Flying's Not For Everyone
"Hurry up, Arn! Come ooooooon!"
Devindora's infuriating singsong voice rioted through the house and reverberated off the tiled walls of the bathroom, creating a din that almost deafened his only-too-patient owner, Arnica. She, as Devin's best friend, was often treated to days like this -- being harassed out of bed at six in the morning to take part in another one of his hare-brained schemes. Arnica knew that Xweetoks were a little excitable by nature, but Devin was something else.
She tugged a hairbrush through her bedhead curls that were extremely unlikely to do as she wanted, and sighed.
"I'm nearly ready," she called back to him, and when she turned back to the mirror, she grudgingly admitted that this was a lie. Her eyes were puffy and heavily bagged, and her arms were aching with the effort of wrestling the knots out of her wild hair.
Whatever happened today, it was going to be a very, very long day.
Most families did not have a regular use for a tarpaulin.
But, as Arnica's father realised the fateful day that his daughter brought home the hyperactive ball of fluff named Devindora, their family was not 'most families'. And so he had resigned himself somewhat reluctantly to the duty of co-conspirator in Devin's exploits, and also commander-in-chief of cleaning up afterwards. The battered old blue tarpaulin was rolled and slung over his shoulder, and Devin was perched on the end of it, playing with the fraying parts. Arnica trailed behind, still rubbing her eyes, as the odd trio picked their way through the meadows near their home.
"You two need to be more excited! This is so exciting. I can hardly STAND it!" Devin chattered, gesticulating with such enthusiasm that he very nearly fell off the end of the tarpaulin. In response to this explosion of excitement, Arnica yawned widely, and loudly. Unfazed, Devin continued to vibrate with suppressed glee.
"Here, this'll do," Arnica's father said, and Devin leapt from the tarpaulin, landing in a teal-and-cream heap on a soft patch of grass. The sunrise tinted the world a pleasant shade of apricot, and Arnica enjoyed the cool summer morning breeze as she and her father set to unrolling the tarpaulin. It crackled as they did. Meanwhile, Devin skittered up a nearby tree and munched loudly on its apples, his tail held at a jaunty angle and iridescent wings gently folded.
Soon Arnica was holding one end of the tarpaulin, and her father held the other, so that its smooth surface was taut and almost trampoline-like. Devin popped his head out from between two heavily-leafed branches, and his face broke into his iconic lopsided grin.
"That's great! In fact, that's totally awesome!" he cried, and, as was a running theme in his life, he got a little over excited and he slipped, tumbling between branches before landing again on the ground with a thud. This didn't stop him, of course, and he scrambled back up onto his four paws and darted to the tarpaulin, sprinting around it in three huge circles before leaping up -- he was a champion jumper -- and landing on its stretched surface. He slipped around and ended up on his back, giggling wildly.
"This is the best!" he exclaimed, thrusting a thumbs up into the air. Then he faltered, righted himself, and peered at Arnica.
"What happens if I fall?" he said, a little quieter than usual, although not very.
"Then... we'll catch you," she replied matter-of-factly.
"Of course, silly," Arnica said, breaking into her first grin of the morning. Content, Devin gathered his limbs beneath him again, twitched his antennae, and steeled himself.
"Then let's do this."
Arnica and her father both lowered their arms, and then with one fluid movement they flung them upwards, so that the tarpaulin went ballooning up and Devin was pitched skywards.
The wind whipped Devin's fur and raced past his wings, rustling them as he struggled in vain to snap them together. His spearmint eyes widened to the size of tennis balls and reflected the boundless sky as he rocketed upwards; the wind carried him further than the tarpaulin could have. When he finally completed his ascent, he twisted in midair, arching his back to align with the air currents. A thrill of joy jagged through him as the split second weightlessness kicked him in the belly.
With both feet firmly on the ground, Arnica said, "What did he say?" and rumpled her eyebrows.
Her father squinted, trying to make out the twisting dot that was Devin, as he replied, "I think he said 'I'm falling'."
"Oh. Hardly surprising."
Shortly they both realised that the shapeless speck was gaining definition, and it was becoming increasingly obvious that Devin was hurtling back to earth, cackling with joy. They moved quickly, sweeping the tarpaulin with them, so that it would catch him when he landed -- and it did. With a thump, Devin landed and slid to the middle of the tarpaulin, rolling around in delight.
"Again! Again!" he said, flipping himself onto his belly and whipping his tail delightedly on the surface of the tarp.
Arnica smiled again, because she couldn't help it. Devin had always been self conscious about not being able to fly -- after all, he said, all the other Faerie pets could fly, and he didn't want to be different. His happiness was very infectious, and so they hurled him upwards again, towards the risen sun.
The light caught Devin's fur and lit it up, and he glittered as he spread his wings, useless though they were, and felt the currents wash over him. His eyes shut and he let the wind cradle him, and he felt like he was born to do this.
Yes, he could do this for the rest of his life.
Meanwhile, back on Neopia, Arnica found herself worrying. Devin looked awfully small -- he was a tiny Neopet by nature and the tarpaulin had certainly thrown him far. And he was not getting closer to them. In fact, he was drifting... far away... and fast. In an instant she released the tarpaulin and took off, sprinting, but he was miles out of reach.
"Ooft... ohh, ooooouch."
Devin's lithe body was strung between two branches, his tail hanging limp and his wings a little crumpled -- he wasn't badly hurt, but definitely aching enough to reconsider trying to fly ever again.
Not only were all his joints hurting, but he felt like a fool. It was a stupid idea, he thought, as he lowered himself gently from the tree he'd landed in, to think that he would ever be able to fly. His wings would take him a few inches off the ground and no further, and maybe it was just supposed to be that way.
But, he thought, as he pushed himself onto his two feet, feeling the soft forest ground beneath his pawpads (he'd been blustered a long way by the wind), that didn't make it hurt any less. He brushed bits of bark and greenery out of his fur, but was too dejected to care that he looked a mess. A curl of moss was wrapped around one of his antennae.
He supposed he ought to get back to Arnica, but who knew where she might be now? If the girl had any sense, she would've gone back home and left him to find his own way back. After all, she was probably tired of him always getting into trouble by now. Tail dragging on the ground, wings limp, and head hung low, he shuffled down a woodland track. He blended in with the undergrowth unusually well, as he was covered in various bits of it.
Before long, his facefur was wet with frustrated tears. He sniffed loudly and brushed the salty globes from his cheeks, and was so caught up in his misery that he hardly noticed he was ankle-deep in water until a few moments had passed. He removed his paws from his eyes and peered downwards; as the ripples in the shallow pool disappeared, his shaky reflection came into view.
He could see his big, red-rimmed eyes gazing back at him, almost unnaturally large, and he leaned closer until his button nose tickled the water's surface. He was for a moment lost in the glassy waters, and he found that he'd grown a small smile.
"Devin! Devin, where are you?"
Arnica's voice cut through the forest, clear and sharp, but tinged with worry.
Devin lifted his head, and peered into the trees. He couldn't see her, but she was getting closer. And he could hear sniffling.
"It's alright... we'll find him, Arnica. We will."
"But we've been searching for hours! Where could he be?"
Devin looked back at his reflection, and shook his head. What would she want with a reject like him?
Just as the thought crossed his mind, he found strong arms wrapped around his middle, and then he was suffocated in a bone-crushing hug that made his eyes bulge a little bit. He wriggled madly, smearing dirt from his fur onto Arnica's face, but she didn't seem to care at all.
"Thank heavens... I'm never letting you out of my sight again, not ever, I'll buy you a leash, or maybe a satellite tracking thing -- oh Devin, you're safe!" she blathered, squishing Devin close to her.
Arnica's father stood on the sidelines, beaming from ear to ear. Family life would be awfully boring without Devin around, and he was quite fond of the little guy. Even if he did worry them both sick.
"Come on, then," he said, and the three of them walked hand in hand back home.
Arnica scruffed Devin's mane thoroughly, drying it out after his long and refreshing bath. He was pulling a face, as he ever did whenever personal hygiene was involved, but he couldn't deny that it was good to be home.
But one thing was still pressing on his mind.
He pushed away her hands and the towel with his paws, and his huge eyes met her soft brown ones.
"Arn," he said, and she raised an eyebrow.
"Listen," he said, and then looked at the floor, setting his front paws back on the cool tiles. "If you don't want me around anymore, you can take me to the Pound. I don't really mind, I mean, I understand if you're... tired of me."
"What? What are you talking about; of course I want you around!" she replied without missing a beat, smiling in disbelief down at her little friend.
"But I always make you worry, and everything I touch breaks, and I know that you get annoyed, and I -- you deserve a pet who's well behaved and polite and stuff! Not like me," he said, his lower lip sticking out, as it always did when he was feeling particularly sad.
"Look, Devin, you're being ridiculous --"
"I'm not! What kind of a Faerie Xweetok can't fly? I'm a failure!"
"Dev, everyone is good at different things. Just because you can't fly doesn't make you a failure," Arnica said, throwing the towel to one side and then holding out her hand to her friend. Devin eyed her carefully, then tilted his head and twitched his antennae.
"But Arn, I'm no good at anything."
"You're good at reading, and writing... you can break just about anything, like you said," she said, eyes glittering, "you're smart, and you're a good friend, Devin. You're my best friend."
Devin closed his wings contentedly and pressed his little paw into Arnica's warm palm.
"You're my best friend, too."
"Do you still want to go to the Pound?"
He shook his head determinedly, and they shared a warm moment... which was quickly shattered by the sound of Devin's belly growling.
"Uhh... I would like some lunch, though...?" he said, beaming.
And laughing, they raced each other downstairs.