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Jenni Clarke - Author

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The old toy is broken and rusty, but Mark wants it so much he uses his birthday money and savings to buy it.

 

‘It’s a 1930’s Neck and Neck horse race.’ Jackson smiled. ‘That’s before your parents were born.’

‘Does it work?’ Mark touched the rusty toy.

‘Used to.’ Jackson leant closer to Mark. ‘Never bet on the red horse, it gets stuck half way along the track.’

‘I bet I could clean it up, repaint the horses, get it working again.’

Jackson laughed. ‘It’s a collector’s piece. Paint it and it’d lose value.’

Mark sighed.

His dad walked across. ‘Piece of rusty old junk, Mark. Probably fall to pieces.’ He ruffled Mark’s hair and turned to Jackson.  ‘The chest has woodworm.’ They moved away from Mark to play the bargaining game.

Mark stared at the row of tin horses, waiting for the chance to race again. The black horse had a broken tail, the green one a bent ear, and the red horse a twisted front leg. No wonder it always lost.

He ran outside and jumped on his bike, racing home as fast as he could. He slammed the door open and thumped up the stairs two at a time.

‘Mark?’

‘Sorry, Mum. Forgot something.’ He pulled the rubber bung from the bottom of his piggy back, shaking all the coins out onto his bed. Not enough. His birthday money? It was supposed to be for a new bike, but he wanted the tin horse game. His heart pounded as he stuffed notes and the coins into his pocket, flew down the stairs and out the front door. He jumped on his bike, skidding on the gravel and pumping his legs faster than ever before.

Mark steadied his breathing, and entered the junk store.  He tugged Jackson’s sleeve. ‘I want the horse race game.’

‘Not now.’ Jackson growled.

‘This is every penny I have. No bargaining.’ Mark emptied his pocket onto the wooden chest.

His dad frowned. ‘Mark, is that your birthday money?’

Mark took a deep breath. ‘It’s my money.’

His dad and Jackson exchanged a look. ‘You’ll learn.’

‘Is it enough?’ Mark stared at Jackson, who nodded.

A huge grin on his face Mark walked back home carrying his new possession.

He spent the next two weeks sanding off the rust, straightening the bent metal, and reshaping the black horses tail before painting and varnishing.

‘It’s ready.’ Mark put his racing game on the kitchen table. ‘Place your bets.’ He gave his family a shiny penny each, they pushed their coins into the coloured slots. Mark smiled and chose the red horse.

He turned the handle. The tin horses jerked and jumped their way down the track. Everyone shouted for their horse to win. Mark’s red horse stopped half way, then leapt forward to cross the finishing line first.

He punched the air, laughing and turning the handle to return the horses to the start line. The handle stuck, clicked, and coins poured from the slot under the winner.

His dad gasped.

‘These are 3½-legged Buffalo nickels, in mint condition. Each one worth over five hundred dollars.’

 Fiction - Neck and Neck

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