Climbing the ramp to the elevated 606 trail is hard work at five-thirty in the morning. But having the Chicago skyline to yourself is a prize worth having. Martina trudged up, leaned over for a quick stretch, then pushed off, her feet pounding the asphalt. As she passed the quarter-mile marker, footfalls echoed behind her. The trail was usually empty this early. She turned to look. An image in black? Who wore a black hoodie and sweatpants in August? She held her breath for a second but smiled reflexively at the jogger before turning back. She dug her feet into the pavement and flew down the trail. Faster. Why worry? It was just another jogger.
But the hair on her neck stood up. Why? Where was the pepper spray? Just in case. She grabbed the canister and held it tight.
A louder thudding. He was closer. Martina slowed to a light jog and moved over. Let him pass. A flash of black and the hoodie jogger passed her, his form getting smaller and smaller with distance. He was fast.
Martina put her hand on her chest. Her heart was like a fist pounding a door, someone trying to get in...or out. She ran east. The trees growing fuller at the end of the summer filtered gentle oranges and pinks of the perfect sunrise. Beyond the trail was Lake Michigan. Maybe she’d catch a bus, go for a swim after her run. It would certainly be hot enough.
The guy was just a black speck. Or no...maybe he was gone. No sign of him.
The phone vibrated on her waist. She jumped, then laughed at herself. It was her husband trying to make nice with her. She shook her head. She was as nervous as a cockroach in a dance hall. Scared of her own shadow. “Calmate, Martina,” she whispered.
An arm around her neck. A hand on her left shoulder, holding her shirt. Sharp fingers digging into her flesh. Hot, searing pain. Her throat. She grabbed her throat. Wet.
The hoodie jogger ran past as Martina’s knees buckled. The ground, the rocks moved closer until she lay there face down. In the distance, a dog yelped and a car backfired. Now, silence. She opened her mouth to scream. Only a gurgle. The sky darkened to midnight.