The crowd cheered as Theodore and Harry stood at the starting line. The tortoise watched the hare bounce from foot to foot, his ears flopping with every jump.
“Show off,” muttered Theodore.
“Come again?” asked Harry. He cartwheeled over Theordore and the crowd cheered louder.
“READY?” shouted the announcer, Mayor Squire the squirrel. He stood on a small stage to the side, microphone in paw.
The crowd screamed and stomped their feet. Bleachers lined the track for at least a hundred feet until the track faded into the forest at the edge of town.
Theodore cringed at the cheering.
“Still happy about that bet?” hissed Harry over the noise of the crowd.
Theodore groaned. Really, he didn’t know what had gotten into him. But what was a tortoise to do when his opponent challenged him?
“I can outrun Hare in any election!” he said in the first debate of the City Council election. Theordore was running against Harry, the incumbent Councilmember for District 3.
“But you can’t even outrun a snail!” taunted Harry, running in circles around Theordore on that debate stage.
The crowd laughed.
“I can outrun you any day of the week, Harry,” snarled Theodore.
“Prove it,” said Harry.
And two days later, they ended up at the starting line.
Harry shot off, leaving Theodore to cough on his dust.
“Go Dad, go!” shouted a high voice to his left. Theodore slowly turned his head and nodded at his daughter, Trish.
“Right you are, sweetheart.” His smile at his daughter faded to a grimace when he met his wife’s eyes.
“You can do this, Tortoise,” said Tanya. “Stop psyching yourself out. Go!”
And, with his wife and daughter’s love at his side, Theordore slowly stepped over the starting line.
Theodore grunted as he trudged along the dusty track, trying and failing to ignore the big pawprints in the dirt. He gritted his teeth; he could only see a small dot in the distance where Harry ran.
But he walked on, his head held high, until he entered the forest and the audience voices disappeared.
“Stupid rodent,” he muttered under his breath. He sighed and hung his head.
“Hare got you down?” murmured a voice to his right.
Theordore froze, swinging his head to the side. There was no one within the trees. “Who’s there?” he asked, his voice wavering.
A fox wearing a small backpack padded out from behind a raspberry bush and sat on his haunches in front of Theodore. He lifted a paw to his snout and licked it.
“Finley Foxington, at your service,” said the fox, bowing his head.
“Er--Theodore Tortega, District 3 Councilmember,” said Theodore. He tilted his head at the newcomer. “Can..can I help you?”
“A better question: can I help you?” The fox bounded to his feet and pranced around Theordore, sniffing noisily.
“You’re losing, yes?”
“I--well,” sputtered Theodore. “I could be doing better, I suppose.”
“You could be doing much better.”
“Excuse you, sir, but I’m--”
“You could be doing much better, with this.” Finley ripped open his backpack with his teeth and pulled out a small vial full of liquid.
“What is that?” asked Theordore. He swiveled his head around, suddenly nervous. He didn’t like the look of the liquid; it was a bright, neon blue, something he’d never seen before.
“A winner, that’s what it is,” murmured Finley. “You’ll win in no time with this. Blue Mushroom Sap.”
“Blue mushroom sap…” Theordore narrowed his eyes. “I’ve heard of that, somewhere.” He gasped. “Are you trying to drug me? Are you insane? I’m a Councilmember, I have to report this!”
Tortoise turned around to yell before Fox sidled up next to him and whispered in his ear, “Are you sure? The race won’t be the only thing you’ll lose.”
Tortoise froze and snapped his mouth shut. “What do you mean?” he asked, turning to the fox.
Finley lay down, crossing his paws. “Who would vote for an animal so slow he can run one lap in the time it takes his opponent to run ten?”
“Speed has nothing to do with politics.”
“No, but it has everything to do with pride.”
Theodore glared at Finley.
Finley grinned. “Am I wrong, tortoise?”
Tortoise opened his mouth and closed it just as fast.
I’d like to say that Theodore refused the drug and held his head high as he walked determinedly to the finish line. I’d like to say that he smiled as he passed Harry, who had decided to take a nap against an apple tree near the end of the track. I’d like to say that Theodore Tortega won the Councilmember seat for District 3 and went on to become the mayor in the next year, because everyone just couldn’t get enough of him
But, dear reader, Theordore was a politician. More importantly, he was an animal, and all animals made mistakes.
Theodore swallowed the liquid, not seeing the sparrow reporter crouched in the tree above, who flew to the news office immediately to type up the story. He widened his eyes as he felt it--the speed course through his body. His very blood felt electric, and he cried out in victory as he ran toward the finish line.
The fox grinned and slinked back into the forest, never to be seen by Theodore again.
He didn’t even see Harry snoozing near the finish line; he sprinted right past him to the surprised cheers of the crowd awaiting him.
“I’ve never seen a tortoise run that fast!” the mayor shouted into the microphone.
Theodore Tortega won the race. He did not lose the election; in fact, he was so disgraced from the news story released the next day, that he dropped out of the running. He faced an intervention only a year later for his steroid addiction. His wife divorced him not long after and received full custody of Trish.
This story is from the collection Modern Fables: Realistic Morals for the 21st Century.