Appearances Are Not What They Seem
Dr Death’s cold, unblinking eyes... The solid metal bars... The countless lonely pets forever waiting for an owner.
Tulip never had time to be miserable, like the others. She passed the time by trying to fit together her few memories of her old home, like a jigsaw puzzle with half of the pieces missing.
“Don’t be afraid, Tulip. It won’t hurt.”
“Aaargh! Stupid 3 mods!”
“It’ll be over before you know it.”
“Someone had this priced in their shop for 100 neopoints! Unbelievable!”
“All your siblings have done this before.”
“A new avatar! And I’ll be the first to get it!”
A blinding flash of colour and light...
Tulip didn’t even understand most of what she could remember her owner saying. But she was fairly sure that she had been abandoned because of her newest colour.
What wealthy Neopian wanted an unpainted pet?
It was her petpet that eventually got Tulip adopted. Doughnutfruit the plushie Hasee. Her new owner was just as greedy as the previous one – but the plain green fur of the Kacheek who turned up with her told Tulip that she was nowhere near as rich.
“Look at that Usul’s petpet!” she had screamed, making many of the caged Neopets around her, accustomed to silence, jump back in surprise.
A few moments later, Tulip had been adopted.
She was following her new owner to her Neohome when the Kacheek first spoke to her.
“Hi. My name’s Leaf,” he told her, smiling shyly.
“I’m Tulip,” she replied, returning his smile.
Even if her owner seemed unpleasant, she had a friend.
* * * * *
“Tulip! That petpet of yours just ate my latest comic! Can’t you keep it under control!”
“I told you he’s like that! Why didn’t you shut the door?”
“I did! And that Hasee still got in!”
“And how is that my fault?”
“It’s your petpet! You’re responsible!”
Tulip could never quite make sense of what happened next. A sudden rage gripped her and her ears flattened. Without realising, she bared her teeth and growled.
Then fear took over and she fled upstairs, not knowing how she had become so angry, so easily.
Leaf found her sitting on her bed, gripping her Usuki duvet as if her life depended on it.
As soon as she noticed him, Tulip attempted to explain to him what had just occurred in one long stream of words, scarcely pausing to inhale.
“Has this ever happened to you before?” he asked, after thinking carefully for a few minutes.
“No. But I think it has something to do with my old home.”
“You don’t remember what?”
“I hardly remember anything. Just a few bits of conversation, and a bright, bright light...”
Leaf’s silence prompted Tulip to continue.
“I could see it, and I wanted to get away, but there was something stopping me from moving. Then something else happened. Something big. But I can’t remember what...”
“Sounds to me like you’ve had a trip to the lab ray,” interrupted a girl’s voice.
Tulip looked to the doorway to see a tall red Zafara there, a calm smile on her face. Before Tulip could ask who she was, she carried on:
“It’s where some rich Neopians take their pets. It can change levels, stuff like that... But what most owners hope for is a colour or species change.”
It seemed obvious now. Hadn’t Tulip herself acknowledged that she had been abandoned when her colour changed to blue?
“The lab ray has been described as a bright light that strikes terror into whoever sees it. Because of this Neopets have to be secured to a chair before use. That would explain not being able to move. Also -”
“How do you know all this, Ivy?” asked Leaf suspiciously.
“I think I read it somewhere...” Ivy replied sheepishly.
Leaf rolled his eyes.
“Ivy spends all her time in her bedroom, reading. On rare occasions such as this, she emerges. Ask her any question and she’ll tell you that she ‘read it somewhere’,” he explained to Tulip.
Ivy gave him a defiant look, but it must have been true – it had been nearly two days since Tulip had been adopted, and up until now she had had no idea that a third pet also inhabited the Neohome.
“Anyway, I have a theory about what happened to you earlier,” Ivy told Tulip, still glaring at Leaf. “What if, when you were born, you weren’t an Usul? What if the lab ray turned you into one?”
“What do you mean?” Tulip inquired, not immediately understanding.
“I read somewhere -” and at this point Leaf rolled his eyes at Ivy again, who ignored him - “that a pet always retains an aspect of its original species. For example, if a pet is born as a Kougra, it may have a tendency to pounce on other Neopets. Likewise...”
Ivy’s voice became a continual drone in the background; Tulip was no longer listening. She gripped the duvet tighter than ever, horrified. She might look like an Usul – but what kind of terrifying creature was inside?
* * * * *
“Tulip! Come and look at my chair!”
Yawning, Tulip emerged from her bedroom and sluggishly made her way to where The Owner was standing. According to Leaf, The Owner had never even bothered to tell her own pets her name, and so they had become accustomed to simply referring to her as ‘The Owner’.
The Owner was standing over what had been a beautifully carved wooden chair, scowling.
“Look at what that stupid Hasee has done to my chair!”
‘That stupid Hasee’ was the only reason you adopted me, Tulip nearly reminded her – but the sight of the damage that had been done to the chair stunned her into silence.
Each leg of the chair was covered in sharp little toothmarks that could only have been made by a petpet. Tulip hadn’t been aware that Doughnutfruit even had teeth, let alone teeth that could cause this much destruction.
At that moment Doughnutfruit came ambling into the room, smiling innocently.
“Aww. But look how cute he is!” Tulip exclaimed, holding him up for The Owner’s benefit in a vain attempt at evading punishment.
“Get that thing out of my sight!” The Owner screeched. The sheer volume of it sent Doughnutfruit almost literally flying from Tulip’s paws and as far away as he could possibly get from The Owner.
Grumbling, The Owner produced several thousand neopoints from her pocket and handed them to Tulip.
“Get me a new chair! Now!” she ordered.
“What? I’ve only just woken up!” protested Tulip.
“I don’t care! Your petpet, your fault!”
Then Tulip felt the overwhelming fury surging through her, her tiny Usul claws stretching out, a low hiss escaping from her jaws and her eyes glinting with malice...
Tulip raced out of the Neohome, slamming the door behind her and leaning against the wall.
What am I? she asked herself.
She couldn’t give herself an answer.
* * * * *
After a while, Leaf joined her outside.
“So you have to go and get another chair,” he commented.
Tulip nodded sulkily.
“Don’t you think we’d better get going soon?”
Tulip looked at him and grinned.
“Thanks for asking if you could come.”
* * * * *
Half an hour later, Tulip and Leaf found themselves looking through an array of furniture that seemed to include every kind of chair imaginable apart from the one Doughnutfruit had ruined.
“I had no idea the marketplace could be so... tedious!” Leaf complained.
Tulip was about to reply when a shrill cry cut through the air.
“TULIP! Is that you?”
Tulip spun around to face the source of the noise – and saw the person she had least expected to ever see again.
Cloud. Her old owner.
“Tulip, I am so sorry for putting you into the pound! I should’ve kept you... Kept on zapping you...” she trailed off.
Tulip looked around self-consciously – they were beginning to receive looks from other Neopians.
Tulip could tell she was about to launch into another avalanche of words, so she intercepted her with the first thing that came into her head.
“Cloud. What species of Neopet was I born as?”
“What species were you born as?” she echoed, unsure why Tulip had asked such an odd question.
“You were a Grarrl.”
Tulip exhaled loudly with relief, unaware that she had been holding her breath. Just a Grarrl... she had been expecting some kind of monster. Grarrls could sometimes be aggressive, she supposed, and it would explain her unusual behaviour. Just a Grarrl. That was all.
Leaf seemed to have been made uneasy by Cloud’s presence.
“Come on, Tulip. Let’s get this chair and go home, before Doughnutfruit starts eating the furniture again.”
“Doughnutfruit?” Cloud repeated nervously, although Tulip couldn’t think why the Hasee’s name would unsettle her.
“My plushie Hasee. Don’t you remember him?” Tulip asked incredulously.
“You still have Doughnutfruit...” was all Cloud said.
“We need to go,” Leaf told Tulip again, but she didn’t move.
“Tulip, listen to me. Listen carefully. That thing is evil. Evil! EVIL!”
Leaf grabbed Tulip’s paw and dragged her away, while Cloud’s shrieks continued.
“Clearly insane,” he informed Tulip. She didn’t reply.
Cloud’s words echoed in her mind.
“That thing is evil!”
* * * * *
After returning with the new chair and being less than politely informed that they had been out for far too long, Tulip and Leaf made a getaway by heading upstairs.
They found Ivy standing still as stone in the corridor, staring into her bedroom. Her eyes were open wide and her mouth hung open in shock.
Tulip cautiously peered into the room. What she saw made her fur stand on end.
Doughnutfruit sat on Ivy’s bed, giggling softly to himself. In his left hand was the body of a yellow Hissi plushie.
In his right hand was its head.
“That is just... weird...” Leaf murmured.
Ivy was muttering something over and over again:
“A pet always retains an aspect of its original species... Always retains an aspect of its original species...”
Suddenly she seemed to come to her senses.
“Tulip, if your owner took you to the lab ray, wouldn’t it make sense if she took Doughnutfruit to the petpet lab ray?”
Ivy didn’t wait for an answer before continuing.
“Doughnutfruit isn’t a Hasee. Not in nature. I dread to think what kind of petpet he is...”
“We need to know,” Tulip told her firmly. “How can we find out?”
“Detach the petpet from its owner. Give it to another pet.”
Ivy’s gaze was still fixed on the quietly humming Doughnutfruit.
Tulip looked to Leaf, who gave her a quick nod of agreement.
“Leaf,” she announced, “I am no longer the owner of Doughnutfruit the plushie Hasee. I am giving him to you -”
The transformation was quick. Sitting on the Zafara’s bed was a petpet that was not a plushie Hasee.
It had a pink, fluffy tail.
Two large front teeth.
Enormous, staring eyes.
For a moment it sat and looked at the three Neopets.
“Meep,” it said.
Thanks for reading!