Dale, a blue Lupe, was stretching on the grass. As he leaned
over, touching his toes, he caught a glimpse of his friend, Azel, a yellow Poogle.
Azel was small and cheery, but when Dale looked at him, Dale noticed that his
friend looked determined and meditative. He almost looked professional. Dale glanced
around at the other Neopets who were warming up. It was a large group. Hundreds
had flocked to the track, hoping to win the gold trophy. The annual Race Through
Neopia Central was the biggest event of the year for runners. Dale had been training
extra hard after he placed fifth the year before. Now, he felt ready to steal
Azel had only been running for about two years.
He placed thirty-seventh the previous year, and his goal for this year was top
ten. Dale knew that Azel would have a tough time keeping up with the competition,
but Azel had been practicing extra hard. Perhaps he had gotten much faster.
Most of the pets stretching nearby looked like
worthy competitors. Lupes, Gelerts, and Poogles were most common, but there
were Aishas, Wockies, Acaras, Blumaroos, and many other Neopets nearby as well.
All of them looked intense, and all of them looked fast. Dale was slightly intimidated,
but he knew that he had probably been running a lot harder and a lot more often
during the year.
Suddenly, one of the referees announced that
the race was going to begin soon. All of the runners walked over to the starting
line, which was very wide. Hundreds of pets each took their place with their
toes just behind the white line. Dale looked over at Azel, who was just a few
pets down. Azel met his eyes and smiled. It wasn't the weak, nervous smile that
Azel had worn at the last race. This smile was determined and hopeful. Dale
smiled back, then put his head down, waiting for the command.
The crowd that lined the streets became silent.
The runners were tense, and time seemed to stop. The breeze died, and the air
was still. Suddenly, the referee blew his whistle, and Dale bounded forward.
Quickly, the faster pets surged to the front of the pack, kicking up dust as
the crowd roared. If Dale had looked to the side, he would have seen spectators
hurry off to the next checkpoint, but he did not waver. The Lupe focused all
of his energy on running forward with all his strength.
The streets of Neopia Central were empty. Everything
had been shut down for the race. At the front of the pack, Dale bounded onward.
He knew the route by heart, having run it countless times. Dale risked a peek
over his shoulder. Close behind him, an electric Gelert followed doggedly. Then,
a purple Blumaroo, a white Lupe, and a green Wocky kept pace. Dale took all
of this in at a glance, because looking back cost him precious time. Confident
with his lead, he sped onward toward the halfway point.
The crowds had cut across the side streets,
so they were already waiting at the halfway marker. The cheers pounded Dale's
ears, and they gave him the energy to run faster. He was roaring now, faster
than he had ever run before. This was his race. This was the time for Dale the
blue Lupe to take home first prize. He could feel it in his rapidly beating
Suddenly, images of the future began intruding
into the Lupe's mind. He pictured himself sprinting across the finish line amid
frenzied cheers, climbing the podium to receive the gold trophy. He saw reporters
asking him how it felt, how much he practiced, and why he thought he won. He
saw the other racers congratulating him, asking to run with him to prepare for
next year, wondering how he could possibly be so fast. Dale saw fame throughout
Neopia, and he saw himself going on to win other, greater races. He saw himself
conquering Faerieland, Terror Mountain, Mystery Island, and every other place
that had a famous race. He saw himself being the champion of Neopia, the fastest
pet alive. No one was faster; no one could beat him.
These thoughts pushed Dale harder and harder.
Another glance over his shoulder showed him that he was extending his lead.
However, in that same glance, Dale saw something else. He saw Azel sprinting
past the green Wocky and the white Lupe into fourth place. Dale turned his head
forward and tried to concentrate on running, but his curiosity took over, and
he looked behind him again. Azel had passed the Blumaroo and was now gaining
on the Gelert. If he didn't burn himself out, Azel might blast into second place.
Suddenly, new thoughts entered Dale's mind.
He saw himself standing, holding the gold trophy, getting all the attention,
and then he saw Azel sitting with the silver medal. He saw his friend, who had
worked so hard to place second, being ignored and forgotten. He saw Azel look
angrily at the blue Lupe as reporters interviewed him, and he saw his friend
begin to drift away. Dale saw Azel lose passion for running. He saw him sit
at home, reading every day about how Dale had won some new race, and how he
had beaten some record. He saw the two of them grow so far apart that he saw
himself completely forget about his old friend, the little yellow Poogle. He
saw himself so wrapped up in his own life that he couldn't think of anything
or anyone else.
Then, Dale saw the finish line.
Awoken from his reverie, the Lupe realized that
he was just a few precious seconds away from winning the gold trophy. One last
glance over his shoulder told him that Azel had passed the Gelert and was now
speeding down the final stretch of road. The look in Azel's eyes was fierce,
determined, but slightly sad, because he knew he was too far back to have any
hope of catching up to Dale.
Suddenly, in a split second, Dale's mind was
flooded with a new set of visions. He saw Azel winning the gold trophy, and
he saw his friend beaming with pride at his accomplishment. He saw Azel thanking
Dale for inspiring him to practice harder, and he saw the two of them competing
neck-and-neck for other racing titles. He saw the newspapers report not just
one champion, but two. The two friends who raced around the world, the two runners
who could not be beat. He saw them bond closer than they ever had imagined,
becoming such close friends that nothing could tear them apart. He saw the two
of them in perfect bliss.
Dale was only a few yards away from the finish
line. He saw the wide-eyed crowd, cheering wildly for him, who they knew would
be their champion. He saw the referee holding the whistle to his lips, and he
saw the presenter holding a golden trophy standing next to the winners' podium.
Dale did not look behind him again, but he knew that Azel was just a few yards
back. The Lupe clenched his teeth, closed his eyes, and swiftly put his right
toe behind his left ankle.
Dale tripped and fell to the ground, just a
few feet from the finish line.
He heard the crowd suddenly gasp and become
silent. Then, he heard Azel come bounding past him over the finish line, and
the crowd erupted. The rest of the pets in the race roared past him, but the
Lupe didn't even get up. At last, when he finally lifted his head, he saw everyone
crowded around the winners podium. No one glanced back at him. They all swarmed
around Azel, cheering as he lifted the golden trophy high into the air.
Dale stood up and brushed himself off. He staggered
across the finish line, knowing that he was last place. He tried to push through
the crowd to get a glimpse at his friend, but the mob was too thick. Suddenly,
they all started moving, and Dale realized that Azel had gone off to the celebratory
lunch. The Poogle hadn't even stopped to thank or congratulate Dale.
Dale's breath escaped him, and he collapsed
on the grass. With a cold rush, a last flood of ideas rushed into his mind.
He now saw Azel going on to win more races alone. He saw the Poogle become a
Neopian icon, a running legend. He saw his friend not once look back, but move
forward to bigger and better things. The reporters would ask how Azel had started
his running career, and Azel would proudly say that he won the Race Through
Neopia Central in only his second year, not mentioning once the blue Lupe who
had once been his friend. Dale saw Azel conquering the racing world, reveling
in the attention that he had never received before. And Dale saw himself, growing
old alone, running the old path through Neopia Central over and over, wondering
why life was so unfair.
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