The Pound Garden
Mariana was the gloomiest Neopet who ever lived. If you had asked her, she would have admitted it herself. She was a scrawny purple Grundo with a bad temper and a permanent scowl on her face. She was grouchy and disagreeable, and seemed to carry a cloud of negative energy with her everywhere she went. As a result, folks on the Virtupets space station usually avoided her, and she preferred it that way. She couldn’t remember the last time her owner had visited to feed her or play with her. She spent her days sulking around the space station alone, staring angrily down at the green and blue planet of Neopia below, and feeling sorry for herself.
One morning, Mariana was in a particularly bad mood. She sat alone in an isolated corner of the upper recreation deck of the Virtupets space station. As she slowly sipped a galaxy energy drink, she could hear the sounds of happy Neopets having fun all around her – eating with their neofriends at Grundo’s Cafe, having a friendly fight in the Space Battledome Arena, screaming with delight as they played Gormball. With joy all around her, Mariana had never felt so alone. It was then that she felt a gentle tap on her shoulder.
Startled, Mariana whirled around and found herself looking into the dark eyes of a grizzled old yellow Techo in a white lab coat. He was the only Neopet she had ever seen who looked just as haggard as herself.
The Techo glanced at the clipboard he was clutching. “Mariana?” he said in a gravelly, tired-sounding voice.
“Who are you?” asked Mariana petulantly, spitting out the words.
“My name is Dr_Death,” replied the Techo with a sigh. “But you can call me Doc if you want. I’m here to take you to the pound.”
Mariana stared up at Doc in shock. “My owner has abandoned me?” Doc shrugged and extended his free hand to help Mariana up from where she was sitting. And without another word, the two grouchy and disagreeable Neopets made their way down the elevator, to the Virtupets space station hangar, and onto a space shuttle heading down to Neopia Central.
Mariana had never seen anything like Neopia Central before. Actually, she had never left the Virtupets space station before – not once. The warm sun on her skinny purple shoulders was a completely new feeling. And she had certainly never seen so many Neopets in one place! The town was bustling with pets and their owners, rushing around, laughing and happy. Trailing behind Doc, Mariana looked around in awe. For a moment she almost forgot to scowl. Almost.
Finally, the two arrived at a squat, unremarkable brick building. Doc rooted around in the pocket of his lab coat and took out a ring of keys.
“So this is it?” asked Mariana quietly.
“Sorry?” said Doc, unlocking the imposing wooden door. “Speak up, please.”
“This is the pound? This is where I’m going to live forever?” asked Mariana again.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” replied Doc. “Yes, this is the pound.”
The eerie brick building seemed bigger on the inside. It had simple checkerboard tiled floors and blank gray walls. It was devoid of any decoration – no curtains hung on the windows, no cushions or paintings made it feel like a home. It was furnished as sparsely as possible. It was clean… and that was all. The lobby opened into two hallways, one to the left and one heading right. Doc tossed his key ring and clipboard onto a plain brown wooden desk.
“You’ll be in room 1251,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. “That’s here on the ground floor, down the hallway to the left. At the very end of the hall you’ll find the cafeteria, open three times a day for meals. Breakfast is at 6 am sharp, lunch at noon, and dinner at 6 pm. Do you need anything else?”
“I…” Mariana stammered. “What should I do?”
Doc shrugged as he sat down at the desk. “It doesn’t matter. Go to your room and don’t cause any trouble. I’ll come and knock on your door if there’s a visitor who wants to adopt you or something. It’s unlikely. Just...don’t bother me.”
“Where are the other Neopets?” asked Mariana crossly.
“In their rooms, waiting to be adopted. Like you should be,” answered Doc. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do.” Then he looked down and began to flip through the pages on his clipboard, refusing to make eye contact with Mariana.
Mariana was used to being unfriendly to other Neopets. She was not used to other Neopets being unfriendly to HER. Even more than that, she wasn’t used to being told what to do and where to go. Immediately, she decided that she did not like it.
First, she wandered down the stark, cold hallway on the left. It was lined with simple wooden doors with tiny windows in them. Peeking through each window she passed, the tiny purple Grundo saw room after room that all looked just the same. Each contained a small bed, a desk, and a simple chair. She saw Neopets of all species and colors: a red Aisha napping, a royal boy Uni reading, a disco Hissi staring out their windows at the outside world. Not a single one looked up and noticed her peeking in.
“Can’t tell me what to do,” whispered Mariana to herself. “I’m not going to my room, I’m not! I’ll go exploring. I won’t sit and be bored like everyone else.” Suddenly, she turned around and swiftly strode in the opposite direction. She sneaked past the lobby, where Doc was now fast asleep at his plain wooden desk. Quickly, Mariana strode down the hallway to the right.
Most of the right hallway was lined with bedrooms, just like the left. But at the end, there were a great set of wooden double-doors. They looked like the doors to the cafeteria, but without windows.
“What’s this?” Mariana muttered. “Doc’s room? A secret library? A way out?” Hastily, she ran to the end of the hallway and gave the wooden doors a great shove.
They didn’t move.
Again, Mariana pushed with all her might. She regretted being so frail. She had always been the smallest Grundo on the Virtupets space station. Mariana pushed and pushed, to no avail. She let out a frustrated sigh.
Then she heard a voice from behind her chuckle, “Need some help?”
With a gasp, Mariana whirled around. Standing before her in the hallway was a tall spotted Usul with a smug look on his face.
“Having some trouble?” he asked, laughing again.
“Where did you come from?” demanded Mariana crossly.
“I could hear you struggling with that door from outside my room.” He gestured to the nearest bedroom door, which was still ajar. “Name’s Treus, by the way.”
“I certainly do NOT need your help!” said Mariana. “You should mind your own business, Treus!”
“Fine then,” the Usul shrugged. “Push on the door forever. It’s locked tight. If you want to know what’s actually on the other side, I’ll be in my room.” He turned and swaggered back to the open bedroom door.
“Wait!” cried Mariana. “I… I want to know what’s on the other side.”
Treus smiled widely. “Well come on then!” he cried.
Treus’ room was just like every other room in the pound. He closed the door carefully and pushed a simple red armchair up against the wall below the window.
“Through my window here,” he declared. “That’s what’s behind the doors. Take a look.”
Mariana carefully climbed up to balance on the back of the armchair, and peeked out the tiny window. What she saw took her breath away. The pound had a back garden!
With tall stone walls, the back garden was completely hidden from the outside. Most of the pound’s bedroom windows facing the garden were covered and obscured with overgrown ivy. In fact, the entire garden looked like it hadn’t been touched or looked at in years. Tall grass swayed in the breeze. A tree in the center of the garden stood old and weathered, covered in vines and moss. Wildflowers grew in random patches throughout. It almost looked like a jungle.
“This place has a garden?” cried Mariana excitedly.
“Don’t get too excited,” said Treus. “No one has ever even been out there. Dr_Death won’t acknowledge that the garden even exists. For all the years I’ve been here, those doors have never been opened. That’s why it looks so wild.”
“He won’t acknowledge it exists?” asked Mariana. “What is wrong with that Techo? Why does he make everyone sit around inside, bored all day, when there’s a garden out here?”
Treus shrugged. “Who knows? But he’s in charge of the pound, so nobody can get out there.” Then, a strange look flashed across his face. “Hey, what’s your name?”
“Mariana,” said Mariana sternly.
“You’re pretty small, Mariana.”
“I’ve been told.”
“You could probably fit through this window, couldn’t you?” Treus started to smile. “You could probably go and unlock the garden from the other side, and let me in!”
“I… maybe I could,” said Mariana.
“Yes!” cried Treus happily. “It’s great that you’re so small! No one else could do this. Come on, let’s try!”
Mariana smiled. It was a small smile, a hesitant one. That was the first time someone had complimented her like that. Usually she hated being so scrawny. Now, it was something that made her special. Boldly, she climbed right through the window and into the garden.
To be continued…