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Caged


by orginalcliche

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The light shone deep and rich against the tile floor of our kitchen. The stone table was clean, and so was everything else. I didn't think it odd at all, even though Beatrice never cleaned. The radiator hummed quietly, lowly. I didn't even notice it. I suppose I was preoccupied. There was something I was worrying about. I don't remember exactly what. Beatrice entered the kitchen quietly. She wasn't boisterous, and her eyes were filled with pity.

     "What happened; you look like you just saw a Ghostkerchief?" I asked, playfully oblivious.

     Beatrice's eyes strained with false laughter, but her lips didn't move. "So how was your day?" she questioned weakly.

     "It's not finished," I replied, looking at her curiously.

     "Oh," Beatrice half-sighed.

     "What's up with you?" I questioned defensively. She wasn't angry at me, was she?

     "Nothing, I mean…." She trailed off, looking at the floor wistfully.

     All three of my brothers were out sledding down Terror Mountain. "You're not worried about my brothers again?" I asked, annoyed. Beatrice wasn't overprotective of us, she was just a worrywart.

     Beatrice laughed, for real this time, but it was a bitter laugh. I cringed. She had never laughed like that before-- like she had just been told she'd been accepted to the Neopian Times only after she vowing never to write for it again. She laughed like someone facing her fear with nothing left to lose. "What's wrong?" I took a step toward her, putting one blue Blumaroo paw on her back.

     She sat down and motioned to the seat across from her, then began with the most awkward of lines. "Do you like it here?"

     "What do you mean?" The question threw me off guard. I couldn't not like it here; I had never known anything else.

     "I mean, would you rather not have me as your owner?" she said quietly, reluctantly.

     "I love you! I wouldn't like anyone else better." I didn't like the self-doubt that was creeping its way into her voice.

     "But I don't clean up. I'm not that funny. I snore," Beatrice proceeded to list off her faults.

     "You snore songs in your sleep. How cool is that! You are funny too. And well, the cleaning up, you can always work on that!" I persisted. Instead of lifting, Beatrice's face fell even further with my comments. "What did I say?" I whined.

     Beatrice merely shook her head. "It's not you, it's me." Yesterday she played with me happily. What had happened?

     "What? No! Don't let life get you down Bea." I adopted the voice my coach often used when I talked about quitting the Gormball team.

     "Life's hard," she spoke softly.

     I bit bark a sarcastic remark on the tip of my tongue. "Yeah," I murmured instead.

     "Listen, I need to talk to you." This time her voice was cold.

     "What?" My voice trembled. I hoped we hadn't fallen on hard times. She would have to abandon me and that would be just too clichéd. There was nothing I hated more than a cliché.

     "I've been thinking about ethics." Her voice was rough and deep then, completely open.

     "Ethics, what's that, some kind of Krawk Island entrée?" I didn't know Beatrice was interested in cooking. Relief flooded over me, spilling onto my gestures and face.

     "No. Ethics are morals, like right and wrong," she carefully explained.

     "Oh. So why are you thinking about ethics?" I asked curiously. She was in one her philosophical moods. Now I understood.

     "Well, think of all those poor pets in the pound-- not the ones with pretty coats or high stats. Think of those rows upon rows of cages, gray and monotonous. It's awful just thinking about it, but what if you had to live there, every day!"

     "Yeah I suppose." I was always very practical, and her ramblings never made much sense to me.

     "But what if one day, you got picked up, painted and then abandoned again, only to be picked up again, just because of your color," Beatrice continued.

     "Well at least you were picked up!" I exclaimed.

     Beatrice looked out the window thoughtfully. "Hmm. I suppose so." She then whirled around in her seat. "Don't you hate hypocrites?"

     "What?" I was dazed and confused. She changed topics so quickly.

     "Don't you hate hypocrites?" Beatrice repeated.

     "Oh them. Well, I suppose we all are hypocrites. It's not really fair to be harsh on others, because you do it yourself, you know; that would make you even more hypocritical." My head was beginning to ache.

     "I need to tell you something, something I have been thinking about for a while," Beatrice began. "I was wondering if you would be okay with being abandoned."

     Shock rolled over me like a tsunami. She had just said she loved me. Is this why she was talking about ethics-- to make herself feel better about abandoning me?Maybe we had really fallen on hard times. I wouldn't have known. All I needed to have fun was my imagination and a strong piece of tape, neither of which cost very much. I let my silence speak louder than words.

     "Don't get angry. I'm asking you first. Before you jump to any conclusions, let me explain to you why," Beatrice cajoled. I tried not to listen, to close my ears, but it didn't work. "I went to the pound yesterday, because it was snowing so hard, you remember?" I nodded, not feigning apathy any longer. "When I saw all of those pets, my heart just ached. I would hate for you to be one of them…." She trailed off as if waiting for me to interrupt. I didn't oblige. "So I thought, what could I do to help? Then I knew. The only way to help was the way so many others were. Then I remembered about you…."

     "And I was a snag in your plans, was I?" I commented softly.

     "No, not at all! I love you more than anything. I thought you would understand. I'm sorry I burdened you with this," Beatrice whispered disappointedly.

     "Then you shouldn't have even thought about it!" I harrumphed grumpily.

     "I'm sorry. I won't talk about it again, and I certainly won't abandon you if you feel that strongly about it," Beatrice said forcefully.

     I nodded and headed up to bed. The next morning I awoke to the sound of Beatrice making breakfast. I bounced downstairs quickly to meet her, the delicious smells of her cooking wafting towards my nose. "Benjamen, Barny and Bertie are all going to be home tomorrow," she commented nonchalantly.

     "Yes, I know," I replied tersely. Beatrice stopped fiddling with the cups for a moment, setting them down on the counter, and turned around to look at me. "Listen, about yesterday--"

     "It never happened," I interrupted her wearily. I didn't want to talk about it. I offered a half-grin and ambled over to the table.

     "Shall we go sledding then?" she asked slowly, carefully, as if walking on new snow.

     "Yeah." I was already slipping on my large boots and snowsuit.

     Snow layered everything, and ice underneath the snow. It was a long walk to the nearest hill. Neopia Central was for the most part flat, small houses stretching about as far as the eye could see. I waded through the snow; it was almost up to my chest.

     As we walked in silence the houses became thicker and taller until we were in the center of Neopia Central. Large and small shops crowded the streets, packed together as tightly as the snow. Only one building stood apart from the rest: The Neopian Pound. I shivered as we headed towards it. My breath caught in my throat.

     "Come on," she prodded, her eyes to the ground.

     "You're not going to abandon me, are you?" I asked trembling.

     "Come on." Impatience seeped into her words.

     "Okay," I said reluctantly and trailed after her.

     When we first entered the pound, the first thing I noticed was that there was no smell. You would think that with thousands of pets living there it would smell bad or at least like something that was lived in, but it didn't. That wasn't that surprising considering the state of the pets. It wasn't so much the physical toll the pound had taken on them but the mental one. It was a breeding ground for despair, and each unique case of sadness fed off of the others. Pets' faces drooped and sagged, as if they had not the energy to smile. They wearily glanced around, and even the newer pets were beginning to become jaded. I looked to the counter, expecting Beatrice to be there, doling out Neopoints for my abandonment. She wasn't though. She was standing by a small cage peering at an even smaller Wocky. Its coat was a dull yellow and its leg was slightly twisted.

     "How much for this one?" she asked quietly to Dr. Death, who merely nodded his head.

     "You can't have that one; you already have four." He hated turning away people who seemed so interested in the pets. There were so few of those these days. Beatrice knew the answer, so her face didn't fall that much; it just sagged. It sagged under the weight of this place. Its concrete walls bound her in even though she wasn't abandoned. I suppose she was, though. She was abandoned by all that told her of the good in the world, because they had lied. Oh, how they had lied! There was no good in this place, only the aftermath of evil.

     I motioned to Beatrice. "Lets go," I whispered, as if speaking too loudly might break something. She followed me out limply. The rest of the day wasn't nearly as fun as it could have been. Everywhere I looked I felt the presence of the pound against me like a mixture between guilt and sadness.

     When we got home we were wet and tired. We sat down by the fireplace. I curled up at Beatrice's feet and she pulled up a chair.

     "That was fun," I murmured into the carpet.

     "Yes, I suppose it was," Beatrice mused offhandedly.

     "What's wrong Bea?" I asked, peeking out from between my two floppy ears. "It isn't about the pound, is it?" A large feeling pitted itself in my stomach.

     "Isn't it always?" she commented dryly, her eyes sinking deeper into the folds of her cheeks.

     "No, you could think about other things. Like all the good things in Neopia!" I shouted, anger clouding my words.

     Beatrice didn't answer, her face still low. I headed up to bed; I couldn't take any more of this. "I'm going up to bed," I stated plainly, trotting up the stairs and not looking back.

     When I woke up in the morning the sky was gray, and most of the snow had been brushed off of the branches of the trees. Barny, Benjamen and Bertie were all at the kitchen table, discussing something in hushed voices.

     "Hey!" I yelled. All three of them whirled to face me.

     "You really gave me a start there Betty," Barny proclaimed. Bertie and Benjamen nodded their agreement.

     Beatrice came from the shadows, her haggard expression almost gone, but guilt instead hoarded her face. "Good morning," she whispered, her voice raspy. "There is something I have to tell you."

     "Listen, I refuse to talk about the pound anymore. Can't we just forget about it!" I was tired of this whole ordeal.

     Beatrice rubbed her eyes lazily. "This is the last time I'm going to talk about it. I promise."

     "Okay," I grunted, crossing my arms.

     "Barny's leaving," she said quietly.

     "What?!" I cried, looking to Barny, who only nodded his assent.

     "I told him about the pound and he agreed to leave for the general good of the world…." She trailed off, looking to Barny with an expression akin to pride on her face. "His goodwill to everyone is so strong. He is so strong." Tears began to prick Beatrice's eyes.

     "If you really loved us, you wouldn't make him leave!" I yelled, my hands falling limply to my sides.

     "I'm not forcing him to do this, though; he is doing it because he wants to," she replied firmly, looking at Barny. He didn't smile. I don't see how anyone could smile when they were about to leave their family.

     "Barny!" I pleaded.

     "Betty, you will understand when you're older. Sometimes you have to make choices for the better of others," he stated calmly, though his eyes were wide. He was afraid.

     "No! I love you, Barny, you're the best big brother anyone could ever have." My words were choked with tears.

     "No, I'm not. Listen Betty, I have to go." His words left gaping holes. There were so many things he didn't explain. He took a step away from me, almost disgusted by my emotions, as if I was melodramatic. I grabbed his feathers and he cried out in pain. He whirled to face me, talon at my throat. I let go of his feathers slowly. "Betty, don't make me remember you like this."

     "Please?" I whimpered, feeling the place where his paw had roughly grabbed my throat.

     "No." And then he left.

     The whole household was empty. I suppose I was the only one that really missed him. I never really knew him anyway; there wasn't much reason for me to care about him, but I did. He had never been nice to me, and he wasn't around that much, but he was my brother. Now he was gone, forever.

     For the first few moths I waited with my eyes glued to the front window, hoping with all of my might that I might see his face, or even a letter. I rushed down every morning to check the mailbox. Soon I lost touch with the part of me that loved him unconditionally. Checking the mailbox soon became a chore, and the window sat unoccupied for the longest time.

     Then the pets arrived. At first I thought Beatrice had created one, thinking to fill the void that Barny had left. Then I saw its name: Bannapeeltripp77. Beatrice hated bananas, and I knew that she wouldn't name a pet Banana if her life depended on it. I watched as they mysteriously disappeared for an hour each day. When they came back sometimes, Bannapeeltripp77 would look different. She even changed species a couple of times. Then one day she came home painted rainbow. She was gone the next day.

     I can understand why Barny would want to leave, not that he ever had to deal with this. That's nothing to all of those hurt faces; they don't get better, at least not now. The pets going in and out, like a revolving door. Some of them won't love another owner for the longest time; others will never love again at all. On the outside their coats may be gleaming, but on the inside I can read their scars like one might read a book. Some of them don't have any; their hearts just die altogether. Piece by piece they forget what it is like to feel. First goes the crying, and then the laughter. Finally, when they want to speak, they can't. For they find they have nothing left to say.

     Beatrice is kind to them. She always breaks the news lightly, with a smile or a pat on the back. She isn't evil, and I can't be angry at her, only at her ideals, the fact that she believes that what she is doing is helping out everyone. I see the effects of her "goodwill" every day. I have never seen more destruction come from good intentions than from my owner.

     Many of you may think I was selfish. I suppose I was. I should have left my family for the sake of my brother. I can't say I haven't thought about it over and over again. I run the various possibilities so many times over in my head. They are beginning to become worn with overuse.

     I am cynical now. I won't deny that, for I am not foolish. I look at everything with the most jaded eyes. I can only expect the worst now. I've tried to be optimistic, but I can't. It's not who I am anymore. I do hope, though. I am not dead yet. It was just my brother, just my stupid, stupid brother.

     After all of these years, I still miss him. I wrote him letters for the longest time, but then I stopped. I didn't have anything more to tell him. I grew up. I was never abandoned. I only actually saw the pound once or twice. I am living in one of its cages though, and I can't get out.

The End

Authors Note: I would like to thank the Neopian Times Writers Forum for helping me edit this. Muchos love. I love getting fan mail and constructive criticism even more, so feel free to Neomail me about this story. ^.^

 
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