Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 174,290,659 Issue: 388 | 17th day of Eating, Y11
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Running with the Pack


by kittytamer99

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My paw rapped three times against the stone door of my neohome. My brother Riley always said that it was more polite to knock, even if you were in your own house.

      “Welcome home!” he said, opening the door for me.

      “Hi! Wow, your skull is really clean.”

      “Yeah, I probably should have done more work on it,” he said, rubbing the skull that lay on the outside of his mottled blue head. “Anything good happen at neoschool?”

      “There's going to be a field trip soon!” I told him, pulling the form out of my backpack. “All you need to do is sign this and send in the neopoints, and I get to go to Shenkuu!”

      “Good for you,” he said, taking the sheet and looking at it. Through his skull, I couldn't tell what he was thinking, but I sensed something I never had felt from him. I'd felt it from the monsters lurking in the Haunted Woods, but I'd never felt it from Riley. It smelled like red scorchipeppers: the smell of raging anger. My brother was very nice, and I didn't like him being angry.

      “Brother?” I asked quietly.

      “What is it?” His voice was quavering.

      “What are you angry about?”

      “It's nothing. You'll be fine.” He patted my chocolate brown head and turned away.

      “You aren't going to sign it?” I called as he walked into his room. I knew never to go into Riley's room. As he stalked away, I smelled something else on the air from him. It wasn't the anger of a raging fire faerie. It was the sadness of a wingless grey faerie, mourning what meant the most to her. It scared me even more than his anger, and I ran quickly to my room and turned my new Twisted Roses album up to full volume, trying to think about the field trip soon. I had the whole trip planned out in my head. I would walk in the mountains with my best friend Sheila. We'd eat a nice Shenkuu lunch, and then we'd run in the mountain air.

      The next morning, Riley woke me up early, which was strange because he never woke me up. He normally didn't need to remind me. So why was he standing at the foot of my royal oak wood bed, as fully groomed as a mutant could be?

      “Rella, there's something I should tell you,” my brother said, pulling me out of bed and taking me into the living room. “It's about the field trip.”

      “What is it?” It must be something unimportant, I thought to myself. It must be something like the fact that there's a food I can't eat. What else could it be? It couldn't possibly be anything else, I lied to myself.

      “Well... the neopoint requirement... it's too high.”

      “What... what do you mean?” I understood him. But I thought that maybe if I asked enough times, it would suddenly not be true.

      “We don't have enough money to send you on the field trip. You can't go to Shenkuu with your class.”

      “Oh.” I looked down at the floor forlornly. I had always thought we had plenty of money. We had good food and supplies. I thought that neofamilies without enough money for fun things like field trips used the soup kitchen, but Riley brought home food every night. I looked up at Riley's Neovian vest and carefully knotted ghostkerscarf. He certainly didn't look poor.

      “Instead of returning the form this morning, you can return this letter, hand written from me to the teacher.”

      “Oh.” I stared sadly at the fire in the fireplace. I was sure that all the other kids would tease me. They were all rich pets, like I had thought we were. Then a question came to mind. “How did you raise the money to get all of my school supplies, if you don't have the right amount of money for this trip?”

      “Well... you don't remember, but I used to be a different color. I was good at playing games and I had a really nice shop. I played a lot because I knew that you needed a good education, even when you were just a pup. I got you a backpack, a fire faerie eraser, and plenty of pencils. I got you plushies for show and tell, and I got you a petpet in case petpet day ever came. What I've got you is mainly from a small bank stockpile. But being a mutant is harsh. You can't do as much. Business in the shop shot down when I was mutated, and there was no way for me to survive on games again. We needed to eat, and we were steadily losing money that the school was taking from us.” I couldn't believe it. I think I'm the only pet in the history of Neopia who had been poor and thought that my family was actually fairly wealthy.

      “Wow,” I said, staring at the dancing reds and oranges that burned brightly on the hearth. They blurred a little, then came back into focus when I blinked.

      “Rella?”

      “What?”

      “Are you angry at me? For not telling you?”

      “No. I'm just sad.”

      “If it makes you feel any better, you can come with me tonight. To run with the pack?”

      “Really?” Every night, Riley left to run with a pack of Lupes. They ran around Neopia every night, fighting zombies and howling at the moon; generally getting into all sorts of mischief. Ever since I was a little pup, I really wanted to go with him to run with the Lupe pack, but he said I was too small for that. And now, now I could run with them too!

      “Sure. We're meeting in Neovia tonight, so it's plenty close to home. I hope that you can be happy, even though you can't be with your friends in Shenkuu.”

      “Oh, I can be! I can be!” I hopped up and down, and the harsh lump in my throat was gone.

      “Good,” he said. “Now, you'd better eat a good breakfast” He pulled a steaming handful of mini crumpets out of the oven. I finished up every crumb.

      “I really am sorry, Rella,” he sighed. “I guess you'd better get to school. Do you have everything together?”

      “I sure do!” I picked up my readily-packed meowclops backpack, which lay by the door.

      When I arrived at the classroom door, my paw went onto the doorknob, but I didn't turn it. I'd heard a strange giggle from inside.

      “Eww, that's really gross!”

      “I know!”

      “So he doesn't have any fur at all?”

      “No! And his skull isn't even on the inside of his head!”

      “That's creepy!”

      “And what they eat for dinner every night! When I went there last time we had this weird spicy soup! And on the side was this weird fruit. It was like a tomato, but it looked like it was being held by claws.”

      “And what did you have to drink?”

      “They were 'special skeith juice cocktails.' And for desert, he tried to serve us these weird gummy rat things!”

      “Eww! What is up with that?” I gulped. Sheila... I had thought that she liked the almost gummy rats! We had even got lime for her, even though it cost more than the others.

      “Any bets on how much money's in the bank?”

      “How about... five hundred neopoints?”

      “Even they couldn't be that poor!” A tear rolled down my cheek. They were talking about my brother and me as if we were monsters! My paw slipped down the door. I slowly opened it and walked in, slumping at my desk. I felt betrayed and alone. I just wanted my brother.

      “Rella! You're late!” Mrs. Cloud yelled.

      “Oh.” I stared at the blackboard.

      “I'll let it slip this time, but you won't be so lucky next time it happens.”

      “Yes, Mrs. Cloud.”

      “Well, I'll be picking up permission slips now,” she announced. “Please leave them on your desks and silently read or talk quietly while I go around the classroom.” I didn't have a book, so I devoted my attention to listening to Sheila and her friend.

      “Look! She doesn't have her permission slip!”

      “That monster can't even get a good house! Did you expect it to be able to send her on a special field trip?” I sobbed inside as I heard those words. They were even calling Riley “it.”I pulled a sheet of paper out of my desk and began to doodle as Mrs. Cloud came by.

      “Rella!” Mrs. Cloud thundered, and I was afraid I'd been caught with my scribbling, but when I looked up, she was holding up the letter. “What is the meaning of this?” To my horror, she began to read it aloud. It seemed as if she were screaming. “To Mrs. Cloud, teacher of my little sister Rella. I regret to inform you that ten thousand neopoints is just too high for me to obtain in one night. You see, I need to watch Rella, and there isn't much time for gaming during the night. Ten thousand is what we normally make in a week, and I'm not going to neglect my little sister because of your outrageous demands. I expect that you will be contacting me soon with information about what Rella will do that day. Sincerest regards of Riley, official guardian of Rella.” The whole class was giggling by now. I sank as low as possible in my chair and tried to keep from crying.

      The rest of the day was the same. A few people just eyed me in the hallways. Other, more brave ones talked to my face about how ten thousand neopoints wasn't an outrageous demand. I tried to fight away the feeling that I was being watched as I opened up my shadow usul lunch box. Fortunately, Riley hadn't packed spooky food today.

      When I was finally released from school, I walked home slowly instead of running like I usually did. I was eager to get away from school, but my muscles didn't feel like they were working right. The day had been unimaginably bad for me.

      “Hey,” I heard from the shadows when I was in the middle of the Haunted Woods.

      “Huh?” I spun around to see a large brown-furred creature climbing out of the thorn bushes. I was about to run, but then I noticed the ruby heart pendant around the huge Werelupe's neck. “Alaric?”

      “You recognize me? I didn't think you would.” His smile was warm, despite his harsh looks. “I didn't think you would.”

      “You're a really important member of the Lupe pack, aren't you?”

      “Well, I am the leader.” He looked down at me. “Riley said he was going to take you running today.”

      “Yeah, it's to make up for the fact that I can't go on the field trip to Shenkuu with my classmates. We don't have enough neopoints.”

      “I think I could help you out with that one,” Alaric said mischievously. “You'd have to study on a field trip anyway.”

      “I guess you're right.”

      “Well, I'd better get going. I'll see you tonight when the pack runs,” he said with a smile, walking back into the bushes. I stared at the thorns. How did he get through those? I started the walk back home. What did he mean by helping me out?

      “Welcome home,” Riley said when I reached home. “How was your day?”

      “Horrible.” I slumped onto the couch, throwing my backpack off. In haste, and with as few tears as possible, I explained how my day had gone.

      “There certainly are disadvantages to living in the Haunted Woods with a mutant,” Riley sighed. “I'm sorry that I've caused your friends to turn against you like that. Would a few tea biscuits make you feel any better?”

      “Probably.” I smiled. Riley was one of those cool parental figures that didn't bug you when you were in trouble. He was content to just ask a few questions and leave it at that until I wanted to talk about it. He came back through the door with a tray of tea biscuits and blairnut tea.

      That night, he discouraged me from going to bed at 9:00. Instead, he urged me to have some hot tea and stay up, listening to my new Twisted Roses cd.

      “We're going,” he told me at 11:30, handing me a large crumpetmonger pie filled with veggie stew. “You'll need a lot of food. Trust me.” I gulped down every bit of the pie, as well as the scary soup and purplum mocha he offered on the side. While I ate, I watched Riley prepare a backpack filled with all of the things we'd need for our run with the pack. Two bottles of water, a package of dried tigerbuggles, two carrot Lupe treats and a couple of chocolate covered mint bars were thrown into the grey backpack.

      “Why do we need all that food?” I asked.

      “Trust me on this one.” He winked at me. “You will want food after all of the running we're about to do.” With that, he led me out the door and down the street, toward the Haunted Woods town of Neovia.

      “Riley! You're here!” I heard Alaric shout as we approached.

      “Here's Rella. You said you wanted to see her?” I stepped out into full view from behind him, looking around. There were more Lupes than I ever knew existed! There were Werelupes, Darigan Lupes, ghost Lupes, mutant Lupes, shadow Lupes, every kind of Lupe you could imagine. Well, I could have imagined a faerie Lupe, but there weren't any of those. It was the Haunted Woods, after all.

      “You are getting strong,” the tall, shaggy Lupe remarked. “Well, we've got everyone. Let's run!” He bounded off down the streets, and everyone ran after him. There were little barks and yelps as we got started, but then there was a sort of strange silence. Just Lupe paws on stone, then soil as we moved into the woods. It was weird, because normally I was afraid when I was walking around areas I didn't know, even with Riley. But this was such a strong group that it seemed like we could take on anything! There were groans and shrieks all around, but nothing dared to attack the Haunted Woods Lupe Pack as we dashed along the paths.

      “Okay, boys,” Alaric said too soon. Would we have to go home? “We're going to go to that old graveyard and do some gravestone hopping.” Scratch that fear. But what in Neopia was gravestone hopping? It sounded dangerous.

      “Sounds good!” the pack chorused, and we were off again. Running was even better when we jumped off of the path and dashed through the wild, wild bushes and trees. Finally, we reached the clearing, and Alaric jumped onto a gravestone, balancing expertly.

      “Okay, it's about time that we formally introduced our new member,” he said, grinning. “Rella, get up here!”

      I walked up shyly, head low under the watchful eyes of the pack. Under all of their attention, I realized that these Lupes weren't just family Lupes. They were wild, raging Lupes, faithful to the Haunted Woods. “This is Rella, Riley's sister. We all know what an outstanding member her brother is, so I have no doubt that Rella will inherit this excellence. So how are you liking the pack, Rella?”

      “I...” I suddenly didn't know what to say to this. How could I just describe running? “It's great. I'm really glad I could come.”

      “Do you go to a school?” one young green Lupe yelled out.

      “Yes. Meridell River.”

      “But that's a big fancy pants school!” he said. “I thought that Riley was... you know...”

      “Why do you think we're poor?” Riley chuckled. “Because I spent the money on cookies?” The pack laughed loudly, yipping and wagging their tails.

      “So, you think you'll stay with the pack?” Alaric asked.

      “I... I think so.”

      “Good. Let's do some gravestone hopping!” he yelled. As if on cue, every Lupe in the pack jumped up onto one of the gravestones and began to hop around on them. I did too, and it was hard to stay balanced, but ultimately, I decided that staying balanced while hopping was part of the challenge that made it fun! I leaped onto a particularly high one, but stopped when I felt it rumble a little. I froze in spot.

      A paw pierced through the ground and grasped my tail. I gave a shriek, but it pulled me off of the gravestone and I fell onto the mossy forest floor. I screamed as I saw the rest of the zombie emerge from the dirt, clawing at me. I heard a low growl behind me and closed my eyes, expecting the worst.

      “It's okay, kid.” When I opened my eyes, I saw a ghost crouching beside me. He was a tall, strong Lupe. Through his translucent fur, I saw a shadowy Lupe holding a zombie Aisha in her teeth.

      “What happened?” I whimpered.

      “Some zombies came up,” the ghost replied, floating up to a gravestone. “They were about to make quick work of you, but my sister Slash got them first. We weren't expecting zombies, or we would have warned you. I really am sorry.”

      “You're welcome,” the shadow Lupe grunted, dropping the zombie onto the ground.

      “What's going on?” Alaric stepped into the path.

      “Zombies,” Slash grunted.

      “Oh, no, we'd better skedaddle,” the Werelupe said, taking a quick look around. “I'd say to stay and fight, but I don't want to make Rella fight just yet.” He gave a quick call out to the other Lupes, and the pack ran out of the cemetery just as the rest of the zombies crawled out.

     “Well, a bit of howling and we'll call it a night,” Alaric announced when we'd made our ways to a large clearing. Every Lupe sat and pointed their nose at the moon, which was just visible through the gnarled trees. The leader started out, his lonesome howl cutting the night air like a knife. Each one of us began to howl with him at the same time, and I thought as I was howling that this was the nicest music I'd ever heard in my life. The sweet, deep melody continued for one minute which seemed like an eternity before Alaric cried out, “Okay, guys! That was great! I'll see you again tomorrow night, but that isn't a mandatory meeting. You can rest your legs at home if you want.” He walked away into the bushes, and I met up with Riley. He led the way back to our neohome, but my tired legs could hardly lift me!

      “Good night, Rella,” he said, tucking me into bed with my red wocky plushie, and I fell asleep almost instantly, not even brushing my fangs and fur. All that I had needed to be perfectly ready for bed was a whole bottle of water, which I gulped down with gusto.

      The next morning, Alaric was waiting at our doorstep.

      “Hi, guys!” he said cheerfully, bounding through the door when I swung it open for him. “I was wondering if you were even awake!”

      “We should get down to business,” Riley said, showing Alaric to the living room. I sat down on the couch and Riley said he was going to make coffee, so Alaric sat down in the big armchair.

      “How did you like the Lupe pack?” he asked.

      “I... it was really great,” I said.

      “I'm glad. You'll be a good, strong member.”

      “Really?”

      “Yep! I'd be happy to have you as a member of the pack. But there's one thing about you that might hold you back.”

      “What is it?”

      “Your peers. I don't you to feel like you have to join. If you don't want to for the sake of your friends, then there's no obligation to join.”

      “I'm not even sure if I have any friends anymore. My old best friend wasn't being very nice to us, and I don't think I like her that much after that.”

      “Oh. Well, there goes a morning of planning down the drain!” he said in exasperation as Riley came in with the drinks. We talked about pack business, and Alaric talked about some of the most important pack members. “There's Slash, for one thing,” he said. “She's one of our best fighters, and normally she'd decide what we fought. If I can convince her, you'll learn how to fight from her. Then there's her brother, Fire. He's a well-rounded pack member. Smart, friendly, and loyal. Of course, your brother Riley is quite high-standing. His smarts have gotten us out of a lot. Those are the most valued members. They and a few others make up the council.”

      “What about you, Alaric?”

      “Oh yeah, I'm the leader of the pack. I guess that's good for something. Well, you'd better get to school, and I have to go prepare.”

      “Prepare?”

      “Riley didn't tell you? Tomorrow, the pack is going on a special long run to Shenkuu.” He winked.

      That day at school, I was approached by a red Lupe named Kino. He had never been kind to Sheila or me, so I tried to avoid him, but he blocked my path.

      “My brother was on a dare last night to go into the Haunted Woods.”

      “Cool.”

      “He said he saw a brown Lupe like you wandering around.”

      “Yeah.”

      “You can walk in the Haunted Woods at night without getting attacked?”

      “Well, there were other Lupes there.”

      “Yeah, he said it looked like a whole pack. Was it?”

      “The Haunted Woods Lupe pack. My brother's been a member for a while.” I looked up, expecting a rude remark.

      “Seriously?” The red Lupe's eyes widened. “What does a Lupe pack do?” I looked Kino up and down. He was from Faerieland.

      “We run in the Haunted Woods. We do things like hop on top of gravestones. Alaric was saying that sometimes we fought zombies too.”

      “That sounds cool. I wish I could run with a pack like that. My mom wants to paint me faerie and make me run with the Faerieland pack, but I don't think they fight zombies.”

      “I'll ask my brother if you can come over sometime. Alaric is nice, he really is. He'd let you run with us.”

      “You think so?”

      “Well, probably. You'd have to be really careful, though. The Haunted Woods can be dangerous.” I was suddenly proud of being in the pack. I was a brave, strong Lupe, and that was what the pack was for. It wasn't about being a silly gossip. It was for real honorable Lupes, Lupes who could be trusted to leap on a zombie to save a complete stranger.

      “Hey!” Kino yelled at a group of girls who was giggling behind my back. A week ago, I would have slumped into a corner and sighed. Today, however, I snarled at them, baring my teeth, fur on my back raised. It was instinct. As they ran away, I saw Sheila's pink fur among them, and I felt sad because she'd always be someone who laughed at me. Then I looked over at Kino. He was staring at me with wide, scared eyes. I knew that they wouldn't be laughing at me again for a long time. But I wasn't ashamed. I was happy, because if she couldn't accept me for the zombie fighting, fast running, sharp clawed Lupe that I was, I didn't want anything to do with her.

      Remember, if you ever hear a howl in the dead of night, don't be scared. It means that there are still caring pets out there, and you are safe.

      But watch out for beasts with seven heads and twenty arms anyway. I think we caught all of those last night, but caution is important nevertheless.

The End

 
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