Clumsy Claudia and the Great Negg Hunt: Part Two
Also written by autbum
“On your marks... get set... GO!” the Negg Faerie yelled resoundingly.
Instantaneously, the Neopians flooded the field, legs and wings pumping furiously in unison to be the first to find the easiest Neggs. Claudia was itching to start, and as soon as the Hunt began she positively tore out of the crowd, nearly knocking Helen over in the process. Her energy seemed to be relentless. She bounced up and down wildly, almost as if she was channeling a Blumaroo’s spirit.
“Wait!” Helen panted. “Slow down! We don’t need to rush; we have all day. Besides, if we go too fast, we might miss something!”
“I know, I know,” replied Claudia giddily. “But if we don’t hurry, someone else might get to the farm before we do!”
With that, Claudia ran off at a velocity that rivaled the speed of light. Already sensing that she was in for a very long day, Helen tried to muster more enthusiasm and took off after Claudia. When she arrived at the vegetable patches breathing heavily, she found Claudia waiting for her expectantly, tapping her foot somewhat impatiently.
“We’re here! We’re here!” Claudia shouted, dancing around animatedly. “Now, this is where I mapped out. This is the best place to start. Why don’t you start over there?” Claudia said, pointing at a large patch of turnips not too far away. “Meanwhile, I’ll look around these potatoes!”
Helen smiled and ruffled Claudia’s hair lovingly. “You know that I’ll be proud of you no matter what happens today, don’t you?” asked Helen.
Claudia nodded with a wide, silly grin spread across her face. Helen turned around and jogged in the direction of the turnip patch. Claudia’s enthusiasm had started to rub off on her a little. Normally, she spent her weekends relaxing with a mug of hot chocolate and a nice book. Her idea of a fun, peaceful Sunday did not usually entail searching through various garden vegetables in a silly contest. In the end, however, she would not change a thing. Seeing that ineffable joy in Claudia’s smile made all her efforts worthwhile.
“Good luck!” Claudia called cheerily to Helen’s retreating back. She walked around the perimeter of the potato patch meticulously, investigating it for any signs of disturbance that would indicate a nearby Negg. She didn’t want to miss a single Negg due to her overexcitement, so she was extra careful about checking every nook and cranny. Her hard work off paid off in the end; she emerged with not one, but four Neggs! She was amazed by her good fortune this year. She giggled to herself quietly about how heavy her basket had gotten. Ahh, the price of winning! Claudia thought as she massaged her aching forearms. However, it was a price that she was more than willing to pay; she could not remember the last time she felt this happy.
After searching the entirety of the farm, Claudia skipped over to Helen, who looked slightly battered and war-torn but also exuberantly joyful. Helen fared quite nicely with an even two eggs, making Claudia’s total a solid six.
“This is so exciting!” Claudia shrieked after counting her eggs. In the distance, a whistle blew, signaling the end of the first round. Claudia and Helen walked back towards the vendors to enjoy a delicious lunch.
All around, Neopians from far and wide were enjoying the great feast. Fragrant aromas wafted daintily in the air from carts and booths that were selling the best food they had to offer. Claudia was debating internally between Kelp’s delicious undersea creations and Café Kreludor’s out-of-this-world concoctions. She half-wished that she had two stomachs so that she could eat all the food!
Meanwhile, Helen was chatting jovially with the Library Faerie; Claudia guessed that their conversation had something to do with those crossword puzzles Helen was constantly working on. Claudia waved to her owner as she passed. She spotted the Snow Foods booth, advertising frosty smoothies and slushies. After all that running around, an ice cold Lemon Slushie would be so refreshing. Her mind was made up, and she got in line and waited anxiously for her treat.
After fumbling in her pocket to give Neopoints to the kindly Bruce working at the booth, he handed her a smoothie. “Good luck today!” he called cheerfully. She thanked him with a shy smile and tried to find a place to sit. She found the hustle and bustle overwhelming, so she opted instead for a bench somewhat secluded from the roaring crowd, a place where she could ruminate on her plan for the second round. She sipped her Lemon Slushie happily; it quenched her thirst even better than she had hoped. Just when she was marveling about how fantastic the Hunt was going, she heard footsteps behind her and whirled around. Even before she saw their faces, she knew from their all too familiar snickers exactly who were there: Jenna, Spike, and Buzz.
“Well, looky here, Clumsy Claudia decided to show up!” sneered Jenna.
“Haha, yeah! Clumsy Claudia! You’re so clumsy!” Spike guffawed dimwittedly.
“Yeah! She falls over all the time!” Nick chimed in, laughing nervously in an attempt to fit in.
Jenna cringed a little at Spike and Nick’s less than biting insults, but she glared at Claudia all the same, trying to think of an even more scathing insult to hurl at the innocent Usul.
“Can you please find another bench? I’m just trying to enjoy my smoothie in peace...” Claudia trailed off, trying to implore them with her eyes.
“We don’t want to sit,” Jenna said with an evil grin. She grabbed Claudia’s basket off of its place on the bench next to her.
“Hey, that’s mine! Please give it back!” Claudia pleaded, her eyes already welling up with tears. She was tired of constantly being bullied by Jenna and her lackeys, especially because they seemed to target her whenever she was in a good mood!
“Oh, look at what we have here, boys. Six Neggs. We are tied, Clumsy Claudia; well, we simply can’t have that happen, can we?” Jenna said threateningly, smiling evilly to reveal pointed teeth.
A sickening crack sounded and reverberated in Claudia’s head. “Oops!” Jenna said airily, her eyes growing wide in feigned innocence. Claudia’s Negg had smashed to the ground, leaving her with only five.
“See you around, Clumsy Claudia!” laughed Jenna as she, Nick and Spike stalked off.
Maybe they’re right... I’m not going to win this competition; who am I kidding? thought Claudia, her spirit crushed. She felt sadness, heavy and unsettling, sinking in for the first time that day. She got off the bench and started wandering towards the crowd, about to tell Helen that she wanted to call it quits.
“There you are!” Helen proclaimed loudly, her excitement juxtaposed strangely against Claudia’s newfound feelings of dejection. “Are you ready? It’s almost time for the second half to begin!”
Claudia looked up at Helen and forced a smile; Helen seemed to be having such a genuinely good time, and the last thing Claudia wanted to do was disappoint her. Claudia returned her smile shyly.
“Here, let me take your basket,” Helen said, taking it from Claudia. “Oh no!” she exclaimed, her brow furrowed. “There are only five Neggs in here; we’re missing one!”
“Oh... uh, I dropped one when I was getting my smoothie. I’m sorry,” Claudia lied. She didn’t want her owner to know that she was getting made fun of, not on this day that Helen was having so much fun. Despite having told Helen of Jenna’s earlier taunts, Claudia didn’t relish explaining that the bullying had escalated. Confrontations were likely to ensue, and the wrath of Helen was not something to be envied. It would simply create too much drama and give Jenna even more material to tease her about.
“That’s okay, honey. We can always find another,” Helen offered, although she did not sound entirely convinced.
They fought their way to the front of the crowd, where the Negg Faerie stood poised to speak. “Welcome back, everyone. I hope you had an excellent morning. This year’s turnout has been the highest yet!” She paused and let the applause from the crowd fill the gap in her speech. “Now, it is time to begin the second part! You will have three hours to search for Neggs. Please meet back here promptly at 6:00 NST. We will then count your Neggs and see who wins. The awards ceremony begins at 6:10 NST, so don’t be late! Happy hunting!”
A whistle blew, and everyone was off hunting for Neggs again. In stark contrast to the previous round, Claudia was utterly unenthusiastic, almost apathetic to the Hunt. She didn’t even hurry; rather, she moved sluggishly, as if searching for Neggs was a burdensome chore.
“Come on, slowpoke!” Helen quipped, skipping ahead cheerfully. This time, it was Helen’s enthusiasm that was catchy—against her will, Claudia found herself grinning. She ran and caught up with Helen, feeling a little bit better but not all too optimistic.
“Let’s split up again, since it worked so well last time,” Helen suggested.
“Sure, good idea...” replied Claudia. As much as she loved Helen, she was somewhat relieved to be left alone for a little bit. Pretending that everything was perfect was exhausting. Finding Neggs in the afternoon proved to be much more difficult; maybe it was because most of the easy hiding spots were already snagged or because her keenness to find Neggs had fizzled. High and low spots, unexpected and simple spots, near and far spots: Claudia searched everywhere. Yet she was disappointed when time after time her searches proved fruitless, and each overturned rock or pulled-back branch revealed nothing. After two hours and fifty-five minutes of half-hearted searching, four taunts from Jenna and her mindless gang, and finding only one Negg, Claudia decided to call it quits and meet up with Helen near the front.
“How did you do, honey? I’ve got three!” called Helen happily.
“Oh... I only got one,” Claudia said. She fixed her eyes on the ground and kicked a pebble self-consciously.
“That’s fine, dear. You tried, and I’m so proud of you, kiddo!” Helen smiled, patting Claudia on the back and trying to cheer her up. Her words were met with a meek, tight smile.
As they began to walk towards the ceremony, Claudia remembered something. “Oh, shoot!” exclaimed Claudia.
“What’s wrong?” inquired Helen.
“No biggie, I just left my jacket on the bench. I have to run back and get it.”
“All right, sweetie. But hurry, you don’t want to miss the awards ceremony!” Claudia replied. “I’ll take our basket to be counted.”
Claudia jogged and slowed down once she was out of sight. Running simply sapped too much energy out of Claudia, and it wasn’t like she was any big hurry to get back to the awards ceremony. She wasn’t particularly interested in who won—it wasn’t going to be her. Claudia retrieved her jacket and started walking back slowly, half-lost in self-deprecating thoughts.
I don’t know why I even bothered. I hate to say it, but Jenna was right. I never had a chance to begin with. I’m just Clumsy Claudia—and that’s all I’ll ever be, thought Claudia, positively drowning in melancholy. She had gotten her hopes up so high for this day, and it ended in ruins. It seemed like every time something good happened, life was only setting up for it become worse in comparison.
Claudia began walking down a different route to the awards ceremony; she wasn’t quite ready to face everyone yet. Instead, she walked slowly, tracing and retracing her steps unsurely. Finally, she felt as if she could not prolong the inevitable anymore and began walking towards the auditorium. Thoughts swarmed her mind: a tangled rush of activity much like a swarm of so many irritated Buzzers. Caught up with all the thoughts and questions running through her mind, Claudia was not paying attention to where she was walking—and as a result, she landed flat on her face, stumbling over a large, spherical object.
Tasting earth, Claudia groaned. “Why does this always have to happen to me?” she lamented dramatically. Curious, she looked behind her to see what she had tripped over.
It was a large egg, definitely too big to be called a Negg by any stretch of the word. Rich royal blue in color, it was also speckled with lighter blue spots and patches. Not believing her luck, Claudia scooped it up. It was so shiny that she could see her incredulous expression reflected back. It looked as if her luck was about to change...
To be continued...