038 - burning rivets
Paul breathed in deep. He felt his chest heave down as he exhaled, his back pushed against the hard brick wall. It felt grainy. He didn't know how he was sensing it, since there was a t-shirt between his back and the wall. He never remembered his back as being particularly adept at sensing things, either, but there it was. The wall felt grainy.
A few more breaths. Then, he heard them. The footsteps. Frenzied. It was only a matter of time, he always knew that. These alleys were their home, not his, and he had little hope of losing them. There was a much higher chance of him getting lost himself, being led into a trap.
He might already be trapped. He considered it. But he felt lucky tonight, as lucky as a condemned man might feel. His sense of direction was good, and he might just be able to stay ahead of them. Keep out in front for long enough, until he could make a break. Into territory where they would at least be on equal footing.
But not like this. No, not if he were at rest. They were gaining ground now. Paul had his respite, to catch his breath. The cold, winter air burned at his already burning lungs with each deep intake. But it was all he could afford. Probably already more than he could afford.
One more. Deep. Feel it. He held it all in his lungs. For a moment, it was nothing but himself and his pulse. Exhale. He pushed his hands against the wall, giving himself a bit of a boost back up.
It was grainy. His hands confirmed it. Soon he was only being supported by his feet. And his footsteps joined in the cacophony of hurried footsteps that were closing in on him.
Paul tried to move away from them. It was hard to tell. Sound bounced off these alley walls like nobody's business, and especially when coupled with the sound of his own feet on the pavement, he couldn't be sure.
He didn't have time to be sure. He made decisions and stuck with them, worked to suppress the part of his mind that could introduce doubt, fear, and worry. Luck was all Paul could rely on tonight, he would either make it or he wouldn't. Hesitation couldn't help him.
His brain was too exhausted to worry too much, anyway. Fatigue was unfortunately setting in on every part of his body, though. And while it may have aided him in shying away from doubt, there was no way for him to suppress the pain in his legs. The pain told him that he would not be able to keep this up for long.
It told him that he was already losing ground, even while running.
They had more people, more legs that they could throw at this problem. If one man fatigued, another could join the chase. They were certain to close in. He had nothing more to give. No spare set of muscles, no second team of legs.
Paul threw his head behind him for a moment. At first, he thought it a mistake. It confirmed his fears. Now he not only heard the footsteps of the men behind him, he could also see a visual indication of them. No, not the men themselves, the situation was not yet that dire. But the beams of their torches, bouncing off the walls in every which way. Jogging in step with the beat of the footsteps he heard, he knew the men were closer now than they had been before.
Actually, it was a good thing, Paul considered. At least he knew now that they were indeed behind him. He wasn't simply circling in on himself, catching up the people that were trying to catch him in the first place. He was making progress.
Would it be enough? This thought gave him a renewed courage, an ability to eke out just a little more performance from the legs that had already given him so much. They ached, but there was hope.
A few more lucky turns, and then, Paul nearly stopped. He had found it. The mean, dark pavement abruptly stopped, and gave way to forest. He couldn't believe it. Now, he really had a chance. He really had hope.
The footsteps and torchlights hadn't stopped though. Neither could he. Paul pushed on.