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A (Lab) Ray Of Hope


by spotthechelsey

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It was a dark and stormy night.

     All right, so it was closer to mid-afternoon. Still, the dark skies looked sickly, bloated with deep gray storm clouds, and lightning flashed not too far off. The air hung damp and humid, and torrential rains soon followed.

     The rain pelted against soft skin and ran down the matted fur of a mutant moehog. He quivered, his flesh stinging from the rain. It had been a long time since he had been caught out in a storm. In fact, it had been a long time since he had been outside at all…

     ***

      The door at the front of the corridor creaked open, splashing bright light upon the rows of cages. Some of the cages' inhabitants rushed forward, eagerly waiting to be chosen. Others laid where they were, having seen the cuter ones getting picked time and again. One pet in particular, a mutant Moehog, crawled into the shadowy recesses of his cage.

     'It's hopeless,' he thought to himself. 'Nobody's come for me yet; why should I believe anybody will? They all say I'm ugly, and… they're right. Nobody wants a wretched deformity like me.' He laid his head on the floor, facing the back wall of the cage in his usual effort to drown in his feelings of abandonment.

     "Oh, I almost forgot this guy." The Moehog jumped, startled by the voice behind him, and whirled around to find the Pound Uni in front of his cage. The Uni turned towards a figure standing next to her and continued, "His name is uglytothemax. He's been here longer than anybody else, I'm afraid." The figure nodded, and the Uni replied, "Would you like me to leave you so you can get acquainted?" She only got another nod as a reply from the dark stranger, and she walked back out of the corridor of cages, a worried look playing on her face.

     Uglytothemax, or Max for short, watched as the Uni left. He noted that other pets in the corridor, especially a number of the cute fluffy ones, seemed to be watching from the shadows. It appeared that they had fled to the back of their confines upon seeing the figure that now stood before him. Max twisted his head up towards the stranger. Before him stood a teenage girl with shoulder-length red hair. She wore a black shirt, a pair of worn jeans, and a long, black jacket, resembling something of an imitation trench coat. She wore an uninviting face as well, which Max thought almost comparable to the frown Dr. Death frequently wore. He wanted to hide but was too fixated to run to the back of his cage, and she was staring at him. All he could do was stare back.

     ***

"Max, come on!" A red Zafara ran towards him and grabbed his hoof, urging him to move forward. Max realized he had stopped walking during his flashback of the morning, and sprinted forward for a few paces.

     "What's your name? Sweet_Travesty, right?" Max asked of the Zafara.

     "Yuppers, but you can call me ST. Now hurry up! Lycos is waiting!"

     "Isn't she behind us?" Max questioned, glancing over his shoulder to see Lycos following not far behind.

     "Nope! She's ahead of us!" the Zafara announced, proudly pointing forward to nothing in particular.

     "But …" Max glanced over his shoulder again and decidedly gave up on trying to make sense of the Zafara. I couldn't make sense of it this morning, why should I now? Max thought.

***

     

"Hello, Mr. Happy Face!"

     Max broke off from staring up at the girl to find himself face-to-face with a Zafara. He stumbled back in surprise, and awkwardly fell into a sitting position. "My name's not--"

     "Of course it isn't!" the Zafara cut him off mid-sentence. "And neither is the cheese! But oh, that is a problem for the Meerca and the Negg, for you know they aren't--"

     "It's best just to ignore her," the girl spoke at last, placing one hand over the mouth of the exuberant Zafara. She glanced at her hyperactive pet, with one eyebrow raised as if to say, 'don't you dare humiliate me like this again.' However, the Zafara took no notice, and smiled happily while swaying back and forth.

     The girl turned back to Max. "You can call me Lycos," she said. "Before you get your hopes up, I'm going to let you know that I'm not adopting you permanently. I'm starting my own 'rehab adoption clinic'." She sat down in the middle of the corridor so she could look Max in the face while she continued. "The main purpose of it is to 'improve' upon a pet, depending upon their definition of 'improvement', so the pet has a better hope of being adopted once they've been returned to the pound. There are a few options I offer for my clinic. If I were to temporarily adopt you, you get the choice to stay at my house or the neolodge. I'll buy you some items that you can keep, also your choice as to what, though it must fit my budget. The third option I offer is that I have access to the lab ray."

     It took a few seconds to sink in, but then Max's ears twitched up, his eyes opened more, and he completely forgot his fear of Lycos. "The …labray? Seriously?" Max leaned closer to the bars, questioning Lycos to make sure he heard right.

     "Yes, the labray," Lycos restated, minimally annoyed at having to repeat herself. "You don't have to come with me if you don't-"

     "I'll do it!" Max yelled, causing some of the other pets to jump in surprise.

     "Very well, then," Lycos said, pushing herself up off the floor. "Wait here while I get the receptionist."

     

***

"Here we are," Lycos said, looking up at the giant machine that stood before them.

     "Huh?" Max had been too preoccupied to even realize that they had arrived at the Lab Ray. He glanced around, his eyes familiar to the dim light. The atmosphere was similar to that of the pound: heavy and tense. Or maybe it was just the humidity in the air; after all, it was pouring outside. Still, a chill ran up his spine, and Max cautiously approached the ray.

     "Hello, and who might you be?"

     "Gahhh!" Max jumped, a bit surprised at the appearance of the yellow scorchio.

     "Ease off, Doc, he's new here." Lycos scowled at the joyfully mad scientist.

     "Why of course, of course," the scorchio gleefully said in reply. "Just step up on that X there, my little guinea piggy, and I'll go hit the button for you." True to his word, he jogged over to the machine controls and waited impatiently for Max to move. Max wasn't sure if he should be more afraid of the ray or of the scientist, but he tenderly crept over to the large X plastered onto the floor, and closed his eyes in anticipation. This is it, he thought, this is my chance to change. I won't have to be called ugly any more … everything rides on this…

     Max opened his eyes. He was sure he felt the ray, but … "What happened?" he questioned.

     "Apparently," the lab scientist mumbled while studying a monitor, "Nothing. Nothing happened at all."

     "But … that can't be! Something has to happen, right?" a frantic note could be heard in Max's voice as he pleaded for another chance. "You can zap me again, right? I mean, couldn't I -"

     "No, only once per day. I'm afraid it goes against my insurance plan, otherwise…" The Doc rambled. "Anyways, sorry, no can do. Now shoo, I need to get some more guinea pigs."

     "But-!"

     "Max, we'll come back tomorrow. You can try again then-" Lycos started.

     "NO! I don't want to be like this anymore! I'm sick of being ugly and hated by everybody!" Max hollered, and bolted past Sweet_Travesty and Lycos, out into the rain.

     ***

Max slunk through the wet undergrowth of Mystery Island, wandering in no particular direction. He was thoroughly soaked by the rain by now, but it didn't matter to him. He just kept walking, driven by the turmoil inside of him. His hoof caught on a root, and he went sprawling. He motioned to get up, but decided against it, and sunk back into the mud. He didn't even lift his head when he heard footsteps behind him.

     "You fool," the very irate voice of Lycos echoed over the rain. "You couldn't have even picked a dry spot to lay down?" Max felt himself being lifted up, and suddenly he snapped. He went rigid, and whirled around, confronting Lycos.

     "It's not fair! Not fair at all!" Max screamed, breaking into tears. "I don't want to be ugly anymore, I want to look nice so I'll get an owner, and …and…"

     "Max, you're overreact-"

     "NO! I'm not! I've been ugly for years, and this is my only chance to-"

     "Okay, you're a hideous figure, a monster in everybody's sight," Lycos spit out, anger brimming in her voice. "You disgust all of society. Is that what you want to hear? Because that's certainly what you tell everybody you are." Max stopped short, tears hanging from his widened eyes, and he trembled, fearful of the enraged girl and the words she spewed.

     "But," Lycos continued, "The only hideous thing I see is a downcast soul, who tries to drive everybody else away. A horrible figure that has no self-confidence. A disgusting member of society that wallows in his own self-pity, too caught up in his appearance to see that appearance has nothing to do with who he is."

     Max sat back, still staring at Lycos, and silently took in everything she said. Lycos released an exasperated sigh and sat down next to the moehog. She turned and stared him in the eyes momentarily, her eyebrows still a bit furled with anger, and then glanced up into the pouring rain. Her voice lowered, and her tone not quite as angry, she spoke once more.

     "Max, you've done nothing but obsess over how ugly you are. In all your years at the pound, did you ever stop to think that people didn't adopt you not because of how you looked, but because of how you acted?"

     "I … I…" Max fell silent again, now painfully aware that he had blinded himself from the truth.

     "Max, no matter what you do, you should remember this -- it is not how you appear on the outside that makes you who you are, but rather what you do and believe in that defines oneself."

     Left with nothing to say to one another, the two sat in silence, the storm pouring over their heads. Droplets bounced off of broad frond leaves and trickled over ferns and jungle foliage. The water ran together on the forest floor, carving miniature streams and shallow ridges into the soil around them.

     Within an hour's time, the rain slowed, and rays of sun occasionally poked through the dark clouds.

     "Let's… let's go," Max said, standing up and shaking off as much water as he could.

     "And where exactly will we be going?" Lycos questioned, standing up, the water pouring off of her long coat. Her hair stuck together, and altogether she did not look very comfortable, soaked as she was.

     "Back to the pound," Max said, trying to sound brave. "Everything you said… well, what I mean is, … I needed somebody to set me straight. So, um … Thank-"

     "There you are!" proclaimed a familiar red Zafara, who came bounding straight towards Lycos and Max. "You know, it's not very nice to abandon yourselves! There I was, standing in the dry cave, not knowing of your adventures, and you both run off into the rain! What fun did I - mmh mmph rhm!"

     Lycos succeeded in covering the muzzle of the lunatic Zafara yet again, and motioned for Max to follow. The three of them set off for the pound, with Lycos' wet sneakers squishing the entire way.

     *****

     The early morning light streamed into the dark corridor again, illuminating the silhouette of a redhead. The cages' occupants did as they had before, and stepped as far back as they could, trying to remain unnoticed. However, there was one figure that did not run away, as he was too occupied with sweeping the floor and humming.

     "Max? What are you doing?" Lycos questioned, eyebrow raised, noting her first clinic patient was donned in a pair of overalls and was working in the hallway. "I thought they had employees to take care of the pound."

     " La la la... Hmm? Lycos?" Max looked up, and then grinned. "They do, and I'm one of them," he said, beaming. "I got myself an owner, with much thanks to your help. However, I also realized that the pound did a lot for me, so I got a job here. That way I could hopefully give something back."

     "Sounds great," Lycos replied, her face still its somber fixation. "I'm looking for another pet for my clinic," she said, and proceeded to walk amongst the row of cages. Max stepped back to allow Lycos to pass, but not without catching a glimpse of … something. Had that almost been a smile on her face? It probably could have been better defined as a smirk, but considering the way Lycos always appeared …

     "… it is not how you appear on the outside that makes you who you are, but rather what you do and believe that defines oneself. …"

     Max watched as the pets slinked away from the seemingly dark figure, and he smiled. You said it yourself Lycos, Max thought to himself, it's what you do and believe … and I believe that there just might be a kind heart beneath the darkness you wear.

The End

     __________________________________________

Author's Note:  I normally draw comics for the Neopian Times, but I thought I'd give a try at writing. Please feel free to neomail me and let me know what you thought of my story. The characters of Lycos and Sweet_Travesty are from my dark_chelsey account, and uglytothemax is a fictional character.

Lycos: *mumble* …kind heart… I'm not kind. What was Max thinking? Nobody in his or her right mind would consider me kind.

Sweet_Travesty: This from the person who runs an adoption clinic.

Lycos: Be quiet, you. I didn't ask you to speak-

Sweet_Travesty: Everybody, Lycos isn't a scary person and you shouldn't run away! See? She's clearly a nice per-mmmph!

Lycos: *covering Sweet_Travesty's mouth* We're leaving. NOW.

Sweet_Travesty: Mm Mmph! (Goodbye!) ^__^

 
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