“The Longest Mile” by Alisha Galvan 

Jack was the kind of demi-god only a small town can produce. Captain of this, star of that, two-time All-State Track Team. He was the kid you knew the world wasn’t big enough for, and the dust of this town wouldn’t have hit the ground before he forgot about it.

Everyone loved him, and every guy secretly hated him until he put an arm on your shoulder, letting you bask in the heat of his shine. The true bright burners tend to be like that. They’ve got no problem letting you reflect a bit of their glow. We all wanted to be him—especially when it got around he’d popped Laura Black’s cherry two nights after Angela Jewel’s, and neither girl seemed to care.

He was a god.

Until he wasn’t.

Jack never left our town. He rolled his truck doing sixty on Blind Hand’s Curve, busted beer bottles flying around the cab, as it summersaulted, like Ginsu Knives, cutting up his face. And then his truck struck the trees; no one found him until the next day, a half-started text on his phone: Gu

The town’s heart broke. People cried, as they tend to do when gods pass.

If Jack was like a Greek demi-god, then I’d have to say that Lewis would be the twisted, bastard son those gods produce. The kind of creature fit for frowning or shadows. Only, Lewis wasn’t all that bad (though we treated him like Frankenstein’s monster) and he was Jack’s brother, not his son. What God had given Jack, he withheld from Lewis—looks, athletic ability, brains. Lewis was Jack’s junior by two years. He was born with some disability or another. Back then, all of ‘em were Special or (and more commonly) Retarded. Lewis spoke alright, if slow. But he was goofy, quiet. And he didn’t move so much as shamble place to place.

We all looked at Lewis as God’s curse to Jack’s family for having given them a perfect son. Jack, too. Hell, I think Jack started it, god rest his soul. I’d say he was mean to his younger brother, but why lie to you now? He was cruel. He mocked his brother. As though Jack could scrub out the shame he felt.

We were no better.

But Lewis never seemed to notice. I don’t know if that pissed Jack off more or the way Lewis always smiled, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. It was a large, bright smile that would have been infectious if we hadn’t been busy dismissing him. For the rest of my life I’ll remember the way Lewis smiled, and the run.

We started seeing him shambling around the town’s streets two weeks after Jack’s funeral. You ever see Lewis run, you know it’s him right off. Before he passed, you could see Jack out jogging almost every night, staying in top condition. And like a loyal dog, here Lewis would come after. Jack’d told him not to follow, but Lewis never listened. Jack threw things at him, punched bruises into his arm, tried to simply lose him, and settled on ignoring what he couldn’t control.

We were boys, we were teenagers. We had no idea what love was. We called Lewis a retard, but in the years since, I’ve often wondered who was superior to whom.

Even though Jack was dead, Lewis didn’t get a pass. In fact, the ridicule he had to run through intensified. It was as if all the confusion and rage and (admit it, a god died) guilty relief we felt could be purged by hurting this one kid. I’m, ashamed of the things we did, the words we threw at him like stones at a sinner. Lewis might have a slightly befuddled, happy-go-lucky demeanor, but he cried. And ran. And cried. And ran.

I didn’t understand any of it until the first track meet held at our school. Honestly, I never put any thought into Lewis or his motivations. But, like his older brother, Lewis was a member of most of our teams. He never played. Lewis was meant for getting water, picking up towels and endlessly cheering whether it was the right time or not.

Our track wasn’t impressive. An asphalt path ringing the football field, bleachers on the left. I don’t know how many people were there that day, but it was a fair number. Sports were our thing, and still in the shadow of tragedy, none of us felt like celebrating life and youth. I mean, if Jack can be wiped out that easily…

The day was warm; the sun was out and beautiful. A number of meets had been run and it was down to the mile. There wasn’t much of a cheering section, but a few people had tried. Over all, it was an average meet. Until the mile run started.

I didn’t see it start, but I heard the pistol. It was Gary that said something, pulling my attention from the way Ally Flitfield’s shirt held her chest (tits, in those days, breasts after fifteen years of marriage). Gary was laughing. Then others were laughing. It took me a second to find what Gary was pointing at, calling Jerry and Megan to look.

Lewis was running. It wasn’t beautiful, but you could tell that the kid was giving it everything he had. He was wearing Jack’s uniform, arms and legs pumping. He moved quicker than I’d ever seen him move before.

I’d love to tell you that he ran like the wind, that for a moment he became his brother. I’d love to tell you it was a miracle.

But it wasn’t. A mile on our track was four laps. The other runners, as far as I know, realized Lewis was on the track as they came up from behind. The runner assigned to that lane swerved around him. If winning had been a hope in his heart, that’s all it would ever be. As he turned down the leg running in front of the bleachers, he ran through jeers and laughter. Our coach stepped out onto the track, arms out as if inviting a hug, shrugging as if asking what the hell are you doing. Lewis ran around him. For an amusing moment, coached chased his runner. Lewis, sensing this, picked up his plodding. When the coach gave up, he waved the kids off then turned around, red-faced, shouting to someone.

It was a mockery, it was a show.

The other runners finished by Lewis’s second lap. To this day, I don’t know a single person who knows who won. It was all about Lewis. He didn’t notice, he didn’t hear a word. As he passed by, I saw sweat pouring down his face. The concentration. He was tired, half through if he planned a full mile, and not looking so hot. Someone yelled something I didn’t hear and there was laughter. An adult pointed into the crowds with a stern look. No one knew what to do and we sensed a loss of control. If kids were sharks (agreeable) that is blood in the water.

And then Lewis fell. This I did see. It looked like he took an off step, lost his balance, and suffered a hard spill. The crowd groaned. Lewis didn’t move, just sat there. Everything was silence. Someone shouted that he probably shit himself, but no one laughed. A coach and a couple adults started across the football field. Lewis had to of seen them. Before they were halfway to him, he was up and running. You could see he was hurt, limping.

You could have heard a pin drop. The wind briefly picked up as he rounded the curve, but otherwise, no one made a sound. His feet slapped the asphalt as he passed. He as crying. The dumb silence lasted until he rounded the curve and started down the far leg, last lap. How long was he running? Eight minutes? Ten? At least.

And then a woman called out his name. And she clapped. Others joined her. Then more. You could feel it in the air. Suddenly, it wasn’t Lewis running, it was all of us. It was confusion, pain and shame. But most of all, and I didn’t get this for years, it was love. That’s why Lewis ran and that’s why we clapped. It was the love of a brother for a boy who’d overlooked him, teased him, and hurt him. The kind of love that overlooked all those things. Lewis loved Jack in ways none of us could, and he ran because Jack would have run, because maybe that was the only way he could tell his brother that he loved him. A pure language.

If there was a miracle that day it was brief. The town didn’t change, except to say it moved on as towns do. It is fertile ground for demi-gods. Lewis still got teased, but not as much and only by younger kids. Those of us there that day would put a stop to it if we saw it, so maybe that’s something. But no one I knew hung out with Lewis. No one pulled him in. In a way, I think it’s because he scared us; he was more than us, purer in a way I’ll never understand, in much the way he’d never get calculus.

Much of my life, I’d wanted to be Jack. I still think about him; I wonder how high he would have climbed or if he would have crashed and burned (in a less dramatic fashion, obviously). I’d like to think my demi-god could have ruled the world. Cure something. Defend the innocent. I like to believe he’d of been the best of us and I give him qualities he may have only had in my mind.

No, the town didn’t change. I did, though. I wanted to be Jack. I wanted to live like Jack, but…in my secret heart, I’ve always wanted to love like Lewis. I know I’ve stumbled—two divorces can tell you that. But it’s not always winning the race that counts. Sometimes it’s just finishing. And Lewis’s mile wasn’t the fastest by any stretch, but it might have been the longest. In my mind, in my heart, he’d stilling running it. And I can still hear, as he shambled down that last leg with a defined limp, exhausted, heaving, the way the world thundered with the sound of our clapping.


Alisha Galvan is an award-winning horror/thriller author whose short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and online publications. She is a wife and a mom of three who enjoys horror movies, alt-rock, and true crime documentaries. You can find her writing novels, short stories, and occasionally vampire hunting in Kansas City. Her book A Path Through the Forest is available now on Amazon. 


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