There are ants in my Lucky Green Boots Circulation: 191,502,891 Issue: 608 | 16th day of Hiding, Y15
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Against All Odds: Part Three


by meganhilty

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It seemed that Ernie had only just gone to sleep, when he was woken abruptly by a long, shrill whistle.

     Letting out a startled yelp, he leapt up in bed, still half asleep and swiped his paws out in front of him, half-heartedly. The crash that came next must only have come from the beside lamp being knocked over, and true enough, when Ernie opened his eyes fully, he noticed that the exotic looking lamp that had previously sat on the bedside table, now lay shattered on the floor.

     "Oops, sorry," the Poogle apologised, sheepishly, looking over at the Techo who was standing by the door. When he first set his eyes on the Techo, he had to do a double take, unsure whether he was still dreaming, as the leather-clad Techo from yesterday was gone and instead, Mekoides stood before him in a strange, military type of get-up.

     "This is my uniform from the war, when Lord Kass was in power," he told him, as though reading his mind.

     "I was a Sergeant," he added, proudly. "Now, drop and give me twenty!"

     Ernie just stared blankly back at him, his eyes still crusty from sleep.

     "Twenty, what?" he questioned, baffled.

     "Push-ups, Poogle. Twenty push-ups! Now get to it, or do you want me to withhold your breakfast?"

     The threat of no breakfast proved more of a motivator than the Techo would have thought, as the Poogle shook his head vigorously and immediately jumped out of bed, swept the collapsed pile of books from the night before under the bed, and fell to the floor obediently; his flabby arms shaking under the weight of him, as he lifted his body off the floor.

     Ernie thought twenty push-ups would be a breeze – it was only twenty, after all, not two hundred, but Ernie found himself struggling after only five. He groaned in frustration when he hit ten, the muscles in his arms and shoulders contracting painfully, before he finally admitted defeat when his arms gave out after eleven, and his body dropped heavily to the floor.

     Too worn out to get up, Ernie just lay there until the dark shadow of the Techo lurked over him.

     "Still alive?" came Mekoides' sarcastic tone, before Ernie felt a sharp jab to his sides – the stick from yesterday.

     "Ow!" he yelped, as the stick prodded his ribs.

     The Techo chuckled unkindly, as though this was a big joke to him.

     "No pain, no gain, Ernie!" he told him, sagely. "Now, up you get; we have a long way to go. How do you expect to win a race if you can't even manage a few measly push-ups, eh?"

     Ernie groaned in reply, suddenly feeling that coming here wasn't such a good idea. Why couldn't he have just accepted his fate as the slowest and fattest Poogle on the tracks? Why couldn't he have been happy with his 9:1 odds?

     Instead he'd had dreams of being up on that first place podium, clutching the gold trophy and lavishing the attention that the adoring crowd was showing him. He'd wanted to be a star athlete and for everyone to know his name. He'd wanted to beat the odds against him and surprise everyone who thought he would never win a single race... only now he was starting to doubt that it was even possible.

     Mekoides reached down to help Ernie off the floor, before leading him downstairs for breakfast. Ernie was quietly hoping for something a bit more than the slop he'd eaten last night, but instead was met with a bowl of blackened gruel.

     Grimacing, he put the spoon to his mouth and ate the foul stuff through gritted teeth. Not much of a fan of gruel in the first place, the burnt stuff was ten times worse, with a singed, coppery after-taste that Ernie couldn't seem to get rid of, even after washing it down with six cups of water.

     Shortly after finishing the gruel, (without throwing up, which was a feat in itself) Mekoides took him out to the back-garden, which was huge, despite the small size of the actual house.

     The garden, much like the rest of the house, was in a state of disrepair. The soil was hard and cracked, without any grass or greenery; a field of murky brown that seemed to go on for miles.

     Wobbly hurdles ran along a dusty track, where the white lies drawn into it had almost blurred into non-existence; wide trenches had been dug into the dry soil and a grey climbing wall, in the centre of the garden, was starting to look a little mouldy.

     The back part of Darigan castle overlooked the side of the yard, its gloomy stature making the decrepit garden look even more pathetic.

     Not to mention the rolling fog and misty drizzle that had decided to make an appearance, which did nothing to brighten it up.

     "Okay, so it doesn't look like much now," Mekoides stated, seeing the look on Ernie's face. "But back in the day, this was the place to send your troops to prepare them for battle."

     "B-battle?" Ernie stuttered. "But I don't want to be prepared for battle, I just want to win a race!" he exclaimed, looking around wildly.

     "How do you think people win battles, Ernie? With speed, strength and endurance; it's the same thing with racing. You need all those things if you're planning on beating Poogle One. And I can help you get them!"

     "Dodie MacGillis," the Poogle corrected, sullenly.

     "Gesundheit."

     "No... that's her name; that's Poogle One's name."

     "Weird name, if you ask me," Mekoides muttered, slightly hypocritically, Ernie thought.

     "Bet she doesn't know your name though, does she, Ernie?"

     Ernie looked down at the ground and shook his head silently.

     "Well, that's because she doesn't see you as her competition. She thinks that you'll be the underdog forever; that you'll never beat her in a race... but we're going to prove her wrong! Trust me Ernie, by the end of these training sessions she'll know your name all right; the whole of Neopia will know your name! Now, I want you to run the length of the yard and back. We can work on hurdles later, but right now I want to test your speed and endurance."

     Ernie looked at the length of the garden sceptically, knowing that there would be no way he'd be able to run all that way and back. It was double the size of the racing track.

     "What are you waiting for?" Mekoides snapped at him, impatiently. "Start running, Poogle! We've got a lot to get through today and the longer you stand about, the longer you'll have to wait for your dinner."

     Heaving a great sigh, Ernie started running.

     By the time they took a break for lunch, Ernie had had enough. After sprinting (or as Mekoides saw it, 'jogging') the length of the garden, Ernie had been forced to endure a series of squats, jumping jacks, lunges and leg lifts, before attempting to haul himself up the climbing wall, which he had failed miserably at ("You have the upper body strength of a JubJub," Mekoides had told him derisively, after Ernie had fallen onto his backside yet again).

     That wasn't even the worst of it. After lunch there were hurdles, sit-ups, weight training and just to finish it off, running a circuit around Darigan castle – much to the amusement of several intimidating looking guards.

     By the end of the afternoon, Ernie was wiped out. Every muscle in his body ached, he could barely walk more than a few steps without his legs trembling and his knees buckling, and he dreaded waking up the following day because he knew that somehow, he would have to do it all again.

     Later that night, when the pair were sitting around the dining table eating sausage and pea soup, Ernie offered to pay Mekoides for his time and effort in training him and for his stay at the boot camp, (secretly hoping that it would provide better food for the dinner table) but each time his offer was declined with a shake of the head. He would not accept money from the Poogle; this was a good deed and he couldn't accept any charity or payment for that.

     He could however, win some Neopoints from betting on him, once he was good enough to get back in the race.

     "But how are you going to do that when you don't have any money to bet with?" Ernie asked, confused.

     "Oh, I'll make some more money by then, don't you worry," the Techo assured him, confidently.

     The next day was very much the same as the first, only Mekoides was making him run further and faster than the day before, lifting heavier objects and allowing him fewer breaks. It was in a word, even more torturous than the previous day.

     When it was time for a break, Ernie wolfed down his lunch, before Mekoides had him back out in the rain, running laps and jumping hurdles.

     After several days of this, Ernie began to notice a change in himself. He could run longer distances, sprint faster and jump higher, without feeling so out of breath.

     He was looking better too; his chubby cheeks had disappeared, his round stomach had flattened a little and he was all around looking trimmer and fitter.

     His diet had changed drastically, which attributed to his dramatic weight loss. Before, the Poogle was snacking on sweets and cakes in between meals; often eating his weight in chocolate and cookies. Then there were the meals themselves, which consisted of huge portions. His plates were usually piled high with fatty foods, with extra butter and cheese on everything.

     Now he was lucky if he even saw a picture of a cake, and forget about large portions; Mekoides' budget couldn't stretch that far.

     He was served three meals a day, with various berries to snack on and there was no butter or cheese in sight (unfortunately).

     At first, Ernie had been famished on this new diet – being used to eating double or triple the amount that he was given here, but now the three meals were enough to keep him going through the day, even if he did wish for a little more variety in his diet (and some butter wouldn't go amiss, either).

     There was still a way to go before he became a champion racer, but he could definitely see that he was getting there, and that was especially motivating.

     Now that he was on track to becoming the all-star athlete he'd always dreamed of being, he put every effort into his training – not like his half-hearted attempts on the first day, when he wasn't even sure he'd wanted to be there.

     Of course, it helped now that he wasn't soaking his throbbing muscles in ice baths, anymore.

     After another week at Mekoides' boot camp, the Techo told him that Ernie was ready.

     "Ready for what?" Ernie mumbled, with a mouth full of his turkey and potato dinner.

     "Ready to get back in the race again, obviously," he replied, enunciating his words as though taking to a small child.

     Ernie looked up, his mouth hanging open in surprise.

     "What?" he asked, swallowing the chunk of potato in his mouth, with a loud gulp.

     "But... I'm not ready yet! Don't you think I need a few more weeks of training? It's only been two weeks! That's not enough time to turn me into a winner!" he cried, his eyes wide with fear and self-doubt.

     "Of course you're ready! I've been doing this for years, Ernie. Don't you think I know what I'm talking about? You've had enough training; now you're ready for action!"

     Ernie bit his lip and didn't say anything. The Techo had done wonders for him already, so he knew that he shouldn't doubt him, but there was still a niggle in the back of his mind. Was it so easy to turn a consistent loser like Ernie into a champion in as little as two weeks? Ernie didn't think so, but he decided to trust Mekoides; he knew what he was doing. Besides, anything would be better than what he used to be, so even if he came second or third, he'd be happy enough.

     He just hoped that it wasn't some weird fluke – he couldn't stand to lose again, not after everything he'd done to change his life.

To be continued...

 
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» Against All Odds: Part One
» Against All Odds: Part Two



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