foreword: It has been pointed out to me, and I agree, that in this day and
age a competition as described in this story would not be allowed. In reply,
I can only say that this is Niklas' World, and so I invite you to forget
sad reality for a few moments and enjoy the story.
Jonathon was running. This was unusual only in that he preferred to use his skateboard when going to the corner store. However his Aunt Celia had forbidden him to use his skateboard for this trip. The reason was simple: Jonathon was running an errand and Aunt Celia did not want him to bring home broken eggs.
Jonathon had a reason for literally running this errand. He had seen the cooking things arranged on the kitchen table ready for use and guessed what the half-dozen eggs he was going to buy would be used for. It might be a cake, or a pie, or cookies or something else. Whatever, Jonathon didn't care too much. He had his favorites and not-so-favorites, but food was food and Jonathon wasn't very fussy when it came to food. He licked his lips in happy anticipation as he ran, imagining what Aunt Celia might be about to cook.
Another happy thought was that Aunt Celia had said that Jonathon could keep the change from this trip. Jonathon had been saving carefully and nearly had enough money to buy the new bearings he wanted for his skateboard. The change from this shopping trip, added to what he already had saved, would make just the right amount.
Jonathon was so preoccupied with these happy thoughts that he at first barely noticed the community noticeboard in the window as he ran past it on his way to the shop door. Then, he stopped so suddenly that his sneakers skidded on the concrete pavement, making a screeching sound as he "put on the brakes" as hard as he could. Jonathon ran backwards a little way and read the large sign he had seen on the noticeboard.
"Charity pie-eating competition for children" proclaimed the heading. Jonathon read the sign with growing interest as it described the time, place, entry fee and prize. The entry fee was nearly the same as he would have to spend for the bearings, but the prize money would be worth it - if he won.
Jonathon considered his options. If he won, there was no problem. If he didn't, his money would be gone, but he could eat as much as he wanted. The pies were being donated by a local bakery. His skateboard didn't really need new bearings anyway. It would go faster with new bearings, but it was okay as it was now. Jonathon continued to think about the competition as he went inside the shop to buy the eggs. By the time he came out of the shop, Jonathon had made his decision.
* * * * *
Aunt Celia began mixing ingredients in a large bowl as she listened to Jonathon eagerly describing the competition. Jonathon ended his description with the earnest entreaty, "can I go in for it, Aunt Celia? Can I? Please?"
"What about the entry fee, dear? You know I can't pay for it." Aunt Celia was a very practical young woman.
"That's okay, I can use the money I was saving for the skateboard bearings. Can I enter, please Aunt Celia?"
There was a pause in the discussion while Aunt Celia checked her recipe book before adding more ingredients. Jonathon knew from experience that harassing his aunt would not help matters, so he turned a chair around and sat down, crossing his arms on top of the back of the chair and resting his head on them.
Even though he was feeling very impatient, Jonathon kept quiet and waited, thankful that his aunt wasn't like so many of the other adults he had known. They would say "I'll think about it" and then forget all about it or they would just say "no" automatically, without even thinking about saying "yes"; but Aunt Celia would actually think, even while she seemed to be fully occupied with other things. Many times, Aunt Celia would ask more questions before delivering a firm verdict, either yes or no. You could be sure of a fair hearing when dealing with Aunt Celia.
Aunt Celia began mixing again as she resumed the conversation. "Dear, I know that you usually eat two more pancakes than Randy..." "...three," interrupted Jonathon, stoutly, "I can eat three more pancakes than Randy!" Aunt Celia tried not to smile. "...but I'm not sure you realise just how difficult it will be for you to win an eating competition like this," she continued. "You're quite... skinny, you know..." "...only because I exercise a lot" interrupted Jonathon again. "Please, Aunt Celia? I really want to go in for it!"
There was another pause in the conversation while Aunt Celia thought some more, mixing the ingredients in the bowl while she thought.
"Get an entry form," said Aunt Celia at last, "and I'll read it and decide for sure then."
"Okay," said Jonathon, bouncing up from the chair he had been sitting in, "right now?"
"If you like," smiled Aunt Celia.
Without hesitation, Jonathon darted for the door, pausing only long enough to shout, "okay, be back soon" while grabbing his skateboard on the way out.
Aunt Celia smiled a wry smile as the door banged behind Jonathon. He certainly was a handful and a half to manage, but his enthusiasm for life seemed to be infectious and often infected Aunt Celia to good effect. She began to hum a tune while she continued with her cooking.
* * * * * *
On the day of the competition, Jonathon was among the crowd of children who had gathered to participate. Aunt Celia had seemed a little reluctant at first, but after reading the competition rules and thinking about it for what was to Jonathon a nerve-wracking five hours, had finally signed the permission slip. So there was Jonathon, gathered with the other competitors and with Randy along for moral support (as well as - according to Randy - to "borrow a wheelbarrow to wheel him home in after")
During the entire trip to the hall where the competition was being held there had been continual light banter between Randy and Jonathon, focusing on Randy's expressed opinion that Jonathon would either barf the lot up (and hence be disqualified), or require considerable assistance to convey his swollen stomach back home after the competition. Jonathon, for his part, boasted of his ability to devour more food in a snack than Randy ate in any two meals - and still want lunch an hour later.
Such pleasant conversation had been amusing while on the way to the competition but now, looking at the other competitors, Jonathon felt nowhere near as confident as he had made out to Randy. A few of the other children were quite fat. Jonathon wondered if maybe "practice" would count in these cases.
The competitors were seated at long tables. There were four groups of tables, with two tables placed end-to-end in each group seating eight children on each side, which added up to sixteen children at each table although two tables had one or two unoccupied places.
Jonathon counted the children while he waited for the competition to begin and the number of competitors added up to exactly sixty. There was a very fat boy sitting in the next-to-last seat at the other end and the other side of the table at which Jonathon sat. Jonathon decided to keep an eye on him to see how much he ate, figuring that if he could stay ahead of that boy he'd probably be doing okay.
The mayor, a pleasant-looking middle-aged lady, stood ready with a small green flag to signal the beginning of the competition as the pies were brought to the tables. The goal of the competition was simple: Eat as many pies in fifteen minutes as you could and keep them all down. There were many different kinds of pies to cater for all tastes, each kind of pie having a different mark or pattern on its crust to identify it. The mayor and members of her council were to be the judges and would count the pies eaten by each child.
The mayor raised the flag. "Get ready; Set... GO!" The flag came down and all of the children grabbed at the pies.
Jonathon had decided to start with a couple of plain meat pies. While packing them away in his interior as quickly as he reasonably could, Jonathon took a look out of the corner of his eye at the fat boy he had noted earlier. Seeing him working on three pies only increased Jonathon's resolve. He finished the meat pies, then grabbed two apple pies and a cherry pie.
Stacking the cherry pie between the two apple pies, Jonathon took a large bite from all three at once. Delicious! While chewing away industriously, Jonathon noticed the mayor and nearby council members staring at him with rather blank looks on their faces. Feeling the need to explain, Jonathon swallowed, then paused in his eating just long enough to mutter "pie sandwich" before returning to the task at hand.
For some strange reason, immediately after Jonathon's explanation the mayor found it necessary to pull out her handkerchief to cover her mouth, while the members of her council either had sudden fits of coughing or put their hands over their mouths.
Pie followed pie on the downward path. Suddenly there was a disturbance at another table as one young girl stood up quickly and turned away from the table, making strange noises. A first-aid attendant slapped the girl sharply on the back and caught the results in a basin. Rather distracting and uncomfortable sounds floated across the auditorium to the ears of the remaining competitors, as the removal of the piece of pie from the girl's windpipe had a run-on effect, requiring further use of the basin.
Jonathon started on his sixth pie, noting as he did so that he had nearly caught up with the fat boy at the other end of the table. Squeamishness wasn't in Jonathon's nature, so he wasn't bothered even when, a minute later, the boy sitting next to him went the same way as the young girl had gone.
The rest of the competitors were more careful after that, so there were no more untimely exits.
Gradually, the eating slowed down until one contestant after another began to drop out. A few were disqualified for failing to keep the food down, but most decided to leave before being overtaken by that disaster. Jonathon was level with the fat boy on nine pies each by the time that the number of competitors had dropped to half the original number.
A few pies later, Jonathon was surprised when the fat boy he had been watching suddenly stopped eating, turned a rather greenish colour and hastily left the table while murmuring something about them being all out of blueberry. He was followed closely by a first-aid person with a basin at the ready. Jonathon had slowed down a lot as he was feeling very full by now and had been wondering if he could or should keep on eating. Seeing his chosen foe vanquished with such seeming ease strengthened Jonathon's resolve however, so he bravely reached for his thirteenth pie, while hoping that thirteen would not prove to be his unlucky number.
Children were dropping out of the competition rapidly now. In quite a short time, the number of competitors dwindled from around twenty to only five. One of the five was Jonathon, now biting into his fifteenth pie with a rather desperate look on his face.
Two more dropped out. One just stood up and walked away, leaving a half-eaten pie on the plate. The other required one of the ever-ready basins. Jonathon had lost count of the number of pies he had eaten by now. He could only hope that he was ahead. He reached for another pie as another child left the table holding a swollen stomach and moaning quietly.
Only two children were left. Jonathon was so full he could barely glance at his only remaining opponent sitting a few chairs to Jonathon's right, but he saw that it was another boy, slightly younger than himself, still packing away pies as though he was starved. Jonathon moaned almost silently and reached for another pie, determined that he would not be beaten. He would eat another pie and keep it down even if he burst from it! The way his stomach felt just then, he could almost imagine it happening.
Jonathon had not been noticing the time, but as he chewed away at what felt like it had to be his hundredth pie, the mayor clicked a stopwatch and announced: "Time! Stop eating!"
Jonathon remembered, with a bit of a shock, that there was a time limit on the contest. He put down the unfinished apple pie he had been eating, feeling both relief and regret as he did so; relief that he did not have to torment his overloaded stomach any further and regret that he had, he assumed, lost the contest.
It was therefore another shock to Jonathon when the mayor came over to him, lifted his arm in the air and announced: "The winner!" Jonathon sat back and wondered how he had won as applause filled the auditorium.
* * * * * *
Jonathon lay on his bed and groaned. Randy, wavering between being sympathetic and being amused, sat at the bottom of the bed and looked at his young cousin.
"Eighteen pies!" Randy grinned as he said it, although his voice held a note of awe. "Eighteen! I wonder if that's some kind of a record?"
Jonathon groaned again. "If it isn't, I've got one: The world's worst stomach-ache... ooooh!"
Randy went over to the bedside table, picked up the first prize trophy and cheque and waved them back and forth in front of Jonathon's face. "Feel any better now?"
Jonathon managed a grin, in spite of his stomach-ache. "A bit. How the heck did I win anyway, with that other boy eating so fast?"
Randy shrugged. "I don't know why, but he didn't eat fast at the beginning. I guess he thought he'd wait until the end, then eat really fast and overtake anyone left. If that's what he was thinking, it didn't work!" Randy grinned.
Suddenly, Jonathon let out a terrific belch, then started giggling. Randy joined him.
After their giggles subsided, there were a few minutes of comfortable silence, then Jonathon spoke.
"I hope they have a cake eating contest next time!"
"Why?" Randy asked, genuinely puzzled.
"'Cos I like pies okay, but I prefer cake" answered Jonathon.
After he made that statement, Jonathon could not understand why Randy dropped across the bottom of the bed and just lay there on his back - laughing.