The atmosphere was insane. There were fans cheering, signs waving, cameras flashing, and camcorders recording. The girls loved him, guys hated him, and parents adored him. But no matter their feelings, they had one thing in common: they were enduring the sweltering Georgia night air to watch him. He was Dominik Dash, and on the track he was king.
The competition was ready to dethrone him, but Dominik didn’t sweat it. He had never lost a race and didn’t intend to start now. He was wearing headphones, head bobbing to the pounding beat. This is how he got hype for a race. It helped him pretend like he had competition to worry about.
“Hey,” the kid next to him said. When Dominik didn’t reply, the kid shoved him. “Yo.”
Dominik sighed and removed his headphones. “Yeah?”
“What you listening to? Mary had a little lamb?”
He started chuckling while looking at the jocks in the lanes beside him. The boy began collecting fives from the line of muscle heads.
Trash talk was a jock’s bread and butter. When in doubt, they always resorted to lame remarks to get in their opponent's head. Dominik knew the game well. He was used to the constant barrage of jock stupidity.
“No,” he responded. “I’m listening to your mom. She said please, please, if a middle schooler beats my jock son, he might wet his bed tonight.”
The other boys began laughing.
“What?” the boy said. “What’d you—”
“Here’s the short version: your mom’s ashamed, you’re gonna lose.”
The jock mumbled something, turned around, and continued stretching in his lane. Dominik shook his head and turned his music back on.
When confronted with an unexpected witty comeback, the jock will normally retreat. Jocks mouthed off to everyone, but with Dominik being in middle school, it was worse. He seemed like an easy target because he was smaller. Boy, were they wrong. He welcomed their comments. The boy tapped him again. Dominik rolled his eyes and took off his headphones.
“I’m gonna dust your butt on this track!” the boy exclaimed.
A comment like that probably took him several minutes to think up.
“Hey man, how about this? Instead of completely smoking you, I spot you two seconds and only whoop you by a few tenths?”
While Dominik was still stretching he lost his balance for a moment. He had been having dizzy spells frequently, so this wasn’t exactly surprising. He thought he’d recovered quickly enough, but he saw the kid’s eyes follow his wobbly legs as he fought to collect himself.
“Yeah, unless you need four,” he responded.
“I’m not scared of no scrawny, fade-headed little punk who's so shook he can hardly stand.”
Then the boy noticed Dominik’s kicks. They had “Dash the Flash” etched on them in metallic gold lettering.
“You’re Dominik Dash?”
“What’s it to you?”
Anderson looked Dominik up and down while pacing around him. This was common among jocks. It was a slow prowl meant to detect fear—the slightest flinch would be a dead giveaway and undoubtedly lead to a quick pouncing.
“The Dominik Dash?” Anderson said while making his way behind him a second time.
“The one and only.”
“You hold a few JV records in track.”
He was becoming increasingly annoyed with each pace Anderson took around him.
“Welcome to Varsity. I’m Anderson.” He smirked while stopping right in front of Dominik. “I like to introduce myself to all the losers before a race. Shame I have to break your streak.”
Dominik began stretching his hamstrings. “Nice to meet you Andy, but the only streak you’re gonna break tonight is gonna be in your undies.”
The jocks in the lanes beside them started laughing harder than they had laughed all night.
Anderson turned around again and went back to stretching.
“Double D!” a voice echoed behind him. “Are you seriously going to do that? Two seconds? That's an eternity in the 100-meter.”
It was his best friend Josh. He was a frail, freckle-faced kid with bright red hair. The only indication that he had anything to do with athletics was the uniform he was wearing. A tucked collared shirt and slacks were his usual attire. Josh held Dominik's running blocks at every track meet. Normally holding someone’s blocks was a chump move, but this wasn’t just anyone. This was Dominik Dash. He made anyone cooler, even a block-holder.
“Yeah, Josh, matter fact, stop holding my blocks. Take ‘em off completely.”
Dominik stood up. He needed a challenge, and running without blocks to help propel him would do just that.
The other boys looked at him standing with no blocks. They started cracking up.
“Double D, no, you got to use blocks! Are you trying to lose?”
“You should listen to him, Double Dummy” Anderson said.
“Josh, what’d I say man? Take ’em. I’m about to roast this turkey.”
Josh hesitantly moved the large metal object. Dominik’s knees began to wobble again.
“You okay, Double D?”
“Yeah, give me my sunglasses.”
He whipped his head from side to side, trying to shake off the dizziness.
Josh reached into a black and red duffle bag that had “Dash the Flash” inscribed on it and pulled out a pair of silver-framed sunglasses. Their engineering was out of this world. They were thin, light, and expensive-looking. Dominik’s uncle had given them to him. He had no idea how he was able to afford them off what he made as an auto mechanic. And right now he didn't care: the sunglasses seemed to make him feel better whenever he was having dizzy spells.
“Runners on your mark,” the announcer said over the intercom.
The boys knelt down and put their feet in their blocks—except for Dominik, who stood there and just let out a big yawn.
The boys arched their backs and extended their arms as if they were about to crab walk.
“See you at the finish line, Dash!” Anderson yelled.
He followed his comments with a hyena-like laugh.
The shot fired, and all the boys flew out of their blocks, except for Dominik.
There was a loud gasp from the spectators in the stadium. They began talking amongst themselves, trying to figure out what Dominik was doing.
“One,” he said to himself.
He looked down at the chain that hung around his neck. It had been in his family for as long as anyone could remember. For some reason he always felt like the encircled star charm somehow made him faster.
“Two,” he said.
Dominik tucked the necklace back under his shirt and burst forward.
The first few jocks were only twenty-five meters away. It took several seconds for Dominik to pass them. He hoped the two remaining runners would be a greater challenge. One of the jocks who thought everything was funny earlier was up ahead. He wouldn’t be laughing now. Dominik blew past him halfway to the finish line. Now only Anderson remained. He was kind of fast. Dominik would have to work for this one, but not too hard.
A fierce intensity set into his eyes. Because he was so fast, creating impossible odds was the only way he felt he could challenge himself. Dominik set deep into his run. He began to take long strides and swing his arms harder. At this speed the only thing he could hear were his own gasps for air and the sound of cleats digging into the track.
Looking behind you was a cardinal sin while sprinting. Anderson hadn’t looked back yet, but he would. Whenever Dominik made a bet like this, they always did. It must’ve been the fear they felt when they knew someone was gaining on them. Dominik couldn’t relate to that feeling.
There were only twenty-five meters left. He was now right behind Anderson. Dominik loved to see a jock’s priceless expression as they witnessed victory slipping away. When he ran past Anderson, their eyes caught. He gave him a wink as if to say see you later.
Dominik leaned forward. But at the moment when he was supposed to cross the finish line, something strange happened. Instead of planting his feet on the track, he found himself falling over.
He jumped back up. It was suddenly dark, and he couldn’t see anything. There was a thick smell of wet dew. The cheering crowd was replaced by the sound of scurrying animals.
Then he was hit with a weird feeling. It was like knives piercing his stomach. The pain was so strong it caused him to hunch over. When his eyes finally adjusted, he noticed red lights in the distance. He figured there must have been a road there. To his left he saw the track and stadium lights below. The situation was now clear. He was somehow in the woods!