IT WAS ON the third or fourth day that Florepa woke in the morning to see a
cold black nose on the end of a sandy muzzle poked through the bars of his cage.
He looked up into a pair of deep brown eyes in a sandy yellow face with long,
ribbony ears. A yellow Gelert.
"Zac!" he cried, then stopped in mid-sentence,
realising that besides colour and species, this Gelert was totally different
Where Zac's eyes had been hard, defiant, challenging
all authority, these eyes were soft and friendly, with a dash of fun in them
even, as if the Gelert joked and laughed a lot. Zac's coat was ill cared for
and dirty; this Gelert's coat was sleek and silky, shining even in the dim Pound
light. Zac was thin and wiry; this one was slender in a graceful sort of way.
And last, Florepa's nose told him that the newcomer was most definitely female.
At his sudden shout the Gelertess had backed
up and stood at the far side of the wall, looking slightly shaken but not hostile
or suspicious in the least.
"What was that for?" she asked.
"Nothin'," Florepa answered. "Thought you were
"Ah," said the Gelertess.
"My owner's here looking for a pet," she continued.
"She's already got me and my brother but she's
here again. My brother was from the Pound too, you know. I was created. She's
too soft by far, my owner. She'll get anything if she thinks it looks pitiful
enough. I think she'd take the whole Pound home if she could." The Gelertess
burst into a peal of laughter. "Yeah, but the authorities say four pets, and
she's only got us two, so you see there's plenty of room."
"Humans aren't that nice. No human I've met
"Well, my human is. She's the best owner in
"In my experience, humans are dirt."
"What have you been through to make you feel
that way?" The Gelertess's head was cocked to the side in a curious gesture.
"Tell me, please! I love a good story!" And before Florepa could say anything,
she had plopped herself down in front of his cage, looking up at him expectantly.
Seeing no alternative, Florepa told her all of
his past experiences from his birth till now. When he had finished the Gelertess
shook her head in amazement. "I didn't know humans could be so heartless." "Well,
She shook her head decisively. "Not all of them.
Not my human." Suddenly she brightened. "Of course! She'd love you! Wait right
here!" And she sped off before Florepa could reply. Florepa could hear her voice
bouncing off down the dimly lit passage.
"Shell, Shell, Shell, SHELL!"
"As if I could do anything else but wait right
here," he muttered.
Soon enough, he could hear the Gelertess again,
mixed with the voice of her owner.
They stopped in front of Florepa's cage and the
owner knelt down to look into it. She was about fifteen in age, slim, Oriental-looking.
"Hey there, fella," she said, and Florepa felt
his tension subside, slowly.
"I heard quite a lot about you from Dash here,"
she continued, ruffling her Gelert's coat, "and it seems you've been through
a lot, Florepa."
"Call me Flo," said Florepa shortly. He hated
that name now.
"Oh, OK then. Flo it is." She smiled, at Florepa
and then at Dasher. "Yup, I think I'll take you back. Stay here, Dash, talk
to Flo. Rose! I've found the one I want!"
Dasher turned teasing eyes to Florepa. "See,
I told you she was all right, didn't I?"
"I liked her," said Florepa thoughtfully. "She's…(what
was that word Loper had used?)…different."
"You don't have a car?" Florepa asked later,
as they walked down the nearest street.
"Nope. Not old enough to drive yet. Anyway,
I live on Mystery Island. Practically nobody uses cars there." Mystery Island,
to Florepa, seemed like a paradise, a Shangri-La, an El Dorado, somewhere mystical
and magical, light years away from civilisation. But as a matter of fact, they
simply walked a kilometre or so before catching the coconut-driven ferry across
the white-crested waters. On the boat ride, Florepa chatted to Dasher, and they
soon were talking and laughing like old friends. Suddenly Florepa's eyes hardened.
Dasher followed his gaze and saw a lovely young purple Peophin sleeping in the
sun on the other side of the boat.
"You don't like Peophins, huh?"
"Ah…guess that's understandable. But you shouldn't
keep on hating something, you know. It destroys you. That's what Shell always
"Oh, what do you know."
"I'll have you know I'm more than a hundred
days older than you, sir, which makes me your older sister, which also means
I'm taking no cheek from you!" Florepa smiled, in spite of himself. He really
was starting to like Dash after all.
They got off the ferry and walked up a winding
dirt path. Florepa was captivated by the place. The surroundings were so different
from the tall buildings and city streets he knew so well. Now there were grass
and twig huts, and palm trees waved their feathery branches in the breeze. Also,
the temperature was steamy and hot, yet it was a pleasant sort of heat. Finally,
after walking down a road with a wooden signpost at its start that read 'Island
Crescent' in scratchy letters, they reached a bamboo house. It was a house for
it was bigger than the huts, and Shell opened the wood door.
The house was practically empty except for some
pieces of furniture and a small television set. It was obviously rather new.
"We're home, Wen," Shell called. "What's for
"Turkey, fresh from the Neopian Bazaar, and
Apple and Cherry Pie for dessert," came the answer from one of the rooms, from
which a delicious savoury smell was wafting. Florepa felt his mouth beginning
"OK, then," Shell replied. "I hope you remembered
I might have been bringing someone new home." No reply.
"Wen!" Shell said sharply. "You forgot, didn't
"Er…yeah," said the voice hesitatingly. "But
no worries. There's lots of this Turkey to go round for four of us."
"That's good then. Just don't do it again,"
Shell said, and she flopped into a nearby chair. "I'm tired, guys," she said
to Dasher and Florepa. "Dash, why don't you go show introduce Flo to Wen?"
"All right," said Dasher cheerily, and she bounced
off into the kitchen, motioning with her tail for Flo to follow. Curious to
meet his new brother, Florepa followed her, and then stopped suddenly at the
peculiar sight that met his eyes. There, in front of a blazing fire and turning
a roast turkey on a spit with one claw, sat an enormous red Grarrl. With the
other claw he was dripping golden, molten fat over it with a hollowed-out branch.
Dasher sat beside him quite comfortably, her slender tail curled around her
paws, dwarfed by his bulk though she was fully two days older.
"Wen, this is our new brother Florepa, but call
him Flo," she added quickly. "And Flo, this is my brother from the Pound I mentioned,
Wen145, but just call him Wen."
Wen looked up from the turkey and smiled at
"Hey there. Now, this is going to be your dinner,
so sorry I can't chat; have to concentrate on cooking it."
"Right," said Florepa.
"We'll be off then," said Dasher brightly. "C'mon
Flo," and she led him out of the kitchen.
"Wen's great at cooking, he hopes one day there'll
be a Neopian Cooking Award so he could take part! Or at least a competition
that involves Gourmet Dining. He loves food, Wen does."
Dasher was right about the Grarrl being good
at cooking. The turkey was perfect, cooked and lightly sprinkled with ground
Buzz honeycomb to make a sweetish taste. It was a step invented by Wen himself.
And the Apple and Cherry Pies, when they came, were expertly made, crisp on
the outside and gooey and warm and sweet on the inside. When their bellies were
full, the whole family sat down in front of the TV to watch their favourite
shows. Florepa learnt how to laugh at the comedies (their favourite, and his,
he decided after having watched several, was N.E.O.F.R.I.E.N.D.S.) and he found
the thriller shows exciting. He and Wen didn't like romances so much, but Shell
and Dash did, so they went and chatted, had a brotherly conversation, while
the two girls watched their movie. After that they played card games like Cheat,
Pyramids and GoGoGo. Florepa had never even heard of these games before, but
Shell, Dash and Wen, he found to his surprise, were more than happy to have
someone to teach, and they never took advantage of him as a newbie; when he
made silly mistakes they pointed it out quite calmly, laughing if the mistake
was particularly funny.
Later that night, tucked into his new bed, listening
to the gentle lull of the waves on the shore outside his new home mingling somehow
euphoniously with the snores of his new brother and the peaceful, even breathing
of his new sister in their beds beside him, and with his new owner asleep somewhere
else in the house, Florepa felt strangely content. These pets and this owner,
he felt sure, wouldn't throw him out or leave him to die or fend for himself.
They were his family. The loss of his gang was somehow eased by this knowledge.
Happily, he rolled over and fell asleep.
That might well have been where I end the story,
but it is not quite finished yet.
Florepa's life from then on was a happy one.
He loved to play tag-my-tail and other, quieter games with his new siblings
and sometimes with his owner. They discovered that Florepa's life on the streets
had hardened and strengthened him, and that because of the conditioned strength
he was a strong Battledome fighter. Not only that, Florepa loved the thrill
of Dome fights and Shell constantly worked at his stats both at the Training
School and completing quests from faeries when any were offered to improve them.
He always, though, wore his orange bandanna as a reminder of his past.
In short, Florepa was content, but for one thing
that still haunted him. Every night now and then he would find himself twisting
and turning in the grips of a nightmare. It was always the same one. Shell would
come home through the door carrying a little green Neopet in her arms, horse-like
with golden hooves and a flaming red mane. Only instead of a horse's hindquarters
it had a fishtail. Every member of the family cooed and fussed over the little
Peophin. Shell would then turn to Florepa, her eyes cold. "Go," she would say,
and hold the door open whilst Wen and Dash pushed him out of the house, while
he kicked and pleaded to them to love him, to let him stay… He always woke up
in tears. One night when the dream had been particularly vivid, he writhed and
tossed so violently that he rolled out of bed and crashed onto the floor, waking
his siblings who fell out of their own beds trying to get to him. Shell came
"Are you all right?" she asked anxiously, and
put her arms around her Zafara.
"Oh, Shell, you…you replaced me…with…with a
"He's been having another nightmare, Shell,"
"He's had them for a while," said Wen. Their
voices were concerned.
"There, Flo, it's all right. I've never abandoned
a pet in my life and I don't intend to start with one I've just taken out of
the Pound. And if I should ever decide to get a last pet, he or she isn't ever
going to replace any one of you three, no matter what species I should choose.
We'll just be a family, all five of us, just as we are now, only with an extra
member. You all have my word on that." Florepa seemed convinced, and as Shell
tucked him back into bed he went to sleep quite peacefully, as did the other
two. But as Shell made her way back to her own room, and settled into her own
bed, her eyes were rather thoughtful.
She was concerned about Florepa. She loved him,
indeed, as if he were her own created pet, and therefore worried about him.
She knew that, somehow, he had to get over his fear of being replaced and his
hatred of Peophins. That he had been having these nightmares despite the fact
that the incident with Surari and the girl had happened so long ago already
said something about how serious the problem was. He couldn't be allowed to
carry on like this. It was obvious to Shell that something had to be done, and
she knew that the best way to confront fear was to stare it straight in the
face. But how could she make Florepa do it? She knew he trusted her, but he
was stubborn. He would hold firm. Quickly and firmly, she made up her mind about
what she had to do.
To be continued...