Halloween at the Pound
It was that day.
The day that billions of Neopets loved.
The day that thousands despised.
Throughout the open door that was, for some, inches away-- the crisp scent of caramel-coated apples and sticky corn-candies trickled into the air like faerie dust. The bright sun was just about to set, and happily-homed neopets would zip up their Meuka costumes or throw on their Werelupe clothes and ready their pillowcases. They would jump outside and collect the sweetest treats until far after midnight passes. It was Halloween, the most sought-after holiday in Neopia Central. Especially for adopted neopets.
But what happened to those poor souls, gated in small cages of three and locked in the darkest building of all, lined with dark grey bricks to shadow even the sunniest of days?
What happens to the pets in the Pound?
Fyora knows what I would do for those innocent little boys and girls. It sickens me that every day I go to work and stroll down the isles, seeing the same neopets weeping in the corners of their cages. Some are sick or hungry, others are just sad to the point of no return. They're all red, yellow, green, and blue. Anything else, and they won't be in the pound for more than a minute or two. Some are there for years. Most of them don't know what Halloween is! They've never shared a Christmas with their families, or waited patiently at the edge of their sofas to wait for the Easter Cybunny.
But Dr. Death won't let me do anything about this. Every day for these poor souls is bland and sorrowful. This Halloween will be no different.
"Dr. Death?" My breath felt cold like a stone in the small office. A slim, yellow Techo raised an eyebrow and spun around in his chair as a response, promptly facing me now. I froze.
"Um, sir..." My pink hair nervously fell down my cheek.
"What is it this time..." His voice trailed gruffly and angrily. I could tell he was struggling with my name once again. He'd gone through so many employees at the Pound, I knew it was hard for him to keep up.
"Tawni, sir." I coughed stiffly.
"Tawni," he huffed, a hint of mockery in his voice. "What?"
I felt suddenly more confident, it was time to make my statement. "These pets have never celebrated a holiday in their lives, sir. One Halloween is all I ask for them. One day that they actually want to be here." My hoof stomped on the ground for dramatic measure as I paused, looked up, and continued. "For them, sir."
He laughed now, and scratched the orange dots of skin on his face. "We run a business her, Toni."
"Tawni," I corrected.
"Tawni." The mockery was back. "We can't waste money willy-nilly to give these children one day to splurge on fatty chocolate bars and rot their teeth on suckers."
"It's a whole lot better than the old meatloaf and potato skin soup," I argued. "And we have adoption fees."
"Adoption fees for toys and soup! Not to mention starter items for new owners. And if we do this year after year, what will be left?"
"For one year, to try! They need their childhoods back," I cried, tears welling in my eyes.
I thought of the poor pets that were abandoned daily. The cruel people who dropped their pets off within a week of creation. They deserved to live at least with some of the aspects that normal, adopted neopets did. Right? I sobbed weakly at that point, holding back the rest of my tears for them.
"My decision is final. Goodbye," he explained flatly. I walked out of the office, silently and meekly.
A young, blue Grarrl named Vladmir was sitting in the corner of his cage, reading a book. I made sure that there was no trace of dried tears as I asked where he got his book.
"A nice lady came by last week and said that no one wants a dumb neopet, so she gave me this from her purse," he explained enthusiastically, not even realizing he'd been called dumb. "It says that on the thirty-first day of the month of Collecting, you can become a witch, a wizard, or a werewolf and get free treats! What day is it?" he finished curiously.
"The sixth day in the month of Swimming," I lied.
"Practice your magic until then."
He nodded and sat the book down, wiggling his sharp fingers and talking gibberish. I sighed and walked down into the next cage, where two yellow Aishas, one named Wanda and the other named Wilma, glared at me. I tugged the chilly metallic bars of their cage and greeted them.
"You lied to Vlad, I remember because my mommy put me here on the twenty-ninth day in the month of Collecting. It's been two days!" Wilma gaped.
"Can I really become a witch, miss Tawni?" Wanda asked excitedly. I shook my head.
Ever since the pets began getting nightmares about a month ago, I've had to sleep in the back of the Pound to tend to them. Sometimes Vinny, the robot Ixi took the night shifts while I lay peacefully in my own home, but he was out taking his son Trick-or-Treating tonight. It was about 7:00, but Dr. Death wanted everyone to get to sleep early tonight. I cringed in my stiff bed at the thought of some neopets never getting to dress up as their favorite monster or hero and trick-or-treat for sweets. Never.
Weeping came from one of the cages. I was for once glad to crawl out of my bed and into the gloomiest room of them all, just to clear my thoughts a bit. The neopet crying was none other than the Aisha named Wanda, who was huddled by the wall scratching.
"Werelupes and evil wizards aren't going to come after me tonight, will they?" the neopet sobbed. I unlocked the cage quietly and stepped inside, having to slightly hunch my back to make it in. I patted her gently.
"No, they won't. In fact, on this night, more people turn into super-heroes than vampires or werelupes. And all the heroes will get rid of the monsters for you. Alright?" I said soothingly, brushing her fur to calm her down. She sniffled and looked up at me.
"I want to get rid of the monsters. Can I be a super-hero tonight, miss Tawni?" she asked with a hopeful ring in her whisper. I frowned and turned away, staring into the night. I saw glow in the dark decorations for this day, kids dressed as Jeran or a faerie. All of the good people who will make the bad go away.
"I wish you could, but you can't here. Maybe someone will become a genie." I paused, hoping she now understood. "Maybe there's a genie out there to grant our wishes."
She wiped a tear from her matted fur and nodded with drained energy in her posture. "How much longer?"
I glared. "Excuse me?"
"How much longer can they be heroes and monsters and genies?" She looked at the ground with big, brown, watery eyes and gently looked back up at me, thinking I had all the answers. Thinking I was a genie.
"It will never end." My hair frizzed from the humidity, considering this cage was closest to the open doorway. I wondered briefly if they'd already seen the neopets dressed up in their costumes.
"It's never going to stop. You can be a hero forever, a monster forever. This is just the day that you show it."
Wanda cringed. "How long until we stop showing that we're heroes?"
I paused and looked at the ceiling. I thought, I tried my hardest to think up something to sugar-coat my answers. I couldn't do it; Dr. Death refused to let them have their one day of happiness here. I crawled out of the cage and locked it up, my light pink cheek pressing against two of the bars anxiously.
"It's time for you to get some sleep," I murmured. "Don't worry about the monsters."
I wanted to pull my hair out at that moment. Why that brainless Dr. Death is so bitter and uncaring to these simple children I'll never know, but I can't stand to see this torture any longer. It was Halloween. If they wanted to be a monster, a vampire, a werelupe, a witch, a hero, a genie-- they should be one. They were all heroes, the only difference was that they'll never be allowed to show it.
I awoke the next morning, goosebumps dotting my skin nervously. The morning after. It was a terrible feeling to wake up and act as if it was just another day. It wasn't to me.
"Miss Tawni!" all the young pets cheered. Their eyes heartily gave off a laugh and a hint of happiness as they ran to the bars of their cages, clutched them excitedly, and waited for me.
"There was a hero here! You were right! He told us that monsters hated sweet things!" Wanda laughed. Wilma poked her head next to hers.
"The hero gave us candy! A whole bunch of it!" She threw a pile of lollipops and gumballs into the air with more energy than ever. I stared around the room, a bit confused. Sure enough, every pet was happily stuffing their faces with candies and chocolates.
"That's great. See, I told you all," I said, trying to sound both surprised and as if I anticipated this. I hurried into Dr. Death's office quietly and stared around the room curiously.
A few wrappers and empty bags were spread across his desk. A cape and mask hung on the top of the door, with the colors yellow and red. I tiptoed to the side of the room. Almost not noticing me, the yellow Techo was for once not growling or putting off a grimace. Instead, a sly smile spread across his face happily. I smiled, too.