When I walked into the Pound with Serrabell, my yellow Pteri, I was going to get a Peophin, Gelert, or even a Bori. Now as I think back, I’m glad I didn’t. Serra and I were getting towards the deepest, darkest part of the building. The dead center, where no light came in or out.
The torches reflected the water trickling down the damp walls. I was determined to get to the end of the hall.
There were lots of empty cages here, and I was striding past one when I stopped, puzzled. The cell was empty, yet... there was the name on the tattered sheet of paper: Nalee, Female Blue Lupe, 1052 days, Level 1.
I bit my lip, then picked up Serrabell and sprinted down the hall. After a few minutes I came to the Adoption Desk, panting. “Excuse, me um, there’s a cell...” I stopped for a moment catching my breath. “Okay. Cell #92 has a name listed on it, but there’s no pet in there,” I reported.
The pink Uni chuckled for a moment. “Oh there’s a pet in there. HOUSTON! Escort this girl to cell #92, and bring a lantern.” She promptly went back to filing her nails. A tiny blue Kacheek took my hand and started leading me down the hallway again.
Finally we got there. I peered into the cage, not seeing anything. “Look at the blanket,” said the young Kacheek. At last I saw it. A lump almost indistinguishable from the bed. “Nalee. Nalee!” cried the Kacheek gently.
“What is it, Houston?” asked a tired voice.
“I-I would like to adopt you,” I murmured. The lump suddenly stood up. The blanket fell away, revealing an underfed and filthy Lupe. She could barely stand, and her pale blue coat was knotted and faded.
Houston pulled a key out of his pocket and unlocked the door. He picked the lantern up of the floor. Nalee gasped and stepped backwards. She moaned and tried to cover her eyes with dirty paws. Houston quickly blew out the flame.
And so we walked down the hallway, shrouded in darkness. Nalee winced again when we came to the Adoption desk.
“So you're adopting #92, huh? ‘Bout time. It’s been rotting in that cell for, let’s see... 1052 days,” she said cruelly, and then laughed.
“Shut up,” said Nalee, her voice dangerously quiet.
“Your owner never came ba-” the Uni started.
“SHUT UP!” Nalee howled, and leaped towards the desk. She tackled the Uni and they wrestled behind the desk on the floor. I heard a yelp of pain, and an ear-piercing whinny. Dr. Death finally yanked Nalee off the Uni. I ran over and grabbed Nalee’s shoulders.
I snatched the adoption papers off the desk, saying, “Oookay, um, we’ll be going then. Thank you. Bye!” I dragged Nalee outside and we started the long walk home. Serrabell justed stared at Nalee. After a few minutes Nalee snarled, causing the Pteri to leap into flight. As she flew off, I gulped and glanced toward Nalee. The fight seemed to have left her. Her shoulders drooped, she sighed, and collapsed. “A little too much excitement,” I muttered. I hoisted her onto my shoulders and ran home.
* * * * *
I woke up in a blue room. I sat up and stared at my paws. I ran over to a door in the room. It was the bathroom. I walked over to the mirror. A slightly refreshed looking blue Lupe stared back at me. I walked back into the bedroom. Where was I?
It was completely cloud themed. Everything was pale blue and white. It was beautiful. I sank down on the fluffy bed. There was a knock on the door. “Nalee? Can I come in?” someone called. Everything came rushing back to me. I had been adopted. I attacked the Uni. I was... home.
“Uhhh, yeah,” I replied. My voice sounded hoarse. A pretty girl stepped inside. She had short brown hair and was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Pretty, but average.
“I-I’m NightWolf. Call me Night. We’re going to have dinner in an hour, so could you come downstairs in about half an hour? If you want to take a shower, the bathroom’s over there.” She shrugged awkwardly. “Welcome to the family. You can meet everyone else later.” She stepped out into the hallway.
I smiled and went into the bathroom. Fifteen minutes later a considerably cleaner me was walking down the hall. I went downstairs, carefully stepping with my sore paws. Three pets sat at the table. Summer beckoned, and I walked over.
“Well, let’s see, you’ve met Serrabell,” she said. Serrabell was closest to me. She sat cowering in her chair, staring with wide eyes. The pet next to her whispered something to her. Serrabell just looked more frightened. I turned my attention to the smirking pet.
“That’s Monique,” Night said, glaring at her. Monique was a gorgeous pink Cybunny, with lustrous fur and a manicured nails.
“What’re you staring at, like, street rat?” Monique asked in a superior tone of voice.
“Populars are like, so overrated,” I replied, immitating her voice.
“Monique, everyone here knows that you think that because of your physical characteristics you tend to conceive yourself as superincumbent,” said the pet across from her. Monique rolled her eyes.
“And someone thinks they’re SO smart just ‘cause they’re takin’ advanced Neoschool classes,” she replied.
“Oh please. You couldn’t pass first grade math even if you had the best tutors in Neopia helping you. Oh wait! You DO!” said the voice. I finally yanked my eyes of a scowling Monique and looked at the last pet. She was a bright-eyed green Xweetok. “Hi! I’m Noel, the oldest pet,” she greeted me.
“Oh, shoot! The flying carriage is here early! Come on everyone! Let’s MOVE!” Night said.
“Flying carriage?” I asked.
“No duh! How else are we going to get to Faerieland?” Monique responded. It was all I could do just to get myself outside. This life was so wonderfully... different.
* * * * *
“I’ll have a lemonade, please,” I said clearly to the waitress. She smiled at me and walked away.
“Noel, every time we go somewhere, you get lemonade. What’s the deal?” Mom asked. I shrugged and stared at my paws. I turned my gaze to Nalee.
She was clearly comfortable here, up in the clouds. It made me wonder where she used to live. As much at home as she was in the clouds, she seemed very uneasy around us.
Throughout the course of the meal, Nalee was silent. Silent hate at Monique’s constant volley of cruel remarks. Silent disappointment of Serra’s pathetic fear. Silent curiosity about me and Mom.
After dinner, we wandered around Faerieland. Nalee, rather than stick close by us, wandered around in our vicinity. She was simply filled with wonder at this dream-like world. I caught her staring wistfully at the winged pets as they walked off clouds.
Suddenly, Mom was yelling. “Where’s Nalee?” Monique and Serra huddled closer together and said nothing. I myself was in another world, one of thought. I didn’t hear Night at all. I was thinking about Nalee. Her eyes were amazing. They told tales of rage, hate, loneliness, and fear. Yet here in the clouds, there was a bit of trust, warmth, and maybe the tiniest glimmer of love. There was one thing the eyes lacked. Hope.
* * * * *
When Mom started totally freaking out, I wasn’t concerned. Actually, I thought that the stupid Lupe deserved it. Serra looked scared. She was like that ever since she came home with Night. I kind of regretted telling her that the Lupe was a wild rabid monster.
I turned to Brainiac, who was drifting off in space. “Yo. Brainiac. The Lupe is gone and Mom’s freaking out,” I said sharply. She turned quickly. Noel grabbed my paw and dragged me and Serra after Mom. We patrolled the streets for hours. At the last rays of the setting sun (which I wouldn’t have noticed unless Serra had told me) I stood up. I was putting on nail polish, Serra was hopping from claw to claw, and Noel was pacing.
I heard something in the alley. I motioned to Serra and Noel to stop moving. We all stopped and listened. Faintly we heard the crash of a breaking box, and a boy saying, “You’re just scum, you good-for-nothing coward.”
Noel took off. We followed her at a walk. She stood at the entrance of the alleyway, frozen. I peered past her. Down in the depths of the alley, a Shadow Grarrl and a well-dressed Green Techo were kicking a shape on the ground. Suddenly, the shape reared up, slashing at their eyes. They were punched and pummeled until they ran off, throwing me aside in the process.
I moaned and stood up. “Ugh, I think I broke a nai-” I stopped short. The shape was approaching. As the thing stepped into the light of the dying sun, I realized with a jolt who it was.
* * * * *
I shrank back with fear when Nalee stepped forward. Huge chunks of fur were torn away, her paws were beyond recognition, her eye was dark and swollen shut, and she clutched her stomach. She walked barely a step before she doubled over and fell again.
Noel was picking her up laboriously. Nalee was unconscious. Monique led the way to the street, broken nail forgotten. We looked in the window of the shop and saw Mom. I ran in and woke her sleeping form. She opened her eyes, still clutching a cup of coffee. She took one look at Nalee, grabbed my wing, and ran out the door. Half an hour later we were watching her in her room. She had awakened, but was in bed.
Mom told us to please leave. As we stood outside the door, we faintly heard Mom’s concerned voice and Nalee’s weak one. Mom came out a while later, looking a bit annoyed. She motioned for Monique to go in.
Monique scowled but obeyed. She was barely in there for a minute before there was a full-force shouting match between the two. Mom opened the door and dragged Monique out by the ear.
I glanced at the door. I stepped inside, trying to hold back fear. Nalee sat upright in bed, her head against the pillows. “Why did you get into the fight back there?” I asked her tentatively.
“Well, they were making fun of you and Monique and Noel and Night. They said you were all idiots to adopt a nobody like me,” she said softly.
“That’s a lot to do for people you barely know,” I replied.
I sighed and left the room, feeling less scared of her than before. She and Noel had a brief chat, and Noel came out looking sad.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her. But she wouldn’t answer.
It was Night who found it. The note. It was pinned to the pillow of Nalee’s bed. It read:
To Everyone in This Family:
Thank you all. You have been kind to me and loved me. There is something unfinished, though, to do. I am off to find my old owner. Please don’t search for me. I will be okay, as much as you might disagree. If I’m lucky you will remember me; if not, I will become a distant memory, a shady being you can’t quite recall. Maybe I will find my owner. Maybe I will live in Faerieland. Maybe I will have an adventure. Maybe I will come back someday.
Night was quiet. Monique was quiet. I was quiet. Noel was quiet, but had a knowing look in her eye. Monique stood up, and walked to her room. I stood, and went to sit in the living room and think about Nalee. Noel and Night seemed frozen.
Late that evening, I passed Night’s room, and heard Noel and Night crying softly inside.
The house seemed filled with grief, but little by little, we got over it. Nalee was a part of us. For some, she faded into the background. For others she remained vivid in our minds. One thing was certain. Nalee was gone.
That is, until the day she came back. But that’s another story.