Casper and the 350 Avatar: Part Two
Also by flying_tree
Normally, Casper enjoyed flying. It kept him in pristine condition, and he attracted quite a few admirers, to say the least. It was a lovely day out, and Casper soared easily over the tops of the neighbourhood mansions, the envelope containing his story clutched tightly in his beak.
He met a few Beekadoodles catching the warm updraft, and they stared at him stupidly with big eyes. Casper granted them a little wave before pumping hard and soaring on ahead. It was always good to encourage the fan base.
Casper was just beginning to feel slightly tired and a bit cross when he spotted the small cluster of ramshackle buildings that made of the Catacombs. He alighted next to the Storytelling fire, at this moment bereft of all people save an ancient-looking blue Elephante who was snoring. Casper grumbled a bit as he stumbled in landing. His wings were sore and aching, and he was beginning to wonder why he had not gotten Oranda to do this for him. After all, she was his pet and assistant, and therefore she should be doing these more menial jobs. He was interrupted from his annoyed mutterings by a squeal of delight.
“Oh, lookit! It’s a White Weewoo!”
Alarmed by the screech, Casper raised his head to see an overexcited pink Aisha beaming at him.
“A Neopian Times Weewoo, Mummy!” the Aisha screamed at the top of her lungs, her big eyes sparkling with delight.
Casper was quite pleased that his disguise was functioning, and deigned to give the little Aisha and her newly appeared mother, laden with shopping bags and looking quite flustered, a slight bow. He was not so pleased, however, when the Aisha girl tried to grab him. He squawked in surprise and hustled away, dragging his precious envelope. He accidentally stumbled over a rock, and went down headfirst in the dirt, fluttering his wings wildly and letting out cries of anger and surprise. How could this humiliating thing be happening to him?!
“Now, now, dear,” the Aisha’s mummy reprimanded, grabbing her daughter quickly, for the Aisha was reaching once more for Casper, “we mustn’t grab wild petpets. You know that.”
Casper would normally have given her quite a lecture on so called ‘wild’ petpets and show her how a real star acted, but at this moment, Casper was surprised to note that the only thing he truly wanted was to hurry up and get his envelope with his story submitted and get home for a nice, long nap. He picked himself up, trying to maintain a shred of dignity, and collected his envelope as the Aisha’s mum dragged her daughter off.
After a quick preening to get the worst of the dirt off his feathers, Casper scanned the Catacombs, searching for the Neopian Times Headquarters. He found it easily enough; the sign outside read ‘Neopian Times Headquarters’, plain as daylight. There were no White Weewoos flying in and out of the open windows, as Casper had been led to believe, but probably they were just taking a little break now. All the better. Casper smiled to himself. Time to grace those pitiful employees with the sight of a true star. With a sigh, Casper took to the air, and coasted gracefully through an open window, his wings outstretched in perfect formation.
He landed, rather ungracefully, on the top of the receptionist’s desk. It was a nice desk, made out of something that was probably marble, and made in the traditional semi-circle shape. Casper did not intend to land on the desk; he had been meaning to fly straight over whatever receptionist was waiting to stop petpet entries, and head straight to the Editor-in-Chief. Unfortunately, there was a wall directly behind the receptionist’s desk, with a clearly locked door. Rather than become a flattened mass of white feathers, Casper took a last minute turn, and swerved crazily into the desk.
Casper tried for a smooth landing, but his claws slipped across the polished surface, and he went sliding over the top, straight into the astonished receptionist’s lap. She squealed, but did not push him off, to her credit.
Casper untangled himself from his now rather mangled envelope, and stood up in a wobbly fashion. The green Kyrii receptionist’s face stared down at him, her lip-sticked mouth open in a little o of surprise.
“C-c-can I help you?” she stammered. Casper gave her a withering glance, and climbed back onto the desk, dragging his envelope behind him. Now he could see the receptionist properly, she looked quite nice. She wore beige slacks and a scoop-necked lavender T-shirt, the sort Casper could never convey to Oranda that he would like her to wear. The Kyrii’s tawny hair was held up on top of her head with a pink claw-clip, and her nails were square and straight, with a coat of clear polish that gleamed. She looked like an orderly, effective person. The kind Casper liked. He looked at her with a new gleam in his eye. Perhaps, when he was finished submitting his story, he could convince her to become his new assistant. She was wearing a delicious flowery perfume.
“Can I help you?” the receptionist asked again, looking slightly irritated, and Casper quickly regained his composure. He hoped against hope that this Neopet would take him seriously. She looked so much like his type. Perhaps she, after all, would agree with him, and denounce the No Petpets Allowed rule!
Not trusting himself to speak – a definite first for him – Casper thrust the envelope forward. The receptionist took it, giving him a look of pure puzzlement. She opened it while Casper hopped up and down, waiting impatiently. He knew he was not giving a good picture of himself – he should be cool and composed – but he could not help it.
The receptionist removed the story, and opened it, quickly scanning the pages. Casper examined her more closely, and noticed she had a little white nametag that read ‘Nadine’. Aha. What a lovely name, too. This Nadine appeared to be quite extraordinary, for a pet.
“Ah, I’m sorry,” Nadine said after a long moment, as she finished reading it. She set it neatly back down on her desk. “We cannot accept submissions from petpets.”
Now Casper was highly frustrated. How could she tell it had been written by a petpet in the first place? And didn’t she look like a Kindred Spirit?!
“It’s not written by a petpet,” Casper said angrily, putting the full force of the lie into his words and drawing himself up to his full height of exactly sixteen centimetres. “I am merely delivering it!”
Nadine looked quite flustered. “I-I don’t know what you’re saying, I’m sorry,” she stammered. “B-b-but there is a No Petpet Entries Allowed rule, you see. I’m terribly, terribly sorry, sir...”
“Sorry?!” Casper raged, becoming more and more angry by the minute. “Sorry?! I can’t believe this! The outrageousness of such a rule!”
“Sir, please, sir, Mr Weewoo, sir.” Nadine’s hands fluttered like moths against her papers. She looked highly upset. “I think you’re trying to say something, but you’re just squeaking. Perhaps, perhaps.” She glanced unhappily behind her, as if hoping someone would come to rescue her from this deranged White Weewoo.
“I demand it be put in!” Casper yelled shrilly. “I demand it!” Could they not see how completely superb his story was? Could they not see it was ten million times better than any other thing pathetic writer-wannabes submitted to this pathetic newspaper-wannabe?
But, in a somewhat annoyingly predictable manner, Casper was escorted out of the catacombs. As if he needed escorting. What did he do that was so wrong? Just because they were so stupid they were blinded to his brilliance, he had been punished. Well he would show them. He had a few more tricks up his sleeve.
Casper knew he would have to lie low for a few days before he tried his next attempt. By then they would have forgotten his voice and his face, and he could try again.
So he waited a week. And, because he prided himself so much on punctuality, that meant a week to the exact second. He had had a brainwave during that week, a rather clever one, if he said so himself.
He had been sitting in front of his mirror as usual, trying to come up with a way to get in without notice, when Oranda had served him his dinner.
Surprisingly enough, he had been served with jelly. Normally Casper would have thrown it on the floor and demanded something else; Oranda should have known that he did not like jelly. Jelly did not exist! This time, however, he decided to let her off for helping him come across such an amazing idea that it could only have been thought of by himself.
When he went in the second time, with his story re-typed so that it would not be obvious who he was, he was in a clever disguise.
He did not like having to go in disguise. He still thought that the Neopian Times should allow petpets to partake in their pages. Unfortunately that was not the way of the world, which Casper of course would soon be changing. So he went in disguise as a pet, or, more precisely, a jelly pet. Which did not, of course, exist, which was terribly clever of him, if he said so himself. What better way to go in disguise than as a pet that didn't even exist?! People would be so focused on the impossibility of it that they would not notice him.
Before leaving his mirror for his day's work, he had covered himself in a huge amount of nonexistent jelly, using some clever mechanics to keep control of the blob. He stumbled in to the Catacombs with his story in his hand, and went to deliver it.
While he was there, however, he got a surprise. Who should be working at the desk, but Nadine, the very same pet that had denied him before?
Well, he would show her this time. He would get his story past her.
He took his final step to the desk, and presented his story.
Nadine read through it.
Then, she spoke.
"This is a very good story, but I'm afraid you forgot to put some of the details required. Firstly you need to supply your name and address, and secondly you need to give your piece a title. Also, if you would like to enter your story for a special occasion, don't forget to write that in too," the receptionist said. Then she smiled at him.
Casper silently picked up the story again and stumbled away to finish off the submission, crouching in a corner of the room. He had come so far! He knew he could get it in.
But first he would have to come up with a title. That took him a while, going through all of the available options, finally settling on 'The Ordeals of a Petpet'.
He wrote in a special note for the story to go into issue 350, then wrote his name down and promptly crossed it off. Oh no, he was much cleverer than that. If he put his real name, they would know he was a petpet. So instead, he put Oranda's name, and the address to their home.
Then he returned to the submission desk. Nadine checked over all of the details.
"Thank you sir. A new policy we have here requires vocal conformation that this is your story, just a legal thing, so if you would like to just say that this is yours..."
"Yes, that story belongs to me," said Casper. Unfortunately all the receptionist could hear was a few squeaks.
"Um... sir, there wouldn't happen to be a petpet in all that – nonexistent – jelly, would there?"
"No, of course not," said Casper indignantly.
"I knew it!" said Nadine after hearing more squeaks. "I'm sorry, sir, but I can only accept entries from pets."
The Kyrii gave him back his story, and he slouched out of the Catacombs with more anger than ever, hardly noticing today the rubbish that crowded the sidewalks. That silly newspaper and its silly rules. How dare they exclude him?! He was Casper Phillipe Crandel Beaumont del Montmorency. And next time, he would not fail. He could not fail. If his story did not get in today, he would have no chance of getting into the 'Golden Pages'. He would have to forever give up his dream of that sparkling, glistening, beautiful avatar.
And then he had another brainwave, one that made him stop in his tracks in shock. Maybe his story didn't have to get in today. Maybe he could get his story in tonight. It would mean alluding to the tricks of a common thief, but he did not have many other options. A sly grin crept onto Casper’s face, and he began to walk again with renewed pride and vigour.
He would sneak into the Neopian Times.
Six hours later, Casper put the finishing touches on his all-black costume. He paused for a brief admire in the mirror.
He did look rather handsome, if he said so himself. He hadn’t had time to do much in the way of fashionable dress, but even as a black mummy, he still outshone anything in the room. Casper smiled to himself. It had been a bear to find enough black material in Oranda’s closet. The Kougra simply didn’t do black. She had enough vomit-pink and upheaval-yellow to provide an entire Neovision set wardrobe, but the only black garments Casper had managed to find were an ancient, mouldering black skirt and a ratty shawl that looked as if it had seen much better days. Still, one must make sacrifices, and Casper had made his.
With a brief sigh, the Weewoo stretched his wings and reached once more for the envelope that contained his precious letter. He was finally ready to get into the Neopian Times.
Twenty minutes later, he really was ready. Standing outside of the dark Headquarters, Casper shivered slightly. The night was chill and damp, the concrete foggy with dew. It was cloudy, too, and Casper had had his fair share of near-accidents when flying here. Now, however, that was the last thing on his mind. Who cared what happened, as long as his piece got into the Times? For Casper, getting into the Neopian Times had become a sort of obsession. Throughout the past few weeks, he had found that the idea consumed him, living with him every waking minute, and many of his sleeping ones, too. As puzzled as he was to become suddenly so attached to something that was not himself, Casper could understand it. He was, after all, furthering his career. And thus, furthering himself. Himself. Casper grinned, and hugged himself quickly, wrapping his wings around his body. He would have preferred to do this in front of hundreds of admiring fans, but there were none to be found in the dark, cold Catacombs.
Remembering why he was here, Casper quickly gathered himself and readied for takeoff and flight. He had pinpointed the Editor’s window; it was still lit-up even at this late hour. Obviously the Times was working hard to get all its submissions in.
Casper alighted on the sill of the Editor’s window, and peered carefully in. To his regret, he could see nothing through the frosted glass, and had to tap sharply on it with his beak. Casper didn’t like tapping on things with his beak. It might chip or dull it. But there was nothing to be had.
A few seconds later, the window was abruptly opened from the inside, and Casper nearly topped off the sill as a large, pale face was thrust into his own. The face was surrounded by a rather lot of messy brown hair, and had big, big blue eyes.
“Wha’ y’want?” the Editor mumbled, straight at Casper. For a moment, Casper simply stared at her, his mouth gone suddenly terribly dry. His heart was beating so hard inside his breast he thought it might burst out. For the first time in his life, Casper Phillipe Crandel Beaumont del Montmorency was speechless.
It didn’t last long.
“Here,” Casper said, and thrust the letter pompously at the Editor. She surely would read it. She surely would realise that it absolutely, positively, simply must get in.
The Editor merely gave Casper a cursory glance, taking the letter with a yawn.
“Lazy owners, sending their petpets in at the last minute to deliver stories they ought to have submitted days ago,” the Editor mumbled. “Here, little one.” She shoved something at Casper, who realised that it was a doughnut crumb. He was highly affronted. A doughnut crumb! Did not the Editor know that a dinner of salmon and cream with parsley and a side of steamed oysters was waiting for him at home at this very second?!
At that moment, the Editor withdrew her head, and snapped the window shut, and Casper was left sitting on the window sill, his angry retort still in his mouth, shut out in the cold and the dark. Well, at least he had gotten the story submitted.
Casper heaved a sigh. It felt strangely relieving to have finally delivered the envelope. The pressing weight of the story had been bearing down on Casper for weeks, and he hadn’t even noticed it. The obsession seemed to lift slightly, now that his troubles were over, and he allowed himself a brief squeak of elation. He had done it! He had gotten past the No Petpets Allowed rule!
And with that, Casper took off into the night, flying toward home.
After a good few hours of beauty sleep, Casper was up in front of his mirror, waiting for the Times to be delivered so he could show his story to Oranda. The lazy paper pet was late again. Casper had been held up by several hours already because of this, and he was impatient. Whoever delivered this would be receiving their punishment, that was for sure.
Come to think of it, where was Oranda? He checked the clock. It was 3 o’clock, just as he thought. Normally she would have been up and about, having fed him twice. So where was she? It seemed that his pet might need punishing, too.
Just then, Oranda walked into the room, and saw him.
“Casper? What are you doing awake at this time? I heard you shuffling around; I thought something might be wrong.”
Casper didn’t understand his pet sometimes. Why did she think he was awake at this time? It was 3 o’clock, for Fyora’s sake! He made a note to himself. Make sure Oranda gets herself an alarm clock from Virtupets.
Oranda stroked him, though Casper tried to wriggle away. “You seem all right... I wonder why you’re awake at 3 o’clock in the morning then...”
Casper made another note to himself. In order for people to notice his brilliance, he could not slip up like this when he was excited.
The next morning, he was still in front of his mirror, preening. This time, he would act naturally. Oranda would never suspect that something was up, and as soon as the Times came, he would take it to her and show her his masterpiece.
But that wasn’t the only thing he was interested in. The avatar. He had not received his yet, he assumed it would come with the Times. Come to think of it, he had not received a letter of acceptance yet, either. Still, he was not worried. It was probably because his entry was added to the paper very late.
There was a cluttering sound that Casper, even upstairs, could hear quite well. His heart began to pound. The mail had arrived, and with it, the newspaper. Casper immediately flew downstairs, barrelling straight ahead with a quickness that surprised even himself, narrowly avoiding the stair rail. He found the newspaper lying innocently on the mat in front of the door, along with a flat, nondescript white envelope. Casper picked them both up and took them to Oranda, who was banging around in the kitchen.
Then he sat down at the kitchen table, took the letter that came from the Neopian Times, and opened it up to receive his avatar.
Dear Oranda, it read.
Your Neopian Times submission (The Ordeals of a Petpet) was rejected-
What?! How could they reject it? His entry was so brilliant, so perfect!
-because we had too many good entries in this category this week and there was not enough room for them all. Please try again next week.
The Neopian Times Editor
Well, that just had to be a conspiracy. Why else would they reject his story below so many others? Somehow they knew; they knew the entry was written by a petpet. But still, that was no reason to not allow such an amazing story to be added to their pathetic so called ‘newspaper’. One day, when he was a movie star, he would get his revenge, oh yes.
He felt something touch the back of his head. It was Oranda, and she was ruffling up his feathers. She was wearing a silk dressing gown and looking unusually pleased. Not that Oranda didn’t usually look pleased; in fact, she was one of most ridiculously pleased-looking pets Casper had ever seen.
“You know, Casper,” Oranda said, “it was rather nice of you to bring me the newspaper this morning. Most unexpected.”
Then horror of horrors, she reached over and pinched his cheek, smiling that silly little smile of hers. He turned. He turned very, very slowly. And he glared at her.