The wind tore through the night like an invisible giant hurling frozen tumbleweeds into trembling cacti. The bright flood lights glanced off the large chunks of snow that whipped in all directions before blanketing the desert plants.
“On your marks!” boomed the mayor’s voice through his megaphone.
Each contestant instinctively gripped the reigns of their horses as tight as they could, their down-stuffed mittens cushioning much of the hard leather straps. Buried beneath thick down-parkas, fur-lined hoods, fleece neck gators and wool-lined boots, the elders of Gerritown hunkered in the cab of their chariot sled.
In lane one, the town’s longest living citizen rested her frail form against the front of the cab, her joints enflamed from the three minutes already spent standing.
Her closest rival, in age as well as lane position, squinted behind his thick night-vision goggles. Neither the squinting nor the night vision goggles could compensate for his 20/500 eyesight, blasted cataracts and all.
From the middle lane, the third oldest citizen shouted, “What?” for the second time, and yet again, the wind wiped out her words.
In the far right lane, the youngest of the five contestants shrugged off the most recent snow flurries. This was the ninety-nine-year old’s first Annual Elder’s Artic Chariot Race. Hopefully the first of many. Over in lane one it was Estelle’s seventh. As long as she kept winning, and kept living, she kept racing, but surely her days and races were numbered. Already she held the record of most races won.
And they were off. Estelle’s pair of sturdy Clydesdales stepped forward into the snow with all the speed and might of a lumbering bear awaking from a long winter’s nap. Next to her, the goggled up, half-blind old man convinced his horses to move forward at a blinding pace. Due to the swirling snow, wet wind, and lack of obvious progression, the pace was impossible to track. Estelle’s chariot increased the gap between her and blind Bob with every staggering step.
Poor Midge and her team remained frozen in their middle lane. “What?” she shouted again.
The rookie newcomer in lane 5, after several minutes of pleading with her team to move, spurted forward with breathtaking speed. This forced her to pull them to a stop 1/100 of mile into the race. She bent over the edge of the chariot cab, desperate to catch her breath.
Estelle had a decent lead. Blind as a bat Bob swerved far off course behind her. Midge still waited for the command to start. The 99-year-old rookie and her team appeared engaged in some tribal celebration at the starting line.
Estelles horses trotted along, setting the pace of the race, their giant hooves stomping through the snow. Out of the blizzard rode a fur and parka covered contestant, his stallions with flaring nostril, the sled slicing through the snow at top speed.
His grainy voice barely crept over the snow and wind to reach her ear. “Watch out, Stella.”
“Oh, bother! You watch out, Bert.” She tried to jerk her arm to the right, thinking to guide her horses into his path and block him, but her arm wouldn’t move.
“I’m not Bert.”
Not Bert was swathed in a heavy lime green parka with a zebra print fur lined hood, multi-hued, shiny goggles, and a sequin studded muffler. His lower half was mostly hidden by the chariot cab, but it looked like he had a Scottish tartan blanket wrapped around his waist. No, he was not Bert. Bert would never been seen wearing a tartan wrap.
“Ernie?” she called, but her words were too weak to make the trip all the way to her competitors chariot. It didn’t matter. He was the third oldest elder after her and Bob, and his intention was clear – he meant to beat her at the race. She wasn’t about to let this upstart beat her. “Mush,” she shouted to her horses.
As their horses plowed onward Not Bert’s chariot crept closer to hers. “Come on, Stella,” he rasped out. “You’ve won this race three times already. It’s time for a new winner.”
“Ya! You aren’t winning today, Buck-o.”
“I’m not Buck.”
With great concentration, Estelle raised both wrists 3/13 of an inch. “Heeyaw!” The rounded triangular ears of her horses perked up. Their heads bobbed up and down from the strain of pulling the sledded chariot into the storm, but they sped up.
“Stella!” Not Bert, Not Buck called behind her. “It won’t kill you to come in second.”
“Ain’t no way, Jose.”
“I’m not Jose.”
“Hhhaooowllelgoudlllaaaahhhaa!” The garbled scream was louder than the clattering chains, shakier than the rattled wooden cab of chariot, and scarier than the ghost white nose peeking out from the bundle of parkas, scarfs, and blankets that drove the number 5 chariot right past Estelle and Not Bert. In fact, the rookie managed to spur her team of horses to a speed Estelle herself had never dared tried. She flew yards ahead of Estelle before a half-hidden, snowy cactus thwarted her progress.
Estelle would have winced at the sight of the chariot bouncing off the cactus, tipping over, and careening another ten yards on its side, but her eyes were frozen open.
“Ouch. Think that killed her?” Not Bert asked, his team slowing.
“Maybe!” Estelle’s team slowed, too. Behind them, Blind as a Bat Bob and his chariot were way off course. But further back it appeared Midge had finally realized the race had started and was several feet ahead of the starting line. “Midge is catching up, you fool!” She raised her arms 1/13 of an inch this time, the stiff reigns in her frozen mittens not budging. “Go!” she told her horses.
Not far ahead, the plastic yellow cautionary tape whipped about, one end of the finish line tied around the finish gate, the other end acting more like a runaway electrified wire. Not Bert crept closer to her.
“Eat my dust, Chuck,” she snarled.
“I’m not Chuck.”
The finish line grew nearer. So did Not Bert and his team. And not far behind him came Midge. “Mush!” Estelle gasped out, her arms no longer capable of any movement. Still the horses trodded on. The finish line whipped around not far ahead at all. Ten… then eight… then five.
“Go!” she croaked. Three… two… one inch left.
Her horses crashed into finish gate, knocking into the wooden gate with a soft tap.
“And there you have it folks,” the mayor announced from his wooden pulpit. “The winner for the 89th Annual Elder Artic Chariot Race is, for the seventh year in a row, Estelle.”
The crowd of parkas surrounding the mayor cheered. Estelle rocked from side to side, eventually pivoting around to stare back over the snow-covered race track. Back at the starting line, her family waved.
“Do you need help down?” her son asked.
Under normal conditions, hell no. But her bones were frozen. Everything was frozen. “Please,” she croaked out.
In a few long, strong steps, he was beside the chariot and helping her down.
Author’s Note (ha!): So this was started as a journal assignment for my sports lit class and I don’t know where I’m going with it, but it’s from the first exercise from Writer’s Digest “10 Ways to Improve Your Writing While Thinking Like a Comedy Writer”.
|Eskimos Norwegians People who live in snow areas Olympians X-treme sports athletes||Competition Olympics Contest Festival or fair Traditional||Lake Tahoe||Past Present Future During the winter After the first snow storm daytime||For fun For prizes For honor|
|Historical re-inactors Geriatrics||Life and death stakes Boredom||Desert Beach||Not the winter At night, during the storm||For life Forced to Rite of passage to be a man/woman|