Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 187,548,815 Issue: 522 | 23rd day of Storing, Y13
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The Doctor's Tale: Part One


by madidogs88

--------

It's a cold and drizzly day, the kind that makes you want to pull the covers back over your head and sleep until the sun peeks out and banishes the rain. You're in Neopia Central, trying to get a bit of shopping done before the rush of the day. Soaked to the bone, you decide to take a quick break for coffee. You scurry towards the Deep Catacombs, shaking the rain off your coat as the rocky cave-top closes over you.

     Inside the CafĂ©, the air is pleasantly stuffy and filled with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. It's more crowded than usual, probably due to the dreariness outside. The only table you can find with enough room for you to sit is occupied by a cloaked figure. You cautiously sit down across from him, thoughts of Sloth and his minions sweeping through your mind.

     The waitress, a cheery Biscuit Aisha, approaches and asks for your order. You smile and request a Strong Berry Java. She turns and asks the other what he would like.

     "Grackle Bug Brew," the hooded Neopet requests. His voice is gruff and hoarse, as if he doesn't use it often. He sounds familiar, but you can't quite put your finger on where you've heard his voice before.

     The waitress is back in a flash with the drinks. Even over the wonderful smell of your Java, the pungent odor of the other's drink sears your nostrils. He notices your grimace, and chuckles.

     "I know it's not the most pleasant drink, but I am not the most pleasant person," he rasps, his voice like gravel. As if to prove his point, he pulls back the hood of his cloak.

     You can't help but gasp. Sitting before you is none other than Dr. Death.

     You blink, hoping that your eyes deceive you. But he is still sitting there. The sickly yellow skin, the white and wiry tufts of hair, and those uncompassionate eyes that bore right through you are even worse than you had thought after seeing pictures.

     He chuckles again, a sound that brings to mind stone grating over stone, and the clang of metal chains. "I see you recognize me," he says. "Most do, unfortunately. There was a time when I was known for my kindness, but alas, that time is no more."

     You stare at the old Yellow Techo in disbelief. Dr. Death... kind?

     He cocks an eyebrow. "You doubt my words?" He sighs, "But of course. You have been raised to believe that I am a malicious old Neopet who finds joy in the sorrow of others."

     "But aren't you?" you blurt out. Instantly you regret your words. What if you have offended him?

     Instead, Dr. Death smiles. You're surprised to find it a bearable smile, perhaps even nice.

     "Ah, that is the question, is it not? I ask myself that very thing occasionally," he chuckles wryly. "However, I apologize for contradicting what you believe to be fact, for I am not that Neopet."

     "Then what Neopet are you?" you find yourself asking.

     Dr. Death chuckles again. "That, my young friend, is a long story."

     "I've got time," you tell him eagerly, your curiosity piqued.

     He looks at you strangely, his face a mixture of hope and disbelief. When you stay seated, he smiles crookedly.

     "Very well then," he says, leaning back. "You better make yourself comfortable."

     You nestle yourself back in your seat, taking a small sip of your Java.

     "Do you know of the Symol Hole?" he asks, also taking a sip of his drink.

     You nod, surprised by this seemingly random question.

     "Good, for that is where my story begins..."

     ~*~

     A small Techo peered into the Symol Hole. His face, wrinkled in concern, was thin and shallow. He wore scarce clothing, all of which was ragged, dirty, and hanging loose on his scrawny frame. His hair was an uncombed mess of white fluff.

     That pitiful Neopet is me.

     "Puppyblew? Are you all right?" I called into the pit. A faint whimpering answered my call. "Don't worry, I'll get you out of there!"

     I turned to the gnarled tree behind me and searched for a long but sturdy branch. There was one just above me. With the grace of one accustomed to scaling trees, I scampered up the trunk and onto the branch. Unafraid of falling, I stomped on the branch with all my strength. I leaped out of the way when I heard it crack, and watched as it fell to the ground.

     After climbing nimbly down the tree, I lifted the branch in my small arms and dragged it towards the hole. Carefully I began to ease it down into the darkness.

     "Watch out!" I called a warning to the Petpet as I heard a thunk that meant the branch had hit ground.

     I gulped. Climbing a tree was one thing, but descending into a hole with no idea of what lay at the bottom was another. Slowly, I began to shimmy my way down the branch. Terrible thoughts of slipping and falling into the depths of Neopia haunted my mind, but I didn't go back. The Puppyblew needed me.

     Though the hole really wasn't too deep, my fear made the descent seem like eternity. The darkness engulfed me, and I was beginning to think that I would never see the light of day again.

     Just when I thought I could go no further, my feet touched ground. Instantly I felt a cold tongue on my ankle, and knew that I had found the Puppyblew. I blinked a few times, and my eyes adjusted to the darkness. The shivering blue Petpet was at my feet, looking up at me with big, hopeful eyes. How frightened it must have been when it found itself all alone and stranded in this black hole.

     "Come here, little fella," I cooed, holding out my arms. The Puppyblew leaped into them without hesitation, nestling against my chest. I smiled, comforted by its warmth.

     Now came the difficult part of my ordeal: climbing out. It had been easy enough coming down, but now I had gravity working against me and a Petpet weighing me down. Thinking quickly, I perched the Puppyblew on my shoulder like a Crokabek.

     "Hang on tight," I told him. I felt his sharp little claws dig into my shoulder and hoped that they'd be enough to keep him there.

     Taking a deep breath, I started to climb. It was even more difficult than I had imagined. Slowly, painfully, I inched my way upward.

     There was one terrifying moment when I lost my grip. There I was, dangling by one hand with the Puppyblew clinging to me for dear life. At first I was overwhelmed by panic. But the crying of my new little friend jolted me into calmness, and upon regaining my grip I continued the ascent.

     Finally, I saw the light of day. With one last effort, I hauled the Puppyblew and myself out of that dreadful hole and onto solid ground. The Petpet ran around in circles, yipping in happiness. I laughed as it pounced on me, its wet pink tongue brushing against my cheek. Right then I knew that we would be best friends.

     I named him Sym, short for the Symol Hole, which had brought us together. Sym and I went everywhere together; in fact, there was never a time when we could be seen apart. We would run free through the vast open fields, playing games until Kreludor was high in the sky. And when we got tired of playing, we would curl up together and sleep, keeping each other warm.

     But life was not all berries and potatoes. Being orphans, there were often times when we went without food and shelter. I knew that Sym could go up to a house at any time and be taken in, thanks to him being cute and friendly. But he never did. He stuck with me, and together we lived as happily as we could in humble Meridell.

     One morning, I woke up to the sound of giggling. I cracked open an eye and saw Sym standing in front of me, his fur standing on end. His whole body was vibrating; it took me a second to realize he was growling.

     I jumped up from my bed of hay. Sym and I had snuck into a barn the previous night to escape the cold. It had appeared deserted, but maybe something else had joined us come morning.

     "Look how cute he is!"

     "Do you hear his little growl?"

     "Me keep him?"

     For the first time I noticed that the door was open a crack. Three eyes peered into the barn. From the high-pitch of their voices, I knew that those eyes belonged to three young girls. They were focused on Sym and luckily hadn't seen me yet. I assumed that the girls outside lived here at the farm, and I was sure they wouldn't appreciate a ragged Techo staying in their barn.

     I crept towards the back door. "Sym," I whispered. "Come on."

     Taking one last look at the girls' eyes peeking through, Sym trotted after me. I opened the back door just enough for the two of us to slip through.

     "Hey look! There's a boy too!"

     I froze. Halfway through the doorway, I looked over my shoulder.

     A Faerie Kacheek had stepped into the barn. Right behind her was a rather small Plushie Kacheek, and peeking out from behind her legs was a Baby Kacheek.

     "Ummm," I stuttered, not sure what to say. Usually when I was caught trespassing, the farmer would chase me off with a rake. I wasn't used to confrontations with curious girls. "I'm, uh, really sorry. I'll just... sorry." Hastily I scooped Sym into my arms and began to scoot through the door.

     "Wait!"

     I turned around again, feeling extremely uncomfortable. The Faerie Kacheek had taken another step forward.

     "Can we pet your Puppyblew? Please?" she asked. I looked at Sym. He shrugged, giving me a look that said, What's the worse that could happen?

     Cautiously I set Sym down. Squealing in delight, the Baby Kacheek rushed forward and threw her little arms around my friend. His sweet nature kicking in, Sym licked her chin.

     "Good Puppyboo," she giggled, patting him on the head.

     The Faerie Kacheek came over and knelt down next to Sym. She scratched behind his ears, right in his favorite spot. Sym made a content chirrup and collapsed on the floor, his tail a blue whir.

     The Plushie Kacheek was the last to approach. Shyly, she held out her hand to Sym. He sniffed it, then rubbed up against her leg. She stroked his back, happy of his approval.

     I couldn't help smiling. The Faerie Kacheek noticed, and flashed her own smile back.

     "I'm Myra," she introduced herself. "What's your name?"

     After hesitating for a second, I shook her outstretched hand. "I'm Tadherd, but you can call me Tad."

     "Nice to meet you Tad!" she grinned. "And who's the little cutie?" She glanced affectionately at Sym, who was doing flips for the other girls.

     "His name's Sym." At the sound of his name, Sym stopped mid-flip. Unfortunately, that meant that he fell to the ground with a woof of surprise. The girls giggled.

     "He's adorable!" Myra laughed. Then, taking on a more motherly tone, she added to her sisters, "Girls, why don't you introduce yourselves to Tad and Sym?"

     "I'm Trink," smiled the Plushie Kacheek. "And this is Bailey."

     "Baiwy!" the Baby Kacheek piped up, grinning widely as she said her name. Again I felt a smile tugging the corners of my mouth.

     "So what are you doing in our barn?" Myra asked. Her tone was curious, with not a trace of anger.

     "Well, uh, I..." I felt my face turn red, embarrassed to admit that I was homeless.

     "Don't you have a mommy and daddy?" Trink asked, her round eyes gazing up at me innocently.

     "No," I mumbled, looking down at my feet. Bailey gasped.

     "Momma no hug you?" she asked in shock. "Dadda no kiss you night-night?

     I shook my head, feeling slightly ashamed even though it wasn't my fault that I had no parents.

     "Where do you live?" Trink asked, at the same time the Myra asked, "How do you find food?"

     I felt anger for a second at their tactless questions, but it quickly subsided. They were probably used to a comfortable life and were just curious as to how I lived.

     "Sym and I roam Meridell. We sleep wherever we can and move on each morning. As for food, the Rubbish Dump sometimes has some good-" I stopped when I saw their aghast faces. Again I felt very uncomfortable and self-conscious. I expected them to demand that I leave their barn this instant and never bother them again.

     But those three sweet girls, who I will never forget in all my life, did the exact opposite.

     "That's outrageous!" Myra exclaimed. "You can't live like that. Everyone needs a nice family and a warm home."

     "Sym and I have been getting along just fine," I defended myself. But they saw through the lie. Sheepishly I added, "Besides, we have no other choice. I've never had a family."

     "Live wid us!" Bailey suggested, hugging Sym. "Puppyboo could hab my room."

     Myra and Trink looked at their baby sister, and then at each other. I could tell they were having a silent conversation. Both looked pleased by the idea, but also a little uncertain.

     "Look, I don't want to cause any trouble," I started, preparing to exit the barn. But Myra cut me off.

     "Nonsense! We'll ask Mom and Dad if you can come live with us!" Despite her wide smile, her eyes were clouded with concern. I could understand; if her parents said no, she would feel guilty at having promised something that couldn't be.

     I followed the girls out of the barn and towards a nice little farmhouse that I hadn't noticed the night before. There was a clothesline outside swaying in the gentle breeze, and the fields appeared to be well cultivated. I felt my hopes begin to soar. This would be the perfect place to live.

     Just before we entered the house, a plump Cloud Kacheek stepped out. She was wearing an apron splattered with berry juice, and she carried the aroma of fresh-baked pie. Her smile was genuine, and I knew that I would quickly take a liking to her.

     "Girls, would you like to introduce me to your friend?" she asked, looking at me kindly.

     "I'm Tad," I spoke up, wanting to make a good first impression. "And this is my Puppyblew, Sym. Your daughters found us sleeping in your barn. I apologize for trespassing on your property, ma'am."

     I waited for her response, praying that it would be the one I wanted.

     "Don't worry about it, dear." She smiled. "But if you don't mind my asking, why weren't you at home? Are you lost?"

     "No home!" Bailey gurgled.

     I shuffled my feet. "The truth is, ma'am, I don't have a home. Sym and I, we just wander around and stay anywhere we can find."

     "And they eat food from the Rubbish Dump!" Trink added, then ducked her head when she realized how rude she sounded. "Sorry," she mumbled.

     "So you don't have a family?" the Cloud Kacheek asked, pity alighting her face.

     "No, ma'am. I think that I used to, a long time ago, but I don't remember them at all."

     I knew she was sold before the words were even out of her mouth. "Sweetheart, how would you like to come stay with us?"

     "Oh, but I wouldn't want to impose-"

     "Don't be silly, dear! We'd be glad to have you! George is always needing help in the fields, if you wouldn't mind helping him every once in a while."

     "Of course!" I nodded vigorously. "I'd be willing to do whatever you want!"

     She laughed. "There you are, dear. Now why don't the four of you come inside? I've just cooked up a fresh Blue Berry Pie, if you'd like some."

     "Yum!" the girls cried in unison, rushing into the house. I smiled. I was definitely going to like it here.

To be continued...

This is my longest series yet, and I would love feedback! Questions, comments, and constructive criticism are welcome!:)

 
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