This is the sequel to "Failing"
so I would suggest you read that first.
The tall thin woman followed the pink Uni through the
dismal corridor of the pound, a tiny Faerie Usul clinging to her bony hand.
Bella stopped in front of a cell and flicked
her mane. "Ok, Cynthia, here's our next pet." In the cell, a skinny green Kau
was curled up in the corner. Through the shadows, she appeared to be asleep.
The woman shook her head, throwing a distasteful
glance at the pet. Her Usul screwed up her nose. "She's yucky!"
Bella sighed and continued down the corridor.
She pitied that pet, but at least she had been asleep and hadn't seen or heard
the harsh reaction of the woman that had just rejected her.
Claire was actually awake, but she didn't care
about the opinion of Cynthia or her bratty pet. She was actually relieved not
to have been forced into that awful family. She drew in a painful breath, that
hurt her obvious ribs, then released it in a heavy sigh.
She was the pet most pitied by the pound's staff.
She had been here months, and no-one had showed the slightest bit of interest
in the lifeless Kau.
"You know, if you showed a bit of energy, people
might be a bit more tempted to adopt you." The blue Zafara in the cell opposite
her was leaning on the bars. He shrugged. "Just a suggestion, of course."
"What's the point?" Claire muttered. She rolled
over on her stone bed and closed her eyes.
"So that you can stop this thing that you seem
to call 'living' and go get a real life."
A tear rolled down the Kau's face. The Zafara
didn't understand. She wanted to do that more than anything else. It just wasn't
that easy. She curled up into a tighter ball. Please, she thought,
let him leave me alone.
He did, but then Claire felt even more alone.
She almost found herself wishing that she could go back in time, back to when
Cher was here and they were still failing, not yet having failed.
But no. That was even worse, and Claire never
wanted to see Cher again.
She rolled back over. The Zafara was still looking
at her. "Just go. Don't bother waiting. Today, tomorrow, now. Whatever, just
Claire sat up a bit. "Go? What do you mean?"
He raised his eyebrows. "Escape. Break out. Whatever
you want to call it. Seriously, I don't think you'll last too much longer in
here. They won't go after you if you do. They all feel sorry for you."
Claire shook her head and brushed away her tears
with a cloven hoof. "I can't."
The Zafara smiled. "I knew you'd say that. So
I'll help you, Claire."
The Kau frowned. "How did you know my name?"
"I hear them talking about you all the time.
You're well-known around here, you know. I am too, even though I just came here
a week ago. Joss, just so you know."
"Why did you get abandoned?" Claire asked, more
interested than she'd been in a long time.
"I didn't. I ran away, a long time ago. A year,
probably. My Dad wanted to move away, but I didn't want to leave my friends.
I went back a few days later, and he was gone. I didn't expect that, so I was
in shock for a while. I stole for a living, until I got caught, and put in here.
I've escaped thirteen times in total; I just keep getting caught. How about
Claire looked away. "I don't really want to talk
Joss didn't persist, he just nodded. He didn't
understand Claire's past, but he understood her need to keep it locked away.
"We're going to bust out tonight, I think. So prepare yourself."
* * * * *
Joss's head was through the bars, and his big,
bright eyes stared up the corridor. Finally, Doctor Death shut the door and
continued his conversation with Bella. "Ok..." the Zafara whispered. "I'm coming
to get you."
Claire watched as Joss edged his way along, pressing
his paw carefully against each bar he passed. One shifted a little in its socket
as he pushed it. He smiled and tightened his grip. He moved the bar around for
a few minutes, very focused on his task, and finally it came loose. He placed
it gently on the floor then slipped through the gap.
"Ready?" he asked as he approached Claire's cell.
He looked into her eyes, his gaze intense.
Claire stopped. This wasn't just a little decision,
this was big. Thoughts whirred around her head; finally she focused on her heart
instead. There was one obvious feeling there. She nodded.
Joss dug his claws under a grimy tile and peeled
it backwards to reveal the damp earth beneath. He began digging, scattering
clumps of decaying dirt across the floor as he worked.
The Kau shook her head in disbelief. "How do
you know all this so well?"
"I told you I'd broken out thirteen times before,
didn't I? I know the pound as well as Doctor Death himself does." He flicked
his hair out of his face and continued to work until he was underground completely.
Claire watched anxiously, fearing that the tunnel
might collapse on him, or that someone might suddenly burst through the door.
She noticed a pair of awestruck eyes watching through the darkness, but the
pet nodded. The secret would be kept safe.
She jumped in surprise as the tile beneath her
hooves started to move. She stared at it until it separated from the ground
completely. Joss's mud-streaked face was grinning up at her. "Ok, now just follow
me." He disappeared again, but this time Claire gingerly followed.
She felt a little suffocated as she crawled through
the narrow tunnel, everything completely black. But after a sharp u-turn, the
square of dim light at the end became visible. She pulled herself out. She rubbed
dirt out of her eyes and looked around. Joss was already attacking the ground
in his cell. Claire followed him as he went deeper.
The underground journey was longer this time,
but it was reassuring to hear the scraping of Joss digging. Occasionally, she
would panic and try to crawl out backwards, but a slight touch from Joss's paw
calmed her down again.
It seemed forever before the Kau emerged, gasping,
onto the cool grass. She breathed in the sweet night air. She had forgotten
how clean and fresh the outside world felt. It was the most beautiful feeling.
* * * * *
"Claire, wake up," Joss said softly. "The pound
opens in an hour; we have to get out of here before everyone starts arriving."
Claire sat up. The sky was starting to light
up with the morning sun. She pulled herself to her feet and followed the Zafara
out into Neopia Central. All the things she had once taken for granted now looked
"Well." Joss looked around. "We're free now...
what do you want to do?"
Claire closed her eyes. "I want to go to my shop."
* * * * *
The two pets sat, looking through the clear window
at the life inside. A handsome teenager was laughing as he stacked things on
the shelf, while a Wocky and a Bori, quite obviously best friends, sipped enormous
Claire's tears were forming a glistening puddle
on the ground. She had always wanted that life. Joss looked at her through sympathetic
eyes. "Are you going to tell me why you were in the pound?"
The Kau sighed. "I used to live with my owner,
Cher. We were always the unlucky family. We never had much money, so we never
bought nice things. Back then, I always thought I was happy, but now I realise
that I was just trying to be happy. There was only really one good thing in
my life. This shop. We never had a customer, and I don't think we ever would've.
Then things got really bad - we had less than 250 NP. When I got up one morning,
Cher was gone. I closed up my shop and I... I put myself in the pound."
Joss pulled her into a hug. "I'm so sorry-"
A Gelert stood behind her, a pink Uni beside
him. Tiffany was clutching a large bunch of balloons and an ice cream cone,
and was standing very close to the other pet.
"Bane!" Claire stared at the Gelert.
Bane looked surprised. "I haven't seen you in
months! Did you get adopted? This must be your new brother!"
Claire wanted to impress Bane. She wanted to
lie, tell him she'd been adopted to a rich family, who had bought back her old
shop. That this was her brother. But then she looked at her friend's face. He
knew what she wanted to do, and he was going to let her.
"No. I did not get adopted. I broke out of the
pound, with the help of my best friend, Joss. Who, by the way, has shown more
compassion, and been more supportive of me than you ever were."
Tiffany screwed up her nose. "Eeewww! You're
out of the pound? That's disgusting!" She linked her foreleg through the Gelert's.
"Come on, Bane, let's get away from these filthy street rats." Bane followed
her away without a fuss, and didn't even look back.
But Claire didn't care about that. She grinned
at Joss, who returned the look.
And only then, did she know the meaning of success.