Six Names, Six Lives, Six Owners, One Terrible Tale: Part Seven
The next days were torture for me. After Magenta confirmed that, yes, my brother had been adopted, I constantly paced my cage, looking worried. Magenta insisted that she couldn't remember who had adopted him, only that it was a girl of average height and brown hair. That only fits, say, HALF THE GIRLS IN NEOPIA!
Finally, despite my odd habit of pacing, my painted pelt won out.
A boy of around fifteen years walked into the pound three days after I had been painted. He was gentle with the pets, and gave each one a thorough examination. When he reached my cage, his face lit up.
“Hey, 'scuse me?” he said to Magenta. “Who's this little guy?”
“I can talk!” I said.
“Calm down, man,” he said with a shrug, then extended his hand. “I'm Tony.” As we shook, he was clearly waiting for my own name. When I said nothing, he released my paw. “So,” he said, clearly trying to start up a conversation. “How long have you been here?”
“This time,” I asked sarcastically, “or altogether?”
Tony's eyes widened and he whispered something to Magenta, who unlocked the door.
“All right, you,” she said, hooves on hips. “I don't want you back here in three days, got it? Tony's a good guy. Adopted two pets from the pound already, so... so make this a forever home, okay? We need your cage for the other pets. We're the only place in Neopia that doesn't like regulars.”
“Okay,” I said, giving her a weak smile. In truth, I hardly trusted myself to say more. Another adoption, another owner, another home, another set of siblings. My biggest question, however, was: Would this one really be forever?
The first thing I noticed as we stepped outside was the snow. It had been chilly when Riley had painted me, and in the few days between then and now the first snows must have begun.
Tony seemed nice enough. He didn't put me on a leash or otherwise humiliate me. He also was not a bore, unlike some people I could name. He didn't talk about clothes, or his cousins nine times removed, or purple maukets, or tape, or the color green, or any other things that tend to bore people to no end. In fact, he talked about the things I wanted to know.
He told me about his other three neopets, Destroyer, Obliterator, and Demolisher. Despite their fierce names, he explained, they were kind neopets eager for a new brother.
When we reached his two-story neohome, a green Kougra boy, about Annie's age, was the first out the door. He refused to understand the word 'walk', and rather frisked, bounced, and skipped down the walk.
“Tony!” he said happily, rearing up on his hind legs and licking his owner's face. “You're back!”
“Hey, Destroyer!” Tony said, hugging the young neopet as two more emerged from the door. The smaller, a blue Kacheek, slid backward down the front steps, as his feet were too small to step efficiently. The second, another green pet, this one a Shoyru, flapped her wings a few times, lifting her a few feet above the ground.
Later, I would know that, besides Destroyer, the Kacheek was Obliterator, and the Shoyru was Demolisher, with Obliterator as the eldest and Destroyer as the youngest. All three pets were excited to see their owner back home, and even more excited at the rainbow pet who would now be residing in their home as a brother.
Destroyer, the most curious of the three, ran circles around me, sniffing all the time. Demolisher followed a similar pattern in the air. Obliterator, as the eldest, was more polite, and cordially welcomed me.
“So, what's your name?” he asked after a moment.
“I'm sure Tony will give me a new name,” I explained. “My past owners all have.”
“Are you sure?” Tony asked, scratching his head in confusion.
“Yeah, sure.” I tried to sound nonchalant. “I've had so many names, I can't even remember what I was originally called.” This was a lie, of course. I'd never forger that I was called Xander, but I didn't really think I needed to bother.
“Well, if we want your name to match the others', I suppose we'd have to call you... Terminator?”
“Yeah, yeah, okay.” I really didn't care what I was called. All I wanted was to remain out of the pound long enough to settle down in a proper family.
“Let's stay out and build a snowpet!” Destroyer suggested. Before anyone had a chance to answer, he had created a snowball a big as a puppyblew. By the time it occurred to me what he was doing, it was as big as a baby Grarrl. By the time I had rushed over to help him, it was bigger than me.
That was possibly one of the happiest days of my life. Tony went inside, and I had something I'd never had before; time to just hang out with other pets.
Destroyer and I built a fort together and pitted ourselves against Obliterator and Demolisher. That led to several snowballs in the face, but it was better than being stuck in the pound.
The entire time, though, I was slightly distracted by thoughts of Reijo. I was sure that the baby, despite the Ruki's desert origins, would have loved the snow.
When we finally finished, we were soaking wet and laughing. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, Tony called us inside. On the welcome mat, Destroyer, Obliterator and I shook off our pelts, causing our fur to stick out at funny angles.
Tony invited us into the living room, where a roaring fire blazed in the fireplace, and a large plate of cookies and milk seemed to shout “Eat us!” so we, like the obliging neopets we were, did. Eat them, that is.
The shag rug and comfy chairs around the fire gave the place a cozy atmosphere, and my first look at my bedroom only increased my elation.
At the end of the star-covered bed, a small bookshelf displayed dozens of covers, and barking in the corner announced the presence of a blue Puppyblew in his own bed. Plushies were propped around the pillows, and a collection of keychains was perched on a small shelf above the bed, next to more books.
“Awesome!” I said, thinking that maybe, just maybe, this really was a forever home, but then came the doubts.
A forever home? Ha! the mean voice in my head seemed to say. You thought your life with Laura was forever! And Kiki, and Alex, and Marilyn! Why should this be any different?
I'm sorry to tell you this, but even though I refused to listen to that voice, this home would not be a forever home any more than Kiki's home had been. Or Laura's. Or Alex's or Marilyn's or Riley's.
The next day, I woke up to find Destroyer shaking me.
“Tony needs you,” he said.
“Mmmkay,” I muttered, rubbing my eyes. As the Kougra came into focus, I realized that, unlike the day before, he was wearing clothes and a backpack. A few items sticking out of the backpack, including paper, some colored pencils, and a snuffly folder, intrigued me.
“What's with the bag of stuff and the clothes?” I asked hopping out of bed.
Destroyer looked down at his blue shoes, khaki pants, and marbleman t-shirt as he fiddled with his red cap nervously.
“Tony makes us wear clothes to neoschool,” he explained.
“Neoschool?” I asked. I'd heard of the place, of course, but attendance wasn't mandatory, and none of my previous owners had ever sent me. “You go to neoschool?”
“Sure,” he said. “I'm an advanced-level one.”
“There are five levels or education, okay? Each level is divided into three parts, pre-level, central-level, and advanced-level. You move up as you get older and smarter.”
“So does that mean I-” I was cut off as Tony called from downstairs.
“Destroyer!” he called. “They're going to leave without you!”
“Gotta go,” Destroyer said, bounding away.
“Wait! I-” With a groan, I followed him out of my room and back into the living room. Through one of the windows, I saw Obliterator (dressed similarly to Destroyer, and with a meowclops backpack) and three unfamiliar neopets perched on the back of a large yellow Eyrie with the words “Neoschool Official Transport: NOT.” Which confused me quite a bit until I realized that 'NOT' was an abbreviation, not a contradiction.
Demolisher was flying just above the Eyrie's head, wearing superstar earrings (on her wings), an “I Love Fyora” t-shirt, and a faerie backpack.
Tony helped Destroyer onto the back of the Eyrie, who took off with a few powerful strokes of their wings, Demolisher fluttering nearby. Then, Tony turned and saw me.
“'Morning, Terminator,” he said. “Today I thought we'd go into town and look for some clothes and neoschool supplies for you so you can get started as soon as possible, okay?”
Reluctantly, I agreed, and Tony grabbed his neopoints and took me into town.
Once we were there, I was shocked by the clothes in the marketplace. After all, I hadn't been to most of those stores since my days with Kiki, when I hadn't been concerned with purchasing anything (as I was rather busy trying to AVOID the clothes). Some of the phrases of shirts Tony tried to shove on me; “I Love Captain Scarblade”, “Feepits Win!”, “I Love my Mutant Greeble”, “Free the Darkest Faerie!” and “I Survived the Haunted Woods.” I have no idea who does the clothing designs in Neopia, but I don't think they're doing a very good job.
Finally, however, I was able to locate some acceptable clothing, including a woolen cap, a gold star T-shirt, and a pair of sandals, seeing as my hind feet weren't shaped for tennis shoes like Obliterator's.
I also got school supplies, such as a hole punch, erasers, lined and unlined paper, pencils and pencil cases, folders, and books for the four primary classes; maths, science, history, and language arts.
On our way back, Tony suggested that we stop for pizza at the pizzeria. I agreed, but I couldn't help thinking of my past owners. Laura, my Brownie, who used to take me to the pizzeria all the time before Mavis entered our lives, and Kiki, who hated the messy, cheesy food, leaving me to eat alone. I was even reminded of Reijo and Marilyn, and of the time shortly after Reijo was adopted when he had gotten a pizza anchovy all over his antenna.
Why was such a simple thing, pizza, continuing to affect my life in such different ways?
Tony engaged in conversation as we ate. He avoided anything about my life in the pound or with previous owners, and rather asked about things like places I'd been and books I'd read.
While we talked, I discovered that Tony liked Kikos (but couldn't get his hands on one) and was big on traveling. He and his pets had a summer home on Mystery Island, and they'd also been to Krawk Island, Kiko Lake, Meridell, and Brightvale. They were even planning to visit Moltara after Christmas, and Tony said that, as the newest member of the family, I would come as well. We talked longest about that.
We said that we would play “Tunnel Trouble” and “Cave Glider”. We'd visit the Town Hall and Molten Morsels, and maybe stop by Cog's Togs.
Again, I hate breaking these things to you, but I would never see Moltara.
By the time we got back home, the NOT Eyrie was just settling down, and lowering a wing to allow Obliterator and Destroyer to get off. Destroyer waved as the winged pet took off once again.
“Hey, Tony!” Demolisher called. “Maylee and Karla invited me over so I can see their new usukis later. Is that okay?”
“Sure,” Tony said. “Just be back before dinner.”
“Are we having pot pie again?” she asked.
“I really can't eat at Maylee's?”
It occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, that would be me someday. I'd have friends to hang out with and talk too. I'd never really had friends, except for Jourdan's Ixi. All the pets I'd met were my brothers and sisters, not just friends.
That night, I fell asleep imagining myself in neoschool, eating and laughing with friends.
The next day, I was woken up by Obliterator, who was already dressed.
“We leave in twenty minutes,” he said. “So come downstairs and get some breakfast.”
“Okay,” I yawned. “I'll be down in a second.”
Pulling out my new clothes and slipping them on, I walked around my room a few minutes, getting used to the feel of them. A hole in the back of my pants let my tail stick out, and the shoes offered access to both two-and-four-legged walking, seeing as most species could do both. Slipping my new backpack over my shoulder and insuring that I had everything I needed, I bounded downstairs for an omelette breakfast. It wasn't the annoying runny kind you get in Tyrannia, but the sweet homemade kind. Yum.
Anyway, after I had finished eating, the arrival of the Eyries was announced by a loud 'whoosh'ing sound. Grabbing their bagged lunches, my three siblings hurried out the door. I tried to do the same, but I felt Tony's hand on my shoulder.
“Good luck,” he said, giving me a little pat on the head. “As soon as you get to school, go to room 2B. That's the vice principal's office. Can you remember that?” I nodded nervously.
With butterflies in my stomach and happy daydreams in my head, I bounded outside and (looking rather undignified) clambered onto the back of the yellow Eyrie.
“Please keep paws and tails on my back,” she said. “We can't have anyone falling off.” With Demolisher flying beside us, we took off.
Unlike the day before, we were the only ones riding Eyrie-back that day, at least until the NOT Eyrie alighted in another yard. Out of the house bounded a younger, green Eyrie and a faerie painted Acara I'm assuming was his sister. Despite her wings, she fluttered gracefully into place next to Obliterator (whose eyes widened considerably as a small smile danced across his face) and immediately checked her lip gloss in a tiny hand mirror before applying three more extra-thick layers.
“Good morning, Maria,” Destroyer said politely as the NOT Eyrie took off (the younger Eyrie and Demolisher fluttering right behind). Maria ignored him, pursing her lips and applying enough lip gloss to cover most of Mystery Island.
After one more stop (we picked up a green Usul with glasses and his nose in an algebra book) we arrived at the neoschool.
“Last stop,” the Eyrie said. “Here we are, step lightly, watch yourselves, hold onto your hats, don't bump into each other, et cetera, et cetera.”
Maria huffily fluttered off of the yellow winged pet.
“Samuel,” she said. “Be a dear and grab my bag for me.” The green Eyrie's shoulders drooped.
“Right away, Maria,” he muttered, picking up both his own bag and his sister's and following her into school.
Heaving their own bags onto their backs, my siblings wished me good luck and either bounded or fluttered away, along with the Usul, who nearly ran into three pets on his way into school, his nose still buried deep in his book.
I took a deep breath and slid off of the NOT, and she flew away, leaving me ankle-deep in the snow and feeling very alone.
Trying to look casual, I hefted my backpack higher on my shoulders and started walking toward the school. Off to one side, a few of the youngest pets were giggling as they threw snow at one another.
The other side was not so welcoming.
A large group of hulking Skeiths and Grarrls, along with a couple of Lupes, a Kougra, and a Chomby, stood, looking intimidating. Most of them were painted, and all of them were looking unpleasant. Occasionally, they would stop some poor Yurble or Blumaroo and rob them of their lunch money or merely knock them into a half-melted mud puddle and laugh. Making sure I gave them a wide berth, I entered the double doors of neoschool and stopped dead.
There were pets everywhere! Whether magma or ice, baby or blueberry, Aisha or Zafara, they were milling around, leaving hardly any room to walk.
Stuttering out several “excuse me”s and “sorry, coming through”s (not to mention getting a good helping of angry looks) I shoved past a few people and, before I had even gone three feet, couldn't see a thing. Half of the pets were taller than me, and a few could have stepped on me like I was a petpetpet. Finally, breaking free of the brunt of the crowd, I tapped a friendly-looking Zafara on the shoulder. She turned away from her friends, all of whom were giggling about something or other, and glared at me.
“What?” she asked angrily. I suddenly wondered if it would have been better to tap on someone else's shoulder.
“Can I ask you a question?” I asked. A pink Uni snorted.
“You already did, genius.” Her friends all tittered again.
“Where's room 2B?” I asked.
“Or not 2B,” a Usul joked. “That is the question.” The girls all went into hysterics, some of them leaning against the others so they didn't fall.
I stalked away. “Thanks for the help!” I said sarcastically. They couldn't hear me over their girly giggling.
I decided to find the room myself. After all, how hard could it be?
I soon found out.
More and more students filed into their classrooms as time went by, but by the time the first bell rang, I was still stuck outside room 1C, and still hopelessly lost. Muttering angrily, I continued to wander for almost fifteen minutes before I finally found a door, marked in dark black lettering, “2B”. Below it were the words “Mr. Moehogian, Vice Principal.”
I raised a shaky paw to tap the door. A moment later, a deep voice asked me to enter.
Obliging, I peered around the doorframe. Inside was a simple, neat office with a large desk in the middle. Sitting in the chair was a tall, yellow Moehog wearing a black suit.
“You're late,” he said curtly.
“I got lost,” I muttered simply.
“I got lost, sir,” he corrected.
“Your owner gave me a call yesterday, informing me of your arrival.” He stopped, as if expecting me to say something.
“You don't say,” I said. “I mean... sir.”
“I have decided that, from what I have heard, you will be placed at a central-level two until we have determined your abilities.”
“Okay,” I said. Then I hurriedly added the desired “sir.”
“Ms. Acarine will take you to your room,” he said, gesturing behind me. Turning around, I noticed a tall red Acara standing behind me.
“Come along, Terminator,” she said, motioning for me to follow her.
“Yes, ma'am,” I said, following her.
“Oh, none of that silly ma'am stuff,” she said, waving her paw as if shooing a fly. “You can call me Nancy.”
“Okay, ma- I mean... Nancy,” I said as we walked down the hall.
“Well, this is your room,” Nancy said, opening a door. “Wait here.” She disappeared into the room for a few moments before reemerging. “Good luck!” she said, patting me on the shoulder.
“Thanks,” I muttered, pushing the door open. Inside of the room, twelve seats, two to each desk, sat on one side of the room, with the teacher's desk on the other side.
Sitting behind the big desk was, of course, the teacher, a tall Gelert.
“Hi there,” she said. “You must be Terminator.”
I nodded slowly.
“I'm Ms. Kay. I taught your brother, Obliterator, last year.” Across the room, Demolisher, who was sitting next to a pink Uni, waved to me. I waved back as Ms. Kay gestured toward an empty chair. “We'll squeeze you in right here next to Maria.”
For the first time, I noticed the faerie Acara, sitting in the front row and applying her seven-hundredth layer of lip gloss. She did not acknowledge me as I sat down.
“All right, class,” Ms. Kay said. “You may continue with your work. Terminator.” She handed me a sheet of paper. “I'm not sure how much you know, but fill out the questions as best as you can so I can get a feel of your skills.”
“Okay,” I said, taking the paper from her. Listed in neat rows on the front and back of the paper were questions from various subjects. I felt my stomach flutter.
“Calm down,” I told myself. “Just read the first question, for a start!”
2 + x = 6, the question said. What is x?
“See,” I thought. “This isn't so bad. ” Filling in the space with a number four, I moved on to the next one, which said:
Name all of the Neopian countries and lands named after a Neopian species.
“Let's see...” I nibbled nervously on my pencil eraser. “Kiko Lake, Lutari Island, Krawk Island...”
Next to me, Maria painted her nails, only filling in one of her own questions with a sparkly faerie pen every few minutes, or whenever the teacher looked around at her.
After about a quarter-hour, I had filled out each one of the twenty questions, and Ms. Kay took my paper back, along with the other students' work.
“All right,” she said. “We're going to head on down to the library for some free reading time.”
Some of the pets looked annoyed or bored. A Grarrl openly groaned.
“Gosh,” I thought. “She's not asking you to donate an organ.”
As we lined up and filed out the door, Maria was talking loudly to a friend, but Ms. Kay didn't correct her, which I thought was weird. Demolisher ended up in front of me as we walked, and she turned around briefly to look at me.
“Do you think you did okay?” she asked. I shrugged.
In only a few moments, we arrived at the school library, where a sign on the wall told us to remain quiet.
A few students, including Demolisher and a cloud Chomby, took books off of the shelves and sat down to read. The other students looked bored or confused as they sat down in chairs and began flipping aimlessly through one book or another.
Seeing an old favorite of mine, I pulled it off of the shelf and sat down between the Grarrl who had moaned in class and the pink Uni who had sat beside Demolisher. Both of them were staring at their books, but their eyes weren't moving very much, which gave away the fact that they weren't actually reading.
Confused, I opened my own book to the first page, where I began reading the words under my breath. A few moments later, the Grarrl sat up straight.
“How can you do that?” he asked.
“Yeah, how?” the Uni agreed.
“Do what?” I asked, closing my book and glancing from one to the other.
“Read like that,” the Uni said. “Like you're just talking.”
“Um, I don't know,” I said. “I've been reading like that for a long time. Can't you guys read?”
“Well, I can,” the Uni complained. “but not like that. I mean, look.” She opened her own book, The Cowardly Tuskaninny, to a random page and began to read... very slowly...
“P-poor little J...” She paused, looking confused.
“Jaared?” I suggested.
“Oh, Jaared, right,” she said. “Jaared was so sc... sc-a-red he simply couldn't bear to open his eyes. He was af... afrayied?”
“Afraid,” I explained.
“Afraid of his petpet, his toys, even his own sh-a-dow.” She slammed the book shut. “I can't read at all!” she complained. Someone shushed her.
“I mean,” she said, whispering now, “it's really hard, and I can never finish my book reports and stuff, because even if I can read it, I don't really understand some of it.”
“Well, how often do you practice?”
“Twice a week, here at the library,” she said. “Well, sort of.”
“What about at home?”
“Well, surely you guys, or at least your owners, have some books lying around.”
The Grarrl scratched his chin thoughtfully. “I think my brother might have an old copy of Robin Lupe...”
The Uni nodded in agreement. “And I used to have Scaredy Acara. I wonder what happened to that.”
I nodded slowly, thinking. “If only there was a book club or something...”
“That would be cool!” a Cybunny said from the next table over.
“Yeah!” agreed a Zafara. Someone shushed the both of them.
“There'll be no time,” an Usul pointed out. “They have auditions for the the play Sheila and Gregory next week, and everyone will be busy making sets or learning lines.”
A few pets sighed. “Stupid play,” the Cybunny muttered. “When they did The Little Mallard last year, I just about fainted from boredom.”
“Oh yeah,” Maria said suddenly. “Let's see... you were the wordless tree, right?”
“Nu-uh!” the Cybunny insisted, and was shushed again. Then, in a quieter voice; “I had a line.”
“Yeah.” The Acara rolled her eyes as she applied yet another layer of lipstick and smacked her lips. “Whoosh whoosh.”
“Maria and her brother get the leads every year,” the Uni whispered to me. “I'll bet she'll be the main character, Sheila, and her brother will be the other lead, Gregory, this year, just like every year before this.”
“Every year?” I asked in surprise. “Are they really that good?”
“No.” The Uni rolled her eyes. “But their owner donates a ton of money to the school each year, and if his little babies don't get everything they want, including the leads in plays and good grades on tests, then he's threatened to cut off all donations, which could lead to the school being low on finances.”
“Oh...” Now what I had seen made more sense! Maria could be as terrible as she liked, but no one could get her in trouble without risking rocking the boat and getting Maria's owner involved.
Nearby, I saw Samuel, Maria's sister, elbow her gently, as she applied more eyeshadow than the rest of the Neopian she-pets combined.
“What?” she snapped.
“Maria, maybe... maybe we could let someone else get the leads this year,” he said as he shuffled his feet nervously.
“And deprive the crowd of my incredible talent?” Maria said with a small gasp. “Never! I would hate to let one of those pets who can't tell doggerel from drama take my part!” She giggled girlishly as she brushed her ears back.
After that, school went okay for me, I guess. I kept an eye out for Reijo in the preschool class that I would see on the playground, but never caught sight of him. Maria continued on with her snooty-snottyness, and I just tried to blend in. I didn't make many actual friends, I suppose, but I would hang out with my adopted siblings during lunch, and sometimes, during recess, I'd help the students who couldn't read very well, including Shanta, the Uni I'd met my first day.
Shanta became the closest thing to a friend I had. Sometimes she'd offer me a cookie at lunch, and we'd chat before school. Shanta crushed my old opinion of Unis, though I suppose Mavis wasn't a very good model.
Shanta continued to struggle with reading, but one day, as I was studying my math homework on the swings, my pencil behind my ear as I struggled to figure out a particularly difficult question, she sat down beside me.
“The answer is two-fourths,” she said knowledgeably. I looked at her in surprise. After seeing my test the first day, the teacher had moved me up to advanced, meaning that my work was twice as hard.
“Wow,” I said. “How did you figure that out in your head?”
“I guess I have a mind for numbers,” she said casually. “Unlike letters.”
After that, it was like something snapped. I guess we sort of evened each other out. After school, we'd meet up and do our homework together. Sometimes, if we got done early, we'd pull out Tony's old mixer and make brownies that always came out more like rocks. I don't know why we kept doing it, seeing as half of the brownies were inedible each time. Maybe it was just fun.
Finally, after about ten days, after Shanta had gone home and my new family and I were eating dinner, Destroyer brought up the topic of the school play.
“I only had three lines last year,” he complained. “This year I'll do better, though.”
“Good for you,” Tony said. “Are the rest of you trying out?”
“No way!” Demolisher said at the same time Obliterator said, “Of course!”
“Why not, Demolisher?” Tony asked.
“I hate public speaking,” she complained. “Maybe I'll just help out backstage and paint set, like last year.”
“It'll be okay,” Obliterator said. “Last year I got to be Mallard Five. I had some lines, and I did fine.”
“Too bad Maria will take the lead this year,” Destroyer said.
“David's Acara?” Tony asked. “He's the one who donated a bunch of money, right?”
My siblings and I exchanged glances, nodding.
“Well, what about you, Terminator?” Tony asked.
“Oh...” I said, suddenly unsure. “I guess I haven't thought about it.”
“Well, better decide,” Destroyer pointed out. “Auditions are tomorrow.”
The next day, Obliterator finally convinced me to at least come and watch, to which I grudgingly agreed.
As we entered the school auditorium, the first thing I saw was Maria, with her paws on the seat in front of her as she overlooked a copy of the script. Her brother Samuel, sitting next to her, allowed his own script to sit on his lap as he shuffled his own feet (which were on the ground) nervously.
The second thing I saw was Shanta, who was also looking at her script, perhaps less confidently than Maria. I sat down behind her and read over her shoulder.
A tall green Ruki, seated at a piano, stood up as we entered. “All right,” he said. I could tell by his voice that he wasn't much older than some of the students. “I think everyone is here, so we'll get started now. I'm Joeseph, and this is my first time directing. So, we'll do tryouts for Sheila to get started. Now, who wants to go fir-”
“Me!” Maria said, waving her paw in the air.
“All right, Ms...”
“Maria,” Maria said as she sauntered onto the stage. “And you may as well give the part to me right now. Ahem...” As she began to speak, it became obvious that her talent was awful. She talked like... like Maria. Speaking of “like”, it appeared rather more often in Maria's speech than in the script.
“Oh Gregory,” she shouted. (I learned later that in theatre you never call it 'shouting', but rather 'projecting'.) “If only my parents would, like, let me go to the school dance! Then we'd, like, have a lot of fun together! But, like, don't worry, I, like, have a plan...” She went on in that way for some time, and I think I might have actually fallen asleep at some point. When she was finally finished, she took a huge, overdramatic bow, and Joeseph applauded politely.
“Very good projection, Ms. Maria,” he said. “Though perhaps next time you could try and stick to the exact words better?”
Maria looked outraged, as if the Ruki had just slapped her. She stomped off the stage with a 'humph'.
“Is there anyone else who would like to try for the part?” Joeseph asked. Shanta raised her hand shyly.
“All right,” Joeseph said as Shanta nervously got on stage. “And you are...”
“Shanta,” she whispered nervously.
“All right, whenever you're ready.”
A moment later, Shanta started speaking, though it was difficult to tell. All I could see were her lips moving, and even when I moved to the front row I could hardly hear her.
“If only my parents would let me go to the school dance,” I heard her say sadly, and as she continued the speech, I got a much better understanding of what was going on.
“Okay, now I get it,” I thought. “Sheila really wants to go to the dance, but her parents won't let her.” I leaned forward to catch the last words of Shanta's speech as Joeseph applauded politely.
“Very nice,” he said. “Anyone else?”
Three more pets went up after that, but one talked so fast I could hardly understand her, and the other two talked so slowly that Joeseph cut off their speeches early, for fear we should be there all day.
“Now,” he said. “Is there anyone who would like to try out for the part of Gregory?”
Obliterator and Destroyer both tried out for this part, and I'd say they both did pretty good.
“But Shelia,” each one said as their turn came, Destroyer perhaps a bit more shyly than Obliterator. “I don't like this. It seems like cheating, somehow. If only Freddie were here, he'd know what to do...” They went on almost as long as Sheila, and took slight bows as they finished. As Joeseph continued to call on various pets, I noticed that Samuel did not raise his paw even once. At one point I saw Maria elbowing him angrily, and him shaking his head.
Finally, as yet another pet hopped off of the stage, Joeseph wrote something on his clipboard. “All right,” he said. “Last call for Gregory. How about you?” he asked. I looked around to see who he was pointing at, and then froze in surprise as I realized that he was talking to me. I pointed to myself in confusion. “Yes, you,” the green Ruki said.
“Uh, I don't have a script,” I explained. Shanta offered me her own.
“Oh well,” I thought. “It couldn't hurt,” I climbed the steps up to the stage and began to read the lines.
“What are we going to do now? The whole thing is ruined, all because of that Poogle, Freddie! I'd like to go back and time and change everything, but I can't! How am I going to tell Sheila...?” I didn't really understand most of the words, since I was reading a part of the middle, rather than the beginning, but I read it as best as I could, and then handed my script back to Shanta as I sat down and Joeseph applauded again.
“All right,” the Ruki said. “We'll be having callbacks tomorrow. I'll contact you if I'd like you to attend. Hope to see you then!”
Sure enough, a neomail arrived at our house the next day asking for both me and my adopted brothers to come to callbacks after school.
“Yes!” Destroyer said, pumping his fist in the air.
When we arrived at the auditorium, only a few pets sat scattered in the seats, including Maria and Shanta.
“Today,” Joeseph said. “We'll try something a little different than yesterday. I want a few of you up here at a time. The first scene we'll do involves Gregory, Freddie, and some other pets getting into a verbal fight. Let's see...” he pointed to my brothers and I. “You three are siblings. I'm sure you'll enjoy yelling at one another.” He chuckled at his little joke as we climbed onstage.
“Freddie, why did you do that?” Destroyer began.
“I did what I thought was right,” I replied as I read from the script.
“Right? Are you kidding?” Destroyer asked.
“What would you have done?” I asked Obliterator, as it told me to in the script.
“I don't know,” Obliterator replied.
The scene went on for some time after that, and I didn't really understand it. Apparently, one group was angry because the other group told on them. After we finished, Joeseph applauded again, and a new group mounted the stage.
I went up a few more times, as Gregory speaking to various Sheilas (Including Shanta and Maria) or as another character, such as Freddie. As the callbacks ended, Joeseph told us that the cast list would be posted on the door first thing the next morning.
The next morning, as I arrived at school, the first thing I heard was a bloodcurdling scream.
Students looked around in confusion or covered their ears as the scream went on and finally died away.
“Whoa,” Obliterator said, rubbing his sore ears. “What was that?”
“I have no idea,” Demolisher said. “Let's go find out.” As we started down the hall, we nearly ran into Maria, who was practically screaming into Samuel's ear.
“It's an outrage, Samuel!” she shrieked. “A complete outrage! Understudy? Understudy! I could just scream!”
“You already did,” Samuel pointed out meekly.
“Whatever! I can assure you that Daddy will hear about this! That fool Joeseph has no idea what talent is!”
Shasta appeared behind us. “Sounds like Maria didn't get the part.”
“You think?” Demolisher asked sarcastically. Destroyer looked confused.
“She said she plays the part of Under Study,” he said. “I don't remember that character from the script.”
Demolisher snorted as Obliterator tried to explain what an understudy was between bursts of laughter.
“Who's Sheila then?” Shanta finally asked.
“We won't find out just by standing here,” I pointed out, starting down the hall.
Demolisher was the first to reach the door to the auditorium. She skipped over the first section, labeled 'Cast', and moved on to 'Crew'.
“Hey,” she said. “They put me in charge of lighting this year! Awesome!”
Obliterator and Destroyer pushed past.
“Yes!” they said simultaneously.
“I'm Freddie!” Obliterator said happily.
“I'm Tom!” Destroyer said, equally loudly.
Shanta and I glanced up at the names. Our eyes widened. We glanced at each other. We glanced back at the cast list again. And then back at one another, eyes widening all the time. This went on until our eyes were the size of the wheel of monotony.
On the top of the cast list were four names, and here is what they said:
Sheila – Shanta the Uni
Gregory – Terminator the Xweetok
To be continued...