Super Secret Club Special: Septuacentennial Struggle
(A.N: Al’s story was transcribed with his permission. The characters referenced by him are not intended to be a representation of his real previous owner, and are entirely of my own creation)
In the garden of number forty eight, Rainbow Lane, Neopia Central, stands a tree house. But this is not just any treehouse. This treehouse is the headquarters-
“No, that’s not right.”
The girl in the spinny office chair exhales irritably, scribbling out the lines she’s just written.
In the study of number forty eight, Rainbow Lane, Neopia Central, an author is not feeling inspired. To distract herself from her rapidly plummeting muse, she takes an angry bite of the Cheese and Pickle Sandwich beside her, absentmindedly twirling around in her seat.
It’s not long before she hears familiar pattering footsteps coming towards her office. A small, turquoise head peeks around the open door, curiosity piqued by the groans of annoyance emanating from within.
“Whatcha writin’ Mama?” The Baby Grundo trots into the room, unhindered by the bright yellow cast on his arm, a souvenir from his most recent adventure.
“Nothing at the moment, Al.” she sighs. “I think I’ve run out of ideas.”
Al toddles over to her desk, scrambling up onto her lap. He looks hard at the sheet of paper in front of him, deciphering the words hidden under the scribbly line.
“That’s the same as all of your stories.” He reminds her, helpfully. “Why can’tcha use that again?”
“Well, you see-“
She’s interrupted by two more ‘pets entering the study. Taros the Tyrannian Skeith is holding an enormous basketball under his arm. His parents have become fixated on the idea that he’d make a great sportsman. Taros vehemently disagrees. Meanwhile, Vyla, the camouflage Techo is struggling to stay upright, owing to the fact that she’s wearing a pair of rollerblades.
“Hey, Al!” Vyla greets him cheerily. “Taros and I were just playing Roller-Basketball. What’re you up to?”
“I’m helpin’ Mama to write her story.“ the Baby Grundo replies. “She’s all outta ideas.”
“He’s right.” Mama sighs. “You see, next week is the 700th issue of the Neopian Times. I’m after that avatar to add to my collection.” She indicates a noticeboard on the wall, filled with blinking shapes. There is a space near the bottom that’s the perfect size for the elusive avatar.
“Well, what’s wrong with what you usually write?” Taros enquires.
“I’ve started everything the same way so many times. It just doesn’t seem special enough, you know?”
“So, we gotta think of something extra special for this issue.” Al summarises, then giggles; he’s never realised how funny the word ‘issue’ is.
“Right.” Mama agrees. “I know you’ve had a lot of adventures, but I’m not sure they’d find them the right sort of material for an issue like this.”
“Hmmm….” Taros murmurs thoughtfully, plonking himself down on a beanbag. “What really stands out? Is there anything really special we’ve done?”
“Well, there was that time we-“ Vyla begins, treading carefully over to join him in her rollerblades. “Oh yeah, you already wrote about that,”
“We’ve done a whole lotta special things.” Al replies, swinging his legs around on the chair. He’s quiet for a few moments, then. “Oh!” he exclaims. “I got it!”
He leans over to whisper something in Mama’s ear.
She grins. “Yes, I think that’ll be perfect.” * * *
The Baby Grundo peered around at his new surroundings. Overgrown flowers towered above him. Grass was sprouting from underneath the pathway to a crooked gate, where the off-white paint peeled. The faded paving stones reminded him of the time he had accidentally smashed a vase at his old house, and multi-coloured triangular shards had flown everywhere. He’d tried to explain that he didn’t mean to break it, but Mother hadn’t listened to him.
This house was very different to his last one, he thought: The garden was not full of bicycles, punctured footballs, or wellington boots. There were no pets running around, laughing and joking. It looked very quiet…and a bit scary. He clutched his Ducky a little tighter.
The Uni from the Pound –Rose, he remembers- had dropped him off here a while ago. He’d told her he didn’t need anybody to come to the door with him, but now, he wasn’t as sure. He looked at the tag around his neck. Although he couldn’t read the squiggles, Rose had told him that his name, age and previous owner were written on there. What he knew was that his name was Alleluyae, he was three years old, and he took up a whole lot of space.
“Don’t be such a baby.” His brothers had told him. He’d tried to say that he couldn’t help it, because he was a baby. But they had laughed, and kept saying it, over and over again.
Ducky had got very angry and upset, and of course, he had to peck them. Ducky didn’t know that his beak was very hard, and that it left red marks everywhere. He was very hard to control when he was angry.
If he was brave, Alleluyae thought to himself, then maybe Ducky wouldn’t get so upset, because they wouldn’t keep calling him a baby. So, he decided to be a big, brave boy. Mother had told him that was what he needed to be before the scary Techo had put him in the cage with all those strange pets.
He walked carefully up the path, avoiding the cracks between the triangles, towards the front door. It was bright red, and there was a Noil-shaped knocker. It was too high for him to reach, so Ducky had to knock on the door instead.
It wasn’t long before the door opened, and he saw a pair of blue legs. Attached to the legs was a stripy body, and then a head, with square-shaped glasses.
“Oh my goodness, you’re here!” the girl cried. “I can’t believe it-my own little boy!”
He wanted to tell her that he wasn’t a little boy, he was a big boy, but then, she took hold of his hand, like Mother had done before, and smiled down at him. Suddenly, he didn’t mind being called little.
The girl led him down a bright orange hallway, full of pictures of places he’d never visited. He noticed that she wasn’t wearing any shoes, just socks with spots on them. Mother hadn’t liked them shuffling around in only their socks. It damaged the floor, she said. Maybe this house had a different set of rules.
Then, he was in a living room. Instead of white sofas covered in sheets so nobody made a mess, these ones were all in different colours, and didn’t match at all. There was a bookshelf three times his size against one wall, and even more books were piled up on the coffee table. Perhaps this new owner would teach him to read all of them? There was even a Goldy bowl in the corner, with a tiny model of Techo Mountain inside. Mother had said Petpets were too noisy and dirty for the house.
His new owner sat down on one of the sofas. He wasn’t sure whether he was allowed, but then Ducky decided that he quite liked the sofa, so that meant it must have been safe.
“Oh, silly me.” the girl murmured, sounding cross, but not cross at him. “I haven’t even told you my name! Right, I’m Alice, but you can call me whatever you like.”
Well, he certainly wasn’t going to call her Mother, because that was Mother’s name-they weren’t allowed to call her anything else, not even Mummy, because that was too childish.
“He wants to call you his Mama.” Ducky said for him, because he felt a bit too shy to tell her himself.
“That sounds good. Thank you, Ducky.”
This surprised him. “You know Ducky?” he blurted out, before he could stop himself.
“That’s right. Rose the Pound Uni told me all about him. She told me Ducky has a bit of a temper.”
“Ducky din’t mean to!” he cried. “He din’t mean to hurt ‘em! They were bein’ nasty, an’ then Ducky kept peckin’, even when I told him not to. I tried to stop ‘im, promise!”
“I’m sure you did. But maybe Ducky was feeling sad and left out, because he was the littlest?”
He nodded, hiding his face.
“Well, can I tell you two a secret? I was always the littlest, and it made me sad, too, because people thought I was much younger than them, and didn’t always listen to me, even though I had a lot of things to say.”
“Oh.” He replied, surprised. He couldn’t imagine this big person being the littlest.
“And I’m sure you and Ducky have a lot of really interesting things to say, Alleluyae.”
He tensed at the use of his name; Mother had always used the full version. She said it made him sound proper and respectable. He was too shy to tell her that he didn’t like it.
As if by magic, his new Mama seemed to read his mind. “That’s a very long name for such a small boy. Do you think we should shorten it?”
He nodded, pleased that she seemed not to like It either. It was really a very silly name.
“Hmm…What should I call you?” she sat in silence for a moment. “I know! How about Al? Then we can match: Alice and Al.”
He liked that a lot better than his proper name. And he could say it properly, without muddling up all the letters.
“Pleased to meet you, Al.” she grinned, and shook his hand. “This can be a fresh start for the both of us, can’t it?”
He’d never got a fresh start before-Mother liked to remind him of all the times he’d been a bad boy. And here his new Mama was, telling him that it didn’t even matter that he and Ducky had got in a lot of trouble. Maybe now he had this new, nicer name, he could be a new, nicer boy?
“Now then, You’re probably hungry from your journey here, aren’t you? I’m not the best cook in the world, but I’m sure I could find something nice for you…what sorts of food do you like to eat?”
Al had never been asked that before. In Mother’s house, you ate what she gave you, and didn’t make a fuss, not even if you didn’t like all the icky vegetables. And she never, ever let you choose a snack. All her children formed a line, as she handed out all sorts of yucky foods. Raisins were the worst of all. But then, there was one treat that he would always remember.
“Can I have..a cookie?”
He’d had a cookie once, when he was a lot younger, and Mother had been in a good mood. She’d had a lot less ‘pets then, he remembered, and so, she spent a lot of time with him, because he was the littlest. They’d been on a trip into town, and because he was such a good boy, she said, he was allowed to have a little bite on the way home. It was the most wonderful thing he’d ever tasted, with gooey melted chocolate in the middle. Mother didn’t even mind when he’d got chocolate and crumbs all around his face.
But then, when they got back to the house, his brothers had got their paws on it before he could stop them, and they’d eaten it all up right in front of him. Ducky got angry then, but he only pecked each of them once before Al calmed him down. Still, his brothers had told on Ducky, and that meant that he and Al were sent to their room without any dinner. Mother told Al that he was a spoiled boy, and if there was one thing Mother couldn’t stand, it was spoiling her children.
“Of course you can.” His new Mama replied. “It’s lucky I bought some more yesterday. I’ve got a lot of different types: Chocolate chip, Strawberry, some with rainbow sweets inside…Which one do you fancy?”
He’d never realised just how many types of cookies there were. It was all a bit much for him to take in. “I…I can’t decide…” he whispered worriedly. What if he got told off for being difficult?
“Don’t you worry. I’ll figure something out. You make yourself comfy, and I’ll be right back.”
The sofa was really very comfy, he thought, after she had left the room. And quite bouncy, too. Mother had never cared for bouncy furniture. She said it would weaken the springs if she let her children leap all over them. The cushions were so soft, perfect for snuggling into.
Even though he’d been here a few minutes, this house still felt more like a home than Mother’s had.
Mama came back then, not with just one cookie like he’d expected, but with a whole plate of them, in all kinds of flavours. When she put them on the table in front of him, he pulled the plate closer, putting a whole cookie in his mouth as quickly as possible, so nobody could steal it away from him.
“Hey, slow down there, Al.” she told him gently. “They’re not going anywhere.”
Even so, he still put Ducky on the table, to keep any eye out for any greedy hands.
Once every crumb had been swiped up, he found himself feeling very sleepy all of a sudden. Without thinking, he yawned. Then froze. Mother always told him how rude it was to yawn in front of people.
“You tired, sweetie? I don’t blame you-you’ve had such a busy day. Would you like to see your brand new room?”
“I won’t hafta share, will I?” he asked warily. Before, he’d always shared with his brothers. It had always been much too noisy for him to sleep.
“Nope. You get it all to yourself. Come on, let’s go and take a look.”
She showed him the staircase at the end of the hall. Mother’s stairs had been narrow and steep, easy to fall down, but these were wider, with a banister going right to the top. Even with his short legs, he was sure he could easily run up and down them. But now, he walked up slowly, holding Mama’s hand. Now that he’d found her, he wasn’t sure he ever wanted to let go.
His new room came as a giant surprise: He had been expecting it to be small, with not much furniture, but instead, it was big. Mother had insisted he sleep in a poky little cot next to his brothers, but now, he had a huge bed, all to himself. It looked like it was made of chocolate. Mother certainly wouldn’t approve. But then, he reminded himself, he didn’t live with Mother anymore.
There were all sorts of interesting things in his room: His own little bookshelf, already full of picture books. They certainly wouldn’t be all torn up like the ones Mother had given him. Those had belonged to his brothers, but these were books he could call his own. In the corner, there was a pretty Spotted Rocking Uni, and a Bouncy Orange Ball. And at the end of his bed, there was a toybox with Duckies printed on it. He’d have to take a look inside tomorrow.
He scrambled up onto the bed, burying himself in the soft bedclothes. Mama came over to sit beside him on the edge.
“Are you comfy, sweetie?” she asked him.
“Yes, Mama.” He replied, not feeling shy any more.
“You get some sleep now, there’s a good boy.” She leant over to ruffle his hair. “We’ve got a big day tomorrow.”
“Whatcha’ doin’ tomorrow?”
Well ,I was thinking that we could get the garden sorted out. I had no idea of the state it would be in when I moved here a couple of months ago. And I’ll need your help deciding where to put your treehouse…”
“My treehouse?!” he echoed.
“I thought you might like to have somewhere you can play when you’re outside. Of course, I’m going to have to make sure there’s always somewhere up there with you.”
“Wow…” he whispered, awe-struck. He’d never had his own place before.
“Oh, and since it’s such a big job, maybe we could get some of the neighbourhood kids to help out? I’m sure they’ll be really excited to meet you and Ducky.” She grinned “But right now, it’s getting late, and we’ll need to get up early if we want to make some progress.”
She bent down to give him a gentle hug. “Sweet dreams, Al. I love you.”
“I love you too, Mama. You’re the greatest.”
For the first time that day, Al smiled. He knew he was going to have some super great adventures here.
“G’night, Ducky.” He whispered, clutching his best pal to his chest. “Tomorrow is gonna be the best day ever.”