Final Stretch

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Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

artwork by @jameswyngaarden

a short story by Jerry Zinn

Entering the last turn I was in fourth, my legs churning underneath me with confidence in their training. I didn’t bother to flash a glance to the side or behind; I knew no one in my wake had any crumb of a chance. My attention remained on the three to my fore. Recognizing the exertion in their movement, and seeing each of their breaths as labors painfully borne, I knew my best option was to hold steady.

Coming out of the bend, I waited in anticipation for the proper moment to strike. I sensed a growing weakness and a loss of pace in the one in third and pushed harder to overtake. With my eyes beaming forward, only two left to pass, the distance to the finish line teased out like salt-water taffy. My competition seemed to launch ahead impossibly. I found myself locked in a tunnel, all light fading around the track ahead. The thousands of faces watching with hopeful energy dissolved into the bitter, mounting darkness. Flashes of cameras formed constellations dotting the void.

The final stretch is always the hardest. Time slowed achingly. I felt my lungs swell, and my heart was a metronome keeping irregular time. Latching my awareness solely to those two life-giving processes, I reached deep and drew out my last reserve of strength. Fire jolted into my legs like a shot of adrenaline.

I approached from the outside, my opponents fighting each other desperately, nose-to-nose. Darting pupils registered my attack. The end lay ahead of us like the virgin sands of unmapped islands, inviting one among us to be the first to step ashore. Only two strides remained, and I propelled through them with every remaining iota of strength. I lunged my head forward, seeking that crucial extra millimeter to propel me to triumph. A flash of the bulb signaled the end of the contest.

As the brightness dissolved away, the slowness gave way to rapid progression, and the faces reappeared amid a hurricane of applause. The race was over with no clear result as I let up. Unease drew itself like a sheet over the stadium in anticipation.

“Whatever happens, you ran one helluva race,” fell softly on my ears, in company with a few strong pats on my back. A passing minute later, the photo appeared to a resurgence of screams. A victor had been declared. A taut blow of the horn introduced the announcement.

“What an incredible race!” called a voice emphatically. “The photo-finish showed that the winner of the 145th Rosewood Stakes, is… Churchgate!”

With the sound of my name I made my way confidently toward the stands, a stunning wreath of red roses held high, eagerly awaiting a chance to don my shoulders. As we approached the winner’s circle, my jockey bent forward and kissed my neck. It was a job well done, deserving I thought, of a heap of sugar cubes.

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