Wish Upon A Star
It was raining the day Allie first began to wonder about Outside. As the little Zafara stood at the window of her extravagant neohome and stared out at the silvery drops of rain that fell from the fluffy clouds around them, she wondered what it would be like to go outside.
“Don’t be silly,” her owner, Geoffrey, answered. “You’d fall straight through the clouds.”
“But I want to see Faerieland, on the bottom,” Allie protested. Geoffrey only shook his head.
“You’re a Perfect Pet, Allie, a Beauty Contest Pet, not some common everyday Zafara.” And he walked off.
Allie wandered from room to room, almost a hundred of them, and hopped through every garden. But it didn’t satisfy her: the luxurious faerie neohome wasn’t real; everything was plush and velvet and polished wood. The gardens were enclosed with glass, their trees neatly pruned and judiciously protected from weather.
“Laura-Katela, what is outside like?” Allie asked her older Bori sister when she walked in on her as she was applying lipstick. Laura-Katela looked at Allie as though she were crazy. “I’ve never been out for more than a few minutes, and I don’t want to, either: it’s horrible and hot and freezing cold.” And she ran off to her bedroom, shivering at the thought. Allie didn’t see how it could be hot and cold at the same time, but she didn’t get a chance to ask. So she wandered off in search of her brother, Frielek. She found him in the library, absorbed in “A Perfect Pet’s Guide to Looking Fabulous’.
“Fri, what is outside like?”
Frielek blinked and looked up in annoyance. “It’s awful, like the pound. Now go away.”
Allie went, slamming the heavy Library door behind her to hear the echoing noise. She then set off down the hallway to find her other brother, Jas, in the hope that he would have more answers.
Ten minutes later, Allie found Jas hiding in a closet, reading Battledome books.
“Allie?” He glanced up as Allie pushed open the door.
“Can I sit with you?” Allie asked pleadingly. Jas sighed and moved over to make room for her. Allie scooted in among the seasonal decorations and old pictures.
“You have to be quiet,” Jas warned, going back to his book. Allie complied for several too long minutes, in her opinion. And then:
“Jassie, what is outside like?”
“Green,” Jas mumbled, absorbed in his book.
“Have you been to the Pound?”
Allie rarely heard about the pound, except in snippets of conversation between Geoffrey and Frielek, the only one who had ever been in the pound, and since she was too young to read, her knowledge of it was limited to her own fantasies.
“I want to go,” Allie said, suddenly making up her mind.
“Wish upon a star,” Jas mumbled, in the intention of implying that it was an impossible thing. Allie however, took it literally, in a way only a six-year-old could.
“I will!” and she scrambled up, bashed open the door and started running down the hallway.
Allie reached her room out of breath and stood in it for a moment, panting. The best way to wish on a star, she decided, was to get very close. So she dragged her Faerie Stool over to the sealed window and added a few thick picture books for good measure. Now all that remained was to wait for the stars to come out. Unfortunately, she had a good long wait.
Five minutes later, Allie decided that it had been hours and was definitely time for a snack. She padded carefully into the kitchen, where Geoffrey was making little plates of Faerie Fingers and cut-up carrots. He looked up when she came in and smiled fondly at the baby Zafara.
“Need something, Allie?”
“Something to eat,” Allie answered, showing him her perfect baby smile. Then, struck by an idea, added: “Do you have a Star?”
Geoffrey laughed. “A star? Do you mean a paper one?”
“I don’t know,” Allie answered truthfully. “If real ones don’t work, I could try a paper one.”
Geoffrey looked a little puzzled, but seemed to decide that his little pet simply had another silly idea. “Here’s something to eat, then.” He handed her a plate, and Allie took it eagerly to the table.
“...Told you not to go in my room!”
Allie looked up, a small sliver of curiosity stirred by the loud voice. A moment later Laura-Katela came in to the kitchen, practically sizzling, Allie observed with interest. Frielek was a few steps behind, looking murderous.
“Laura-Katela!” Geoffrey went from benign and smiling to livid in just a few seconds. “What have I said about shouting? What good does looking pretty do if you do not act perfect?” He stressed each word carefully, and Allie had a small moment of wonder, although she had lived her whole life this way, with each and every thing based on perfection for the Beauty Contest. Never did any of the pets go outside unless they were getting votes, and then only for a few minutes at a time, riding in special carriages. Geoffrey spent years carefully raising his pets until they were thirteen years old, and then entering them in Beauty Contests. What happened to the pets once their four perfect years were up, Allie had never thought about. She vaguely remembered a tall Striped Shoyru who used to read her stories: Sammy, but no others.
“I was putting on my make-up again, and Fri came barging in,” Laura-Katela explained, doing her best to keep a smooth, cheerful tone but failing miserably.
“I wished to ask my Dear Sister where the Jeweled Comb was, is all,” Frielek put in, his voice oily calm. Allie chewed on her Faerie Fingers and listened with interest, storing the conversation away with practiced talent so that she could re-experience it later and have it explained by Jas.
“Both apologize,” Geoffrey commanded, his tone becoming bored. “Laura-Katela, go to your room for the night for shouting, Frielek, you must use the Plain Comb for two days for not knocking.” And he turned his back, judgment finished. Laura-Katela turned on her heel and stormed off, and Frielek began to leave as well.
“One moment, Frielek; please fetch Jas, will you?” Geoffrey called, halting Frielek’s departure.
“Of course, Geoffrey,” the Shadow Lupe acknowledged, dipping his head. Frielek was the only one who called their owner Geoffrey, because he was adopted and still thought of his old owner as Father.
Allie was nearly finished eating by the time Frielek returned with Jas, and she didn’t spare the ensuing conversation any attention in her hurry to get to the window and wish upon her star. She bolted off between her brothers’ legs, for once happy of her small size.
Allie reached her room just as the haze of night fell and the first bright stars came into view. She wasted a few moments gazing at the cloudy heavens and imagining the warm air against her skin. It would be warm, she thought, and soft, like a blanket, because surely Outside felt different than Inside? And there would be the smell of peppermint, although she had no idea what peppermint smelled like, having only heard about it in books. And rain: rain would sweet, and maybe sticky, but it would definitely smell of roses. She felt a stir of excitement at the thought that after she wished on her star, she would be able to go outside. But would brightest work best? Allie decided that closest would probably be the best and gave the star just in front of her nose a poetic wish that she’d carefully thought up.
“Pretty, Pretty Star, I’m wishing to go outside, Star.” In all the magic books that had been read to her, the character went to sleep and in the morning their wish was granted; so Allie decided that going to bed was the next thing to do. She fell asleep slowly, opening her eyes every so often to make sure she wasn’t Outside yet. Gradually, however, the even breaths of her Pink Candychan and the softness of her Zafara plushie lulled her into sleep.
Allie woke the next morning full of excitement; she ate her waffle and syrup with unusual quickness and then spent more than half the day at the window with her Petpet by her side, waiting for the wish to work. By afternoon, the little Zafara was thoroughly bored, and her Candychan was making squeaking noises of displeasure in an attempt to coax her owner into playing.
“All right, Lila, I’m coming.” Allie pulled herself off of the stool and trotted across the room to the toy bin. Lila bounced behind, chittering with pleasure. Allie was soon bored with stacking blocks, and told Lila so. The Candychan only swiped at Allie’s block castle, so Allie got up and went in search of her siblings.
In the following days, Allie continued to spend her time at the window, straining her eyes to see her star. Eventually, though, all thoughts of wishing gradually faded from her baby mind, and by the end of the week she had forgotten all about it. And so, on the Sunday that dawned cold and gray, Allie had other things on her mind. The view outside the locked windows was foreboding, the steely gray sky promising freezing weather. Not that anyone inside could feel it, although their mood was almost identical.
“Allie, stop it!”
Allie glared at Laura-Katela, refusing to let go of the ‘Pinkpearl’ lipstick. Laura-Katela sat at her Beauty Table in the bathroom where Allie had ambushed her, putting on make-up to go out. All week long she’d been preening and bragging because Geoffrey had chosen her to enter the next Beauty Contest, and Allie was fed-up.
“Take me with you, then.”
“Allieee, you know you’re not allowed out,” Laura-Katela replied impatiently, taking a swipe at her lipstick. Allie snatched her hand back.
“Fatherrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Laura-Katela wailed, shooting Allie an evil look. Allie stared back haughtily.
“Whatever?” Geoffrey stood in the doorway, looking annoyed. Allie carefully slipped the lipstick back onto the table, under a powder puff.
“Allie took my lipstick,” Laura-Katela said self-righteously, making a pretty pout.
“Did not,” Allie denied. “Did you look under your puff, even?” She watched as Laura-Katela took the bait and swung the powder puff away, her face fixed in an I-told-you-so expression. It changed quickly to surprise and incredulousness as she realized Allie’s trick. Allie smiled winningly at Geoffrey as his look became annoyed.
“Laura, how many times have I told you to look before you speak?”
The cry of unfairness that followed was half masked by Geoffrey’s loud sigh as he grabbed Laura-Katela’s paw and dragged her out of the bathroom, telling her to shut up or they would be late.
Allie slumped onto the white porcelain bench that occupied more than half of the room, watching her father and sister go. Bored and sulky, she fiddled with the bath tissue, dropping shreds of it onto the rose-patterned tile floor. The shreds formed queer patterns, amusing Allie for a while. Far off, she heard the front door slam and knew that it was too late to try sneaking out. Somehow she couldn’t really care, so she just sat there sulking. A limping meowclops dragged itself in once, saw Allie, and sprinted out again, perhaps frightened by the truly frightening face she made at it. Feeling vaguely victorious, Allie slouched off the seat and wandered slowly down the plush-carpeted hallway in search of the library.
The large oak doors of the library stood open, revealing the sight of Frielek curled up in a window seat. He was reading a heavy gilt-covered book, pressed tightly against the window to catch the thin gray light that filtered through the heavy rain clouds.
“Fri?” Allie tapped him sharply on the shoulder. Frielek jumped in shock, sending the book flying. He glared at Allie angrily, snatching his book back.
“I’m bored,” Allie said plaintively.
“Find Jas, then,” Frielek told her grumpily, going back to his book. Allie sighed loudly and kicked the edge of the window seat. It took several sighs to attract his attention. He gave her a sideways glance. Allie gave him her most charming smile. Frielek sighed and pulled a small twist of yellow wax paper out of his pocket. He handed it to her.
“Don’t eat them in here,” he warned, giving Allie a small push toward the door. Allie pocketed the paper hastily and headed out of the library at a run to show Jas her prize.
Jas was in his bedroom, his black cape on, his hoarded Battledome books open on the bed. Jas coveted his Battledome books, items Geoffrey would have confiscated had he know about them: Geoffrey didn’t allow Battledome things; he thought them ‘inappropriate for young aristocratic pets’.
Allie shoved the books over and climbed onto the starched, nondescript blue bedspread, pulling out her waxed paper twist. “Jassie, will you play with me?”
Jas grunted; busy aiming mock kicks at his poor dresser. Allie watched in interest for a while, but she soon proffered the question again: “Jas, will you play with me?”
Jas finished a complicated series of twists and jumps and collapsed panting, sweat dripping down his fur. “Can’t, Al, I’m practicing.”
Allie considered this, carefully unfolding the yellow paper and laying it flat to reveal its contents: six plump raisins, a rare treat: Geoffrey didn’t allow candy, and was extremely sparing with any sort of sugar.
“What would you do if you could go outside?”
Jas looked mildly surprised. “Go to the Battledome, run races, that sort of stuff. Are you sharing?” he added, eyeing the raisins. Allie gave him one and selected a second for herself. She popped it in her mouth and chewed slowly, savoring the sweet brown juice that seeped out.
“I would smell the grass,” she said decidedly. “And the rain. But what are clouds?”
“I don’t know, puffy white things?” Jas offered.
“Find a book that says,” Allie commanded. She broke the last raisin in half and held out a piece to her brother. Jas took the sticky fruit.
Raisins gone, the two set off for the library, in search of a book about clouds.
The oak doors were closed this time, and it took all of Jas’s might to push them open. Finally, with a creak and groan, the hinges moaned their way open. Frielek was no longer there; the library was empty. They were alone in the huge, vaulted room with its gilded, inlaid wood paneling and huge floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Jas strode over to one and ran his finger down the endless rows of spines. “‘Draik Raising’, ‘Dung and Beauty’, ‘Devilish Ways to Win Beauty Contest Votes’...Ah, here we go: ‘Dictionary’.” He yanked an enormous book bound in green leather off of the shelf. The books around it fell over with a thump, filling the foot-long empty space. Staggering slightly under its weight, Jas hauled the book to one of the small round reading tables. The dictionary landed with a thump, and Allie braced herself in case the table splintered. Luckily it held, and Jas was soon madly flipping pages, searching. Allie leaned over his shoulder, watching the pages with their hundreds of meaningless symbols flash past. Allie’s eyes were beginning to un-focus, turning everything into a splotch of whitish-gray, when Jas abruptly found the page.
“Ha. Cloud: Pronunciation: 'klaud. Function: noun
1 : a visible mass of particles of condensed vapor (as water or ice) suspended in the atmosphere of a planet (as the earth) or moon
2 : something resembling or suggesting a cloud: as a : a light filmy, puffy, or billowy mass seeming to float in the air b (1) : a usually visible mass of minute particles suspended in the air or a gas (2) : an aggregation of usually obscuring matter especially in interstellar space (3) : an aggregate of charged particles (as electrons) c : a great crowd or multitude: swarm 3 : something that has a dark, lowering, or threatening aspect 4 : something that obscures or blemishes 5 : a dark or opaque vein or spot (as in marble or a precious stone). That answer your question?” Jas looked at Allie for confirmation. But Allie wasn’t listening. Her head was tilted, her eyes unfocused as she strained her ears. A distant gong sounded again. The doorbell? Allie wasn’t sure: the last time someone rang the doorbell was almost a year ago, when a group of very enthusiastic admirers of Laura-Katela had traced the house’s elusive location and come looking for the admired.
Allie’s question was answered a moment later, when Frielek’s annoyed sigh and pattering footsteps sounded past the library doors. Allie abandoned her previous query and raced after him. Jas lost no time in following.
The three padded heavily along the hall, all eager to reach the door first. Frielek won. He ran through the spacious, mosaic-tiled atrium, and over to the enormous front door. He then very cautiously undid the high bolts and chains and opened it a crack.
“Defenders of Neopia here,” snapped a tall yellow Chia in police uniform. There were three outside, all in starched uniforms, their hovering airship waiting behind them. Allie peered past Frielek, astonished. She could have reached out and touched a cloud. Jas, however, quickly yanked her back.
“Stop it,” he hissed. “Clouds are vaporous, weren’t you listening? You could fall straight through!”
“But they’re standing on them,” Allie protested.
“Don’t be stupid,” Jas said, annoyingly. “They’re standing on their ship.” It was true: all three DON were poised on a retractable ramp that stretched to the front door. Allie sighed.
“It has come to our attention,” the Chia continued briskly. “That your owner, Geoffrey, has been breaking rules.”
“What?” the enraged gasp came from no other than Geoffrey himself, who had just arrived in the floating carriage with Laura-Katela, who looked surprised and confused.
“You are charged with mistreatment of pets,” the Chia told him coldly, looking Geoffrey up and down.
“I believe you are mistaken: my pets get the very best of care,” Geoffrey said stiffly, stepping out of the carriage.
“They are not allowed outside,” the DON Officer pointed out.
“Fine.” Suddenly Geoffrey seemed distant. “Take them then.”
The Chia stood up as tall as he was able. “We will, sir.”
Geoffrey just shrugged. He pushed past Frielek, Allie, and Jas and went inside. “Get going, then,” he called back over his shoulder. Jas and Allie stared, but Frielek only looked at the ground.
“I’m afraid you must get in the ship,” the Chia told them, looking slightly uncomfortable. Frielek moved toward it soundlessly, gesturing for Jas and Allie to follow. Unable to comprehend the situation, Allie followed without arguing. Laura-Katela, however, set up a hideous howling and shrieking and had to be dragged in. A sharp squeak cut her yelling short. Lila came flying out of the still-open door, her tiny face scarlet with rage at being left. Allie had never gone anywhere without her before, and the little Candychan didn’t intend to let her start.
“Sit down, sit down,” the Chia called, stepping into the airship himself. His silent collogues followed. The inside of the ship was spacious, its seats made of padded leather. Allie sat down silently next to Jas, clutching Lila. Frielek sat in the seat next to the window, staring out of it as though lost in thought. Laura-Katela sat huffily across the isle from her siblings, arms folded. The Chias were up front in the cockpit, talking among themselves as they whirred away from the only place Allie had ever known. Allie strained her eyes all around, trying to take in all the new sights and sounds. The excitement of the day, however, combined with the warm air of the ship and the comfortable seats, soon helped her slide into sleep.
“Wake the little one, now, we are here.”
Allie struggled awake, aware of Jas’s arm on hers, and the absence of the airship’s humming motor. “We going outside?” she asked hopefully.
“Soon,” Jas promised. He looked slightly stunned, one hand wrapped around the limping meowclops Allie hadn’t noticed before.
“Hurry up,” the talkative Chia ordered, stepping down a ramp. The airship was parked in a dull colored concrete garage, carefully tucked into a port. Allie stumbled down the ramp, blinking in the harsh florescent lights. Laura-Katela followed, muttering under her breath. The Chias led the three pets through the garage, up a flight of stairs, and finally through a door. The door opened into a spacious wooden hall. A desk stood at one end, occupied by a stern-looking Moehog.
“Judge Hog,” Jas whispered his look of amazement enough to convince Allie that this pet was important.
“Bring them here,” the Moehog ordered, peering at them over his spectacles. One of the Chias herded them forward, until they stood right under the desk. Allie stared up in terror, clenching Jas’s hand so hard he gave a little gasp of pain.
“So, little ones,” Judge Hog said kindly. Allie relaxed a small bit. Perhaps he wasn’t quite as awful as she had expected. “I must tell you that, as the Pound is far too full right now, and we are the ones, who, well, are responsible for you, you will be sleeping here.” He peered down at them to see how they took this. Allie felt remarkably small, and wondered whether any of her other siblings did too. But it wasn’t going to stop her from asking her question.
“Can I go Outside?”
Judge Hog blinked, and Jas quickly stepped forward.
“See, she’s never been out, sir, and she really wants to feel the grass.” He looked pleadingly at the Moehog.
“Well, yes, I suppose, little one, you can,” Judge Hog answered, seeming a little flustered by the odd question. Allie gave him her most charming smile, the one that melted everyone’s heart. The judge was no exception: he smiled back warmly, and said: “Jeferas, show her the garden, will you?”
A blank-faced Chia stepped forward and said crisply: “This way, little one.”
“I’m Allie,” Allie told him, treating him also to her smile. His face melted.
“Right here.” He took her paw gently and led her across the room to a glass door. Allie lost no time in shoving the door open and running straight across the grass. The sharp wind blew bitterly. It didn’t smell like peppermint, but cold and crisp, which was perfectly all right with Allie. She stood, breathing in the scents of Outside. The soft, sweet smells of new leaves, the sharp, earthy smell of the dirt; small drops of rain began to patter down. They fell on Allie’s nose, tickling her. This did not smell like peppermint, either, nor of roses, but as she was stood in the small garden, laughing when the rain soaked her, Allie thought it was the best thing in the whole world.