Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 175,957,853 Issue: 354 | 8th day of Hiding, Y10
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From Sushi to Chaos


by ooriteddyaga

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“Is this fresh?”

      Byron glanced up from the counter he had been scrubbing vigorously. “Of course. We only sell the finest qualities here at the Lobster Café.” He smiled proudly and stood up straighter.

      “Right.” The green Blumaroo looked down at the plastic container in his hands and cleared his throat. The Tigerbuggle Sushi inside had been arranged carefully. “So... uh, how much is this?”

      Byron frowned. He had labeled each of his products with a sticker that stated the price. He examined the container in the customer’s hands and spotted that the bright yellow sticker was there, precisely in the middle of the clear container cap. “It’s 3,500 neopoints. Right here.” He leaned over the counter and tapped the sticker with a smile. Maybe the customer hadn’t seen it.

      “Right,” the Blumaroo said again. He placed the Sushi on the counter.

      “Would you like to purchase it?” Byron asked, smiling wider. But as soon as he asked, he could see the answer in the Blumaroo’s beady black eyes.

      “Uh—” The Blumaroo began to edge towards the door. “I’d... rather not. Some other time. I’m not in the mood for... sushi.” Then he turned and quickly hopped out of the shop.

      The wooden door closed softly after the Blumaroo left. The plastic lobster on the door was crooked, and Byron hurried over to fix it. He tilted the bright red decoration first one way, then the other, until it was straight again, then hurried to put the Tigerbuggle Sushi back on its shelf.

      “Hey, By. How’s the...” A Grey Yurble entered the shop. Seeing that the shop was empty, she trailed off, looking sheepish and worried.

      “Hi, Zumii.” Byron smiled back at his best friend, and tried to swallow back a comment on her disheveled appearance.

      “So, uh—how are you?” Zumii gave him a cheerful smile, but Byron could see that it was forced.

      “I—” Byron began, but couldn’t hold back any longer. “Your shirt is missing a button!” he blurted.

      Zumii’s eyes widened in surprise as she looked down at her freshly ironed shirt. “Trust you to notice something like that,” she replied after a moment. Her voice was jovial, but Byron knew that she was annoyed. Ever since Zumii decided to paint herself Grey, Byron had discovered that her voice was the key to deciphering many of her emotions.

      Byron looked down and picked up the rag again. He scrubbed an imaginary spot on the spotless counter, feeling his face turn red.

      After a short silence, Zumii said, “Well, I haven’t been doing well. I’ve got writer’s block.”

      Byron nodded, and then abruptly changed the subject. “Well, uh—Zumii, I’ve got this idea.”

      Zumii’s eyes brightened a bit. “Really?” she asked with surprise.

      Byron nodded again. “Well, the shop hasn’t been doing so well, and... I was thinking about getting a new job.”

      “That’s great, Byron!” Zumii grinned. “What kind of job? Did you find one already?”

      This time, Byron shook his head. “And I don’t plan to close the shop, Zumii. I was thinking about getting someone to watch it while I looked for jobs. And if I find one, I’ll sell it. And if I don’t...” The green Kacheek looked around. “Then I’ll come back.” He dropped the rag and smiled at his reflection on the gleaming counter. “But until then, I need to find someone to watch the shop. Not a store keeper, because I can’t afford one. More like a really, really close friend.”

      “Who...” Zumii began, but trailed off as she realized what he meant. Byron’s black eyes were silently begging her to agree. “I—I can’t,” she mumbled, and lowered her eyes.

      “But Zumii! You said you had writer’s block. This is a chance for you to find an interesting character for a story!” Byron said.

      “Really?” Zumii asked, doubtful.

      “Sure! You have no idea what kind of Neopets come through here everyday. I mean, they eat Sushi! Raw fish!” Byron lied, gesturing wildly with his hands.

      Zumii smiled uncertainly. “Well... I guess I could try it.”

      “Great!” Byron grinned and handed Zumii his carefully ironed apron. “You start now.” Then he hurried out of the shop before Zumii could object.

     Job 1: Shopkeeper at Happy Palace

      “It’s an easy job.” The Disco Techo smiled. “You’ll be fine.”

      “Okay.” Byron smiled back.

      “Here’s the back door.” Hales handed Byron a shiny bronze key. “I have to go now, I’m meeting some friends. I would give you a tour, but I can’t be late, so good luck! I’m sure everything will be fine.” He gave the green Kacheek a big smile. “It’s not like anything can go wrong, anyway,” he added with a laugh.

      “Thanks.” Byron took the key and watched his new boss hurry away.

      Byron opened the back door with a smile. He liked Hales. Hales was outgoing and cheerful, willing to answer questions, and very talkative. He is a light hearted fellow, Byron thought. Always joking and laughing.

      What Byron first noticed was the dirty counter. It was filthy, with stains and a thick coating of dust. He flipped over the ‘Closed’ sign on the streaky glass door to ‘Open’, and then hurried to get a rag and a bucket of soapy water to clean the counter.

      Byron had just gotten rid of an especially hard-to-clean oil stain when someone interrupted him. “Excuse me, but can you tell me what my Puppyblew needs? I got him as a present yesterday.”

      Byron looked up in alarm. A blue Acara stood happily in front of the counter, holding a wriggling Puppyblew.

      “Please, get it away from me!” Byron cried fearfully, dropping the rag and backing up.

      The Acara was confused. “Excuse me?”

      “The petpet! I hate petpets!” Byron yelled. The Puppyblew cowered in its owner’s arms. In Byron’s opinion, Petpets got dirty too easily, were noisy, and didn’t listen to you.

      “Then why do you work in a petpet supply store?” the Acara demanded as she protectively cuddled her Puppyblew.

      “Excuse me?” Byron sputtered. “A—a petpet supply store?”

      “Yeah!” Acara stated angrily, stroking her petpet. It gave a few annoying little whimpers.

      “Please, don’t yell. And make it stop that. It’s giving me a headache,” Byron said. And for the first time, he glanced around the store. The shelves were stocked with petpet beds, petpet toys, scratching posts and boards, water bowls, and many more petpet supplies. Byron’s heart sank. Why hadn’t Hales told him this? In fact, what the shop sold had never come up in their conversation.

      Two Chombies entered suddenly, a pink Angelpuss following them. Byron couldn’t stand the sight of them any longer. “Stop!” he yelled. “This store is closed. Everyone get OUT!”

     Job 2: Dishwasher at Cafe Kreludor

      “We don’t usually hire Kacheeks.” The white Grundo popped her gum as she carefully scrutinized him, then squinted her large red eyes.

      Byron nodded. “Your boss already told me that.”

      “We only hire Grundos,” Natty said, taking out a fresh stick of gum and cramming it into her mouth. She popped her gum again, and Byron tried to hide his disgust.

      “I’m not a Grundo,” Byron pointed out.

      Natty rolled her eyes at him. “Alright. All you do is wash dishes in the kitchen. We can’t ruin our reputation by having Neopets see you.” She turned to wipe off some tables.

      “Doesn’t look like you have much of a reputation anyway,” Byron mumbled. The café was almost empty, with only a handful of neopets scattered around.

      “What was that?” the waitress asked as she turned to face him again.

      “I said—uh—where’s the kitchen?” Byron improvised quickly.

      Natty looked at him with an odd expression, then pointed to a large blue door. Above it was a large sign that read ‘Kitchen’.

      “Oh.” Byron flushed with embarrassment.

     Job 3: Office Aide at the Neopian Pound

      The Purple Mynci lead him to a creaky blue painted door. The paint was peeling, and cobwebs occupied the corners of the doorway. The narrow window at the top of the door was dark, and a crooked, faded sign on the door read ‘ABANDON’.

      “I—I’ll be working in the Abandon Department?” Byron asked, his voice a few octaves higher than normal. Fear gripped his stomach.

      “Oh, don’t worry.” Emily smiled. “You’ll just be doing paperwork.” She gingerly leaned forward and turned the door handle. The door swung open with a long, eerie creak.

      “Couldn’t I work in the Transfer or the Adopt Department?” Byron asked. The brightly painted Adopt Department door was pink with small flowers all over it. Even the metallic Transfer Department door looked better than that of the Abandon Department.

      “Oh no, there are plenty of office aides in those departments,” Emily explained, shaking her head.

      “Hello. Who will be joining us today?” a raspy voice questioned. The room was dimly lit, and Byron thought he could see a pair of bright eyes in the darkness. At first, Byron told himself he was just imagining it, but realized that standing in the middle of the room was a Techo with tufts of white hair on his head. He was wearing a dirty white lab coat.

      Rumors flitted through Byron’s mind. Eats petpets. Never come back out. Horrible. Filthy. Torture.

      “It’s just your new office aide,” Emily said cheerfully before turning back to Byron. “Well, it’s simple really. Your desk is right over there, Byron.” She pointed to a dusty desk in the corner. “You’ll just be taking the Abandon sheets over there,” she said, and pointed to a tall stack of papers on the desk, “and filling them out for the pet that is abandoned. Then the pet will be placed in a room and someone will come for the pet. Got it?” Mistaking his horrified expression as an expression of nervousness, she laughed and said, “Don’t worry. It’s really quite easy.” She gave Byron a gentle push into the room, then left.

      The door shut behind Byron. Trembling, he walked over to his new desk and sat down. It isn’t worth it, he thought. It doesn’t even pay that well. His shoulders still ached from leaning over the sink at his previous job, so Byron leaned back. The chair squeaked, and a cloud of dust rose into the air, causing him to cough.

      The Techo turned to him with glittering eyes. However, before the Techo could say anything, the door opened again and a small group entered. The owner was a tall man with jet black hair, and had three Neopets with him. The Neopets were all shaking with fear, eyes wide and lips trembling. The owner looked like he was in a hurry.

      “This one.” The man pushed a Bruce forward. The Bruce’s black eyes widened in horror. Byron looked down at his hands.

      “That’ll be 250 neopoints,” the Techo wheezed. His voice was almost a whisper, but everybody in the room could hear him.

      The owner paid quickly, and then turned to the door.

      “No, please,” the Bruce whispered. Byron looked up, unable to resist the strange temptation.

      The owner didn’t look back. The Cybunny and Chomby appeared to be rooted to the ground as they stared at the Bruce.

      “NO! PLEASE!” the Bruce screamed. He tried to run toward his owner, but the Techo grabbed the Bruce’s shoulder in a steely grasp. The Bruce struggled, but the Techo’s grasp was strong.

      “Come along,” the owner called to his other Neopets, slowly walking away.

      The Cybunny and Chomby remained frozen.

      “PLEASE! DON’T DO THIS TO ME!” the Bruce screamed, falling to the gritty floor. The Techo bent over, refusing to let go of the Neopet’s shoulder.

      “I said, come along,” the owner repeated firmly.

      “WHAT DID I EVER DO WRONG?” The Bruce was crying now, tears streaming down his pudgy face. “PLEASE, DON’T LEAVE ME HERE!”

     Byron was shaking with repulsion now, but couldn’t seem to look away. His eyes were glued to the terrible scene.

      The Cybunny turned away first, sadly.

      The Chomby gave the Bruce one final look, then followed suit.

      “NO! ANEESHA! IMOGEN! PLEASE!” the Bruce wailed, struggling against the Techo’s hold. “I CAN’T! PLEASE! DON’T DO THIS TO ME! PLEASE!”

      But the three of them were almost out the door now.

      “PLEASE!” the Bruce cried.

     Job 4: Gardener for Sir Liz

      “I need all these planted.”

      Sir Liz pointed to a jumbled pile of flowers with a fiery hoof.

      “Yes, Sir.” Byron nodded and smiled.

      The Halloween Uni just walked away.

      “Okay...” Byron picked up a White Lulu and got to work. With the sun shining down cheerfully on him and a cool breeze lifting the flower petals, Byron was in a great mood. It’s so much brighter and happier here than at my office aide job, he thought. Shaking away the horrific memories, Byron patted down the soft earth by the newly planted flower and went to pick up another flower.

      Two hours later, Byron was done with his task. The sun was beating down fiercely now, and Byron was sweating. The cool breeze had died within mere moments. Byron’s face was streaked with dirt, and his clothes had grass stains on them from kneeling on the grass. His back hurt from bending over the flower beds, and he definitely was not in a good mood anymore.

      Sir Liz came over to appraise Byron’s work. Byron had arranged the flowers nicely, in neat rows and with wonderful color coordination.

      After glancing at the flower bed, Sir Liz turned to Byron and said evenly, “It’s ugly. Do it again.”

***

      Byron gently blew on his cup of Spironut with Cream. He took a sip, then sighed. His job hunting had not been going well. He had quit all of his jobs, except for the most recent one as a gardener. He had been fired from that job. That was fine by him anyway; Byron’s back still hurt from the hours of rearranging flower beds.

      “I’m sorry to be butting in on your business, but you look a bit depressed.” A Pea Chia looked over at him.

      “I am,” Byron admitted, taking a large gulp of his hot drink.

      “Want to share what’s wrong? It helps.”

      “Why not?” Byron smiled. The Pea Chia hopped onto the opposite chair and smiled back.

      “I’m Riley, by the way,” she said.

      “I’m Byron.” Then Byron launched into a summary of the past few days.

      “Oh, that’s harsh,” Riley said when he was finished, wincing.

      Byron nodded. He was finished with his drink at that point, and was getting up to go back to his own shop. Might as well get it over with.

      “Listen, if you still need a job, I think I have the perfect one for you. The place I work at needs an extra hand,” Riley offered.

      Byron grinned warily. “Really?”

      -----

     Dear Zumii,

      So how are things at the Lobster Café? I hope everything is going well. By the way, I’ve found a great job, Zumii, and I love it.

      Zumii scanned the rest of the neomail from Byron and chuckled to herself. “The Kadoatery? That’s crazy. It’s chaotic over there,” Zumii muttered to herself. Then she looked up and smiled at the Skunk Cybunny seated in front of the counter. “Sorry about that. Please continue. So, what happened after King Hagan threw a book at your head?"

The End

 
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