Six Names, Six Lives, Six Owners, One Terrible Tale: Part Nine
Please know that this is your last chance to leave. This is the last chapter of my life. Enjoy! Or... not.
Two strong paws wrapped around my waist as I began to faint, and then set me firmly back on my feet. Besides the Unis, a Xweetok, a Shoyru, and a Ruki stood in front of me. I recognized all five of them.
“Careful, Xander,” the Ruki said. The last time I had seen this Ruki, he was half my size and liked to chew on dangerous objects.
“No way,” I muttered. The Ruki shrugged.
“Way,” he said. “It's really me. It's Reijo.”
“And... and you!” I said, pointing to the Shoyru. “You're...” I swallowed. “you're...”
“Lichen,” the Shoyru said, completing my sentence. “And I believe you know who this is?” he gestured toward the Xweetok.
“I'm dreaming,” I said.
“Nope,” the Xweetok flipped her red fur out of her eyes. “It's me, Xx_0837593_xX, better known as Bhima.”
Finally, my gaze drifted to the two Unis. The smaller of them smiled.
“Shanta?” She nodded, and right when I thought I couldn't be more surprised, I met the gaze of the bigger Uni, who looked away.
“I'm sorry,” she said, her gaze directed away from me.
“I was young, I was stupid. I wanted my owner all to myself. I see now what I did. I know you can never accept my apology... but....”
“Wait, wait,” I said. “Are you....”
“Mavis,” she agreed. Sure, she was taller now, but it was definitely her. There was a long moment of awkward silence. Finally, I took a deep breath.
“Listen, Mavis,” I said. “I don't think we'll ever be best friends. Heck, I doubt we'll be any kind of friend... but... but I accept your apology.”
“You shouldn't!” she said so loudly that she made me flinch as she neared tears. “Look back, Xander, and tell me the truth. Wouldn't you have rather lived out your life with Laura? Lived in peace and happiness for the three years it's been since then? Huh?”
I thought about that a moment. “No,” I said finally. Mavis gasped, her eyes practically on stalks and her jaw almost hitting the floor.. “I loved Laura,” I went on. “but... but if she'd never given me up, I'd never have met any of you guys.” I gestured toward the other four pets. “I wouldn't be who I am today. I wouldn't have learned a lot of lessons, and I wouldn't have met a lot of people. I really do accept your apology.”
“Well, I still doubt you can forgive ME.” A voice rang out behind me, and as I turned to look I was suddenly swept up into a hug so tight that I couldn't identify who exactly was trying to maul me with an overdose of affection.
“Ack!” I gasped. “Choking! Can't breathe!” I was released, half suffocated, and gasped for breath as someone cried beside me. Looking up, I saw a girl with brown hair and mocha skin, tears in her brown eyes. That time, I fainted. For real. Unfortunately, no one bothered to catch me that time.
“Aw, man, he's really out this time.”
“I kind of imagined meeting him when he was awake.”
“We will soon.”
“Come on, you guys, we can't just sit here forever.”
“I was just downstairs, and it looks like someone else intended to sit where they are forever. In fact, it looks like she's going to cry her eyes out for forever, too.”
“Hey, that's mean!”
Blinking awake, I tried to sit up, but was immediately hugged tightly by a yellow-furred pet. I suppose that with all of this violent hugging, I should have considered myself lucky to be alive, but at the moment I was still too confused to consider myself lucky. Anyway, as the other pet pulled away, he smiled at me, and I recognized Oliver.
“What is this?” I asked, wondering why everyone I'd ever met seemed to have gather in one place. “Is Annie here? What about Marilyn? Hey, what about-”
“One question at a time,” Oliver said, punching my shoulder lightly as a happy shriek came from behind him.
“Connor!” A yellow Aisha squealed. “I mean Xander!” She waved her arms happily.
“Yeah, yeah, I'm still stuck in this stupid wheelchair,” she said. “Probably will be for the rest of my life. Oh well, I best make the most of it.”
“So is everyone I've ever met here?” I asked, looking around as if I expected Lupin and Lilith to emerge out of thin air.
“Excluding a couple much-hated fiends?” Oliver asked. “Pretty much. Though there is still a sobbing Laura outside.”
“So it was Laura?” I almost fainted again.
“Yep,” Oliver said, shrugging and looking unsure how much he should say.
Something nagged the back of my mind, and I snapped my fingers. “Wait a second, how does everyone here know the full story? I only told a couple of you the entire thing, and a lot of you didn't know the end of the story. It's almost like someone was-”
“Stalking you?” Oliver asked, chortling a bit. “I know. It was Bhima. She wasn't adopted, you know; she broke out, actually. Man, I heard that Dr. Death practically ripped out his hair.”
“I suppose she'd taken a liking to you. She followed you for a long time, but what could she do to help? She had no owner to adopt you, so she started this!” He swung his arms out to indicate the house and grounds.
“Well, what is 'this'?” I asked.
“Bhima hated the injustice she saw, both in the pound and outside of it. Not only to you, but other pets as well. Man, if you'd have heard some of the other stories that circulate around here, you'd consider yourself lucky. That is, after you'd finished crying a river over the stories, building a bridge, and eventually getting over it. Anywho, Bhima only wished that there was somewhere a pet could go without having to fear the pound ever again. She met up with Laura and Marilyn, and revealed what had happened to you since you had first been impounded up until the time Tony abandoned you. They hated to think that there might be dozens of neopets like that, so with help from lots of different people they started this place!”
“And all kinds of neopets can find shelter here!”
“But what about the ones who already have homes? You, Annie, Shanta?”
“Dude, you think I'm here all time? No, Marilyn, Annie, and I go home every night after most of the pets are asleep, though we have a few volunteers who stay, like Lichen. And the homeless pets, of course.”
“But you can't fit every homeless or mistreated pet in here. The house is big, but not that big.”
“Well, we thought that out too! Or at least Bhima did. That Xweetok seems to hit the nail on the head every time. See, people in far away places like Mystery Island or the Lost Desert obviously don't want to trek all the way up to Neopia Central to adopt a pet, so they create new ones. That's what leads to the over-population problems, and homeless pets.”
“Yep,” Oliver agreed, interrupting me. “We travel around all of Neopia, not just Neopia Central, and make sure each pet finds a forever home, not a temporary one.”
I looked at the floor, silent.
“But what about the pets in the pound?”
“Well, mate, that's where you come in.” He patted my shoulder, and Annie gave me a thumbs-up. I thought my heart, so battered and bruised from constant abandonment, might actually grow wings and fly out of my chest.
So, here I am. I've made up with Tony (who never got that Kiko, by the way, but that's another story), Marilyn, and Laura. I met up with almost every one of my previous siblings (though luckily Lupin and Lilith weren't there), and even a few petpets. Rocko and Azarel were both happy to see me, and I them. They got along pretty well after I left, apparently. Rocko was Mavis's pet now, and Azarel belonged to one of Jourdan's Ixi. Oh, yeah, Jourdan was there too. He felt guilty, and blamed himself for most everything that had happened to me, poor guy. Oh well, we made up in the end.
Finally, after a few days of meeting pets and people I thought I'd never see again, the plan to renovate the pound began, with me in charge. Oh yeah, I said it. The dusty, dreary cages were replaced with small apartments, with cots and windows rather than a dirty blanket and a blank wall.
Unfortunately, I knew right away that it wasn't enough. The one thing every neopet needs is companionship, and they can't get that from a better bed or a brighter window. That's why we provide most impounded pets with a chance to read books and play with petpets every day. Rocko and Azarel, in particular, love to brighten a pet's day, and their heart. Sometimes, when they walk into the pound on their leads, the pets who looked as if they had lost all hope would suddenly brighten and happily pat a head, pull a tail. The petpets don't mind. I think that they know how much help they are, and they like doing what they do.
Welll... I guess that's it! You know who I am, and how I came to be this way. I'm not the pet I was when I began this journey. What I told Mavis is true. I'm not happy that Laura gave me up, but if I was allowed to relive my life, I wouldn't change a thing. (Well, okay, I wouldn't mind erasing my memories of Lilith's constant batterings, but besides that.)
Nowadays, I'm surrounded by friends, new and old. Annie actually took a few tottery steps last week after a visit to the Healing Springs, and Shanta and I will be co-directing a production of “The Little Mallard” next month. Already Destroyer has been dropping heavy hints that he wants the lead, as in walking up to my face, showing me the script, and practically yelling how much he'd love to get the part. He's not subtle.
Sometimes I think about who I was, who I am, and who I will be. I'm not the eager and innocent pet I was before. I'm not the dress-up toy I pretended to be for Kiki, and I'm not the Battledomer I pretended to be for Alex either. I'm not even the pet I presented to Marilyn, Riley or Tony. I'm Xander, and if you don't get that, then you've really wasted your time reading my story. I'm just me, and that's who I think everyone should be. Themselves.
Xander dipped his quill into the inkwell, careful not to spill it all over Magenta's desk. As he wrote his name, and then the last words in a story of over 20,000 words, the door to the pound swung open, and a girl strutted in, dragging her blue Bori behind her. Her heels clinking on the floor, she snatched an abandonment form and scribbled down the information as the Bori began to sniffle, and then cry.
The girl handed her paper to Magenta, slammed some neopoints on the table, and strutted away.
Xander helped the blubbering Bori to his feet.
“Are you okay?” the tall blue Xweetok asked, thinking of a time when he was smaller than the Bori was, though he now towered over him.
“N-no,” the Bori whimpered. “Kaylee... Kaylee l-left me.”
Xander led the Bori into his new home, where they both sat down on the cot as Xander tried to comfort the sobbing pet. “W-what'll happen to me?” the Bori asked, wiping his muzzle with the back of his paw.
Xander took a deep breath. “I don't know. Lots of pets come in and out of this place every day.”
“Bu-but does it ever turn out all right? Even when things are really bad?” He looked up at Xander with wet, scared eyes.
Xander leaned against the wall and exhaled as he closed his eyes. He seemed to be thinking, and a moment later he turned back to the newest addition to the pound. “I'm going to tell you a story,” he said. “About a blue Xweetok who wasn't that different from me. His name was Xander.”