Short story
Fast Feet
Soiled Sneakers
Fast Feet and Soiled Sneakers
Casey Jackson is crouched like a tiger ready to pounce. I try to mimic his stance, but it feels awkward so I stand back up. I glance at the runners behind me. My friend Nate is there, sandwiched between the other students in sneakers. He gives an enthusiastic thumbs up. I force out a smile and then turn back, glancing at Casey again. How’m I gonna do this?
“Matt,” Nate leans forward. “It’s gonna be fine. We can still do this. I mean, at least your Mom dropped off some other shoes.”
“Yea.” I look down at my brother’s old sneakers, trying to ignore the wiggle room in the toes. Why’d I have to step in that stupid mud puddle anyway? I could’ve been standing here in my new Air Racers instead of these old things.
Coach Allen points her megaphone at us. “Welcome to the Fall Fun Run! When I blow the whistle the race will begin. Four laps around the track. Winner’s class gets an extra recess next Friday.”
Cheers erupt. Coach brings the whistle to her lips - quieting the students. They shift in place, readying themselves. Coach holds the silence for a moment then lets out a long, rattling blow.
Casey bolts in front of everyone. His classmates cheer. Of course they would - coach posts the winning times on the gym wall and every year since Kindergarten Casey’s name has been in the winner’s spot.
Nate catches up and jogs beside me. “Just keep steady. That’s how we beat his time in practice.”
I glance at my shoes. I’ve never practiced in these though.
“Every year Casey slows down in the third lap. We’ll catch him then,” Nate says.
I laugh to myself. We’re only half way through our second lap and Casey is already starting his third. Nate is so confident I keep my doubts to myself. Maybe Nate doesn’t remember it took two weeks of practicing every afternoon to match Casey’s time from last year, then two more weeks to beat his time and only by two seconds!
We a keep steady pace, shrinking the distance between us and Casey a little, but not enough. Still we run. Step by step Casey seems to be getting closer.
“Look. Nate,” I point toward Casey. “You were right. He’s slowing down.”
Nate grins; a polite ‘I told you so’ grin. “Ready?” he asks.
I nod. We dig our feet into the dirt track, picking up speed. I feel a rush of excitement bolt through my chest as we inch up on Casey. Maybe we can win. Maybe these old sneakers will keep up.
Casey crosses into his final lap. His eyes are forward, focused. He’s never had a reason to look behind him before. No one has ever been this close to catching him.
Nate’s gaze is so fixed on Casey that he doesn’t see the rock in front of him. His toe hits it and he trips, falling hard. He cries out as his knee scrapes against the loose gravel and dirt.
I hesitate, turning back to Nate.
“No! NO! Keep going! I’m fine!” He screams.
I turn back in time to see Casey glance over his shoulder at the commotion. He notices how close I am. What is that look on his face? Panic? Casey refocuses and increases his speed. I follow him, digging in my heels, struggling to make up the distance I’ve lost between him and me.
It isn’t long before my legs begin to ache. When I inhale, my chest feels like an elephant is squeezing my lungs with its trunk. I push on. The gap between Casey and I starts to shrink. He’s only a few strides in front of me. Casey looks over his shoulders every few steps now. Yup, that look’s panic alright.
I’m on Casey’s heels as we round the last corner. By the time we’re on the final straight away, we’re side by side. My lungs now feel like that elephant decided to take a nap on them. I clench my teeth, breathing through them and begging my muscles to keep moving. I can hear Casey breathing heavy next to me. We take turns, one pulling into first, and then the other, an exhausting little dance.
I can see the finish line, crowded with parent volunteers hunched with thumbs on their stopwatches. Coach Allen crouches at the finish line, camera to her face, ready to snap the photo finish. I take one last look at Casey. His panic is replaced with red-faced determination. I lengthen my stride, hoping the wider steps will give me the advantage, but as we cross the finish line Casey throws his arms up in celebration.
I slow to a jog and then stop, leaning forward with my hands on my knees to catch my breath. I watch students trickle in behind us and pat Casey on the back. Behind him Coach Allen and a parent hover over her camera screen. When their heads finally pop up, she flashes me a smile and pulls the megaphone to her mouth. “We have a winner! Matt Diaz has won the race... by a toe!”
My class lets out a deafening roar and my tired legs nearly give out on me. Nate hobbles over with his freshly bandaged knee and pats me hard on the back. I try to process what’s happening but can’t seem to convince myself its true. I stumble over to Coach.
“Did you say I won?” I ask.
She laughs. “Yup, the toe of your shoe crossed the finish line just before Casey’s.”
I look down at the hand me down sneakers and laugh too.
Casey walks up and stick out his hand, his lips are pressed tightly together curling up at the corners. “Good job, Matt.” I shake his hand and return the congratulations. “How’d ya beat me?” he asks.
I look down at my old sneakers again. It definitely isn’t because of my Air Racers, I think. “Practice,” I say, smiling at Nate, then at Casey. “Lots and lots of practice.”
Casey returns the smile and pats me on the back. “Same time next year?”
I laugh. “You’re on!”
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