The Painted Pets Club: Part One
Behind the bustling, crowded streets of colorful Neopia Central lies a little wishing well: crumbling, worn by wind and rain, and growing a little mossy between the graying stones. It’s quiet there- the trees rustle; wild beekadoodles chatter and chirp in the leafy foliage; and urchills scold at the occasional trespasser from the burrow. Every now and then a neopet or human treks across the thick grass, leaving foot imprints behind in the green, to flip a neopoint or two into the well.
But go further past the dilapidated relic, and you will soon find yourself lost in a quiet wood. The trees muffle any sound of the faraway traffic, so that all around you permeates a soulful silence. The sun scatters golden pools of light in speckles on the ground. The tall, towering canopy of leaves throws the wood in shadow, but crocuses still push their way from the soil; flowering vines hang lovingly from trees; and brush unfurl young green leaves. The forest is blooming with life.
And should you tread thus a mile or two toward the rising sun, you might see, if you look closely at the grass, a lightly-treaded path- a path so subtle and young, it might have been worn from the delicate paws of the snowbunny, gently nosing its routing way to a meandering brook. But follow it and you will see that it leads to a small glade, where twelve slender stones are arranged in a circle around a tiny pool of water- as small as a puddle, but as deep and clear as a well. By day, the strange arrangement lies unassumingly in the clover field. But by night, exotic lilies extend their petals and their fragrance, and the moon smiles upon this pool until it is a perfect reflection. And then the glade comes to life. Glowing faeries, like fireflies, assemble in the glade- all of them unique shades of blue, green, red, and yellow. They chatter and flutter about, each about half the size of a hand, and it was in this manner that Corridors first found them.
“Come on, Cori, stop brushing your mane and hurry up! It’s not as if a COMB is actually going to make you look any better,” teased a shrimp of a green Pteri, perhaps a little cruelly.
“Box, you little monster,” retorted a blue Moehog angrily as she flung her hairbrush at the offending intruder. “SCRAM!”
Box snickered loudly as he speedily exited the room.
The blue Moehog was called Cori, a nickname for “Corridors.” Both Corridors and her little brother Box had been the unfortunate, ill-begotten result of a real-word-name frenzy in Neopia, in which their owner Roni had grabbed any dictionary terms she could muster, forever dooming her pets to be defined by phrases that held no real meaning. She had been in such a hurry to grab the names, she hadn’t even taken the time to choose their species. So although Cori may have been perfectly content with being a Moehog without this knowledge, she found her own species a blister on her hypersensitive conscience. She hated Moehogs.
“CORI, GET DOWN HERE OR WE’LL BE LATE FOR SCHOOL,” yelled Box from downstairs in a very bratty manner. Heaving a sigh, Cori slung her backpack over a shoulder and trotted down the stairs. She felt an arm grab her hurriedly, as her owner Roni kissed her head and quickly released her.
Roni was an average-looking girl with frizzy hair and caring eyes. In Neopia she had succeeded moderately- she did her dailies but never made the big money in restocking, as she could never handle the pushing and trampling required in getting the choice buys. Instead she stuck to her little set income from the few games she was fond of. But although she was never perfect and often made mistakes, she was a thoughtful girl who always meant well.
“Have fun at school, Cori,” said Roni as she leaned by the doorframe to see them off. Cori nodded in return, a waffle stuffed in her mouth, and tried to smooth down the ends of her mane that despairingly no amount of spray or brush or gel could tame. Regardless of what treatment she gave it, it was always stuck out in random directions like straw.
As they finally reached Neoschool, Box fluttered to his classroom for the younger students and Cori headed the opposite direction. The hallway was milling with students, but Cori still managed to spot the face she was looking for.
“Stacy!” she yelled across the hallway.
A red Wocky waved and smiled from across the entranceway and the two longtime friends fought the current to reach each other. Stacy’s name wasn’t really Stacy- it was something like Princess_lady_stacy09711_faerie or something like that, but no one with compassion bothered to mention it.
“Whew, what a crowd,” said Stacy as the two headed for their classroom. Then her voice hushed. The noise of the hallway seemed to turn down as well.
“Oh look, it’s the PPC,” she whispered.
It was true. A small group of beautiful neopets were cruising down the center of the hallway- and others were making way for them to pass. A faerie Kougra, with delicate lavender fur and angel-like wings was heading the procession, and following behind her was a myriad of painted pets. Her friend, a dashing pirate Kougra, yawned as he passed the two friends.
Stacy looked irritable, almost cross.
“Who do they think they are? Parading around the school like that, like they’re royalty or something. It’s stupid,” she muttered, glaring at the procession.
“Yeah,” said Cori, entranced by the aura of beauty the group had left lingering in the air. “Stupid.”
“Cori has fur like a rug, her face looks like a mug, Cori is U-G-L-Y!”
The terrible chant, joined by laughter, rained on Cori’s ears. Skitters, a golden Skeith, and Greg, a shadow Ogrin, were following and taunting her. Ever since they had been denied entrance to the exclusive PPC- Painted Pets Club, they had picked on pets like Cori instead.
“Leave me alone, or you’ll be sorry!” yelled Cori.
“Or else what? You’ll go crying to SANDERS?” retorted Greg, while Skitters broke into hysterics.
Cori felt shocked to the bone. She felt as if she had been shaved bald and pushed into the NC Mall for everybody to stare at. Blood rushed to her face immediately. She thought that no one had known about Sanders. Sanders was her imaginary friend- a yellow Shoyru that she liked to talk to when no one was there for her. How did they—
Breaking into a run, she tore across Neopia Central, tears blinding her and snot choking her.
“I’ll run away,” she thought. “And I’ll never come back. And then Skitters and Greg will feel so sorry, they’ll beg for me to come back, but I won’t and they’ll feel guilty for the rest of their lives. I hate them. I HATE THEM!”
Being a healthy young Moehog with great stamina, she ran and ran past the bustling Neopia Central and past green fields and thickening trees... but eventually snot clogged her nose so much that she couldn’t breathe. She collapsed at the bottom of a tree and poured her tears out to the soil, sobs racking her body.
By now the last of the sunbeams were filtering through the foliage and Cori was struck by the beauty of the forest around her. The leaves looked as if they were painted gold in the light, and the stout young tree seemed to protect her with its branches. A little mat of violets carpeted the forest floor beside the tree, and she looked at their purple petals admiringly. The quiet of the afternoon was calm, idyllic and quiet. It almost didn’t bother her when she realized that she was completely lost.
Dusk arrived, and Cori was worried that her family might start to panic. What would Roni be doing right now? she wondered. Would they be worried about her? Would they be looking?
Her stomach growled and she sighed. She looked up at the tree and its enfolding arms.
She turned to look at the source of the voice. A yellow Shoyru leaned against the stout trunk of the tree, sheltered by speckled shadows.
“Oh, hey, Sanders.” She exhaled sadly. “How long have you been here?”
“Just got here. Are you okay?” he asked concernedly, gliding over to sit on the grass beside her. “Was it Skitters and Greg again?”
“Yeah,” Cori admitted. “They called me ugly and chased me from the playground...” She could feel the tears welling behind her eyes again. “I hate how I look, Sanders. Why can’t I just change? Why can’t Roni buy me a paint brush, or a morphing potion? Why can’t I be beautiful and popular?”
“You know Roni doesn’t make that much money, Cor. And besides, you’re beautiful just the way you are.”
“Pshah!” scoffed Cori vehemently. “That’s just what they tell everyone that’s a loser! NOT EVERYONE’S BEAUTIFUL.” She rolled away on the grass angrily, so she wasn’t facing Sanders and all of his feel-good talk. She felt anger and bitterness welling in her chest. Sanders didn’t say anything for a few minutes.
“You’re fine the way you are, Cor. You’re the only one who doesn’t see it.”
When she finally rolled back onto her other side again, the cool grass unwarmed by her body heat, Sanders was gone.
Nighttime now began to creep into the crevices of the trees, and as much as she didn’t want to leave her spot, Cori was thirsty. Terribly so. And now that the moon was up there was enough light to see if perhaps a little spring lay around somewhere, here or there. She headed down a little grassy area when she suddenly heard it.
It. A musical tinkling of laughter and miniature china clinking together like the bells of a silver wind chime. It was ethereal, almost other-worldly, and it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever heard.
She peered curiously behind a leafy frond, and gazed out into a little glade.
The grass and air was aglow with faeries, some sitting daintily on their flower seats, others flickering in the night air with a rustic charm. They shimmered splendidly and trailed behind pathways of glowing faerie dust as if each were a tiny shooting star in the sky. But perhaps the most stunning out of the group were seated on twelve smooth stones arranged curiously around a puddle that reflected the moon. They shone far more vividly than all the others, and their wings were elaborate and graceful- as if the other shining faeries around them were nothing but moths.
Cori was peeping out from the broad leaf, still amazed, when she caught the scent of delicious cooking. Apparently that had been why she had heard the clinking of dishes earlier- the faeries were holding a feast! But then, quite to her horror, as much as she tried to suppress it, her stomach gave a loud growl.
The tinkling in the glade stopped. A remnant of the chatter echoed into the silence as the faeries all fluttered or sat, listening to the sound. When it ceased, the buzzing of conversation commenced.
“What do you think that was?” Cori heard a tiny emerald faerie, who was sitting on a daisy head, ask her fellow diner. “It sounded like a wild animal.”
“Well, it certainly was a growl,” said her companion, a delicate water faerie that was splashing about in a lily that had been filled with water. “But I’ve never heard a creature call like that before. If you ask me, it sounds more like Rosalea when she’s got a stomach cramp.”
There was an echoing clinging sound and Cori realized that it was one of the resplendent head faeries, a shimmering golden one, tapping her tiny silver spoon against one of her plates. The faerie gathering immediately hushed.
“Corridors,” she said quietly, and Cori felt her heart jump. “Please, come into the clearing.”
Shaking nervously, and her heart beating frantically inside her chest, Cori pushed aside the foliage in front of her and stepped nervously onto the dewy grass. She felt the force of hundreds of small, though magical eyes turn to appraise her.
Cori had been in this situation before many times, and had learned by now how to assess the emotion of the crowd before her. Were they angry? Hostile? No, the energy around the little glade wasn’t negative at all. Wondering, perhaps? Or... curious. Yes, that was it.
Shaking a bit, Cori turned to the radiant gold faerie and stammered, “Y-your M-M-Majesty.”
The tinkle of faerie laughter rippled across the grass.
Cori felt the head faerie smile.
“Cori,” she said, “There is only one queen of the faeries, and her name is Fyora. I am no queen. But thank you. My name is Goldena, head chair of the Clover Glade Council of Faeries.”
“Oh,” said Cori awkwardly. “I... okay.”
There was another tinkling ripple of laughter.
She looked around the glade in wonder and awe.
“But... where am I?” she asked. “I was walking around in the forest, and all of a sudden, this? I’m just... lost.”
“Of course,” replied Goldena. “It is the only way to reach this clearing. You see, we faeries created this little glade as a sanctuary, a haven away from greedy bottlers, or the monster Balthazar, or plotting dark faeries. It is a place of safety and comfort.”
“Therefore,” she continued. “In exchange for your keeping this invaluable and important secret, we will offer you one wish.”
Cori’s eyes boggled.
“Y-you’re gonna grant me a wish?” she gasped.
“Yes,” said Goldena solemnly. “Although there are restrictions. We cannot grant you an evil wish, but we cannot prevent what evil may spring forth inadvertently. So be wise in your choosing.”
Cori’s mind spun. She had the power of one wish, almost any wish (not that she was going to wish for something evil, anyway). She could do anything!
Or become... anything.
Her mind flashed back to the afternoon, and it whirled with all of the memories from when she was taunted, looked down on. Her heart ached with a pain, and she knew suddenly what she wanted with icy clarity.
“I want to be beautiful,” she said.
“You already are,” said Goldena.
“No, please don’t give me that, it’s not true! I want to change what I look like.”
“Ah, a paint job and species change maybe?” inquired Goldena politely. “What species do you want? Draik? Krawk? And what colour? Plushie or pirate, perhaps?”
Cori didn’t want to be a Draik or a Krawk. Certainly it was the most expensive thing out there, but she didn’t like reptilian skin, and even the prospect of being incredibly rare wasn’t enough for her consent. She closed her eyes and envisioned the most beautiful neopet her brain could muster. She had to be cute, relatable... popular.
“No,” she said, and announced her wish out loud to the winds.
“It is done.”
A glittering golden dust rose from the grass and swept around Cori in swirls. The gold sparks moved faster, became a thick cloud of gleaming little flecks and turned brighter, brighter. Cori felt herself being lifted into the air, as light as a petal, and her fur felt remarkably soft. Then she was soaring through the air, the exhilaration pumping through her veins and the wind rushing past her ears as she drifted off into the night sky to have tea with the stars.
Cori was warm, very warm. Her head was rested comfortably, suspended on nothing, and her body was enveloped in a nice, warm cloud. Then she woke up.
She was in bed, at home, tucked cozily into her thick blankets and her head buried into her pillow. Sunbeams fell in golden pools on her covers and spilled onto the hardwood floor. She smiled vaguely at the familiar surroundings- the warmly-colored oak desk, the ornate oval-shaped mirror hanging on the wall, the cluster of fake lilies in their vase. Her clock read 7:00- she still had two hours before neoschool. She nuzzled deeper into her pillow, before her eyes flew open with a start. Last night’s proceedings rushed through her mind.
“Was it all a dream?” she asked herself frantically as she threw aside the covers and dashed to the mirror.
She gasped. A beautiful faerie Xweetok, with delicate, pale blue wings and rich, shiny fur stared back at her with an expression of shock. Cori flicked her tail. The Xweetok flicked her tail. She looked down, and examined the cute, small, perfectly manicured paws, the luxuriously bushy tail, the rich tints of forest blue in her shining coat. Her wings sparkled and cast stained-glass patterns on the floor when sunlight passed through them. Her eyes were a deep blue, the color of a deep lagoon in the depths of a jungle, and her thick eyelashes fluttered perfectly.
Her astounded expression gave way to an ear-splitting grin. Cori almost couldn’t believe it. Her heart felt fit to burst with happiness. She stood staring at the mirror and touched the cold glass with a paw.
She opened her bedroom door and stepped tentatively down the wide wood stairs that spiraled down to the first floor.
She had almost reached the kitchen, when she was startled to see Roni already there, sipping a mug of hot tea and eating breakfast from a hand-painted ceramic plate. Cori watched her eat for a while before she could muster the courage to enter. “What if she doesn’t recognize me?” she thought.
“Morning, Roni,” she said to her owner. Cori’s eyes flicked upwards to meet hers.
“Lookin’ good, Cor’,” said Roni cheerfully, chewing on some sausage.
“What? How doesn’t she notice?” thought Cori confusedly.
“Er, don’t you notice anything... different about me?” she asked. “I mean, like, really different?”
Roni laughed, sending a small piece of sausage flying through the air.
“I know that you’ve changed,” replied her owner, smiling. “A faerie came to me in my dreams and told me what happened. It was a pretty pinkish one, in a rose petal dress. I’m glad for you, Cori. You look very pretty.”
She munched on a piece of bacon.
“Like I wouldn’t recognize you. I’m your owner, silly. Plus, you still have that birthmark on your hind leg.”
The moon-shaped mark on her hind leg, once black and strange on her Moehog body, was now forest-blue and beautiful on her new self. Cori gasped, delighted. Roni seemed to understand. She grinned crookedly, her fork jutting from the side of her mouth like a lollypop.
“So, you want breakfast?”
To be continued...