The Transfer: Part One
Ellorna strode down the street, her chitinous feet beating a confident tattoo against the cobblestones. This could be it! her footsteps seemed to say, over and over again. This could be it!
Hitching the bag of groceries further up onto her red shoulder plate, Ellorna walked until she had reached the western edge of Neopia Central and turned onto the front walk of her small home. Fumbling with the key for a moment, she finally managed to wrestle the door open. She swung it wide—and stopped in her tracks.
Maj stood a few feet away, a furious look on her Poogle face and an open letter in her hand. A torn envelope lay on the floor next to her. "What is this?" Maj asked Ellorna, her voice as tight and high as music from a flute. She waved the letter for emphasis. "I told you! I don't want to be adopted! I'm going to wait for Mark!"
With a sigh, Ellorna stepped into the house and bumped the door shut with her heavy abdomen. "It's bad manners to open someone else's mail," she said neutrally, crossing the room to put her bag down on the kitchen table.
"It was addressed to both of us," Maj growled, dropping the letter to the floor and folding her arms across her chest. Then, her voice reaching piccolo range, she asked, "Elly, how could you?"
"Look, I—" Ellorna stopped and took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. Raising her voice was not going to help matters. "Maj, I'm not trying to hurt you. This is something that we need to do. Mark has been gone for almost two years, and—"
"Don't!" Maj cried. "You're wrong! He is going to come back!"
Ellorna went over to Maj and took her hands in her own. Maj looked away, a rebellious look wrinkling her face. "I know you miss him, Maj," Ellorna said. "I do, too. But we can't wait forever. The only thing I can do to protect you is—"
Maj yanked her hands away and bared her alarming teeth at Ellorna. "You're not giving him enough time."
"Maj, it's been two years—"
"So? It's not that long! He promised he'd come back soon, and he will. You're just jealous. You just want to get rid of me so you'll have him all to yourself when he comes back!"
Ellorna felt the blood drain from her face. "Maj!"
Her sister's eyes filled with tears. "It's not fair!" she wailed. "Just because he got tired of you—he hasn't even had a chance to get to know me!" Maj wheeled around and ran into her room, slamming the door shut behind her. The letter stirred for a moment in the wind of her passing.
Ellorna stood silently for a few moments, as unable to move as if her exoskeleton had turned to stone. Then, taking another deep breath in and out, she slowly picked up the letter and went over to the table to read it. This was the letter that she had been hoping for, but now the excitement she had felt about it earlier had turned to lead in her chest. This man could indeed be the perfect new owner for Maj, but it didn't matter if Maj wouldn't have anything to do with him.
Maj had been refusing to be Transferred ever since Ellorna had first suggested the idea about a year ago. She wanted to believe that Mark would come back. Unfortunately, Ellorna knew that wasn't going to happen. Mark's interest in Neopets had started waning long before Maj was born. Maj had refueled his interest for a little while—it had always been his dream to have a Poogle—but it hadn't been enough. In truth, once he had attained his dream, Mark had had nothing left to strive for. Instead of creating a new dream, he had chosen to leave. Ellorna was still a little bitter over that.
Anyway. When Mark had been gone a year, Ellorna had expected to be picked up by the Pound. That was what happened to abandoned pets. But somehow, by some wonderful chance, the Pound had missed them. However, now the second-year anniversary was coming up and Ellorna knew they wouldn't be overlooked again. If she was going to find a new owner for Maj, she needed to do it soon.
Ellorna had been looking for a year, despite her sister's protests, but she hadn't been able to find any users that she thought would be suitable for her little sister. A surprising number of people had applied to adopt Maj, but most of them were newbies, only interested in Maj because they thought having a Poogle would make them look good. That came through clearly even when they tried to hide it, though some made it blatantly obvious that they only wanted her because of her species.
Besides, all those newbies—who could tell how long they would stick around? Mark had been a Neopian for a year before he had vanished, and Ellorna would not give Maj up to an owner who would repeat Mark's mistake. No, Ellorna needed to find someone for whom Neopia wasn't just a so-called phase. Unfortunately, most mature users either already had four pets or were only willing to adopt a pet with a good name and a good color. Yellow Poogle Majorie2006, stats practically nil, just wasn't going to cut it.
Ellorna squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again. Would this user, this Alex, be the exception? Did it matter? If Maj wouldn't accept the idea of being adopted by someone else, how could Ellorna force it upon her? How—in Fyora's name, how—was she supposed to save Maj and keep her from hating her at the same time?
Suddenly Ellorna felt tears gush out of her large eyes, and she buried her face in her hands. "This is impossible," she whispered to herself. "What am I supposed to do? And, and, and if I can't even control my emotions, how can I expect to find a good home for Maj?" She shook her head violently. This wasn't the way things were supposed to be. She was Maj's big sister, not her owner. She wasn't cut out for this responsibility. Maj was right; it wasn't fair. None of it was.
How could Mark have left them? So he had a new baby. Big deal! So kids took time. She knew that! But she and Maj needed him too. They were his first daughters, even if they were Neopets. And Mark had promised that he would come back every once in a while to check on them. He had promised. Then he had booked them into Cockroach Towers, the best he could afford, and waved a cheerful goodbye over his shoulder as he walked away. They hadn't seen him again.
Ellorna shook her head again. This was pointless. Thinking about Mark and crying about their circumstances weren't going to save Maj. With a shuddering sigh, she wiped at her eyes and determinedly picked up the letter again. She would find a good home for Maj, whether her sister wanted it or not. It was all she could do to protect her, and she would do it right. She would.
Ellorna fingered the letter, flipping through the pages. On the last page, there was a picture of a Faerie Poogle. Alex obviously wasn't the most spectacular artist in Neopia, but he wasn't bad, and considering the fact that he had only seen a small picture of Maj that Ellorna had taken with her to the Neoboards, it looked surprisingly like her. Except, of course, for the fact that in the picture she was Faerie instead of Yellow.
Had Maj seen the picture? She had always wanted to be Faerie, but it might have only made her angrier. She wasn't the type of Neopet who could be bought with trinkets, even if the trinket happened to be one of her heart's desires.
Leafing through the other pages, Ellorna realized that the envelope had contained two letters: one was an application for her, and the other was a letter of introduction to Maj. She read through them quickly. In the letter to Ellorna, Alex talked about why he wanted Maj—he had always wanted a Poogle; her personality sounded like it would mesh perfectly with those of his other three pets; and he actually liked the numbers in her name—and how well he would care for her—he would feed her well; he would treat her just like his other three pets; and he would paint her if she wanted. In the letter to Maj, he described himself and his three pets, talked about the things they enjoyed doing together, and told her of his desire to paint her Faerie if she wanted to be painted. In short, he sounded perfect.
If only Maj would agree. If only. There had to be a way.
The next day, Ellorna shook Maj awake before dawn.
Maj groaned and rolled over. "What izit?" she mumbled. "It's early."
"It'll be dawn soon. Come on. We have things to do." She yanked open the blinds, letting the dim gray light of the unrisen sun trickle into the room.
"Things that hafta be done 'fore dawn?"
Ellorna walked out of the room. "Be up in fifteen minutes," she said over her shoulder.
Ellorna ignored her sister, and a few minutes later she heard Maj stirring. She put her dishes in the sink and shoved a piece of toast in Maj's hands as soon as she appeared in her doorway. "Let's go," she said. "You can eat on the way."
"But where're we going?"
"We're going to do some charity work. We haven't done any for a while." Ellorna shooed Maj out the front door and locked it up behind them.
"But we don't have any money to give to charity!" Maj said, trailing her down the walk.
"We can still serve. Today we're going to be helping the Neopets at the Pound."
Ellorna glanced back to see that her sister had stopped in her tracks. She frowned. "Maj, the Pound needs more help than any other charity organization in Neopia, and it's close by. Why wouldn't we go there?"
"Because..." Maj looked away.
Ellorna walked back to her sister and took her hand. "This has nothing to do with that. But the pets in the Pound need help. Come on. Today we can make things a bit brighter for them."
Maj blew out a deep breath and nodded, letting Ellorna lead the way. As they walked, Ellorna thought. Despite what she had told Maj, her motives for deciding to help at the Pound today weren't entirely pure. Would this work the way she hoped?
Before long, they had arrived at the Pound's bright red door. They proceeded through the Adoptions door, which looked almost overwhelmingly cheerful, and were immediately greeted by the pink Uni, who was definitely overwhelmingly cheerful.
"Hi there!" she chirped. "My name is Rose, and I'm head of the Adoptions department! Are you here to adopt a pet?"
"No," Ellorna said quickly, wondering how Rose expected them to adopt anyone without an owner along. "We're here to volunteer."
"Oh, wonderful!" Rose pointed at a second door with her nose. "Just through there, please!"
"Thank you," Ellorna said quickly, and pulled a reluctant Maj through the door behind her.
Despite Maj's fears, though, the day wasn't bad. As they served breakfast to the somber pets, then participated in game time, then served lunch, Maj's tenseness slowly dissipated. By the time they started cleaning up the lunch dishes, she was even smiling and thanking the pets who brought their dirty dishes to her.
Ellorna, meanwhile, was starting to wonder if her idea had been a mistake. She knew that things in the Pound weren't always so lovely, but Maj was too young to understand. What if Maj decided that being in the Pound was preferable to being Transferred? She scrubbed at the dishes, wondering what she could try next.
"Everyone, listen up!" Rose's loud voice floated into the kitchen over the sound of the faucet.
Ellorna turned the water off and lifted her head. Rose had just entered the room and was trotting around energetically.
"All right, everyone!" Rose said. "The after-lunch crowd has arrived, and there's quite a few of them, so get ready! Some of you could be going home today!" With a toss of her head, she ducked back out of the room.
Ellorna looked around hastily. Where—oh. Maj was sitting at a table with a Red Poogle, chatting energetically. "Maj!" Ellorna called. "Come here!"
Maj glanced at her and nodded. She kept talking with the other Poogle for a moment, then got up and ran over to Ellorna. "What?" she asked. "I want to keep talking. That girl—she's from Mystery Island. She was telling me so many cool things about it! Can we go there?"
"Maybe. But for right now, stay here in the kitchen with me. The users are about to come in, and I don't want you to be mistaken for a pet up for adoption."
"Why not? I can just tell them I'm here with you. I want to go—"
Maj cut off as users swarmed into the room. Suddenly, the room was crowded, noisy with echoes, and nearly overwhelming.
"Any painted pets here?" one boy shouted. "C'mon, I need a pink pet for an avatar!"
In the corner, an unfortunate Robot Buzz cowered, surrounded by several users who seemed to be arguing loudly with each other about how much the Buzz was worth without his casings.
"Hi!" a girl nearby said cheerfully, dropping to her knees next to a Mynci. "What's your name?"
"Um, underscore I like brains 55," the Mynci mumbled.
The girl wrinkled her nose and scrambled off.
"But I wouldn't mind a nickname," the Mynci called after her desperately. She didn't look back.
A shriek split the air, and Ellorna whipped her head around. Two girls were playing tug-of-war with the Red Poogle, who looked ready to cry. "She's mine!" the one shouted. "I saw her first!"
"You did not! Anyways, I was waiting in line outside before you were!"
"No you weren't, you—"
Then, as if by magic, Rose was there. "Hello, girls!" she said brightly. "Right this way, please. I'll help you sort this all out."
One of the girls frowned and opened her mouth.
"Don't worry about a thing!" Rose said. "Sara will still be here when you get back." She hesitated a moment to murmur to the Poogle, a concerned look on her face, and for the Poogle to nod in reply before she herded the girls away.
Ellorna blew out a relieved breath and looked back over at the Robot Buzz. It looked like he was being protected by another Pound worker, who was trying to stop the users' debate without much success.
Everything had quieted down. A few users were leading Neopets away by the hand. Most of the pets looked happy, if overwhelmed, though not all. The boy who had wanted a Pink pet was walking away empty-handed.
Finally, Ellorna looked down at Maj and discovered that her sister had wrapped herself around Ellorna's waist. Ellorna curled an arm over Maj's shoulders. "Are you okay?" she asked gently. "I'm sorry. I didn't expect it to be quite that... shocking."
Maj nodded against her chest. "I'm okay," she said. "Can we please never come here again?"
To be continued...