To Be Free
"Ray! Hurry, he's coming!"
Ray's eyes widened as he heard this urgent warning. He ran up the tunnel and quickly threw the shovel he'd been digging with underneath his flimsy mattress. He then covered the hole with a ratty, moldy mat he'd made from the bed's linens. Kylie, his friend and cage-mate, sighed in relief as Doctor Death came around to their cage with their daily bowl of gruel, none-the-wiser about the hole in the foundation the two were planning on escaping through sometime this week.
"Eat up," the old, weathered Techo told them, sliding the tiny bowls through the bars of the cage. Instead of walking away, however, he stood there scrutinizing them, making both their palms sweat. "Whenever I come by this cage," he said finally, with a smile that Ray didn't like at all, "I can almost smell trouble." He sniffed the air. "Hmm, and dirt," he said, grinning a nasty smile as Ray hurriedly hid his soil covered hands behind his back. "I wonder why that is." He shot them both I-know-what-you're-up-to looks before turning on his heel and briskly walking away.
"Oh, man," Kylie sighed, picking up her cold bowl of slop, "I think he knows what we're planning, Ray."
"You think?" Ray shot back. He rubbed his forehead with a sigh. "He's been suspicious ever since he saw that mat I made to cover up the hole in the foundation, which was years ago. I just don't know why he hasn't inspected our cage yet."
Kylie grimaced as she downed a spoonful of gruel. "It doesn't matter," she said, still making a face at the unpleasant taste. "So long as he doesn't actually intervene before we're out of here. Think of it, Ray." She smiled, a dreamy look coming over her face. Ray smiled back, even though he knew what was coming – she made this little speech at least once on a daily basis. "Blue skies, lush grass, fresh air. And the freedom!" She twirled around and bumped into one of the walls. The cage wasn't exactly what you'd call open quarters. "I haven't been out of this cramped cage in over two years," she sighed wistfully, rubbing her leg she'd hit the solid wall with. "And you, four. And now, at the end of this week... freedom! It's exhilarating, isn't it?"
Ray nodded and retrieved the shovel from under his mattress. It was true. He'd been stuck in the pound for four and a half years, probably because his cage was in the very back of the pound where almost no person dared to venture down. He wasn't a bad looking green Kougra either, and he cursed his bad luck that he'd been put in this particular cage. He'd been depressed until a red Ixi named Kylie had been put into his cage as well, and she was the one who showed him that since no one came to the back of the pound where they lived the maintenance in this certain cage was deteriorating. They worked at removing a decent portion of water damaged, soft concrete floor for three months, which then revealed hardened soil. Kylie had come to the rescue here, too – "I hid a shovel in my jacket before my owner brought me here," she had said with an impish grin. – and even though it was one of those tiny gardening ones, Ray had took up the challenge of digging a hole through the foundation and out into the real world. What he'd accomplished so far was a tunnel leading to the surface, and only a few more days would he break to the top. Exhilarating, indeed.
"It's getting more risky, though," Ray told her solemnly. "Last week the doctor saw me throw the shovel underneath my mattress. I swear to Fyora he did."
"Ray," Kylie sighed, "we discussed this before and we both decided that it was just our mind playing tricks on us. If he had seen the shovel he would've done an immediate examination of our cage at that moment, and he didn't."
"I know, but..." Ray looked away. He'd wanted to be free for so long, and now that he had this chance, he didn't know what he would do if it was taken away from them. Both he and Kylie had given up the chance of being adopted long ago. This was their only shot. He knew that if Doctor Death found the tunnel, he wouldn't just put him and Kylie in another cage. There was a room in the pound called quite simply 'the room.' He didn't even remember how he'd heard about the room, but he knew unspeakable horrors happened there. No, they couldn't be caught, not under any circumstance.
"Hey, look," Kylie said soothingly, like she was calming a crying Kadoatie, "we're gonna get out of here, okay? There is no chance in Neopia that we'll be stuck in this pound another week. Soon we'll be living life, with our own home and our own lives and no matter what, we'll be together." She patted his paw softly. "I promise."
Ray looked up into her earnest eyes and felt his chest swell with gratitude for her. He had no idea what would've happened to him if she hadn't come along those two years ago. Even then she hadn't seemed fazed that her owner had just abandoned her, nor that she was put in the farthest back cage there was. He remembered how he'd kicked and screamed and begged his owner not to abandon him, and he admired Kylie for her unimaginable strength in situations like those. "Thanks." He smiled. "Really, Kylie, I needed that so much."
"No problem," Kylie replied with a hug. "Now get digging."
Ray picked at the lumpy pieces of his gruel, a weird feeling of both nervousness and wild, uncontained excitement in his stomach. He looked over at Kylie, who was eating with her usual look of disgust after every bite. She noticed he was staring at her and she smiled at him.
"What's on your mind?" she asked him. "You've been picking at your bowl for half an hour."
Ray grinned. "I just... I can't believe that by tonight we'll be hand-in-hand, making the journey to the Lost Desert together. We'll be... free." They both decided a year ago that the Lost Desert was the best place to take refuge until the outrage of their escape had died down. After all, no Neopets before had ever escaped from this accursed place. They would be the first, and no doubt it'd be a scandal. There could even be bounties put on them, and they were taking no chances of being sent back ever again. They would hide in the desert, disappearing into the dunes while the sand wiped their names away from the face of the world. Only then it'd be safe to go to where they really wanted to; Meridell.
Kylie grinned back. "I know," she breathed. "To be free... what a wonderful feeling it is, and we aren't even out yet." She pushed her bowl away. "I mean, I remember how it was before I came here. I remember frolicking in the meadows without a care in the world, eating omelettes at morning and jelly at night and the world seemed magical." She ran a hoof through her hair. "Of course, there won't be meadows in the desert but I hope the world still feels as magical as it did two years ago."
Ray nodded. He could sometimes remember snippets of the outside world – the blue, endless sky, uncontained space he could actually run around in, and the sun, the bright, blazing sun that shot warmth throughout Neopia. It was beautiful. Funny how he'd taken it all for granted when he was young, but when he escaped he would enjoy life and all of its little pleasures to his heart's content. And I'll have Kylie to enjoy it with now too, he thought, smiling. Together they would soak up the world like never before.
"Just a few more scoops and I'll break the surface." Ray took the shovel from beneath his mattress and gripped it tightly. "Do you want to come with me this time? It'll only take a few minutes." He saw the skeptical look on her face and added, "I doubt the doctor would even come by during the five minutes I'm down there." Kylie had never been in the tunnel before, as her job was to be on the look-out for Doctor Death.
Kylie shook her head. "We can't afford being careless now," she told him. "I'll keep a look-out like always." She folded his fingers over the shovel. "Come get me when you're done."
"Of course," he said, making his way down into the tunnel. He whistled quietly as he made it to the end. A few little scoops and he was done. He felt his heart soar as he saw the first ray of sunlight he'd seen in four years. It was truly beautiful; dew covered the green sea of grass ahead of him and the sky was almost an unnaturally gorgeous shade of blue. He drew in a deep breath, receiving fresh air, such a contrast to the stagnant air he was forced to breathe in his and Kylie's cage. He reluctantly went back down into the tunnel; he couldn't wait to share the world with Kylie, but after his first dose of it, he hated the idea of going back into the cage to get her.
Before he even made it to the surface of the cage, however, he knew something was wrong. He heard voices, and unless Kylie was talking to herself, he knew they were both now in trouble. He climbed to the top of the tunnel and the scene before him made his heart sink to his stomach. Doctor Death had Kylie in a headlock and his eyes were glinting evilly.
"Thought you'd get out that easily, eh?" he rasped. Even though he was scrawny-looking, he was strong, otherwise Kylie would've freed herself already. She was looking at Ray helplessly, her body limp like she'd already been defeated. Maybe this really is the end, Ray thought to himself. They'd gotten so far and to just be thwarted... he felt like screaming until his lungs burst. "I've known what you were up to for a long time. You never would've gotten out either way."
"I'm so sorry, Ray," Kylie whispered, a tear trickling down her cheek. "He shot me with a dart and... I... there was nothing I could do..."
"It's not your fault," Ray replied. He swallowed, knowing what he had to do next. "Kylie, I'm so grateful to have known you for these past two years. You gave me hope when I thought there was none left. You deserve a second chance at the world." He gripped the shovel in his hand tightly. "So, go. Get out!" The next events were all a blur. Ray threw the spade at the doctor, which hit him square in the forehead. Doctor Death gasped in surprise, letting Kylie go and crumpling to the ground. Kylie's eyes flew wide open as she stumbled backward from the doctor.
"Ray..." she breathed, knowing fully well he had no intention of going with her. "No, I can't, we're supposed to go together—"
"Go, just go!" Ray shouted at her as he jumped onto the doctor's back in an attempt to keep him down. "If we both go, he'll call the authorities and we'll be caught in seconds. I'll hold him off and give you the time you need to get out of here and hide."
"You think... that will... work?" the doctor gasped. "We'll have her back in the pound... in no time. Just you see."
Kylie hesitated. "I'm not going without you, Ray!" She was crying.
"Go," Ray said. "I'll be... I'll be right behind you, okay?" he lied. "I swear. Just go while I deal with the doctor, and I'll be there in a second."
Kylie nodded like she believed him, but Ray knew she wasn't stupid. She went towards the tunnel. "Good-bye, Ray," she said. "Thank you... thank you so much. I'll see you soon."
"See you soon," Ray said weakly.
And just like that, she was gone, a red blur, now just a memory in Ray's mind. Ray smiled through his tears, even though he knew there was no chance of him getting out or seeing her ever again. All he could think of was how happy he was that Kylie could finally feel how it was to be free once more.