A Victim of Circumstance: Part Four
Balfair spent a further three weeks in the hospital in Neopia Central before he was allowed to be released. The hospital had wanted to release him just one week after his waking up, but Balfair tried to plead all sorts of maladies in order to prolong his stay. Truth be told, he was terrified of what awaited him outside the four walls of the sanitary, accommodating hospital. No word had been heard of Rupert or Miffy, and naturally he grieved their loss, desperate to hear any word of their discovery, dead or alive. Not knowing their fate was the part that tortured Balfair the most. However, more practical concerns weighed on his mind as well. Balfair was left homeless once again, which left him only one, almost unthinkable, option. The Pound. He was due to be admitted once more into its unfriendly embrace on the day of his release from the hospital.
The day drew ever closer as Balfair began to run out of reasons to stay in the hospital. Finally, he was firmly pushed through glass automatic doors of the hospital, with few stifled grumblings about the length of his stay. He was back in the frightening, wider world with no one to await his arrival. The walk from the hospital to the pound was mercilessly short, and from the moment he stepped off the steps of the hospital, he could see that menacing Techo Dr Death watching through the window, assuring he arrived according to plan. No matter how much Balfair dragged his feet, stood pretending to catch his breath or simply sat down, overcome with reluctance, the walk to the Pound was barely twenty paces long. He arrived in almost less time than it takes to write about, and the time before which he was pushed unceremoniously into the room of disowned pets was brutally short.
Balfair had hardly been in the pound for thirty seconds before he was bowled over by a ball of blue fur and receiving alternating hugs and affectionate punches.
“Balfair, my hoofed hombre, I wasn’t expecting to see you back in here! How are you, my friend? Boy, it sure has been lonely here without you,” his old friend Jak exclaimed enthusiastically. Balfair tried to match his enthusiasm but failed miserably.
“Hey Jak, it’s great to see you too,” he said, smiling weakly.
“Oh...” Jak paused while he attempted (unsuccessfully) to rein in his joy at seeing his friend again. “Bad news, huh?” Balfair nodded. He took a shuddering breath and began retelling the blissfully happy but extremely misfortunate history of his time with Rupert. It was always better to get these things over and done with, he knew from experience.
If Balfair’s gloomy mood hadn’t been enough to sober Jak up, his story certainly did the job. By the end of the story Jak was dabbing the corners of his eyes, mumbling something along the line of “blasted allergies”.
“That’s undoubtedly a sorry tale, comrade, and I feel for you, I really do,” he said. “In fact, I went through something similar myself. Remember when I told you I would tell you my story because I didn’t want to scare you? Well, I thinks it's time I returned some of the confidence you’ve shared with me.”
And with that, Jak began the story of how he came to end up in the pound.
“My story begins many, many years ago. My owner was quite young when I was born, and he never did have the greatest creative mind. So, instead of coming up with a proper name for me, he came up with jk_13121999; his initials and my own birthday. Now this may have seemed like a great idea to him at the time, but it was a decision we would both come to regret.
“My first couple of years passed happily enough. In fact I was blessed to have the sort of owner I did, for a while. We played together (Kacheek Seek was my favourite game), he read me books, he even tried to get me into gourmet food, but I never was such a fan of that posh nosh, personally. I’d heard of some pets that were neglected or ignored, whose owners disappeared for long periods of time. I though I was kind of lucky to be owned by such a caring, affectionate person, but I don’t think I ever realised how truly lucky I was, until I’d lost it all. Life continued on in relative peace and happiness with just the two of us, my owner and me, living alone together. I couldn’t imagine the two of us ever separated and I thought that he felt the same way. Apparently not.
“One day as I was laying on the grass out the front of our Neohome, soaking up the rays, a shadow fell across my body, blocking the sun from my face. My owner had been acting weirdly that morning, and had left on an unexplained errand, no matter how many times I asked where he was going. The purpose behind his excursion became all-too-soon apparent. I opened my eyes to find my vision blocked by the huge curved beak of a yellow Eyrie.
“So,” he grunted, “you must be Jak.”
I nodded my head, slightly intimidated by this dangerous looking newcomer. He merely gave a snort of contempt and breezed into the house, already acting as if he owned the place. I saw my... our owner about to follow him into the house but I stopped him at the door with a questioning look. He merely shrugged his shoulders and walked out of sight. This situation needed some thinking about. Being the sunny, carefree (if a little dim) person that I am, it didn’t take long. ‘Everything will be fine,’ I thought to myself. ‘In fact, what more could I want than a new brother?’ I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“In the days that followed, I began to notice significant changes in the way I was treated by my owner. He played with me less and less, he stopped reading me books, and I don’t think I need to mention that I never caught a whiff of a gourmet dish again. I often saw him and this new Eyrie speaking in hushed voices with scornful looks on their faces, ceasing immediately the moment they noticed I was in the room. I couldn’t help thinking what I’d done wrong. Was it something I’d said or done? I couldn’t think of anything that had changed about me. Was it my name, which had seemed like such a good idea at the time? I guess the novelty of it had just worn off...
My owner became a new person, completely different to the one that had created me so long ago. The only thing I could attribute to this remarkable change was the arrival of the meddlesome yellow Eyrie. To this day, I’m still convinced he poisoned my owner against me. Weeks showed even greater change, until eventually I stopped receiving food altogether. Yes, shocking, isn’t it? I was reduced to a state of starvation, scrounging food off other Neopets and Neopians where I could. I was completely ignored at home, to the point where my fellow housemates didn’t even care whether I was in the room when they said nasty things to each other about me. The pain I felt when I remembered how deeply I had cared for my owner cut me like a dagger to the belly. This was how I was repaid for my years of affection and loyalty.
“Anyway, there was only so much of this treatment I could take. In a way, you were kind of lucky to be abandoned at the pound. At least you had a chance to be found by a new owner, and you had the company of other pets in the same situation as you. See, I was alone in the world, with not a single being who cared for me. So, I decided my only option was to escape, and make my way in the world all alone. Now this was not a very successful venture. I lasted a couple of days in Neopia Central, rummaging through food thrown out by the food stores at the end of each day. It didn’t take long before I was caught by the authorities and sent to the Pound. Advertisements were put up announcing my discovery, looking for my owner but I knew he wouldn’t care enough to take notice. So, it was in the Pound I remained, right up to the very day I met you and for a great many years to come, I imagine.”
Balfair stood dumbfounded at the completion of Jak’s story. He thought he’d had it tough, but his hardships were nothing compared to what this tough blue Kacheek had been through.
“Now I don’t know about you, but all this talking’s made me ravenous,” declared Jak, and he headed towards the cafeteria. Balfair merely nodded and followed dumbly behind.
It didn’t take long for Balfair to fall back into the monotony and routine of the pound. Hours became days, day became weeks and he seemed to stop noticing the passage of time. This time, however, Balfair tried not to let the tedium of the pound get him down. There were worse things out in the world than a comfy stay in a home full of other pets with whom he could sympathise.
It was almost three weeks into his stay at the pound when Balfair woke up with one of his old feelings of premonition; a good feeling this time. Dawn had barely broken and the birdsong outside was accompanied by the numerous snores of Balfair’s roommates. There was another unfamiliar sound added to the mix this morning, though, a “click, click”, like the sound of two sticks being clacked rhythmically against the tiles of the reception of the pound. This was followed by an all too familiar voice that had Balfair leaping out of bed so he could make sure his ears weren’t playing tricks on him. He roused Jak (the loudest snorer of all) on his way to the door, a plan already half formulated in his mind. This familiar voice seemed to be in a hushed dispute with the Uni at the reception desk; from what Balfair could gather, he was being told to return at an appropriate visiting hour. As the visitor appeared to be on the verge of leaving, Balfair emerged from his hiding spot and bounded into the reception room, dragging a barely conscious Jak behind him.
“Rupert!” he cried out, and was about to bowl him over with an affectionate tackle before he noticed the bandages and casts covering his body. The clicking on the tiles was the sound of Rupert’s crutches as he crossed the room. Rupert’s face lit up with joy at seeing Balfair, and he let out a cry of delight. Even the disgruntled Uni, roused from her sleep by Rupert’s arrival, could not help smile at the scene she was witnessing.
“Balfair, I’m so glad you’re okay!” he exclaimed. “Miffy and I, we didn’t think you’d made it off that mountain.”
“I thought the same about you,” Balfair replied.
“Well, we’d like you to come back and live with us again. No more mountain treks, I promise. Only if you want to, I mean! I know I didn’t do the best job last time...”
“Nonsense, of course I want to come back,” cried Balfair.
Rupert approached the Uni at the desk at once and asked for one set of adoption forms so he could take Balfair home again immediately.
“Wait, there’s one condition,” said Balfair quietly. Rupert waited quietly for him to explain. At this point Jak was pulled forward, still barely on the brink of consciousness.
“Well, this dozy fellow here,” Balfair gave him an affectionate box over the ears, “he’s my best friend, and I left him here by himself last time you came here. I can’t do that to him again. So, it’s an all or nothing deal, you either take us both or none at all.” Rupert gave Jak a quick look up and down, then turned back to the desk.
“Make that two sets of adoption forms, please,” he asked.
It was at this point that Jak properly woke up and realised what was going on.
“Whoopee!” he shouted, grabbing Balfair by the hooves and dancing around the room.
“I can’t believe it! Freedom at last! Oh it’s been so long, I don’t think I can even remember what freedom feels like.” Rupert watched on, a smile on his face. Balfair extricated himself from Jak’s grasp and joined Rupert by his side.
“Was I this bad when you picked me up the first time?” he asked doubtfully
“Don’t worry, not quite so bad.” He smiled. “I think that Jak’s going to be quite the lively new addition to our little home.”
And with that he turned and left the Pound, Balfair following close behind and Jak dancing merrily along at the rear.