I can hear the crowd around me, talking amongst themselves, just waiting for the race to begin. I can hear people betting, "I'll take ten on Lightning! Twenty on Bullet!" I'm what you can consider an underdog. Lightning and Bullet, they are the true racers. I don't necessarily come in last, but I've never won.
I love the feel of racing, watching the rabbit bounding about in front of me. We know it's mechanical, but we run for the thrill of it. Suddenly, I get my confidence boost for the race. "I'll take five on Cassie!"
That's me! I think happily I won't let you down! It's an honor enough to hear someone knowing my name. Usually, people refer to the lesser racers by their number. I'm number 2, I've actually grown rather fond of the number.
I can sometimes pick out individual voices in the crowd, little children talking to their friends. "I like that one the best, number 2i!"
"Well, I like the black one the best."
Suddenly a family sits down up front. Next to my pen. "Hi there," a little girl whispers to me. "Daddy, what's this doggie's name?" she asks her father.
He looks at the brochure. "Number 2... Cassie..." he mutters.
"Hi Cassie," she says. "I bet she's the best one!" the girl squeals enthusiastically "Daddy, can we put money on her?" she asks.
The man looks down at her, and stares into her eyes for a moment. Finally, he smiles. "All right," he says softly The man stands up. "Fifty on Cassie!" he shouts.
Fifty! Not even Lightning and Bullet get that kind of money on them!
"All right girl, give it your all," he says to me with a smile.
I prefer it on the track, I love having everyone watch me, well, watching us... It's much better than the kennel that I get forced into when I'm not out. I can't lose, if I do, then I'm gone. Someday I know I'll win. I look at the racer next to me. It's number 12, Manfred. Another underdog.
Lightning holds his head up high and gives all of us a menacing glare. Bullet paws the ground and lets out a quiet bark. I think that Bullet will win this one. Lightning strained his paw a few weeks ago and hasn't fully recovered.
Just then, the gates open. I know exactly what to do, I've done it many times before. I take off sprinting, I can hear panting behind me, there are at least ten in front of me. Slowly I pass one, I try to pace myself for the rest of the race. Suddenly I hear a noise. Faint at first, then louder, and I tune myself into it. "Go Cassie! C'mon girl!" It's the little girl from before.
With a sudden surge of confidence, I pass another racer. "Atta girl! Keep it up!" This time it is the girl's father. I pass another greyhound. Soon, their two voices mix together, into one constant cheer. I run faster, and faster. I begin to pass more and more dogs, but I don't notice, I'm listening to the sound of cheering.
Then, the noise grows, more people are standing. "Keep it up!" "Number 2 is number I!" "Cassie! Go Cassie!" Soon I realize that I am neck and neck with Lightning. Bullet is only a few feet ahead of me. I can see the finish in the distance. Now the entire crowd is cheering me. I push myself, using the last bit of power I can muster up, I speed ahead of Lightning.
I run harder, trying hard, so hard, to reach Bullet. I can feel Lightning's dark gaze boring into the back of my head, but I don't care. Even those who didn't bet on me begin to cheer. Everyone wants to see me win, everyone wants to see an underdog finally take charge. Bullet shoots a nervous gaze back at me. I move my legs, pumping them faster and harder than I ever have before. I am at a dead tie with Bullet. I can hear a startled whimper escape him. He tries to push forward, but it's no use. He used all his energy with his grueling pace. I pass him, and soon I pass the finish line. The crowd erupts into one huge cheer.
"Cassie! Cassie! Cassie!" they shout my name over and over again. I've never felt so tired in my life. I pace back and forth.
I can hear the announcer, "Truly an amazing feat, number 2 has won it all!" That night I sleep comfortably in my kennel. I can still hear our trainer's voice, "Don't know how you did it, but you did!" I can still feel the sense of importance that rushed over me as I passed the finish line. I can still see the look in Lightning's eyes. And I can still imagine the little girl, "Go Cassie! C'mon girl!"
My dreams of winning come to an end the next morning. I yawn, stretching my legs out as far as the kennel will allow them to move. I can hear the dogs above me shifting restlessly I hear Lightning whimper, his paw must still hurt.
Soon, our caretaker comes in. "Hey guys. Good race yesterday, especially you, Cassie," she says and scratches me under my chin. "OK, everyone, give it your all today," she says, then she lets us out of our kennels and serves us breakfast.
News must spread pretty quickly, because today everyone is betting on me. I look around for the little girl from the other day, but I don't see her. "Twenty on Cassie!" I hear from a few feet away I look up excitedly, but I don't see the girl, or her father. Several more people put bets on me, then the gates open. I race off again, passing others, but with no motivation for me to win. Then I see her, just behind the finish line, it's the little girl. I forget about the race, I forget about the pain in my legs, and the greyhounds around me. I run as fast and as hard as I can to get to her, and I make it.
A cheer erupts around me, but I don't care. I look around, she's gone. It was just in my imagination. "Yes sir! She's done it again! Cassie has won, with what seems like almost no effort," the announcer shouts out. I sigh, and pace back and forth. Winning isn't important anymore.
Once again, I am put back in my kennel, the rush of victory is no longer with me. I don't care about racing, I don't care about winning, I just want to see the little girl again, I just want a home...
I wake up in the middle of the night, my caretaker is opening my kennel. "All right girl, this is it. You're going to the national competition. One man in the last race runs the program, and he saw you racing. He wants you to compete," she says. I am led away from the racetrack that I have known all my life, and I am put into a strange car.
A man I don't know drives away, I soon fall asleep. I am awoken by our sudden stop. I lurch forward and almost hit the seats in front of me. The back door opens. I look out at the light. The man violently pulls me from the vehicle.
I am led into the kennels, they are slightly larger than the ones I lived in before. I am shoved into one and the door is locked. I try to fall asleep, but I am awoken only a few hours later by voices. I look up, and there she is. It's the little girl. I wag my tail and yip excitedly She smiles and reaches down to pet me.
Her father is there also, he is talking to the man, I hear a little bit of what they are saying.
"I will pay you, how much do you want?"
"She is not for sale!"
"Please, for my daughter... it means the world to her."
"Absolutely not! The dog is running in a huge race tomorrow. And that's that!"
They want to adopt me! They want me to be their pet! I think. I paw at the door of my cage.
Her father walks over to her. "Come on Susan, we have to go now," he says sadly.
Susan. Her name is Susan. I make a mental note.
"I'll be at the race tomorrow, Cassie, I know you can win!" Susan whispers to me. Then they leave.
I sleep soundly, I can't wait to see them at the race tomorrow.
Morning comes earlier than I thought. I shiver with excitement, not about the race, though. I wonder where they will sit... I wonder. Moments later, the man comes in and feeds us. Then, we are led out to the track.
The first thing that I notice out there is a hole in the fence, it leads down a path, and into the forest. The second thing that I notice is Susan and her father, right next to my pen, again. "Hi Cassie! Hi girl!" Susan says excitedly I wag my tail and paw the ground.
I hear a conversation of the two men sitting next to them. "Yeah, I'm placing my money on Cassie. If she wins this one then she's going international!" one says. Then the gates open. I run out, all of the others are bent on catching the rabbit.
Then I realize something, I'm in the lead. If I win, then I go international, and I never see Susan or her father again. If I lose, then I'm done for. I stop, and look at the others, no mind of their own. Their lives are about that rabbit, and nothing more. I was once like that, until I met Susan. Then I look at the hole in the fence. And I run through it.
I trot down the path awhile, everyone behind me is shouting, "Catch her! Catch her! She's worth tons!" "She's a born racer, we still need to breed her to get pups that are the same way!" "Quick, while she's stopped!"
I stop, and turn around. I look right at Susan and her father. I bark loudly, then wag my tail. And they smile.
Then I turn, and I do what I've been trained to do for all of my life. I run.