Palace of Snow
It was a quiet place.
As a small figure was walking upon the snow, a slender Whoot bobbed along upon the figure’s creamy shoulder. Yet a petpet never perched upon that shoulder or walked alongside for more than a day. And with just a nod, it would wander or fly off, leaving behind a place to be taken by another petpet, which would appear very soon; and this relationship was part of the mutual attraction between Kacheek and petpet.
All around her, pine trees were sheathed in glistening coats of ice. Inside, something was restless and longing to fly free in the brisk winter air, but her sparkling eyes silently looked on.
With a smile at the cheerful Whoot, she looked around and her eyes wandered, lost and fantastical. A deliciously sweet Flatfruit lollypop rested silently upon her tongue. It was true that she had never walked this wood before, but trees told her things neopets often would not. For as much time as she had spent around flora, it was second nature to be able to point out which were saplings, which may have housed petpets, and which were old grandfathers. The cold that had sent Urchulls huddling in their nests had went into the pines and graced them with a beauty that bowed to diamonds. A heavy pine scent hung in the air, good and earthy and green. It blanketed her in a comfort that made her feel as if she was a plant basking in the sun.
Her name was Matilda.
In a way, it seemed as if she had been at peace in this wood all the day. Yet this was impossible, as she had just skipped out of the wildly boisterous Neoschool doors an hour ago, arms flailing in joy and eyes bright with glee. She had intended to skip toward her Neohome for a piece of iced fish cake, yet as she turned corners and walked streets lined with Neohomes of foreign faces, she began to grow lost as street came after lane and avenue came after drive, all of the names fading into one blended picture. And eventually, she found herself wandering in some peaceful wood in a yet untouched corner of Neopia, paws still clutched to her backpack straps as they had when she began her walk home.
As Matilda walked to her Neohome, there seemed to be an invisible effect spreading over Neopia. It seemed as if the cold appeared to warm frozen hearts, as strangers invited travel-weary strangers into their Neohomes, as miserly shopkeepers put extra logs on the fire, as poor, cold Neopets were offered mugs of hot chocolate from passerby going about their business. Yet the cold seemed to harden certain hearts, those of strict Lupe music teachers who tightened standards for the musical of the famed Month of Celebrating.
“Stop wandering and get in line,” Miss Clapp would say; or “the C note, the C note, the C note! Again!”; or “Put down that lollypop and start singing, for Pete’s sake!”
The real jingle in the Miss Clapp’s bell was, Matilda supposed, the frenzied look she wore whenever the holiday musical came rolling around. This year was the spin-off of Snowy - A White Kougra Story, a tearjerker, it seemed. And a tearjerker always seemed to double, or triple the criteria. Everything had to be picture perfect.
She was working the stage assistance overtime- that included Matilda herself. They painted the scenery, setup the lighting, rearranged the staging, and selected a wardrobe for the actors and actresses- in short, they did much of the work. She was part of the team responsible for staging, although her job was pulling the curtains. She dreamed of being out on the stage as one of the singers, but she knew that it was nigh impossible, aside from Miss Clapp and her own tone-deaf voice.
When she was but a younger child, she once auditioned for the role of Big Friendly Tentacle Beast in the musical adaptation of Tales from the Deep. Almost miraculously, she received the role, mainly because she was refused the part for Rock #8, as she could not stand still and often walked about the stage while the show went on. So for once it was she who wore the costume, which was at least twice the size of the little Kacheek. The seeing gaps were too high if the breathing gaps were aligned for space, and the breathing gaps were too low if the seeing gaps were preferred at that moment. Her costume continued to shift as she sang, which came out as a muffled song.
Then, suddenly, a feather from a serenading Kateil fell upon her nose poking through the breathing gap, which was oddly accurate as one could not tell where the Kacheek was inside that enormous pile of folded cloth. So she sneezed, and she was instantly struck with a stirring inspiration. She rushed to center stage and began to sing, yet the costume slid as she stumbled a bit running. From above, the vibrant light filled her vision and struck her, and she began to wander like a dazed, stunned neopet.
Throughout the confusion, she thought she could distinctly hear booing from the audience. The seeing gaps slid over her and exposed her whole head. Unfortunately, just at that moment, an audience member seized a pie and threw it with precise aim. Soon, more than a few pies had ruined her costume and she then looked like the Big Friendly Custard Beast. However, as she put her paw in her mouth, she discovered they were quite possibly the most delicious pies she had ever tasted.
Such were the moments that were reconsidered as she walked in the woods. At present she expected Beekadoodles or Urchulls or Eizzils to be frolicking about in the snow, yet all appeared to be enjoying the warmth of their nests. A particularly busy tree meant petpets, and footprints most certainly declared an Eizzil’s refuge from the cold. On her near right, a pine tree flapped loudly and she thought she could detect an Urchull chatter, yet the world was so quiet. So she walked on.
At last she came to a clearing. She had not chosen any particular direction to follow; she only assumed she was making her way to the deepest part of the woods, where nature was most alive. The clearing was quite small, for she did not need to squint to know the woods would begin again very shortly. The thin, weak sun streamed upon the earth, throwing cold pale lights of sparkles upon the snow.
All was silent.
Matilda made her way to the edge- something told her not to violate the taboo of clean snow. It was a stage of white, clean and pristine and blanketing the frozen grasses with a sort of new beauty. Not a single footprint had crossed the taboo and yet....
In the far distance something disturbed this perfect picture. It was neither frosted bush or rock or a trick of the falling light, but it was something like an object. It appeared to be round and white, and about the height of an Urchull. To the left of the object was a broad line that was missing quite a bit of snow. As Matilda boldly struck out over the field of yet clean snow, she took the object to be a very large snowball, presumably for some very mischievous purpose- she could tell these sorts of things. She was about to pick the snowball up and carry it home when she realized a dual purpose that had not come to her before- the head of a snowman.
She glanced about her for the body portions but there were no other signs of such. Perhaps the Neopet had been recalled for hot chocolate or a steaming supper, and had forgotten all about this lost little orphan head.
Scarcely a moment went until she kneeled down and began to work. With her tiny paws, she began scooping snow and willing it together to form a misshapen shape. Then she began to roll the thing again and again until it grew nice and round and smooth like a sphere. Working steadily, she had the first section completed before long, and repeated the process for the mid-section. The structure had to be just right.
With great heaves she moved the mid-section upon the body, then the head upon the round shoulders.
And oh! Of course. A snowman was never complete without a petpet friend. Then she scooped together snow to form the Whoot petpet.
And, with the frosty light shining upon her, words began to entwine themselves around her. Her soft, offbeat voice began quietly, barely above a whisper, then rose in power, strong and sure. It swept up an octave, and as the Kacheek began to slip into her element, it spilled through the air and some inner force began to emerge.
Something magical was happening. Little brown and orange and cerulean heads began to poke out from their nests. First an ear, a beak, a pair of eyes; then the head and body began to rise from slumber. They raised their eyes above the snow to find the voice that had called to them. A rare intermingling filled the air. Surrounded by chirps and squeaks and chatters, Matilda sang with quiet vigor, her heart filling with the song of nature.
There it was! A new friend was moving into the Neohome down the street. Her mitt-covered paws patted the misshapen thing on the head as if she was meeting a new Neopet. She smiled and closed her eyes.
How do you do? she asked.
And the snowman answered, Oh, very well! But I‘m lonely.
Oh!, she said. And then an idea slowly came to her, like a petpet that was to be lured tenderly, else a strong movement would have it scamper away. She experimentally put her paws in the snow again, scooped snow, and packed it together. This she repeated until she had built the second snowman, and then the third.
At the fourth snowman, she quickly stood up and flopped in the snow, laughing in joy. She moved her arms and legs to make a Kacheek snow angel, then stood up again and jumped about in the snow, terribly content. She picked up an unfinished snowball and let it fly into Faerieland. It never came back down.
It was then she began to invent her own songs, tales of adventure and beauty and warmth. She jumped upon a magical Uni steed, reined in the rearing friend, and rode the brave beast into a palace of wonder, in which she was the architect, telling a tale of adventure in which the unknown was the fabled kingdom. As she belted out a song, she built a fourth snowman and wielded an icicle sword to defend her palace. As her palace came alive with music, she built a fifth snowman and declared him the mayor. She built a sixth and bestowed upon him a song of her own, and then another, and another, and another.
Her voice became more and more powerful as her adventures progressed. The finale came when she began to run, then dropped to her knees and slid across the snow, spinning. The last note was an incredibly high one, which she accomplished more or less.
Her smile was wider than ever when she stood up, and she was surrounded by applause. The snowmen all smiled at her as she bowed. At that moment, it resumed snowing again, and a delicate dancing snowflake landed on her tongue. As she became dusted in snowflakes, she could not think of a better appreciation gift.
She was so elated in joy that she immediately took off, running back to her Neohome. The following day, she picked up her trusty, lucky, and fun-sized sword pencil and signed up for an audition in Snowy. Frankly, Miss Clapp choosing not to refuse her audition was far more kindness than she had expected, but now she supposed that perhaps the holiday season did cheer all hearts after all, cold or warm. The day before the audition, she was simply ecstatic, eyes brimming with joy.
Immediately she knew who to share her accomplishment with. So she wandered off in the general direction of the woods again, allowing herself to be swept up by her surroundings.
Yet as the land sloped into woodland again, she came to find herself quite at a loss. The memory of the direction seemed to have slipped away. No footprint seemed to ever have existed upon that clean, white spread of snow. She walked deeper, hoping that it would take her in the correct path. Even Matilda’s natural inclination to find misplaced or otherwise lost things, places, or creatures seemed to have abandoned her in those woods.
She would never find these snowmen again. Day after day she continued looking for them, but she never could quite remember the direction or the woods or the clearing she had built them in. She never stopped looking for the snowmen that winter.
The auditorium was two things: it was blindingly velvet, and equally boisterous. Filled with busy neopets anxiously awaiting their own turn, they fidgeted and whispered and sang and danced a little. Matilda took her place in line, licking a blueberry crescent lolly.
The most recent neopet to finish her piece was a young Usul who sang of snow, family, and love. As she took her bow, the other actors and actresses clapped in appreciation. When she left the stage, Matilda crossed to the center and was not blinded by the spotlight.
She began to sing.