In fetid back alleys that longed for the light, hurried footsteps echoed through the darkness. Frantic shoes shuffled through puddles and across slick pavement cracked by ages of neglect, unseen by the world above where the fortunate basked in the light of the sun. Through tight passages they reverberated, ringing out until a lone figure stumbled past, giving form to the disembodied sound. His shoes were chewed and scuffed from rough streets and overuse, his filthy clothes and patched jacket betraying his identity as one who belonged in so desperate a place. He was in pain as he clutched his aching side, desperate to stop the bleeding. Stopping for a moment, he winced as he listened for the footfalls of his pursuer. Satisfied that he had at last given the hunter the slip, he paused for a moment, leaning heavily on a filthy wall as he wiped the sweat and dried blood from his brow. The wall was slick and grimy, but cool, and in his pain and desperation it was paradise.
His breathing came in staccato gasps as he struggled to take in air through the pain and fatigue. With two fingers pressed to his neck, he took his pulse…his heart was beating like a snare drum. Unconsciously he grabbed at his side, then grimaced in pain as his fingers dug into the damaged flesh. Hesitantly, he removed his hand for a moment and looked down. Though the bleeding had slowed, that wasn’t necessarily a good sign…it was worse than he’d thought: the blade had dug a three-inch gash into his abdomen. How deep it was he dared not imagine, though from the pain and blood loss he was experiencing he could only assume his time was running short.
Suddenly his thoughts were drawn away from the injury…footsteps in the distance. They echoed menacingly…slow but not hesitant…the one who produced them was one who walked with purpose, his steps falling as crisp claps of boots on concrete. He froze…what was he to do? Should he stay where he was? Light was scarce…phantom sounds danced through the hallways, enough to obscure the sound of his breathing, even labored as it was. Should he run? If he did, there was a chance he’d bleed out before long. His eyes stretched wide in fear, he held his back to the wall, again holding his side as he struggled to quiet his breathing. The sweat beaded on his forehead and ran anew down his bloodied face, stinging the cuts and scrapes on his cheeks. He bit his lip hard, fighting back a pained groan.
As he stood with his back to the wall, he began slowly inching away from the corner. He had to escape, make a break for it, but the timing had to be right. A sudden pang from his side…he fought the urge to cry out, yet as he did his foot slipped, driving his shoe into a discarded can. Time seemed to slow to a crawl…the can seemed to roll for an eternity, its rattling on the cracked pavement deafening as thunder until it contacted the far wall, recoiling with an ear-splitting clang! The distant footfalls stopped. He froze, his eyes darting off in the direction of his unseen pursuer. The time is now. Run!
He ran as fast as he could, till his legs grew weak and his heart pumped fire through his veins. Behind him the steps of his pursuer grew nearer, increasing in pace. Struggling to stay on his feet he slid the toe of his shoe absently into a rut in the pavement. The slip sent him reeling, he hit the pavement hard and skidded forward, skinning his forearms and shredding his pants. Wincing in pain, he fought to right himself. His hands stung as he scrambled to his feet. Pain defined his world…he had twisted his ankle, his muscles throbbed. Gritting his teeth he struggled to his feet and resumed his running, fleeing for his life. The Game can’t end like this. Somewhere behind him there was a clattering…a can dashed against an alley wall. It was the hunter. He held his breath as best he could, keeping prone, ruined guts pressed to the filthy pavement as he waited for the hunter to pass. The footsteps stopped…had the hunter heard him? A moment dragged on into eternity…his pulse pounded in his head as he held fast, fighting the urge to run. At last, the footfalls began again, leading away from him. He was safe…for the moment. Yet here, he would never be safe. He needed to keep moving.
Through an endless maze of filthy alleyways he stumbled until at last the pain got the better of him. He collapsed, unable to go on. The pain was everywhere now…the wound in his abdomen tore further, and bled anew. Clutching his side, clinging to life, with his free hand he crawled. Ahead was what little salvation he could hope for: a pile of refuse spilling from a row of bins. He could crawl behind it, hide…and perhaps, if he was lucky, when the end came he would be alone. Slowly, he dragged his ruined body across the slick pavement, his only hope just out of reach. Unable to stop himself, he gasped and groaned in agony, blood pouring from his wounds. Still he inched forward, driven by what fragile hope remained. The only hope he’d ever known: to survive.
Too late. The footfalls grew nearer, until at last at the mouth of the alley they paused. This was the end. Defiant and fearful, he rolled over to face the hunter. The hunter stood several paces behind him, clad in a black coat, sweat beading on a darkened face twisted into a sinister grin. With grim satisfaction, he raised his weapon to eye level.
“Runner!” he shouted, and with that he fired but once. The shot rang true…the runner died instantly, pain and defiance frozen on his face. Slowly, the hunter strode toward his vanquished enemy. Blood pooled beneath the body, splashing over his boots as he took a moment to admire the kill. A moment was all he had…
At once he felt a tingling sensation, then a searing pain, as his body changed. As the pain passed, he bent down over a pool of murky water. The transformation was complete…the face reflected was the runner’s face…the face of his prey. Now the face was his. Soon, a hunter would come for him. There was no time to lose.
Quickly holstering his weapon, he turned and fled into the darkened alleyways. He was the runner now.