“Jacob! Jacob, have you cleaned your room yet?”
He wasn’t planning on it. Father never had to know. He just had to be more careful about letting his father catch a glimpse of his room. He just had to be more reserved. It wasn’t like his parents would notice. They already had their hands full with his darling sister Annabel. He didn’t like Annabel. Annabel was a snot.
“Jacob! Jacob, have you washed the Doglefox yet?”
He wasn’t planning on it. Father never had to know. He just had to be more careful about letting his father catch a glimpse of the Doglefox. He just had to make sure the Doglefox was put outside more often. It wasn’t like his parents would notice. They already had their hands full with his darling sister Annabel. He didn’t like Annabel. Annabel was a snot.
“Jacob! Jacob, have you gotten a haircut yet?”
He wasn’t planning on it. Father never had to know. He just had to be more careful about letting his father catch a glimpse of his hair. He just had to make sure he wore hats more often. It wasn’t like his parents would notice. They already had their hands full with his darling sister Annabel. He didn’t like Annabel. Annabel was a snot.
“Jacob! Jacob, have you died yet?”
You wish, Father.
He wasn’t planning on it. Father never had to know. He just had to be more careful about letting his father catch a glimpse of him. He just had to leave. It wasn’t like his parents would notice. They already had their hands full with his darling sister Annabel. He didn’t like Annabel. Annabel was a snot.
Fifteen years. Fifteen long, horrible years of living in that mansion, on that hill, in that rich-kid neighbourhood. Fifteen long, horrible years of living with those people, with those Petpets, around those snooty rich kids. Fifteen long, horrible years of living on the edge, hardly living at all, doing all the chores, doing all the yard work, living as a housekeeper and a gardener while all the other kids had hired housekeepers and gardeners.
And it was finally over.
He was running now, fleeing, flying like the wind, real wind snagging its icy-cold fingers in his uncut hair. He didn’t even pause to button up his dark blue coat. It didn’t matter anymore; nothing had ever really mattered anyway. The cold didn’t bother him. The numbness spreading through his legs didn’t bother him, either. The notion of freedom was too wonderful to be true.
But it was.
He passed Biff the rich green Skarl’s house, spitting on his perfectly manicured apple-green front lawn. He wished Biff could’ve seen him. Then he took his wish back. If Biff saw him, Biff might tell his parents, and Biff’s parents might tell his parents. It would be a mighty strange sight for his parents to hear about. Yes, Biff’s parents would say, Biff, the darling boy, said he saw your son – what was his name? Jackson? James? Ah, doesn’t matter, anyway – your son walking down the street, with a big satchel! Full to the brim, he said! And you know what else he said? He spat on our front lawn! What a wild child! I didn’t know you raised your children that way! He took his wish back and wished he’d never wished it in the first place. He kept running.
He ran for a long time, cross-body strap of the beige satchel thumping against his chest. His chest started to heave after a while. He hadn’t had this much exercise in he didn’t know how long; perhaps for fifteen years, the extent of his life. When he started to slow down he’d reached a long dirt path, winding down the countryside, flowing fields of grain and rolling hills with pretty lush grass on either side of him. He liked this place. He liked this place a lot. But he had to keep going, lest they find him and take him back. He doubted it, but it was still possible, so he kept going.
Then it was nighttime. The starry dark cerulean sky looked down at him, and sleep came to him, trying to cover him with a soft blanket of blackness. He sat down under the nearest tree, facing away from the dirt road, and succumbed to it whole-heartedly.
When he woke up, he ate an Ummagine from his satchel, one he’d snatched from downstairs on his way out, and kept going. He didn’t know where he was going. All he knew was that he had to get away from here. He had to get far away from here. Even the thought of going back, the skeptical thoughts that dominated his brain, made his lungs constricted. And even though he tried to get rid of those awful thoughts, they always came back, and every time it was even worse than before.
His days and nights continued as they had for the first time. He kept running, occasionally walking when he grew too exhausted to move any faster, and by the time he reached the next country over, he was looking both incredibly skinny and incredibly fit. He’d been lean and tough beforehand from all his work, but now he looked even more so. He fashioned it in his head that he was beginning to look a little like some sort of rogue, like Kanrik the blue Gelert. He’d heard about Kanrik from Annabel. Annabel had been obsessed with Kanrik. Annabel must have had a crush on Kanrik. The thought deeply disturbed him, since Annabel was a Faerie Ixi.
When he reached the next country over, he was shocked. It was a wonderfully dark place he’d come across. There were dead trees, withered and brown-grey, twisting up toward the sky, fantastically strange looks on their trunks. He realised that he’d discovered the birthplace of those oddly cool Halloween pets. He’d seen bits and pieces of them glancing into Annabel’s magazines, over her shoulder.
He wandered into the place with the weird trees and found himself walking into the nearest restaurant. It smelled absolutely delicious. He’d already seated himself in a booth in a corner when he recalled that he had no Neopoints. But the waiter was walking up and asking what he wanted to drink. So he ordered, and he ate, and he drank, and when he was done, he casually slipped out the back door. And he didn’t even feel bad. It felt like he fit right into this new niche.
He started to run again, away from this dark place. Everything was started to feel restricting again. He had to get away. He wasn’t sure why he felt the need to get away – other than the fact that he didn’t want to get caught by a Defender of Neopia – but he heeded his emotions, his feelings. And he ran without stopping until he reached yet another strange and new place.
And he went on and on, running from new novelty to new novelty until he had seen everything and he knew where everything was and he was two years older. Then he decided he might go back and visit his old house, just for the heck of it. When he walked over and peered into the window, everything seemed just the same. Annabel was sitting on the ground surrounded by Christmas presents, opening all of them, and their parents were around, watching happily, as if nothing had changed.
So he walked up to the door and banged on it with a tightly curled fist. Snow was swirling down, landing on his cerulean fur, giving him icy speckles. He realised that he probably looked awful. But that was nothing new to them, and he knew it.
The door swung open. His father stood in front of him, staring at him with narrowed eyes. “Who are you?” he rasped. “What do you want? It’s six in the morning! What is the meaning of this!?”
They just stared into each other’s eyes, the eyes that were the exact same shade of brown. But neither of them said anything, for a very long time. After what seemed to be an eternity, his father snarled, “Get off our property before I call a Neopian Defender!” and the door was slammed shut in his face and he was left –
- alone. Standing alone in front of his own house. His family inside, happy as could be.
He turned around and walked away, moving mechanically, like a rusted robot. It was ridiculous, how much that hurt. It seemed all so frivolous to him now. As he walked back down that long street past Biff’s house, the house with the apple-green perfectly manicured lawn, he knew what to do. And when he returned to the Haunted Woods, Jacob Heather no longer existed. Jacob Heather had become a tall, handsome, upright, sly, cunning, charming thief with uncut hair.
Hanso looked up now, at his supposed new business partner. Xandra was grinning at him like the maniac he knew she was. He could hear Brynn breathing heavily behind him, so confused as to why he’d betrayed her. In that instant, he knew what to do, like he’d known what to do so many years ago.
And as the battle for his life and the life of the Faeries and the life of all Neopia including his family commenced, Xandra shouted, “Hanso, won’t you die yet?”
“Of course not, Xandra!”
He wasn’t planning on it.