The Qasalan Expellibox
“You know what, Jeff?” I said as I settled into my stall, “I’m really sick of this whole thing.”
Jeff was the silent sort and only nodded. He was like my opposite—he was a green Hissi and I was a pink Bruce. I leaned my elbows against the stall’s table and sighed as the desert winds buried a few sand grains into my coat. I really couldn’t stand my job sometimes. The only relief was to make snarky comments to customers. I was in one of those moods. Thankfully, it wasn’t long until my first customer arrived; my box of scarabs was all ready for them.
The first customer happened to be an Aisha. I really couldn’t stand those pets, which made me particularly happy—I could scare her a little. She was faerie and was accompanied by her owner. I remembered that she had come yesterday, except it was to Jeff’s stall, and not mine. It hadn’t been a pleasant encounter. I didn’t know how Jeff could stand sitting here all day every day without making even one flaming comment to some of the pets that were really jerks.
The Aisha came up to me reluctantly, obviously one of those prissy sorts that was embarrassed by having to come up and talk to a pink MALE Bruce. I mean, I don’t get what’s wrong with being pink and a man, but some people do think it’s wrong. I say that they just don’t have a sense of style.
The Aisha held out her hand demandingly. “Scarab,” she said with a frown, her eyes averted slightly. I couldn’t withhold a groan as I dug into my full box and pulled out one of the nastiest looking scarabs that I could find.
“Don’t you just love it?” I said as I watched her drop the scarab down the several chutes that she could pick from. Any of them was fine—we just wanted them out of Qasala. It was by orders of Prince Jazan, though I don’t know why he bothered. The more scarabs that you sent out of this city the more that came in. It was a metaphysical law or something—I couldn’t quite remember what my science teacher had said when I was still in Neoschool.
I watched the scarab make its way down the chutes. It was slower than molasses and both of us, the Aisha and I, were waiting for it to get to the bottom so I could hand the Aisha her prize—thanks from Prince Jazan—and she could be on her way. At last it reached the bottom. It had gone to Faerieland. I looked up at her, a confident smirk on my face.
“Those faeries won’t be too happy,” I said. “I can’t say thank you enough. Have a Queela Crisp.” I stuck one into her open hand and she closed around it automatically. The silent look of horror on her face was enough satisfaction for me. Apparently she lived in Faerieland. Who would want to clog up their own city with scarabs, after all? No one. That was exactly why we were sending them away—still, she wouldn’t have thought about it at all if she had sent it to Terror Mountain or Tyrannia. She was inconsiderate, just like all the other Neopians. You came to get used to it when you worked the chutes.
Jeff’s chutes seemed to be working much better than mine and he had already gone through a couple customers. He was able to dish out prizes pretty fast with his tail; it flicked around far faster than both my hands could work. Even though I thought it was rather exciting how fast he could move he always had a sullen expression on his face. I hadn’t heard him speak once since my boss had introduced me to him and in fact, he hadn’t even spoken then. It was just a small nod and a glazed stare. I had been told that Hissis did that often, but I wasn’t so sure. Jeff was just a put out sort of individual. I supposed he was as bored at his job as I was, yet he still managed to keep things up.
It wasn’t long before my chutes were working well too and a line of customers formed in front of me. One of my favorite customers came soon after the Aisha left with her owner. He was a blue Lupe, fairly young, and always excited to see me.
“Hey, Caspian!” he yelled when he was only a few feet away from me. I was helping the customer in front of him, who was an elderly Christmas Wocky, and even though I liked him, I couldn’t help but cringe. While he was one of my most energetic customers, he was always just a little bit too loud and it never helped my reputation to have a friend like him. Whenever I thought about my reputation, though, I always balked and stopped right there. I didn’t have a reputation beyond what Jeff thought of me, and as the guy never said anything or even looked the least interested, I had decided that it didn’t much matter.
As soon as the Wocky had hobbled off in the direction of central Qasala, the Lupe bounded up to me, his owner trailing behind him, a faint smile on her face. I, too, couldn’t help but smile. “Hello, Roleigh.”
“Did you hear?” Roleigh asked. “Qasala’s next in line for the Faerie Queen’s visit. She’s been trying to get to all the cities in Neopia and we’re next, as soon as she finishes touring Sakhmet!”
I reached into my box and pulled out a scarab, handing it to the excited Lupe. He hastily put it down his favorite chute (they changed locations every day) and continued talking as if nothing had happened.
“Fyora will be arriving at the palace this evening, I think,” Roleigh continued. “Are you going to be there? If you are, I can save you a seat.”
I sighed. “I promised to work the chutes all night, kid. I guess this is what my boss was talking about when he said that the guy who was supposed to come at night wouldn’t be here. I’m the last person that anyone ever tells.” I felt rather sour about the whole deal. I hadn’t known a thing about the Faerie Queen being in Qasala. It was rather disappointing to hear now that I had been locked into my duties.
Roleigh deflated when he heard that I couldn’t come. “I had just been hoping...” he said as he watched the scarab hit the bottom of the chute and disappeared. The indicator on my desk flipped to Outer Space, and I dug him out his prize. Five thousand neopoints. Roleigh happily accepted the cash. His owner was happy too. She was grinning ear to ear and didn’t even frown when he asked to stay just a little bit longer.
Roleigh moved to one side so as to allow other customers through. He stayed by my side and babbled relatively quietly for a little while. I went through the motions of handing out the scarabs and prizes as I listened.
“You know my owner?” Roleigh said. “Maria? So she got me a front seat to Fyora’s speech. It’ll be so amazing. I mean, I love to follow these things. I have a pen pal in the Haunted Woods who sent her most recent speech. He wrote it all down. His owner had to write the letter because his hand was hurting so badly.” Roleigh blushed. “I feel sorry that I made him go through all that, but I’m so happy that I have Fyora’s speech all written out now!” He kept on going about how he would be trying to get Fyora’s autograph and perhaps her opinion on Sloth’s recent tranquility, but he wasn’t really counting on either.
I could only nod as I listened to him. I wasn’t an enthusiast about these sorts of things—speeches and stuff, you know—but hearing what Fyora had to say about Neopia and watching Roleigh try to get his autograph would be entertaining. Anyway, it would break up the general order of things. Goodness knows that I had nothing else to do. And if he saved me a seat... I sighed as I handed another customer a scarab. It was just my luck.
I snapped back into reality just in time to see Maria beckoning to Roleigh. She had run out of patience and the neopoints had soon lost their luster, at least under the glaring Lost Desert sun. When she got back to her cool and quiet home, I’m sure they would still glimmer enough for her to enjoy them, but for now, her patience had run out. Roleigh left me reluctantly and I was sorry to see him go as well. I debated only for a moment, then called out, “Bye!” to him and he waved back.
“I’ll save you a seat!” he yelled as he disappeared over a sand dune. “Just in case you can come!”
I settled back down into my seat, feeling slightly better and not quite as snarky as I had at the beginning of the day. Someone cared, even though I couldn’t take them up on their kindness.
The normal shift ended and everyone began to leave their stalls (there were ten of us working the Qasalan Expelliboxes) except for me, Jeff, and one desert Kacheek named Meghanne. I was the one who was going to keep up with the late night traffic. Everything slowed down considerably once the sun fell, but there were the strange few that operated on a night schedule and the others who had forgotten earlier in the day and didn’t want to miss their chance at a free prize.
I could see the lights in Qasala, which wasn’t too far away from the Expelliboxes. We were just outside the perimeter of the city for all those who didn’t want to meet with the busy morning rush at the market stalls. As Qasala wasn’t a big city, I could hear the roar of chatter of all the people attending the speech. The whole of Qasala was out for this event. Everyone except Meghanne, Jeff, and me.
Jeff, if anything, seemed quieter than usual. He was staring blandly ahead into the rising moon and he didn’t even move his tail, which was something that he normally did. I tried to drown out my own imaginations of the speech in the back of my mind. It would most likely be something about how wonderful Qasala was and what a wonder to be back here again after the many years that we had been gone. Warning us about recent temperatures and some decisions made in the Faerie court that would interest us. We, who were so far away.
The moon glared down just as harshly as the sun, though the intensity was lost. It was like your mother reprimanding you, then leaving and having a child do her work. There was still the mother’s bite beneath your feet in the form of sand and that alone was enough to remind you about what she wanted to do. The child was nothing at all except another reminder on top of that.
I noticed a few travelers coming across the sand, most likely from Sakhmet and I straightened up, trying not to show how down in the dumps I felt. People coming at night were always amusing to me because they either were in a great hurry or in no hurry at all. There was never any in between.
I greeted one of the travelers. There were three of them, so each one went to a different Expellibox stall. After he had put his scarab into one of the tubes, the traveler left me and the night was cold and barren once again.
I heard another roar behind me. The Faerie Queen had probably come out upon the palace steps to speak. I sighed. That was when Jeff poked me with the end of his tail.
I looked over at the Hissi, wondering what he wanted. He cocked his head to one side, then motioned with his tail toward the city.
“You want me to go?” I asked.
The Hissi shrugged, then waved his tail between our two stalls. I hesitated. He could just want a drink or something and my mind was playing tricks on me. I wanted to go to that speech so badly. It was more than just being there that mattered. It was a break in life. Something different. I didn’t know why, but it meant the world to me. Again, the Hissi motioned toward the city. I frowned, caught in the struggle that was only in my mind. What did he want me to do?
Then something happened that made me know. I knew more strongly than I ever had before. There, on the wind, was a single word. “Go.” It was whispered and barely there. Meghanne, who was down the line from us a few machines couldn’t hear; I barely did. But still, there it was.
“Go listen to the speech?” I asked, just to make sure.
The Hissi waved his tail in between our boxes, as if saying that he could my job and his job, perhaps even better than I could at one. Then, he nodded. That was all I needed.
I fairly sprinted across the sand—as much as a Bruce can sprint. It flew out from under my slick feet, but as I dug my toes in the sand, I got a better grip and was able to go faster.
Soon, I was in the city. Roleigh had said he had saved me a seat, hadn’t he? I saw the crowd from a ways away and began to scan it as I made my way toward it, this time a little bit more slowly. Where were Roleigh and Maria?
I was among the seats that had been erected in the large square. Where were they?
Then, from a long ways off, a blue Lupe turned his head and his eyes brightened. He waved wildly, almost upsetting a few people. I made my way toward him as quickly as I could, eager to listen to Fyora’s speech, now that I was here. There was something inside me that glowed at Roleigh’s excitement. As I sat down next to him in the seat that he had promised to save, I smiled.
I had broken the cycle.