The Invisible Lupe
With his claw, Sammy scratched another tally mark onto the whitewash, stone-cold wall of the Neopian Pound. His eyes whizzed across the vertical lines as he tallied them up: fifty. Fifty days since he had been abandoned by Monica, left here to rot like a piece of gross food. Thinking of Monica made his stomach twist and his eyes fill with tears. His heart squeezed, and he banished all thoughts of Monica for the moment.
Instead, he padded towards the door of his cage and poked his nose through the bars, glancing up and down the hall. Across from him, an Aisha was curled into a ball, her tail lashing dangerously. Sammy barked, the sound echoing down the hall, but for the second day in a row, nobody seemed to hear him.
Panicked, Sammy opened his jaws and let out a long, piercing howl that echoed across the Pound. It was loud enough to rouse any sleeping Neopet, should they have managed to fall asleep in a place as dismal as this.
His efforts were in vain.
It was as though he didn't exist anymore.
Defeated, Sammy sat, staring out at cages full of Neopets, fear pressing down upon his chest. Could you really turn Invisible if you were left here for long enough? He frowned, questioning the thought. It didn't make any sense. The Aisha had been here when he was brought in, and her fur was still as yellow as a Tyrannian piece of Omelette.
A clatter sounded up the hall, and Sammy leapt to his feet. He couldn't see anything, but he heard the sound of Dr Death's low, grumbling voice, and the shrill squeak of a cage door being opened.
Feeding time! A brilliant idea soared through Sammy's mind like a comet, and his heart began to hammer furiously.
Sammy listened as Dr Death drew closer. The smell of freshly baked bread hung in the air, and Sammy drooled, his tongue lolling out.
By the time Dr Death reached Sammy's cage, a puddle of saliva had formed on the floor beside Sammy's paws. Dr Death stared into the cage, and for a wild moment Sammy thought that Dr Death could see right through whatever enchantment had been cast upon him.
Until Dr Death's brow furrowed, and he opened the cage, yelling across the pound, "Hey! Where's in Sloth's name has that Lupe gone?"
Sammy seized his chance. He shot between Dr Death's legs, sending the Techo flying, and charged up the hall, bursting through a door and into reception, where a pretty pink Uni was sitting at a desk, talking to two girls who carried baby Neopets in their arms.
Sammy did not hesitate. He flew towards the exit, butting the door so hard that he would surely bruise later. But Sammy didn't care. He broke free into the afternoon sun, which warmed him to the core, and darted up the street, his tongue lolling out as he grinned. He ran, carrying himself as far away from the Pound as his paws could take him.
How long he ran, he didn't know, but he fled across green plains until he reached a dark forest with tall, windy trees with branches that looked startlingly like hands. Sammy almost shrank away from them, but then he remembered that he was, apparently, invisible. That gave him courage, so he puffed out his chest and strode into the forest with his head held high.
The forest was eerily quiet, and a light breeze wafted through the trees, making the branches sway like arms reaching out. Sammy's valour gradually faded the deeper he ventured into the place. Despite the fact that it was deserted, somehow it felt... wrong, and his fur prickled uneasily.
Still, Sammy walked on, until, in the distance, he saw a twisty, black iron gate. He approached it cautiously, his body tense, and the closer he got, the stranger things became.
Gravestones were popping up all around him, some cracked and chipped in places, others leaning and crooked. Beyond the gate, Sammy could see a stripy tent, torn in places, with a coffin poking out of the door. He blanched, unsure if he wanted to continue into this place, but the thought of heading back through the graveyard unnerved him, too, so he pressed on.
It appeared to be a Deserted Fairground, and suddenly, with horror, Sammy realized that he must have just passed through the Haunted Woods. He had heard of the place in stories, but Monica had never been much of a traveller. She had kept both herself and her Neopets firmly rooted in Neopia Central, where she could buy endless amounts of lipstick and blusher just by walking round the block.
Sammy couldn't imagine her setting foot into this place.
The thought sent a wave of bravery coursing through him. He wasn't a coward. Now, he was a traveller, seeking out adventure.
He passed a Bagatelle stand with a scruffy looking Lupe sitting inside, stuffing a doughnut into his mouth and getting crumbs all over his torn clothes. Of course, he didn't bat an eyelid at Sammy as he padded past. Clearly, he was still invisible.
Sammy sighed as he passed a coconut shy, wondering if he would ever be noticed again. He had been hungry when he left the Pound, but now, his stomach was screaming for food. All that running had worked up his appetite, but how was he supposed to get hold of any food when he was on the run, and, more to the point, completely Invisible?
Sammy sank to the ground and buried his face in his paws. He began to snuffle, a Lupe's way of crying, because the scent of hot dogs was wafting towards him, and he couldn't stand it.
After a moment, he heard footsteps, and the delicious scent grew stronger, driving his taste-buds wild. Sammy whimpered, and then he heard a man's voice say, "Evelyn, did you hear that?"
"I did, Professor." This time the voice was female.
Sammy let his paws drop and jumped to his feet, twirling around. Behind him stood a yellow Scorchio dressed in a white coat, with grey, spiky hair that stuck up at all angles. He wore strange glasses with a swirly red pattern on them, so that Sammy couldn't see his eyes. Beside him stood a girl with long, black hair and dark eyes that were wide and searching. The girl was gazing at a point somewhere over Sammy's head.
The Professor, however, stared right at Sammy.
Slowly, Sammy padded over. "C-Can you... see me?"
"I see you," said the Professor. He leaned forwards, and Sammy was dizzied by the spiralling pattern on his spectacles.
Evelyn gasped. "Is it a Neopet?"
The Professor nodded gravely, and then asked Sammy, "What is your name, young Lupe?"
"S-Sammy," spluttered Sammy, flabbergasted that somebody was finally, finally able to see him.
The Professor glanced at Evelyn, and then back at Sammy. "I believe Sammy here has been struck by a rather... unfortunate accident. He's turned Invisible. How remarkable! This could be exciting, oh my."
The Professor cackled, which made Sammy flinch, but Evelyn gasped, throwing a hand to her mouth, covering her black-painted lips. "We have to help him!" she cried.
"You know I have to have an owner's permission, little Eve." He grinned, and then gave a mad cackle, like he was enjoying every minute of this.
But all Sammy had heard was that they had a solution. "You can... fix me?" he blurted.
The Professor wafted away his claims, but he looked secretly pleased with himself as he adjusted his glasses.
"What did he say, Professor?" asked Evelyn.
"I already told you-"
"He has a laboratory," said Evelyn excitedly, waving her hands as she spoke, and looking around, trying to locate Sammy. "He can change pets! They can become a different colour! We could save you! I've never tried it, but he's told me so much about it! Oh, Professor, please-"
"It is risky!" interrupted the Professor, "You could change gender, or become another species entirely! Besides, you need an owner! I do not see anyone within your vicinity, Mr Lupe!"
Sammy thought the Professor was missing a few marbles, but he was silent for a moment, weighing up the pros and cons. "It's worth a try," he sighed, "But... I don't have an owner, so I suppose..."
He turned to walk away, his tail tucked between his legs.
"He's leaving," narrated the Professor.
"Wait!" cried Evelyn, "I'll adopt you!"
Sammy turned to her, his eyes widening, and studied her. She was quite unlike Monica. For one, she didn't seem to care much about what other people thought of her: her black hair was smooth and sleek, but her eyes were ringed with dark liner, and she wore red and black striped tights and ballet shoes with glittering skulls on the front. On her arm, she carried a bag that looked almost like a real pumpkin.
Despite the skulls she adorned herself with, Sammy saw true kindness in her eyes.
"You'd... you'd do that? To help me?"
The Professor huffed and told Evelyn what he had said.
"Of course!" said Evelyn. "I only have Nina, here."
She gestured to the floating ghost Draik, who looked down at Sammy with huge, glowing red eyes. Sammy probably should have been quite afraid, but when Nina smiled at him, her eyes crinkled in a friendly sort of way, and he found himself grinning back.
"Okay," said Sammy. He felt happiness bubbling up in his chest. He had never felt so welcome, and Evelyn, despite her frightful dress-sense, was brimming with good-nature.
"I'll take him in, Professor," said Evelyn, grabbing the Scorchio's tiny yellow hands and looking at him pleadingly, "So please, help him!"
"Fine," snapped the Professor, straightening his coat, "But no promises! Something could go dreadfully wrong..." He stopped, and then gave a loud, psychotic laugh. Then, his face snapped back into seriousness. "Sammy will be blindfolded!"
It was a small price to pay, Sammy thought. Evelyn plucked a thick, black scarf from her bag and tied it carefully around Sammy's head, so that his eyes were completely covered. Then, they set off, with Sammy having no idea where they were headed, or what he was going to become.
The trip took a long time. He was hauled to a beach (he could feel the sand beneath his toes), and shoved in a boat (he knew this thanks to the splashes of water and the bobbing current), where he had nothing to look at but blackness for the duration of the trip. Mostly, he listened to Nina's wings flapping as she flew beside them.
After what felt like an age, the boat hit a new shore, and the Professor helped Sammy climb ashore. They trudged across the beach, and Sammy heard keys jingling, and the Professor mumbling incomprehensibly.
Inside the building, it smelt like a mixture of chemicals and pizza. No doubts what the Professor liked to snack on whilst he conducted his pet experiments. Sammy's nose twitched, inhaling all the new smells, as the Professor and Evelyn led him towards his fate.
A door creaked open, and Sammy was ushered into another room. The smell of chemicals and food was stronger in here, and Sammy heard Evelyn say, "Professor, you need to clean up in here, seriously..."
The Professor ushered Sammy across the room and ordered Evelyn to back away.
"Aren't you going to take my blindfold off now?" asked Sammy.
"It's best you don't see this," said the Professor. "Now relax. Keep still. This won't take long, but I can't promise what will happen."
Sammy heard the Professor clicking buttons and activating machinery. Something buzzed above him, and Sammy's insides clenched. He gritted his teeth, hoping that this would work...
Something hit him from above, like a bolt of lightning, sending waves of electricity shooting through his body. Sammy cried out in surprise, his entire body tingling, but within seconds, it was over, and the room fell silent.
Eve cried out and Sammy felt arms around him, and his blindfold fell off. He found himself staring into the face of Eve.
"You're beautiful. Beautiful!" she cried, hugging him close and burying her face in his fur.
Sammy tilted his head curiously, wondering what amazing pet he had turned into. He must look cool, if Evelyn thought he was beautiful. After all, she had a Draik, one of the most sought-after species in all of Neopia.
The Professor was cackling to himself insanely, and he dashed over with a mirror, which he held up to Sammy.
Staring into the mirror, Sammy was gobsmacked.
He had turned brown. Nothing special, and he was still a Lupe. But Evelyn was looking at him as though he was the most amazing Neopet in all of Neopia.
Sammy smiled at her, and she squeezed him tight.
He supposed his adventure had been worth it. Because he had discovered that some Neopians, like Evelyn, could look past outer beauty and see the beauty that lay inside.
And he had finally found a loving home.