He had been with her for quite some time now. He had watched
her grow from a green and brown ball of fur into the older Island Xweetok that
she was now. She was every inch the Island native with her golden brown fur and
lush tan mane, green fur with tiny yellow balls around her neck and chest, and
white markings all over her body. In his eyes, she was the most beautiful creature
in Neopia but then again, he had not seen much in his life.
He remembered his first day very well. From
the darkness, something pulled him. There was light and he came face to face
with a pair of large brown eyes. They belonged to a small human girl with pale
white hands and a timid smile. They were in a room with white walls and a white
floor. It was empty except for a forlorn-looking, light green sofa with a battered
blue pillow on top of it. "Yumih, come see what my Newbie Pack has!"
A furry brown face with wide inquisitive eyes
appeared in his line of sight. "What is it?" she asked. Her nose twitched as
she sniffed at him cautiously.
The girl fumbled with the tag around his neck.
After a few minutes, she finally managed to remove it. "It's a…Ditsy. It says
here that it won't be too hard to take care of it."
A paw reached for him and glossed over one of
his eyes. "It's made of cardboard," the Xweetok, Yumih, said slowly. "What do
I do with it?"
Cardboard, he thought. Was he really made of
cardboard? He tried to open his mouth to ask but found that he couldn't. Ah,
well. He would just listen, then.
The girl shrugged. "I'm not sure. It's supposed
to be a petpet. You know, you play with it and stuff. It's…like that Buzzer
I pointed at on the way home…"
Yumih lifted him in the air and traced a circle
on his yellow cardboard chest. "Was that the flitting, humming thing we saw
with the blue Lupe?" When the girl nodded, she shuddered. "I'm glad my petpet
isn't like that one. It scared me."
He wasn't feeling too comfortable hanging up
there. He thought hard of some way to tell her she wanted to go down. Perhaps
he could move his paws. He concentrated very hard and attempted to wriggle his
paws. He couldn't. Well, maybe he could try screaming. Although he wasn't successful
the first time, there was hope. 'Just open your mouth', he thought encouragingly.
After a few seconds of utter silence, he added in exasperation, 'Open your
stupid mouth!' He couldn't. Well. That was fun.
The girl giggled. "I thought it was kind of
"Are we talking about the Buzzer, the Lupe…or
the boy they were with?" Yumih said dryly.
She finally put him down. He was very relieved
and hoped she would not do it again. She straightened his ear and dusted off
his back absentmindedly as she watched for the girl's reaction.
The girl smirked. "I wasn't even sure you noticed
the Buzzer. You were staring at the Lupe so hard I thought your eyes were going
to fall off…"
"Nayih!" she growled. She snatched the pillow
from the sofa and threw it at the girl. It hit her right in the middle of her
Nayih laughed and threw the pillow back. "Okay,
okay! So, maybe you weren't staring. I'll go and buy us some food at the Island
Market. In the meantime, play with your Ditsy in your room. And, if anyone knocks,
don't let whomever it is in. I don't like the looks of this neighborhood…yet."
She stood up from her spot on the floor. Upon opening the front door, she smiled
mischievously and yelled, "You weren't staring. You were ogling!"
Yumih gave an outraged squeal. The pillow flew
across the room and hit the door just after it closed. She looked at him. "Well,
it looks like it's just you and me, little Ditsy…"
Yumih's bamboo-inspired room was cramped and
yet it had the appearance of something very spacious. Generous amounts of sunlight
poured through the room by way of the large, open window. A shaggy brown rug
covered most of the modest space along with a bamboo bed. A poster hung on one
wall, proclaiming "Chomby and the Fungus Balls Forever!" (it had a picture of
furry purplish yellow balls on it, rather perplexing, really) beside a banner
saying "Sloth Reeks!" featuring a strange black-caped green man with a head
that he thought had a weird shape.
She placed him on the bedside table, near a
small lamp and a couple of dried purple flowers. She sprawled on her bed and
looked at him. "I'll have to give you a name." She pouted and stared into space
for what seemed like forever. He waited patiently for her verdict. "I know!"
she suddenly said, raising a paw to the ceiling. "I'll call you…" She paused
dramatically. "Shirley!" She grabbed him, jumped off her bed, and began dancing
on the rug. "Shir-lay!" she sang in a loud, off-key voice as they went round
and round. "You're mmmmyyyyyyyy Shir-lay! We're soooo hap-ayyyyy!"
He knew better than to try and tell her he was
definitely not a Shirley. He would have preferred the name Tom or Rufus. Maybe
even Asparagus! Anything but Shirley. Mulishly, he told himself to just stop
thinking and get lost in the moment. After all, his owner was playing with him
and looking ecstatic. Petpets were supposed to make their owners' lives fun,
right? After a while, he felt a warm feeling spreading on his chest. It was
too bad he couldn't move his cardboard paws. He had the uncanny urge to dance.
As days passed, he managed to convince himself
that being a cardboard petpet wasn't so bad. Sure, he couldn't see out the window
because Yumih had positioned him against the wall, facing her bed. And, he couldn't
see much of the world outside the room either because Yumih seemed to have made
the weirdest decision to spend most of her time in her room. But, at least,
he didn't need to eat the yucky beetle crackers Yumih almost always seemed to
be munching on. He couldn't believe how addicted she was to them. Although he
couldn't taste one and determine it for himself, they looked atrocious enough:
thin beige cookies with dark blue beetles on each one. Who would want to eat
a beetle? Apparently, Yumih would (and did).
Then again, she was spending a lot of time with
him, showering him with affection although he wouldn't exactly call it the best
kind. For instance, he was now sporting a bright pink bow on his right ear and
pearls around his neck. Yumih had even attempted applying red lipstick on his
mouth, announced it looked hideous, and hastily removed it.
She was currently chomping on another beetle
cracker, a glum expression on her face. She sighed, picked up a blue marker,
and began doodling on a piece of paper. "He doesn't even know I exist, Shirley…"
Who was this 'he' she was talking about? Yumih
had been mentioning 'him' since yesterday but had failed to mention more details.
He listened closely, hoping she would say more.
"Just because he's a stupid Fire Lupe now, doesn't
mean he should forget his old friends." She stopped doodling and sighed again.
"I miss his company but he's got his own painted Lupe pack now. I can't just
approach them and say hi. They'd pounce on me!"
She grabbed a pair of green scissors doggedly
and proceeded to cut circles from the piece of paper. She inspected his body
with a frown and stuck a paper circle on his chest. "There's only one solution,
Shirley. I don't want to become a Lupe, of course, but maybe getting painted
will help me become more…noticeable." She cut up a triangle and placed it below
the circle. Then, she stuck another circle. Her expression brightened. "In fact,
I'll go and ask Nayih right now. Thanks for listening, Shirley." She kissed
his forehead and ran off.
A few minutes later, a disgruntled Yumih entered
the room, a fiery glint in her eyes. "She said we didn't have the money! Didn't
have the money!" She crouched in bed and placed a pillow over her head. Her
voice was muffled yet unwavering. "Well, I don't believe her. She spends hours
in the game room. She's bound to have NP around there somewhere. I'll pester
her until she gives in. And she will. That's a promise…"
In the next few days, he spent his time staring
at Yumih's bamboo bed, thinking about his cardboard life and Yumih's predicament.
She was never around now except for bedtime. She was too busy arguing with Nayih.
He could hear their high-pitched voices from his position on the bedside table.
"I want to get painted Island!"
That was Yumih's angry whine, he supposed.
"Well, Island paint brushes cost a fat lot!
I only have, what, like, three hundred thousand in the bank. I could buy you
a different paint brush, one that doesn't cost as much."
"You'll earn more NP, right? You're really good
"Sure, I'll get more." Nayih sounded slightly
mollified. "Still, an Island paint brush costs a million NP. If you'll just
wait…okay, so maybe you'll be waiting for a long time, but at least, you'll
get what you want."
"I need to get painted now!"
He heard a door slamming and then, an infuriated
sigh. "It's not like I don't want you to get what you want, Yumih! I do!" There
was a strangled sob and the door slammed again.
Left alone in an empty house, he felt helpless.
He wished he could do something, anything, to help Yumih and Nayih but he knew
he couldn't. Who decided cardboard petpets couldn't move or talk (even just
a tiny beep would be fine), anyway? He was supposed to be a petpet. He was supposed
to make his owner's life fun. So far, he seemed to be doing a lousy job. No
wonder Yumih left him in her room and never brought him outside.
He was lifted in the air again. The world began
spinning as Yumih danced around the room. When she finally got tired, she placed
him on the table and laughed. "Nayih has access to the Secret Lab now. Do you
know what that means?" Her eyes sparkled and a wide grin spread across her face.
"She can use the Lab Ray on me!" Her smile suddenly looked strained. He noticed
that her paws were shaking. "It's kind of dangerous, Shirley. Someone told me
that…" Her voice lowered to a whisper. "…it hurts. I don't believe her. Really,
I don't. Nayih asked me if I was sure I wanted this. I said yes. It's not like
I'll change Species or Gender the first time I use the ray, right?" There was
a pleading look in her eyes, a note of hope in her voice. "What matters is,
I might change from green to Island." She looked out the window. "Then, he'll
notice me again. And, I'll have a friend." She faced him. "Besides you, I mean.
You're my best friend."
Perhaps he was doing okay after all, he thought,
as Yumih closed her eyes and drifted off to dreamland. As long as Yumih cared
about him, he would be all right. Nothing else mattered. Nothing.
The first time Yumih came back from a trip to
the lab, she was crying. It didn't hurt, she said, but for some reason, she
needed to cry. Nayih spent the rest of the day with Yumih, stroking her fur
and saying soothing words. He watched them from his spot on the bedside table,
yearning to help them. He contented himself with the fact that Nayih was taking
care of Yumih.
"We're not going back if you don't want to,"
Nayih said as she hugged her Xweetok tightly. He could see she was trying hard
not to burst into tears, as well. She was such a young human girl.
"But I do," Yumih whispered in between tears.
At that moment, he wondered if there was a ray
for petpets like himself. If there was, he wanted to use it. Right now, he wanted
badly to become a humming, flitting Buzzer for even though it had irritated
Yumih the first time she saw one, it was at least more alive than he was. As
it buzzed and flew across the sky, it had the power to change its owner's mood
from sad to happy, something he couldn't do.
On the seventh day, the ray finally changed
Yumih's colour to Island. She was happy and yet she wasn't. Gone was the youthful
sparkle in her eyes only to be replaced by a dull, painful, knowing look. She
smiled but what meaning lay behind it? He didn't know. The Lab Ray had changed
Instead of lifting him and dancing around the
room like she usually did when she was in a good mood, Yumih merely patted his
head. She didn't even say a word. She just up and left.
He was hurt but he forgave her immediately.
She had just gotten what she wanted (well, half of it, anyway) and he should
be glad for her. He waited patiently for her return, hoping that the 'stupid
Fire Lupe' would notice Yumih's efforts and reward her with his friendship.
It was only fitting that he did.
But when Yumih came back, she was crying. She
looked at him scornfully, tore the bow from his ear, tugged at the pearls around
his neck. "He didn't even notice! I was stupid to even hope he would. He's changed.
I should've known better!" She ripped the paper buttons on his chest. "You should've
told me, Shirley! I should never have trusted him!"
He was stunned and saddened by this outburst.
If he could cry, he would have as Yumih grabbed him and shook him repeatedly.
Oh, he didn't feel any physical pain (how could he?) but he felt a searing pain
in his chest. "Say something, Shirley! Say something! Anything! I'm tired of
talking to a petpet that doesn't talk back. Can't you make your eyes whirl or
move your paws or something?" She threw him on the floor. "Oh, why am I even
talking to you? You're just a piece of cardboard."
He heard her pitiful sobs from his spot on the
floor. He stared at the ceiling, feeling helpless once again. She was right.
He was made of cardboard but that didn't mean he couldn't feel. He was
a petpet, after all. He was alive.
As he counted the cracks on the ceiling, he wished
with all his might that he could help his owner heal. He wished so hard that
he imagined a bright light surrounding his body. He thought he could see the
light fading and darkness slowly replacing it. Before the world became black,
he thought, 'As long as my owner is happy, nothing else matters. Nothing.'
When Yumih woke up the next morning, she felt
a mixture of sadness and regret. She didn't really care about Mab anymore. He
was different now. 'And so am I,' she thought bitterly. She had let her
fantasy get the better of her. She sighed. "Chalk it up to experience," she
muttered. She stretched her paws above her head and looked towards the window.
The morning sun was already peeping into the room.
With a stab of alarm, she remembered. "Shirley!"
she yelped. "Shirley…" She leaped from the bed and searched the floor for her
petpet. "Shirley?" She lifted the edge of the bedspread and looked under the
bed. "I'm so sorry I hurt you. I didn't mean to. My nasty temper kicked in."
Panicked now, she looked at the bedside table. Her eyes widened.
A beautiful flower, Sponderolas, if she remembered
correctly, sat in the spot where she usually placed Shirley. It was shaped like
a bell, its delicate petals a yellow splashed with tiny dots of pink and purple.
Its leaves were long, smooth and pale green, emphasizing the flower's fragile
elegance. The flower itself shone like the sunlight.
She touched a petal with one paw and felt a warm
feeling reach the rest of her body, her chest. Slowly, almost imperceptibly,
a smile spread across her face.