Neopian Story Time: The Spirit of Giving
Walking through Neopia Central in the month of Celebrating can put anyone in a jolly mood. Doors are decorated with wreaths of holly and pinecones, strings of lights flicker cheerfully around display windows, and the displays themselves are the loveliest and most elaborate of the year.
A young royal Draik stood in front of one such window, admiring a shimmering green gown with the most delicate lace trimming and a dainty pink shawl. If she stood just right she could see her reflection in the store window looking as if the dress were on her instead of a wooden dummy. For the longest time she stood there, twirling back and forth, imagining how pretty she would look in the expensive dress.
She would have to put it on her wishlist of course. And her owner - though she grumbled about spending - rarely refused her anything so Beth knew she was sure to get the dress just in time for all the best parties. Letting out a dreamy sigh, Beth allowed herself to indulge in imaginings about the party she herself was planning to throw, never noticing the cloaked figure sneaking towards her until she felt a sharp tug on her arm.
With a shout of surprise, Beth whirled around to see a small, hooded figure running off with her purse. "Hey, stop! Come back here!" she cried, taking off in pursuit of the thief. He was quick, darting between shops and around people so that Beth struggled to keep him in sight.
Beth followed the thief into an alley where he tripped over some boxes. In an instant she had tackled him to the ground. The smaller pet struggled and grunted as he tried to get away but Beth sat squarely on his back, refusing to budge. "You're going to tell me why you tried to take my purse," she said angrily, snatching it back. When there was no answer, Beth reached forward and pulled the thief's hood down to see his face.
To her surprise the thief wasn't a he at all but a young chocolate Kacheek, her eyes flashing with contempt. "'Cause you look like you have neopoints to spare," the Kacheek grumbled, squirming again to get away.
"Well, you could have some too, and without stealing it. Where's your owner?"
The Kacheek stopped struggling to glare at Beth. "You don't know anything."
Perplexed by this answer, Beth slowly climbed off the girl, clutching her purse to her chest as she watched the strange Kacheek run off and vanish behind the second hand store.
That evening Beth found she couldn't stop thinking about the strange little Kacheek. When everyone tacked their wishlists to one of the great fir trees outside for luck, Beth simply stood in the doorway and watched them.
"You're being awfully quiet."
Beth glanced over to see her owner standing nearby, staring at her worriedly. "You normally don't place your wishlist on the tree because by the time everyone else is ready to, you've already swindled the neopoints out of me and bought what you wanted. How come I haven't heard a peep out of you?"
Shrugging uncertainly, Beth glanced down at her slippers. "I don't know. I guess my mind has just been elsewhere." Wandering outside after the others, she tacked her wishlist to the tree.
The next morning Beth was up before anyone else – a rare occurrence – and she snuck out of the house, bundled up in a heavy coat and warm scarf to fight off the blowing snow. She searched first behind the second hand store, then around the Money Tree, looking for the little Kacheek. Beth finally found her behind the clothing shop, going through some old clothes that no one wanted anymore.
For a moment Beth stood where she was, blowing on her hands, unsure of how to approach the Kacheek. She didn't even know why she wanted to see the younger girl again. Finally though she took a deep breath and stepped towards her. "Hey, find what you're looking for?"
The Kacheek jumped as if she'd been caught doing something wrong but when she saw who it was that had startled her she scowled. "Go away."
"Will you tell me your name?"
"What do you care?"
"I do care."
"Zta. Now will you go away?"
Beth frowned, irritated by this girl's attitude. "Look, I came to help. If it's clothes you want, I have a very large closet and I can't seem to get rid of last season's items fast enough! If you want some of the-"
"I don't want any charity from you!" the Kacheek shouted, whirling around to glare at the Draik. "You think you're so important because you have an owner and a neohome and lots of fancy clothes! Well you're no better than me and I don't want your pity! Leave me alone!"
The Kacheek ran off as she had before and this time Beth made no attempt to follow. "Brat," she mumbled under her breath, turning to leave. She'd gone to all the effort to get up, get dressed, and come out here to help and the Kacheek couldn't even be a little bit grateful. She didn't deserve any help, Beth thought angrily.
Perhaps it was her anger that blinded her, or maybe it was the blowing snow, but either way, Beth was stomping towards home one moment and the next she was sprawled out on the cobblestone street, gasping at how cold the stones felt on her face.
"Are you alright?"
Beth allowed an older, blue Xweetok to help her to her feet. "Yes, fine, thank you," she mumbled, dusting the snow off her coat, afraid of ruining it.
"Well, I'm glad she's fine, but she broke our tree!"
Beth glanced first at the grey Usul who had spoken the harsh words, then behind her to see what tree the Usul was referring to. It turned out to be a small fir tree lying in the ruins of a shattered planter pot. "I'm so sorry; I guess I wasn't watching where I was going! I'll happily replace it."
"Oh sure! We save up for months to get a tree for the kids and you can just break it and buy another on a whim." The Usul huffed and stormed off, leaving Beth to stare after her in surprise.
"Don't mind her," the Xweetok assured her kindly. "Living out here isn't easy, it makes so many bitter. If you could help me get a new tree, I would be mighty thankful. Being able to pin their wishlists to a tree kind of gives the younger ones hope, you know?"
"Wait a minute, what about your owners? Why are you out here? If you don't have owners, shouldn't you be in the pound?"
The Xweetok laughed sadly. "We have owners, and nice cozy neohomes too. See, our owners didn't abandon us or sell their homes or close their shops... they just walked away and forgot to come back. Sometimes they do come back eventually and some of us get to go home, or at least get into the pound. And sometimes they don't, so we stay here where we can be close to the soup kitchen and second hand shop."
Beth was stunned. She had never imagined that the pets she passed when shopped in Neopia Central might not have owners who were there for them all the time, caring for them. She was so used to her owner being around to pester for things that she didn't even know how it was possible for an owner to forget their pets. "I'm so sorry. I'll certainly replace your tree; it's the least I can do."
The Xweetok nodded thankfully and they set off together towards the garden shop.
For the next week, though Beth busied herself with enjoyable activities like winter scarf knitting and gingerbread baking, her thoughts were constantly dwelling on the forgotten pets and the chocolate Kacheek who was no doubt one of them.
Although Beth resented the Kacheek's attitude, it was easy to see how a pet could become so angry. Beth would be awfully angry too if she'd been forgotten. Despite herself, Beth still wanted to help. But she didn't know how to.
Finally the morning arrived when everyone gathered around to exchange presents. Beth gave her family each a little something she'd been saving. In turn she was given little treats and gifts. Finally her owner pulled her aside and handed her a beautiful green box tied up with a red bow. "This is for you, Beth," she said, smiling slightly at the Draik.
For a long moment, Beth stood still, holding the brightly wrapped present in her hands. Then, abruptly, she ran out of the room. Not even stopping long enough to put on a coat, Beth took off running across the newly fallen snow to deliver the gift to someone who desperately needed it.
However, Zta was not behind the clothing shop. Beth checked in the second hand shop and, remembering the blue Xweetok's words, around the soup kitchen. Zta was nowhere to be seen. The Xweetok was at the soup kitchen however and he waved her over.
"Hello again, friend! I think you'll be happy to know the children placed so many wishes on your tree that it nearly fell over! It sure was nice to see them so happy."
"I bet it was! Tell me, did one of those kids happen to be a chocolate Kacheek?"
"Now that you ask, yes, there was one; little girl, kind of a loner. I see her around quite a bit but I've never talked to her." He paused to chuckle. "I've seen her sometimes standing outside the clothing store, trying to stand just right so that when she looks at her reflection she can pretend like she's wearing the pretty things in the window."
Beth's eyes widened as she recalled what she'd been doing the night she'd first encountered the little Kacheek. They really weren't all that different. Maybe under other circumstances they could even have been friends. "Do you know where I can find her? I want to give her something. Though... I'm afraid she won't accept it."
The Xweetok rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Tell you what, you give that fancy gift to me and I'll give it to the girl when I see her. We won't tell her where it's from, alright?"
Beth brightened and nodded in agreement as she handed the gift over.
"So, did you like your gift?"
Beth smiled sheepishly at her owner. "I don't know," she admitted. "I didn't open it."
Before she could explain why, there was a hurried knock at the door. Beth shrugged and skipped to the door to answer it, only to find the front step completely empty. "That's odd..." It was then that she noticed the small piece of folded cardboard on the step at her feet.
"What is it, Beth?" her owner asked, coming over and spotting the makeshift envelope in the Draik's hands.
Beth opened the cardboard envelope and when she saw what was inside a wide grin broke out over her face. Blinking back tears, she handed the cardboard over to her owner so she could take a look. "It's the best gift ever."
Her owner frowned and peered at the brief, chocolate smudged note that lay inside the cardboard. It simply read: Thank you.
This story was inspired by and based upon the book: The Spirit of Giving. Thank you for the inspiration, TNT!