I give The Geek an awkward hug as we stand at the back door.
“Ya gwan a’gin so soon, der, Cyrus?” Violet yells from her spot in the den. “You betta be makin’ me some real money, k?”
“Bye, Vi!” I yell back. “Take care of my brother for me, okay?”
“Don’t I always, now?” she yells back.
I laugh, knowing that most of the time she’s completely oblivious to anyone else even being in the house with her. Good thing my brother’s capable of taking care of himself or I’d be really worried about how he’d get by. Of course, I suppose it’s possible she’s a little more interactive with The Geek when I’m not around.
Although she spends all of her time in my house, I really don’t think I know anything about her outside of her name and that she’s got kind of a cool accent. Maybe she’s different when I’m not here. I hope so.
“Be careful out there,” The Geek says to me as he looks down at his feet.
“Hey, pal, if I wanted to be careful, I’d have a different job,” I say softly in return. “But for real. Are you going to be okay?”
“Of course I am, Cy. I’m the one who gets to stay downstairs in comfort. I’m not risking my neck like you.”
“Psh,” I shrug, giving my neck a soft rub. “My neck’s never been safer. I’ve got you in my ear to keep me out of trouble.” I place my hand on his head and mess his hair playfully. “You keep safe, alright kid?”
We look at each other in silence for a brief moment before I turn away. Without looking back, I jog across our yard and hop over the fence that keeps it separated from the small line of trees behind our home.
I stop just inside the tree-line and hit play on my MP3 player, deciding I’ll keep it on the random setting from earlier. Hell’s Bells by AC/DC starts playing. The bell ringing at the opening seems too ominous given the situation I’m currently in. At the same time, it’s a pretty rockin’ tune.
I still can’t help but feel bad for running out on The Geek so quickly. I know he seems to take pretty good care of himself. And he is the one usually taking care of me both on and off the job, so I guess I really shouldn’t worry. But I feel bad for him, having to grow up so quickly and so alone. Maybe if we had a real nanny instead of Violet, or if our parents weren’t constantly on the road, maybe then I wouldn’t feel quite so bad about it all.
I mean, I guess when I was his age, I was already in training to be a Runner, but at least I had people to hang out with. Even our parents seemed to be around more back then, although not enough to know what I was getting into.
Of course, he’d kill me if I even mentioned any of this to him.
I’ve done the run through Verdugo once before. The issue isn’t the distance as much as it is the elevation. It’s not even all that far. The problem is, the first mile and a half consists of about a thousand feet of pure elevation. The rest is cake, but that first mile will kill you if you’re not ready for it.
Everything between our house and the foothills of Verdugo is suburbs. There are no alleyways for me to run through and I have to stay off the streets in case the patrols decide to patrol. So, I’m stuck running through backyards, hopping fences like hurdles. The houses are so close together it feels like I’m doing more jumping than running.
Just as I pass the old airport, the music shifts to The Boys Are Back in Town, the old Thin Lizzy version. I look at the unused runways and my mind starts drifting to thoughts about how easy it would be if I could just hop on a plane and make my way to my destination. I could be there and back in a matter of hours with plenty of time left to spare before I hit AoA.
Of course, what would be the fun in that?
Another mile down and I finally make it to the foothills. From the street, it looks like nothing more than a sand pile. Unfortunately, that’s not too far from the truth. The foothills are mostly covered in sand, which is not a fun thing to run on. Sand on an incline is not much better than running on glass. You can’t get a good foothold anywhere. I don’t like it.
I hop over a brown privacy fence into the last backyard before the climb. The music stops. I press my finger to my ear and pace as I hold my arms over my head trying to catch my breath. I’ve been moving at a pretty fast clip, maybe too fast considering I still need the energy to make it up the incline ahead of me. The Geek starts talking.
“Hey Cyrus, just wanted to let you know you’re making really good time. The first mile of your run was a personal best for you. Three forty-nine and six. That’s edging in on a world record there, bro. You’re going to need to take it easier on yourself than that if you want to make it without dying first.”
“Yeah, I know, I just noticed how winded I am. How long I got?”
“Oh, you’ve got a ton of time left. You’re got around 50 minutes yet and the train station is only 4 miles away.”
“Great,” I gasp, still unable to catch my breath, “so I just gotta make it up the hill, huh?”
“Yeah Cy, just a tiny little hill.”
“Alright, talk to you on the other side.” I drop my finger from my ear and sprint to the other side of the yard. My legs already want to give way under me.
I hate to admit it, but The Geek’s right. I am going to have to take the foothills easy or else I’m going to collapse before I even make it to the top.
Happy Together, by The Turtles I think, starts playing. My music player’s got a cynical mind today, but the simple drum beat in the song seems to do me some good. Surprisingly enough, I move methodically along with the song and am up the first hill in no time.
My legs are already screaming at me something terrible and I’m only up about two hundred feet out of the thousand I need to go. I’m not one to want to give up, but if the run is going this poorly so early in, I can’t help but be concerned about how the rest of it is going to go. I look down at my GPS and find I’ve only made it about a sixth of a mile since I started my incline. This is going to be a long 50 minutes.
There is a trail running through the hills here, but it looks like just the kind of spot the SPs would stake out. Considering how little tree growth there is on Verdugo, I have to be really careful about getting too close to any location the SPs might be hiding in.
I decide to run up the hill at an angle instead of trying to take the steep elevation head on or take the much more dangerous pathway. There are more trees in my path this way, which means it will add more time onto my run, but it gives me a slightly better chance at actually making it to my destination without being spotted.
Although my entire body wants to cry out in agony, I finally make it to the top of the range, able to look down at the course lying in front of me. It took a lot less time to make it to the top than I thought it would. My body is ready to give up, but it really is all downhill from here.
I take a minute to survey the area in front of me and find an old worn footpath off to the west about 100 yards. It will take me off my route a fair distance, but the time and energy saved by running on the packed ground over there will make a world of difference for the rest of the run. I can’t imagine the SPs have been paying any attention to this path, from the looks of it. Plus, 100 yards is nothing, right? That’s just a football field. I could run that in my sleep.
A piece of bluegrass hits my ears, something I’m not familiar with. I take a peek at my player and it tells me it’s If It Hadn’t Been for Love by a group called The Steeldrivers. It’s a simple little piece, with a bit of banjo. It lifts my spirits enough to help me forget the pain.
I reach the footpath quickly and look ahead. The path definitely hasn’t been used in a long time. The shaggy brush is threatening to overtake it. It might not be the most ideal path for running, but it’s almost perfect for my situation. I press my finger to my ear and continue running, slowing my pace slightly so I can talk.
“Hey Geek, you there?”
“Of course, Cy, what’s up?”
“Can you check to see where this path will take me if I follow it to the end?”
“Already on it. Looks like it should take you right into the valley, just south of the 210.”
Dangit, the valley. I forgot that there’s another elevation hike ahead yet. “So, good choice or–”
“Great choice, Cy. If you take this to the end, you’ve got a couple options on how to get out of the valley, depending on how much time you’ve got left.”
“Yeah, speaking of which. . .”
“Honestly, not too bad. It took you fifteen minutes to get up the hill. That means you’ve got just around 35 minutes left. If you can make up some time using this path, you should be able to take the easy route on the other side.”
“Perfect,” I gasp for air.
“You’re looking pretty rough, though. You going to be alright?”
“Oh yeah,” I respond. “I feel great.” I release my finger from my ear and push forward. No chance to slow down yet. If I want to make it, I’ll have to keep pace. My legs are cramping, but I’m giving up yet. Just a little bit further to go.
My music player must have noticed my need to pick up the pace. It chooses something more upbeat. Pop music from some guy named Justin called Lovestoned. I’m not even sure how this got into my queue. I almost never listen to this pop music stuff. Not unless I’m trying to annoy The Geek anyways.
Suddenly I notice I’m bobbing my head along with the music and curse the infectious beat. I can’t get too mad about it, however, since the pain in my legs is almost completely forgotten about and the beginnings of a second wind rushes through my head. It’ll take a lot more than a second wind to get up the next hill, but that’s never stopped me before.
I pick up the pace even more. If I remember correctly, it’s only about a mile from the top of the hill to the bottom of the valley. If I’m able to keep up this pace, even with my legs the way they are, I’ll be at the bottom in six minutes, leaving me another thirty to get up and over the second hill. Like I said, piece of cake.
A few more minutes pass and I see the road. All that stands between me and it is a sudden steep decline.
My legs give out, causing me to roll down a brush-filled hill. Incapable of reacting fast enough to grab anything to slow my roll, I roll about 30 feet before I stop. The music stops as well.
“Cyrus? Cyrus? Can you hear me?”
“Hey,” I grunt, “still alive.”
“Jeez, Cy, what happened?”
“Legs,” I say as I gasp for air. It feels like I’m not getting any oxygen into my lungs.
“Cyrus, listen to me. You’ve gotta get up. If you stay down, you’re going to get lactic buildup and then there will be no way you’re going to make it to the train.” He is screaming hysterically. Looking over my shoulder I see I’m in full view of the road. At any moment the SPs could drive by, ready to pick me up before I even start.
I strain and roll myself over to my stomach. My legs feel like jelly, but my arms have some strength left. If I can just clear the haze away from my brain enough to coordinate my body into functioning, I might be able to get across the road before I’m found.
I push my upper body off the ground and try to pull my legs beneath me. The feeling of pins and needles rushes through my lower limbs as blood begins to flow through my veins again. The pain is unbearable. I give one more push with my arms, putting my weight onto my knees. I want to cut them off. Slowly, tenderly, I bring one knee forward and up, placing my foot on the ground. I lean forward, pushing my hands against the ground, and bring the other knee forward as well.
With both feet on the ground, the only thing left to do is bring my head up. I push hard with my hands, putting my weight entirely on my legs. I almost fall backward as my head spins from changing position too quickly. I spread my legs, stand still, and regain my balance. While the world spins around me, I push my finger to my ear. I still can’t breathe, but I can’t stop here.
“What,” I force out, “are my options?”
“You were making great time, but you lost three point five minutes with that fall, and counting. I was going to suggest you go around the hill here, followed by taking the 210, but I don’t think you’ll be able to make it going that way, which means–”
“Up,” I inhale, “and over.”
“Right. You’ve gotta go almost exactly northwest to get to the spot. You’ve got one point six miles to go and 26 minutes left. It’s possible, but in your condition, barely.”
“It’s all good,” I sputter. “Never been better.”
“Yeah, right. You’ve got to move, Cy. I see three SPs coming around the corner right now. You’ll be spotted in no time if you don’t get to cover. Preferably on the other side of the road.”
“No problem,” I whisper hoarsely and drop my arm to my side. My legs are sluggish to respond to my commands, but I urge them forward. I slowly recognize the music playing in my ears. The Beatles. Come Together.
I move into a clumsy jog once I reach the road. There’s not much traffic. I see a fence on the other side and a water basin just beyond.
I cross the road easily and lamely climb the fence, rolling across the top and falling to the ground. As I hit the ground, I find my body unwilling to respond to my commands and I roll down the incline into the water basin below. The water rushes over me.
Water fills my mouth and I’m unable to keep from inhaling. I have just enough energy to sputter the liquid out of my lungs and raise my head above the water. The music stops and The Geek starts again.
“Cy, keep your head down. The SPs are just on the other side of the fence.”
I look up and see he’s right. I lower my head as much as possible, seeing they’ve noticed the dirt I kicked up on the other side of the road. They’ve congregated around the spot I had collapsed on. I hadn’t been paying attention to my tracks. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had left a trail of dirt and scrub bushes leading across the street to my current location.
The water in my mouth causes me to recognize how incredibly thirsty I am. I sip the water cautiously. I’m sure it’s not the healthiest stuff I could be putting in my body, but, you know what they say about begging and choosing. I keep my eyes on the road as I do.
I have to be careful with how much water I take in. Although my body needs mass quantities to fully rehydrate, if I binge now it will be completely impossible to complete the run.
“Cyrus, you have to get out of there.”
“I know,” I whisper.
“Look behind you, there’s a drainage pipe. That should get you at least enough coverage to keep moving. You’ll want to stay in the ditch as long as possible. That will cost us some time, but I don’t think we have any other options right now. How are your legs?”
I hadn’t thought about it since I hit the water, but they are actually starting to feel a lot better. The little bit of liquid I took in must have given them what they needed. “Good,” I whisper.
“Great. You’re going to have to really push yourself from here on out. You’ve only got 2 miles to go, but you’re down to 17 minutes before the train leaves.”
“You know, kid,” I whisper back, “I’m beginning to think you don’t have any faith in me.”
“If anyone can do it, Cy, it’s you. But you aren’t going to get anywhere unless you start moving now!”
I swim toward the drainage pipe. The water here is only a couple feet deep, but I can’t risk bringing my body above the water line.
I also need to keep from making too much noise. Walking through water is a whole lot louder than the crawl/swim I’m doing. It’s not easy-going, but I get to the pipe quickly. There’s about an inch of water running along the bottom of it, causing a build-up of slippery moss down the length of the tube. I have to be even more careful for noise now. Any noise made in here echoes and amplifies way more than I can risk allowing. I tiptoe across the 20 feet of pipe, cautious not to slip on the frictionless surface beneath me.
Thankfully, The Geek hasn’t turned the music back on either. He must understand the danger I’m in if even something as silent as my headphones begins bouncing off the walls in here.
Within a couple minutes I’m back on the other side and The Geek chimes in once again. “Alright Cyrus, you’re down to 14 minutes now. The SPs went up the hill you came down to investigate, so you’ve got some distance between you and them. If there was ever a time to push yourself, it’s now.”
“You got it, boss.” I lift my dripping hood back over my head and scramble up the side of the ditch as The Geek returns the music. Hurts So Good by John Mellencamp. I’m starting to wonder if The Geek’s been choosing these. The thought makes me laugh.
I find it hard climbing, even though it’s not that steep. The combination of wet grass and legs that still aren’t operating at 100 percent works against me. This causes me to slip down the slope several times before I’m finally able to scurry to the top. Now that I’m at the peak, I take a second to look over my shoulder. I can see the SPs, but they look like they too are having trouble climbing the slope on the other side of the road.
I grin, knowing I’ve managed to evade capture, and bolt in the direction my GPS is pointing me. Before I know it, I’m back to an upward slope.
Reaching the top of this hill takes very little effort, but when I get there, I am greeted by the sight of the rest of the terrain between me and my destination. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s about a 500 foot elevation increase at a 15 degree angle. On a good day, it wouldn’t be a problem, but today it will be a struggle. Not impossible by any means, but definitely a struggle.
A club remix of Shake Senora by Pitbull starts up. I scramble down the slight decline and make my way up the following hill. My legs don’t want to work with me, so I find myself falling over every third step. I can’t slow down, I don’t have the time. The pain in my legs returns.
I hear a siren going off behind me. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the SPs know what happened to me and are back on the right track. I haven’t even gotten the package yet. I refuse to be caught so easily.
I move at a pace that shouldn’t be possible given my condition and before I know it, I’ve made it to the top of the hill and can see the lights of Sunland Boulevard laid out below. I’ve got about a half mile between me and my destination and it’s almost completely downhill.
I look over my shoulder again and see an SP-branded helicopter headed for my location. All bets are off. If I don’t move now, and fast, I’m lost. Half a mile downhill in the next two minutes, or else they’ve got me. Bluegrass begins playing in my ear. Something with fiddles. I don’t even risk taking a look at my music player to see what it is. Makes me feel like I’m in the middle of some bootlegger movie, where I’m on the run from some sheriff in a white suit. I’m flying now, jumping over brush, making great time, and grinning like a madman.
Before I know it, I’m back on flat ground heading into palm trees, which means I’ve entered someone’s backyard. I hear people screaming as I fly past windows. I hadn’t even considered how it was nearing mandatory home time.
Every step I take means another person will see me and be ready to notify the authorities. Not that it makes that much difference. They’re already hot on my tail and gaining fast. I duck under a canopy of trees in someone’s yard as I hear the chopper fly past overhead. I hop over the fence and into the front yard, deciding speed is more important than discretion at this point.
I turn the corner onto Sunland. Being on a main road like this is a death sentence, but I don’t have any other route available. The station is on Sunland and I need to take the most direct route possible now that I have the entirety of the SP forces bearing down on me. As I turn, I fall into a set of trash cans set at the curb, making a whole bunch of noise. The music turns off and I hear The Geek in my ear again.
“You’re taking some big risks here, Cy.”
“Just like we practiced,” I snap back through heavy breaths. I’m wheezing now.
“Up ahead, you see the white metal fence on the left?”
“That’s it. Jump the fence and you’re there.”
“Nothin’ to it,” I respond quickly. I hop over the fence and hit the ground hard. My legs falter and I fall against the grassy surface beneath me. I hear the helicopter nearing my position just as the ground rumbles to life. It starts moving; the fence I had leapt over only moments prior growing taller. I close my eyes and disorientation sets in. I turn my head to the side and empty my stomach. The last thing I feel before blacking out is my own warm sick against my face.
Go to Chapter Five