I found a used iPod not too long ago. It's silver with a white wheel, it's one of those silly shuffle ones with no display but not the one which had no option to control sound or pause. I needed it for running and it's useful because it has a clip which means I don't need a pocket or have to hold it in my hand. I had a larger one which I used to hold as I ran then one day I tripped and it flew out of my hand, ripping my ear-pods out and smashed into tiny purple bits on the pavement. In the wink of an eye it had gone from a tiny place I store all my music to worthless, environmentally unfriendly rubbish. I'm not sure what was more humiliating, picking up the tiny bits of broken mp3 player or the blood from my scraped knee oozing down my leg eliciting sad and pitying looks from the joggers who trotted by me torn between wanting to help and not wanting to break pace. The only person to stop was an elderly gentleman walking his scruffy terrier type dog. He asked if I was okay while his dog barked at me. I limped back home wondering how I would replace my broken toy. I didn't have to because the next day on my run I found one. It was half hidden under the grass by the side of the trail and was well used. It's once pristine aluminum surface had scratches on it, some appeared regular, as if it was kept in a pocket with keys. I wondered if the keys and the ipod had a thing together, it seemed a plausible question. I wondered who had owned it before, and if I could find a way to return it. When I plugged it into the computer it was empty and the serial number was too scratched to make out. Someone else's bad luck was my fortune. I could not really afford to buy a new one.There is always something vaguely voyeuristic about getting a used storage device that still contains data, music, or books or even important stuff. The only thing that it had was a name. Tim. Tim the shuffle, I liked it so I let it stay. Naming things is always such a pain in the rear, one wants to be clever but usually ends up being silly or unoriginal or both. So Tim it was, and our first day together I loaded him up with all the songs I liked to run with so that we would be ready to go on our first excursion together.
Running is a strange thing, the opening salvo is a slog. My body doesn't want to do this because we were quite comfy at the computer or on the couch, thank you very much, now this, and this is work. I have to fight through the first round to break through to the sweet spot, that delicious place where I find my pace and the endorphines begin their job of supplying the reward. The music in my ears compliments this because music is also a pleasure. Two highs for the price of one and Tim was doing a fine job.
I usually always take the same path when running, from the flat, through the village, into the park, left lane then up the long, steep hill to the small out cropping of granite rocks to stop and look over the impressive view of the valley then turn around and repeat the journey this time going downward. The hill provides a better workout and I like the feeling of accomplishment once I have reached the top. Today was no different, this was my route.
When I run I hear three main things, the beating of my heart, the sound of my breath and the music I am running with. So it was jarring when, in mid stride, mid breath, mid lyric a small voice whispered go right. At first I thought I had misheard the song, but a few seconds later the same small voice whispered the exact same words. Go right.
I stopped, breathless, sweating and removed the earbuds. I thought that maybe someone was behind me speaking to me but I was alone. The only sounds I could hear were those which belonged and the tinny music escaping from the earbuds I held in my hand. I looked around to be sure, most of the time this route was safe and it was daytime but of course a woman alone can never be too sure. No matter where or when there is always that minuscule shadow of what if. With a shrug I reinserted my earbuds and the began to move forward half waiting for the little voice to whisper again but only music wormed its way into my ears. When I came to the fork in the path I chose the right lane without even thinking about why I had made this choice. The run was unexceptional but the path went along the small river which eventually widened and led down to the heart of the village.
The village was sleepy, even in the summer when tourist season was high, because it contained no special landmarks, or extraordinary must see attractions and it wasn't really on the way to anywhere more important. If tourists found their way here it was by accidental means or very deliberate choice. Like all such villages it has a center based around a main square, the town hall, a church or two and a cluster of cafés and restaurants separated by little shops and boutiques. In the center of the square was the fountain, a beautiful half naked bronze woman surrounded by small children playing. There was no plaque telling people who she was supposed to be or who the children were but the look on her face told me she was happy to be the center of the flow of water. It was here I stopped and removed my earbuds once again. The sounds which washed about me made me smile, the water as it fell, china and cutlery, voices of people, some cars, some bicycles. All around me the world moved forward while I had stopped and I had a moment of vertigo. I closed my eyes for second and when I opened them again standing beside me was a woman with the saddest, darkest eyes I had ever seen.
"You must give it back to me now." She said, holding out her hand to me.
"Why?" I asked.
"You will know soon." she said, her hand palm up still waiting.
I knew exactly what she wanted and for a moment I was angry but it passed, this was not mine I had just found it. Sometimes you just have to do as you are asked. I unclipped Tim, unplugged my headphones from him and after a moment's hesitation I placed him in her palm. We stared at each other unmoving for what felt like an hour and then she closed her hand and tucked Tim away.
"If you to go that shop there, you will find what you are looking for. Tell the young man behind the counter that Tim sent you." She said and then without anything more she turned and walked away.
I considered ignoring the suggestion but in the end curiosity got the better of me. The shop was more like an afterthought of a store, a tiny slice of a building, wedged between a café and a newspaper shop. As I stepped inside the shop the delicious smells of coffee and sweet things to eat gave way to dust, the scent of old books and something I could not define. All around me the floor to ceiling shelves were lined with books and knick knacks, photos and bundles of letters ties with faded ribbon. I stood in the small space between door and counter momentarily lost watching the dust dance in the sliver of light which came from a window I couldn't see.
"May I help you?"
I jumped, I had not noticed the slender young man who now stood at the counter.
"Uh," I said, "Tim sent me."
Instead of acting confused or even annoyed the young man smiled, nodded and then gestured with his finger that he would be right back. I could hear him open drawers and shuffle stuff around in the back but it was not well lit enough to see so I waited, wondering if my day could get any more peculiar. A few moments later he returned and handed me a small plastic box which, much to my surprise held a brand new iPod shuffle, exactly like the one I had just relinquished.
"She protects. She does not steal." He explained as I took the box from his hand.
"Who are...?" I started to ask, suddenly annoyed and a little afraid but again he held up his hand asking for my silence.
"There is no explanation. There is only what sometimes happens. I cannot give you any answers because I do not have them. Your path changed today, your life has now also changed. If that is good or bad I do not know. Might I suggest you go next door and sit in the sun and perhaps drink something that pleases you?"
I wanted to say something, anything more but I had no words so I did exactly what he suggested and I went to the café and ordered lunch all the while staring at the brand new iPod. I was glad I had remembered to tuck some cash along with my driver's license and bank card in the tiny pocket in my running clothes. I never went running without some money or ID, just in case but this was the first time I had ever needed to use any of it. Lunch was delicious and the cold iced tea soothed me. I sat and watched the square, the people who came and went for longer than I had planned. When it was time to leave I felt a strange sense of reluctance because as odd as it had been I did not want the day to end. By the time I got home I was quite exhausted and after a shower I just went to bed, Tim's replacement remained in its box unopened. The next day I decided not to go on my usual run, I still had not opened the new iPod and the experiences of the day before had left me in a strange mood, restless and edgy, for the remainder of the weekend as though I were waiting for something more to happen to me but nothing did. On Monday I went to work. The woman who sat nest to me on the train was reading the news from her tablet when she suddenly stopped and looked at me, an almost taboo thing to do.
"They found more." She said trying to hide her horror and sadness.
I shook my head at her. "More?"
"You have not heard? Up on the Stone Peak, in the park on Saturday evening they found a body, a young woman murdered. Now it seems there were more, a lot more and to be honest the victims kinda look like you."
I frowned at her, I had not seen or read any news all weekend. Too tired, too restless.
Impatient she showed me the news page on her tablet, there splashed on the front page where the horrible pictures of women's bodies in various stages of mutilation and decay. Along side of this were the photos of how some of them had looked when they had been alive, each one could have been my sister in some cases even my twin.
"They think it's been going on for years but no one noticed. How is that even possible?"
"Because we are invisible." I replied quietly.
She stared at me for a moment too long and then retreated back to her digital news. The rest of the journey was uneventful. At work news of the murders were all over the place, whispers and comments, some of my co workers asked questions about the area because they knew I lived near by, no one knew that it was the route I ran regularly tho. I never talked about my running or my life outside of work and no one ever asked. It occurred to me that I was just like those murdered women, voiceless and unnoticed. I looked around me and suddenly released I hated every part of what I was doing. Trying to fit in by being invisible, working at a job which paid the bills but little else and never really knowing why. When I left work at the end of the day I had no intention of ever coming back.
The following day I called in sick and went back to the village with the fountain. There were police cars and press, the square was busy and buzzing with an energy of anger and excitement. I ignored them all and made my way back to the small nameless shop. The scents that had lingered before were still there as was the young man at the counter.
"How did she know?" I asked.
"Because she was the first." He replied.
"How did she...?"
He tilted his head slightly. "I don't know how or why she returned the way she did or helped the people she helped but you are one of the lucky ones. You listened. You are alive because you listened to a ghost. Your life is changed now. In another world like this it is you they find up by the bluff and we never get to meet. Come back when all of this is over. Come back and I will tell you of her."
The door opened and two policemen walked in but before they could speak the young man said,
"You found her." It was not a question.
The larger of the two policemen nodded.
"Then if you will excuse me, " the young man said, "I need to close the shop. I believe they have just found the body of my sister."
I turned to leave but before I did I asked. "What was her name?"
"Timothea but I always just called her Tim." he answered.
The policemen stared at me indicating that I should go so I did. Not sure what to do next I went to the small café next door and watched as the village which had been sleepy and unknown woke up to a nightmare that no one had ever expected. I found it somehow comforting that the ghost who had whispered go right in my ears had the same first name as I did.