A Home in My Heart
I ran through snow covered paths of Happy Valley, leaving behind light imprints of my footprints on the thick snow. Snowflakes danced about in the wind around me, whirling and landing on my head. A blue Kau, dressed in a thick woolen coat and earmuffs, dug through the snow with Jolly, a white Wocky, who was decked in the same attire.
“Good day!” Jolly greeted me with a wide smile as he shoveled the heavy snow, his fur matted with sweat. The blue Kau nodded slightly to me, and I guessed he was Jolly’s apprentice. Jolly was one of the cleaners around here who got rid of the never-ending snow on the paths to make way for tourists.
Sure enough, a group of Neopets huddled in layers of clothes with their heads bowed down were walking through the newly cleared streets towards the Slushie shop. I went past them swiftly, but I managed to hear a little Kiko say, “Daddy look! A snow Xweetok! Cool.”
He dragged out the “o” in his “cool” in a way which annoyed me slightly. Though I must be a rare sight in whatever place he lived in, I wasn’t some exhibit or rare item. I ran faster, bounding towards the Arrival Hall.
It came into view in a space of two minutes, a medium sized wooden hut with multi-coloured lights strung on the roofs and walls. Guides were leading half-frozen Neopets towards it from different directions, because some Neopets came by air, some by water, and some by land.
My deep black eyes scanned the Arrival Hall, sweeping across the excited tourists. That was when I heard a female voice call my name. “Celia!” a faerie Xweetok called as she walked towards me, her light brown paws slipping past each other deftly. A male shadow Xweetok, my father, remained where he was standing, clutching the hands of three other Xweetoks.
“Wow, you got yourself painted,” I said, staring at my mother’s light green wings which folded and unfolded themselves. She smiled, pleased that I noticed even though it was so obvious, and hesitated slightly before standing on her hind legs and wrapping her front paws around my head.
It had been six years since I had seen my family. Out of desperation at their lack of funds and eight children, they had sent their five older ones away to relatives to raise while they kept the remaining three babies to take care of.
My father had started a clothing company which ate his neopoints and was hard to maintain, but after years of creative ideas, hard work and a fair amount of luck, the company was a success. I could see that from the gleaming coat of my mother’s, so unlike the dull but motherly brown and red fur she used to have.
My younger siblings, painted starry, spotted, and striped, whined as the biting wind of Terror Mountain bit at their coats. My mother withdrew her crushing grip from me and smiled weakly, her eyes shiny with tears. I smiled back half-heartedly, wishing more than anything that I was back at my Aunt’s house playing with Elisar, my black Anubis.
I hated awkward moments and I knew I had changed ever since I was sent here. I was stripped of my beautiful blue fur to be replaced with snow the moment I arrived. At my kindergarten, my classmates bullied me and laughed at me for being the new girl who had no idea what games they played here. At primary school, people barely noticed me and I kept to myself, known to everyone as the girl who didn’t know what was cool and what was not. My old cheerful self had been replaced with an ice-hearted Celia, to suit this icy place I was tossed to.
My jaw tightened slightly and my paws were clenched, but my mother barely noticed a thing. She was wrapping yet another layer of wool around my starry brother, whose teeth was chattering so loudly I wanted to tape his mouth shut.
My paws clenched even harder as I reprimanded myself for having such thoughts. Though I barely knew the brat... no, the kid, he was my flesh and blood brother. I unclenched my paws and bit my lip instead as we made our way out of the wooden door onto the unique paths of Happy Valley.
“Happy Village! Happy Village!” my siblings shouted as they danced in the snow, stomping on the neat piles of snow at the side of the paths. I lowered my head slightly, embarrassed at the wrong name of Happy Valley they used, but I did not correct them.
This was not an uncommon sight during the holiday periods in Neopia. Ignorant tourists would walk on our streets, dressed in clothes so thick I was surprised they could move. Now I was with a whole family of those tourists.
Who cares what other people think, I declared hotly to myself. These were my family, and no one had a right to sneer at them. I glared at people who stared at us until my mum gently patted my shoulder and asked timidly, “Darling, why are you glaring at people who aren’t doing anything to you?”
I looked at the people I was glaring at and realized they were not even casting a single glance towards us. I was just being paranoid. I stretched my hind legs, cracked my paws and willed myself to relax.
That night, eight Xweetoks sat around the large oak dining table of my Aunt’s for dinner. My family gulped down the steaming hot soup, glad for something to warm them while my snow-painted Aunt and Uncle and I waited for the soup to cool down in the negative degree room temperature before drinking it.
They also chatted as they clattered their soup spoons loudly against the porcelain bowls, unbreakable plastic ones for my siblings. I ate the loaves of bread dipped in some special sauce my auntie made from herbs found at the peak of Terror Mountain, savoring the rich taste until I realized what they were talking about.
“Remember the food shop shaped like a burger? The one we used to visit so often when we were young?” my mother was saying as she dipped her bread into the sauce. My aunt nodded, a huge grin on her pale lips.
My stomach clenched. I watched as they talked about Neopia Central, my aunt reminiscing about our hometown which I couldn’t remember. Their words triggered no memories, their laughter reminding me about my biggest fear: That I didn’t belong with my family. My two older sisters were sent to other parts of Neopia Central, my eldest brother working at Kiko Lake, my two other brothers at Brightvale, all merely a short distance from where my parents lived. I was the furthest away, and I had lived in different weather than theirs for six years.
They say you cannot remember your infant memories. They, whoever and wherever they were, were right. I am eleven now, and I had been sent away at the mere age of four. This had made me wiser, made me stronger than the carefree students at my local school. I pushed away the remaining loaves of bread and drained the bowl of cold soup before softly going out the front door into the chilly night air.
The metal swing creaked, the chains rusty, the coat of flimsy black paint on it flaking away. The hard plastic seat was as cold as when I just sat on it. The hinges groaned, the ground covered with dirty, brown snow. It had stopped snowing, and the sky was as black as always. Twinkling stars embellished it, in perfect harmony with the silver crescent moon.
I closed my eyes and folded my tail around my waist, willing the cool air to seep into my bones. I could remember my first day at Terror Mountain. It was freezing cold, and it terrified me. I thought I had died and this was some kind of cold underworld for me to live in. I had thought the snow coat given to me was to camouflage me, to make sure the living people could not see me.
I sniggered, my eyelids flickering open. How foolish I was then. My aunt reprimanded me for “cursing myself” and told me not to have such “depressing thoughts”. Totally lost in my thoughts, I was oblivious to the sound of voices, panting and footsteps coming from in front of me.
I gazed blankly at the ground and my heart nearly stopped when my mother appeared out of nowhere and squeezed me tight. I looked around from under my mother’s arms and saw my whole family surrounding us, all panting as though they had run a long way.
“I thought you were going out to buy milk or something!” my aunt said, her eyes filled with relief and annoyance. “We were all so worried because you were gone for so long.”
My eyes widened. Worried? Alas, my family members were worried? My mother kissed my forehead and she let go of me, her eyes brimming with love. My siblings stared, and the starry one... no, Johnny, hated not being in the center of attention, so he said loudly, “Sis, let’s go home.”
My mother laughed and ruffled his head before holding hands with the two of us as we walked home. I barely paid attention, but it was okay because my mother led the way anyway. More importantly was that they had all been worried about me, and little Johnny regarded me as his big sister.
As I stared at them chat and laugh, I realized that I wasn’t out of place. I was already home, just that I was too blind to see and too busy sulking to talk to them.
“Sis, why are you staring at us weirdly?” little Lucy asked.
I let go of Mom’s hand to scoop her up from the ground. “Because you’re so pretty,” I joked, rubbing my nose against hers as her tinkling, fairy-like laughter rang throughout the night.