A Rainbow Behind Dark Clouds: Part One
One early morning in the Month of Running, Charmy left her bedroom and noticed her youngest sister had disappeared.
It had in fact been the evening before, when the clouds were being blown from the starry sky by a chilling wind, that her sister had departed from their single-floor house in Rainbow Lane. Immediately Charmy had alerted her siblings, Sakura and Bandit. But they never confronted their owner about the issue.
It was only a few hours later before Bandit had realised what exactly had happened. He had ambled into the living room to read as he always did after breakfast, and had found a Tyrannian Uni settled in his favourite armchair. Bandit had been more shocked to find someone sitting in his chair rather than to see a stranger in his house. Quiet as he was, he merely walked back into the kitchen and alerted his owner, Amy, of the matter. It was then that Amy revealed that she had discovered the world of trading pets...
Sakura leapt from her chair and pushed past her brother Bandit. The muscled Lupe watched her scamper out of sight. Seconds later she raced back to the kitchen, her hazel eyes wide. Her mouth dropped open but for the first time in her entire life, Sakura was speechless. She returned to the living room with Bandit and Charmy, closely followed by Amy, who all stared at the bewildered Uni.
“She won’t be here for long,” Amy explained. “I’ll trade her out soon...”
Charmy turned her head and stared at her owner in disbelief. Charmy was probably Amy’s most trusted pet. They had lived alone together for sometime, before Bandit and Sakura had been born, so their bond was quite strong. But now she regarded her owner steadfastly as if she were a stranger. Trading? Amy had promised never to let go of any of her pets.
“Is that what happened to our sister?” Charmy’s voice pierced the silence. “You traded her for... that?”
“Don’t be mean,” Amy reminded her Kacheek. “And yeah, I traded her for this Uni.”
Charmy turned back and sucked her tongue thoughtfully. Her youngest sister hadn’t even lived with them for a month and she and Charmy hadn’t been close – in fact, she hadn’t been close with any of the family – but it still came as a shock that, firstly, Amy would give up one of her pets and secondly that she would do so for one of her least-favourite species. Charmy fleetingly wondered if the same fate awaited her and her siblings, but she didn’t mention it.
Just the next day, the Uni was gone. This perplexed everyone but Amy, even the carefree Sakura.
“Where’s that Uni you traded?” Charmy asked when she passed her owner in the hallway. “I haven’t seen her around all day.”
“Pound,” Amy said carelessly.
Charmy’s eyes widened, though she dared not let Amy see. She hurried to her bedroom and slammed the door behind her, sinking into the purple carpet.
All was not well in the usually peaceful and close-knit family. Charmy, Bandit and Sakura were growing wary of their owner, though they hated to admit it. Two pets had disappeared from their home within the space of two days. One was in the Neopian Pound. What was to become of their family bond, which currently was tearing down the middle? They were soon to find out, just the next day...
Late afternoon. Snow was expected, but it hadn’t come yet, and with it being Sakura’s favourite weather she had been perched on the straw sofa staring intently out the living room window all day waiting for just a single snowflake. Gale force winds rattled the windows and made eerie whistling and howling sounds. Having been out of the house almost all day, Amy returned with her blonde bunches windswept and tangled. Even so, she was elated.
“I have the best news!” she cried through the house, running into the living room.
“It’s snowing?!” Sakura asked hopefully.
When Amy replied ‘no’, Sakura rested her head in her hands and let out a heavy sigh. Charmy and Bandit looked at their owner expectantly, almost demandingly.
“I was out talking to some people and someone’s offered me my dream pet!” Amy beamed. “She’s going to transfer him to me come the start of next month!”
“What’s your dream pet?” Bandit asked inquisitively.
Charmy interrupted Amy before she could speak. “Rainbow Gelert,” she said. “Right?”
Amy nodded, grinning. “Of course, my dream pets were originally a green Lupe, a blue Kacheek and a Christmas Kyrii.”
“Wait a minute, I’m a Christmas Kyrii!” Sakura cried.
“Duh,” Charmy said, smiling and fiddling with her hair bow.
“How old will she be?” Sakura asked excitably.
“He,” Amy corrected. “Uh, I can’t remember exactly... Older than you, Sakura, but younger than Bandit.”
“So somebody’s offered you a rainbow Gelert,” Bandit finalised, looking thoughtfully to the ceiling. “Your final dream pet.”
Charmy looked at her younger brother. He was incredibly skilled at hiding any trace of emotion on his face, but Charmy was so close with him she could usually tell what he was feeling. Right now, he seemed a little unsure what to think of the situation, which made Charmy quite uneasy. They stared into each other’s eyes, trying to read each other’s thoughts. Sakura glanced back and forth between her two older siblings, wondering what they were doing.
“Ooh, I’m going to go and prepare for the Gelert!” Amy announced suddenly, muttering to herself as she skipped up the hallway to her bedroom. “Maybe I should draw a picture of him...”
The pets she left in the living room were silent. The silence continued until some time after they heard their owner’s bedroom door click shut.
“What do you think of that, then?” Charmy said quietly, giving her hair bow a final tug and brushing a perfectly curled ear with one paw. “She’s adopting a new pet.”
“It’s a good thing, isn’t it?” Bandit said without colour or passion. “Instead of creating a new pet she doesn’t really want, she’s saving a pet that someone else doesn’t want. Everybody wins, as they say.”
Charmy considered, hugging herself and staring out the window at the greyness that consumed the sky.
A few hours later, Charmy knocked on Amy’s bedroom door and entered. Amy was hunched over her cluttered desk, scribbling, surrounded by crumpled sheets of discarded paper. She glanced up at Charmy and smiled fleetingly before her eyes returned to her notepad.
“Hey, Charmy, just drawing,” she explained. “Another submission. For the Neopian Times.”
Charmy looked at the wall and nodded silently, uninterested in small talk.
“Amy, I want to invite Kotaiiya round,” she announced. “To our house. Just... for a visit.”
Amy turned in her chair. Unable to hold eye contact, Charmy looked away. Normally she was extremely confident, but she was nervous about this question. Amy thought for a second and chewed on the end of her pen, then made a face when it tasted bad.
“The Xweetok I traded out for that Tyrannian Uni? She’s only been gone for a couple of days. You miss her already?”
“I just want to see how she’s getting on.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Charmy. We should let her settle in to her new home and get acquainted with her new siblings without reminding her of her old family.”
Charmy was a little taken aback. Amy didn’t usually come up with such a sensible argument, but she was very right. But Charmy gathered her persistence and spoke again.
“I really want to see her,” she said.
Amy took a deep breath. “Well, OK! I’ll write to her new owner.”
She tugged a new sheet from her notepad and began to write, flipping her hand as a signal for Charmy to leave. Obediently, Charmy whirled round and closed the door on her way out.
“Kotaiiya’s coming round today?” Bandit sat up. “Why?”
Charmy took a large swig from her can of raspberry Neocola. The weather had cleared up considerably since a week ago when she had asked Amy to invite Kotaiiya, her youngest sister who Amy had traded for a Tyrannian Uni, round to their house so that she and Charmy could talk. It was a warm day and fluffy clouds hurried along in the clear blue sky. Charmy sat with her brother in the shade of a large tree at the bottom of their back garden, the long emerald grass brushing at their fur. They loved to spend time alone together like this.
“I asked Amy to invite her,” Charmy replied, putting her Neocola down on the grass. “I need to talk to her.”
Bandit paused. “Again, why?”
Charmy looked at her brother. “I want to talk to her. If Amy traded her selflessly, and her new owner really is nice, then she’ll be happy, right? If she’s not, then I’m confronting Amy about this whole trading and adopting and abandoning business. She shouldn’t adopt any more pets if she’s just going to... get rid of them.”
At her sister’s heartfelt words, Bandit looked away. He lay down on the grass and stared into space. He moved his paws about, trying to maintain a comfy position.
“That’s very wise of you. I’m meant to be the smart member of this family,” he said with a smile.
Charmy smiled back and followed his gaze. She felt the peace and serenity of their garden fill her up and she was happy. Rainbow Lane was a lovely, quiet neighbourhood. In the far distance she heard young Neopians laughing. In places Sakura had messed up the garden, kicking up the grass and turning it to mud with her constant running and strewing the lawn with her balls and toys. But she didn’t often play in the far corner where Charmy and Bandit now sat, only to climb the tree, so it was unspoilt. Charmy closed her sparkling eyes and was just about to sit back and enjoy the breeze when the kitchen window opened and Amy’s voice broke the peace.
“CHARMY!” her owner yelled. “THE DOORBELL JUST RANG!”
Charmy pushed herself to her feet and jogged towards the back door. Bandit watched her leave and walk through the kitchen until she disappeared from sight.
Charmy pulled the front door open. For a second, her breath was taken away. A ghost Xweetok with a sweet but haunting face stood on the doorstep before her. Usually Halloween, ghost and mutant pets disturbed Charmy a little, but there was a relaxing familiarity and beauty to this Xweetok’s face. Charmy knew just who it was.
“Kotaiiya!” she said. “It’s so good to see you!”
“You too.” Kotaiiya beamed, her voice a little flat as Charmy remembered.
“You got painted ghost, I see!” Charmy exclaimed, gesturing for her little sister to enter. “You’re beautiful!”
“Yes. Thank you! My new owner is very kind.”
Charmy was shocked to find herself a tad disappointed. Of course, she was happy and relieved that her little sister was safe in her new, strange home, but a tiny part of her had wanted it to go wrong so that she could put an end to Amy’s newfound pet-trading habit. She wondered why. Perhaps because she was insecure, and worried that Amy might abandon or trade her? Charmy instantly shook the thought from her head and lead Kotaiiya to the living room.
The living room was deserted by everyone but three sleeping petpets – Charmy’s Petoot, Bandit’s Mazzew and Sakura’s Snuffly all squashed together in a small corner of the straw sofa. They looked somewhat uncomfortable, but serene. Bandit’s Mazzew snored loudly. Just like Bandit, Charmy thought, and laughed to herself. She was glad that she could get a one-on-one chat with her sister – Bandit was still in the garden where she’d left him, Amy was hiding in her room to ashamed to face Kotaiiya and Sakura was, reluctantly, playing quietly somewhere around the house. Kotaiiya looked around the room.
“Nothing’s changed at all.” She smiled.
“You’ve only been gone a couple of days; did you really expect anything to be different?” Charmy smiled back, but something stung inside her. She didn’t like stating that her sister was really ‘gone’.
Kotaiiya sat down on the sofa not taken over by the three petpets, so as not to disturb them. She moved silently, almost gliding. Charmy sat down next to her.
“So, what’s it like being a ghost now?” Charmy beamed, making casual conversation.
“Different. Better. It’s fun to haunt people.” Kotaiiya grinned devilishly, with a strange glint in her eye that made Charmy somewhat uneasy.
It was then that Sakura stomped into the room in her usual haphazard fashion and began talking loudly.
“Playing in my room is so boring, Charmy, why do I have to stay in there, I want candy, it’s not – ”
Sakura’s words cut out suddenly when she saw Kotaiiya, a ghost. She turned pale and her eyes widened. Seeing this, Kotaiiya swivelled round, pushed herself up from the sofa to float in mid-air and loomed over Sakura, ruby eyes wide and tiny fangs dripping with saliva. Sakura let out a deafening scream, bolted, and didn’t stood running until she was safely locked in her ghost-free bedroom. Laughing manically, Kotaiiya sat back down. Her eyes were glistening ferociously and Charmy almost drew back. For Kotaiiya this enthusiasm for scaring people was obviously a new trait that came with being painted ghost.
“I’m only having a bit of fun,” Kotaiiya said dismissively, leaning back.
Charmy nodded and quickly changed the subject.
“Didn’t you always want to be painted pirate, not ghost?” she asked.
Kotaiiya paused for some time. “Yes. That’s true,” she said quietly. “But now I can get one back on everyone who used to tease me... Besides, I’m so beautiful as a ghost.”
To demonstrate this, she lifted off the sofa once more and floated upwards, almost to the ceiling, her pale grey face emotionless as she looked upwards gracefully. Charmy stared at her in wonder and realised how much of a stranger her sister looked. Not like the warm-faced yellow Xweetok she used to be. Kotaiiya fell back to the ground and grinned, displaying her white teeth.
“So you really are happier now,” Charmy said.
Kotaiiya looked at her older sister. “Well, yeah. I’m sorry, I mean, of course I sort of miss you guys. But I’ve already been treated so wonderfully.”
“Amy’s never had the money for a ghost paint brush.”
Kotaiiya nodded. They sat in silence, staring at each other awkwardly for some time. Charmy faced the truth part of her didn’t want to know – trading Kotaiiya had been a good thing after all.
Amy only appeared from her room at Kotaiiya’s departure. She hung back in the hallway as her old pet exited the house. Kotaiiya noticed her past owner and nodded respectfully. Amy returned the gesture, and with that the front door was closed. Charmy stood silently at the door without moving, her dainty paw still curled around the doorknob. She turned on her heel, smiled fleetingly at her owner, and ran to the back garden before Amy noticed the tears forming in her eyes.
Bandit, who hadn’t moved an inch since Kotaiiya arrived, sat up when he saw his dearest sister pelting towards him wiping fat tears from her eyes. She crouched on the grass and he wrapped a furry arm around her.
“I never realised how much I’d miss Kotaiiya.” Charmy sobbed.
“That’s not really why you’re so upset, is it?” Bandit replied with an air of hesitation.
Charmy rubbed her eyes furiously, smudging her carefully applied eye shadow.
“No.” She sniffed. “I’m worried about what Amy did to Kotaiiya. None of us got to know her well and she wasn’t here long but... What if Amy gives one of us away?”
Charmy stared at his sister with large, soulful, amber eyes. He hugged her a little tighter.
“That’s never going to happen to any of us, Charmy, and you know it! You, Sakura, Amy and me – we’re the family. The permanent members.”
Charmy said nothing, only buried her face in her brother’s emerald fur. It was comforting. But still she worried about the Gelert arriving in their household next month. Without Charmy even realising it, he could be just the key to rip the currently fragmented family apart...
To be continued...