local unrest and fear—a lot of fear.  He remembered Andrea.  How had he forgotten Andrea-- friendly, helpful, athletic, beautiful Andrea?  Andrea had loved her blue blouse that perfectly highlighted her body.  She could tell that it caught his attention as well.  With each step, he remembered another image and the points began to merge.

            Ninth Kilometer:  His thoughts now came in a rushing storm.  His pace quickened to a sprint.  Now he remembered the riot.  He remembered the unruly mob of thugs carrying torches and wielding machetes.  They broke through all the security and were soon past the safety barriers.  Mike ran down to the ground floor to find Andrea, but he was too late.  She had been carried off by the lawless mob.  The staff had secured themselves in the safe room. As far as mike knew, only he and Andrea had been unable to reach that room.  They had been excluded.  He knew he must do something.  He followed the mob as closely as possible.  After they left the embassy grounds, they moved in a direction of the district the staff had been warned to avoid.  That’s the direction Mike moved.  He remembered following the mob. He worked his way close to the center of the gathering and with horror.  Andrea was brave—so brave.  She fought a hopeless battle like a hell cat, but the battle was lost from the beginning.  The torture was merciless, fingernails were ripped away.  Her face had a deep cut from brow to chin.  Her main torturer was probably high on drugs, but also on the activities of sadistic behavior.

          In the race, Mike was now not only running like a mad man; he was screaming as he entered the  ten K stretch.

            Nine and one-half kilometers:  Mike was tortured by the memory of Andrea.  He remembered her seeing him hiding in the brush less than 20 meters away.  She plainly mouthed the silent words in his direction.  “Kill me—please.”  Then one last time, “Please, please—kill me.”

            Mike had no weapon.  He felt a hard surface in his hip pocket and pulled out the steel chisel.  It was useless here.  He had never been an athlete.  He’d been unable to throw a baseball or a football pass.  He took the chisel like a tomahawk and threw it as hard as possible end over end.  It entered the eye and penetrated over half-way to the handle.  He saw her mouth “Thank you.” Then he saw her sadistic torturer fall to the ground with such force that he bounced.

            The rest was a jumble to Mike.  He remembered snatching a machete and swinging it like the mad man that he was.  Sirens further confused the scene.  Dead and injured covered the ground as the only mobile rioters dispersed.  Andreas’ blue blouse was now ripped and stained as blood dappled the surface.

            Tenth Kilometer:  Mike crashed through the finish line like a crazed lion.  He likely frightened the crowd of greeters planning on congratulations.  With the return of Mike’s memory, he was totally mentally and physically spent.  He lay on a bank near the finish sobbing.   He was still wailing when the crowd had dispersed.  

            Afterward, he returned to his hotel and realized that he felt better.  Perhaps he felt better than he ever had.  He couldn’t change the events of his previous Ghana visit, but now he could live with them.

February 01, 2024 02:14

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1 comment

Helen Anderson
22:11 Feb 07, 2024

Watch your spelling and grammar. “Staring point “ should have been “starting point”. “Good runner pasta premeal “ is a very confusing phrase, even though I have an idea of what you was trying to convey. Do you read your work aloud to others? That always helps me find any errors or pieces that sound odd. Keep trying.


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