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Marathon

Kalisa Lessnau is a granite stone curler, a tenacious cat cuddler, a baker of all things, and a together-slapper of words. She probably has at least eight dollars worth of late fees at her local library right now. Kalisa lives with her husband and their two cats, Higgs and Kepler.
They call mile twenty the heartbreaker for a reason. You're too far to turn back and too stubborn to stop after going so far, but it still feels like an eternity until you finish your race. Out at mile twenty it's just you, your determination, and a barren landscape filled with roving packs of hungry undead beasts that hunt you relentlessly.
It would be easy for the beasts to take a slow-moving caravan; their wagons are weighed down with supplies, they're forced to travel the unprotected roads between towns, and the people who make the trip couldn't jog a single mile, much less outrun apex pursuit predators, but they always go after the solo runners. There must be some lingering instinct that compels them to chase after the one bit of prey foolish enough to break from the pack.
So you run, twenty-six miles a stretch, passing the baton that promises humanity's continued survival. Runners don't look back for fear of catching sight of how lonely the path really is. The previous runner is out of sight by mile two and relief won't come for hours of running. The trick is to set your pace, keep track of your pulse, and think of anything other than the misshapen monsters that shadow your path at an uneasy distance. The monsters will never dare approach a moving target, you know this. They want to run their meals to exhaustion for an easy feast. It's up to you to deny them.
The best thing you can do it think about anything else. Think of the sun as it sets over the horizon, and how it will rise again tomorrow. Wonder about the water stations and who it is that risks their lives to leave caches of water and glucose tablets for you in the safe houses, and how those supplies are always there no matter what. Think of how goddamn good that water is going to taste once you can stop and enjoy it. Don't think of your family, though, that's a trap. Good runners have brought ruin to themselves and the caravan they were meant to protect when nostalgia drove them back to a doomed reunion.
Think about who figured out how to distract the undead beasts, and who the first person to run the first length ever was. Did they volunteer? They probably did. There must be a statue somewhere. Maybe you'll run to the town that has it one day. You've heard the theory that it's the lone heartbeat that makes runners an irresistible lure but at this point you're more certain it's just because they can pick up on your sweat. You can even think about how badly you want to look back and see if you can pick them out behind you, but you probably shouldn't. That one's also a trap.
And just like that, you're on mile twenty-one. Somewhere in the distance, the next runner jogs in place, limbers up, and watches for signs of your approach. They're waiting for you, so you can't stop now. Let the rhythm of your pace and your steady heartbeat carry you onward, because that's really all anyone has in the end.
Keep going.
Keep going.
Keep going.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 11th, 2020


This story is dedicated to my friend Haley for completing her first Ironman competition in 2019. I stopped to ponder over what it would take to get me to attempt such an arduous task and this was the result. If you are able, I highly recommend breaking out the poster board and markers, making an encouraging sign, and going to support a local race to cheer on those who might not have their own support squad.

- Kalisa Ann Lessnau
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