Sally’s Derby Day

by Sally

Sally stood quietly as Sondra fiddled with the straps of her costume, getting everything just so. She liked skunks – the smell made your nose wrinkle, but all mammals had that kind of musky pong. With skunks it was strong enough that it became more of a virtue than a fault.

Sally’s rider, Suri the Lemur, had already been dressed and gone outside to wait before Sally had arrived, she’d been told. She wasn’t entirely sure why you needed a rider to be in the SpinDizzy Derby, but it seemed to be one of the rules. Sally was okay with that.

Someone was coming along the aisle of the dressing barn. She posed, poised and balanced, certain of how good she looked (even though the skunk was still dressing her), hoping to see Ouroboros appear. It wasn’t him, though, nor even the lemur assigned as her rider. The dalmatian gave her an admiring glance regardless. Vanity was never a waste of time. She was there primarily to show off to Ouroboros (who was also racing), but she was fine with putting on a show for the mammals as well.

The skunk buckled the thick padded strap of the saddle in place under her tail, then stood back, inspecting her work with a critical eye. A few seconds of silence, then “There you go! You like?”, she gestured toward the mirror. Sally posed, poofed her feathery crest, and turned and examined herself from all angles. She had a fluorescent orange hood with white trim, with a sort of cutout to allow her crest to stick out, and a saddle with a sort of cushiony blanket thing beneath it. The saddle pad bore the logo of her sponsors, the Skunky Society of SpinDizzy. The bright orange racing outfit harmonized well with her black hide, and her dark blue feathered crest. She fluffed her crest, feeling attractive and fierce. A big, dangerous Deinonychus hen, dressed in bright colours. She liked what she saw very much indeed. She bobbed her head approvingly.

“It looks good on me!”

“Uh, thank you,” the skunk managed.

“I’ll bring it back afterward!”

Sally swept from the dressing stall into the central aisle of the barn, aware of her crest bouncing as she walked, rather self-conscious about the strap under her tail. A tiny wild robot, startled, zoomed back into its hole in the wall, clutching some random bit of metallic debris that it had found. It popped back out again, as soon as she had passed.

She padded out of the cool dimness of the barn into the glare of the paddock. She paused a few seconds, blinking in the brightness, getting her bearings. The racers and the riders were collecting here in the well-trodden dirt square marked off by white fencing, some relaxed, some nervous, all of them stared at by the spectators who packed the fence. A SpinDizzy News photographer was circulating, taking pictures, and a few race officials, looking nobly warlike in their fluorescent pink Kaiser helmets with the eagle effigies on top, were wandering about with clipboards, doing who knew what.

She still didn’t see Ouroboros. She spotted Mei Long over at the far end of the paddock. The little Troodontid, resembling a more lightly-built version of Ouroboros, was cornered against a cluster of potted palms by a crew of peafowl with a TV camera and a microphone. She was just considering going over to socialize when –

“Ooo! Ooo! Yoshi!”

It was Suri, her designated rider. The lemur, dressed in orange and white to match Sally, bounced across the paddock towards her, waving her oversized riding crop for attention, her other paw occupied with a mint julep with a little umbrella stuck in it. Several more of the umbrellas decorated her little orange jockey cap. The lemur was pretty plainly lit. Sally, a great respecter of ceremony and tradition like most dinosaurs, took it in stride. Drinking excessive quantities of the fiery syrup was part of Derby Day, after all. Sally thought she might have one after the race, even though vodka in beef broth was really more to her taste.

“My name’s Sally, not Yoshi,” she reproved the mammal gently.

“Yes! But you’re my Yoshi, though!”

The lemur seemed to consider this a sufficient explanation, and Sally decided she’d probably not get a better one. She crouched slightly, holding her left arm down and backward, hand cupped to help the lemur mount up. Suri surprised her by simply leaping onto her back from a standing start, spilling about half of the icy drink onto Sally’s back in the process. The saddle caught some of it, but the mammal immediately brushed the crushed ice off the saddle, back onto Sally’s rump. The dino gasped in surprise, then shivered and squirmed for a few seconds.

“Let’s be a bit more careful, hmm? That stuff’s cold.”

“Yep!”, nodded the lemur as she seated herself on the saddle, still brandishing her crop and julep. Sally wasn’t sure if the mammal was agreeing that she should be careful, that ice was cold, or both. She wondered if the lemur knew herself. Again, she decided it was probably the best answer she’d get.

“We’ll not need that riding crop during the race. Extra weight and all, you know…”, she extemporized, sliding it from the lemur’s grip with surprisingly little resistance. “We’ll leave it here, and come back for it afterward.”

She laid it in one of the potted palms. The lemur simply stared blankly, muzzle jammed in the plastic cup, peering at her over the edge, noisily lapping that portion of her julep that wasn’t drying stickily on the dinosaur’s back. The little umbrella had joined the others on her cap. Sally, relieved to be rid of one source of potential trouble, began to wander slowly across the paddock, intending to chat with Mei until they were called to the starting line.

A sudden loud buzzing from the public address system brought her up short. Heads turned sharply all over the paddock, looking at the speaker system with a mixture of concern and confusion. It took a few seconds for the rhythm of the buzzing to resolve into a familiar pattern – the call to the post was being played upon a vuvuzela. Sally stood for a few seconds, waffling as she looked around. Was she supposed to just go out to the starting gate, or was she supposed to wait for someone to take her there?

POP! The sudden smack on the rump caught Sally unawares. She squawked with surprise. Twisting back around she saw the lemur sitting bolt upright in her saddle, brandishing a riding crop and pointing imperiously toward the paddock gate.

“To the starting line, Yoshi!”

Give me that!”, hissed the dinosaur, snatching the offending item away from the unresisting lemur. Suri, looking not the least bit intimidated, sat quietly in her saddle, and began to lap once more at her julep. Sally was pretty sure that there were more umbrellas on her cap now.

How the hell had she gotten the riding crop back, anyway? The potted palm where Sally thought she’d left it was across the paddock, and now a bunny in a Kaiser helmet was rather urgently gesturing her into the shuffling line that was forming in the chute at the paddock exit. She decided not to worry about it, taking her designated spot behind a couple of centaurs as all of the contestants packed tightly in the chute on their way to the track. She looked for somewhere to discard the crop as the line began to move. Abruptly she thrust it out, handle-first, to a surprised looking raccoon boy who was pressed up against the spectator barrier.

“Here! Souvenir!”

She noted with satisfaction the look of delight on his face, and the look of horror on his brother’s as the line carried her past. Her good mood restored, she had to step a little lively to close the gap with the centaur in front of her. They were moving from the narrow tunnel of spectators onto the wide open expanse of the track now, the parade speeding up. The band, a real band this time, not vuvuzelas, began to play the intro to “Mye Olde Spindizzye Home” just as Sally stepped from the shaded path of the walkway onto the raked dirt of the track, gently warm with the afternoon’s stored sunshine.

Her heart skipped a beat as track opened up before her. It was huge, a brightly sunlit river of dirt cutting through a canyon whose walls were made of people. The whole world was here, and they were all looking at her. She swallowed, stepped along mechanically for a second, suddenly unsure of herself and quite unused to the sensation, then recovered her sense of perspective and began to bounce slightly with excitement despite herself. The whole world was here, and they were all looking at HER! The soft track beneath her feet, the weight of her saddle and rider over her withers, the feel of the padded straps under her tail and around her midriff, and the smell and sound of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people all together at once blended into an exhilarating gestalt. She was the centre of the world. She knew she’d never forget this feeling.

The crowd, most of whom were already on their feet, now began to sing along with the band. She felt a slight shift in weight as the lemur stood in her stirrups, and began to sing along as well.

“O my brain thinks twice,

Of my zinc-encrusted home!

Or the crater where it used to be…”

Sally didn’t really know the words to the song, but she was pretty sure those weren’t the ones that everyone else was singing. The parade was spreading out a bit now, and turning left toward the starting gate, positioned astride the track. It was impossible to walk without bouncing or prancing, at least a little. She was that excited, she admitted to herself. The lemur was still singing.

“When the riot squad comes a’beatin’ down the door,

Then we’ll know the party’s over at laaaast!”

Across the track, above the grandstands, NBC’s “Enormitron” screen was showing a closeup of the post parade. She spotted the hovering camera just ahead, and then it was her turn to be shown in a two hundred foot tall closeup. She looked good, there was no denying that. She looked right into the lens and poofed her feathery crest a little for a camera, wondering if Ouroboros was watching. She glanced at the Enormitron the second she was past the camera.



Suri was on the screen now, singing with great enthusiasm and volume, waving a julep and… another riding crop. It had to be a different one. Sally sighed, and resigned herself to fate. Some things you couldn’t help.

The line slowed as it reached the gate, everyone closing up with the person in front, the line packing itself nose to tail. Sally took the time to inspect the centaur that she was following. He didn’t have a rider. Centaurs counted as their own jockeys, apparently. She admired the mammal’s huge, muscular butt, wondering just how much meat was there, wondering how it would feel to bite and worry a chunk of meat out of something that size, telling herself that he wasn’t too big for her to take down alone. She could smell him vividly this close up, mildly sweaty, slightly nervous, the rich smell of a herd animal. He kept glancing back at her, swiveling his upper body to look at her over his own back. Did he know what she was thinking?

They shuffled along for only a minute, and here they were at the starting gate. The centaur was shut in with a clang and no fuss, and the ferret perched on the framework of the gate waved her into her stall beside him, patting her rump as she entered. She bore it in good heart. She’d seen it done enough times to know that it was traditional (“for good luck”, she’d been told once), and not necessarily a sign that the mammal was a pervert. The gate shut behind her with a steel clang, and then the next racer was being loaded to her left, a cartoon cheetah wearing a crash helmet and goggles.

The cheetah jogged in place with an engine-revving sound, his whirling feet briefly assuming the appearance of tires as he did so. Sally wasn’t worried. Cartoon cheetahs were godawful fast, but were sprinters, notorious for having no staying power for a long race. Mei was shut in on the far side of the cheetah, her chipmunk jockey looking intense and keyed up, and then, improbably, a sloth with a sea cucumber rider was wheeled up on a little cart and placed in the next gate. Ouroboros, who turned out to be last in line, had to wait a few seconds, J.P. fidgeting on his back, as the sloth was maneuvered into position.

It had gotten quiet. She hadn’t noticed when “Mye Olde Spindizzye Home” finished, but neither the crowd nor Suri were singing anymore. The crowd were all standing. It was time. She pressed her breast against the shabby padding of the starting gate, leaning on it, weight forward, legs gathered and toes pushed into the dirt for traction at the start. She waited.

The gates slammed open abruptly, and she was off! She heard the group of equines to her right all grunt in unison as they launched, and then the blasting engine and squealing tire sounds of the cartoon cheetah drowned out everything else.

The cheetah was twenty yards down the track before her tailtip even cleared the gate, his wake obscured by a billowing cloud of “tire” smoke. The dirt of the track burned briefly behind him in twin rows of fire. She tried not to think about how that worked. The assorted equines to her right actually led her for a fraction of a second, their initial lunge from the gate driven by their huge butt muscles, but in two steps she was even, and then pulling ahead of the lumbering mammals. The lemur was standing in the stirrups, making a deranged ululating noise (a war cry, she wondered? Did lemurs even have war cries?) and whacking her hard on the rump with the riding crop. Right now she didn’t mind, she was that fired up. Pain wasn’t real. Violence suited her.

As the cheetah smoke dispersed, she saw Mei in front and off to her left, sprinting, with Ouroboros not too far behind. Both of the smaller dinosaurs were faster out of the gate than she was, pulling away from her in their initial burst. Sally drifted left, through the acrid remnants of the cheetah’s trail, and tucked in behind Mei and Ouroboros, on the rail, matching their cadence, confident in her longer stride. The lemur had stopped whacking her, and had stopped yelling, and for a few seconds there was just the puffing of her breath and the sound of her feet on the dirt, the ocean roar of the grandstands, and the drag-racer sounds of the cheetah, diminishing in the forward distance.

Up ahead the cartoon cheetah was already slowing, waving to the crowd as he pulled up, enjoying his moment of glory. She’d known the mammal couldn’t last. Ouroboros was a good way out in front, and Mei even further, but neither was pulling away from her any more as they passed the finish obelisks for the first time. The noise was incredible, washing over her from both sides, a roar like the sea that travelled along with the racers. At the entrance of the first turn the cartoon cheetah was jogging slowly along the outside, his feet still smoking faintly as he high-fived spectators along the fence. She was holding her own with Ouroboros now, and Mei as well, but wouldn’t pass them for a bit. That was fine.

Sally tucked up against the fence, behind her friends, content with the pace as they passed the end of the grandstand and entered the first turn. J.P. kept glancing back at her in apparent alarm, leaning forward to shout into Ouroboros’ ear. She bared her teeth briefly at him, and was pretty sure he saw. She wasn’t sure what good intimidating someone else’s jockey could do, but it couldn’t hurt. Far behind, she heard the grandstand begin to erupt again as the galloping herd of equines swept past, far behind the dinosaurs. The cartoon cheetah clapped as the three dinos passed him. Sally gave him a friendly head-bob as she passed, and then settled in to her work, concentrating on breathing and running, eyes fastened resolutely on Ouroboros’ cute bouncing butt, watching it get slowly closer. He’d be so astonished if she bit him as she passed! She played with the idea for a bit, using it to motivate herself as she bounded along.

She was much closer now. The fenceposts swept by in smooth procession, each one faintly reflecting the sound of her breathing and footfalls back at her, each one bringing her closer to the end of the race. A race official was standing impassively behind every fifth post, each equipped with the inevitable Kaiser helmet and clipboard, doing who knew what. She looked ahead, not meeting their eyes.

Half of the backstretch was gone now. Her initial surge of exuberant energy was gone, and running was becoming work. She still had things under control, though, pelting along at an easy, sustainable pace. Ouroboros was closing on Mei, and Sally was closing on Ouroboros, but the mammals were closing on her. She could get glimpses from the corners of her eyes – she didn’t risk breaking stride to look back. She had more than hints of their puffing breath and dully rumbling hooves getting closer. The sound had been a faint background presence all down the back stretch, and now began to insist on being noticed. They were gaining on her, but she was slightly faster than everyone else, and that’s what counted. She had faith in herself. She’d not be bested by mammals.

Into the second and final turn now, and Ouroboros was beginning to swing wide around Mei. He’d caught her at the worst possible time, having to take a wider path through the turn to pass her. Sally gloried in his misfortune for a few seconds, before realizing with a sinking feeling that she was going to catch them both at the exit of the turn, and have to run even wider herself. Her legs were starting to burn. She thought for a second about slowing down to pass after the turn, but a quick glance back through the chord of the turn showed the stampeding mammal herd coming up hard behind her, cloaked in their own dust. She swore hotly to herself, clenched her jaw, and doubled down.

She hadn’t been aware how little she had left until she had to reach for just a bit more to swing wide through the turn. The mammals were coming on like an avalanche, thundering and dusty. She could hear them snorting. She drifted wide, wider through the turn, Mei and Ouroboros so close now, the equines so close behind her. She stole a quick glance. The mammals were coming on like they meant to trample her.

She ran three abreast with the other two dinos for a few strides, then, with painful effort, moved past and began to pull away as the racers swept onto the front straight. She had the centre of the track now. Ahead and to the left, she saw the sloth slowly trundling along. The mammals were uncomfortably close now, but victory was going to be hers. She knew it.

The lemur, who had been a reasonably quiet passenger up to that point, began smacking her butt with the riding crop once more, alternating mechanically between the left and right hips, yelling unintelligibly all the while. It hurt, now that she had burned through her adrenaline. She wouldn’t have thought that the little mammal could hit that hard. She swore to herself, saving her breath, concentrating on running. She’d get even after the race. She was past the sloth now, almost at the finish.

“Hurry Yoshi! Hurry!”

Whack! Whack! Whack!

“Hurry Yoshi! They’re catching you!!”

Abruptly Suri stood in the stirrups and swung the crop overhead with both hands, for emphasis. It caught Sally over the top of the head, and the tip hit the bridge of her nose, right between the eyes, hard enough to make her see stars.

The deinonychus gave a wordless snarl, and snatched one-handed at the crop, visible through tear-filled eyes. She jerked it forward out of the lemur’s paws and threw it, feeling the momentary tug of resistance as the lemur let go of the crop just a bit too slowly.

The little mammal sailed forward off her back, blank-faced, relaxed, unreasonably calm or else so drunk she didn’t care, if there was even any difference between the two states. Sally’s heart almost stopped. She swatted at the lemur, open-palmed, and managed to trap it against her right flank with her elbow, awkwardly, insecurely. The cup of mint julep spilled in slow motion, ice cubes sparkling in the afternoon sunlight as they bounced off Sally’s leg. The lemur was slipping. She curled her body to the right, tried to get a grip on the little mammal, pressed it against her side, stride broken and drifting toward the outside fence, oblivious to all else for just those few steps, until she realized with more surprise than horror that she was stumbling at right angles across the path of the herd of equines.

It seemed to happen in some special sort of time that was both faster and slower than normal. She had no time at all to react. A step and a half, and they were upon her. She had all the time in the world to see what was happening. The centaur who mowed her down (she was pretty sure it was the one that she’d been wondering if she could take down, and how was that for irony, she marveled) had horses to the left and right, and nowhere to go. He tried to jump over her. She knew he wasn’t going to make it, and she was pretty sure he know it too. Then his hoof hit her right hip, hard, and there was a confused second of spinning in the air, and smacking down onto the track, hard, and hard sharp hooves everywhere around her, and none of them hitting her.

She lay there for a second, blinking, trying to process what had just happened. She hadn’t been trampled, she was sure of that. She didn’t think she was hurt much, if at all. The sound of hooves was diminishing. She needed to get to her feet before anyone thought she was hurt, especially the equines. Can’t let prey know they can hurt you.

She pushed herself to her feet, putting most of her weigh initially on her left leg, making a big show of twisting and turning as she dusted herself off, surreptitiously testing her right leg. It seemed okay, if deeply bruised. She was going to be spending a few days taking hot baths and lying in her nest, but that was okay. She was pretty sure even that she could walk without limping, although it was going to hurt.

The equines were far down the track, rumbling along to the finish line, too far away to think of catching even if she’d been fresh. In the other direction, the sloth and his sea cucumber rider were angling slowly across the track towards her. It’d be another ten minutes or so before they got there. Closer to hand, the little orange jockey hat had been rammed into the earth by someone’s hoof, the paper umbrellas scattered and broken. Sally looked at the hat for a long few seconds.

She finally noticed the lemur staring up at her, blank-expressioned, making a quiet zoofling sound. Suri looked absolutely none the worse for wear, apart from the loss of her julep and riding crop. She snatched up the mammal by its scruff, and sat it on her back, not caring that it was backwards. She felt the lemur scramble about, getting set the right way, as she began to trudge off toward the finish line. She could at least finish, and beat the sloth. Suri began to sing,

“Race no more, my Yoshi!

Oh, race no more today!”

Sally stopped and glared back at the little mammal. Suri, perhaps abashed for once in her life, stopped singing, and held out one of the two mint juleps she was holding in her paws. Sally suppressed her desire to wonder where she’d gotten those. She knew it wouldn’t do any good. At least she didn’t have another riding crop.

“Give me that,” the dinosaur sighed, holding out her taloned hand for the cup. She drained the fiery syrup off in one toss, shuddering and making a face as she did so. She could feel it burn all the way down to her crop. Far up the track, she could see Ouroboros and Mei trotting back to check on her. She started off to meet them.

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