Safety Deposit Box Scouts
Kiki the Uni blew a piece of her mane out of her face with a huffy sigh and glared out the window. It was still pouring outside, just like it had been when she'd checked ten minutes ago and ten minutes before that. The sky was a dark, broody grey, and wind gusted over the treetops, blowing leaves everywhere in the rain. Wonderful. Scowling, she dug out her Neopian Times Notebook with one starry hoof and her trusty basic pencil with another.
Status, she printed precisely. No perceivable change. Still raining. Still windy. Still BORING.
Kiki's notebook was half-full of entries like this. She wanted to be a famous writer for the Neopian Times, and last year she had read an article that advised would-be journalists to observe and record their own experiences to prepare for the profession. Kiki wasn't about to let a lack of practice keep her from her dream job. She spent every spare second writing in her notebook.
"But how can I practice journalism if there's nothing to report?" she demanded, slapping her notebook down on the table. "At this rate I'll be a hundred years old before anything interesting enough to write an article about happens!"
"You could report on what Mandy makes us for breakfast," piped up a small voice.
Kiki rolled her eyes and glanced over her shoulder. The voice belonged to Leonard, a green Ogrin and a recent addition to their family. Mandy had come home a couple weeks ago trailing Leonard behind her, fresh from the pound. "I couldn't resist," she had said, ruffling Leonard's mane. "I knew he was meant to be part of our family!"
Kiki wasn't so sure. Leonard was pretty much the opposite of the brother she would have chosen. He was very shy, for one. It had taken him a whole week to even speak to her without squeaking. And then when time she asked him to go with her to watch Turdle races or Battledome fights--things that might make good articles--he said no. He liked to read, like she did, but only dull books about geography and nature. Who wanted to waste an afternoon with Tree Homes and the Natural Wonders of Neopia series? Leonard, that was who. As far as Kiki was concerned, Leonard was the most boring Neopet in all of Neopia Central. Just her luck she was stuck with him forever.
"No one wants to read about what we had for breakfast," she said. "Breakfast isn't exciting unless it belongs to a royal or a celebrity. Honestly, Leonard, you don't know a thing about journalism. Leave it to the pros."
"Oh," said Leonard. His ears drooped a little. "Well, I think breakfast is interesting..."
"Speaking of breakfast," said Mandy, popping her head around the doorjamb, "it's ready. And you better come eat quick! I'm off in ten minutes."
"Where are you going?" Kiki asked, trotting toward the table. Omelette again. As if anyone wanted to read reports about omelette for breakfast. She glanced meaningfully at Leonard, but he was digging in with gusto. Typical.
Mandy was busy packing things into her backpack. "I'm going to the bank," she said. She shoved a calculator in between two notebooks with a grunt. "I'm going to try and clear out my Safety Deposit Box today. I've been tossing junk in it for so long I don't even remember what's in there! And our shop is looking a little bare."
Finished stuffing things into the pack, she yanked at the zipper with a grim look on her face. "It'll probably take me all day, since I'm going to try and catalogue everything. Kiki, will you be okay being in charge, or should I ask Susan over to watch you two?"
Kiki almost choked on her omelette. Susan, their neighbor, was even more boring than Leonard--if she came over to watch them they'd be doing old Faerie Crosswords all day. "No, don't ask Susan!" she said. Then she thought of being stuck inside with Leonard, who wouldn't even want to go puddle stomping. "Can't we come with you instead?" she blurted out.
Mandy stopped trying to zip up the overflowing backpack and tilted her head. "Do you want to? I thought you'd be too bored, but you could be a big help."
"Yes, we want to come!" Kiki said. She glanced at Leonard. "Don't we, Leonard?" she added meaningfully.
Leonard's face scrunched with worry, but he gave a slow nod. "It'll be fun, right?" he asked, turning his anxious gaze to Mandy.
Mandy smiled and tweaked one of his ears. "Don't worry, it won't be dangerous," she said. "There's nothing scary in there, just a whole lot of useless stuff. You guys will help me count and record it. The only thing you have to be nervous about is a paper cut."
They finished up breakfast quickly, since Mandy was eager to get going. Kiki took her notebook and pencil in her own backpack just in case something exciting happened, but she wasn't holding her breath. The Safety Deposit Box was probably full of things like Trifle Mix and common key rings--Mandy was a total packrat. Kiki sighed. This might be more interesting than staying inside all day, but only just barely.
The bank was only a short walk away. Even so, by the time they got there, they were all soaked enough to drip on the nice carpet. A severe looking Chia came to take their raincoats with a glare, and Mandy winced. "Be on your best behavior," she whispered, fidgeting with her wet hair.
Kiki and Leonard trotted softly behind her to the front desk, keeping their heads down. Mandy had a quick discussion with the bank teller, who motioned them down a long, carpeted hallway.
A smiling Ruki wearing pince-nez greeted them when they reached the end. "Box number?" he asked. Mandy told him, and he nodded. "This way, valued customers," he said, and opened the door. Beyond lay another hallway, this time full of square metal doors of every size, glinting in the faint light. Some were as small as Kiki's hooves and some were large enough to fit three of her sideways. She couldn't help but stare. This place is like a maze, she thought as they walked in. Left, right, left, left, left, right--she lost track of the turns as the Ruki led them on. Finally, they reached a door with Mandy's box number on it, about Mandy-sized.
"Here you are," said the Ruki cheerfully. He pointed to the small silver bell hanging beside the door. "When you're done, or if you need assistance carrying things out, just ring the bell. Someone will come along shortly. I hope you find what you're looking for!"
"Thank you," said Mandy. She slid a key into the door and turned it as the Ruki left.
The door swung open, and Kiki's jaw dropped.
A vast, dim room greeted them. Shelving units stretched from edge to edge, each filled with items of every size, shape, and color. They reached all the way up to the ceiling, and each set had its own sliding ladder so the items higher up could be reached. On the far side of the room, furniture and other large things loomed out of the darkness.
"This is your Safety Deposit Box?" Kiki demanded. Her words echoed. "Mandy, this is bigger than our entire house!"
Mandy's eyes had gone as wide as dinner plates. "It automatically expands when you put more stuff in it," she explained, her voice faint with shock. "But I didn't realize it had gotten so big... "
"'Big' doesn't cover it," Kiki said. "Huge, gargantuan, colossal! Monumental, even! How are we supposed to get through all this in one day?"
The minute she said it, she wished she hadn't. If Mandy had one weakness, it was that she always took on challenges too big to handle. All you had to do to get her to do something was tell her you didn't believe she could do it. Her expression hardened into a fierce look of determination.
"We're going to try our hardest!" she declared, tossing her hair back. Kiki groaned under her breath. "You and Leonard can start over there, on the far side," Mandy went on, "and I'll start with the furniture and big things. Note down the name of the item so we can go ask the Shop Wizard about it later, as well as how many of each thing there is. If there's anything that looks valuable, bring it to me."
"Great," Kiki muttered. She tossed a look at Leonard, who was still looking up at the shelves in awe, and heaved a sigh. "Come on, Leonard. We've got a lot of shelves to get through."
They started at the far side, as Mandy had ordered. Kiki got out her notebook and pencil to note items down. Leonard trailed behind, helping her count them. A few staggeringly boring hours passed this way. After the strangeness of the hallway outside, Kiki had expected to find something at least mildly eerie inside, but this was proving to be ten times more boring than old Faerie Crosswords. The closest they came to an exciting moment was Leonard mistaking a piece of lint for cotton candy and trying to eat it. After a few too many swallowed yawns, Kiki began to talk out loud to keep the boredom at bay.
"A stack of tombola T-shirts, some courgette ice cream--how has that not melted?--baked beans, way too many tins. Reject flower shaped sand... wow, that is ugly. Pegleg wax. None of us has a pegleg! For Fyora's sake, what does Mandy need all this junk for?"
Her voice pinged back to her, and she realized Leonard had been quiet for a few minutes. "Leonard?" she said, glancing over her shoulder.
He was standing a few feet back, his eyes wide and his mane standing straight up with terror. His gaze was fixed behind her, and Kiki whirled around to see what had stopped him in his tracks.
She let out a shriek when she saw it: a shadow reaching to the ceiling and flickering with what looked like hundreds of legs. It loomed up out of the dim light of the Safety Deposit Box and sent a chill sliding down Kiki's spine. It looked like something right out of a nightmare. "A monster! An actual monster!" she cried. Her heart pounded and her legs shook. She dropped her notebook and leapt in front of Leonard. "Stay away, whatever you are!"
The shadow quivered, its legs flickering, and grew larger. Kiki squeaked, though later she would never admit it. "Leonard, we have to get out of here!" she said. "We have to get to Mandy on the other side. On the count of three, we run, okay?" She reached back the nudge his paw with her hoof.
Just then, the monster shifted, and the shadow stopped flickering, a still silhouette. She could count its legs, now--eight, and two antennae. Her stomach churned with fear.
"Oh!" said Leonard, leaning forward over her shoulder. "Kiki, it's a--"
"I mean it, Leonard!" she hissed, her eyes on the huge shadow. "It might bite! It might be poisonous!"
"Kiki, it's okay! It's not a monster!" he said.
He squirmed out from behind her and loped forward with one long-legged hop. "Leonard!" Kiki yelped, and started after him. He was headed right towards the monster! Kiki had been in the Battledome a couple of times, but she wasn't sure she could protect him from whatever-it-was if it came to that. What if it was stronger than she was, and liked the taste of Ogrins?
He darted around a shelving unit into the next aisle. Kiki snorted in frustration and forced herself into a hard gallop. If she could just get to him before the monster devoured him, maybe she could fend it off.
She screeched around the corner, then stumbled to a halt. Leonard was crouched down close to the floor, peering at a petpet-sized, shivering... bug? Kiki reared back in confusion, her hooves pawing the air, but Leonard didn't seem to notice her.
"Hey, little guy," he cooed, holding out a paw to the bug. Kiki whipped her head around, searching for the monster.
"Leonard, I don't know where the monster went, but we need to get out of here! Drop that and--"
She stopped mid-sentence, and looked from the bug to the wall and back again. Behind the bug, a row of flickering gas candles sat on the lowest shelf. She followed the line of the bug's body to the shadow on the wall, magnified and distorted into a horrible creature.
"There is no monster," she said slowly, blinking as it all clicked into place. "Just that bug. It was that little thing the whole time, wasn't it?"
Leonard nodded. "It's a Grackle Bug," he said, his eyes bright with excitement. "I recognized the shape of its shadow on the wall when it stopped moving. They come from the Lost Desert. They're very skittish, since people are always trying to catch them and eat them." He stroked the frightened bug with one careful finger. "It's okay, we're not going to eat you. I promise."
"Oh," Kiki said. Her tail swished as she watched Leonard pet the Grackle Bug and picked it up, his touch gentle. "I guess I didn't need to jump in and save you like that, huh," she said. Her cheeks were hot with embarrassment.
Leonard beamed at her. "It's okay," he said. He glanced down shyly. "That's what I like about you. You aren't afraid of anything."
"I was pretty afraid of that little bug!" Kiki groaned. Some intrepid journalist she was—scared by a harmless creature just because it had antennae.
"But you still tried to protect me," Leonard said. He scuffed the ground with a foot. "You don't let your fear or anything else stop you. That's why I think you'll make a great reporter someday."
All at once, Kiki found herself swamped under a great rush of shame and affection. Leonard might not be the daring, adventure-loving little brother she would have wished for, but she knew she hadn't been fair to him at all in the last few weeks. In the face of danger, he had kept his head, and his knowledge had saved her from doing something very foolish, maybe even hurting the Grackle Bug. He clearly had a good heart, even if he lacked confidence. His interests weren't exactly the same as hers, but he was sweet and loyal, as well as very observant and smart. They would have had a lot to talk about and bond over if only she hadn't been so stand-offish.
"Leonard," she forced herself to say, "I'm sorry about... you know." She coughed. "And I'm glad that Mandy adopted you."
His ears waggled. "Really?" he asked in a small voice.
"Really," Kiki said. She nudged him with a hoof. "What would I have done without you just now? We make a good team."
Leonard didn't say anything, but she could tell by the way that he ducked his head and shuffled forward to nudge her back that he was pleased. She smiled.
"Come on. Let's go find Mandy and convince her to get out of here. I think that was enough for one day, don't you?"
They wound through the remaining shelves until they found Mandy amidst a sea of Grundo-shaped furniture, wearing a garish pair of earmuffs. When she spotted them, she waved tiredly.
"Check out this cool pair of earmuffs I found!" she said, over-loud.
"No wonder she didn't hear me screaming," Kiki muttered.
"What?" Mandy asked, and took the earmuffs off.
"Look what Leonard found," Kiki said, nudging Leonard with a hoof. He held up the Grackle Bug for Mandy to inspect.
"It's a Grackle Bug. Can I keep him?" he asked, staring up at Mandy with shining eyes. "I've read all about them, so I know exactly how to take care of him."
Mandy peered at the little bug with interest. "Does he bite?" she asked.
"No! He's a good bug, aren't you?" The Grackle Bug waved its antennae at Mandy and chirped shyly in reply, and she laughed.
"All right, you can keep him. Just make sure you clean up after him. Did you find anything interesting, Kiki?"
Kiki opened her mouth, hesitated, and then smiled. "You can read about it when I write up an article," she told Mandy. "Hey, are we really going to stay here all day? I'm tired, and this place is huge, Mandy. Can't we go home? We could have hot chocolate," she added hopefully.
Mandy slumped and sighed. "Yeah, I have to admit defeat. This is going to take days to sort out. Oh, but hey! Guess what I found while I was sorting stuff?" Grinning, she lowered the box she was holding in one hand. Kiki gasped. In the box lay a Striped Paintbrush, humming with magic.
"How would you like to be striped, Leonard?" Mandy asked. "We'll go to the Rainbow Pool tomorrow, if you like."
Kiki had to grin at the way Leonard's face lit up, bright as a lantern at night.
When they got home, she opened her notebook to a fresh page.
Status: all adventured out, she wrote. I'll give you the full report in a bit, journal, but here's the quick version.
Lost: my dignity and my pride.
Gained: one pretty great little brother. All in all, a very good day.