"And, um, your name is..."
"Hallo there, er, Cutie..."
I sat there, staring at the little blue Wocky, lost for words. I racked my brains for something funny to say, but I came up completely dry. So I reached into my bag and pulled out a cupcake.
I hope Moe's advice works, I prayed to myself. I could hear Moe's cheerful voice in my head.
"When you're not sure what to say, give them a pastry! Nothing cheers up a sad pet like cake!"
"Here you go," I said to Cutie. She stared at me, like she didn't believe my words, and then lashed out a paw and crammed the thing into her mouth. Well, surely manners wouldn't matter here, not in the pound, anyway...
The clang of the cage bars startled me. I turned to find Barimi, my younger sister, waving at me. I crawled outside; the cages were too small for my taste.
"Have you finished?" Barimi asked, gesturing at Cutie.
"I think so," I replied uncertainly. Barimi gave the pound a sweeping look. Her eyes narrowed in disgust.
"This," she said in low tones, "is possibly the worst place in Neopia. Even next to Cockroach Towers."
I'd almost forgotten. Barimi had quite a long stay in the pound before, too. Perhaps she still had bad memories about this place. Trying to comfort her, I placed a paw gently on her shoulder.
"Let's move on to the next cage," I suggested.
Edging forward, we opened the cage door and shuddered as it let out a creak, like nails scratching on blackboards. Ugh.
This cell, I mean, den, had three occupants: a yellow Ogrin (who was glaring at us), a blue Lupe (who looked unconscious on the floor), and a tiny red Acara (her eyes were rather red).
I could feel the Ogrin's piercing glare as we settled on the cold stone floor.
"My name is Barimi, and I'm—"
"Hey, Giggles, look; another pet who thinks we're pitiful. They're here to pity us, see? Get up, you useless lump of fur." The Ogrin gave the Acara a huge shove, and she burst into tears. I was suddenly furious.
"Mind you," I said steely as I scooped the Acara—what was her name? Giggles?—into my lap. "We're not here to pity you; if you don't want help, then fine. Barimi! Come on, we're leaving."
I expected to see my sister at the metal door, but she stayed put. Calmly, she reached into her basket and whipped out a Neoflakes cake.
"Here," she said kindly to Giggles. Giggles sniffed and took the cake from Barimi. My heart softened. Giggles was so—adorable.
The Lupe on the ground stirred. Before even opening his eyes, he mumbled, "Food?"
"Loads of it," I said, though my voice was still restrained. The Ogrin looked nowhere near friendly.
The Lupe, whose name was Heffty_1_1 (as I read on his tag), heaved himself up and started to attack the cakes Barimi had set on the floor. Barimi's eyes were filled with sadness.
"You've been here for a long time, haven't you?"
The Ogrin, xx_handsomeguy_xx, looked up, his eyes narrowed.
"For about eight years, maybe," he said scornfully. He spat on the ground, near a spot next to me. I tried to control my temper.
"Wow. No wonder your owner dumped you here. He obviously couldn't stand you."
So much for controlling my temper.
To my utter surprise, the Ogrin smiled.
"You can call me X," he said.
"X," I repeated coldly. Was this guy being sarcastic?
"Heffty's been here for six years. Not a spoonful of food since he arrived. And Giggles been here for about a month. Kept crying for her owner. It'll do some good to this place if someone adopted her. Her wailing is worse than that Xweetok down there."
He pointed to somewhere several cages down.
I patted Giggles's head as she munched on a second pastry.
"Poor thing," I muttered. "Doesn't the pound give out food at all?"
"It goes mainly to the high-class pets; the ones that have hopes of being adopted. Us?" X let out a loud, harsh laugh.
"We was shoved in dis filthy cage the day we arrived," put in Heffty, looking up from the cakes. Giggles burbled her agreement.
Barimi cast her eyes down.
"I least I had some food when I was here," she said slowly. "Because of my name."
X nodded. "Yeah. You qualify as a well-named pet. Usually plain colored pets like us don't stand a chance here. Some of us stay here... until the destruction of Neopia."
"Or until Meepits take over the universe," I said loftily. I met X's eyes and we grinned.
"I thought I was going to stay here forever," Barimi continued, as if there was no interruption. "I thought no one would want me."
"But Moe did," I said.
"There were always the lucky ones," X added. His gaze hardened again, and he shrunk back to a corner. Giggles let out a hollow, eerie wail.
I bit into my hot cross bun and looked at Barimi. My sister had been oddly quiet after we walked out of the pound thirty minutes ago.
"Are... are you okay?" I gave her a tentative prod. Barimi can be strangely moody sometimes.
"I'm fine. I was just thinking..." The faintest line creased her forehead.
"About my stay in the pound."
I swallowed. I never heard her talk about her experience in the pound before.
"Yes?" I whispered.
Barimi didn't need to be urged. Like a rushing waterfall, her words tumbled out.
"My old owner planned to have me painted," she said, her eyes staring at something I couldn't see. "She said she was. But... after she discovered the rarer species, she needed more room for pets... I got new siblings every day... and then there wasn't room for me anymore. She took me to the pound... and left me there." Her tone became brisk.
"I was shoved into a cage. It was bitter cold in the winter, and scorching hot in summer. There were no rays of sunshine in there. Sometimes, a pet walked away with a new owner, but more often, owners came here to abandon their pets. The little food I was given was often spoiled, and at night, you'd hear the despairing wails of your neighbors..." Barimi gave an involuntary shudder. My paw found hers. I gave it a squeeze.
"But Moe found you," I reminded her.
To my immense relief, the corners of her mouth lifted slightly.
"Yes, she did. And was I ever so thankful." Barimi turned to face me.
"That's why I want to do something for the pound pets," she said.
I was confused. "But we already volunteer there."
Barimi shook her head.
"I mean, something more."
And in a rapid hiss of whispers, she told me her plan.
I clapped my paws and shouted to Barimi, who was absolutely surrounded by people, "Here's another one!"
Barimi nodded and, within the next second, dove back into the swarm of people, now joined by many pets.
I watched my sister, so utterly proud of her for making this happen.
We tried to persuade the pink Uni.
"What?" she had practically screeched. "What do you mean, free? You two, you want to put me out of business?"
Don't let that super-friendly look fool you. The pink adoption Uni is intimidating.
Barimi met her eye with the steely glint I admire.
"One. Single. Day. This might attract so many people! Have you ever wondered why the number of neopets in the pound is increasing?" Her voice was level, if not a little cold and impatient.
The pink Uni put a hoof on her desk and shook her head. "Young Bori, do you think I don't know? Owners get tired of their pets, and I can't blame them. The little nincompoops they throw in here are so... unbearable!" she sighed and shook a finger at us.
"If you're so set on this plan, then take it to Dr. Death! And make sure to mention to him that I want a pay raise!"
With this, she slammed the door shut in our faces.
Completely undeterred, Barimi made her way to Dr. Death's office.
"Hey," I whispered as I trotted alongside her.
"You're really going to see... Dr. Maniacal-Techo?"
"You're mad," I stared at her in awe.
"Maybe," she replied.
"We'll get blasted out of his office."
On that happy thought, we pushed open the door.
The stench hit us first. Then the smelly sock.
"Who's there?" roared someone, who I suppose is Dr. Death.
"I have a proposition, a suggestion for you," said Barimi.
"Wha...? Get away with you, I don't take no stupid suggestions!"
I heard the Techo making his way towards us and I thought we were going to be toast.
Before we knew it, we were staring straight into Dr. Death's bulging mad eyes.
"If it ain't two little Bori! Well, what are you still doin' here? GET OUT!"
"Not until you hear me out!" Barimi was actually yelling. I think that sort of surprised the old Techo, because he raised an eyebrow.
"Well? What have you got to say? Make it quick, or I'll blast you out of my office!"
Barimi dove into her winded explanation.
Believe it or not, Dr. Death had listened to her intently until he started to cough.
"Fetch me a jug of water from downstairs," he barked at me, and I had to rush back down and search for the jug. When I came back up, Barimi was smiling in satisfaction and though Dr. Death didn't look too pleased, he looked much tamer compared to when we first stepped into his office.
So here was Barimi's plan: To have one day, only one, when there were no adoption fees; aside that brilliant idea, she also suggested a fair of sorts, just outside the pound, for the owners and the newly-adopted neopets to celebrate and have fun. I don't know how she convinced Dr. Death, but hearing the roar of the ever-growing crowd outside, I knew that the pound staff had done a terrific job.
"Barimi!" I wove through the thong of people to find her at the front desk, next to the pink Uni. People were madly shoving signed papers at them, with rather timid-looking pets by their side. I grinned to see Giggles smiling shyly, standing next to a tall girl with red hair. When I caught her eye, she beamed at me and waved ecstatically. I waved back; suddenly, I remembered—
Diving back into the crowd, I darted as fast as I could to the cages; I hoped I'd find that horrible metal cage empty—with the number of people visiting the pound today, it had to be.
So naturally, I received a jolt of shock when I spotted that familiar yellow figure slumped in a corner of the cell—I mean, den.
"X!" I exclaimed, opening the door hastily and scurrying inside. The nasty, sulky look he gave me didn't surprise me at all.
"Come to pity me again?"
I, again, was lost for words. I could hear, out of nerves, Moe's advice ringing in my ears again.
Stupid, stupid Amelia. This will make things worse, I scolded myself. But in an instant the Banana Faellie Cake was in my paws. I handed it to my grouchy companion.
The moment the slightly squashed pastry was in his paws, I heard a clanking of metal; the cage door opened.
"Ooh, you're perfect. What's your name?"
A girl. With short black hair.
"Me?" I said, momentarily confused. "No, wait, I'm not—"
"Not you; him."
My insides felt like they were dancing the Congo.
"Oh, wow, cool! You'll be perfect for me! C'mon, they're all waiting outside!"
Without further ado, she reached out for X and pulled him all the way down the hall.
I blinked, then scampered after them.
When I squeezed my way to the entrance, I spotted X and the girl sitting on a bench outside. A zombie Usul and a Halloween Zafara were with them. Not wanting to disturb them, I started to turn my back when—
It was X.
"Congratulations!" I smiled, and truly meant it.
The yellow Ogrin gave me a shy, lopsided grin.
"Thanks. For... you know. Everything."
My only response was, "Huh?"
He held up the Banana Faellie Cake.
It was late afternoon when all the hectic and hubbub had died down. Barimi and I sat under a large, shady tree eating baguettes and admiring the setting sun. I was in mid-chew when something nagging in the back of my head surfaced.
"How'd you do it?"
"Convince Dr. Death. About the plan."
Now Barimi smiled.
"Oh. That." She turned her head to watch the darkening sky.
"It was easy. I offered to clean his office for him. You saw the state it was in."
"And... I told him the adoption Uni would work for him forever.
Three-thousand-and-a-bit miles away, a shrill screech rose dramatically into the air...