This is sort of like a prequel to ‘The Beam of Light.’ Both can stand alone, however, so you don’t need to read it.
It was in those days when Kaylee was still one person.
It was the last day of school. Next year they’d all be going to bigger schools. And Kaylee would be going to a different one then almost all of them. She wore a huge grin as she waved goodbye, promising to write and invite all of them over, someday.
It was when the last one left that she collapsed.
The tears began to consume her face as she walked home, and she lost her hopeful demeanor. She knew that the new school was less concerning to her then the fact that the old one was over. It was all over. All of her old friends, people she had known and seen weekly for six or seven years, gone...
I’ll just have to see what September brings, Kaylee bitterly moaned in her head. She was terrified. She had all of summer to devise a plan, all of summer to do something about it, yet her feeble Kacheek figure shook with the tears.
This time of the year was her favourite.
All the whining, pitiful little Neopians bracing themselves for change. All the vulnerability and defenselessness holding them down. The Shadow Usul’s eyes shone. Destruction was her middle name, and due to the fact nobody knew her first name anymore... destruction was all she had. The shadow didn't destroy physical objects. She destroyed what could stab at the other pets the most.
She destroyed their mind.
She ruined their hope.
She lurked in the shadows. She lurked in the darkest parts of Neopia. The darkest parts of user’s minds. They had to open their heads to let her in before she could take entry. But with the right words, with the right whispers, with the right lack of confidence... she could gain entrance with no difficulty.
The school year was over.
It was time for what the Shadow Usul did best.
And, as much as she would have never admitted it... it was the only thing she could do.
Kaylee was at a carnival with four individuals. Carrie, a red Wocky, had been her best friend for many years, and she was somehow the only friend who had accompanied her to her new school. Another one of the people had been her enemy for just about as long. And the last two were her friends, but she hadn’t seen them in ages.
And you still don’t know if those last two are your friends...
The voice rang clearly throughout Kaylee’s head. Her eyes widened a little bit. The voice was not hers. The voice did not belong to anyone she had ever known. She didn’t know where it came from, or what it wanted. Yet she knew for a fact it was inside of her head...
The past month had been as horrid as she could have imagined. She heard more insults then complements each day. And she was beginning to believe them. It was only October, but she had grown so accustomed to the failure that it felt like it had been years.
All Kaylee really wanted was for things to be how they had once been. For the change to pause and rewind.
Kaylee just wanted to shake it off, but with every step that night, the voice grew louder. Its shadowy, raspy tones whispered a story of pain and failure into Kaylee’s very mind. She began to wonder where this stroke of pessimism came from, but mid-thought she heard a snicker behind her.
Kaylee turned around. She was far in front of her best friend and enemy.
The two sisters appeared on either side of her, with little to no warning.
“Well, that was weird.” Kaylee blinked a few times, looking around her.
“Alana back there was whispering about you when you weren’t around.”
Kaylee expected that much, seeing as the pink Zafara couldn’t stand her.
“Both of them were calling you an immature loser. Alana said that you’d never have friends, and-“
Kaylee stopped, numb in shock. Both of them? Carrie, too?
Every word the oldest one said after that burned into her mind. But she failed to respond.
Finally, the youngest one spoke up, noticing the pain shimmering in Kaylee’s eyes. It was the realization that yet another person was leaving her. And this one... this dear friend was choosing it.
It’s not like all of your other friends from school didn’t ditch you last summer... The voice was persuasive and honest... unarguable...
“But we wouldn’t put up with that. We told them that couldn’t be true, because we are your friends.”
Kaylee just shook her head, confusion brimming over in her eyes, as she walked in silence. She wanted to say thank you to the two desert Acara sisters for being there, for her, when this had not been the first time this month (or even this week) something like this had happened. But instead she dwelled upon other matters.
Your ‘best friend’ has watched you every day at school. Your other two friends haven’t. Carrie knows what she’s talking about...
It was early during the middle of a late November weekend when the area outside Kaylee’s window filled with conversation.
Kaylee sat up unsteadily. She rubbed her eyes and yawned, still half asleep. She knew she couldn’t go back to sleep with all the chatter, yet she still flopped back onto her pillow and covered her head with her sheet.
After ten minutes of hiding from the world, and ten minutes of the chaos growing louder, Kaylee decided it was time to investigate.
She hopped out of her bed and clambered over to her window. It wasn’t like she had moved far; just to a different part of her city. She had to dodge all the cardboard boxes, all the proof she had just moved. She had been here for three months now. Half her stuff wasn’t unpacked.
It wasn’t home. And it would never be home.
Squinting, she moved the blinds.
Outside her window, three kids laughed and joked. There were pieces of various board games all around them.
One of them noticed Kaylee, and nearly dropped their game token in shock. Then, pointing happily, they mouthed something to their siblings and everyone looked up.
Kaylee felt like she was being scrutinized.
Two of them drew closer to the window, smiles on their faces. She then decided she should smile back.
“Hey, what’s your name?”
Kaylee’s mind flashed back through memories, sifting through every snapshot that had ever filled her mind. While it felt like it could have been hours, it was less then a second.
What Kaylee said next came to her naturally, even though it was a name she hadn’t assumed since she was little. “My name’s Kay.”
“Want to come over and play some Neoquest?” The youngest one, who was a yellow Pteri, was close enough to peer through the window. “It’d be a nice break from unpacking.”
Kaylee shrugged. She still didn’t feel like being all social after being woken up by chatter, but what could it hurt?
As Kaylee walked over to where they had been playing, one or two more neighbors she had never seen before seemed to trickle out of nowhere. Their pleasant attitudes were contagious. And she knew, knew from the moment she sat down, they wouldn’t judge her. She had a clean start. They didn’t know her from school...
However, as she began to smile for the first time since she had begun packing... she began laughing about stupid comments made about the game... her thoughts focused on one confusing question.
Why did I say my name was Kay?
Kaylee’s story could have a positive outcome. Or everything could end up being a big mess. The Shadow Usul voted for the latter.
The shadow had zeroed in on her target when she heard the insults. When she had seen the confidence and hope and happiness draining out of her. Kaylee was deflating. Kaylee was diminishing. And the Shadow Usul needed people like that to feed off of. The Shadow Usul lived for people like that.
The Usul knew about the kids in Kaylee’s neighborhood. She had a way to sabotage that, too.
As the weather began to warm up once more, Kaylee grew accustomed to her daily routine.
Every morning she would wake up and be shipped off to school, disgruntled and alone. She never spoke at school anymore, because the shadowy voice in her head told her she was worthless. The whispers told her she would never amount to anything. Kaylee didn’t want to believe it. But when one is already as weak as a vase in the first place, it only takes a few blows with a hammer in a few different places. It only takes a little to crumble.
Her mind was under siege. She couldn’t even remember how she used to make friends. As a result, the only one who talked to her was the malicious voice buzzing in her ears...
And her neighbors.
At school, Kaylee was a quiet, friendless freak. She was constantly zoning out. Change had become her biggest fear.
But in her neighborhood, she was fearless. She was a superhero. She talked to anybody and everyone.
Kaylee was shy. But Kay could be whoever she wanted to be. For three hours a day, Kay was real.
Really, Kay was a bunch of lies. But nobody ever had to know that.
Kaylee didn’t want them to all abandon her. Kaylee felt there must be a reason nobody who knew the real her ever talked to her. Kaylee needed a crutch, people to fall back on. She woke up every morning and put up with the world for those hours after school. Kaylee knew that her neighbors didn’t want to hear her whine about all the people she left behind, and all the people that had left her. And Kaylee didn’t want to give them any reason for them to leave her, too.
It was almost as if there were two people in Kaylee’s head, now.
Kaylee hated Kay for being everything she was not. For having friends, for being able to make people smile. For not being shy. Kay could do whatever she wanted to do. Kay had all the confidence on the surface. Kay hated Kaylee because Kaylee could mess up anything, fail at everything, and ruin any friendship. And because Kaylee was the only one who knew that Kay wore a happy mask that was cemented to her face.
Kay seemed to be the only part of Kaylee that never heard negative comments. The only part of her that was treated like a Neopet, and not just a shadow of her former self. Kay seemed to be the only one who avoided the darkness.
But not even Kay was safe.
It would have been so easy to destroy Kay.
All she had to do was whisper in the ears of her so called friends. They were stronger friends than Kay thought – they wouldn’t have really abandoned her if they would have known that all her confidence was artificial. But still, anyone would submit to the Shadow Usul’s wishes eventually. If she wanted to turn them all against Kay, she could have.
But Kay wasn’t real. Kaylee was. And every day her thoughts cried out for her past, for things to be how they used to be.
That was why the Usul had been murmuring the lies into Kaylee’s ears. That was why the shadow made sure that Kay and Kaylee were nothing alike, polar opposites. Kaylee knew how worthless she was, and how unique and loved Kay was. That hadn’t all been the shadow’s doing. The Usul was using her lack of confidence against her...
Everything was going according to plan.
By letting her friends destroy her, Kaylee would think it was just a sudden stroke of malevolence. She would believe that nobody liked her, but it still wouldn’t entirely be her fault.
So the shadow had a different plan. Kaylee would know it had all been her mistakes, her failure. All the Usul had to do was let the lies crumble. Then Kay would crumble along with it. And Kay’s existence was the only thing keeping Kaylee sane.
“Kay...” Melissa looked at her with pain in her eyes.
“What?” Kay looked up, shocked at the expression on Melissa’s face. Six people stood behind her; three of them her sisters, and the other three her cousins. They made up a good chunk of the group. And Kay had been fortunate that they had accepted her even though they all had been so close for as long as they could remember.
The rest of the group was nice, but they weren’t so close to each other as those seven were.
“Kay... We’re moving.”
Kay was stunned. “Moving? You or the cousins?”
“All of us.” Teresa whimpered from behind Melissa “Our cousins’ owner is sick. She won’t be able to be on much, anymore. My owner’s taking them in on a side account. There isn’t enough room on our property for three more kids. They can’t live in their home all by themselves...”
The entire neighborhood was watching her now, but she almost didn’t care. Kay looked at them with torment shining in her eyes.
Yet another group of people for me to mourn for.
She didn’t need the shadowy voice to come to that conclusion.
They didn’t know how much they all meant to her. She had only known them for a few months, so surely they couldn’t see that they were the only treatment for all her failure. They didn’t know that they were the life raft.
But Kay had to stand strong. Crying was something Kaylee would do. Breaking down wasn’t something that belonged to Kay.
She changed the focus in her eyes.
She put back on her usual mask before anyone could comment.
There were only five other people, now.
And Kaylee felt so, so alone.
Five people that made up her world. With the disappearance of the other six, it was quiet now. Too quiet. Slowly people had stopped coming. Slowly they had drifted away.
Kaylee stood in the middle of an empty field. She hadn’t even bothered to bring a flying disc, or a baseball glove, or really anything for that matter. She knew nobody was going to show.
But she still clung to that hope with every breath.
The sun began sinking in the sky, slowly drifting away from her too.
Then the clouds came. They draped over the sky with their malevolent dark claws, shredding the light and claiming darkness victorious. They were rain clouds, and true to their name, it began to sprinkle.
Then it began to pour.
Kaylee still had a half hour until dinner.
But it was all she needed.
Without thinking, she began to run.
Silently, a shadow followed.
She ran through the field, into the woods behind it. Her feet slapped against the ground, getting stuck in the newly formed mud every so often, but she never tripped. The rain began to gather speed, and thunder pulsed far off in the distance. Her yellow Kacheek fur was beginning to stick to her, shielding her eyes. Kaylee began to stumble.
It grew darker, now. She knew that she had a half hour until it would be pitch-black. But she also knew that she didn’t want to go back.
Kaylee finally tripped over a log, water and mud splashing everywhere. She was covered in the brown filth, dripping and blinded by all the water.
The lightning flashed closer, now.
Kaylee huddled in a little ball, soaked and horribly lost in the middle of an immense forest. She was alone, but this wasn’t new.
It was when she had grown accustomed to the deadly lullaby of the forest, of the weather, that the voice began to speak.
Kaylee did not feel like fighting, now.
Yet she opened her eyes.
Around her, she saw the filth. She saw how fast the raindrops were falling.
She was terrified.
Yet in the middle of the storm, in the middle of what should have been the worst of her episodes, the worst moment of desperation yet to stop the change...
Her mind flashed back to all those memories she treasured so dearly, of the place she had once called home, and the friends who had just recently moved. Of the days before change, or at least the place she had been able to hide when it was rapidly taking place around her. Before anyone thought she was anything other than normal, amazing, herself. To those days when Kaylee held no shadows.
The shadow sensed the change.
Nobody’s coming to save you...
“They would have wanted me to save myself.”
There was a howl of anger that pierced the air.
It was no longer in her head.
It was then she realized the voice had not always belonged to her...
You’re lost. Horribly lost. The world’s changing around you, and I’m the only one who can save you. Did you notice that everyone was your friend because you were beautiful. Your personality, and your appearance. Well, you’ve let that go down the drain. Kay is the only part of you that is even worth anything. And she’s not even real! As the shadow’s speech went on, the words grew more and more forceful...
“You could never save me.” Kaylee yelled out bitterly to the air, a seemingly empty world. Anyone out there would have believed she was insane. Yet after all this time, Kaylee finally knew she was not.
Only I can make you beautiful...
Kaylee began to run through the woods, once more. Her feet hit the ground with force as she began to pant, water flying everywhere. Dodging tree after tree, Kaylee began to flail in desperation, trying to escape the nightmare.
You can’t run from me.
The voice was just as close. The voice was unwavering, confident.
I am who you have become.
“NO!” It was a horrible, bloodcurdling screech, a protest that echoed throughout the area. Kaylee had come to a clearing in the forest, and she stood there, panting with exhaustion. Her eyes were wild as they flashed around her.
You’re not doing a great job of saving yourself, are you?
That was the first time Kaylee would ever see her tormentor.
The Shadow Usul was nothing more than a wisp, but a very frightening one at that. She was opaque, but not translucent. Everything around her darkened with her every movement. All the plants seemed to move away from where she was at, twisting and turning so that they too would not have to face her.
Two menacing eyes shone through the rain and darkness, staring directly at Kaylee. The Usul began to laugh in her thoughts, although it was malicious enough that it might as well have been verbal.
Nobody questions me for long.
“You’ve already told me I was a nobody.” Kaylee yelled over the roar of the rain and the wind that was beginning to pick up. “You’ve already made me worthless. There is something worse, though. And I will never be your minion.”
The Shadow Usul’s thoughts snarled with ferocity. She leapt forward at Kaylee, smacking her face although she was nothing more than air. Kaylee fell to the ground, getting covered in mud.
Kaylee tried to hit her back, but missed.
See, Kay could have saved the day. Kay could have done anything she wanted to do. But you... you are all just a lie.
The Usul was right above her face now, whispering her poisonous words into Kaylee’s ears.
You are nothing more than a broken Neopet, a liar born from desperation.
“You aren’t any better than me.”
The Usul’s face changed. Her thoughts were suddenly blocked off from Kaylee’s, but she also knew that it was a benefit to have the constant stream of pain and torn emotions streaming through her thoughts. With the Usul’s thoughts blocked off, Kaylee realized a lot of the agony she had felt had been spoon fed to her through her mind, directly from the core of the Usul’s fears...
You don’t know anything about me.
“Defensive, are we?”
The Usul begin to back up, if ever so slightly. Her eyes shone angrily.
I can see in the dark. You’re lost, here. Are you sure you don’t want my help? She snarled.
Kaylee pushed the shadow aside, and stood up. “The only reason you’ve seen through my lies and pain is because you live them every day, more than I do. Who’s going to save you?”
The Shadow Usul leapt towards her, clawing her face. Kaylee felt the sharp immense pain, and it was like every wound was both physical and emotional.
Kaylee howled out in fear as she knew she was trapped. She knew that nobody would come to find her. The only way to make the pain stop would be to give in, and giving in seemed easy now...
Lightning cracked, and struck a tree nearby. Kaylee could no longer see, though. She was blinded by the pain. She surely could not survive if this lasted for much longer...
One last burst of energy, one last moment of defiance. “You can’t force me to do anything.” Her voice cracked with distress and agony. Her voice was fading out, and in another minute it might be another story...
It was as sudden as it had started that it stopped. The Usul disappeared as fast as she had appeared, evaporating into the air.
It was then Kaylee felt arms around her.
Kaylee looked up through battered eyes.
Standing before her was Carrie and one of the neighborhood kids. She could not comprehend their facial expressions while in the state she was in. She could not fathom while they were here.
Kaylee would never forget that the rain let up, right then and there. Also, the last words she heard before her mind faded into darkness would stay with her. Forever.
”Thank goodness we found her...”
She woke up the next day mid afternoon. She still didn’t get why Carrie was with all her friends around her bed, though.
Thankfully, they did all the talking.
There were tears in her eyes as Carrie, her former best friend, spoke. “I was so worried when your owner called our house, saying you had disappeared.”
Kaylee looked at her blankly. “Why?”
“You’ve... disappeared off the planet that past few months.” Carrie shook her head. “I hope I didn’t have a part in it. Ever since like Christmas I’ve been worried sick about you, but you’ve been too quiet to approach. You’d act like you were too unworthy to speak. I didn’t want anything to happen to you, last night, in the storm. I didn’t want you to run away.”
“I thought you had left me, too.”
There was silence as Carrie took in the pain shimmering in Kaylee’s eyes. Kaylee took in that Carrie had never intended to be malicious. While everything had hurt... Kaylee had been the only one who had changed.
Kaylee choked. “I’m not even who you think I am. Some of you called me by a different name. I am nothing truthful. I don’t even know who I am anymore.”
“We don’t care who you are, or who you aren’t. We are lucky to know you.”
Kaylee looked around at the six shining faces around her. She realized, then, how blessed she truly was.
She looked back down at the faint scars on her arms. They were disappearing faster than they should have. Maybe she was healing...
Kaylee looked up. She knew she was healing. And she knew the cure.
The faintest smile broke across her lips.