Behind the Smile: Part One
I was chatting on the boards, as usual. It was around ten o’clock in the morning, and there were no interesting topics on the Avatar/Neosignature Chat on which to lurk.
So, sighing, I clicked on another ‘OMG lyk l3nD M3h F34R13 Qu33n D0ll plz’ board. It was filled with n00bish garble-language, and the user was begging for someone to lend them a Faerie Queen Doll for the avatar. As I scrolled down, I saw that the person had posted a billion smilies to bump the board up.
It was then that the thought struck me: Why do these little hovering icons offer themselves as a way for us to express our emotions whilst chatting? Where did they come from? I mean, they MUST have had some form of existence before we lassoed them up for our own personal usage.
So I decided to find out. There was nothing else to do, so why not? With a shrug, I headed back to my neohome to plan my first move. When I got there, I was knocked to the ground from the force of my desert Lupess, Hypersnancy’s, or Hy’s, greeting.
“Okay, okay. Hello to you, too. Now get off me,” I said, laughing. Hy licked my face happily, then mercifully backed off of me. I got up, and walked over to the table. When I sat down, Hy came trotting over to me, then jumped onto the chair next to me.
“What’cha doin’, Nancy?” she asked curiously.
“I’m trying to figure out how I can talk to a smiley,” I explained. “Any ideas?”
She thought for a moment. “Well, how about the place where they list the smilies and how to get them?”
“That’s a wonderful idea!” I exclaimed, grateful to my Lupe. “Would you like to come with me?”
“All right. Tell Jr. and Meta that we’ll be back soon.” Nancydrewobsessed_Jr was my forest-green Bori, and Tiameta my midnight-blue Hissi. Meta was probably lounging in the sun on the porch as usual, while Jr. read another book in her room. The Lupess strolled upstairs to our second floor where Jr.’s room was.
“MOM AND I ARE GOING ON AN ADVENTURE AND YOU’RE GOING BE LEFT AT HOOOOOOOOME!” Hy shouted at the top of her lungs.
I winced. That hurt my ears even all the way downstairs. “Ouch. My poor, poor ears.”
“Sorry about that,” Hy apologized as she padded over to where I was standing. “But Jr. can be such a bugger sometimes, and I couldn’t find Meta.”
“Did you bother to look on the porch?”
“Um... No,” she admitted, “I guess I should have...” Hy shrugged her shoulders. “Oh well.”
Shaking my head, I led her out the door and down the street to the boards. They were conveniently only three blocks away. I walked inside, then chose the door marked ‘List of Smilies.’ As I strolled through the door, I was met with cage upon cage piled with smilies.
There was a cage filled with evil red smilies with fangs, a enclosure of sky blue angels with halos of gold that looked like they were about to float right out of their iron prison, a cage of sad, depressed blue things, a pen containing a group of winking smilies... ah, there. Packed into a corner was a cage filled to the brim with happy yellow ones. Just what I was looking for.
Hy bounded ahead of me, peering through the bars of the cage. A little smiley, about a centimeter in diameter, hopped close to the edge near her. Sticking a paw through the bars, she stroked the minute circular being, which shuddered under her touch and inched away as fast as it could go back to the rest of the smilies. Whimpering, Hy turned back to look at me. I chuckled softly at her playful spirit, and patted her head sympathetically.
Coming up to the cage myself, I called softly and kindly to the little smiley. It slowly ambled back to where I crouched and looked up at me, smiling.
“Hello, little guy. May I please ask you some questions?”
I was more than a little startled when it answered me in a small, high-pitched voice. I hadn’t expected it to understand what I was saying. But, then again, it had spent its whole life listening to the chatter of many users. It was possible that it had learned to talk itself.
“Um... What’s it like to be a smiley?” Hey, it was all I could come up with. I hadn’t thought about what I’d actually ask.
“Well, I have lived in this cage for as long as I can remember, always being inserted into people’s conversations to show that they are feeling happy, just like me.”
“Do you ever think about escaping from here? It can’t be too fun being stuck in a cage for forever, and you’re small enough to squeeze through the bars.”
“Nah. I’m happy the way I am. Then again, I’m always happy...” The smiley pondered for a moment over this.
“Do you remember anything else? Like where you came from, or what it was like before you were brought here?”
The smiley shook its head sadly. “No... but I think I know who will know!”
It bounded off, jumping through the cage until it came to another smiley. They exchanged a few words, then the other smiley was led to where I stood.
“Thank you. You may go,” it said to the smiley we had first talked to.
“Bye!” it said cheerfully, before hopping over to where the rest of the smilies were.
“You have questions for me?” the new smiley asked politely, in the same, sweet voice the other one had had.
“Erm, yes, I do. My name is Nancy, by the way,” I replied hesitantly, not sure how to address this seemingly important smiley.
“Then ask them.”
“Okay, um... Do you remember anything... from before you were imprisoned here?”
“Ah, yes. Why do you ask? No one has ever been trouble enough to even glance at us smilies before, except to use us in their conversations.”
“Well, you guys are pretty cool, and I just thought I’d like to know more about you.”
“Hm...” The smiley seemed to be thinking. “I do remember. I used to be a normal pet. In fact, I was a yellow Lupe. I think I was a girl, and about your young Lupess’ age. I do not remember my name.”
“Please, go on,” I urged, excited and surprised that this was actually going somewhere.
“Well, I had a sister, you see. She was called... Oh... how can I forget my own sister’s name? Illey! That’s it. She was a yellow Acara. And she was really sick... sick with an illness that has even yet to be identified. I remember... searching everywhere for a cure for her. Our owner was away. He said that he’d be back in just a few days, but it had been months. I was beginning to think that he never would.”
At this point I pulled Hy closer to me, feeling her warm fur against the bare skin of my arm and giving her a loving squeeze as if to say, “I’ll never abandon you.” She didn’t get the message, instead giving a small yelp of protest and leaping out of my arms. (-_-)
The smiley continued, seeming not to notice this. “I tried everything I could to help her get better. Medicinal Soap, a Magic Cookie, Shaky Flakes... but nothing worked. My poor sister was getting worse with time. With each passing day, she became a little weaker. My beloved sister couldn’t even talk, for each time she opened her mouth she went into a fit of coughing.
“I went to the doctor in Neopia Central, desperate. The wait to get in seemed to last for eons. When I was finally sent in with Illey, the green Gelert immediately noticed that she needed treatment very badly. As he examined my sister, all I could do was watch anxiously.
“‘Coughing... sneezing... pale fur... does it hurt here? Oh, I see... hmmmm.... This is like no case I’ve ever been introduced to. Have you tried...’ He began listing several different remedies. To each one I nodded sullenly.
“‘Well, I’m very sorry, but there’s nothing else I can do for your sister.’ Those were the exact words I had been dreading to hear. Thanking the doctor for his time, I took my sister’s paw and exited the room. We passed the next patient, an old green Elephante, on the way to the front desk.
“He looked at us as we passed, glancing first from my sister to me, then back again. He gently laid a hand on my arm, and I stopped.
“‘Well... I never thought I’d see anyone else with that illness,’ he said, nodding to my sister, who sneezed. ‘I know of a way to help her, if you’re interested.’ I hesitated. Why should I trust a total stranger? And he’s old; possibly senile. I glanced at my sister. My heart was ripped out of my chest to see her, cold and sniffling. Her once beautiful yellow fur was now dull; ragged and clinging limply to her too- thin body. Illey’s eyes were dull, and she stared blankly at the old Elephante. I would do anything. ANYTHING to cure whatever was hurting her. ‘What do I have to do?’
“The Elephante smiled. ‘You see, I am an old seafarer. I’ve been to places that many Neopians haven’t even dreamed of. Take her deep into the heart of the Haunted Woods. There you will find a rare flower. You will know it when you see it. It is bright, sky blue with light pink stripes down the center of the petals. Have her pluck just one of the petals, and let her eat it. The effects will be instantaneous.’
“I wanted to hug him for his kindness. Instead, I unclenched my fist, revealing a few golden coins. ‘Here,’ I said. ‘Take this, please.” But the Elephante just shook his head.
“‘My only desire is to help those in need. I have more than enough money for an entire family.’ With those words, he continued down the hallway, and passed into the doctor’s office. Before I could call out to him, the door closed. I shook my head, glancing at Illey. I walked up to the front desk and paid the nurse the due fees, and then left the building, and our home, for the last time.”
“Wow! That’s amazing,” I said, trying to imagine what it must have been like for the once-yellow Lupe.
The smiley nodded, then continued with the story. “We got to the Haunted Woods without incident. We skirted around the Deserted Fairground, carefully avoiding the game owners. They always did creep me out. Especially Sssssidney. As we trekked deeper into the forlorn woods, I started to notice that Illey was tiring rapidly. I was surprised that she had even made it that far. It was already very dark in those woods, disturbingly so, but it was only growing darker. I could no longer see the sky through the branches of the leafless trees, and it was pitch black. There were noises everywhere, growls and snarls. I thought I had seen a pair of red eyes glaring out at me through the darkness. Then there was the howl. Bone chilling and blood-curdling. Illey fainted, part from exhaustion, part from fear. Even I was beginning to tire. There was a rustling in the bramble behind me, and I screamed, terrified. I picked up my sister, and ran. I have no idea how I managed it. I guess terror and adrenaline must have lent my muscles newfound strength.
“I saw a faint glow from ahead. I was desperate for any light there was, so I made a beeline for it. I dashed into a clearing, and collapsed in a trembling heap, dropping my sister. After several labored gasps, I looked up, and nearly passed out. There, in front of me, was a powder blue flower, with pale pink stripes down the center of the petals.
“I gently shook Illey awake. Her eyes went wide as she gazed at the flower, and a single wavering paw reached out toward a luminescent petal, gingerly plucking it from its place on the head of the flower.
“She put her hand to her mouth, and nibbled slowly, cautiously on the petal. The effects were indeed instant. Miraculously, her eyes brightened, her fur became luscious and beautiful once more, shining in the dim light. Her body enlarged slightly as flesh returned to her bones. Her ribs were no longer visible, and, most importantly, a smile spread across her face. My baby sister had never looked so beautiful. Her grin widened as realization hit her, and she threw herself upon me in a loving embrace. ‘Thank you, Smil. You gave me my life back!’
“I clung to her, my smile even wider than hers. My face felt stretched to an impossible degree. I squeezed my sister tighter than I ever had before, closing my eyes and feeling her soft fur on my face. I was so happy, I felt I would burst inside. I guess that, in a way, I did. All of these smilies must be little pieces of who I once was.
“Suddenly, my vision was filled with a blinding yellow light, and I was transformed, drifting away on a transparent, silent wind. Oddly, I felt no desire to go back. I knew that Illey would be alright. The last thing I saw was her face, still smiling, but her eyes were staring in awe. I heard her gasp, and then I was engulfed completely by the brilliant golden light.”
To be continued...