“I Started Jogging to Stay in Shape, and Because a Fire Breathing Lizard Is Always Chasing Me,” by Bobbie Armstrong

Apr 20th, 2020 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

My jogging routine used to be totally normal. After speed walking for a few blocks and then stopping to gasp for air, I would call it quits and Uber back to my apartment to spend the next two days binging marathon training videos.

All that changed one morning as I was taking my mid-jog pizza break. As I walked out of Domino’s artfully balancing three pepperoni slices on top of one another, I heard loud panting behind me. Assuming it was just a neighborhood dog, I prepared to turn around and kick it in the face so it wouldn’t get its greasy paws all over my even greasier pizza. Instead, I found myself face to face with a green, scaly, fire breathing lizard.

I dropped all three pepperoni pizza slices in shock and because they slipped through my fingers like an eel. When I had recovered slightly, I picked up a slice from the ground and took a big bite. It had that classic New York pizza that fell on the ground taste, melted cheese mixed with old gum and human piss.

The lizard stuck out a claw and introduced himself as Carl, explaining that he had been hired by an anonymous source to chase me out of my apartment every morning at 8:30 sharp.

Who had hired Carl? Can lizards talk? Wow this pizza smells like a donkey’s backside!

“I appreciate the offer, but I’m doing just fine on my own,” I struck a defiant pose and jut out my pepperoni smeared chin.

Carl took out a slip of paper from the pocket of his track pants. It was old and crumpled and burnt at the edges, as though it had been lightly toasted and then shoved into the pocket of sweaty track pants, which I suppose it had.

On it was a rough sketch of a humanoid lizard chasing a girl down a crowded city street. She had a wild look in her eyes and a trail of donuts behind her. Long, stringy brown hair just like mine was pulled into a messy bun and her blue sports bra was covered in spaghetti sauce. I looked down at my own spaghetti sauce covered blue sports bra. This girl definitely wasn’t me.

“It’s a prophecy,” Carl explained. “Spoken into the world by the great Oracle of Delphi in a Penn Station Starbucks in 2005.”

“But why me?” I asked, my voice trembling slightly as my fingers traced the outline of the girl’s way too large hands and out of proportion feet.

“That is for you to figure out. But something to do with you letting yourself go after your career didn’t take off the way you thought it would when you moved to the big city and Jessica cutting you out of her life because you were “holding you back” and your 85-year-old grandma being able to do more German squats than you,” he said.

“Makes sense,” I replied.

“Sorry, the drawing isn’t very good. I flunked out of art school,” Carl continued, shoving his other claw-thing in his pocket. It was the first time during our two minute interaction that I detected a hint of emotion in his voice, nostalgia for a life he had left behind to chase out of shape 20-somethings down the streets of Manhattan. I could relate to that. I too had flunked out of art school. Maybe we weren’t really that different, Carl and I, just two lost souls trying to find our place in the city that never—

Carl lunged at me, snarling and bearing front teeth that were the size of regular lizards that don’t wear track pants or talk. I dropped the pizza into the waiting mouth of that stupid dog and ran for my life.

For the next year, I spent my mornings running through the streets, Carl breathing fire close on my heels. I didn’t even have time to stop for coffee, pizza, a full-body massage, or even a half-body massage. Since this was Manhattan, few bat an eye at us. Those who did were mostly older crusty men, and some even older, crustier men, jeering cliche taunts like “get that bitch” and “show her who the lizard king is.”

At first, I thought Carl was just my ex Brian in a lizard suit he bought off Amazon. But then he started eating the rats he found in my building and chucking the innards at me. Brian was a vegan, though I always suspected he was cheating.

My runs slowly got faster and I stopped dry heaving behind the Gristedes dumpster. I even started to enjoy running. Carl and I were cordial to each other, but never friends. He was there to do a job, and I was always running away from him so on a practical level it was hard to hold a conversation.

A month after running my first half-marathon, Carl suddenly stopped just as I vaulted over a horde of greasy Times Square Elsa’s. The next morning he was nowhere to be found, and there were no rat heads outside my door, only a pile of dead fish from my neighbor. But that’s normal.

At first I was worried something terrible had happened to Carl. I tried to think of who to call, but who do you call when a fire breathing lizard goes missing? He was too human for Animal Control, but too animal for an Amber Alert.

I came to accept that my time with Carl was complete. I was in shape, and I knew how to tie my shoelaces with those little double knots so I wouldn’t didn’t trip all over the place and break my jaw in two places anymore.

I never saw Carl again. But sometimes on my morning runs, I think I catch a glimpse of a nine foot, fire breathing, green lizard throwing raw eggs at joggers. It’s probably just a trick of the light, but I can’t help but smile nonetheless.


Bobbie Armstrong is a former child and current student and writer. Her work has appeared on McSweeney’s, Slackjaw, Weekly Humorist, Belladonna Comedy, and her parents’ fridge.

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