The blue Bori pulled his head out of his front legs where he'd been dozing and looked up to see a figure looming over his cage. He sat up quickly; there was someone here? For a month or so he'd been watching pets come and go from his little spot in the wall of cages. Most had been painted; some had been Limited Edition, but none of them had stayed longer than ten minutes.
He'd envied those pets.
The figure bent into the light and he could see now that it was a female human of medium height with her hair pulled tightly into a ponytail; it looked painful to him.
"Well?" she said, mouth twisted into a sour look and an eyebrow rose, "aren't you going to say something?"
He scrambled to his feet, trying to wipe the dirt from his nose.
"Hello," he said meekly, unsure of exactly what she wanted to hear.
"Do you know what a Christmas Bori looks like?" she asked abruptly, rummaging through a bag slung over her shoulder. When he shook his head, she pulled a small, thick book from the bag and thumbed through its pages until turning it around for him to see. There on the right page was a picture of a Bori like himself, but different.
"Their white fur is very shaggy and warm," she said, pointing to the pictured legs as she spoke. "And the scarf is part of the package."
He nodded dumbly, unsure of where she was going with this but grateful for the company. He'd had a few visitors sure, but no one had taken enough of a liking to him to take him home.
"Well," she said, moving to put the book away; he could see part of the title, Antholo....Pets Vol. 4. The rest was either obscured by her hand or worn from frequent handling. "Would you like to be one?"
The question surprised him. Would he like to be painted Christmas? What pet didn't dream of the day when he or she got to visit the Rainbow Pool? Of course he would!
"Yes!" he said with excitement and jumped slightly in his happiness. "Why me, though?" he asked, a puzzled look on his face.
"Because," she said with the air of one explaining something very simple to a small child, "I want a well-named Christmas Bori for my family. You have a very nice name. Would you like to be my Christmas Bori?"
His name? That's why she was here? He could read the black letters of his name plate backwards through its plastic material; Kenske. It wasn't as though he didn't know his name, but sometimes it was fun to trace the letters with his claws in the dust on the floor, backwards and right ways, sometimes sideways and upside down, just for entertainment.
"Yes, yes, I would," he said with less conviction than his original answer, but still, he was getting out of here.
"Good," she said simply and called for Dr_Death. The sickly yellow Techo had his cage unlocked in a matter of seconds and Kenske was trailing behind the human to the front desk, unable to believe his luck. She pulled the necessary neopoints from the bag and handed them to Dr_Death.
"This is all in order then," he said with a smile, which on him was actually quite creepy, and handed her a thick stack of papers. "His records," he said simply and when she nodded, Kenske watched him turn and disappear behind a heavy door to the back of the Pound.
"Well?" he heard and spun around to see her holding the door open with an elbow and looking quizzically at him. "Change your mind?"
"No," he said, fearful that she might leave him here, and scampered out the door, smiling into the warm summer sun as the old Pound door slammed shut behind them.
The Haunted Woods weren't so bad, he decided; well, the section that contained houses anyway. Granted that most of them were rickety little shacks that didn't look like they could stand the wind, but at least the yards were kept. When they reached the end of the row, he thought for certain that the small, actually cozy-looking little house on the right was it. After all, he reasoned, there were no more houses on this street and the sign at the head of it had clearly read "Dead End." To his surprise, however, they moved off the road itself to what looked like a trail of pebbles that wound through the trees at the end of the road. Against his better judgment but totally dependent on his owner to guide him through this place, he followed.
The house was small, with four rooms and a garden in the back. The garden looked as though it had been well-kept at one time, but had since been allowed to do as it pleased. When the old door slammed shut, it shook the gas lamps on the walls, causing the shadows around the room to shiver. The movement of the light disturbed another figure curled up in a chair and it stood to see what the commotion was. Kenske gasped and cowered where he stood as an eerie bluish Lenny with glowing purple eyes scowled down at him.
"What's that?" it asked sharply, wings on its hips.
"A new family member," the human replied, arranging her shoes by the door. "And I expect you to be civil, Jax."
"Hmph," the Lenny snorted, "and just what, Rose, do you expect it to do all day? You're gone and I'm certainly not going to entertain it. I'm busy."
So the human was called Rose. Kenske frowned and studied the floor; she hadn't bothered to give him her name at the Pound and neither of them had said a word the entire way here.
"It doesn't matter." Rose sighed, obviously used to these sort of arguments. "He's going to be painted tomorrow. Here are his papers," she said, and shoved the rather thick stack into the Lenny's wings. "I'm going to weed the garden."
He watched her leave through another door in the back of what seemed to be the sitting room, and when he turned around, Jax was moving through another doorway. He followed.
"She's always doing that," the Lenny grunted, heaving the paper stack onto a wobbly kitchen table. "Going out to weed the garden, I mean. You ought to see that garden; there's nothing to it. I don’t know what she's doing out there but it's not work." She turned and looked the small blue Bori over; as she did so, a strange expression took her face. "So you're going to be Christmas, is that right?" she asked and Kenske was surprised to notice, was it sympathy in her voice? When he nodded, she shook her head and pulled something out of a cupboard. "That's one of Rose's dream pets, a Christmas Bori," she said absently, pouring the contents of a bottle into a bowl and setting it down onto the table next to the paper. "That's for you."
He climbed ungainly into a wooden chair and faced the bowl of soup. It was thin and translucent and there looked to be a few eyeballs floating around in it. He gulped and looked back at the Lenny. "Really?" he asked before sampling the soup. It wasn't that bad, really, if he ignored the actual taste.
"Mhm," Jax mumbled, shuffling through the paper. As she read, she took notes on a pad of paper. Kenske didn't ask why; she struck him as the type who wouldn't like her methods questioned. Finishing the soup, he wiped his mouth on a paw, "So, does anyone else live here?" "Mhm," she mumbled again, scratching something out, "Rom. Big Lupe. Well, we say he lives here. Haven't actually seen him in a while."
"Why not?" he asked, climbing back out of the chair.
Jax looked up from the paper this time. "It doesn't matter," she said and her tone was so final that he didn't question further.
Kenske soon found out why Rose had given Jax the papers. Practically everything of importance that went on around the house, Jax was behind. The Lenny ran everything. She did the shopping; she kept the banking; she repaired the house when there was something wrong that just couldn't go without being fixed. The only part of the house she didn't take care of was the garden, explaining that no one went out there but Rose, and "no one but Rose would find anything interesting in that filthy, overgrown mess anyway."
In fact, he rarely saw the human at all. Jax explained that she had three other homes with other pets that she saw to at least once a day, "Sometimes more," she continued, "if a foster is ready to go."
When questioned about the fosters, Jax spoke briskly and quietly. Apparently she had been one herself, but when it was time for her to leave, Rose found that she couldn't run the house without her. The Lenny smirked when telling him this, as if it had been part of her plan all along.
"But I'm not a foster, am I?" he had asked with a slight tremor in his voice.
"Of course not," she snapped, pulling a book from her extensive collection. "Rose painted you herself. She's not giving you up. You're a dream pet."
Kenske flicked his tail back and forth as he lay on his bed, watching while the insect that was trying desperately to land flew away in fear of being swatted. So this was what it was like to be a dream pet. At first he'd been bored and antsy, but after being chased out of Jax's room twice he'd taken to wandering around outside. He'd even ventured into the garden once and hadn't been surprised to find Rose there. She hadn't seen him, of course, and he knew he wouldn't mention it to her. It would probably make her angry.
The neighborhood was pleasant enough, for the Haunted Woods that is. No one had tried to eat him anyway, which was more than he'd expected. He'd even seen the Lupe Jax said was supposed to live in their house. Granted that he'd seen him from the doorway of his room where he'd been cowering and hoping he wouldn't be noticed. There hadn't been much to his visit; trading insults with Jax until she locked herself in her room, rummaging through the cupboards and slamming them shut again with disgust, and a shouting match with Rose summed it up.
Kenske had gone down to say something, though he wasn't sure what he could say, but her response was a flat, "It doesn't matter."
He heard the front door slam shut in the icy wind and watched his door move slightly in response. Pulling the red and green scarf from around one of his bedposts, he wrapped it around his neck as he climbed off the bed. He came into the sitting room in time to see the door shut as Rose stalked back off into the garden. There was a blue tail disappearing into the kitchen and he followed, knowing their new foster was home. Jax was sitting at the table ruffling through pound papers when he pushed the door open and a blue Eyrie was eating mushy peas from a bowl on the floor.
The Bori turned back to the sitting room, straightening the rug inside the door as he did so, as it had been wrinkled when Rose and the new pet had wiped their feet. He could have asked the Eyrie his name, struck up a conversation, made him feel more welcome than the stiff Lenny could. But the Eyrie was only going to be staying until the laboratory painted him. Then he'd be off to a new and better home.
Kenske would stay here, rescued from the Pound, sleeping snugly in his own room, fed on omelette and the occasional jelly, and with all of Neopia to roam if he chose, never worrying for anything. He was a dream pet.