His lungs ached, ready to burst, yet he had no choice but to keep running faster than he ever knew he could. There was the deafening sound of a rushing river up ahead. He knew it wouldn’t be in sight until he was flying through the air, hurtling himself off the cliff he was closing in on.
He twisted his neck and shot a glance behind him. Survival mode kicked in. His legs pumped harder, thighs burned and calves threatened to cramp. There wasn’t a choice. It was jump or… he shuddered. He’d jump, of course. Would the pursuer have second thoughts? After all, it was a good thirty foot drop into frigid rushing water whirl-pooling around jagged rocks and masses of tangled debris. It was possible, wasn’t it, that he’d escape?
He didn’t slow down for as much as a second, forcing himself to keep his eyes straight ahead and run harder than he’d ever ran in his thirty two years. Max threw himself forward, leaping out from the cliff as far as humanly possible. He was airborne. His heart stopped, or maybe it was the world. For a moment he was safe. He could almost imagine sitting at his kitchen table earlier that morning, sipping coffee with his wife, planning his day. It didn’t include this.
He opened his arms wide to the heavens and threw his head back, laughing at the sky. His eyes squinted against the sun as tears ran down his face. The wind blew open his shirt as if it were a parachute. For a moment, there was peace.
He felt his body slam into the deepest part of the river. He struggled to stay under and out of sight until there was no choice. It was time to either come up for air or drown. He frantically gulped in oxygen, the sudden expansion of his lungs stabbed pains through his chest.
The worst part of swimming fully dressed was shoes, especially the work-mans boots he was wearing. Yet, the good thing about them was their weight. It made it easier to stay under longer. The strong current pulled him down stream and slammed his right shoulder into a rock, spinning his body around in the water. He screamed out in pain, leaving a trail of blood behind his body as nature flushed him down the mountain in a thrashing frenzy. Would his pursuer be able to see the blood, or maybe even smell it? Would the rushing river be his protector and dispel evidence of him?
Max struggled to keep his arms crossed in front of his face and over his head. His fingers were throbbing and growing numb. Somehow, he managed to gulp in enough air to stay conscious while doing all he could to protect his body. If he could hold on a while longer, he knew the current would slow down. The rapids wouldn’t go on forever. He suddenly felt hopeful. Maybe he beat this thing, just maybe he was going to make it. But then what? Get out and go where? Max had no idea where he was or which direction to go for help.
His eyes darted farther down-stream desperately searching for a spot to get out. He frantically wiped water from his eyes, hoping to clear his vision, praying his imagination was playing tricks on him. It wasn’t possible, was it? His heart lurched and stopped dead in his chest. About fifty yards ahead, in what appeared to be the only pool of calm water, the only possible place to drag himself onto shore, stood the formidable form of his pursuer. Max knew it was over. He’d been had.