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Neopia's Fill in the Blank News Source | 25th day of Running, Yr 21
The Neopian Times Week 111 > Short Stories > The Magical Hat

The Magical Hat

by arden_starr

"Russell! Pay attention please!" came the sharp voice of Mr Greggo the schoolteacher, rapping his ruler on the side of the desk. Russell, a large blue Eyrie, shuffled uncomfortably in his seat and stopped himself from falling asleep. He hated school at the best of times, but he was sick of all the gossip that had been circulating the school for the past few weeks.

     "Sorry sir," he mumbled, and Mr Greggo glared at him, annoyed.

     "As I was saying class," he continued loudly. "Tomorrow will be the great Neopia Flight Race. I know everyone has been talking about it for months, but in case by some small chance someone doesn't know, I'll explain. Please be quiet," he snapped, as all the giggly girls in the class began talking excitedly.

     "Tomorrow is going to be a great event for Neopia's history. All of the pets that can fly -- that is Pteris, Eyries, Korbats and the like -- have the chance to prove themselves against everyone else. There will be a huge race starting at the top of Neopia Central and ending at the bottom, with a huge prize for the winner -- 150 thousand Neopoints!" He paused and everyone began cheering. "Alright, alright, calm down," he said, with a flicker of a smile on his lips. "I know everybody will be watching to cheer on their favourite contender. And the pets in here than can fly. Good luck!" The whole class erupted into cheers again, and this time Mr Greggo didn't even bother trying to calm them down. Russell bit his lip miserably and prepared himself for doom.

     He knew everyone would expect him to fly in the race -- he was an Eyrie wasn't he? But no, he couldn't. He would do anything to be able to fly in the race; but he just couldn't fly. Ever since he was little he had never been able to do more than a large jump. Doctors were baffled because his wings had all the right muscles- it was the first case of an Eyrie with two working wings that couldn't sail through the air. He wished with all his heart that he was able, and he was mortally embarrassed by it -- so the only people that knew were himself, his owner and doctor, and his two best friends in the world. He shuddered to think what his worst enemy, Mist the red Shoyru, would say if he found out.

     At break time Russ and his two friends, Rockie the yellow Pteri and Eleanor the Faerie Usul, walked across the playground talking.

     "It's going to be brilliant," Rockie smiled. "I can't wait."

     "Me neither," Eleanor beamed, preening her long pretty wings. "I just KNOW I'll win. My wings are beautiful, just like me. And they're also strong and sturdy, even though they look feminine, delicate and fragile," she sighed happily.

     "You're also very vain," Rockie laughed, and Eleanor frowned.

     "I just happen to be wonderful, I can't help it," she snapped, and Rockie rolled his eyes.

     "Well I can't take part," Russ said dolefully. "I can't fly! It's awful. I'd just die of humiliation if anyone ever found out. You'd never tell anyone would you?"

     "Of course not," Rockie said cheerfully. "And Eleanor wouldn't either."

     "Er… well, I've been meaning to talk to you about that," Eleanor began hesitantly. "I accidentally… I mean…"

     "You're not saying you've told someone!" Russ gasped.

     "That's right," came a snarling voice from behind them. "Who ever heard of an Eyrie that couldn't fly?"

     The three of them spun around to see a tall, strikingly handsome red Shoyru, surrounded by his Skeith cronies. It was Mist, the nastiest bully in the whole school.

     "Eleanor told me all about you," he sneered at Russ, who blushed violently and shook with fear. "Everyone knows you're clumsy and bumbling, but it's even worse than I thought. Can't FLY?"

     "Will you shut up Mist!" Rockie shouted. "Come on Russ, let's go. And you Eleanor!"

     "Well Mist is my new friend," she snapped, placing one of her delicate paws on Mist's arm. "I don't want to hang out with dorks like you two anyway!"

     "Come on, let's go," Russ said quietly, walking away with Rockie.

     "Aww, little Russie is scared of me!" Mist shouted with delight. "Russ the wuss! Russ the wuss!"

******

"What am I going to do?" Russ said despairingly as him and Rockie walked home later that day.

     "Nothing, it'll be fine," Rockie said reassuringly. "Ignore Mist, he's always been a loser. Let's face it; we're never going to be his best friends- and who wants to be? What I can't understand is that traitor! " He frowned contemptuously at the thought of his former best friend, Eleanor.

     "There must be something I can do!" Russ said thoughtfully. "Hey… I've got an idea!"

     "What is it?" Rockie asked.

     "Well, you know Old Mother Chia, don't you?" Russ said mysteriously, and Rockie nodded emphatically.

     "Who doesn't? She's crazy."

     "She's not," Russ replied. "She's got magical powers. Some of the rumours say she's a witch."

     "Yeah, but she's dangerous isn't she?" said Rockie nervously. "I wouldn't do anything stupid, Russ. You'll regret it."

     "Oh I won't," Russ grinned. "She'll help me."

******

What am I doing? Russ thought to himself worriedly, as he made his way up the old bedraggled stone pathway up to Old Mother Chia's cottage. It had all seemed so simple half an hour ago, but now he was by himself walking up to the doorway of someone that everyone in his area was frightened of. Almost everyone avoided her -- what if Rockie was right? She could be dangerous -- evil even. He almost backed out, even when he was standing right outside the front door. In fact, he was just turning away when the door opened and there stood Old Mother Chia.

     She was very small, even for a Chia; though she stooped. She was striped, but her whole body was enveloped in a long patched and frayed green cloak and a black pointed hat sat on her tufts of hair. She walked with the aid of a wooden brown walking stick, and on her tiny feet were muddy brown clogs.

     "I've been expecting you," she smiled croakily, and moved out of the way to let him through. Russ, silent with shock, numbly followed her through a dark hallway into a dark black room with a small pot in the corner, bubbling mysteriously.

     "Mrs… I mean, Madam…" Russ stammered.

     "Let's cut to the chase," Old Mother Chia said briskly. "You want to be able to fly don't you?" Russ nodded numbly. "Well, before you ask how I know, I know everything. And I know exactly what will work for you." She shuffled over to a black battered cabinet, and from inside she pulled out a small golden hat that shimmered in the light. "Wear this," she said simply, handing it over to Russ.

     "Begging your pardon ma'am," Russ answered nervously. "But I don't understand how this will work."

     "Trust me, you will be able to fly once you wear this hat," Old Mother Chia said, looking Russ straight in the eyes and making him shiver, though he didn't know why. "Now go, your mother will be waiting."

     Russ hurried away, as fast as his legs could carry him, until he was far away. Then he took off into the sky gracefully, soaring with the clouds. He could fly!

     The next day, he walked to school with a smile on his face. His owner, Tania, had been wondering why he was so happy, but he refused to tell anyone. He wanted it to be a surprise, so when he took part in the race his owner would be gob smacked and extremely proud. The only person he did tell was Rockie.

     "Whoa," he said enviously, watching Russ soar above him, wearing his golden cap. "You'll definitely win the race this afternoon."

     "Well I hope so," Russ smiled excitedly. "It will be the first time I'll ever be able to prove myself."

     The waiting was unbearable. The air was alive with excitement; you could feel it almost bristling with tension. Even the teachers seemed to be on edge; so when the time came for them to walk across the field to the starting line of the Neopia Flight Race, everyone was relieved. There were hundreds of thousands of spectators waiting to watch, and there were around eighty pets taking part. Rockie and Russ stood side by side; smiling at each other nervously and wishing each other luck.

     "Thought you couldn't fly," a familiar voice shouted, and once again Mist stood next to them, this time with Eleanor clinging to his arm like a limpet.

     "Well I can, alright?" Russ snapped, sounding braver than he felt. Mist noticed Russ's golden hat, and grabbed it quickly.

     "What's this dumb hat then?" he leered, twirling it around between his fingers.

     "Give him it back," Rockie said calmly, though there was fire in his eyes.

     "No!" Mist answered evilly. He had no idea why Russ looked so panicky, but he was enjoying it immensely. He dropped it on the floor and stood on it determinedly, making it crumple. Then he picked it up and threw it into the nearest bush, laughing cruelly.

     "Noooo!" Russ cried, tears stinging his eyes.

     "What's going on darling?" a tall girl shouted, running over to Russ. It was his mother, Tania. What he could he say to her now?

     "Nothing Mum," Russ mumbled, hanging his head.

     "What are you doing in the race line?" Tania whispered. "You can't fly love."

     "I- I can," Russ lied. "I've been practising. I can!" His mum smiled proudly.

     "I had no idea!" she said, hugging her son happily. "Good boy! I'm so proud of you!" She ran off again, to where there was a huge line of spectators, stretching into the distance.

     "The race is about to start," Mr Greggo announced importantly. "Take your places."

     "What can I do?" Russ shouted, running around, agitated.

     "Calm down will you child!" said a croaky voice, and he suddenly noticed Old Mother Chia was standing next to him. He wondered why he hadn't noticed before. "Now listen carefully, I haven't got long," she continued, speaking very fast. "That hat had no magical powers at all. It was a normal hat that I gave you."

     "B-b-but I don't understand!" Russ said, confused.

     "Once you believed it, you could fly. You have it inside you; you just have to believe in yourself. It was you all along my child."

     "It can't be," Russ said in awe.

     "Hurry up!" Old Mother Chia said impatiently. "Fly, make your mother proud! I'll be watching." She shuffled off, and Russ was dimly aware of the whistle for the race to begin being blown. He jumped, and at first he fell straight back to the ground. He heard the crowd laughing, but he jumped again. This time he fell over, and landed flat on his face.

     "You can do it, Russell," he whispered to himself, and jumped again, and spread his wings determinedly. This time he took flight, his wings soaring easily. He was last, but he knew he could catch up if he tried. He increased his speed, feeling the cool wind breezing past his face. He went higher, flapping easily and craning his neck. He was now past most of them, nearer the front. Below him the crowds of spectators stretched like specks, their faces little blurs of speed. He knew he must have been going fast, for the leaves and shrubs of Neopia looked like they were flying themselves; it was so magical. Soon he was up in the clouds, feeling the icy, soft whiteness on the tip of his long elegant wings. He was always so clumsy and awkward on the wings; but the in the air he was graceful and fast.

     Hours passed like minutes, and he didn't tire. However, he had to go faster, for the end was in sight. The only person in front of him now was Mist, and he was a very good flier. His red wings were going so fast they were hard to spot, and his face was a picture of concentration. Russ dropped slightly so he was flying next to Mist, and began flapping his wings harder. They were neck and neck, no Russ was in front, no, now Mist was; now Russ was, then ouch! Mist kicked Russ hard in the stomach and Russ paused, winded momentarily. Soon he was up flying again, but by then Mist was yet again way in front.

     The end was near. Russ went doubly faster than before, every muscle in his body straining. He wanted to win so badly. He flew past Mist in a blur of speed, his wings aching with the energy. He could see his mother's face, the winking eyes of Old Mother Chia, the shocked look of Mist, the feel of the yellow finishing line tape as he flew past it, collapsing on the ground. He'd won. The crowd erupted.

     "You won!" a red faced, flustered Rockie screeched with delight. "Russ you did it! You were amazing!"

     "Well done honey," his mother smiled, crying openly. "I am so proud."

     "Russ you were very good," a small voice whispered, and Eleanor stood nearby. "I… I'm going now." She wandered off, with Rockie scowling.

     "She's probably sorry or something," Rockie said. "Come and get your prize money!"

******

The next few hours were the best of Russ's life. He dimly remembered being hugged about fifty times, Eleanor repeatedly apologising and Mist looking dejected and scowling at anyone who so much dared look at him. Mr Greggo handed him a satchel heavy with Neopoints, beaming. All of the other pets that took part congratulated him- except Mist of course.

     Well done child," Old Mother Chia's croaky voice whispered. "Knew you had it in you."

     "Thank you very much," Russ smiled at the old Chia. "I have to go home now. But thanks again, I'll never forget what you did for me."

     As Russ walked away arm in arm with his mother, and followed by hundreds of fans, Old Mother Chia smiled quietly to herself and turned away.

     "That Russell is rather good isn't he?" she whispered, as she pulled a frog out from under her cloak. "Well Tiggy, I think we can expect many great things from him in the future." And with that the old witch shuffled away, laughing to herself mysteriously.

The End

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