THE DAY of the race came.

The townspeople stopped working and hunting, leaving their homes to watch the regularly anticipated race.

Spectators started filling the square. One by one, the competing animals made their way to the starting point.

The rabbit entered elegantly.

She was not new to racing and was confident, knowing that she would win because she always did, thus, earning her the moniker “little cloud.”

Slow and passive, the turtle struggled his way to the beginning of the race. He was the runt of the litter, the smallest in his family, and also the slowest in the kingdom. His entrance drew jeers and mockery from the crowd. But the turtle did not yield as he was already used to it.

All the loud booing made the rabbit turn, and she saw the listless turtle panting heavily with every step toward the start of the race. She gave him a stern look. He was ruining her usual flair in the competition, and his presence gave off a negative air.

Everything was set.

The competing animals warmed up to prepare themselves. The noise in the square grew louder, and everyone was cheering and betting. The Leader slowly walked up on top of the square. He made a wide grin upon seeing the ecstatic crowd, and with a languid flick of his hand, the race started. Everyone immediately sprinted to take the lead, and as expected, the turtle miserably lagged behind.

The cheers returned when half the crowd saw the rabbit make her way through the race. The rabbit easily the other half laughed at the sluggish turtle, who was struggling to keep it together. He was smiling, deaf to all ridicules thrown at him.

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Soon, the race narrowed down to just two—the rabbit and the turtle. Apparently, the other animals were not moving anymore.

The rabbit continued to hop her way until the turtle caught up with her.

“I guess it’s just you and me now, turtle,” she said with a mischievous tone.

The turtle smiled, finding it hard to believe that he was only trailing a little behind the creature they call as “little cloud.”

The rabbit lazily trailed on. The race had never been easier for her, but the frown on her face was enough to say that she was not enjoying it. The turtle was getting on her nerves, and his dedication to keep up with her was obviously not helping.

But the turtle readily conceded, knowing how fast the rabbit was hopping. He was hungry and tired.

Highly puzzled, the rabbit asked the turtle how he managed to get past all the other contestants.

The turtle replied that he only had to let everyone laugh at him, causing them to significantly slow down.

Halfway through the race, the rabbit and the turtle were in close competition but enjoyed each other’s company at the same time. The rabbit kept slowing down so the turtle could keep up with her.

“Why do you want to win this race?” the rabbit asked.

“I want to win the prize, and give it to someone as a gift,” the turtle said. “I think it would make her very happy, and she would love me back.”

However, neither of them knows what the prize would be. The Leader has a way of keeping things interesting.

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The rabbit was surprised with his answer. Although a consistent winner, the rabbit never really cared about the glory.

She abruptly made a full stop, which caught the surprise of the turtle.

“What are you doing?” the rabbit asked with a short breath.

“I’ll let you take this one,” she said. “Win it for her.”

Slowly making his way to the finish line, the turtle replied with a thankful smile.

The force exerted by the turtle proved to be too much as cracks on his shell was heard until it broke into pieces. The spectators laughed at the shell-less turtle. Nevertheless, the turtle made it to the finish line and emerged as the race’s victor.

Although the result was a surprise to the spectators, including the Leader, nobody questioned the turtle’s victory.

The Leader warmly applauded the turtle and commended him for the huge upset victory.

Everyone was eager to know what would be the turtle’s reward.

“For winning the race, you will be given this land’s best grotto which you can now claim,” he said.

The turtle went pale. He had no more shell, no more home, no more place to hide away from others who bullied him. He was no more different from a slimy slug. He was so ashamed and wanted a place to hide forever.

The Leader stared at him and waited for a response.

“I’ll take it,” the turtle said, forgetting the promise he had made to himself and to the rabbit. Josef Brian Ramil

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