Today was the day, there was no question about it. I was near the front of the exit and it was Saturday night, nearing 11PM. The doors would swing open for just a few seconds and I had secured an excellent spot in front of some skilled competitors.
“This is it, the last day! What do you think we are going to be named?” the person on my right asked.
“Why do you say ‘we’? Only one of us can win this race and there’s no use in asking me if you want to team up,” I responded. I coiled my tail around my body and stared intently at the door, trying to avoid all other distractions.
“Come and pick up your copy of the Modern Motility! Today we cover a shortcut that was found on Channel #4! Don’t miss out on being the winner of this year’s race!” a man announced, waving a newspaper. I hopped from my chair and spoke to him about my qualifications and what made me think I should win the title.
“Interesting— Any athletes that you are looking up to for race techniques?” he asked.
I snatched the paper from his hands, scanned over the bland descriptions to see if I could find any particularly intriguing facts, and dropped it at my feet once I was done. As if on command, the walls began to waver. The lock on the doors snapped open, and I knew that this was the time I had been waiting for my entire life.
“Alright, racers. There is only one winner, no participation prize!” an automated voice projected in the room. I prepared myself for the stream, whipped my tail into position, and set myself up into a starter’s stance.
The doors flung open. From the back of the room, the stream of fluid perfectly entered the doors. I, along with however many losers had registered themselves for this race, catapulted myself to the front and knew that it was time to put it all out there. A few swimmers took the lead extremely quickly, their tails propelling them at insane speeds, some of them directly cutting into separate paths instead of staying on the main trail. Our Great Race was a short one compared to some of the ones that other cities had to face, according to a study done in the Modern Motility, so taking off quickly wasn’t the worst idea.
Nonetheless, I had not expected to be going my 100% from the start, so I dashed into a small hole that seemed promising right at the start to rethink my game plan. It felt remarkable to twist my tail around my body and slide right through the narrow passage. Without a choice, I was flown back into the stream and I noticed that I was in third place out of 20 million racers. Third! This boost of confidence thrusted me into second, right ahead of the newspaper man.
“Oh, hey! I’m taking Channel #4, don’t know about you!” he yelled, and he wasn’t trying to fool me. He dove under the stream and entered a secret compartment while I stayed with the flow. I felt the final sprint creeping up on me, and while I wanted more time on the race track, I was ready for it. The first place racer slammed the border of the exit and didn’t make it out. At the same time, the newspaper guy flew out of a hole on the side and rejoined the stream right next to me. We easily cleared the jump into the next stage of the course— the alien territory.
“Ready for the obstacles, man? I heard that there are poison flowers and fumes that get you delusional!” he said. This guy was underestimating my research on this course. Everyone in this race has been preparing their entire lives for the foreign environment!
“Where are the fumes?” he asked me, still keeping up at my pace.
“Don’t you know? They’re everywhere! They don’t just shoot out randomly! Can you also stop talking to me? I’m trying to focus on not losing my energy.”
A few swimmers burst ahead of us, thinking that the second part of the course meant that it was time to accelerate. They hadn’t done their research on the slowing effect of this section. It almost acted like the hills during the practice runs. The lungs, tail, and mental discipline begin to break down here. Luckily, I had a lot of practice under my belt.
“That’s right! I did it!” a fellow competitor screamed, circling around a small object that looked nothing like the finish line. The fumes had clearly gotten to him. The thickness of the atmosphere was more brutal than Modern Motility had predicted. My tail’s twirling decreased in speed and I had fallen back to around 1,000th place. Luckily, most of the people that had underestimated the conditions of the environment had begun slowing down.
“Hey, wait up!” I yelled to the newspaper man who was probably in 600th place considering how tight the pack had become.
“Now you want me to help you?” he yelled back. To my surprise, he actually came back and directed me to an area that seemed promising for a shortcut. I listened to him and we made up some ground, moving to around 300th place. In front of me, other racers were becoming delusional, turning backwards and moaning in bizarre ways. Surprisingly, I still felt like I had a lot in me, but so did Mr. Newspaper.
“I see the two diverging paths they always talk about. Which one do you think is the correct one?” he asked. I didn’t have much time to think.
“I was thinking right,” he responded.
“No, it has to be left!”
He completely ignored me and started moving to the right, dodging a pack of racers that had decided on the opposite side. The hilly section of the course had begun, the climb through the passageway was going to be difficult. I almost swerved left, but decided to follow him so that I could brag about how I was correct if there was no finish line on this side.
“You’re going to run out of stamina if you speed up like this on the hilly terrain!” I warned him, sensing that my tail was giving in.
“That’s the trick!” he yelled back. He was going considerably slower than before, but his tail was still moving at full speed, making small whipping motions. I copied his technique and found myself catching up to his side.
“If we picked the correct side, then we’re in 10th place,” he said. “If the left side was correct...”
“Keep it down,” I said. “Just catch up to that guy up there.”
“Have you noticed that the poisonous fumes didn’t really affect us?” he asked.
Confident that I would get good momentum on the turn of the passageway, I propelled myself forward using the wall as support. Sliding around the newspaper guy, I easily overtook him and the person that was in front of us. It seemed as if we had entered a mysterious third section, with no fumes in sight. I felt great! We were closing into the finish line.
“Alright, we can do this. There’s only one person in front of us. Can you believe that we’re in second this far into the race?” the pest asked, having caught up to my pace. I didn’t answer. All of my energy was focused into my tail and the person in front of me. He collapsed, putting me at the top of the 20 million racers. The race was mine. I blocked the newspaper guy from coming up to my side by swerving my tail slightly to the right.
“There it is, man. I can see it in front of us! The doors are opening!” my competitor announced. Ahead of us, a beautiful sphere rotated. I made myself into a dart, piercing the atmosphere and flying right into the chamber.
“We did it! There’s no one in sight! The reward is ours!” he exclaimed from behind me.
I couldn’t let him catch up to me now, but there was no more energy in my tail. As he came up to my side again, I grabbed onto him, pushed him backwards, and slapped his face with my tail. I had just enough force left to reach out and touch the finish line. I ripped my tag from my stomach and stuck it inside of the treasure chest that was awaiting me, like they had instructed. It changed colors and absorbed me into it. I was inside of the magical sphere. The newspaper guy was banging the outside of the sphere, but I didn’t care.
I was the fastest. Great nations and kings would come from me.