Chet Flash wuz here Circulation: 128,614,511 Issue: 257 | 15th day of Gathering, Y8
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Failing


by ruff_zette

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Claire was slumped at the counter of a small dusty shop, her head propped up on her cloven hoof. From outside (if you could see through the grimy windows) it would have looked as if she was counting the Neopoints in the cash register. She was actually asleep.

     The small bell hanging above the door tinkled and the little green Kau woke up immediately. "Hello," she said breathlessly. "Welcome to Hidden Treasures, the shop that's got all the..." She trailed off miserably when she saw her owner, Cher, standing in the doorway. She forced a smile onto her face. "Back from the bank?"

     Cher sat a small bag of Neopoints on the counter, and then suddenly burst into tears, running her hands through her dirty brown hair.

     Claire was rather alarmed. "Mum, what's wrong?"

     The teenager looked grimly at her pet, and then gestured to the money she had brought home. "That's it. We've got no more money. We don't even have a bank account anymore!"

     Claire bit her lip. "We'll be okay, Mum. The cash register! We'll have money in there! Enough to get us by at least." But her voice sounded hollow, and even she didn't believe her own words. They hadn't had a customer in two years. The little Kau pressed the button and the money drawer ground open.

     The only things in there were cobwebs, and a few little piles of dust. No money.

     Cher sighed. "Come on, Claire, let's go home." She flipped the little sign on the door from "open" to "closed" and the two walked home, both equally miserable.

     * * * * *

     Claire counted the last Neopoint, and then looked up at her mother. "Only three hundred and twenty-three. Does that mean we won't be able to buy me a new notebook and pencil?"

     "Honey, the ones you've got work fine..."

     "Okay." Other pets had been teasing Claire about her tatty notebook and pencil, but she didn't want to tell Cher about that. It would only make her worry more. "What's for dinner tonight?"

     "Whatever's in the cupboard," Cher drawled. "I'm not cooking tonight."

     Claire nodded. "I'll go look. Do you want something?" Her mother shook her head, just as she had predicted.

     The Kau flicked back her main and hunted through the cupboard. NeoCrunch, stale bread, icky fruit and some other things that she didn't even bother looking at. In the end, she just took the bread and bit into it. It was dry, and tasted awful, but she just kept eating it. After all, there wasn't anything else.

     After "dinner" Claire went to her room and lay in bed. It wasn't a particularly long walk - they only had four rooms in their house. Claire's room, Cher's room, the bathroom and the kitchen. And she doubted it would get any bigger.

      Why wasn't anything going right? Ah well, she had Neoschool to look forward to tomorrow...

     * * * * *

     Claire was eating her breakfast when Cher walked in. "What are you doing up so early?" she asked, looking quite surprised to see her Neopet.

     The Kau frowned. "I'm going to Neoschool, remember? The weekend is over now." She gave a small smile. "And I always get up early anyway."

     "Yes..." her owner muttered absently, stumbling to the cupboard. "Of course, Neoschool... How did I forget that..."

     Claire didn't want to be stuck in this house with the strange creature that her mother had become. She said a hurried goodbye, grabbed her bag and ran out the door. On the way to school she realised the cold, hard fact.

     They were failing. They were trapped in a rut, and they might never get out. It seemed so unfair. How could life be so cruel as to deal them a losing hand. Because they had always been unlucky. It had never been easy.

     "Well looky here! It's our good friend Claire!"

     A troop of pink Unis were coming towards her. Tiffany, who was at the front, spoke again. "I'm surprised to see you headed back to school. I thought you had to pay to come here. Maybe I could help." She smiled sweetly.

     Claire's heart skipped a beat. Tiffany was rich. And was she offering her money?

     "I'll say, triple what you've got now?" She pulled out her purse and Claire stared hopefully. "Maybe you'll be able to buy ten times the amount food you normally have. Ah, here we go!"

     Claire's mind screamed with rage as Tiffany waved the five Neopoints under her nose. How dare she. HOW DARE SHE!

     "Hey, watch it!" The Uni jumped aside as Claire lunged at her. "Look, I know you're excited but try to keep it in, okay?" And she and her band of followers ran off laughing cruelly.

     The Kau sat down on the ground and started crying. How could anybody be that mean? She couldn't go to school and face their taunts. She started walking miserably to the shop, because she knew Cher was working today.

     As the small grubby building came into her line of vision she felt a wave of relief. She was home free.

     * * * * *

     "Are you sure you don't have it for less? I mean, we don't have quite that much..."

     Cher had sent Claire to the shops to pick up a few things. But on their tight budget, there wasn't much she could afford to buy. Already several things had been crossed off the list as too expensive. The label on the Medicinal Soap was 33 000 NP.

     "Well what sort of price were you thinking of?" the Grrarl asked, a mocking smile curling across his mouth.

     "Um... Maybe, I don't know... th-thirty?" She bit her lip. Please, please, please...

     "What? Thirty Neopoints?" He threw back his head and laughed nastily. When he looked back at the Kau, he was angry. "Read the sign, Daisy!" he snarled. The label he was pointing at read 'Strictly no haggles, no exceptions.' "Now get out of my shop!" he bellowed.

     Claire ran as fast as she could, terrified. No-one had been that mean to her since a month ago when Tiffany had teased her with the money. She shouldn't have even tried. It was pointless trying to buy anything with less than 250 NP. She decided to go back to the shop. Maybe Cher could go after the groceries instead. She was more forceful.

     But Cher was in a bad mood, and was not pleased to see her pet come back empty handed. "I gave you a whole list! You mean you couldn't even get one thing?"

     "I'm sorry..." Claire mumbled. "I tried..."

     "Give me those." Cher took the bag of money from the Kau and started off down the street. "Watch the shop!" she yelled over her shoulder.

     * * * * *

     Claire stared out the filthy window, watching passers-by go about their business. No-one even looked in the direction of the little shop. She was just about to doze off when she heard someone talking, very close.

     "Customer!" she gasped, leaping to her feet. But then she saw that the voices were coming from just outside. She carefully pushed open the door and stepped outside. Some pets from school were standing there, the Unis among them.

     Also was a Gelert called Bane. Once Claire had thought he might like her, and had even considered sending him a Valentine's card. But he was popular. So she had given up all hope of that.

     "So we'll see you there. Fantastic." Tiffany gave a little wave to the other pets and then winked at the Gelert before walking away with her friends.

     Claire flinched, and was about to turn and run back into the shop, when something in her brain just snapped. "Where will they see you?" she asked. The moment the words came out of her mouth, she wanted to lie down and die. Everyone was looking at her.

     "Claire? Is that you?" Bane was looking straight at her. "Man, I haven't seen you in ages. You don't come to school anymore, do you? Well, er, we're going to the Concert Hall in Tyrannia to see the Twisted Roses." He paused. "Why don't you come?"

     "Yeah, definitely."

     He nodded. "Okay, cool. See you there." And then he and all his friends walked off down the street.

     Claire felt all knotted up inside. For the second time she had just let the words come out of her mouth. She had to set her lie right again.

     "Bane!" she yelled.

     The Gelert came back, a puzzled look on his face. "What's up?"

     "Actually, I can't go to the concert because... We're broke. We have about 220 Neopoints left. And that's it. Bye." She ran into the shop, and slammed the door. She snuck over and peered through the window. Bane stood there for a moment, looking dumbstruck, before running off after his friends.

     Claire sat down, feeling even worse than before. Now she was even more unpopular, if that was possible.

     * * * * *

     Claire's eyes fluttered open. Something felt wrong. She crawled out of bed and walked to the kitchen. There was no sign of Cher, but her tatty notebook was sitting there on the table.

     The Kau picked it up. The page was covered in messy writing and tear stains. It read:

     Claire,

     I've left. I can't handle living this way anymore. So goodbye Neopia, and goodbye my beloved pet. Good luck.

     Cher

     Claire stared at it. She'd been abandoned with barely over 200 NP, a tiny house and no food. Cher had done this to her. She had left her here to suffer. It was so unfair. So awful. So cruel.

     She set off for the shop.

     * * * * *

     It was sad to see the little building that she had loved so much closed up for good. The door was boarded. No-one would buy it and no-one would ever set foot in there again. Her eyes started to well up.

     "Claire?"

     "Bane!" She hurriedly wiped away her tears. "I thought you were going to the concert?"

     The Gelert shook his head. "You seemed a bit upset yesterday, and I thought I'd come and see if you were alright." He hesitated. "Are you?"

     "Actually, I'm not. My mother abandoned me, I just closed down my shop, and I'm about to put myself in the pound. So yeah, how're you going?"

     "I'm so sorry." Bane hugged her suddenly. "Don't worry, Claire; it'll be alright. You're strong. You'll survive." He smiled and brushed a tear of her face with his paw. And then he turned around and walked out of her life forever. Just like everyone else.

     Claire started walking slowly to the pound. It'll be alright. As if. And then she realised the cold, hard truth. They weren't failing anymore.

     They had failed.

The End

 
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