By Kate Abbott
I didn’t know it at the time, but my writing was born on the night I nearly died. Maybe born is too strong a word but let’s just say I was incentivized by the horror. Not the horror of what actually happened, but by what could have happened.
I am an ordinary mother. I don’t suffer from any health issues, well except for my obsession with running, and my kids, thankfully, are well adjusted, at least most days. I try my best to make my sons’ lives extraordinary and normal at the same time.
It started with a fifth grade science fair project. After procrastinating to the last possible moment, my eldest came up with his concept: sleep deprivation. He planned to keep his father up all night and take notes on whether there were hallucinations. The only wrinkle: dad was out of the country until after the project was due. No matter, I told my son, mom can step in. I had an ulterior motive. In a moment of madness known to afflict runners during post-race bliss, I had signed up for a 100 mile race. This necessarily meant that I would be running, or if not running at least hopefully moving forward, for probably 36 hours. An overnight training run was strongly recommended.
And that was why I was outside in the rain as Friday night turned into Saturday morning. I was doing various loops around the neighborhood, checking in every 45 minutes to have my mental status assessed by my son, who was playing video games. The idea was to compare the effects of sleep deprivation on a subject who was engaging in physical exercise with that of one who was engaging in a mental activity. He’d compiled a list of math problems that we would do.
And did I mention that I was so determined to get this training run in, that upon discovering that the landline at home was dead, I gave my cell phone to my son? Certainly, he’d be more likely to need it than I. As it turned out, I really could have used that phone.
My first inkling that something was not quite right was when I saw a truck that I was pretty sure I’d seen earlier. There is little vehicular traffic in our neighborhood even during the day. A prickle of ice slithered up my spine and I decided to get home as quickly as I could. Within a mile or so, I approached the entrance to our street. Right before I turned the corner, I saw headlights turn off. The truck was backed into a utility right of way. I could see the profiles of two men.
Now I was really frightened. I prayed they hadn’t seen me and turned to take the long way around. I considered my options. There was an all-night gas station about two miles away. I could be home faster than the time it would take me to run to the gas station. Besides, I could hide in the woods. I took my reflective vest off and stuffed it in my fanny pack. I know at this point, my reader is probably saying, “hide in the woods? Who does that?”
A panic stricken mother who is not thinking quite straight, that’s who comes to this conclusion. So I continued on my way. I turned off my headlamp and wrapped the straps around my water bottle, telling myself that I was now armed. I almost wasn’t surprised when I saw the truck again. This time it was parked on the side of the road. A man got out, walking towards me, his silhouette backlit by a streetlight. Cigarette smoke fluttered around him. He didn’t say anything and I assured myself that he lived here, that he’d parked on the side of the road because he lived in the house that I’d just passed, where the driveway had been recently repaved and there was police tape across the entrance.
But I kept going, jogging down the hill into the dark part of the neighborhood. If I turned back, he’d know I was scared. The spring frogs, we call them peepers, were cacophonous. But they were not nearly as loud as the dread pounding in my ears.
I felt, more than heard, the man approach from behind me. It was a different man than the one I’d just seen. He was dressed all wrong for the weather, a heavy black sweat suit, hood pulled down low. He greeted me pleasantly and then stopped, blocking my passage.
“What are you doing out here alone?” His voice dripped with menace.
He took a step towards me, raising his hands, hands wearing white cotton gloves, like the ones you’d use to stain woodwork.
To this day, I cannot find a word adequate to describe what I felt in that instant. Fright, dread, agitation, none of those terms come anywhere close to the sheer naked terror I felt, not as much for me but for my children at home. I began to shriek obscenities, to tell this man, who was at least a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier than I, what I would do to him if he got any closer.
I don’t believe that I scared him. He could have grabbed me in an instant. But for some reason, maybe he decided I was going to be too much trouble, he stepped back from me.
“Don’t scream, lady.”
I screamed louder. And then I ran. It was more of a shuffle, I could hardly get a breath in, what with all the adrenaline surging through my chest. It was a mile uphill to the next street. I prayed for a passing car, yet prayed for no truck to approach. What if he followed me home, to my children? At one point, I looked over my shoulder. He was disappearing in the opposite direction. But what if he was going to get the truck? And what about the other guy?
I waited a long time in the bushes outside my house. When I’d finally convinced myself that I hadn’t been followed, I scurried in the front door and announced that the rest of the experiment would be conducted indoors. I called the police but asked them not to come to the house, citing desire not to alarm my boys. I watched the patrol car pass by several times as I sat on the couch, unable to sleep.
It wasn’t fear that kept me awake. It was my unlimited imagination and the versions of what could have happened. And, of course, the maternal guilt. After all, what kind of mother would take such chances? I was afraid to run outside, and angry that I was afraid. So, I got a dog who loves to run. And, finally, five years later, I wrote the book of what might have happened.
My story would have ended here if I hadn’t had a conversation with a young woman runner recently. She tossed her hair impatiently as she scoffed at my comment about being aware of our surroundings, trusting your gut when something seems amiss. Her teeth gleamed, white and straight, with what was more a grimace than a smile, when I told her what had nearly happened to me. I suppose I wouldn’t have believed it either, until it happened.
Kate Abbott is a mother, runner, yoga instructor and recovering attorney who delights in writing from the dark and bright sides of the heart. Her first novel is Running Through the Wormhole, published by Black Rose Writing in 2015. Her second, Asana of Malevolence, will be published this summer by Mascot Books and can be preordered here. Her writing has appeared in Mamalode, Screamin Mamas and Sammiches and Psych Meds and she has pieces scheduled for publication in The Good Mother Project.