Runner – First draft

His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth as he woke. He tried to open his eyes, resorted to raising his eyebrows to drag his lids apart. He slid and rolled his way across the ocean of greying sheets, tangled, sweaty, the night had started with one above, one below but now he couldn’t separate them and he thrashed his legs until he made an opening and fell to the floor.

Splinters needled at his palms, his knees. One foot on the floor, he levered himself upright and staggered forwards. He grasped the doorframe and stood, wavering for a moment before lurching on into the kitchenette. He wrenched open the fridge door, seized the carton of juice and slugged it back.

Droplets ran down his cheeks, and he drank more, kept drinking until bubbles and gurgles exposed the end of the carton. He threw it down on the counter. It bounced, hit the floor, and he followed its motion until he was slumped, bare arsed, skin on dirty lino, face to face with the cracked melamine of the cupboard door. The stench of his sweat mingled with stale alcohol rose from his skin, and the always present reek of frying from the cheap bar below.

It couldn’t get much worse, he thought. He was too old, too British, too white, to be naked in a one room apartment in Mexico. He couldn’t take the heat, the booze, the bugs, the dogs. Not now. Perhaps not then. He knew they were coming for him, Jesus and the rest of the Sureños, and laughter dragged itself from his mouth. He was going to be crucified by Jesus. Crucified, shot, stabbed, garrotted, 50 ways to kill your … his long supressed inner English professor battled to the surface, and he retched, part digested juice spurting across the floor. He pulled himself back to standing, and for a moment felt goosebumps rise on his skin, something else long forgotten during the months on the run across the southern hemisphere. Cheap countries, cheap plane tickets, no questions asked, his tweed jackets and brogues had been discarded long ago.

He longed for a shower, or maybe a bath, a long, deep, luxurious bath. He wanted to be somewhere cold, damp, grey, where you could come in from outdoors to a glowing fire, tea and crumpets, then retreat to a steamy bathroom and soak, reading a good book until the water went cold. Somewhere, he knew it had never really been like that, but hell, he could edit his memories if he wanted, especially if they were about to be cut short.

No shower, no bath, he filled a bucket with water from the single tap and poured it over himself, the floor, the spreading lake of piss and puke. He didn’t give a fuck if it dripped through the ceiling. Part of him wanted to stay, to wait for the inevitable and say, ‘Kill me now’, but the death drive wasn’t strong enough to combat his innate desire to live. He tugged on a pair of grubby chinos, a once white shirt and battered leather sandals. Picking up a back pack, stolen from a tourist who looked enough like him to confuse things for a while, he climbed out of the window, slid down the tin roof and dropped the last few feet onto the ground. A glance around, and he was in the old truck, hot-wiring it, checking the fuel gauge, foot down, head for the border. Another border, any border.

One day he’d stop running, but not today.


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