Millions: Part One
The Deserted Fairground wasn't looking very deserted. Charm the red Gelert sat on a tattered bench, watching the crowd. His owner, Pan, had gone to play scratchcards. But she usually never took so long.
'Maybe she actually won something this time,' he mused.
Pan played scratchcards regularly. She was one of the many, many Neopians who lived solely to realize one dream: be a Neomillionare. Owning a million Neopoints was something great to her. And like all other dreamers, she wanted to do it the easy way.
She'd read all the 'Get-rich-quick' guides she could find. Sometimes it was fun saving up. A life filled with omelettes and scratchcards, spinning wheels and playing Dice-a-roo. You tried to cut costs in any way you could think of. But that million was always a mile away.
'There you are!' cried Charm when he spotted his owner making her way towards him, her blue eyes sparkling with delight. 'I assume you won something today?'
'A whole five hundred Neopoints off the scratchcards!' exclaimed Pan, tossing her blonde hair.
'That's great, Pan. The scratchcards cost a thousand each, don't they?' the ever-sarcastic Charm countered his owner's pointless optimism. Charm always brought Pan back to Neopia from Cloud Nine. He was an intelligent Gelert and often got Pan out of silly ideas. He was her reality check. Perfect owner-pet chemistry.
'I heard a group of gypsies have set up camp near here,' Charm said as they began walking. 'Can we check it out before we go to the Wheel of Misfortune?'
'All right; maybe I can find some cheap food there,' Pan agreed. Charm clutched his stomach and made a face. And they set off towards the Gypsy Camp.
The camp wasn't much. It looked like the gypsies had only begun to settle down. It was just a clearing in the Haunted Woods. A few large caravans were parked here and there, but nothing indicated how they were pulled along. There were crude, yet colourful stalls mushrooming between them, most of them still being set up by their owners. Charm was immediately drawn to a pretty red Wocky bending over a range of colourful bracelets. Seeing them approach, she straightened up quickly, banging her head on a branch above her.
'Buy a charm bracelet?' she asked them in a dreamy voice, rubbing her head.
'Yeah, Pan, buy Charm a bracelet!' Charm laughed. He began browsing the various trinkets.
'Pick something you like, Charm. I want to see something,' his owner said, eyeing a small tent with a board hung over it that read: 'Madame Gindara, Fortunes Told, Palms Read' in squiggly lettering. She walked up to it, feeling a bit nervous. She had never visited a fortuneteller before. She would have knocked if the tent had a solid door, but it didn't, of course, so she poked her head through the flap. A musky smell of old dusty curtains greeted her, accompanied by a deep voice that almost made her jump.
'Welcome. Come in and see what your future holds for you.'
The little tent was heavily draped and had a small round table in the center with two chairs on either side. One of these was occupied by a rather menacing Usul with dark hair and mysterious eyes. Like everything else in the room, she was covered with darkly-coloured shawls. She motioned Pan to sit on the chair facing her.
'I would like to have my fortune told, please,' Pan said awkwardly. The drapes hung around thickly, pressing down on them. Something sat alone on the table, covered with a cloth. Gindara lifted the cloth, revealing a beautiful crystal ball. What looked like mist swirled within.
'Let us peer down the thread of time and into your veiled future,' said the gypsy, gazing into the crystal ball.
Where do they come up with this stuff? Pan wondered, watching the Usul move her hands over the ball as though massaging the air around it. The ball began giving out a ghostly glow.
'You have dreams, aspirations. You have a goal that seems unattainable.'
Her expression was vivid, her eyes frightening to watch. The reflection of the crystal ball gave them the appearance of dark pools mirroring a full moon night. Pan started as they turned on her.
'Yet you have hope. You keep reaching out to your goal.'
The drapes crowded around them like shadows listening in.
'Your greatest dream will come true.'
The crystal ball stopped glowing. 'That is all that will be revealed,' the Usul said with finality. 'And, that will be five hundred Neopoints.'
Pan paid the gypsy and left the tent. Will the prediction come true? For she knew what goal the gypsy had mentioned - her goal of becoming a millionaire.
'Look at this one,' Charm said when Pan had returned to the Wocky's stall, waving a key ring with butterfly wings at her face. Most self respecting boy Gelerts would choose bat wings over butterfly wings any day, but Charm had a fascination for faeries.
'How much?' Pan asked the Wocky.
'Only two thousand Neopoints!'
Pan paused for a moment, then paid the gypsy. 'Okay, Charm, let's head over to the Wheel of Misfortune now.'
Charm followed her with his mouth slightly open, in surprise. Pan wasn't usually a big spender. Maybe it was an investment.
Pan was silent all the way to the Wheel of Misfortune. Charm was getting worried. 'Hey Pan, what happened at the Fortune Teller's?'
'Nothing; she said I'd have good fortune today,' Pan replied, stopping. They had reached the Wheel.
Charm smiled to himself. Of course, she must have thought they were going to win something big at the wheel because of the prediction. All they had ever won there was a mutilated Von Roo Plushie.
As Pan spun the wheel, the gypsy's words played over and over in her head. Her eyes swept over the slots spinning around. Where would it stop? The 'gift' slot? The 'NP' slot?
Charm couldn't help sharing some of her enthusiasm. He believed in magic well enough, but he had never had any experiences with gypsies until today. The red Wocky had been pretty charming.
Round and round it went, slowing down and speeding up at random as always. It slipped past the NP slot, slid over the Gift slot, and stopped at the slot that said 'POX'.
Pan fiddled with her purse as an Acara with an enormous, swollen tongue got up and followed the nurse into the doctor's office. They were in the waiting room of the Neohospital. This wasn't new to either of them, since all spinning wheels have a chance of getting you sick, and they usually played all the wheels every day (except the Wheel of Monotony). Charm often came down with sicknesses and had to visit the Hospital frequently. It was part of the deal, if you were trying to earn a million Neopoints from games of chance.
'How are you feeling now?' asked Pan.
'Just a little tired,' Charm replied, not looking at her. This disease, whatever it was, felt stranger than others he had caught. And Charm was something of an expert on the matter. But he knew it was only some other disease he hadn't caught yet, and he didn't want to worry Pan.
Pan watched a large Tonu go into the doctor's office sneezing loudly, while the Acara left it holding a prescription. She had been down this road many times before. Not the swollen-tongue road, but the road of disappointment. Gindara's prediction had given her great expectations. As she thought about it more and more, she felt it had been rather stupid of her to expect to win a million Neopoints off the Wheel of Misfortune. She had got all worked up for nothing. She had ended up at the Neohospital. Again.
Pan and Charm stood up and followed the nurse into the Doctor's office. The office was not too big and not too small. The doctor did all major examinations in separate rooms; so all the office contained was a table with stacks of important-looking documents, three chairs, and a stool. The walls were covered with charts that were filled with information on various diseases and posters gently reminding pets to 'Eat Healthy'. On the largest of the chairs sat the green Gelert wearing a white coat and a wise expression.
'Ah, Miss Pandora. Nice to meet you again,' the doctor said as they entered. His voice had a hint of sarcasm but his friendly eyes smiled at them. 'Hello, Charm. Take a seat.'
Pan sat on one of the chairs opposite the doctor, while Charm took the stool next to him. 'So, what seems to be the problem?' the doctor asked him, peering over his half-moon glasses.
'Well, it's another one from the Wheel of Misfortune, Doctor,' Charm began describing. 'I have this... tired feeling. It began as soon as the wheel stopped spinning. It wasn't very intense then, but it keeps increasing by the minute.'
'All right, let me take your temperature. Stick you tongue out.'
'Hmmm, the temperature's normal,' the doctor said. 'Does your throat feel sore?'
Charm shook his head.
'Do you feel itchy?'
'Do you feel extreme sadness?'
The doctor looked at Charm thoughtfully. 'It's not Neo Flu, NeoMonia, or Neoblues,' he declared. 'I wish it was, however.'
The doctor turned his gaze on Pan, who was staring at him, looking puzzled.
Charm, staring at his paws, wondered why the doctor didn't hurry up. He wanted to get home and lie down for a while.
'According to Charm's symptoms, there is only one possibility. There is a rare ailment that has not been seen for many, many years. It is called the Sleeping Sickness.'
Charm turned to look at the famous chart that listed all diseases, symptoms and cures. 'It's not one of the well-known diseases of Neopia,' the doctor said gravely, following Charm's gaze. 'The course of the disease is simple and terrible: the pet gets a tiring feeling that increases by the hour. In a matter of days the pet cannot leave his bed and soon will not be able to move at all. The pet cannot eat or sleep, though he will feel extremely tired. This condition stays until the pet is given the cure.'
Pan was beginning to look alarmed.
'We cannot confirm that Charm has this disease until the sickness sets in,' the doctor said quickly. 'After all, no one has seen or heard of it for so long.'
'And what about the cure?' Pan asked, watching Charm.
'The cure, unfortunately, is also very rare. That is why this disease is often called incurable. Prominent brewers of today are unable to make this special potion simply because they don't know how. The cure was made only once before. Long ago, a princess of Brightvale had caught this disease. That is believed to be the first reported case of the Sleeping Sickness. The top witches and wizards of the day brewed the cure and, luckily for the other patients who had this disease down the ages, the princess was cured on drinking only a few drops. The rest of the potion was packed into vials and stored for future sufferers, and the potion was named after the princess - Rosalite Brew.'
'The princess was named Rosalite?' Charm interrupted, distracted from his ailment for a moment.
'No, Princess Rosalynde didn't want to be called 'The Brew Princess', so she modified its name. The point is, the vials are now unheard of. If Charm does have the disease, it will be the first case in fifty years. But don't worry,' the doctor added, seeing Pan's worry increase. 'As I said before, we cannot be sure.' He took a paper and began to scribble. 'Here, I'll write down the name of the brew. If Charm continues to show the symptoms for two hours, you can begin searching for it.' His expression was so plain and business-like, Pan wondered whether she should get worried or not about this whole affair.
'Thank you very much, Doctor,' Pan said as she stood up after taking the prescription. The doctor watched them leave the room and heaved a great, sad sigh when the door was shut.
To be continued...