The Big 300 and Other Issues
It was after 11:00pm on a Wednesday night and the Neopian Times building was quiet. Most of the desks and hallways were vacant, except for one cubicle in the corner.
Mark, a blue Krawk, was typing frantically, his webbed fingers flying over the keys of the typewriter in front of him. In issue 100 we saw examples of this expansion... he typed. It was as if Neopia itself had been spun on its axis as new thoughts and ideas enlightened us. He reached for his second cup of coffee and forgot that he had already drained it. The Krawk knew he couldn’t waste time brewing another pot.
Although Mark thoroughly enjoyed his job as a Neopian Times Reporter, he rarely ever stayed this late to finish an article. The deadline for issue 300 was tomorrow and Mr. Dennison, Mark’s boss, was counting on his article for the front page.
“There,” he consoled his worried mind after typing a few more lines. “Almost finished.” The article itself, ‘Celebrating 300: A History of the Times’ had taken weeks of digging to get all of the information needed, but Mark knew that a good reporter always had the right amount of facts. Unable to finish the last couple of paragraphs, he pulled the paper out, skimmed over it, and put on his coat.
Mark went downstairs, traversed the dimly lit lobby, and out the back door to take the fastest route home. He knew he’d have to be one of the first ones in tomorrow to have time to finish up before the deadline. I’ve never let Mr. Dennsion down, Mark thought to himself, as he passed the dumpsters, and I’m not going to start now.
The Krawk froze in the middle of the alley, eyes fixed on the large dumpster that had suddenly lurched forward.
“Who’s there?” he called. Maybe a stray Warf or something...
The moment he spun around and started to go, footsteps pitter-pattered from behind. Just as he turned, there was a BZZT! and a red light hit him in the chest. A strange, tingling sensation overcame him and he saw a blurry figure emerge from his or her hideout. Mark swooned and felt his body hit the ground, remembering no more.
“I’m so excited, I’m so excited, I’m so EXCITED!” A pink Aisha was practically jumping up and down in her midnight blue dress.
“Careful, Giana, you’ll mess up your hair,” Delaney, a red Shoyru, teased his friend as they made their way down the steps to the auditorium. It was only ten minutes to the start of the Issue 300 celebration. In the stairwell, Delaney and Giana passed colleagues from their floor, like Chase the photographer and Mallory the receptionist, and other Neopians he had seen before in the building.
Delaney was anxious for the celebration this evening, but even more anxious to know whether or not his article, ‘From the Author’s Desk: A Key to Issue 300’ had been selected for publication.
First, there would be thank-yous and announcements from Mr. Dennison, the Editor-in-Chief, including his annual joke. Next was news of what was to come and then the published pieces for issue 300 would be released, followed by a banquet fit for the King of Meridell. The following morning, the issue would be printed and all of the Neopian Times Reporters would eagerly begin putting together issue 301.
As Delaney entered the auditorium and took a seat in one of the green chairs, he felt a pang of distress. The banner that read “Neopian Times: Issue 300” hung limply from the rafters above and there was a beautiful gold carpet leading up to the podium.
I wish Mark was here, the Shoyru thought, jaw tensing with sorrow. His best friend of three years had resigned from his job as a Neopian Times Reporter this morning. A typed note had been left on his desk. As reporters, artists, and photographers took their seats around him, Delaney pulled out a slip of paper and read it for the fifth time.
Delaney -- I can’t go through with this shame. My article isn’t finished and I know it was expected to be on the front page of the big issue. By the time you’ve read this, I’ll be on Krawk Island once again. Please tell Mr. Dennison and the others that I was needed back at home. Thanks for your support. Good luck with 300.
“Hey,” said Giana, coming to take her seat behind Delaney, “I miss him, too.”
“It’s just...” Delaney twisted around in his seat to talk to her. “It’s weird, you know? That Mark’s resigned, I mean. He was supposed to be on the front page and now...” He broke off with a shrug because the lights were starting to dim...
An hour earlier...
Mark stirred, his head spinning. Colors and shapes started to form through the cracks of his half-lidded eyes. After physical images came into focus, the dam in his head burst and out flooded dozens of questions. What’s going on? Where am I? Why’s it so cold? How long have I been here? Why can’t I move my arms? Hey, why am I tied to this chair?
As if right on cue, the door in front of him burst open and down the steps came a red Zafara in a long, black dress.
“Well?” she asked, turning on the bottom stair to show off the ruffles along her ankles. “What do you think?”
“Mallory?” Mark asked, but the word stopped in his throat. The receptionist? He shook his head to concentrate. He recognized her as the one who had ambushed him on his way home last night. “Wha...?”
The Zafara pulled up a folding chair and sat. “I’m impressed. That Zapatron 2000 put you out for a remarkably long time. I suppose you’re wondering why you’re in the Neopian Times basement?”
Mark nodded, words still stopped up.
“It’s quite simple.” There was a malevolent glint that Mark had never seen in her large eyes. “I needed a favor. The article you wrote, or... say... the article you began is quite brilliant.” Her lip curled into a frightening sneer. “As usual. So, I’m going to borrow it.”
The Krawk wriggled in his chair, hot anger searing in his chest. “Why?” he mouthed.
“You know the rules,” said Mallory as if she were leading a child’s game. “Whoever fails to meet a deadline loses their job as a Neopian Times Reporter. And guess who’s next on the waiting list to get a position as a reporter?” She stood and paced the room as if waiting for an inspiration on her next vicious plan. “Issue 300, that’s quite monumental. An amazing feat for a first-time reporter, don’t you think?”
Disbelief and shock coursed through Mark’s veins. He pushed to find his voice “But... but you’re... you’re the... receptionist.”
“Not anymore,” the Zafara cooed, her expression going from pure evil to somewhat dreamy. “So long, Mark. I’m off to accept my award.”
“My friends,” Mark managed to say as she turned on her heel. “They’ll come look--”
“No, no, I’ve taken care of everything. Sorry about that, you’ll have to stay down here a few more hours. From here you’ll be taken back to Krawk Island, all expenses covered, with no memory of ever working at the Neopian Times. Oh, and don’t bother screaming. This room is practically sound proof.”
In response, Mark strained harder than ever against the ropes that bound his wrists, feeling like he had just consumed a Fire Jug. With a little wave, Mallory disappeared up the steps.
As Mr. Dennison was introduced over the loudspeaker, the audience leapt to their feet and the applause was thunderous. Even in the middle of a tough time, Delaney could not help but smile when the Darigan Skeith sauntered to the podium, straightening his tie along the way and pausing to wave to the crowd.
“Welcome, everyone, to the Neopian Times Issue 300 Celebration. I want to thank each and every one of you for being here tonight and for helping us to make it this far. For some it has been a long road, for others, a short but winding one. Wherever this road is leading, we do know that you are on the right path.
“I’ve been asked year after year, ‘What does it take to run such a successful and wide-spread newspaper?’ and this year I’ve managed to formulate a response. An office with a locking door, six cups of coffee, and often, an extended lunch break!”
Standing in the center of the dark room (and feeling slightly more energized) Mark observed his surroundings from ceiling to floor. In the midst of her “brilliant scheme”, Mallory apparently forgot that Krawks have some of the sharpest teeth of any Neopet species. The ropes were off in a matter of minutes.
“Now for the oh-so-creative escape,” said Mark, feebly attempting to amuse himself. Just like when he was writing, talking aloud over the outline of a project helped to smooth things over in his mind.
From the ceiling above, Mark heard a low voice speaking for a few minutes or so followed by a rumble of laughter. Mr. Dennison’s joke! he thought. The awards ceremony had begun! His heart thudded painfully in his chest. The noise was coming from a square vent toward the top corner of the wall. If only he could pry the slatted surface off, there might be a way to get out...
Looking around, he spotted a large stack of newspapers, tied, and ready to be delivered in the morning. Without thinking twice of the legendary 300th issues, Mark moved as quickly as he could to stack them under the vent...
Delaney was stating to feel numb from Giana nervously kicking his chair legs. He wished he could be more excited, too.
“And now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for,” Mr. Dennison’s voice echoed throughout the auditorium, “the announcing of the accepted pieces.” The Darigan Skeith looked up at the applauding crowd. “As I call your name, please come up to receive your medal...”
Mark lay flat on his stomach, panting from having to muster all of his strength to climb to the top of the pile, pry off the front of the vent and hoist himself up. There wasn’t much time, he knew, and in front of him was a complex maze of dark, claustrophobic tunnels.
“Think,” he urged his scrambled brain, weak voice echoing all around him. “The basement is the bottom floor, east side. The auditorium is the first floor, south side.” Taking a deep breath, he wiggled forward, following the mental map of the building in his head.
“Giana Addison, for ‘Issue 300: We’ve Come a Long Way’.”
Squealing with delight, Giana stopped kicking Delaney’s chair and ecstatically sprang forward, accidentally whacking him in the head with her flailing arms. Delaney stood and applauded for his friend as she was given her medal and went up to the podium.
“Thank you so very much; this is quite an honor. I look forward to our next big issue and promise to always give one hundred and ten percent!”
Mr. Dennison shook her paw and escorted her off the stage. Perhaps he was concerned she’d become overexcited again and trip down the carpeted steps. “Our next outstanding article goes to Mallory Wright for ‘Celebrating 300: A History of the ‘Times.’”
As Mallory stood and waved to the cheering crowd, Mark turned around to face Giana. “I didn’t know she was a writer. And does the name of that article sound familiar to you?”
Giana shrugged and leaned in. “Me neither and not really. Why, what’s up?”
Delaney shook his head, sure that he was overreacting, and listened to Mallory’s brief acceptance speech.
“The final piece selected in the 300th issue comes from a guy with a lot of passion for the news. Please welcome to the stage, Delaney DeMarco – ‘From the Author’s Desk: A Guide to the NT’s Biggest Issues’.”
Smiling, Delaney made his way forward to accept the award...
Confident that he was crawling in the right direction, Mark pushed forward. His body was starting to cramp from the horribly tight space and his muscles ached from the hard work. His face and shoulders were covered in cobwebs and sweat beaded on his scaly forehead.
This has to be the way to the auditorium...
He could hear voices now, clearer than ever. A familiar one was speaking...
“I would just like to say thank you for this award. It is always a pleasure to be a part of one of the Times’ epic issues. Here’s to another fabulous year.”
Mark froze to catch his breath. “Delaney?” he wondered aloud.
“...and I also wanted to say I think we should give a round of applause to someone who was once one of the best reporters here. Mark Timmerman was truly a top-notch writer and friend.”
The sound of gracious applause filled his ears. Motivated, Mark continued to crawl even faster, scraping his arms and bruising his legs. The light at the end of the tunnel (literally!) was the best sight he’d seen in a long time. With one powerful punch, the vent face popped off with a CLANG.
The entire room gasped and a few people screamed. Covered in a mixture of dust, sweat, and Spyder webs, Mark hauled his body out and stood squinting. The light was too bright for his eyes.
“Mark?” Someone yelled from the audience.
“Dude!” A figure had him by the shoulders. Delaney. “Are you okay? What happened to you? Why’d you say you were going back to Krawk Island?”
The Krawk shielded the light with his arm as his eyes began to water. “First of all, I didn’t type that note. Second of all, you might want to catch the receptionist... I think she’s escaping.”
And sure enough, down the carpeted halls ran Mallory in her black dress and high heels.
After being revived by two plates of food, a tall drink, and a bowl of Mint ice cream at the banquet, Mark told his story to the entire office building. From being tied up in the basement for hours to navigating through the cold, metal tunnels, everyone wanted to hear what happened over and over again.
“Give him some space,” said Giana, waving the nosy crowd away. “He was plagiarized, tied up, shot at with a Zapatron 2000 and covered in filth from the vents. Everyone just needs to chill!”
“It’s fine,” Mark calmed her. “I feel okay now.”
To his amazement, Mr. Dennison allowed him to finish his article later that evening and return it tomorrow before the issue was released. Mallory had typed up a generic, blatant ending that Mark got rid of immediately.
“You know, besides the ordeal you’ve been through today, there’s good news,” said Delaney, halfway through his slice of cherry pie.
“Mr. Dennison extended my deadline?”
“Mallory was caught and taken to the Defenders of Neopia to be dealt with?” Giana chimed in.
“We all made it into issue 300?” Mark guessed again, spooning out more ice cream from the center of the table.
“Nope,” said Delaney, and there was a hint of triumph in his voice. “You can relax and not worry about being kidnapped and plagiarized for a whole year... or at least until issue 350 is released.”
“Ha ha ha,” said Mark, poking him with a plastic spoon. “Just finish your pie.”
Dessert had never tasted so good.
Happy issue 300, everyone! Feel free to send feedback. Also, if you are reading this, then that means I have reached 100 Neopian Times trophies. Yay! :) Thanks to beewitched2 for editing.