They Called Him Dr. Death
His name hadn’t always been an omen. It was hard to remember it now, and trying felt strange, the syllables foreign and distant. He could see who the name belonged to, picture himself, a young Techo, bright-eyed and eager. Scooping up injured Puppyblews, sneaking into the Kadoatery with a bag full of treats, even splinting an Alkenore’s tail after it had gotten slammed in a doorway. Finding them homes afterward, taking great pride in finding the right home, a place they could be happy and safe forever.
He’d always felt like there was a great well inside of him, an emptiness of sorts, and the only way to fill it was to give back. He used to painstakingly craft care sheets – what sorts of cheeses Drackonacks prefer, temperature preferences for Magmut, and how to keep a Slorg’s slime coating in the best condition. Always at the library, or making trips to The Neopian Hospital, absorbing as much knowledge as he could, watching interactions and asking questions. It was never enough.
Helping, growing, learning. Filling the well.
But it wasn’t just PetPets. For every box of abandoned Gruslen pups and every carelessly cracked Hippalop fin, there were Neopets. Equally homeless, equally abandoned, equally hurt. Maybe not physically, but hurt nonetheless. Their wells were empty, too, but they didn’t know how to fill them. They had no one to help them.
He could help them. He could. He would.
School was the next step, when library archives and eavesdropping transactions weren’t enough anymore. Years of late nights, droning teachers, and chalkboards full of numbers and diagrams. He started to volunteer at the Neopian Pound, tending to hurt paws and fractured wings. He started asking questions, started giving warnings and advice. “Are you sure you’re prepared for this?” “Unis require a lot of maintenance, and beauty products should absolutely be in your Neopoint budget.” “Grarrls will eat anything, but that doesn’t mean they should.”
The well grew deeper and harder to fill.
Filling it was so satisfying, though, like a spark inside him that burned brighter and brighter. His work was heavy, but it made him light. When he completed school, he knew what would fill the well. He accepted a position at the Neopian Pound, always understaffed, always overworked. But adoptions weren’t where they needed the most help – sure, sometimes someone would have a complicated question, or ask for specific advice, and the pink Uni who normally ran things would sweep by his desk. He’d tell them how often a Moehog needed a mud bath, and what sort of things you could do with Gnorbu wool. That filled his well.
What they really needed help with, however, didn’t. Drop-offs and abandonments were at an all-time high, and that’s where he worked. It was the excuses that did it. Like the ones who were irritated that their Shoyru was too playful – “but she’s a Shoyru,” he would say, pleading. “What sort of toys did you buy her?” None, of course. “Did you ever take her on any trips, let her spread her wings?” Well, no. We’re busy. Can’t you just take her? We’ve been hearing Draiks are a lot less high maintenance, and very popular right now.
“But your Shoyru needs you.”
Not anymore, she doesn’t.
It wasn’t always malice or ignorance, though. Some of them were genuine, and those hurt in a different way. “The Tax Beast,” one said. “We just … don’t have enough anymore. We can’t feed him.” It wasn’t their fault. Not directly, anyways – they could’ve held their money safely in the bank, but it’s not like they intended to lose such a large percentage of Neopoints. It certainly wasn’t their Kougra’s fault. But it still wasn’t fair.
The well grew deeper, but it wasn’t filling anymore. He couldn’t fix these problems. He could only try, and try, and then fill out the forms (in triplicate, of course) and lead the Neopets into the back, into the endless rows of rooms and cages. At first he would make promises – oh, I know someone who’s really been looking for an Elephante, don’t you worry. Lupes get adopted all the time, you won’t be here long. But the promises got harder and harder to keep, and hurt a little more each time to say. So finally, he said nothing. His disappointments and troubles became physical, his features hardening, his expression dour.
It went like this, his well drying up, his spark becoming dying embers. He earned a nickname, due to the way he would cart off a Neopet to the mysterious back room, frowning and glaring. Like he enjoyed it. “Dr. Death,” they called him. He hated it. He had wanted to be known as a good Techo, someone who cared. All the time spent studying, only for his title to be used to mock him.
Until the Yurble.
It had been a long day, a string of Neopets carelessly discarded, including a Skeith who’d been led to believe they were going to the Tyrannian Concert Hall. By the time he realized what was happening, by the time his disappointment had kicked in, the forms had already been signed and stamped. His owner was gone. It was almost the end of his day, almost time to go home, and a couple came in with a Yurble. They mumbled some excuses about him digging up the carpet.
He couldn’t take it anymore. He had long ago given up smiles and advice for solemn neutrality, but he couldn’t do it and he snapped. “You’re really going to leave your Neopet all alone? Kick him out? Leave him to die?” The judgment came out of him in harsh waves, like a bursting dam. You weren’t supposed to say things like that. You were supposed to coerce, advise, and discuss. The Neopian Pound wasn’t there to call you out, it was there to help in a time of need. He didn’t care.
But it worked. They were mortified, and stammered apologies. Of course they weren’t going to abandon their Yurble, let him waste away in loneliness. We were just frustrated, we’ll figure it out. We’ll make this work. We’re so sorry.
He sat at his desk after that, watching them leave. They stopped at the pink Uni’s much cheerier and sunnier office, giving him some nervous glances as they asked for directions to the Shop Wizard, hoping to buy their Yurble a Sand Box to dig in. “We’ll try that,” they said. “We’re going to keep him. He needs us, after all.”
And he realized, he could do this. He could fill his void. He could play the part.
They called him Dr. Death.
He could be Dr. Death. He could be rage and mysterious anger and judgment and scowls. He could make them think twice before they treated a living creature like a thing, like an object to become bored of and cast aside. He could make them see, at least in some small way, the hurt these Neopets felt when their Fuzzitus was left untreated, when their bellies were left empty for want of even a free omelette.
The Techo he used to be was long gone. The well was nailed shut. His sparks were coal and ash.
They called him Dr. Death, and it was the only way he knew how to help.