Needed: Part Five
|A COLD, WET nose nudging his shoulder broke Dantam out of his deep, contented
sleep. "Dantam, wake up," a voice whispered.
He cracked his eyes open only to see that it
was still dark, only the barest hints of the sun's rays appearing on the eastern
horizon. Still caught somewhere between his dreams and the waking world, he
shut his eyes again, rolled away from the wet nose, and groaned, "It's too early.
Just a few more minutes Maddy."
"Ahem!" The sound of Rorro's irritated voice
brought Dantam fully to wakefulness and he looked up to see Brenner beside him,
and the rest of the group, including Rorro, standing before him. "This may come
as a surprise to you," the surly Kacheek said, "But around here, we work for
Feruli and Silviana sighed in unison at Rorro,
but rather than reprimand him, Feruli said, "Come on Dantam, it's time to start
the day. We need to get our assignments."
Although he was not quite sure what the Eyrie
was talking about, Dantam got up and followed them back to the entrance of the
junkyard, still yawning and stretching as he tried to wake himself. Another
line was forming, this one heading toward the entrance, where Allegra stood
with her clipboard. As small groups of pets arrived at the entrance, the Lenny
consulted her clipboard, jotted down a few notes, said something to them, and
then they set off out of the shelter of the junkyard and into the streets of
Neopia Central. As Dantam and the others reached the front of the line, Allegra
looked up and smiled.
"Ah yes, Dantam," she said. "I'm putting you
on Feruli's team, which means your assignment for today will be..." She consulted
her clipboard. "...the Money Tree. Well, I suppose it's good to start out with
the tough stuff."
Feruli and the others nodded to Allegra and led
Dantam out of the junkyard and toward the center of Neopia Central. Dantam had
heard of the Money Tree before, of course, but he'd never actually been there.
When he was with Madison, they hadn't had much need to visit it. As the group
arrived and stopped a short distance away, Dantam was awed by the huge tree,
with its gnarled trunk and leafy branches reaching up to embrace the sky. Every
moment people and Neopets were coming to drop off things around the base of
the trunk. Most of the donations were just a few Neopoints or a virtually worthless
item, but Dantam spotted a few generous ones that were always quickly snatched
up by the other humans and pets that swarmed around the tree.
"All right Rorro," Feruli said after they had
all scoped out the tree for a few moments, "You first. Show us how it's done."
The Kacheek gave the first genuine smile that Dantam had seen on him and dashed
off without a word. Feruli leaned down and said to Dantam, "Rorro's the best
on our team at Money Tree duty. I think it's one thing the grump actually enjoys."
Dantam's attention was locked on Rorro, who was
now on all fours and running at a speed that one would not have expected from
his short legs and less-than-aerodynamic shape. He wove skilfully through the
crowd, seeming to be nothing more than a yellow flash of light. Once he had
finally reached the tree, he beat out several other Neopets who were aiming
for a grakle-stuffed turkey. With his bounty stuffed safely between his arm
and his side, Rorro headed back toward the group, a little slower this time
as he was weighted down. As his face came into view once again and he set the
turkey down on the grass between them, Dantam couldn't help but notice his self-satisfied
"You're up next Dantam," Feruli said suddenly,
and Dantam turned to him with an expression somewhere between shock and uncertainty.
"Go on," the Eyrie nudged him, "Give it a try."
Dantam gulped but set off obediently toward the
tree. Using the advantage of his long legs, Dantam did his best to make his
way quickly through the maze of Neopians as he had seen Rorro do. Although he
stumbled and bumped into others a few times, finally the base of the tree came
into his sights. "I'm going to make it!" he said to himself as he set his aim
on a little bag of Neopoints, but suddenly a white, translucent figure rose
up out of the ground between him and his goal. Dantam pulled up short and yelped
in fear as the ghost materialised fully, its scarlet eyes glittering menacingly
at him. It grabbed the sack of money and dove back into the ground to await
its next victim, but Dantam didn't even notice this as he had already turned
and was running away from the tree in panic, his tail between his legs.
When he finally reached the little hillock where
the rest of the team was waiting, Dantam spun around in fright, expecting to
see the ghost still chasing him. But there was nothing there, and as he stood
there panting in shock and confusion, the sound of Rorro's laughter reached
his ears. He looked over to see the Kacheek rolling in the grass and holding
his sides as he laughed with complete abandon, and Dantam's ears drooped.
Silviana reached down from atop Feruli's back
and patted Dantam's shoulder. "Don't sweat it pal. Nobody gets it the first
"You'll get used to the ghosts Dantam," Feruli
said in an encouraging voice. "I know they look frightening, but they're harmless
really." Dantam nodded quietly, and continued trying to catch his breath as
the others set out one by one. Brenner did it with the youthful enthusiasm that
he seemed to put into everything. Silviana, small and quick, was able to manoeuvre
through the crowds with little problem, like Rorro had. Toragi went about her
turn with all the skill of a deadly hunter set on her prey.
When it came to Feruli's turn, Dantam looked
at the Eyrie to see him staring up at the sky. Dantam followed his gaze, noting
the winged Neopets who were using their gift of flight to zoom down and snatch
up donations. He looked back at Feruli, who caught him staring once again. The
Eyrie shrugged and tried to smile as he muttered, "This would be a whole lot
easier if I could fly." Dantam tried to follow through and smile back, but Feruli
had already left. As his muscular legs carried him, the crowd parted out of
respect for his size, and his powerful beak and claws helped him to grab a joint
of ham without much competition.
By the end of the day, Dantam had gotten the
hang of Money Tree duty and was proudly carrying a stack of omelettes, a grubwich,
and a bag of money to add to the stockpile when they returned to the junkyard
as the shadows lengthened over the city.
It didn't take long for Dantam to fall into the
rhythm of the homeless pets' lives. Each morning they awoke with the Beekadoodles
and lined up as a team to accept their daily assignment from Allegra. In doing
the work that kept their "family" alive together, Dantam felt himself growing
closer and closer to the other Neopets on Feruli's team, even to Rorro, as surly
as he could be. When they weren't on Money Tree duty, they might be sent scavenging,
which was what they had been doing that fateful evening that Dantam had met
them after Madison left. Other days they were assigned to go out into Neopia
Central and sell or trade the items that were brought in from scavenging and
Money Tree duty that were not food, (and that were worth too much to be used
as food for Skeiths and Grarrls.) Dantam disliked this job most of all, not
only because he wasn't much of a salesgelert, but also because he hated to see
the way that some people treated them as they tried to sell their wares. He
hated to see the way that he had once treated his new friends reflected back
at him. Sometimes, when any money that they had managed to get from selling
items or from the Money Tree added up to a significant amount, they were sent
to the marketplace to bargain for food and supplies. Once in a while, a foraging
party was even sent out to the forest just outside the city to find food. Dantam
enjoyed this, as he and Brenner became known as the star trackers in the group
and were always chosen to go searching in the fresh air and foliage of the forest.
At the end of the day, no matter what they had
done, they returned home to the junkyard, reported in to Allegra, and got their
dinners, which were always more satisfying after a hard day's work. And every
day, as they settled down to eat their dinners in the light of the warm campfire,
Cap would walk out and tell them a story. The old Skeith had lots of stories,
but the most common one was about having a real home. And each night, as he
lay in the old barrel that he had made into his shelter, Dantam allowed his
eyes to drift closed and his mind to drift from the sweet story that Cap's gravely
voice told to his own sweet dreams.
To be continued...