The Search for a Shopkeeper
Note: You'll understand much more of this story if you've read my series, Thyla's Tale. This also contains spoilers for the series, so you should definitely read the series first (:
I looked at the roomful of neopets and suddenly began to feel a little bewildered. I was going to be entrusting my shop to one of these pets. They would decorate it--name it--live in the apartment--take care of it day and night. I would only be the owner in the business sense of it. This was new for me. Expanding my little shop to a larger affair had long been one of my dreams, but I knew I couldn't dedicate my life to it. I had pets, writing, a neohome, and what seemed like a million other things to take care of. I couldn't walk across the island every morning and shut myself up in a shop all day long--and what was more, I didn't want to.
My first impressions almost immediately ruled out some of the pets--like the robot Krawk who was shooting laser beams out of her mouth every which way. And there were a couple others that looked pretty shady as well. One Lupe was coughing so hard I almost sent him out to the hospital. But I shook my head quickly, hoping that would help to clear it, and walked up in front of the group.
"Hello, everybody," I said, afraid my voice sounded weak and insignificant. "As you know, I'm looking for the perfect shopkeeper for my shop. I'll be interviewing you each in turn, so line up with your resumes and I'll call you in." I felt that something was lacking in my demeanor, but I decided it was not time to worry about this.
A good deal of scuffling ensued, and I saw some of the shopkeepers fighting their way into a good place in the line. I frowned.
"I'll be calling you back to front," I decided out loud. Those who had wished to go first would now be going last.
Impatient groans filled the room for a moment, but I raised my eyebrows.
"Come on," I said, motioning to the pet furthest back, a green Gelert, who frowned and scurried along towards me, his spiked hairdo so firmly gelled that it didn't move an inch.
It was going to be a long day. I sighed and rubbed my forehead.
Two days later, I had to make the trip across the island again--and this time, I had to make my final decision. I sent off my pets to their various schools, sighed over how tall Slevende was getting, and packed a backpack with some necessities for the day. I was beginning to feel rather worried. None of the candidates that had made it to this point were matching up to my expectations. One I liked, but she was so young I really didn't think I could trust the shop with her. One I didn't like very much, for his impatient, headstrong nature, but he was clever in a street smarts way and knew how to close a deal with a customer. The other was very scatterbrained and thought he knew everything in the world, but he was also really the most well-learned of the lot and knew all about every item. I paused in the doorway of my home a moment, hoping I would prove up to the task of choosing between the pets. Then I hurried out into the humid, windy day.
Not many tourists were out and about, partly due to the ever-darkening grey sky, and partly due to the brittle wind that cut through the humid air. It was a combination of all these things that made the bright, flimsy plastic buildings and tourist traps on the South Beach look even tackier and phonier than ever--and that was saying something. I rushed by, giving the place a wide berth. I was headed to the west beach--the business section of Mystery Island, one might say. The beach there wasn't really a beach; it was mostly grassy, miniature cliffs/bluffs that overlooked tiny strips of sand, or simply the depths of the ocean. That part of the water had no shallow, gentle places or nice, fun places to swim where the water reached your shoulders or your chest. No, in this place the water up by the shore was the ocean, with big, real waves that crashed against the shore and large, jagged, water-swept rocks making the place perilous for boats. It wasn't exactly a nice place to swim, but I'd always seen a sort of wild, untamed beauty in it. I could sit on the edge of one of those grassy cliffs, stare out at the navy blue waves, and just think for large stretches of time.
But now wasn't the time for sitting and thinking. Even this part of the island, the West Side, which was always bustling and packed with people who were either at the Trading Post or the Island Market, was relatively quiet today. I hurried towards the large arch of faded straw that made up the entrance to the Island Market.
The marketplace was surrounded by a tall, high fence of that sturdy straw and grass material people liked to use for building on the island, and there was an archway on either side. But there was no ceiling, making it appear rather like a simply massive arena. But in reality, when you entered the space, every corner was jam-packed with shops of every kinds. This was the real marketplace of Mystery Island, not like those phony tourists traps. Tall signs advertised every kind of shop you could think of, and everywhere you turned there was a solid wall of the buildings, all jam-packed with colorful goods. It was always packed in here, even on an uninviting day like today, but somehow the whole environment of hustle and bustle appealed to me. I weaved my way through the crowds and walked the familiar route, down dirt paths that had once, long ago, been thick, lush grass, to my shop.
My shop was woven of that same grassy material, but it was dyed a dark, bright blue, and large windows with wooden frames of a warm brown color surrounded much of it. They displayed a variety of goods--my food section was represented by everything from pizza to shortcake, my toy section was displayed with all kinds of plushies and board games. Several small, pretty sorts of round windows were set high up, and those were in the shopkeeper's apartment. Which some neopet would be moving into that night, most likely.
Inside the spacious main room, three pets were waiting. One was a fire Moehog, wearing a plain black outfit, his flames flickering brightly. Somehow, those flames made me nervous. I remembered his name was Dawlo. He was tapping his foot on the floor, with his arms crossed, and he huffed out a sigh when I walked in. It was he who had street smarts and who could close a deal with a clap of his hooves, but I didn't like him. He was too headstrong.
Next was a striped Zafara. She was tall and willowy, wearing high-end NC Mall clothes and mascara. She was biting her lip and twiddling her thumbs. Her name was Iyka. I thought she was a tad young for the job--after all, this was a whole shop we were talking about. So far I'd gathered that she was fairly smart, confident, and had a nice, bubbly personality--but she was only just out of high school. Perhaps she would prove me wrong, however.
The last was a small, clever-looking Krawk wearing oversized spectacles, a quiet smile, and a mismatched patchwork of clothes. He seemed an intelligent, responsible, mature sort, and his name was Eluwey. An odd sort of name, but maybe that would pique people's interest. He was certainly the most well-learned of the lot. I shrugged inwardly and turned to the group.
"Iyka, I'll speak with you first," I said, and we stepped into one of the back rooms together.
"So," I said slowly. "I hear you came from Neopia Central?"
"Yes," said the Zafara. "My sister and her mentor had a famous restaurant there and then ... well, to make a long story short, we had to move it here."
"Is the restaurant successful?" I asked.
"Yes, you've likely heard of it," she said. "TaerthaThylana?"
I lost my composure for a moment and gawked. TaerthaThylana had moved into town a few months ago to riotous success. The restaurant, which was a full package deal with amazing food, wonderful entertainment, and magic all thrown into the mix, was widely considered the best restaurant on the island now. It was certainly the fanciest one. I'd never been there, but I'd heard ever so much about it.
"Your sister owns TaerthaThylana?" I gasped. Then I pulled myself back together. "Well, that's quite an accomplishment. Tell me, why exactly do you want this job?"
"Well, I'm looking for something to do," she said simply. "I'm just out of school, and I don't enjoy being a waitress at the restaurant very much any more. I've always wanted to work in a shop, but my owner doesn't have one--she has a big fancy gallery instead. But I prefer shops."
I nodded, hoping it made me look knowledgeable and experienced, and proceeded with the interview. Before it was over, I decided I liked this Zafara--and I wanted her to be my shopkeeper. She may have been young, but my gut told me she was the one, and I decided to go with my gut, for once. She would give my shop promise and potential, and she would surely bring lots of fresh, new ideas to it. I sighed a sigh of relief. My search was over--and so was my worry.
One Month Later
"And everything in the shop's going fine?"
TaerthaThylana was crowded that day, but in all the hustle and bustle my whole enormous family--all twenty pets and me--had somehow managed to get a big table inside for our celebration of Hermeeja's birthday. But then, we knew the owner and her family very well now. In fact, the owner herself--and her little sister--had just joined us for a beverage as a break.
"Oh, yes, wonderfully," said Iyka brightly, sipping at her pink lemonade. She swallowed and smiled again. "I just love it. In fact, business is going so well I have to go out on a restocking expedition soon. We'll have to set a date for that, because of course you have to be with me. And in charge, really."
I watched with marvel as my teacup magically refilled itself. I'd been in here several times since I gave Iyka the job, but the refilling tea never failed to bewilder me.
"Chestnut, there's something I wanted to ask you," said Thyla suddenly. Thyla was Iyka's older sister, a speckled Zafara, the owner of the restaurant. She was sipping absently at a cup of iced borovan.
"Well, I've told you a little about my life before the restaurant, right?" she said slowly.
"A bit. It sounds like you had a rough time of it."
"And you write a lot for the Times, right?"
My job as a writer was the reason why I could pay for extravagances like entire-family trips to TaerthaThylana.
"I was thinking maybe you could write out my story for me," said Thyla, setting her mug down, "and send it to the Times. I love storytelling, but I don't like the writing it out part. It takes more patience than I have, and I'd like my story to be done justice. So I was thinking maybe I could narrate for you, and you could write it down in the way you need to to tell the story."
"That's a marvelous idea," I said. "I was just looking for more story ideas."
"You can meet me here tomorrow if you like and we could start," she suggested brightly.
"Sounds great! I'll be here."
My search for a shopkeeper had ended, but my friendship--and partnership--with Iyka, Thyla, and the rest of their family had just begun.