Looking For a Living
“No, no, no, this is definitely not the place for me.”
So muttered Dan as he quickly walked away from the Uni Clothing Store with one last horrified look at the lines of grumpy shoppers and hassled employees. Wait a moment, what had possessed him to consider a job at a fashionable clothing store, anyway? Especially if he might be forced to wear tacky sunglasses as part of the uniform. (He hadn’t exactly inquired about the uniform, though, as he’d been too busy wondering if the hat one of the customers wore was actually Dr Sloth’s last mutant gone wrong).
“I want to be a salesman,” the Yellow Wocky proclaimed to nobody in particular, raising his arms to the sky in a plea.
“Yes, that’s nice,” a Kyrii muttered, dropping several packages when Dan accidentally smacked him with an arm, “but maybe you could go be a salesman somewhere else. Like the Lost Desert. The very lost desert.”
“Ah, splendid idea!” Dan called after the shopper. “These Neopians, so kind and helpful.”
After a couple of days, Dan was eagerly scouting out possible jobs in Sakhmet. His feet carried him past the food stands, with a longing glance at a slice of Pyramibread or two, and into the pottery store. His mother had always told him he could sell anything, right? If he could sell these overpriced vases, then his mother would’ve been right. He had always liked a challenge.
“Overpriced vases?!” Of course, he had never been able to keep his mouth shut either, or his ideas in his head.
“My good lady,” he grinned weakly at the fuming Aisha, “I meant—lower the prices on these vases! Such beautiful plates, such exquisite workmanship, should not be put at so lowly a price! Forgive me if I spoke too quickly, for I was blinded by their brilliance!” He prided himself on his smooth effort, and then, while the pottery shopkeeper was too stunned to say anything, quickly made his way out of the door. Sighing and looking around, he took in a deep breath of the sandy desert air and wondered why he wasn’t searching harder for a job.
Sakhmet was a beautiful city, after all. The sun was shining (blazing), the birds were singing (very off-key, he might add), and he had never felt so light and free.
Of course, the fact that his wallet had been stolen by a bunch of young rogues could’ve accounted for that. He stopped to mop the sweat out of his eyes and groaned pathetically. The sun’s rays were relentless, and it was much too hot. How could anyone think in this dreadful heat? He immediately made up his mind. He would go to work in someplace nice and cool.
“... To Maraqua I go!”
Oh, to feel the salty sea breezes in his fur, to swim through the shining blue waters, and perhaps start a new store to shock and delight the denizens of Maraqua—what would he sell? Maybe shells—wait, already taken—attractive wet sand sculptures? Hmm, now there’s an idea... buy Dan’s Dashing Sand Sculptures, your money back guaranteed if they don’t last for more than five seconds! Waterproofing not included...
“Hey, we’re here! Quit yer dreaming!” Dan was unpleasantly jerked out of his thoughts by the grumpy old Pirate Quiggle leaning against the wheel of the small ship. “Get out yer paintbrush, hurry it up, I’m not getting any younger!”
Dan frowned. “My paintbrush?”
“Yer Maraquan Paintbrush.” The Quiggle peered at him, and set down the tankard of ale he had been about to swig from. “Ye do know ye have to be painted Maraquan to live in Maraqua, don’t you?”
Dan swallowed. “... No.”
The old sailor guffawed loudly, slapping his knee. “Eh, and here they say young folk today don’t got no sense of humor! That was a good one, lad, you got any others?”
“I’m not joking,” Dan said irritably.
The pirate stood up straight in surprise. Then, he burst into laughter again. Dan stood there, angry at himself and at the old Quiggle. It was really impolite to laugh at the stupid mistakes of others.
“Well, I’ll be takin’ ye back to Mystery Island, then,” the Quiggle said. “Give me my pay now, I want to be sure ye won’t be runnin’ off once we reach the mainland.” Seeing Dan’s fur turn three shades of white, the Quiggle leaned in and a fierce scowl appeared on his face. Suddenly, he looked a lot more threatening. “Ye do have pay, right?”
“Well... um...” in truth, no. Dan had been planning on appealing to the goodness of the Quiggle’s heart and promising future repayment, and, if worst came to worst, diving down and hiding in Maraqua. Well, he could scrap that plan.
Just when he thought he was going to land up in the water for sure, bait for hungry Jetsams, he got a brilliant idea. “Of course I’ve got pay, my good friend! What did you think, I wouldn’t pay you?” He grinned heartily and pulled off the extravagant scarf he wore around his tail. It was the product of one of his failed business endeavors—disco-colored garlands hadn’t exactly taken the market by storm—but he loved scarves and hadn’t been able to part with his best purple, orange, and green one.
“Yer payin’ me with a scarf?” Disbelief dripped from the Quiggle’s words.
“Yes,” Dan said, and now, it was time to truly pull off the greatest sale of his life. He grinned mischievously and let the hint of a sparkle creep into his eyes. He practically pranced over to the Quiggle, and leaned in confidingly. “Let me tell you a secret, old chap,” he whispered. The pirate looked interested in spite of himself. “This isn’t just any old scarf. Now tell me, have you ever seen a scarf like this on the market before?” A shake of the head, no. Good. He’d never been so happy to have one of his products fail. “That’s because they’re so rare, they’re practically unbuyable.”
“So why are ye wearing one in plain daylight?” The pirate’s suspicions were aroused again. Although his heart was pounding, Dan forced himself to wink and lower his voice even more, although there were no other ships around for miles.
“Because it’s all a trick,” he whispered casting a quick glance over each shoulder, “because if everybody sees me wearing it, why, they’ll think it’s just a worthless scarf and never try to steal it!” It was almost sold. He could see it in the old Quiggle’s eyes. One more bit should do it. “It’s rumored—now, I’m not saying anything for certain, of course, not for certain—but this scarf may have come straight from the Hidden Tower itself.” He winked once more, and moved away, staring out over the waves as if uninterested. “But then again, who knows?”
Half an hour later, he was back in the Mystery Island harbor, a big grin on his face, not a drop of water on his fur, and waving goodbye to the newly bedecked pirate Quiggle.
“Good luck!” He called. “Glad to have done business with you, my friend! Very glad indeed.” He settled back on his feet and once again sank into contemplation. Thinking hard, he hurried off to the Haiku Generator. That Kougra had always seemed like a friendly fellow—maybe he could give him some advice. Or maybe even a job offer! Now there was an idea.
“In a land of snow, let us frolic in the sand, dances the Omelette.” Dan puzzled the haiku over. “I’ve never seen the Omelette dance. Unless it’s dancing in my stomach... ack. Disco party in my digestive system, just what I needed, right?” He chuckled merrily in the vague direction of a palm tree.
Then, like a pie hitting a Robot Chia Clown, like an ice cream scoop hitting Adee the Chia, like a piano hitting Mika and Carassa—what’s with all the injured Chias?—it hit him.
“TERROR MOUNTAIN!” he cried, eyes brightening and a huge smile spreading over his face. He rushed off to book the next boat to Terror Mountain, excitement seeping through his body and threatening to brim him over with happiness.
When Dan reached Happy Valley, he knew it was everything he had ever dreamed of. The sound of gaily jingling bells filled the air and a light dusting of snow covered the ground. Feeling like a young Neopet again, he caught a snowflake on his tongue and laughed. He dodged the constantly soaring snowballs and tugged his mittens tighter onto his hands, wrapping his lucky shamrock scarf more securely around his fur.
“This is perfect,” Dan sighed, watching as his breath frosted the air in front of him. After a moment or two, however, he frowned. Something inside of him was calling him—tugging him away from happy valley and all the neat little shops. Something that called for him to live life a little more on the edge—to really give people something they would love rather than settling for a mediocre job in a slushy shop. Something in his feet, a blind impulse, dragged him past a snowy wooden signpost that he didn’t have time to read, and up a spiraling path into the mouth of a cave.
Dan’s jaw dropped, and he felt his heart swell, joy flooding through him, making him want to yell and shout his fortune to the world.
He stood in a gigantic cavern of glittering ice. Neopets walked around, their footsteps barely making a sound on the snowy ground. In the distance, he could hear the roars of battling pets, and several Neopets were carrying Neggs or Ice Crystals, the treasures carefully clasped in bundled arms.
“The Ice Caves,” he whispered, surprised to find a few tears in his eyes at the sheer raw beauty. He stumbled through, barely noticing where he was walking, until he saw two pets come running out of the mouth of a cavern. A screeching roar followed them out.
“Man,” one of them, a Blue Bori, said, trembling and trying to hide it, “I thought we were goners for sure!” His companion nodded. “If only,” the Bori wished, as the two passed Dan, “if only there were some other way of getting items than risking our lives in the Snowager’s cavern!” If only, Dan thought, a secretive and mischievous smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, as his eyes surveyed the large, bare patch of snow that stretched out on all sides of him. His mind began to churn with ideas...
Now, he thought contentedly as he looked around his new home, this was a place where a pet could find a living.
The air is chill and brisk, and you shiver as you make your way through the Ice Caves. You are going to brave the wrath of the Snowager. Suddenly, though, you hear merry laughter and you turn. Inside an igloo-like building, a shamrock-furred, cheerful Wocky winks at you. “Fancy trying your luck?”