The Winter Gift
The wind howled and rocked the house, and the family of Aishas and their owner huddled closer together on the couch.
"I wouldn't want to be out in that storm," Lina, the owner, commented, taking a sip of her hot cocoa. Snowflakes battered the window like tiny fists, demanding entrance to their home.
The power had gone out hours before, but nobody minded too much. They had a huge fireplace with a roaring fire that gave them enough light and warmth. A stockpile of wood was in the corner, as well as a few sticks for marshmallow roasting and a kettle for warming up water or milk.
Four of the Aishas were on the floor playing a game of Key Quest. Sulza, the red Aisha, rolled the dice and scored a six, landing on a power up spot.
"Oh man," Yellow, the island Aisha, groaned as Sulza drew a Loose-A-Turn power-up. "She's going to use the Bottle Of Sand on me. AGAIN."
Sulza just grinned evilly and put the card to the side.
Sweets, the checkered Aisha, was curled up on the couch, reading one of the books Lina had picked up in preparation for the storm. She licked her thumb and flicked it to the next page. Suddenly, she straightened, her ears perking up. "What was that?" she asked.
The room paused, and thirty-six Aisha ears and two human ears strained to hear the noise.
"I don't hear anything," Lina finally said.
"Of course you don't – you're only a human," Sweets said, annoyed. Everyone looked at her in surprise; usually Sweets was very patient.
"There it is again," she said.
"I heard it too," Kimiko, the desert Aisha, agreed.
"What? What is it?" Lina said, cupping her ears to try and improve her hearing to Aisha-level.
"It sounded like howling. Or crying," Kimiko said, her ears flickering this way and that, trying to pinpoint the noise.
Lina opened her mouth, but Kimiko interrupted, "It's not just the wind."
An eerie silence descended upon the household, interrupted only by the crackling of the fire and the wind banging the side of the house.
"I.... I think someone is out there," Sweets said, and as one they all turned their heads toward the window with the violent storm raging outside.
Cream, the speckled Aisha, got up and walked towards the window. She peered through the pitch-black darkness and the flashing-white snowflakes. "I can't see anything," she reported.
Someone hushed as they listened to the noise once again. This time it was so close even Lina could hear it a little.
They all looked to her. "What should we do?"
Lina bit her lip and stared out the window, debating. "We can't leave whoever it is out there," she finally said. "But we can't afford to go out there ourselves. With all that snow and wind, it would be easy to get lost and freeze."
"We could tie a rope to the front door so we don't get lost," Sweets said. When no one answered her, she left the room to go get some rope. Kata, the Christmas Aisha, followed her, and returned with a bundle of winter clothes.
Silently, everyone pulled on layers. Triple socks stuffed into fur boots, scarves, hats, and earmuffs piled on so that there was only a small slit for their eyes, so many coats you couldn't tell if they were Aishas or Skeiths.
Sweets returned with a long cord of rope and began dressing herself. Lina rolled the rope around in her hands. It was long, but would it be long enough?
"Wait here," she commanded, and she left the room. After a few minutes, she returned with sheets, quilts and blankets. She showed her pets how to tie them in a knot on the end of the rope, one after another so that the rope's length was almost doubled. She also handed out flashlights.
"They won't help much in the storm, but it won't hurt to have them," she said, checking to make sure her own flash light worked.
When everyone was bundled up they carried the rope over to the front door. Lina pulled off her gloves to tie it to the doorknob on the inside. She then tied the opposite end around each of her Aishas, including herself, so that they would not be able to accidentally drop the rope and lose their way.
She pushed the door open, much harder than she normally had to. The wind screamed victory and raced through the open doorway, sending shivers down everyone's spine. Quickly, the Aishas sped out, then Lina shut the door. With the rope attached to the house like a long umbilical cord, they set off.
Ray, the Maraquan Aisha who had the best hearing, went first, with Lina immediately behind. Kata was the most responsible, so she was last, making sure that no one accidentally slipped from the rope tied around their middle.
Ray stopped a few feet from the house and listened for a few desperately cold, long minutes. Finally, she pointed to their left, towards the sound of distant crying. Like some monster with many legs and heads, they set of towards it.
There was no cold like this one. The only skin the group showed was a slit for their eyes, yet their whole bodies tingled and shivered. Their breath froze on the inside of their scarves, for even their mouths were covered up. After a while, it seemed like there had never been such a thing as warmth. The cold seeped into their bones and drove out any memories of fire or hot chocolate.
They would have gotten lost if they hadn't had the rope to lead them back, or the crying that now seemed to grow closer.
It seemed like they walked for hours, but the dark snow-battered land was a timeless place and it could have been only minutes. But suddenly, they each felt a sharp tug around their middle. Lina looked down at the rope, then backwards and realized it was stretched taught. They had reached the end.
A howl, blown forth on the wind, reached them, and they listened to the desperate Neopian. They huddled together and shouted above the wind, trying to decide what to do.
Finally, Lina untied herself from the rope. "Stay together," she ordered. "Shine your flashlights towards the direction of the crying. When I find the Neopet, I'll turn around and follow the light back. Like a boat following a lighthouse."
They all started to protest, but Lina ignored them and trudged on through the snow. Quickly, they all turned on their flashlights and pointed it towards her. They watched her disappear from view. And they waited.
The crying was loud enough now that Lina could hear it clearly, even though she didn't have an Aisha's magical hearing. She walked towards it, head down against the wind, not once wavering from her path. The noise was like a compass, always pointing in the right direction.
Finally, she detected a faint glow. She picked up her pace and soon stumbled upon a small clearing in between some pine trees. The pine trees formed a small protective barrier, and in the middle was a little brown Aisha, curled up in the snow.
Lina bent down and touched her; she was surprisingly warm. "Are you all right?" she asked. The little Aisha nodded in the darkness. "Were you the one crying?" Lina asked. Again, the Aisha nodded.
Lina picked the Neopet up and tucked her against her chest. She turned around and followed her footsteps back. With panic, she noticed that the snow and wind was beginning to cover them up, and eventually she couldn't see where she had walked at all.
The tiny Aisha was quiet against her chest, and she could only guess that she was sleeping, since she couldn't bear to imagine the worst.
She squinted towards the darkness for any hint of light, praying to spot her Neopets' flashlights. But the darkness was monotonous, the same in every direction. Without knowing her way, Lina plowed on.
The cold permeated her feet, and Lina briefly wondered if she would get frostbite. She might lose a toe.
Suddenly, she tripped. Lina rolled to avoid squashing the tiny Aisha, who remained unmoving in her arms. Lina laid on her back, staring up at the snow falling down. They kind of looked like stars.
To Lina's relief, the Aisha stirred in her arms, before picking something up from the ground and placing it in her hand. Lina felt the frozen object and tried to determine what it was.
Finally, she realized: rope! She sat up and stared at the rope in her hands. Quickly, she stood and followed it. Only a few minutes later, her Aishas were in sight.
They cheered when they saw her, then grew quiet as they saw the strange little creature in her arms. Quickly, they followed the rope back.
Just about when they'd given up, their house appeared suddenly. They ran up the stairs and through the door, closing it against the still-screaming wind.
They stood in the hallway, painting. Snow dripped from their frozen coats and jackets. Like some weird species of lizard, they peeled clothing off of clothing as if shedding skin.
They all trumped back to the living room where the fire had been reduced to glowing coals. Kata placed another log on it and prodded them until the fire flared back into life.
Lina was still clutching the tiny Aisha; somehow she had taken off all her coats and hats without setting her down. Slowly, she walked towards the fireplace and set the pet on the ground.
They all gasped. They had mistaken her for a brown Aisha, but in the light of the fire, they could see the frosted tail and licorice ears. She was made entirely out of chocolate.
Lina sat down next to the chocolate Aisha. "What is your name?"
The Aisha smiled shyly, and spoke for the first time. "Vineti."
"Where is your owner, Vineti? And what were you doing out in that storm?"
Vineti frowned, as if trying to remember. Suddenly, she pointed to a note tied to her collar
Lina pulled it off and opened it. Quietly, she read it to her whole family.
Please know that neither you, your Neopets, nor Vineti were ever in danger. I was watching over you the whole time and would have intervened if something was going wrong. In fact, this was a test of your courage and your compassion to make sure that you would be a good owner for my beloved Aisha. And you passed with flying colors. Take good care of my sweet Vineti.
The name was smudged out, seemingly by accident. But there was a sense of finality to the note, as if whoever had been Vineti's previous owner wanted to remain unknown.
"Her owner must have been a faerie to be powerful enough to protect us," Sweets whispered. They stared at the Chocolate Aisha in amazement.
"Well, Vineti, welcome to the family," Ray finally said. Vineti smiled as each of her new siblings hugged her.
Lina put the kettle back in the fireplace to heat up some more water.
"Would it be considered cannibalism if we gave you some hot cocoa?" Cream asked Vineti.
Everyone laughed, then when the water was ready everyone drank hot chocolate, because apparently it wasn't considered cannibalism for a chocolate Aisha to eat chocolate.
In the morning, the storm had subsided. Snow layered every surface like frosting. The note had mysteriously been lost, blown into the fire by a strange gust of wind. No one noticed, and Vineti became a much-loved part of the family.
Every once in a while, when it was snowing thickly, Lina would pause by the window and think of that strange night and the circumstances that had brought Vineti to them, before shrugging it off and going to play with and enjoy her Neopets.
I would like to thank cellshaded, the kind Neopian who gifted Vineti to me a few days before Christmas. I love her very much :)