All It Takes
Slowly, shakily, Brianna the Shadow Kacheek edged forward,
running her hand along the hedge of her front garden for support. Right foot.
Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. I'm doing it! she thought. I'm walking!
Suddenly a dart of pain stabbed her lower back, and she collapsed on the soft
"Oh, Brianna, you're not still trying to walk,
are you?" her older brother, Tom, said.
Brianna twisted her head around. "I didn't notice
you were there."
"I'm too stealthy. But Brianna, give up, okay?
You're never going to walk again."
"I will," said Brianna through gritted teeth.
"The least you can do is be supportive. Help me up!"
Tom sighed. His strong hand gripped his sister's
forearm and he pulled her up. He followed Brianna, imitating her slow, erratic
stride. She whirled around. "Stop!" she shouted.
Tom backed away, grinning. "Sorry, sis. Fine,
you win, I'll stop bothering you for now. There are other Neopets to make fun
of. More fish in the sea!"
Brianna shook her head. Ignoring the throbbing
pain, she stretched her right foot out to take one more step. One more,
she willed herself. Just one more.
A jagged bolt of red-hot pain split her back
open, and her mind screamed with agony. Her vision went black around the edges,
and the world turned on its side as she fell onto the grass. The last thing
she felt was Tom's frightened, rapid heartbeat against her head as he tried
to shield her from the hurt.
"You can't climb to the top of that," scoffed
Tom. He and young Brianna were standing in the shade of a large Zeenana Tree
in the park.
Brianna squinted up at the silhouette that
stretched high into the sky, its bushy leaves covering almost the whole expanse.
"Wanna bet?" she said. "I can do anything."
Tom nodded towards the tree. "Fine. I dare you.."
Brianna spit into her palms and rubbed them
together for effect. She strode through the tall grass and gripped the tree's
rough bark. She hesitated.
"Go on!" said Tom.
Yet she didn't move.
"Chicken," he taunted.
And that was it. Brianna could never take having
her courage insulted. The bark cut into the palms of her hands as she pulled
herself up. Don't look down, she urged herself. But as she went higher and higher,
her confidence and bravery increased, and she twisted her head towards Neopia.
What she saw made her flinch, and her stomach
churn. She could see almost all of Neopia Central, the burger-shaped food shop;
the Money Tree, not nearly as tall as the Zeenana Tree she was perched upon.
But the sight of Tom, a small black speck against the swaying green grass, made
her realize exactly how high up she was.
And then it happened. As she was debating whether
to climb down and be teased by Tom, who could just fly up, or to keep going
and earn the right to rub it in his face, a particularly strong gust of wind
blew over Neopia Central. She pressed herself to the tree, now quaking with
fear, but as tight as she held on, she was powerless against the wind.
She let out a loud scream as she lost her hold,
gathering speed as she hurtled towards the ground, falling, falling, falling…
Brianna woke up suddenly, drenched in sweat,
tossing and turning with no notion of why she was doing so. Her owner, Jake,
was sitting at the foot of her bed, twiddling his thumbs and stealing quick,
anxious glances at Brianna.
She watched him for a while. His smooth golden-brown
hair acted like a curtain, almost sealing away his deep-set gray eyes that always
seemed to be laughing. There was no smile on his face, only a frown of worry.
That had happened a few times before, but his attitude was always easygoing
when Brianna was doing well and standing right beside him. Funny, isn't it,
thought Brianna, how two such opposite people can be closer than two Pea
Chias in a pod.
Jake noticed Brianna watching him, and his face
broke into a grin. "Hey sport. How're you feeling?"
The question triggered total recall. The brief
but joyous moment in which she had thought her life had reverted to the way
it was before the accident had vanished. Brianna didn't return the smile. She
flipped over on her side so Jake wouldn't see her cry. "I can never make it
past the hedge," she whispered.
Jake sighed. "Oh, Brianna," he said sympathetically.
He leaned against her. "I know how much you want to walk, but-"
"I will walk."
Jake opened his mouth to argue, but relented.
"If that's what you really want," he said. "But it'll be tough. Go for it, Brianna.
Your name means 'strong.' You can do it. And I'll be behind you every step of
Brianna nodded, grateful for the support. I
will walk, she thought. It wasn't just a statement.
It was more like a promise.
Brianna had heard of Fyora granting some Neopets'
grandest wishes. But over the years since her "mishap," Brianna had taught herself
not to believe in miracles, not to raise her hopes. She'd have to work hard
to be able to walk again.
It would be easier with her family's support.
Brianna could count on Jake. But Tom… Brianna shook her head.
"At it again, sis?" Tom sighed. He had just
come home from playing Feed Florg with his friends.
"Yes," Brianna muttered. Her foot gave way beneath
her as she said that and she stuffed her paw in her mouth so as to prevent the
world from hearing her scream of frustration.
Brianna rounded on him, her fierce eyes blazing.
"Shut up! Leave me alone! It's your fault that I'm hurt anyway! If you hadn't
dared me to climb the tree…"
Tom's face was wiped clean of all emotion. He
turned on his heel and vanished into the house.
Brianna had hit his soft spot. He had never
quite gotten over the fact that he (and a twist of fate and a bit of misfortune)
had been the cause of Brianna's accident. Brianna shrugged, feeling only a small
twist of guilt. He would have to get over it, just as she had.
And yet she hadn't, not quite. Dreams tortured
Brianna's sleep. Memories of the past haunted her. That night, as she began
to drift away, her dream started playing like a little movie…
Bright lights glared at Brianna as she opened
her eyes. She raised a hand to shield herself. She blinked a couple of times,
trying to figure out where on Neopia she was where the lights could possibly
be so bright, and where the air seemed so thick and smelled so sterile. Was
she on Kreludor?
"Where am I?" she asked, not expecting an
"The hospital," replied a voice she didn't quite
A figure leaned over her. "Brianna, it's me."
But Brianna didn't recognize the man.
He directed her eyes to his. The grey eyes seemed
so familiar, so warm, and something clicked. "Jake."
Jake nodded. "Yes, my treasure."
She furrowed her brow. He only ever called her
that when something was wrong. Very wrong. "Jake, what's happening?"
Jake looked miserable. "You fell off the Zeenana
tree after your brother Tom taunted you into it," he said, speaking slowly and
clearly. "Tom called me and we took you to the Neopian Hospital. You hurt your
Brianna waited, dreading the worst.
"You will never walk again."
Despite the unnerving dreams, Brianna kept struggling
to overcome her disability even after her owner had forbid her from doing so.
It had happened after another few attacks of
pain. Jake called her aside and told her with a sad face, "Brianna, my sweet.
You can't keep doing this. It breaks my heart to see you in pain."
"But Dad," Brianna whined. "I hate my wheelchair.
People stare at me and pity me and I hate that!" She began to cry, something
she had only done openly once.
Jake pulled her into a tight hug. "What we need
is a miracle."
Tom vanished into the shadows. What we need
is some clever thinking.
Brianna rubbed her eyes sleepily. Two weeks had
passed since her owner had forbid her from attempting to walk. Of course, she
had practiced behind his back, but because every morning he'd wait in the kitchen
for her, she'd need to use her wheelchair.
"Surprise!" Jake shouted as Brianna entered the
kitchen. "Happy birthday!"
Brianna was dumfounded. She couldn't believe
she had forgotten her own birthday. Normally she'd be melancholy. It was exactly
two years after the accident. But the sight of her owner standing in the doorway
with a huge grin on his face, his hair completely ruffled and wearing a lopsided
party hat, surprised her into laughter.
Normally Tom would be melancholy, too. This was
the day his conscience tortured him to no end. However, he was content, but
not for the same reason as Brianna. He had a little secret.
"Eat up!" Jake presented Brianna with the syrup-drenched
Hot Cakes grandly. Jake helped Brianna out of her wheelchair, and Tom rushed
to help, too. He had reluctantly landed on the decision to be nice to her on
her special day, out of the sliver of kindness in his heart. Well, not completely.
He'd also have something to hold against her later.
Brianna pulled away. "I can do it myself," she
said stubbornly. She stabbed at her pancakes, trying to eat slowly to savor
her favorite food, but not being able to resist gobbling them down in a few
Brianna's plate empty, Jake exclaimed, "Presents!"
and rushed off to retrieve them from their hiding place. Tom also disappeared.
Brianna looked after him curiously, not quite able to believe that he had brought
her a present. Soon Tom and Jake returned, Jake carrying an armload of neatly-wrapped
presents, and Tom a small, oddly shaped package that looked like it had been
wrapped in an old issue of the Neopian Times.
"I'll open Tom's first," Brianna said.
But her brother shook his head, eyes twinkling.
"You'll open this one last."
"Fine," said Jake, setting a present in front
of Brianna and blowing a Red Kazoo. "Let the unwrapping begin!"
"Okay, now your present," Brianna said to Tom, shoving
the gifts Jake had given her, which were great but predictable, across the table.
Tom placed the package in front of Brianna,
who laid a paw on it, feeling its strange shape. She looked at Tom and the Fire
Scorchio grinned and winked, his eyes twinkling. "Go on, open it," he urged.
Brianna was already tearing off the paper, overcome
with curiosity. She stared at the object standing in the pile of shredded newspaper.
It was a glass jug filled with light brown liquid. She watched as blue wings
unfurled and flapped gently. Brianna swallowed and her eyes grew wide. "A Blue
Pteri Morphing Potion?" she said in disbelief.
Tom nodded, grinning even more than he had when
he had led Brianna to believe Jelly World was real. "Yes. My friends chipped
in some money so I could buy it. It took a long time of playing Games and all
my allowance…" Tom shook his head. "Of course, Jake chipped in, too, but he
didn't know what the money was for. And no, we didn't have to steal anything,"
Tom added hastily at the accusing look on his sister's face.
Jake laughed. "Well, well, well. So that's what
you used the money for. You told me it was for some more Battledome equipment."
"But why?" Brianna asked. "I like being a Kacheek."
"Since Pteris have different bones than Kacheeks,
when you drink the potion, the bones will be replaced, and your back will be
healed," murmured Jake, suddenly serious.
Without another moment's hesitation Brianna
uncorked the bottle and raised it to her lips. The liquid sloshed against her
mouth but she kept it closed, peering through the glass at the expectant faces
of Jake and Tom.
But should she drink it?
Yes, said a voice in her head. You'll
But it will make you seem weak, argued
the arrogant side of her.
You'll be able to walk and even fly!
You'll lose your reputation.
If you don't drink it, Tom will be really
Yeah, well, what do you care more about,
Tom or your reputation?
Brianna felt guilty for taking a couple of moments
to think before she decided Tom's feelings were more important. She opened her
mouth before she could change her mind, and sweet, blueberry flavored liquid
ran down her throat. She drained the bottle in one gulp and set it on the table.
Suddenly Brianna felt a strange sensation. She
held up her paws and watched them grow longer and sprout feathers. Her mouth
became a beak, which she clicked experimentally. Her ears shrank to become holes
in her head, not visible behind all the soft, blue feathers. But the weirdest
feeling happened in her lower back.
Little sparks, like fireworks, exploded on her
back. She turned her head around and saw the sparks jumping down her spine,
crackling and whistling. She felt all the ripped muscle in her back tie together,
the broken bones become glued.
And then it was over. Now for the big moment.
She raised her orange, three-toed foot and slid
of the chair. When her feet touched the cold floor, she expected to collapse,
and clearly so did Jake, as he was poised ready to catch her. But she didn't
fall. She wiggled her claws and took a deep breath. She took a step. Her eyes
widened. She flapped her new wings and flew out the window. Left foot. Right
foot. Left foot. Right foot. As she walked, her feeling of ecstasy grew. She
sighed joyfully. She had made it past the hedge.
Author's Note: Comments appreciated!