Meepit Oaks Elementary Neoschool was a tall stone building, located on the very edges of Neopia Central. It wasn’t named after the asylum; it was named after meepits and oak trees. You’d be surprised how many administrators ignore all the tales about zombies and witches in ghost towns in the middle of nowhere.
Darrel, however, had not ignored the Tale of Woe. He had studied it intensively, even as a kindergartener, and even as a kindergartener, he was feeling very nervous about going to a school called Meepit Oaks. In fact, he was very nervous about going to any school, regardless of name. He’d rather be in the middle of the forest, reading a book and breathing in sweet fresh air. It was his sister who had convinced him to come.
Darrel’s family was a very average Neopian family. His biggest brother, Rags, took care of the rest of the family. Emau sometimes did too, when Rags was filing his teeth. Mutant Cybunnies have very bad teeth. Emau and Rags were very good big brothers, and they taught Darrel lots of fun stuff about Neopia, namely, the Tale of Woe. Kya was his big sister. She was a very tall Gelert who towered over even Emau. She had hugged him this morning, long tentacle ears dangling in his face. She’d told him to be good and never give up, no matter how scary or hard it got.
She couldn’t have said anything better, as far as Darrel was concerned. It was only these words that convinced him to step through the tall wooden doors and find classroom 8 in the building. He opened the door and received a nice greeting from the teacher, a pretty brown Meerca.
“Darrel? You’re late,” she scowled. Darrel bowed and apologized, then looked out at the class. They did not look very pleased that he’d arrived.
“What...” a red Lupe sitting in the front of the room began, “What is that?”
“I’m a Draik,” Darrel informed her proudly. “It’s a rare kind of neopet.”
“I know what a Draik is,” she snapped. “And you are not a Draik!”
“I’m not? I hatched from a Draik egg, though! My sister told me the story a lot of times...” Darrel looked down at his olive-green skin. Was something wrong?
“You’re a weird gross animal that just slightly resembles a Draik,” she said, looking him up and down.
“Lina, please be nice to Darrel,” the teacher told her. “He’s a mutant Draik. He’s still a pet, and he deserves all the respect you would give a blue pet.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Lina did not look at all sorry. She looked more willing to keep her disgust to herself, but Darrel saw no remorse on her face.
“My name is Mrs. Green. Your seat is there.” The teacher pointed to a desk right in front of Lina, and he sat in it politely. “Today we’ll be learning about Meridell. Does anybody know anything about Meridell?” Darrel raised his hand as high as he could. He knew all about Lord Kass’s invasion!
“It was once invaded by Lord Kass! He was being controlled by three really scary faeries, though, so I don’t think he was quite as evil as everybody thinks. But he was really smart! He sent an Aisha court dancer to control King Skarl! It almost worked, but Lisha saved the city by...”
“Darrel! That’s a very scary story! We won’t be learning about scary things in kindergarten.”
“Is... is the Tale of Woe a scary story?” he asked quietly.
Mrs. Green slammed the ruler down on his paw. “Do not backtalk your teacher! The Tale of Woe is about zombies!”
Darrel made a mental note that zombies were scary. Was he scary deficient? That would not be very good at all.
“Meridell grows apples,” the little Chomby said matter-of-factly. Darrel thought that he probably knew more about Meridell than Rob did, because he was able to go into all of the details and Rob was only able to say that one little sentence. It was one word away from the most basic sentence you could get!
“Very good! Meridell does grow apples! Who here likes apples?”
“Me, me!” Most of the class shot their paws up into the air.
“Darrel? Do you not like apples?”
“I don’t know,” the little Draik replied. “My brother is allergic to apples, so I’ve never had one before.”
“Oh, well. Who likes potatoes?” Again, most of the class raised their hands. “Darrel? Do you not like potatoes either?”
“Is a potato purple?” Darrel asked. He thought he may have once seen a potato before. It was very flat. For this remark, he got another whack with the ruler. That day, he got many more whacks on the paw, along with one whack on the tail when he tried to educate the class about the dangers of the Shadow Usul. Lunch came as a huge relief, until the little pet actually opened his Shadow Usul lunch box. (This pet was quite a fan.)
There was no twirlyfruit toasty wrapped in colored paper waiting inside, nor was there any raspberry neocola. His blackberry chia pop, his carrot wrap, and his flaming BBQ crisps had all been stolen! He sat down sadly at his desk, gazing at the blackboard mournfully. There was a poke on his back, and he turned around. Lina was looking right at him!
“What’s it like to be a mutant?” she asked, munching on a spotted cheese sandwich.
“Oh, it’s great! The only bad thing is the weird looks you get from people,” Darrel explained.
“Oh. Where’s your lunch?”
“I think someone stole it, because it’s not in the box,” he explained sadly.
“That was mean.”
He’d been hoping that she would offer something, because his stomach ached terribly and her lunch had lots of good food, but she turned back to her meal and he returned to gazing at the chalkboard.
With the end of lunchtime came maths, and Darrel knew what four plus four was. He knew what five plus five was and if he had some blocks he probably could have added fourteen and eleven. However, he didn’t have much time to show off his skills, for the teacher skipped right over his hand the whole time. When the end of the day came and all the owners and big brothers were coming to pick up the pets, Darrel was just about ready to cry with relief. He watched the door very carefully, for he knew that Kya and Rags would pick him up soon.
“Ewww! Get away from me!” a high voice came from behind the door.
“You get away from her, rotten plushie. You have no right to boss my sister around.” Emau! What was he saying?
“Don’t be mad, Emau. She’s just jealous because Kya is sooo much more good looking than her,” Darrel heard Rags cackle.
“Guys, be quiet.” The door opened and Kya stepped in. “I’m here for Darrel,” she announced loudly, ignoring all of the looks she got. That was the best thing about Kya. She never, ever gave in to any kind of pressure about her looks.
“Kya!” Darrel yelled. He ran into his sister’s arms.
“How was your day?” Rags hopped in.
“It was... good. I learned that zombies are scary,” Darrel said, trying not to cry. “And that we aren’t going to learn about scary stuff. I learned that potatoes aren’t purple and mutants aren’t pretty.”
“How did you like the lunch I made for you?” Emau asked. “I worked quite hard on it.”
“It wasn’t there,” Darrel said, and his eyes gave way to small tears.
“Oh no! Maybe that Usul on your lunch box took it?” Kya asked. She had always liked pretending.
“No. I think somebody stole it, but it wasn’t the Shadow Usul,” Darrel said. “The Shadow Usul’s nicer.” He buried his head into his sister’s grimy fur.
“I knew it,” Emau growled bitterly. “I knew we should have kept him at home. Rags is smart; he could have been a teacher. But no, he had to go to school. Don’t you guys see? He can’t survive here. He’ll get beat up, and bullied.” The huge mutant Kyrii was choking up. “We can’t let what happened to me happen to him.”
“I agree with Emau,” Rags hissed. “I went through school as a speckled Cybunny, but Emau had to endure life as a mutant for a whole year before I took him out. I home schooled him for the rest of the time. I had to buy a rotten attack carrot and escort him to and from school so that he didn’t get beat up. It was pretty horrible.”
“He needs to get to know other pets,” Kya argued. “That’s something that Emau’s never been good at. We just need to find Darrel the right school. I say we give this school another chance, then move on if it’s still bad.” She popped a claw out. “Any arguments?” There were no arguments. Really, Darrel was just thinking of how embarrassing it was to have his family talk like this in public, but he didn’t say anything.
The next day, Darrel was careful to arrive on time. The little pet was determined to correct all of the mistakes he’d made the previous day. He put his Shadow Usul lunch box in a top security lunch box with a steel casing and special combination lock. When walking, he brought a silver Draik bow to defend himself, just in case. At night he read a nice book about the Unis and farmers of Meridell so that he would be prepared.
As a result of the studying and the lunch box, Darrel felt quite confident when he came into the classroom right as about half of the pets had already shown up. Looking around, he noticed something different about the students.
“Where’s Lina?” he asked Mrs. Green.
“She’s in the corner.” The teacher pointed with a shaky finger. A dark blue Lupe was slowly stacking blocks. “We’re worried about her health.”
“Okay, thank you!” Darrel walked over to the Lupe. “What happened?”
“I... I thought it was a split Lupe morphing potion,” she said, trembling. “And it wasn’t.”
“What color was the bottle?”
“The stuff inside was blue,” she admitted. “It tasted like dirt. Oh, why did I drink it?”
“It was a transmogrification potion! Now you’re going to be a mutant, just like me!”
“Oh, great. Now I’ll be an ugly mutant Lupe.”
“It’s okay! Being a mutant isn’t so bad. And it’ll be nice to not have to face all of the other pets alone. You can get a weapon to protect yourself from meanies, if having your skull on the outside of your head doesn’t scare them off.”
“What on the outside of my head?!”
“You didn’t know? Mutant Lupes have skulls on the outside of their heads.”
“It’ll be okay.”
“Class time!” Mrs. Green announced. There is no need to know the details of the class experience, for it was mostly the same as the last one, if a few less whacks with the ruler. Certainly it was more interesting, for they learned about King Skarl instead of potatoes.
“Oh no,” Lina said, opening her lunch box when the time came.
“What?” Darrel turned around.
“My brother bought me a super special strawberry Lupe treat because my birthday is coming up soon, and it cost almost ten thousand whole neopoints and it’s gone.” She looked into the emptiness of her lunch box and her face, which was now beginning to turn white as her skull came through her skin, began to twist in sadness. Darrel scanned the classroom and saw that two Quiggles were giggling in the corner. In anger, he stomped up.
“Have you seen a super special strawberry Lupe treat anywhere?” he asked with a casual tone, but the anger in his eyes gave him away.
“Nope, nowhere,” the red one giggled. That was the last straw. Darrel began to flap his wings, which he hadn’t even known would lift him, and lifted above the young pets, casting a dark shadow over them.
“Where,” he asked again, “is Lina’s strawberry Lupe treat?”
“No idea,” the green Quiggle said nervously. To this, Darrel bared his teeth and extended his claws.
“Okay!” the red one yelled. He tore open his blue Gelert lunch box and pulled out the little pink Chia-shaped treat. “Just take the treat and go away!”
“Next time you take something from us,” Darrel warned, “I won’t be so reluctant to get down to business.” He floated over to the stunned Lina and handed her the treat.
It was the beginning of a friendship that would last for years and years. After Lina, many other pets in Mrs. Green’s class drank transmogrification potions, some in front of everyone else. It was quite a sight to see them on a field trip to Happy Valley, teeth and spikes and eyes in all the wrong places, walking in line behind their small teacher. A few rich pets were repainted; most stayed the same for the rest of their lives. Darrel and Lina belonged to the latter category, for they stayed mutant and proud until the day they died.
Darrel, are you sure about that?
Of course we’ll stay mutant until the day we die! I’m telling it in storybook format, okay?