I look myself over one more time, checking to make sure I didn't miss anything or leave anything out. I pay special attention to my tail. It took me over a year to get used to- I kept tripping on it, or stepping on it, or finding it in my food. Over time, I was less and less surprised by my tail, with its shock of white at the end; and I began to accept it as part of myself.
I finally got accustomed to the thing when I started learning more about my adaptability and talent for fitting into new environments. The first few times I invoked the contract, I forgot my tail. Clarice tipped me off the first time. (Why I think of lambs when I see her, I don't know. She's a fiery efreet, with nothing gentle about her.) I wasn't so lucky after that. I spent a few nights in Ms. Wintour's cool embrace, learning to pay very careful attention to every detail around me. Even the slightest change might mean something important; or it might mean nothing and be her way of toying with me. Either way, I remember my tail now.
I wear my “suit” with pride. It's an important part of the race, and I play my part with purpose. The glittering diamond mantle, the white roses and the flowering dress give me a completely different look, much to the point.
I quietly trot over to the gathered throng. Some wear numbered placards and others hold old-fashioned racing forms. There's a starting line of sorts, and Mouse, the clockwork being, rustles around the group. Soon we divide into those racing and those observing. I slide into the group about to run at the line with a passive confidence. Mouse's metal gears squeak as he points us to our places. In a moment, we hear his precise little hammer bang, and we're off.
The point of the race is a nebulous thing at best. There is not always a specific end. There is not always a way to tell a winner from a loser. Sometimes, the idea is to lose rather than win. There are about five of us running and each of us is different. Often, the race is aimed to challenge one of our aspects in unexpected ways. Yet we run with purpose and sometimes pride, motivated by our own thoughts and concerns.
I keep pace with the group, running with a solid stride. My long legs are meant to run, and I work hard to rein them in. I am not intended to win this race, and I have to keep my personal tendencies firmly in check. I keep an eye on the others as I run, determined to give a good showing. If I'm going to throw the race I may as well look good doing it.
The finish line nears, and I shake my head to clear the visions from my eyes. I know what I see is not real (nothing in this place is real except denial and pain), but it's still hard to resist. I recognize the mirage for what it is; a test of my will and my submission to this world. It’s sitting on a small podium next to the finish line. I can’t take my eyes off it, but I know it is not for me. I grit my teeth and keep forging on to the line, careful to lag just a bit, but of course not in an obvious way.
We cross the line, with Terrance in the lead. The spectators mutter and tear apart their forms, while we patiently wait for the official announcements from Mouse. I chat with the others in the race, and Terrance is proclaimed as the winner. His puzzled look tells me everything I need to know as he is handed his prize. He holds a beautiful leather pump, with its red sole standing out against his obsidian facade. I drop the contract as I walk away, with a flash of white following behind me on my tail.