Saffron's Space

Today I’m lucky to be hosting Michael Cairns as part of his blog tour.

Michael CairnsChocoholic Michael Cairns is a writer and author of the real-world epic fantasy trilogy, The Assembly and science fiction adventure series, A Game of War. A musician, father and school teacher, when not writing he can be found behind his drum kit, tucking into his chocolate stash or trying, and usually failing, to outwit his young daughter.

I’m very excited to present to you today Michael’s short story; Running’s Easy When You Don’t Feel Pain. I have to say this short story was thoroughly entertaining and you’ll be glad you took the time to read it (especially if you’re a zombie fan).

The Spirit Room

If you like Michael’s writing (and who wouldn’t?), you can get a free novella from his website (as well as lots of other cool stuff) and his books are available from Amazon and Smashwords.

Take it away Michael…

Running’s Easy When You Don’t Feel Pain

By Michael Cairns

There was no pleasure in it, not anymore. The cheers tasted like ashes, the sound of the crowd, noise in her ears. She was blushing when she crossed the finish line, her face burning as the cameras clicked and the flash bulbs painted her in white fluorescent. She had her hands above her head, the smile painted on, but when they thrust the flag in her hands, she shook her head, and passed it back. As much as she hated herself, she hadn’t sunk that low, not yet.

The press conference was just as hard, silver and bronze stood either side of her, chests heaving as they recovered. She had to remember to breath. It was getting harder, like she was forgetting what it felt like, how everything worked.

“Sally, you’ve just secured your fourth gold in a row, across three competitions, making you the undisputed champion at the eight hundred metres. How do you feel?”

Cold? Alone? Bored?

“I feel amazing, Jeff, just fantastic, thanks. Can I thank all of my fans for coming out, and supporting and giving me so much love, it really is what keeps me going!”

She made sure to put the exclamation point in, smiling as she did so. She thought that was better than the truth, although, the girl from last night was definitely keeping her going. Her frontal lobes had been particularly juicy.

“What’s next for you? The Olympics are a couple of years away, are you thinking about them yet?”

Two years? If she was still doing this then, she would have gone entirely mad, just lost it, surely?

“I’m not sure, Jeff, I’m just taking one thing at a time at the moment. It’s all been so quick and so much, I’m trying to keep my feet on the ground.”

(and my teeth to myself).

She backed out of the press conference huddle, nipped away from the track, and into the blessed darkness of the tunnel. She grabbed her sunglasses and slipped them on as she entered the neon hell of the changing rooms. A few minutes later and she was out, slipping into her Porsche and motoring away. Driving was still good. Driving was about as fun as it got, as long as she went fast enough, though that was getting harder every day.

The house was dark and welcoming, the air con turned up full. She went to the fridge first, grabbing the nearest jar and swallowing the contents. She would never get used to the combination; the craving and the loathing that accompanied every meal. It was like having really great sex with someone you found utterly repulsive, impossible, yet still, somehow, happening.

Then into the shower, to wash off the makeup. It peeled away in chunks, taking bits of her with it, until the tray was filled with pale lumps of fake skin mixed in with gobbets of real blood. She examined herself in the mirror, a frank appraisal that pulled no punches. She was gonna have to start spending a lot more on makeup. Most of her cheeks were gone now, just tired threads of flesh stretched taut across her bones. One ear had finally sloughed off under the hot water, along with the skin on one shoulder. She wasn’t too fussed from the neck down, she could hide that with clothing, but she was gonna need a wig soon, and quite possibly a new nose.

She slumped in the sofa and flicked on ‘Walking Dead’, playing her favourite game of ‘spot the real ones’. It was heartening to know she wasn’t the only one trying to maintain a normal life. Not that being a world-champion middle distance runner was all that normal, but then TV extras were a pretty strange lot too.

When the next race meet came, she knew it was her last. It wasn’t just about the lack of thrill, the loss of belief in the fairness of racing people who actually felt pain, and got tired, and created lactic acid. No, it was more than that. Her face was falling off, and no amount of makeup could hide it.

She was running in a novelty hat, one of those nasty tartan things with the big ginger hair hanging down. She was raising money for charity, which seemed to be all the excuse one needed to dress up and act unusual. The make up was caked on super thick, and she was just relieved that it wasn’t too hot.

As she stood on the start line, glancing across at the other competitors, she saw something that made her blood run hot, or least pump a little. Third in from the end was clearly in the early stages. It could be the slightly vacant look, or maybe the flaky skin, but what really gave it away was the smear of blood on the lips, and the growling. The girls either side of her were as far away as their lanes would allow them, the one this side nearly touching her.

The blood was surprising, but maybe she hadn’t watched the right movies. When Sally had realised what was happening to her, she gemmed up pretty quick, and looked for the angle, how best to live with the ‘new her’. It appeared this girl had found the same idea, but not bothered with all the boring ‘keeping it a secret’ stuff. She found herself torn. She wanted to win, and here was an opponent she would actually have to try against, but she really couldn’t put too much strain on her body right now. Her limbs felt pretty solid, but her mate on twitter had lost an arm the other day when she was gardening, and that was sedate compared to this.

The starters orders came and she hunkered down, the butterflies doing laps of her stomach, one of the few things that had stayed the same since the change. Then the gun went and she was off, everything else fading to just her and the track. It had always been like this, and at these times, it didn’t matter that she was a zombie, that her life was measured in months and weeks, or even that she had left part of her little finger back at the start line. All that mattered was the rhythm, the flow of her body in perfect movement.

They had done two laps when she became aware of the screaming, first right next to her, then from the crowd around the stadium. She kept running, refusing to be put off, then heard her name being called and people surrounding her. They were, she realised with a laugh, protecting her. She pushed through the crush and saw the new girl, crouched over another of the competitors, her teeth and mouth covered in the poor runner’s blood, the skin and flesh of her shoulder caught in her mouth.

As they stood and watched, stunned beyond reaction, the new girl dipped her head again and came back up with a chunk of thigh. The squirting blood galvanised the watchers and they dived in, grabbing her and pinning her to the ground. The victim was screaming, high-pitched and helpless as the medics crowded round. Sally slipped quietly back and away, then down the tunnel and out of the stadium. Home was further this time, a full night’s driving, but that was OK. It hadn’t been the retirement race she’d been dreaming of, but it was, at least, an interesting way to finish her career.

She was hungry. Hopefully there’d be a hitch hiker or two on the way home.

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