One Year Later
One year. That was how long Eric’s owner had been away. She had left her four loving Neopets, without so much as a goodbye. It was exactly one year, or twelve months, or fifty-two weeks, or three hundred sixty-five days ago...
Eric had been scribbling down the lengths of time in his notebook. Today was the one-year anniversary, although it wasn’t much to celebrate.
A loud noise caught Eric’s attention. Turning towards the door of his room, his long, brown Zafara ears picked up the sound of someone chomping loudly. He ran out into the hallway and came face-to-face with his youngest sibling.
Ricky, a Yellow Bori, was shoving a Plain Omelette into his tiny face. Upon noticing his brother, he jammed the rest of the food into his mouth, gulped it down, and wiped away the excess crumbs.
Eric was almost too dumbfounded to speak, but he managed out a quiet, “You found food... and didn’t tell anyone?”
“I’m sorry!” Ricky blurted out. “I found it on the ground, and it was practically rotten, and, and...” He paused, then added, “I was really hungry- almost dying, in fact.”
The reason for this starvation was the fact that their owner was absent. This was the cause for many of their problems, including why they had not stepped outside or seen their friends for a year.
Their owner, a girl named Stephanie, had been very loving. She had done everything a good owner would do: fed them, played with them, read to them. Stephanie had even painted them. Eric was a dashing Brown, his sister, Emily, was a snow White, and his other sister, Natalie, was a deep Purple. Ricky was a bright Yellow, although he would have preferred to be Spotted. Stephanie had almost saved up enough money for her Bori to become his coveted color, when she began to lose interest in Neopia. Instead of giggling with her Neofriends about crazy clothes combinations for their pets, she talked about the clothes that she would wear, something she had never really cared about before. She started coming home less and less, and, when she did occasionally visit, she seemed bored with her family. Eventually, she stopped visiting altogether. On the last day that she went to see her pets, she opened up the contents of her overflowing safety deposit box and dumped them into the house. Then, she promptly left, never coming back to her family.
Eric, Ricky, and Natalie were all very melancholy about their current situation, but it was Emily, the eldest pet, that had been hit the hardest. She had been particularly close with Stephanie, and when the owner left, the Chomby had been devastated. Eric remembered how tragic that day had been.
“Stephanie’s gone,” Emily whispered, blankly staring at the door. “She left us here.”
“Well, she did give us all of the stuff in the SDB,” Eric pointed out. “That should still be good for a while.” Hope filled his voice.
“Eric, how long do you think this stuff will last us?” Emily queried, gesturing to the pile of items. “I don’t know if you realize it, but we have four Neopets in this house. How do you suppose we’re going to keep everyone satiated when this food runs out?”
“We could eat the plushies,” Eric quipped. He was trying to cheer his older sister up, but she didn’t find it that amusing.
“Don’t turn everything into a joke,” she grumbled, then started to trek up the stairs. “I’m going to the attic,” she added. “Unless Stephanie comes back, don’t bother me.”
That was the last time that Emily had been downstairs. She had stayed up in the attic, not talking, not laughing, not eating, even when there had been food. Ricky had attempted to lure her down, lying about Stephanie being back, but she remained in the highest part of the house, away from the rest of the pets. Natalie was slightly afraid of her older sister, and Eric was insanely jealous of the Chomby. She had undoubtedly shared a special bond with their owner that Eric could never obtain, and their last conversation still made him a bit angry. Because of his spitefulness, he often made fun of her, questioning her sanity. Only little Ricky cared about the eldest sibling. Every week, for fifty-two straight weeks, he had offered to talk to her. She promptly turned the offer down, along with any other proposal of food or toys that the small Bori could find.
Eric snapped back to reality and found himself staring at his frightened brother. Glaring at the Bori once more, he snapped, “You should have found me, or even Natalie. Don’t you think we’d be hungry, too?”
Ricky whimpered. Turning away from his brother, he whispered, in a voice so soft, it was almost inaudible, “There wouldn’t have been enough for all four of us, anyway.”
Even though he had heard, Eric bellowed, “What?!”
“An omelette only serves three Neopets. It wouldn’t have been enough for you, me, Natalie, and... her.” He glanced up towards the attic, as if he could see their sister through the ceiling.
Eric snorted. “She wouldn’t have eaten it if we forced her to. Now, come on, let’s go find Natalie. Maybe she found some food that she would actually be willing to share.”
As if on cue, the Purple Kau strolled out into the hall. “No such luck,” she said. “There hasn’t been a steady stream of food here since the safety deposit box was unloaded.” She smirked. “Ricky seems to have found some, though.”
Rolling his eyes, Eric responded, “Yes, he has. Ricky, do you have a little stash hidden away somewhere?”
Ricky’s face blanched. “No!” he screamed. “I just found this today, I swear!”
Natalie laughed, a comforting sound. “Well, I guess we’re just going to have to look for some more food.” She turned to Eric. “I think I may have smelled something in the kitchen, but I’m not sure. Should we go investigate?”
“Sure!” Eric said, his eyes lighting up at the thought of having something to eat. “Let’s go!” He started to dash towards the kitchen.
“Are you coming?” Natalie asked Ricky.
He frowned . “No, I’m going to go visit Emily,” he replied. “Let me know if you find anything.” With that, he began to walk up the stairs.
Sighing, Eric shook his head. “When will he learn that Emily doesn’t want his company?”
Natalie didn’t respond to Eric‘s comment. Instead, she announced, “We’re here.” Leading him to a dusty cabinet, she added, “This is where I thought I smelled something.”
However, when they opened the cabinet, they were disappointed to find a few pieces of candy covered in green fungus.
Groaning, Eric declared, “It’s just some Mouldy Chocolate Hearts.”
“Sorry,” Natalie sighed. “I thought it might be-”
She was cut off by Ricky, who had run into the kitchen.
Panting, the Bori huffed out, “Guys! There’s a pr-problem... in the attic!”
“Did Miss Lonely not want to play with you?” Eric jeered.
Glaring at his brother, Ricky retorted, “It’s not that Emily didn’t want to play with me. When I went up there, she was... gone.”
The smug smile on Eric’s face was quickly replaced by a frown, with a hint of worry. Natalie’s eyes grew to twice their normal size. She grabbed Ricky’s claw, looked at Eric nervously, and started for the stairs.
The attic was a small place, having most of its space taken up by boxes. When Stephanie left, Emily had filled these cardboard containers with anything directly related to their owner. Pictures of the happy family rooting for a team at Altador Cup I, Bori-sized pajamas from the first Day of Giving Ricky had spent with them, and homemade Valentine’s Day cards with messages of love and happiness had all been shoved into and sealed up in a box. It seemed as if Emily did not want them to remember their happiest times, only their saddest, for she had not stowed away the items directly linked to their most miserable days. Pictures of their Black Osiris Vase, the very same item that earned Eric extra chores for a week after he had broken it, still hung up around the Neohome. No one had bothered to take them down, so they remained on the walls, a sad reminder.
Besides the multitude of boxes, there was dust, Spyder webs, and the only window in the entire house that had not had its shades pulled down. All of the other windows hid the Neopets from the outside world. They couldn’t bear to see their friends and what their life could have been like if Stephanie hadn’t left. Emily’s attic window, however, encouraged the sunlight to shine in, filling the entire room with a warm glow. From the attic, you could see people talking and playing, but nobody could see you. According to Ricky, Emily had loved to stare out the window, looking down upon the Neopets and owners below.
However, Emily was nowhere to be seen at the moment. When they arrived at the attic, the White Chomby was not looking out the window, or staring into space, or doing whatever one happened to do by themselves in an attic. Even after searching through all of the boxes and looking in the attic’s nooks and crannies, she was still missing. “Something has happened!” Natalie exclaimed. After receiving strange stares from her brothers, she added, “... to Emily.” She groaned. “Oh, no! Where on earth is Emily? We can’t find her anywhere! Where on Neopia could she be?”
The two boys gave their sister another odd look, for she normally didn’t blurt out such unusual things.
“We have to find her!” Ricky cried. “What if she’s hurt?”
“Calm down,” Natalie said. “We’ll look for her in other parts of the house. I’ll search all of the bedrooms. Ricky, you take the bathroom, the kitchen, and the living room. The rest of the house is up to you, Eric.”
Eric nodded his head quickly, agitation and anger rising in him. He was none too happy about searching for a sister that didn’t even care about the rest of her family, and the fact that Natalie was trying to act like the older pet didn’t please him, either, but, since he could not find a good reason to oppose the search, he went along with it.
The trio quickly dispersed, spreading out to different parts of the house. Natalie looked around the bedrooms of the pets, checking Emily’s room first. Sadly, the room was empty, as it had been for the past year. Ricky’s room was also vacant, as were both Eric and Natalie’s rooms. The only other bedroom on the floor belonged to...
Natalie hesitated. Surely Emily wouldn’t be in Stephanie’s room? It would only bring her pain and grief. Nonetheless, Natalie peeked into that room, as well.
Like Emily’s room, Stephanie’s room was untouched, every little thing exactly the way the owner had left it. Unlike Emily’s room, however, Stephanie’s room had not been seized by the Chomby and her army of boxes. Photos of the family were found on top of the desk and drawers, and Stephanie’s favorite painting, a portrait of a skipping Harris, beamed down at Natalie from its place on the wall. She remembered how, when her owner had first bought the painting, Natalie had wanted a Harris, just like the one in the picture. Sadly, that wish had never been fulfilled.
Natalie exited the room before more memories could engulf her in sorrow.
Eric was only required to look for his sister in two rooms: the dining room and the game room. He did not think he would find her in either one.
The Zafara entered the dining room, a room that was used every day by the siblings. In it, they ate their meals (if they had any), and discussed their plans to find more food, toys, and books. A Classic Dining Table, surrounded by Wooden Chairs, had been placed in the center of the room. Even though there was no point in saving them, fine china was stored in their Royal Oak Wood Cabinet. The plates and cups were just about the only things of value that were left in the house, as most of the furniture was coated with a thick layer of dust or had been broken.
As Eric had expected, Emily was nowhere in sight, so he continued on to the game room. This room was piled high with board games, including the Acara Board Game and the Aisha Board Game. A Bilge Dice Game Table was set up, with two chairs by its sides. Ricky’s Bori Dart Game was tucked away in a corner, looking almost brand new, except for the fact that one of the darts was gone. A pile of paddleball games was built up in the middle of the room, and Uni Shoe Games littered the floor. The only thing that was missing was the White Chomby.
Eric sighed. It seemed that a lot of things had been going missing lately: his sister, Ricky’s dart, and his owner, just to name a few.
Ricky had investigated the bathroom, the kitchen, and the living room, all coming out with no result. He was just about to give up and look for one of his siblings when the doorbell rang, a sound he had not heard for many months.
It resonated through the silent, seemingly empty house, echoing over and over again, until Ricky countered the noise with a “Coming!”
His yellow fur was only a blur as he raced to the door, wrenching it open. The mailman stood there, a graying Ixi.
“Why, hello there, Ricky,” the Ixi said. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”
The Bori simply nodded and said, “What brings you here? Do we have any mail?”
“Oh, yes,” the Ixi chuckled. “Quite a large amount.” He pulled out five boxes. “These all seem to be gifts from a girl named...” He checked the address. “Leah.”
“Leah?” Ricky repeated.
“Yes,” the Ixi replied, handing him the packages. “Whatever’s in there sure smells good.” He glanced at his watch. “I’d better be going now. Tell your owner I said hello.”
Ricky stared at him blankly, causing the mailman to say, “Uh, yes, well, I’d best be departing. Have a nice day.” The mailman then briskly walked away.
Closing the door behind him, Ricky turned around and found himself staring into the eyes of Eric and Natalie.
“What was that all about?” Natalie queried.
“We received some packages, it seems,” Eric said, taking one of the parcels from Ricky and proceeding to open it. “It’s filled with food!” he declared, enthusiastically.
After opening the other four boxes, Natalie was ecstatic. “They’re all filled with food!” she shouted. “We have enough stuff here to last us for at least a week!”
Eric marveled at all of the edible items. Brightvalian fruit filled up one parcel, while candy, such as Apple Jelly Flotsams and Chocolate Ghostkerswords, was packed in another. Vegetables were piled into a third box, and meaty foods were in a fourth. The final box was devoted to drinks of all kinds, ranging from Bottles of Water to Fizzy Apple Juices.
They deposited all of the food into the kitchen, attempting to clean out the cabinets and refrigerator in an effort to keep the edible items from spoiling. That night, they feasted on some of the goods from the boxes. It was only after they had eaten that Natalie and Eric questioned Ricky about where the food had come from.
“Some girl named Leah sent them,” he simply stated, and that was that. No more questions had been asked.
As they tucked into bed for the night, they were all just grateful that Leah, whoever she may have been, had provided them with nourishment.
Natalie and Eric fell asleep quickly, but little Ricky was still wide awake. He had just remembered that, even though most of his siblings had enjoyed the grand feast with him, one had not been present. His thoughts kept drifting back to Emily and her disappearance. Perhaps I didn’t search enough, he thought, pulling his covers off of him and tiptoeing down the stairs. I’ll just look a little more.
A sound at the door startled him, causing him to very nearly fall down. The door was rattling, almost as if someone was trying to open it from the other side.
Without so much as a creak, the door opened, revealing a human. The person crept in silently. Ricky was almost too scared to speak, but he knew he had to alert his brother and sister.
“BURGLAR!” he screamed, his usually tiny voice raising to a shrill octave. “Help!”
Eric and Natalie ran down the stairs. “What’s wrong?” they asked in unison, but Ricky just pointed towards the entrance to their home. The Kau and the Zafara turned their heads in the direction he was gesturing towards and gasped.
The human, obviously caught, sighed and flicked on the light. “I guess you found me out,” she said, in a voice so familiar, they could have sworn it was...
“Stephanie?” Natalie asked. “Is that you?”
“Yes,” she responded. “It is me. I came back for you guys. And I just wanted to say... I’m sorry. For leaving you, for not being there for you, for everything. My friends made me think hanging out with you guys was boring and stupid. But, after a while, they were the ones that seemed boring and stupid. I tried to come back to you guys, but I couldn’t find the key to the house.” She sighed. “I bought a new house and adopted new pets, but I always thought about you. So, I sent over some food from a fake name, Leah, in the hopes that you guys would still be okay. Again, I’m incredibly sorry for everything I’ve put you through. Please forgive me.”
“I forgive you,” Ricky, Natalie, and Eric said in unison.
“I forgive you,” a fourth voice echoed.
“Who said that?” Natalie asked, fear creeping into her voice.
“Me,” the voice replied. “Emily. I didn’t leave, and I didn’t hide. I somehow turned Invisible, and I didn’t know if you would be able to hear me. Or if you would even care what I had to say.”
“Of course we would!” exclaimed Ricky. Natalie nodded in agreement.
Eric’s gaze drifted to the floor, and he sheepishly said, “I wouldn’t have. I honestly wouldn’t have cared what you had to say because... I was angry, and a little jealous of you. You were so close with Stephanie, and when she left, you just took away all of the special memories I had with her, and boxed them up. It just felt sort of unfair.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Emily sighed. “I was just so hurt, and I thought I could take my anger out on you. I was very wrong in doing that.”
“I forgive you,” Eric whispered.
Ricky looked happy, for Emily had been found. Stephanie looked happy, for she had reunited with her pets. Natalie looked happy, because everyone was safe and sound. Emily looked happy (although no one could really tell), because she had made up with Eric.
Eric looked happy, because everything was back to the way it should have been.
One year ago, their owner had left them.
One year ago, their sister had begun to isolate herself from the rest of them.
One year ago, their world had turned upside down.
One year later, everything was right once more.