I wonder who will win the Race this year. Last year, it was a seventeen-year-old girl. She had special no-pain shoes, so in my book, it didn’t count. She’s now the wealthiest citizen in the town. Until this year’s winner is announced. We all have to participate, but we can drop out whenever we want.
I hope I win. I’ll try my hardest for my family. My family needs it. For my mom to pay her dues. For us to manage to feed ourselves for years. As well as make trips to the city. I’ve never been to the city, but if I win, I will live there. That will be a big luxury for me, considering I’ve lived in the middle of nowhere basically my entire life. Of course, I was born in the city, but that’s only because Mother had no other options.
In town, there are shops to buy anything imaginable. Dresses, baked goods, fresh fruit and vegetables. If I win, I will buy myself a brand new dress. I would go shopping until I dropped. But the Race is a hard and gruesome experience. But I would do anything to win the benefits.
In school, the teachers always told us to try our hardest to win it. Mr. Miller had won it back in the 2050s, but he decided to donate most of the perks to charity funds. He’s an easy liver, living in a one bedroom apartment. Don’t ask how I know that.
Going up to my room, I open the door, and see the same normal thing as always. For some reason, I always expect something new to be behind the door. Something more promising. Something more than just, “You have to win the Race.” I get dressed in my special shorts and a really lame t-shirt my mom bought me when I was ten.
I head back downstairs and Mother has already woken up. This is early for her, considering it’s a weekend. She looks ready also, as if she had woken at least three hours ago. She looks gorgeous in her simple ponytail hairdo, jean shorts and a v-neck from her old university. It looks like we’re ready for the Race.
We head to the state house downtown, as all the rest of the citizens do as well. We are all waiting for that whistle to blow, and for all of us to start walking from here to the California state area.
“You can drop out if you want.” I tell myself this every year, and I’ve made it pretty far in the previous years. I’m pretty confident that I have the power to win this year. I’m fifteen, I’m significantly muscular, and I can last without food for days.
“I don’t know if I want to race.” Mother looks over to me with worried eyes that her little girl won’t make it.
“Well I can do it on my own, Mother. I’m fifteen. And I’m confident I have a chance. This is my year.” I tell her with a convincing smile.
“Well here we are.” she says with a nervous motherly look on her face, like she doesn’t want to let me go.
I kiss her goodbye and get out of the car and wave, to signal that I’ll be okay. I know she’s nervous for me. But I’ll be fine.
The starting line is at least a mile wide and is scattered with people of all ages, races, and abilities. But with all the people I’m able to see, I could easily beat them. I shouldn’t be thinking about winning just yet, but it’s something I keep in mind all the time.
My strategy will be to go slowly. If I go fast, I’ll blow my fuse way too early to win. But I have to keep in mind that I need to be at the finish line first.
“Keep your eyes on the prize.” I start reassuring myself before the Race. I’m slightly nervous, but I know I can do it. I just can’t think about anyone else, just me, myself and I. We all want this so badly. We are all giving ourselves mini pep-talks as we prepare for the Race.
The whole world seems to slow down for those short moments right before the Race. I start thinking about my strategy. Find food. Survive. Keep my priorities straight.
My mother always says I have integrity and strength. It’s good to know she thinks that, because during the Race I’ll definitely need it. All the people begin to gather by the starting line. Looking around, I notice all the young children being put into the Race. It somewhat startles me. The children have very little chance of even surviving. How do they find food? All those naive parents of those young children think they’re going to win. But no. They can’t. I have to.
As we all line up in an awkward line of all ages, you can feel the anxieties fill the air. We are all so nervous. All overthinking. What have they put in the Race this year? Last year, they had everything imaginable. Snakes, volcanoes, mountains; oh my!
As the anxiety comes to a finish, the mayor comes on the overhead speakers. “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Welcome to the Race!”
Just as though this was an exciting announcement, the crowd starts an ear-splitting cheer. This leads to confetti from the spectators, and sweaty, nervous bodies becoming more so. We all take one last moment to say goodbye to our loved ones, then line up at the starting line. And we all breathe in one last deep breath together, before BOOM!
The shotgun goes off and people sprint for the finish line like it was fifty meters away. They’ll run out of breath sooner than all the walkers will. The walkers always end up winning. The walkers have tactics. The runners don’t.
I hate him for this. The mayor forces us to go brother against brother just to watch people die trying to win this prize that lasts approximately a year. And what does he do with his million dollar salary? He pays technicians and electricians and everything imaginable to create the “perfect” impossible race. Yes, I’m still in the Race, and I know it doesn’t make sense to complain.
I don’t know what to expect at all out of this Race. Last year it was mostly all bullshit. The “poison” wasn’t poisonous. The quicksand was just mud. They tried to scare us, but I figured them out before they could get me. So the good thing about all this is that I know what to look out for.
Many people pass me, and I won’t let that truly bother me. Because I know the tips and tricks to this. I’ve been in this for five years now, I’ve seen all kinds of things. Scary unknown creatures of the forest. Unidentifiable plants. I know what to avoid.
The government undoubtedly has a problem with its population. The farmers can’t even feed half of us enough for an entire year. Let alone the other half. That’s why we have the Race every year. To “omit” part of the population. Those are his words, not mine.
We walk. And walk. Before it starts to look like anything unnatural. I weave my way through the crowds to try to find someone I know, but it looks like I can’t find anyone. You can almost hear our footsteps chanting Left Left Left Right Left. We have all worked up a good pace before the first person stops to find a place to pee. We all ignore it, and I truly don’t know why I noticed it.
I start to hear my heartbeat through my ears, and that’s a signal to stop and get a sip of water. They give us gallon water bottles at the beginning, and I just happen to have water treatment for more water later. That’ the only thing I carry, as well as my knife and the clothes on my back. Other people don’t seem that prepared to kill anything.
About four miles into the Race, three people dropped out. Such a shame, to see people try over and over and never get there. Says the girl who’s never gotten there. Haha. I wonder what’s ahead of me. I’d rather just get there and not have to think about all the horrific things up ahead. I try to clear my mind with a few deep breaths of the rainforest air.
The people up ahead seem stuck. The obstacle must be difficult. If this many people become flabbergasted. I become closer to the obstacles. These imbeciles don’t know how to complete this obstacle? I budge to the front of the crowd and make an easy job of scaling the obstacle and going down the other side, watching while their faces are amused and surprised. I get off the wall and continue down the path; looking behind me every once in a while.
The dirt path I walk on seems lonely and quiet. No footsteps in sight. I’m the first one to walk on this path. Making my own footprints, not following someone else’s. To be the first one. To pave my own way. I like that idea.
The people finally understand how to get over the first obstacle, and sound way too enthusiastic about making it through the first obstacle. You’ve got a long ways to go people. And you can’t even guess what’s ahead. Neither can I.
The path takes a turn through the forest, and the dirt of the turns into concrete. This will probably end up being a change in the scenery. The trees slowly wither away from the foreground, and clouds fill the air. The out casting clouds make the atmosphere humid and sticky. The group of people behind me is panting in unison.
The sky is slowly getting darker, as the day and night pass us by. The child and his mother have already dropped out. Dropped out of the child’s future, a better house, and more groceries. That’s the only thing that keeps me moving. The pain in my feet is excruciating. The pain in my mind the same. So much to think and worry about. Has anyone gotten there already? I look around to reassure myself that I didn’t say that out loud, ‘cause that woulda been embarrassing. Not that I have any dignity to lose, because I come from a poor family who is small and broken, so even if I had just embarrassed myself, it wouldn’t be too bad.
The path is now almost perfectly adjacent to the sun, so it’s shining into all of our faces. This causes the majority of the participants to squint, making the scenery blurry. So as far as most of us know, we could be in the middle of Ecuador, and we wouldn’t know.