This is a 1,000 word flash fiction story in answer to Chuck Wendig’s Random Cocktail Challenge. I like the characters so much, I’m inspired to give them a longer story, but this is the kernel that holds the story’s essence.
Drew pedaled steadily, flying unimpeded along streets free of daytime traffic. He could feel his spirits soaring along with the breezes he stirred as he passed. His eyes were open to catch sight of the runner with the three-legged dog. The man always wore warm-ups with a hooded jacket and Drew wondered how he didn’t smother in the Texas heat.
As if conjured by his thoughts, he saw the pair gamboling along ahead of him at a surprising pace. The sight never failed to lift his spirits even higher. There was something life-affirming about them. Was it the fact that the dog acted like a dog, seeming not to notice that he was minus a leg? Or was it because the man treated his canine companion no differently than any other runner with any other dog?
And that dog! He was as big as a man. Black spots dappled his white coat and circled his big blue eyes, giving him a permanently whimsical expression. Just seeing that jaunty face brought a smile to Drew’s lips. But he also smiled, because he knew he was headed toward his nightly sojourn at the beach and, in all likelihood, he would see the man and his dog there as well.
Drew had first seen them at the beach, playing and swimming in the surf around six or seven months ago. They hadn’t been running as they did now. They jumped for Frisbees(c) and dove for Nerf(c) balls, always out in the waves, and always in the darkening night.
As the months passed, he saw them running along roads to the beach from greater and greater distances. Drew presumed that the man was systematically taking the dog through a course of physical therapy. The thought brought with it a jumble of feelings like admiration, pride and even affection for the man and his three-footed friend.
Drew hadn’t exchanged a word, or even a glance, with him, yet felt he knew the man. His runner was loyal, thoughtful, persistent, athletic, playful, noble. He was someone Drew wanted to know better and he determined that one day, he would.
For now, he settled for locking up his bike to a support under the pier, stowing his helmet and gloves and grabbing a bottle of water. He walked toward the beach and sat against a support near the edge of the waves to wait for man and beast to arrive for their nightly romp. He didn’t have long to wait. The two ran straight toward the waves just off to Drew’s left.
Drew had never seen the man actually getting into the water. Usually, the two came from down the beach a ways, already in the surf. Tonight, they were almost directly in front of him. He watched as the man rapidly began removing his running attire piece-by-piece. First, he sat to pull off shoes and socks, fumbling with something for a minute, then stood and began to unzip and pull off the hoodie. In rapid succession he pulled off a muscle shirt and the long warm-up pants. Without pausing for a moment, the pants were followed by the man’s briefs, leaving him standing in the altogether.
Drew was so surprised, he couldn’t take his eyes from the stunning figure before him. The man was well over 6 feet tall and slender, with smooth skin laying closely over well-defined muscles. It was impossible not to admire a body so well-formed and well-tended. It was also impossible not to follow the line of his back from broad shoulders as it tapered and curved into firm, rounded buttocks. Drew took a deep breath, and let it out on a sigh.
It wasn’t until the great black and white behemoth nudged him and chuffed, that the man began to sprint toward the waves. And it was then that Drew realized the man wore a prosthesis on the lower half of his right leg.
If Drew was amazed at the man’s nudity, he was no less than awed at the discovery that he was missing part of a limb. He began to see the man and his beast through new eyes. What had first seemed an act of charity toward a beloved pet, now revealed itself to be a bond of solidarity forged between kindred souls.
He couldn’t stop the tears that welled at the corners of his eyes. And he couldn’t explain the tight feeling in his chest. He felt no pity, no distaste, just a longing for a perfect world where noble men and beasts would know only kindness and goodness, a world where fortune smiled with eternal benevolence.
But he knew such a world did not exist. No. The world was an imperfect place where people faced loss and hardship with alarming regularity, regardless of station or merit.
Without realizing it, he stood and took a step from the shadows of the pier, looking toward his runner with surprised eyes, eyes that saw strength, determination, and optimism.
Jamie stood in the waves waiting for Tripod to bring the Frisbee to him and looked back toward the beach, where his silent companion had risen and stepped into the moonlight. He thought it was a perfect night for reaching out, so when Tripod returned with the Frisbee, he gave it a twist and sent it sailing into the moonlight along with his hopes.
** Here is a link to an experimental prosthesis for swimming and walking on sand.
*** This photograph is of United States veterans as celebrated at Michael Stokes Photography.