Her feet pounded the pavement. She had been running so long that each step jarred her, as if she weren't wearing shoes, or even had flesh on her feet. She felt as if her bare skeletal bones were slapping the concrete. All that was missing were the clicking sounds.
There were other sounds, of course. Her breath coming from someplace very shallow, the back of her mouth perhaps, instead of her diaphragm. This was followed by the sound of her pulse in her ear, which she personally felt was not the place a pulse should be. Finally, there was the sound of music coming as though over a great distance through her headphones. She could barely make out the song over her exertion, although it sounded acoustic, probably something meant to be soothing. She almost laughed aloud at this thought, but she doubted the stitch in her side could take it.
A car pulled up alongside her and the passenger window rolled down. She rolled her eyes and took off the headphones. Some people didn't know when to give up.
"Cupcake!" He called out from the car. "Will you just stop for one second and let me talk?"
She almost gagged at the pet name. Who the hell talked like that? "We talked." She said abruptly, not looking at him. "I think I made my feelings very clear."
"You have to let me explain." He begged from the driver's seat. "Don't I owe you that?"
She turned and studied him. His seat belt was still buckled. The bastard just expected her to hop in the car. "No," She said. "You don't owe me anything. We're done."
Her whole body ached and although a car ride was probably what she needed, she was not even a little bit tempted to get in the car with him. She slid her headphones back up over her ears, the music seeming a bit louder now. The acoustic guitar was gone, replaced by the clear, shrill sounds of angry girl rock. Perfect. Ignoring her body's protests, she began to run. A car horn sounded off in the distance, but it no longer applied to her. She could no longer be defined by anything else. Anyone else. She continued jogging, losing herself to her body rhythms.
Hours later she was positive she would fall apart. Her leg joints flamed every time she tried to move them, that was no surprise. However, other parts of her body were sore as well. Her elbows were having difficulty bending, her neck was stiff, even her fingers seemed in pain. Exhausted, she sat on a bench, wincing at the pressure put on her tailbone, which also hurt for reasons beyond her. She pulled the headphones off, even though the playlist had ended a while ago. The sun was setting, but the clouds in the sky obscured it. As a result what could've been a dazzling spectacle of color to mark the passage of day into night was instead a simple darkening, as though God were simply turning down the dimmer switch, leaving the world in darkness. God. She shook her head to clear her thoughts and readied herself for prayer when she was interrupted by a high-pitched voice.
"What are you running from?"
She turned to see a crow staring at her, head cocked, looking quizzical. Normally, she may have questioned the presence of a talking bird, but she was so tired that it didn't seem to matter. There were stranger things in the world. "What?"
"What are you running from?" The crow asked again, this time seeming a bit reproachful.
She shook her head and tried to prop herself up a bit, but could only get so far. "I'm not running from anything. Running just helps me feel better."
It looked her up and down, taking in her disheveled appearance, sweat stained clothes and slowed movements. "Yeah, well hey…" It looked her right in the eye. "You look great." She was sure that if birds could smile, this one would've burst into a grin. Instead, it unfolded a wing and began preening its feathers. "If you run to make yourself feel better, why do you feel bad in the first place?"
She eyed it suspiciously. "What do you care?"
The bird gave a little shrug. "I don't, especially. I'm just distracting you while my buddy steals that energy bar out of your pocket."
"What?" She whirled around to check her pocket, but her food was still there, poking out just slightly, and there were no other birds to be found. She shoved the energy bar back into her pocket and looked at the crow suspiciously, who seemed to be chuckling, if crows could do such a thing.
"I'm just kidding." It still couldn't smile, but its eyes sparkled with merriment. "We really aren't that organized as a species. Most of us are pretty clever, but we don't really get along with each other."
"Why not?" She asked, hand still in her pocket.
Its gaze grew more intense. "I suspect the same reason you left your mate."
Her eyes widened. "How did-"
"I'm a talking bird." The crow cut her off. "You'd think you'd be more interested in that, but no. Like most creatures, you're more interested in things that apply directly to you." It began to shift its weight. "Good policy, self-preservation and all that. You're a Christian, right?"
She sat back, slightly surprised at the sudden change in topic. "Yes. I suppose you 'just knew' that too?"
The crow shook its head. "You're wearing a cross. We have a sharp eye for shiny things. Not as much as magpies though. Whew, those guys are obsessed." It let out a crawk, as if to stress his observation. "So I have a question for you. Why do you trust in a God you can't see, but don't trust a person you can see?"
She stared at the crow evenly. She wasn't going to let this little bird push her around just because it could talk. "He lied to me. God has never lied to me."
The crow nodded its understanding. "Fair enough. However, he confessed to you. He told you he lied. Isn't forgiveness sort of what God is all about?"
She turned and looked at the horizon, at the absent sunset. "I'm not God."
The crow let out another chuckle. "Of course you are. We all are. That's what grace is all about. The question is whether you're going to honor that part of you, that personal piece of God." It ruffled its feathers. "Either way, it's really none of my business. I just thought I'd stop by to chat. Hope you solve your problem though, and ease up on the running. Too much of anything can be bad for you. He unfurled his wings and prepared to leave.
"Wait." She said. Her muscles strained as she rose to her feet, fumbling in her pocket. She pulled out the energy bar and handed it to the bird, which took it in his beak. "Is it true," she asked, "That birds are the messengers of the gods?"
The bird looked at her for a second, considering, before turning and flying into the dusk.
She hurt all over and knew that if she kept going, she'd collapse. However, there was still one thing she had to do.
The church was locked, its heavy doors barred for the night. She pounded against it in frustration. Churches were always supposed to be open to whoever needed them. She had no more strength, and ever so slowly she slid down the door to the ground. Weariness took her, but she refused to allow darkness to take her. With all her energy, she raised her hand and began to cross herself. Father, son, Holy Spirit. Three for one. She clasped her hands together and raised her eyes up to the polished oak doors.
"He lied to me. The nature of the lie is unimportant to me, but he lied to me. He hurt me. I have a hard time trusting people in the first place, for we are only human, but I thought I could trust him." She was stunned to find tears coming down her cheeks. "Why can't I trust people? You trust us, even though all we do is hurt you and doubt you. I love everyone, God, but I can't trust them, and it's driving me crazy. Please, help me. Help me…"
The weariness was taking her now. She found her thoughts fuzz and slosh in her tired mind. She tried to focus, but she could not. The long hours of running caught up to her as darkness overtook her. She felt the concrete of the church step beneath her face, until that too slid into dreams.
She awoke in her bed, all muscles stiff almost to paralysis. She looked up to see him sitting anxiously at her side. "I found you sleeping in front of the church." He explained. "I knew you told me that I didn't owe you anything, but that's not true. I owe you an apology." He took a deep breath. "I am so sorry that I hurt you. I'm sorry I'm weak. I'm sorry I can't be better. I'm sorry I lied." He didn't look into her eyes. If you never want to see me again, I understand. I can pack my things and go, just say the word."
She sat in bed, looking at him for a long time. Her right hand spasmed slightly, and she looked at it. There, tightly gripped in her hand, was a long black feather. She turned and looked him directly in the eyes, knowing her prayers had been answered.
"I forgive you."