He felt like he always did when starting a run. Ankles a bit tight. A slight twinge in a calf muscle. It took a bit to get the rhythm working again. Breathing a little hard to start with, and then settling down as he got in the groove. Felt the first drops of sweat dripping down his back as he started to feel warmed up and lighter on his feet. Running through the neighborhood in the morning light there was little activity. Fresh newspapers sat on driveways waiting to be read. A few lawns still had sprinklers running, creating small pools on the sidewalk to be avoided. Streetlights were flickering and shutting off.
He crossed the street and turned on the dirt path that looped out into the marsh area. Obnoxiously loud tunes from the music player blasting in his ears, feet pounding on the rough trail, he marked familiar landmarks. The distance ticked by and he occasionally glanced down at his heart rate, adjusting the pace. The trail passed through groves of eucalyptus trees still damp with the overnight dew. Interspersed among the trees were open marsh areas. Waist high reeds and underbrush marked the edge of the trail. Out in the shallow water birds drifted and eyed him running past. The sun was rising higher and the perspiration was starting to soak his shirt. The gnats and mosquitos that would make this area unbearable later in the day were just starting to rise.
He almost didn’t see it. A small rut in the trail broke his rhythm. He looked down and did a small shuffle step to jump over. The glint in the sun caught his eye as he looked back up the trail. Glossy, black, a shape he didn’t immediately recognize. It was a few steps past before his brain registered what it was. Like the kids puzzles – guess what shape doesn’t belong in this picture? A stiletto heel, with a stark white foot bed and shiny black finish was laying on the edge of the trail. A few more inches and it would have been obscured by the reeds. Why would a woman’s dress shoe be way out here?
He continued running, puzzling over the image. He’d been running hard for quite a while so it was clearly too far for anyone to casually walk, especially wearing those heels. The trail was too narrow for a vehicle. Odd. He increased his pace, mind puzzling over the image. The miles flew by.
Breathing hard now, he had to start deciding how hard he could push. The three-quarter point was coming up. Push too hard now and the legs would start slowing down before he finished. Bass thumping in the earphones, sweat dripping in his eyes, a snow-white egret slowly took flight out ahead of him. At a trail junction he turned and headed towards the small parking lot at the opposite end of the preserve. At that point he’d head back to the street and finish the run on pavement. The narrow dirt trail slowly turned to gravel, and then it was a smooth paved surface that most runners never ventured off.
Feeling good, he followed the trail as it turned slightly up towards the parking lot. As he crested the small hill his stomach did a slow turn. Flashing blue lights. The howl of a bloodhound heard over his music.