Johnny loved to run. He ran to school each day. He ran during recess. He ran with all of his friends in the evenings. He would come home sweaty and dirty - and happy. Running made Johnny happy.
At school during outside PE, the teacher paired the kids up to run against one another. She pitted Johnny against another kid, Jared. As their race neared, Johnny's heart just about burst through his chest in anticipation of speed.
And speed he did. Legs churning, each step was a jolt thrust into the ground, striving to escape earth's gravity and vault skyward.
All of that energy beamed from his face as he crossed the finish line. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mrs. Pittingham's face, and his impression at that glimpse was not unlike eyeballing a huge bag of candy only to find tiny ants swarming throughout the confection. He spun his head around, wondering at the growing deflation in his powerful limbs. Sure enough - the young gym teacher's face soured a grimace. Johnny followed her gaze and then he saw Jared.
So fast was Johnny out of his starting stance that he'd easily covered half the distance to the finish line before Jared had made two steps. The race was over before the rest of the class could even cheer anyone on. Jared remained, now jogging alone, head down, embarrassed. Even humiliated.
"That wasn't fair," Mrs. Pittingham announced, loud enough for the rest of the class to hear. "We need to do that over."
Johnny's exuberance returned, and he glided once again to the starting position. Jared moved next to him. Mrs. Pittingham disappeared into the school briefly and then emerged.
In her hands she held a heavy janitor's coat. It was a shiny vinyl gray, and it draped listless over her palms as she carried it to Johnny.
"Put this on," she said flatly.
Johnny obeyed, and the class giggled at the near dress he now wore. Jared smirked and bent to the task at hand, legs cocked for action. Johnny bent with him. The weight of the rubbery shroud felt like the hands of eight people pressed onto his back and shoulders.
He looked up. His heart thumped its defiance and he felt the blood fire into his thighs.
Instinctively, Johnny moved at the woman's guttural bark, barely the letter G sounded out of her mouth, and it was as though the air refused to let him feel the janitor's coat at all. Time slowed and allowed him to savor the heat generated when he planted a foot and then pushed off.
This time he looked right at his teacher as he drove down the track. No coat would hold him back, no expression would drown his joy, and no other boy would beat him. It was just that simple.
And so it was. The coat turned to ether for the few seconds that it took Johnny to charge across the asphalt. Weightlessness then gave way to reality as the race ended and ether again became a coat. Johnny turned to see how he had done.
Mrs. Pittingham ran toward Jared, who had stopped somewhere in the middle of the track. Her hand stroked his hair and she tilted her head to him as she asked if he was alright.
Just over his shoulder, Johnny heard one of his classmates. "You're a bully." He stayed riveted to the scene in the middle of the track. "Yes, you, John Galt. You're a bully."
Johnny smiled. He refused to feel guilty for his love of running.