Sanity is forbidden Circulation: 126,511,783 Issue: 256 | 8th day of Gathering, Y8
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Needed Adventure: Part Three


by tdyans

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As the faint light of dawn broke over the junkyard, the homeless Neopets woke to find Dantam waiting to tell them what had transpired the night before. After the shadow Gelert had finished his story, the other pets headed out into the streets of Neopia Central as they always did to perform their daily duties, but a somber mood seemed to blanket them all.

     Dantam headed outside of the junkyard also. The homeless pets walked quietly past, looking up worriedly at their leader as he went to sit atop the small, grassy hill that stood just outside the gate. The junkyard was home to Dantam; by now he could hardly imagine any other. But it was also home to dozens of other Neopets. So, when Dantam needed to be alone, he went up to the top of the hill. Everyone knew not to disturb him when he was up there-- everyone except one.

     Tessa approached Dantam slowly, sitting down by his side and laying her sky blue head against his dark shoulder. "Hey," she said quietly.

     Dantam sighed and bowed his head, closing his eyes in a refusal to meet the gentle blue of hers. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

     "Sorry for what?"

     "I'm sorry for... for filling Enzo's head with silly stories... for letting him stay here instead of finding him a real home like I should have... for not knowing that he felt this way, for not even seeing this coming." He shook his head at himself and finally looked up into Tessa's face. "I'm sorry for everything, Tessa. It's all my fault, and now it's too late and the only thing I can do is be sorry, because... because... he's gone." He turned his face away from her again as tears seeped slowly down his cheeks.

     But Tessa nudged him with her nose, forcing him to look at her once more. "Dantam, stop blaming yourself. Fathers and sons never see eye to eye forever.... But they can never really keep from carrying a part of each other, whether they want to or not. You've taught Enzo well, even if he doesn't realize it. Maybe there are some lessons that he just needs to learn on his own now, but I know that he'll be fine. And someday, someday he'll be back."

     Dantam sniffed, wiping a paw across his damp face, allowing his heart a little peace from the comfort in her words. "He's so stubborn," he said, smiling faintly. "Just like you."

     Tessa smirked. "Just like you, too. I guess he can hardly help it when it comes from both sides of the family."

     "Aren't you worried, Tessa?"

     "Of course I'm worried, Dantam; I'm his mother. But as his mother, I also hope for the best. And that's really the only thing that either of us can do right now."

     Dantam allowed his smile to grow a little more. "I guess you're right."

     "As always," Tessa said smugly, laying one of her paws over his.

     Dantam actually chuckled at that, and nodded, but his smile slowly faded as he turned his gaze from Tessa and looked out over the streets of the city.

     He sighed. "I wonder where he is...."

     ***

     Enzo ambled down the faintly lit streets of Neopia Central, alternating between smiling excitedly and frowning at the whoot who was trying desperately to keep up with him. "Whooter, I told you-- just leave me alone!"

     "And I told you," Whooter panted, "I'm not going anywhere until you come to your senses and return home!"

     Enzo spun around so that Whooter nearly crashed into his scowling face. "I'm not gonna be cooped up in that boring old junkyard all my life. My dad just... doesn't understand what it's like to be young any more. He got to have all sorts of fun and adventures, so why shouldn't I?"

     Whooter sighed. "Your father never went out looking for trouble, you know. In fact, that's the most ridiculous idea I've ever heard."

     "Aw, whadda you know?" Enzo turned back around and started walking again.

     Whooter swooped around in front of his face before he could get very far. "I know you. I was there the day you were born, you kn--"

     "I know, I know. Not this again." Enzo rolled his eyes, sweeping past the whoot.

     Whooter continued undaunted, flapping after him. "And I know that you haven't a clue of how to take care of yourself alone out here on the streets."

     "I can take care of myself just fine," Enzo insisted, swiping at him with one paw so that the whoot barely escaped being thwacked.

     Whooter frowned but kept his composure. "You don't know where you are right now."

     Enzo frowned back, unable to answer for a moment. Finally, he smiled triumphantly. "Ha, doesn't matter! That's just part of the adventure! Yep, exploring new places, taking care of myself instead of having everything handed to me for once-- this is going to be a bla--"

     Enzo's sentence was cut short as he rounded a corner and a large net fell over him. With a yelp, he was scooped up into the air, and he found himself face to face with a yellow Techo with scruffy gray hair-- a character who he knew all too well from his father's stories.

     Dr. Death squinted at the slack-jawed young Gelert for a moment and scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Hmmm... you look familiar somehow...." He shrugged his lab-coat-clad shoulders and tossed Enzo into the back of the pound wagon that was waiting patiently by the curb.

     Enzo sat in the back of the wagon, stunned, and watched as the doors were slammed closed. Suddenly, he heard a muffled sound from under his rump: "Em-vooo...geddoff!" He stood dazedly and watched as Whooter, who'd apparently gotten caught up in the net as well, fluttered gracelessly out from underneath him with a glare. Enzo stared at him for a few moments, until he felt the wagon suddenly jolt forward and then begin to make its way down the empty streets.

     As if finally realizing all that had just happened, Enzo hurried to the tiny, barred windows in the back doors of the wagon, bracing his front paws against the sill of one and staring out. This was the part in his father's story where Uncle Feruli and Aunt Silviana came running after the pound wagon to save the day! His heart raced and eyes gleamed in anticipation, but no sight of fur and feathers appeared, no sound of claws beating against the ground met his anxious ears. The streets were hopelessly bare and silent as Enzo saw yard after yard of empty pavement pass beneath them. His long ears began to droop.

     As if reading his thoughts, Whooter spoke up from where he sat sulking at the back of the wagon. "They're not coming. You may be the spitting image of your father, but it seems you didn't inherit his luck."

     ***

     The lights inside the pound were dimmed in deference to the late hour, but this did not keep a few curious eyes from following the new pet as he was led down the hallway by Dr. Death. "Here you go," the Techo said, opening the door to one of the pens and shuffling Enzo and Whooter inside. "Don't worry," Dr. Death said as he swung the door closed. "You're not likely to be here long-- not with a nice coat like that, not to mention a petpet."

     He didn't hear Whooter's indignant "Hmph!" as he turned and headed back down the hallway to fill out more endless paperwork.

     "Dantam! Is that you?" a low female voice asked.

     Before Enzo could even turn to see who had spoken, the pets sharing the pen with him had crowded around him, and those in the surrounding pens pressed against the chain-link and squinted through the dim light to get a look at him. Curious and excited whispers flew through the air, and all that Enzo could make out amongst them was the word "Dantam" spoken over and over again with a sort of reverence.

     A green Meerca shoved his way to the front and looked Enzo over with a skeptical eye before proclaiming, "That's not Dantam, you lunkhead! Look at that!" he jabbed one paw into the white birthmark on Enzo's chest.

     "Sorry," said the red Grarrl who had spoken first, hanging her head as the other pets dispersed, muttering in annoyance at being roused for nothing. "I just saw a shadow Gelert, and.... Are you sure it's not him?"

     "Of course I'm sure," the Meerca replied with a roll of his eyes, his voice dripping with disdain. "I seen him before!"

     "No you haven't!"

     "Have so! Yeah... and I even uh, talked to him, too. He asked me to be his right-hand Meerca, but I had to turn him down, see?"

     The Grarrl looked confused. "Really? Why?"

     "Aw, I told him I got better things to do, ya know?"

     "Hmph!" Whooter huffed quietly from beside Enzo. "Oh yes, better things... like sitting in the pound all day spinning lies."

     The Meerca and Grarrl cut their conversation short and turned to look at Enzo, thinking it was him they had heard speak. "Hey, kid," the Meerca said, "welcome to the Pound. This is Pen Number 1027, and I'm in charge, get it?"

     "Uh, hi," Enzo finally spoke. "I'm Enzo." He smiled shakily and held out a paw, but neither pet moved to take it.

     The Grarrl licked her chops, eyes gleaming a little, as she spotted Whooter. "My, that's a fat little whoot. He looks... delicious."

     She took a step forward, but Enzo quickly placed himself between her and Whooter. "Hey! He's mine."

     The Grarrl shuffled back a few steps, looking apologetic. "Sorry about that. I just forgot myself.... We don't get much variety in our food around here, you know."

     "Nor nearly enough food for tubby here," the Meerca said with a sneer. "She eats all the food and the bowls every day-- I'm sure she's starting to cost the Neopian taxpayers a pretty Neopoint!"

     While the Grarrl growled at the Meerca, Whooter was bristling as well. "I am NOT hi--"

     Enzo quickly smothered Whooter's beak with one paw as the Grarrl and Meerca stopped their face-off to stare curiously at the petpet. After a tense moment, the Meerca spoke. "Sure is a squawky little fella, ain't he?"

     Enzo chuckled stiffly. "Heh, yeah, he sure is." The other two pets continued to stare for a few moments and then finally both shrugged and turned back to glaring at each other. Enzo turned to Whooter, whose feathers were now standing straight on end.

     "I am NOT your petpet," he hissed through a clenched beak. "I am not anyone's petpet. I am--"

     Enzo rolled his eyes and whispered back, "I know that! But free petpets are free game. You want her to eat you?" Whooter looked over at the Grarrl, then back at Enzo, and his feathers began to settle back down. He crossed his claws huffily, silently and reluctantly admitting defeat.

     Enzo turned again toward the Grarrl and Meerca, clearing his throat. "Um, excuse me, but I was just wondering... how do you guys know my dad?"

     "Your dad?" the Meerca asked, scratching his ear and wrinkling his nose in confusion before realization finally dawned on his round face. "Oh! Dantam's your dad, kid? Well, that explains the resemblance!"

     "Everybody knows Dantam," the Grarrl said matter-of-factly. "But... what's Dantam's son doing in the pound?"

     "Yeah," the Meerca said, looking confused again. "Your old man'd never get caught in a million years! What happened, kid?"

     Enzo scowled. "I don't believe you two have answered my question yet."

     "Well, for once this bottomless pit is right, kid. Everybody knows who Dantam is-- at least everybody around here."

     "Yeah, Dantam's a hero." The Grarrl's voice filled with awe. Enzo noticed that their discussion was slowly drawing in another small crowd, and the pets gathering around nodded their heads and murmured their agreement.

     "A hero?"

     "Sure, kid! Don't you know-- your pop finds homes for pets like us all the time."

     "That's right," a bedraggled Kyrii spoke up from the crowd. "I was on my way to find him when I got caught and taken here." Another murmur of agreement traveled through the crowd as various pets shared their stories of trying to make their way to Dantam or convince their old owners to take them to him instead of the pound.

     "But you can find owners here, too, can't you?" Enzo asked.

     "Nah," the Meerca spoke again, waving a paw. "I mean, ya can, if you're young and strong or painted or rare or have a good name. That's what all the humans who come here seem to want."

     "But if you're an old, weak, plain Grarrl named...." The Grarrl trailed off.

     "Dungita!" the Meerca finished for her with a snicker.

     The Grarrl growled. "Well, at least my name can be pronounced," she shot back. "You can't even say yours."

     "Sure I can!" the Meerca said defensively. "It's, uh, 147, er, 82jk...." The Grarrl stuck her tongue out at him as he trailed off, and for once the Meerca didn't seem to have a comeback. Instead, he continued. "See kid, pets like us, we just get swept aside for the fancy ones that everyone wants. Eventually, we'll be forgotten and left behind... and probably spend the rest of our lives in this place."

     "Hey, at least you're fed regularly and have four walls around you in here," said a young Kau. "There's no telling what kind of home we'll end up in for those of us who do get owners-- especially owners who are just looking for 'special' pets."

     "Yeah," cried a muscular but weary-looking buzz, "the last owner I had never fed me or played with me-- just fought me in the Battledome until he found someone stronger and dumped me again. I've been in and out of this place so many times, most of the time I just wish I could stay. I'm tired of hoping the next person will actually care...."

     "But that's what's special about your dad, kid," the Meerca said, turning to Enzo again. "Why, he's a miracle-worker! I don't doubt for a second he could find an owner-- and an honest-to-goodness good owner-- for every pet in this place!"

     Shouts of agreement and praise for Dantam rose up from the Neopets all around Enzo, and he noticed that his father's name seemed to excite some sort glimmer of hope in the faces of these pets who looked as though they'd lost all reason for hope long ago.

     ***

     The pound pets stayed up a while longer, telling stories that they'd heard about Dantam or bragging that they'd actually seen him or known someone who did once upon a time. Little by little, the crowd began to disperse, though, and they headed one by one back to their own corners of the pen, curled up, and went to sleep.

     Enzo had watched and listened curiously and silently the whole time. Now he lay down on the cold, hard floor of the pound and felt a sudden, quick pang of homesickness at the memory of the soft, worn blanket that was his bed back in the junkyard. But he dared not mention this to Whooter, who fluttered down to the ground at that moment and leaned against the Gelert's shoulder.

     "Well, these Neopets certainly seem to think the world of your father, don't they?"

     "Hmph, they'd just rather see anyone other than Dr. Death's ugly mug every day, that's all."

     "Enzo--"

     "You know how I can tell they don't know what they're talking about, Whooter?" Enzo continued. "They called my dad a hero. A hero's gotta go out and do heroic things-- not just sit around a junkyard and talk about responsibility all day."

     Whooter shook his head, but didn't bother arguing with the young Gelert. Instead, he just closed his eyes and drifted into dreams of Enzo coming to his senses and heading home.

     Enzo too was descending slowly into sleep, muttering to himself as his eyelids drooped, "Maybe... he's a hero... once... not 'n'more.... But I... I'll be, I'll be...."

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Needed Adventure: Part One
» Needed Adventure: Part Two
» Needed Adventure: Part Four



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