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40

FINALIST
Jury Selection

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He was already late when the sun took it into his head to rise.
Panicking at the first rays that stole across the road, making it grow visibly pale, he urged his proud charger to speed on its way. The moped gave a roar like an asthmatic leopard and bravely tackled the hill. When he reached the top, he stopped still in despair. 
The Milky Way was already disappearing, swallowed up by the light of the day. Sagittarius and the Gemini twins were sweeping away the last traces of dust from the stars. Sagittarius caught sight of him.
“You mustn’t stay here, sir.”
“But I am in a hurry... “
“Too late, the road is closing for the day.”
He was interrupted by the sound of a horn. A pizza delivery man hurtled by like a madman, skirted round Sagittarius who reared up in surprise, sped off down the almost invisible road and turned in at the second star on the right. 
“Road hog!” yelled Sagittarius, incensed.
The wheels of his moped began to sink into a void. Reluctantly he turned off onto a secondary route. This detour was very inconvenient. Fortunately, the weather was gray and he was able to cut across the clouds.
After several hours of wild shortcuts, he realized that he was totally lost. He stopped and opened his backpack to look for his map. Keys, bottled cumulus water, raincoat for showers from shooting stars, packet of cookies with asteroid chips... No map. 
Damn! Had he dropped it? He was sure he had taken it with him. What was he going to do now?
He looked around him. Of course, the sky was deserted. Here he was stranded in the back of the heavenly beyond, with not even a swallow in sight to show him the way. Even though those birds never miss an opportunity to show off their great knowledge.
He looked at the time and bit his lip. He could not be late. He had promised. 
With a sudden surge of renewed courage, he removed his watch from his wrist and held it so that the sunlight glinted off the glass of the dial. The reflections fell upon a closed eyelid. 
“Eh? What?” muttered the moon, opening her eye. “First quarter already?”
Then she saw him and looked daggers at him. He shrank back.
“I’m sorry,” he stammered. “Which way is north, please?”
“Good grief, is that what you woke me up for?” she thundered. “That’s not my job. Ask the Pole Star!”
“Well, she’s asleep... “
“And I suppose I’m not? Do you think it’s easy keeping house? It’s not as if Mister Sun ever lends me a hand. No, he just sticks his feet under the table and expects me to do everything. And he’s never happy either! What a pig! When do I ever get to rest? Of course he couldn’t care less about that!
Taken aback, he let her pour out a torrent of complaints and recriminations at him, agreeing when necessary. After some considerable time, she finally calmed down. She must have appreciated the listening ear he had provided, for she pointed to the north before falling back into a deep sleep. He set off again without further ado.
At last, the air grew cooler and he began to catch glimpses of the ice field. He smiled and even his moped seemed to develop a fresh surge of enthusiasm.
But of course, it could not be that simple. Suddenly he was forced to stop. The sky over the North Pole was completely clear, not a cloud in sight.
He clutched his head in his hands. How was he going to get across? He looked once more at his watch. Oh no, it was almost time!
He thought very quickly. Gripped by an idea for one last chance, he grabbed his packet of cookies and began to crumble them over the void. They started to disappear.
Just as he was about to give up, a large white shape rose up suddenly and snatched at the crumbs. 
“It’s just because I had nothing else to do,” grumbled the Swan a few minutes later as he carried him, along with the moped, towards his destination. Don’t go getting ideas, I’m not a taxi. Mmm, these things are good. They’ve got asteroid chips in, haven’t they?” 
Suddenly the aurora borealis lit up in the sky. He saw her: she was already waiting for him, perched on the iridescent curtains of light. His heart leapt in his chest. He gave the rest of the packet of cookies to the Swan and ran to join her.
She smiled at him. The stars in her eyes were more beautiful than all the stars in the night.

Translated by Wendy Cross

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