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The Choice


by reggieman721

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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 first.

      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 heart.

      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.

The End

 
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