Very early one morning in 2001, I was walking to work on a dark Fall morning. The air was crisp and the half-mile walk was brisk as I took the quiet time to clear my head to start the day.
I turned a corner onto 10th Ave, and was walking past the 2nd house when I began to hear footsteps running behind me. It started a ways back, but I could hear the footsteps crunching in the loose gravel as it grew closer.
The one thing that became real clear very quickly was the breathing. Whoever it was sounded like they were stricken with a very bad case of emphysema. The runner sounded like he was about to drop dead any second and with the death rattle that was coming out of him, I seriously wondered why a person in such condition would be running with such labored breathing instead of being in a hospital bed.
I kept my pace as it got closer and closer, until something registered inside my mind that if I didn’t step aside, they were going to run right into me and knock me over. So, at seemingly the last possible second, I stepped to the side and turned sideways to let them pass.
As I stepped aside, the sound stopped. Nobody was there. It was perfectly quiet.
During the rest of my walk to work, I was distracted and quite rattled. The sound of the feet running and the deathly breathing ended the moment I turned toward it.
Since that day I have always wondered, with a bit of a chill, what would have happened if I had not paused or turned around, but kept on walking.