The Hoarders: Part Seven
Kannice grew to loathe her bandage. It absorbed all the rain that fell on it, and left her face dripping and heavy. Her aching paws slid all over the muddy, slippery road. She shivered, and wished for her warm jackets.
The street was still very busy, despite the weather, and Kannice could see people coming out of the Food Shop, putting up a variety of umbrellas as they stepped out into the rain. The Kougra wondered if her mother had gotten rid of her Royal umbrella yet.
The people did not seem terribly stressed or excited and this made Kannice nervous. There was a robbery; shouldn’t there be a lot of commotion? She ran and stood in front of a Lenny who was following his father. He looked a little confused, and tried to walk around her, but found she was blocking his way.
“Uh... Can I help you?”
“I hope so. Were you here when there was a robbery?”
“No. No I wasn’t, sorry.” He sidestepped and ran away, still looking somewhat alarmed.
Kannice stepped diagonally and was standing in front of her next victim. “What do you know about today’s robbery?” she demanded. “I need to know everything. Time, who was involved... Tell me everything.”
The woman shifted uncomfortably, startled by the sudden interrogation. “Today, you say? Well, I wasn’t here. It was few hours ago now. A pet was caught and taken to the pound. A... A Lupe, I think? I’m not sure. Sorry.” She shuffled away too, but threw a few frightened glances back.
The pound. That was where she needed to go. But she wasn’t going alone.
* * * * *
“Please, be quiet...” The Hoarders were unbelievably loud, and did not seem in any hurry to quiet down. They weren’t even listening to each other, let alone this quiet newcomer.
Strine sighed. “They’ll never listen.” He looked around the room for a minute, then something dawned in his eyes. “Go up there,” he suggested, pointing at Cane’s platform with a hooked talon.
“I... I don’t think...” Surely no one was allowed on Cane’s platform. But then again, hadn’t he let Kannice sleep on his elevated bed, superior to all the other pets? An, even though he always worked alone, hadn’t he made an exception for her? She took a deep breath.
Everyone went silent as soon as she stepped up onto the podium that had only ever been open to Cane. Except, of course, for a few angry and confused mutterings of “What does she think she’s doing?”
“Now, I know this is unexpected...” She shifted her feet anxiously, and glanced around with her good eye. How was she going to tell them this? She hadn’t even told Treal or Flarren or anybody yet. “But... Cane...” Tears started pouring down her face. The saltiness of them made her bandaged eye sting, and this only made her cry even more. “Cane was caught.”
There were gasps from all around the room, and a few outraged cries. Some pets sat there looking shocked, while others snorted disbelievingly.
Kannice stepped slowly down from the platform.
“It’s not possible!” Treal hissed through gritted teeth. “There’s no way they could have caught Cane! They have been trying for years, ever since he first started living on the streets, but no one has ever done it. The only way anyone could catch Cane is if he wanted them to.”
* * * * *
The afternoon was for planning. They had wasted hours already while Kannice had been asleep, and she didn’t want to waste any more. Cane needed them, and it hadn’t taken them long to realise that they needed him too.
As it turned out, Strine had broken out of the pound four times already, and knew it like he knew his own name. “This is the back exit...” He was drawing up a rough map. “But we won’t use that, because that’s such an obvious thing to do. If you REALLY want to slip in unnoticed, you’ll go through here...” He drew a circle on the smudged and tattered piece of paper. “That’s the side entrance. No one uses that; it’s like an emergency door.” He looked up at Kannice. “Are you really sure you want to do this? It won’t be easy.”
The Kougra nodded. She tried to hold her tears in, since they caused her so much pain. She buried her face in her paws then looked up, determined. “So how many should we position here?”
The Eyrie frowned in thought. “About five, and then maybe the same at the back door? For backup, of course. We’ll have three go inside. And a couple more for distracting the security. And... and Dr. Death.”
Everyone sat in silence. The thought of this seemed so terrifying. Kannice suffered the anxiety more than any of them. It was her second day as one of the Hoarders, and she was already plotting to break a pet out of the pound? She buried her head in her paws. Why her? Surely this could have happened to some other pet?
Kannice almost cried, but she couldn’t. Nothing came out. She wondered if fate was keeping her strong, or maybe she had just dried out her tearducts. How were they supposed to do this anyway? All they had was a map built from Strine’s mind, and a whole bunch of pets who had been raised stealing for a living. Not exactly the ideal rescue team. Or...
“You!” Kannice was the first to speak in quite a while, and everyone jumped, but none as much as the pet she was pointing at. “You’ve robbed a shop before, haven’t you? Broken in, caused a diversion, and stolen what you wanted?”
The pet nodded slowly, and Kannice turned to the next pet. “How about you? You?” Slowly she worked her way around the room, and everyone was nodding, their faces a mixture of confusion and alarm. “Well.” Kannice smiled. “Will someone kindly explain to me how this is any different?”
* * * * *
Kannice padded through the dark streets. Her head was still weighed down by the rain-soaked bandage, but she just did her best to ignore it. Her heart was pounding so loudly she couldn’t even hear the footsteps of the pets she was leading. Not so much for fear of failing, more for fear of letting them all down. Especially Cane. Especially herself.
“Okay, here.” Nariah pointed, and Kannice directed the rest of the group towards the pound. They had decided it would be better to work in smaller groups, rather than one big one. The leader of each group was going to be one of the pets who would actually be getting Cane out.
Flarren, Treal and Kannice were those pets. Their second-in-commands, Pyro, Shantiya and Nariah, would be distracting the authorities in the pound. The other pets, outside and backup, would be directed by Strine, who was leader of the mission.
Speaking of Strine, Kannice caught sight of the Eyrie’s silhouette, hidden in the shadows of the trees that skirted the edge of the plaza. “Okay,” Kannice whispered, “go to Strine, and you’ll be directed to your positions.”
The members of her group slipped away into the darkness, and Kannice felt herself shaking. “Good luck.”
Nariah shook herself, and scattered water into the air, but it was quickly dissolved into the rain, only to wind up back on the Xweetok again. She turned to the other pet. “So... Are we ready to go?”
Kannice nodded slowly, then woke up to herself again. “Yes. Yes, let’s go.”
* * * * *
You couldn’t even see the other pets, unless your eyes were used to the dark. And even then, you had to squint carefully just to see the glint of light catching on an eye, or the shifting of a body.
Flarren was shifting nervously from side-to-side, and Treal had his tail twisted around so he could chew on it. Kannice felt like she was going to throw up, faint, wake up, and die of a heart attack. All at the same time.
They were crouched under a bush, with the side entrance in perfect view. Two other pets had been sent to suss out whether there were any lights on, voices heard from inside the building and so on. Then those pets would signal to another pet, who would signal to five other pets, who would go to different sides of the building and signal to everyone else. That was the signal Kannice was waiting for.
They had been sitting there for forty-five minutes. Her legs were numb, and she was so bored that she was tempted to run down and break into the pound herself, signal or no signal.
But she didn’t. Cane was depending on them, and there was no way that any of them could ever be forgiven if they messed this up.
A tiny flash of movement caught Kannice’s attention. She squinted through the darkness. A Nimmo appeared, only just visible. He began stomping his foot on the ground. Which foot? She stared with her good eye until it felt like it was going to fall out. It was his left foot! That was the signal that everything was alright!
After the Nimmo disappeared, the three pets came creeping out. Kannice knew, or hoped, that the other pets were moving into their positions. If they weren’t, this could fail, and it would have all been for nothing.
Treal took a grip on the handle. He began turning it, but was met with a rattling sound. The door was locked. The Wocky looked at them desperately. Kannice’s heart was sinking. They had done everything right, not a single mistake, but it had all been for nothing anyway.
Flarren started fiddling with the door handle, her face more intent than it had ever been. Then she started scratching at the wood. Kannice and Treal stared in horror. Surely someone would hear her, and they would all be caught?
Suddenly, the door handle came away from the door. And not just the handle, but everything attached to it as well. And that included the lock. Now there was nothing keeping the door closed anymore. Flarren gave it the slightest of nudges, and it fell silently open. The three walked in, and in that single second, all the pride and happiness in their minds was overcome by fear.
* * * * *
They padded silently through the corridors. Kannice was terrified out of her mind, but she still couldn’t help feeling a little pleased with herself and her friends, for having achieved so much already. But that feeling was not to last.
The crash was so loud that all three pets coiled over, paws over their ears. It was almost painful. Kannice looked around. None of them had touched anything. Nothing near them seemed to be broken at all.
Another sound followed it. A sound of scurrying feet, and a louder, hollow clacking noise. Three figures came tearing around the corner, and the two groups both released screams of horror.
Followed by wheezes of laughter. “Oh wow...” Pyro gasped. “Your faces! You looked so...” He gave another cough of laughter.
“Oh yeah?” Treal panted. “You just about died of a heart attack!”
They all stood there catching their breath for a minute. Kannice looked up. “What happened? That noise...”
“That,” Shantiya hissed, “was because of Nariah. She tripped, and knocked over a filing cabinet.”
They all laughed for a moment longer, and then even more after Nariah’s indignant protests. But, naturally, that ended when the light came on.
* * * * *
The light was a few rooms away, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying. Kannice could hear muffled voices too, and from the sound of it, quite a few people. She wanted to scream. To run terrified out of the building, and keep running until she was so lost that she’d never find her way back here again.
They all glanced at each other, and they knew this was it. There was no way they could get out of this now. Kannice’s tearducts must have been working, because she felt the familiar sting coming back in her bandaged eye.
Slowly, Pyro took a step forward. Then another. His steps grew quicker, until he was walking at a normal pace, and then faster. He kept going. He was trotting, running now. He ran directly toward the light.
“No!” Flarren screamed in whispers. She kicked off the ground, and propelled forward, her wings flapping. She was travelling about the same speed as Pyro, when the Uni ran directly into the wall.
The crash was deafening, and the muffled voices were now screaming. Pyro staggered to his feet, then set off galloping down the hallway. Flarren paused outside the doorway that was spilling the light out. She flapped around and did backflips, before streaming away into the darkness.
People and pets came running out of the room. Most looked bleary-eyed and confused. A bright pink Uni stood stomping her feet. Kannice knew she must have been stressed, but it seemed to her that she was throwing a tantrum.
Nariah dashed around Kannice and sped away, winding between people’s legs. She kicked up a bit of dust with her hind legs, then ran away. The Uni buried her face in her hooves.
“Quickly!” someone yelled. “After them – hurry!”
They started chasing the pets, when they all seemed to be falling over for no particular reason. Just tripping over themselves and falling into a massive pile. Kannice cocked her head to one side curiously, just in time to see Shantiya disentangling herself from the people’s ankles. The Hissi gave a discreet wink and then disappeared down the corridor.
“Okay...” Treal puffed out his chest. “My turn.”
Kannice grabbed the Wocky. “Well, I’m going with you. I want to help you all.”
Treal shook his head. “Then help! Do what you’re supposed to do. Go save Cane!” He turned and ran after the others. Right on cue, Dr Death stepped out of the room. The Techo’s bushy eyebrows were set into a scowl. Treal hurtled straight at him, and knocked the Techo and his eyebrows to the ground.
All the enraged pound staff stood up and tried to take off after the pets. Kannice knew they hadn’t seen her. She looked the other way. Down that corridor were the pets. Cane. She ran off into the darkness.
* * * * *
Kannice peered into each cell carefully. Pets looked up as she passed. Some curious, some hopeful, some outraged. None Cane.
She continued down the dank corridor. She wasn’t scared anymore. Just patient. Waiting for Cane’s eyes to return her gaze, like she knew they eventually would. Like she so desperately hoped they would.
“So. You came after all. Might I add that you made a lot more noise than was exactly necessary.”
Kannice spun around to see Cane staring at her. The gentle-eyed, happy Cane. The Cane that had once been, before he was moulded by the streets.
“Yeah.” She laughed, and took a step towards the cell. “That was because of Pyro, causing a distraction. And also Nariah, knocking over a filing cabinet.”
Cane smiled, and stepped closer to her as well. “From the sounds of it, you brought a few little helpers.”
“A few?” She shook her head, and took another step, so that she was right in front of him. “I brought everyone. They need you, and they all wanted to help you at the one time that you needed them.”
This time it was the Lupe’s turn to shake his head. “I always need them. Those pets are my life.”
Kannice was now fiddling with the lock. “Strine said, that the only reason they could catch you, is if you wanted them to.”
“I did want them to.”
The lock fell off in Kannice’s paws. The cell door swung slowly open, but the Kougra didn’t move. “Why? Why would you want to be caught? If you hadn’t done this, we wouldn’t have had to put ourselves in all this danger!”
“To test you. And only you. The others were involved, that’s true,” he said, reading her mind. “But you got them involved. You were the only pet that ever deserved to be tested like this. You were the only one that could handle it. You... you were my friend.”
The Last Chapter
One year later...
The Kougra laughed as the Lupe whispered something in her ear. The Xweetok and the Shoyru togged at her fir, demanding that she tell them what was just said. The Hissi, meanwhile, hung back, shaking her head.
“I’ll give you a clue...” The Uni smiled. “He just told her something funny!” He, and the Eyrie and Wocky behind him seemed the only ones that found that funny. It didn’t seem to bother them though, and the three boys carried on laughing at the humourless joke.
The Lupe pulled the Kougra into a hug, and brushed his paw over her eyepatch. He smiled to himself as she hissed something in his ear. They both glanced back at the Hissi, then burst out laughing. The subject of the joke did not find it terribly amusing.
“Tell me what you just said!” she yelled, hitting them over the back of the head with her tail.
The Kougra turned and the sound of her name. A well-dressed woman was running towards her, arms outstretched. “Oh, Kannice, sweetheart! I’ve been looking everywhere for you for months! Ever since you left... We’ve missed you so much! You’ll never believe... I won a million Neopoints! I can afford to keep you, sweetie! You can have a family again!” She looked overjoyed.
Kannice could almost feel her jaw brushing the dry, sunbathed road. She stared at her mother in disbelief, through her good eye. She could go home. SHE COULD GO HOME! It would be so easy to just leave all her problems behind and go home to her nice house, her warm bed, her old life.
“I... I...” She looked back at the other pets, who were staring. A tear rolled down her face. “I already have a family, and I belong with them.”