Five Going On Twenty
My name is Maric. I am five-foot-nine, about as graceful as a mountain, and I break out in a cold sweat at the mention of mushrooms.
Less than two months ago I was known as Patch, was considerably smaller, energetic, and ate mushrooms just as fast as any other food. And that was fast, so I'm told. I'm not too sure of anything that happened before. In fact, I'm not too sure about anything that's happening now, either.
'After being driven from the Tyrannian Jungle and settling on an island about 80 miles south of Mystery Island, the Krawks thrived and were left basically to themselves until the recent pirate settlement. Small and without speech, the Krawks were once taken as Petpets by the Neopets. Pirate smugglers noted the strange caves that stood on the northwest edge of the island, but aside from the fungus growing all over the walls, there appeared to be nothing of interest in the damp, chilly caves. That is, until it was discovered that the fungus had a unique effect on the Krawks. The fungus seems to contain properties that can magically transform Petpet Krawks into fully-grown Neopets.' -- Neopedia
It's all a muddle, a knot made up of huge amounts of shoelaces. There. That was a metaphor. Celest was talking about them. Maybe I am starting to get the hang of words. She says I'm doing well; all that listening I did. It was all I could do as a Little Krawk, listen. No way to test out what I heard, try to copy the sounds people made. But I was intelligent enough to figure out what things meant. And I had a lot of time to work on that. I can't say how long I'd been on Neopia before ending up at the Fungus Caves. Just that it was a long time.
Being a Big Krawk is certainly different. Before... how do I explain? I learnt words, then learnt too many. I forgot them, mixed them up, all sorts. It didn't help that I kept being moved from country to country. After each move I had to become used to the local dialect.
I made mental lists of the important words, though I often forgot them from day to day and had to make new ones. Directives (what a word!) from the family were included, and words like 'food', 'out', 'toy' so I could respond correctly when someone asked what I wanted. 'Barbecues' were always a good thing. And I kept a wary ear out for 'vet'. In one family talk of 'boats' and 'neopoints', while pouring over the calendar, heralded the annual summer trip. It was a while before I learnt what 'annual' meant, and besides, I couldn't fathom the calendar. The clock was my only measure of time. Neither could I keep track of days, usually losing count at around fifteen. It helped if I started after a memorable event: one day after lake visit, two day after lake visit, three day after wherever it was had fun, four day after thing, five day after thing...
One time I resolved to make a notch in the fence every morning, but the family caught me at it before I'd even gone halfway across. Funny thing, I loved counting. It came to me easily. Some days I would just lie in the sun and count. I'd get up in the thousands. It was only remembering things from day to day that posed a problem.
Since Celest taught me to read and write, the words have all come rushing back. I'll be reading aloud, working my way through a knot of long words, and suddenly there will be one I recognise. I'll turn to Celest, beaming, and start reminiscing about when I first heard it. Of course, most of Life Before The Fungus Cave is still a vague blur, but some things stand out. Odd things, really amazing things, scary things -- they all made me think, something that for the most part did not figure in my life. You don't have to think when you are completely dependant on other people. I was like a small child, five, younger, taking everything in but never quite getting to a stage where I could really store it. My mind was no filing cabinet. It is a filing cabinet now (and I love it, it's a wonder) but it does need a good sort out. A lot of stuff is still buried in there, somewhere.
Speaking of small children, one of them ran away from me once, screaming like anything. That was one of the incidents that made me think. I didn't understand; most people either patted me or pushed me gently away. They never tried to damage my eardrums.
Now, people keep expecting me to make decisions. We'll go for a walk. Where shall we go, Maric? (Out? I didn't realise there was a wide choice of outy places.) Would you like to play a game? (This one makes me question myself. People usually go straight to dangling something in front of my nose, and I play, but do I want to? Do I really? Who knows.) What would you like for lunch? (Food? Does it matter? Apparently it does. What should I pick? Of course I've heard people talk about healthy, but what is healthy? How much healthy should I eat?)
I spent my first couple of weeks as a fully-grown Krawk hiding in the guest room, mumbling under my breath. The family learnt not to pop in too much. I was clearly overwhelmed to say the least, and it didn't help that my efforts at communication sounded like an attempt to speak Tyrannian. Embarrassment was a new and terrible thing for me.
Once I'd got the hang of speech I faced the family -- who were only too ecstatic, I might add. It was odd certainly, one of the kids' pets suddenly turning into an intelligent and fully aware person. But I only noticed any uncomfortable feelings from Celest, and she got over them pretty quick. Oh, and Tinker. But I'll talk about him in a minute.
The family had just moved to Krawk Island -- as you might have guessed. How else could I have run across the Fungus Caves? I suppose I should have been used to moving by then, considering how many different families I'd lived with, but no. The upheaval and subsequent confusion left me yearning for a bit of lone-time, and I took the first chance I got to slip away from Celest and go on a little exploration.
I'm sure I don't need to explain what happened. Fortunately Celest's brother spotted my escaping self and, eager as me for some quiet, followed. So there was no problem of having to convince anyone of who I was (nor finding my way back to our house, for that matter!).
Celest is almost sixteen years old, and a silver-painted Wocky. Her brother, named Cairn but known as Skunk, is fourteen. He's a robot Kyrii who frequently leaves his outer casing off. His mother takes umbrage with this, claiming it to be all but holding the door open for germs. I don't know. What are germs?
The family also includes a baby Ogrin of two years, Tinker, who I used to play rough 'n' tumble with. The mother (a purple Wocky) and father (a shadow Ogrin) have both tried to convince him I am still Patch inside, but Tinker is not having it. It's really quite upsetting watching him wander the house looking for his playmate.
It's hard to judge, but they think I'm a young adult -- we've settled for twenty, and called the day I visited the Fungus Caves my birthday. I'm plushie-painted, with an extra, multicoloured mass of stitching on my chest where once a young girl took to practicing her embroidery.
Now I feel like my existence has been stepped up on some ethereal level. Everything seems so much more important. I can longer divide everything into Fun Times and Boring Times -- though I've certainly had both since. Less of the boring, but maybe that will change when each day stops feeling like a journey of discovery. Or does it ever? Only last week we were all visiting Neopia Central, and Skunk and I escaped the tedious shopping and went for a walk around a lake. I was halfway through reciting my times table when I realised I'd been there before. Yes. It was one of my memorable events, lost to the humdrum of my Little Krawk days but still remembered, deep inside.
I mentioned earlier embarrassment was a new thing for me -- so is guilt. Guilt and a sense of loss, all those years spent idling my time away. I asked Celest about this and she said she thought you were supposed to enjoy yourself. If it didn't come first on the agenda of life, maybe helping others did. Well, I've been volunteering for chores and things since being taught how to do them, and that is very satisfying, but... I still felt something was missing.
It was only while watching Skunk meticulously paint his collection of plastic techo figures that it came to me. I had no interests, not even a vague idea of what I wanted to do. Well, I was pretty sure painting was not for me; I'd once had a bad experience with paint that I'd rather not go into. Celest plays her guitar. And Tinker, well, I don't think he feels the need to dedicate to one thing yet.
I left Skunk and headed downstairs, where Mum -- hmm, still getting used to that -- was starting to make dinner. I hadn't been introduced to cooking yet, maybe because of the incompatibility of fire and fabric, but I knew I liked food. More so than ever now I paid attention to the flavour and didn't simply wolf it down. I thought, This could be an interest. Provided I didn't have to do anything with mushrooms, of course.
My name is Maric. That was the first coherent sentence I said to anybody, when Celest came in one day and said, "Morning, Patch. How's it going?" One of the few things I knew for sure, I wasn't going to be called Patch one moment more. Then I said, "How's what going exactly?"
"Things," Celest said vaguely. Celest was born vague, but that's her charm. "You know," she said, "Life."
No, I didn't know. Life? You're asking me, he who has been somebody's pet for most of his? You used to take me for walks, and now your brother is teaching me maths, and when the three of us go out in the evening I'm the one your mother tells to make sure we're home by eleven.
Well, I've thought about it. And life is going okay, I'd say. Still the weirdest thing, but pretty darn okay.