The Doctor's Tale: Part Six
"It's never too late!" you cry out after an uncomfortable silence.
"Such an empty phrase..." Tad shakes his head. "I was a monster. That was all I would ever be. It was too late the moment I was created."
You sit in stony silence, unsure of how to respond. You can't believe your ears. How could anyone live with such a terrible belief?
"Everything was gone," Tad whispers, his eyes seeing something of another time and place. "I was a shell of my former self. I had no past, no present, and no future. What was the point in living?
"But I had to live. I had to be the Neopet I was destined to be. Teivel and Apep trained me in the ways of cruelty and heartlessness. It had virtually no effect, as I could barely be considered alive. I almost expected to see a Zombie looking back at me in the mirror, though of course there are no such things as Zombie Techos."
"But..." you start, only to find that words have failed to come to your aide.
"I may as well finish my tale," Tad sighs. "Years passed, and I did in fact grow to fit into that dreadful coat..."
Groaning, I eased myself out of bed. I took my time slipping on my coat. I looked at my reflection in the small mirror in front of me. My eyes were sunken and my face was thinner than it had ever been as an orphan in Meridell. My skin, once a bright and cheery yellow, had become pale and dull. I could barely recognize myself.
"Doctor!" the voice sounded again impatiently.
Sighing, I crossly entered the kitchen, which was the source of the call.
"Today, my boy, is the day." Teivel grinned maliciously, setting down his half-drained cup of Grackle Bug Brew. "You are ready."
My expression didn't change, though I despised the way he called me 'boy'. As if he were the kind father and I were the obedient son. I snorted, buttoning up my coat and dutifully following Teivel out the door.
I knew where we were going before we reached the destination. The Pound loomed before me, huge and malevolent. Teivel marched right up to the door, beckoning for me to follow.
The wails of Neopets pierced my ears the second I stepped over the threshold. They wailed for food, their owners, or just a way out of this dreadful place. I longed to run through the hall, to open all of the doors and let the poor things free. But it would be pointless. Teivel would just round them all up again, and I would be short a meal and a good night's sleep.
"I trust you know what to do?" the Mutant Acara asked, looking at me expectantly.
"Slop some mush into their cages, yell at them if they get too loud, and listen to Prissy," I scowled, reciting the words that had been beaten into me. Prissy was what we called the too-chipper Pink Uni that ran the adoption part of the Pound. I disliked her heartily. She would be the kindest Neopet you ever met when others were around to view and admire her. But as soon as you were alone with her, she was as nasty as Teivel. She had no compassion for the pets she adopted out, often skirting the rules about only letting responsible parents adopt pets.
"That-a-boy," Teivel approved. "Knock 'em dead." He strolled out the door, chuckling at his own joke.
"Morning, Doctor, how are you this fine morning?" Prissy sneered, tossing her perfect pink mane. I rolled my eyes, then seated myself at my desk. I was not in the mood for Prissy's games.
Not a minute passed before the bell on the door chimed.
"Mommy? What are we doing here?" a small voice asked. I glanced up from my paperwork. A little Green Kyrii was clutching to a Water Kyrii's ankle.
"Let go of me," the Water Kyrii, who I assumed was 'mommy', told the Green Kyrii brusquely.
"Krista, I said let go!"
Cowering, Krista dropped her hands. Tears were welling up in her eyes.
"Abandoning now, are we?" Prissy asked cheerfully, smiling too wide. "If you'll just fill out the proper paperwork..."
I watched sadly as the Water Kyrii signed the papers without even a look at her horrified daughter.
"You don't want me anymore?" Krista gasped, the tears spilling onto her face.
"Just go," the Water Kyrii whispered, pushing her away and heading towards the door.
"No! Mommy! Please don't leave me here!" Krista sobbed, reaching for her mother. Prissy blocked her way.
"If you'll just follow the nice old Neopet here, he'll lead you to your new home. I'm sure you'll love it here," Prissy chimed in a sickly-pleasant voice. All present knew how outrageous that statement was. Nobody in their right mind would love the Pound.
Desperately, the little Kyrii looked up at me with wide, hopeful eyes. "Please, you can't let her leave me!"
I blinked. The part of me that lived with the Marolls and loved Sym screamed for me to knock some sense in the mother and force her to take her daughter home. But that part of me was so far buried, it couldn't find a way out.
"The cages are this way." I pushed the girl away from her retreating mother.
"No!" she shrieked, fighting against me. But my muscles were hardened from years of fighting against Teivel and Apep. I shoved her into the nearest empty cage, trying to ignore the tugging at my heart.
"Please," she whispered once more, the tears bright on her face. I stared into her frightened eyes and felt the urge to apologize, and promise that everything would be okay. But I had never broken a promise, and I didn't plan to.
I turned around. Her crying became a murmur as I walked slowly down the hallway. I felt my heart go cold, and one thought echoed through my mind.
I am Dr. Death.
The Café is silent. All others left long ago, leaving just you and the cloaked Neopet. Now that you look closer, you can see the white lab coat underneath the dark cloak. Your table is covered in empty cups, and the waitress is glaring at you, no doubt ready to kick you out. But all you care about is the fate of Dr. Death.
"If you're waiting for a happy ending, you're wasting your time," he tells you, setting his cup down and rising to leave.
"But is it all true?" you can't help but ask, standing up as well. The words of his life story dance in your head, seeming too terrible to be reality.
Dr. Death smiles sadly. "It depends if you're willing to take the word of a grumpy old Techo."
He walks away and leaves you staring after a different Neopet than the one you met just a few hours ago.
It's a warm and sunny day, the kind that makes you want to jump for joy and play until the sun says good night. A year and a day have passed since you sat down across from Dr. Death at the Café. You wonder how he's getting along and want to thank him. After hearing his story, you've viewed life in Neopia in a whole other way. You've begun helping out at the Soup Kitchen and donating to the Money Tree more than you ever did before. But more importantly, Dr. Death's story gave purpose to your life and you want to tell him that there's always hope.
You've walked past the Pound every morning since then, hoping to run into him. Every day you continue on disappointed. But today, you know that something is going to happen. You can feel it in the wind, which whispers promises in your ear.
Sure enough, as you pass the Pound you see a Puppyblew. He's an older Puppyblew, beginning to gray around the muzzle. He's sitting patiently, expectantly, outside the door. You casually lean up against a nearby tree, watching and waiting.
After a few seconds the door opens. Out comes Dr. Death, dressed in his stark white lab coat. He glances around, until finally his gaze alights on the Puppyblew.
"Sym?" you hear him rasp, looking down at the Puppyblew with disbelief. With a yip of pure joy, Sym leaps into the Doctor's arms and nuzzles against his chin. The Doctor's face, seconds ago old and bitter, transforms into that of a boy. Reunited with his beloved Puppyblew, you have never seen a more blissful Neopet.
This is the chance you've been waiting for, but you don't take it. Instead you turn around and head off towards your next destination. The Doctor doesn't need you anymore. In fact, he never did need you. As you walk away, you feel a tear slide down your cheek. After years of everything but happiness, Tad finally found his own happy ending.