The Race

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: March 29, 2018

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Submitted: March 29, 2018

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The Race

All were winners of previous rounds and were now gathered to race against each other in the final, when the supreme champion would be found. What was the prize? None of them knew, but there was no option to decline to take part.

One of the qualifiers had tried to back out of it, claiming injury, whether it was true or not. That runner had not been seen since, not until today when he was standing a way off, flanked by guards. Nobody mentioned his presence or speculated as to why he was there. He’d chosen not to be part of the group so why should they show him any concern.

There was a lot of limbering up, stretching of muscles, general warming up and preparing. When the shot was fired, everyone froze in shock. What was it? Where had it come from? Were they targets of some mad gunman? The shock, and the panic began to subside when no further shots were heard.

And then, one by one, they noticed him, the runner who was not taking part, lying in a heap on the ground. Blood, a pool of it, was beginning to form on the ground. Looks were exchanged, more distance was put between the runners and the fallen man, until they found that they too were surrounded by armed guards.

One of the guards stepped forward, his uniform slightly different to that of the others; neater, more decorated, clearly marking him out as a superior officer. He stood, hands by his side, until all eyes were focussed in his direction. The runners, who had been agitated, fidgeting, stilled and waited.

You are all gathered here to race. And race you will. This will be no casual saunter around a race-track; no half-hearted efforts will be tolerated.” The officer paused, checked that the ten runners were paying full attention.

This is literally a race for your life. Whichever one of you comes in last will be executed.”

This was not expected. The runners shared shocked glances, a couple of them tried to look for some escape route, only to find that they were entirely surrounded by soldiers more than happy to use their weapons. There was no getting away from this race.

Furthermore,” the officer continued, “those that stray from the race track, either by accident or intent, will be returned to that point on the track. Infringements will be tallied and three of them will also lead to instant execution. Am I clear so far?”

The runners looked at the ground; they were trapped in a nightmare scenario. What to say? What to do? Begging crossed a few minds, but somehow there was a realisation that that would almost certainly lead to instant execution too. A few managed to nod their heads, but that was not good enough.

The officer removed his pistol, fired one shot straight in to the air and the runners all looked at him in total shock. “Am I clear so far?” he repeated.

Yes sir,” the ten runners replied, almost in unison.

To make it more....fun.....there are very few other rules. You may pull at your opponents, push at your opponents, even try to trip them up. But no ganging up, no team-work. This is a race for your own survival, remember that. You help someone – they might be the one who beats you across the line and signs your death warrant.”

Had any of them noticed the cameras mounted in the middle of the track until that moment? If not, they noticed them now, and realized the implications. Not one of them was any longer willing to take part, to take their place on the starting line, but only one of them made a dash, bolted towards a gap they thought they might have some chance of getting through. Their calculation was way off; three steps into their dash for freedom they were cut down in a hail of bullets.

Several of the runners turned, vomited, before stepping, white-faced into their positions. Nine of them were left to compete; a nine-to-one chance of winning, but also a nine-to-one chance of coming in last. There was not, and could not be, any sign of camaraderie between them.

Ten times around the track, not one foot straying off it. I know it’s a long way, but just think of the prize – oh, you can’t do that yet because I’ve not told you. And I’m not going to, not until the race is at it's end. So instead, just concentrate on what you’ve got to lose.” He sounded almost like he was enjoying the whole thing, and perhaps he really was.

On your marks.....get set.....” and the pistol shot rang out to start them running.

Several of the runners seemed to go all out from the start, pushing out to the front and gaining some distance between the rest, while others paced themselves. It was going to be a long and brutal race. All qualifying rounds had been four times round the track and it had been hard to make that; ten times did not bear thinking about.

One foot striding forward, then the other, over and over again, to the sound of the pounding and the breathing of opponents. It did not take long for cramp to set in, and the stress of the race only served to make it much more severe. One runner went down, clutching their thigh, while the others gritted their teeth and carried on.

Guards were there, almost instantly, prodding and poking with their rifles, forcing the crippled runner back up on to their feet. Unable to run, there was a stumble and another fall that was dealt with equally quickly. Two...three steps, a collapse and then a shot. The body of the runner was left where it fell, an additional reminder to what was at stake.

Sweat dripped, lungs labored and feet kept pounding their way around. The odds were noe eight-to-one at only three laps in. Those that had led the race were falling back, slowing, wishing, perhaps, that they had hung on to a bit more of their energy for longer. All they could do was to allow themselves to slow and hope that their stamina would return.

As they passed the fallen runner they all tried to avert their eyes but in the end not one of them could resist a glance to see who it was. Tony! He’d qualified in by far the slowest of the races, only getting through at all because of the weakness of his opponents. He would have been last if he could have made it all the way to the end anyway. Now that spot was left for someone else.

Into the fifth lap and the pace had slowed dramatically. All the runners looked grim-faced, strained, and they were not even half way there. One fell, bringing down another who could not avoid tripping on the legs of the fallen. A loud snap, clearly the breaking of a bone. Neither knew whose bone it was, their pain already too great for them to tell until they were both roughly pulled to their feet. The first to fall began putting one foot down in front of the other but the one who had tripped went to put a foot down, only to find a bone, snapped and protruding in a bloody mess from his leg. He collapsed and was dead before he even saw the gun being raised.

The laps seemed endless. The remaining runners could barely see straight and were more stumbling than running. How many of them were even left? Several gunshots had rung out but they had lost count, couldn’t turn back to check, just had to find some way of keeping their legs moving.

A voice rang out, declaring ‘Final lap!’

Just one more rotation of the track to go, but they were too close together. There was no way of knowing which runner would be able to cross the line before the others. Legs too numb to feel, it was hard to push up the pace at all; hard to do more than stagger forward. In fact it was hard to know which way was forward any more. One runner bumped in to another, somehow got turned around and began running in reverse, back the way he had come. Unconscious, he was falling before the rifle was aimed and fired.

Three runners were left, pushing, shoving and grabbing on to each other to support them on their feet. Three who knew that their very existence depended on them not crossing the ever nearing line last.

One fell, collapsed to the ground, unable to keep on his legs a moment longer. The shot rang out and both remaining runners were spattered by blood. They gave no show of noticing; the fight for life was all-consuming. One leg crossed the line. Neither of them knew who it belonged to, which of them had crossed first, not until only one of them remained standing.

Our winner! We have our winner!” The officer walked over and slapped the victor on the back, grabbing his vest in the other hand to keep him upright. “How does it feel?”

No words would come, wouldn’t even form in his head. The horror of what he had just taken part in was beginning to sink in, making it a hollow victory indeed.

And now for the prize. Our winner here will be in charge of training next year’s runners. So successful has the event proved in viewing figures that it will now be made an annual event.”

Why had he done it? Struggled to survive? How he wished that he could now join the fallen.

 


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