Do a Good Deed
When it comes to being a grumpy old geezer, no one was more of an expert than the lonely denizen in the big white house: Jeremiah Sludge, the big brown Skeith with the big, bad attitude. Nobody knows for sure why Jeremiah Sludge treated his fellow Neopians with such disdain, because no one who lived in his neighborhood could remember a time when he did not have the reputation of the old curmudgeon on the hill. And what a reputation it was!
Schoolyard folklore from the neighborhood kids tells of a little red Kyrii who once jumped the fence surrounding Sludge's big white house to retrieve a lost Wingoball. The Kyrii's friends all warned him not to trespass, and of course the little guy knew all of the stories of Sludge's cruelty himself. This did not deter him, though, and over the fence he went. Legend has it that the last words he hollered to his friends were, "This is gonna be no sweat! Be back over in a jiff!"
Needless to say, the Kyrii did not return in a jiff.
Another tale tells that an adorable little JubJub named Susie Buttons once went to Sludge's front door on behest of her owner to obtain an ingredient for pie baking. No sooner did Susie Buttons knock on the front door than did a small army of Mutant Harris pour from behind the broken shutters and bare their claws at the little pink JubJub.
Legend has it that her curly pink fur turned ghost white from fear and never reverted to its natural color.
These, of course, are the egregious types of story regarding Jeremiah Sludge. While there is truth in his general reputation as a mysterious old shut-in, he has certainly never intentionally harmed anyone. Further still, there is even a... friendly side to the old Skeith, but very few have ever dared to go looking for it.
Stan stared out his window with his chin resting on his wing. He brushed his ruffled pink feathers away from his face and rolled his eyes. The young Lenny developed a habit of rolling his eyes every time he looked at himself. He hated that he was pink. The decision making process that led his owner to paint him pink would forever remain a mystery to him.
Downstairs lay an empty house. His owner was away on business, leaving Stan in charge of the homestead for the first time ever. At first, this opportunity created in Stan completely boundless excitement, but as the day wore on, he realized how terribly boring it was to be alone.
So, there he sat, a bored pink Lenny who hated being pink and had no better occupation than to sit and stare out his bedroom window, hoping for a thunderstorm or an explosion or something to add a little excitement to his day.
His mind wandered to the one task his owner had given him:
"Do a good deed while I'm away."
"Pfft, a good deed?" Stan thought. "What does that even mean, man? Good for whom? I can go out and rob the National Neopian and a literal ton of hot dogs with all the Neopoints, and that would be good for me. It wouldn't be very good for the bank, or all the Neopians whose money I stole. It would be good for the Hubert's Hot Dogs, though."
Stan rolled his eyes at the thought. He did, however, take great joy in imagining himself as the anti-hero of a good heist story, infiltrating the National Neopian with great gusto and awesome catchphrases.
"Put all the Neopoints in the bag," he'd say. "Don't forget to tip your server."
Maybe he'd have to work a little bit on the awesome catchphrases.
Before he could realize, Stan had fallen asleep at the window. He had no recollection of even beginning to nod off, and he hadn't had a dream, so it felt as if someone had just suddenly flipped a switch and turned off the sun. Stan liked nighttime, though. It made his feathers look less abrasively pink, and erred more on the side of an exotic magenta, which he appreciated it. Nighttime also afforded him an opportunity to look at the stars.
So, he went to the yard to watch the stars. It was a clear night, and millions of little lights freckled the black sheet above him. No matter how often he partook in this ritual, Stan's breath always left his body for a moment when he tried to comprehend the depth of space from which those little lights traveled.
"The universe is awesome," he thought. "The universe is totally awesome, man."
His incredibly deep and undeniably intellectual musings came to a sudden halt when he heard a loud grunt from the next-door neighbor's backyard. At first, Stan didn't think he had actually heard anything. In all his years of living in this neighborhood, he couldn't think of a single time he'd heard a peep from the big white house next door. But then, the cries for help came.
"Help! Please, someone help," the gravelly voice came flying over the fence.
Stan looked up the stars and considered the situation. If there was a good deed to be done in his owner's absence, there would probably not be a better situation than a mysterious cry for help from beyond the fence.
Stan poked his head over the fence and saw a giant brown Skeith laying facedown on the ground. He could not turn his head to see Stan, so Stan could have easily ignored the situation and returned to his window-gazing good time, but the "good deed" rang loudly in his head. Besides, what kind of jerk leaves an old Skeith lying facedown in his backyard?
"Hey, mister, you need a hand?" Stan asked.
"Oh, thank goodness," the Skeith growled. "Yes, please, please for the love of all that is good, help me up. I threw my back out raking my leaves."
Stan hopped over the fence and looked at the Skeith. He was big, even by the standards of his species. Stan wasn't a weakling, but he also wasn't an idiot; he knew this would be a challenge. He rubbed his feathers and tried to formulate a plan.
"Say, Mister--" Stan began, but the Skeith cut him off.
"Sludge," he said. "My name's Jeremiah Sludge. Call me Sludge. What's your name, kid?"
"My name's Stan, Mr. Sludge," the Lenny said. "Look, I don't mean to offend you, but I'm pretty sure I'm too weak to lift you up. Do you think maybe you could tell me where you threw out your back and I can try to pop it back?"
Sludge let out a long, terrible sigh. If this sigh was a physical object, it would have been a burlap sack of bricks, and the burlap sack of bricks would have smacked Stan right in the ears. Then, it became very silent for a few seconds.
Sludge broke the silence: "Okay. Right beneath my right wing."
Stan stood right over Sludge and began massaging the tension beneath his right wing. Sludge grunted and said, "Yeah, there you go, Stan. That's great."
After a quick minute, Sludge worked himself to his feet. He let out a big hearty sigh, this one more akin to an ice cold wave of water. Pleasant, but still somewhat chilling in excess.
"I can't thank you enough, kid," Sludge said as he clapped Stan on the back. "I'd still be lying in the leaves if you hadn't been out this late. I got lucky, huh?"
"This late?" Stan asked. "What time is it, Mr. Sludge?"
"Well, it's gotta be about 3 a.m. by now," Sludge guessed. He then turned toward the house and opened his backdoor. "You like hot dogs?"
Stan did indeed like hot dogs.
Inside, Sludge prepared Stan the most delicious and thoroughly cooked hot dog he had ever eaten. As he chewed, the Lenny listened to Sludge tell stories of his travels all over Neopia. From Shenkuu to Krawk Island to the deepest reaches of the Lost Desert, Sludge had traveled and befriended Neopians far and wide. After a lifetime of traveling, he decided to settle for his twilight years in this quiet neighborhood.
As Stan listened, he filled with questions, but none more pressing than this one: "Mr. Sludge, why were you raking your leaves at three o'clock in the morning?"
Sludge sighed. This one felt like a soft breeze. Gentle and a bit sad.
"People in this neighborhood don't like me too much," he said. "It's all because of some old mishaps from when I used to do my chores during the daytime. There was little Kyrii kid whose baseball came over my fence... well, one of my old Harris chewed the thing up, and the kid ran away for three days fearing that his owner would punish him for losing the ball. Somehow, that story grew to me kidnapping the kid and cooking him in a stew or something."
"Another time, a little JubJub girl came to borrow some butter for her owner," he continued as he cleared Stan's plate. "I was painting my house white at the time. It used to be orange, and I hated it. Anyway, the little JubJub surprised me because she came up when I wasn't looking, and I accidentally spilled a whole can of the white paint on her."
As he finished the dishes, Sludge sat down and shrugged. He said, "At some point, I earned a reputation as some kind of curmudgeonly old monster. So, I mostly keep to myself."
Stan thought about it. As he searched his memories, he did recall some of his classmates telling stories about the grumpy old Skeith many years earlier. He hadn't heard anything in years, though.
"Maybe you should try coming back into the world someday," Stan said. "You never know. Maybe public opinion has changed."
"Hmm. Yeah, maybe." He said it, but Stan didn't believe him. Stan then supposed that it would probably take great difficulty to change an ages old habit like Sludge's. If he were to change, it certainly wouldn't come overnight.
"Well, I like you, Mr. Sludge," Stan said. "You seem like a pretty decent guy."
Sludge produced a large smile befitting to his overwhelming physical presence. The smile grew so wide that it reflected the moonlight coming through the window.
"Do you like cards, Stan?" Sludge asked. "If you do, I've got a game I picked up from an old Shoyru in Shenkuu that is just a blast to play."
Sludge moved to the other room to retrieve the deck of cards. Stan pushed the feathers out of his face and looked out the kitchen window. The faintest crack of sunlight began to peek over the horizon.
Stan smiled to himself and thought of how he couldn't wait for his owner to return to hear about his good deed. More importantly, though, he beamed with excitement to tell his owner all about his new friend.