Stuck - and Found
Prill stirred her spoon in little circles inside her steaming mug of borovan. It had been rainy for a while now, and stepping down into the Coffee Shop inside the Deep Catacombs had been a good choice on the Xweetok's part. Prill's day had been going just wonderfully: she'd woken up in the morning to her sisters (Rije and Keali, the Draik twins) and brother (Finse, the plushie Poogle) bringing her breakfast in bed and a new book. Then her owner, Cib (a tall, 17-year-old human with flaming red hair and an even hotter temper), actually said good morning and smiled at Prill and not just at her siblings. She'd dressed Prill in fancy clothes and took her around Neopia Central, doing whatever she wanted – played with petpets, tried on clothes at Uni's Clothing, and even sampled fudge at the Chocolate Factory. And now Prill noted with great satisfaction that none of her siblings had even come along – it was just her own special day out with Cib.
However, Prill didn't know anyone in her family that well. Way back before Rije and Keali had been morphed into fancy Draiks, before Cib had struck it rich in the Neopian Lottery, there had been lots of arguments in their house. Prill had always been quiet and bookish, while the twins had been show-offy and pompous. And Finse was just needy and whiny all the time, so Prill preferred to back off whenever her siblings were around. Whenever they were all together, the twins would start picking on Finse, but when Cib came in the room somehow Prill wound up with the blame. So when the family went on trips to Faerieland, or Mystery Island, Prill was always left to watch the petpets and Neohome because she "caused trouble". She was just too shy to speak up and prove she wasn't a bully to her siblings. So having this day with her owner was a real treat.
Prill had opened her mouth to tell Cib everything – all the blame she'd taken, how hurt she'd been – when Cib glanced at the clock hanging on the counter, jumped, and ran over to Prill.
"No time to talk now, Prill, you can tell me... later. We need to get to the pound, it's about to close! C'mon!" Prill hurriedly stuffed her short arms into the holes of her older sisters' castoff raincoat and set off with Cib under the expensive umbrella Cib got from an annoying, rich neofriend. Finally, they arrived at the pound. Prill tried to talk again.
"Cib-Mom, I mean, I just wanted to tell you that-"
"Aha!" Cib's voice broke through Prill's. "Come on, we've still got ten minutes!" But Cib wasn't talking to Prill. Cib's high voice was directed at another human, standing with a pet very much like Prill – basic, surprised-looking, and slightly wet from the rain, though this pet was a Blumaroo. The only difference was that the Blumaroo had large muscles and looked rather comatose. This other human grinned a fake smile and walked to the Pound's Counter, talking with Dr. Death and the Pink Uni in whispers, gesturing toward first Prill then the Blumaroo. Prill could hear the pound clerks ask for her name, and they shook their heads sadly and pointed to a door to the side of the main adoption room. Prill was about to ask why she was going in there when Cib nodded and opened the door to a big room with fading wallpaper and brown rugs. Cib roughly dragged Prill into this ugly room and squatted, placing her hands on Prill's shoulders.
"Prill," she began, "you've been a very nice pet and..." Cib's voice droned on for a bit in what sounded like a memorized speech as Prill realized something terrible: she was being abandoned.
"Mom, Cib, you can't do this! I've been with you forever! Please...!"
"Oh, Prill. It's fine. See, the Pound's like a big school. You'll make tons of friends. Now I really gotta go, it's almost closing and Tiffany's waiting for me to adopt-"
"MOM! PLEASE JUST EXPLAIN WHAT'S HAPPENING!" Prill had never gotten so mad.
"Good Fyora! Fine! I need a strong, battledome-experienced pet so I can get shiny new avatars, and you are standing in my way of getting her! You never were strong, always in the corner with books! I thought by giving you one last day of fun you'd actually be grateful, but no! You're just a selfish, rude Neopet! Bullying your siblings and expecting me to keep you! Good RIDDANCE!" And Cib slammed the door in Prill's face.
Astounded, Prill stared at the door. Through it, she could her Cib talking to the human, Tiffany, and she could then hear the sound of the Blumaroo's tail bouncing out of the door with Cib. Her mom. Her owner. Not ever a very good one to her, but still.
She would never see her again.
-- - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - -- - - - - --
Prill had long since grown used to living in the pound – and it was in no way, shape or form at all like a big school. Neopets living there had grown cruel and hard from little to no affection, so most there were awfully mean. The food was worse than the Neoschool cafeteria by a landslide. And the worst part for Prill was that there wasn't a book to be found. She didn't care that she got pushed around, that the food was barely edible, that her clothes were too big or too small or too gray. She was bored to tears because there was nothing to read, nothing to do. Her small beacon of happiness was, oddly enough, her ten year old roommate, a Shadow Kacheek named Prilm who was funny and had many stories of life before the Pound. It was crazy to see a neopet that old still in the pound – especially because Prilm was a very fancy color and well-named. Prill knew from going to the Pound Chat boards with her mother (EX-mother now) that a good color and a good name were what most Neopians looked for when they went looking for a new pet in the pound. So why was Prilm still here? Why was she herself?
In fact, that's what Prill was thinking about one Wednesday in the wee hours. She was lying in bed, contemplating something. She and Prilm had similar names. They should have been adopted long ago. But why did not one single Neopian ever come by their wing of the pound to see them? In fact, not even Prilm had seen a human ever come by the glass door of their room the entire time she'd been there. Prill thought some more, tracing the grooves of her old mildew-y blanket absentmindedly. Then it came to her.
"PRILM!" she yelled, banging her head on Prilm's upper bunk.
"What... what...? What is it, Prill? It must be three in the morning." Prilm's sleepy voice was grumpy to be awakened.
"I know why no one ever comes to this section of the dorms! Why you've never been adopted! Prilm, we are STUCK! Don't you see? Our names are one letter apart! It's the names! By all Pound Chat standards, we should have been adopted long ago! Oh, how amazing to know this! It's only our names – that's why we are put into different dorms than the other pets! Oh, Prilm! We're STUCK! We should go tell the other Neopets in our wing!"
Silence greeted Prill's epiphany, then a gentle whisper from Prilm.
"Oh, Prill, we've all known that for a very, very long time. But there is nothing we can do. We won't ever get out."
And so when Prill cried herself to sleep, Prilm climbed down from the top bump and patted her gently.
-- - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - -- - - - - --
It had been two months since Prill discovered they were stuck in the pound, but she was going to do something about it. She was not going to let herself and Prilm rot away for the rest of their lives in the pound. So, one night, on the night before the eve of The Day of Giving, Prill and Prilm put their plan into action. They swiftly and quietly pushed open the door of their room, picked up their tape and signs, and walked out of the stuck dorms and into the dreary brown room. They opened to door and went into the main lobby, where Dr. Death and the Pink Uni were bent over their desk, snoring on the counter. Prill lifted Prilm onto her back and switched the "stuck – do not enter" sign with the regular pound sign. They then tip-toed over to the desk again, and rolled Dr. Death and the Pink Uni in their swivel chairs into the main adoption room (now marked "stuck – do not enter") and locked the door behind them. The two girls giggled and jumped up and down, thrilled that their plan was going to work. They knew that Day of Giving Eve was a time that many pets were adopted, and they were going to show how unfair being stuck was to Dr. Death and the Pink Uni. They taped one final poster to the front desk and slipped back into the "stuck" dorms, now marked "ADOPT PETS HERE!"
-- - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - -- - - - - --
Prill had never seen so many pets get adopted. Kind-looking Neopian humans were walking in through the "new" Pound, finding pets they would never had seen if they'd not looked in the Stuck dorms. Prilm and Prill held hands as they walked out side-by-side, because they'd just been adopted by a boy in a red shirt named Don. Don had one sleepy baby Neopet with him, a baby Quiggle named Dodger. Dodger snuggled into Don's arms as Don filled out application papers handed to him by Prill and Prilm.
"This place seems to have gotten a makeover. I wonder why they switched adoption rooms? And really, why would they leave a sign on the desk that says, 'Out to vacation – adopt by yourselves!'" Don puzzled. "Well," he said, a grin forming across his face,"I'm glad they did, because now I have you two! I hope you love living with me – I live in Shenkuu, so it'll be a while getting there." Prill and Prilm squealed happily, then remembered something.
"Don, can you give us a moment? We need to go... get something." He gave his new wards immediate permission.
The Xweetok and Kacheek ran to the door marked "stuck – do not enter" and listened. They could hear, muffled, the angry yells of Dr. Death and the panicked calls of the Pink Uni. Fishing the key from her pocket, Prill opened the door. The two Pound clerks tried to barrel out, but Prill gave them such a glare they stopped in their tracks.
"We have been stuck for ages. You'll be able to see what we did later, or probably sooner, but we just wanted to show you how many more pets will find loving homes if you give them ALL an equal chance to be adopted." The clerks looked dubious but then Prilm jutted out her chin and said, "If you don't, we're getting King Altador after you. I finished the Altador Plot a long time ago, so he's TOTALLY on my side now." The clerks, now scared, promised to do what they could and started removing signs from both doors, and telling people to go through both doors to look at pets to adopt.
The two girls sighed happily and went back to their new guardian. Don, holding Dodger in one arm, took Prill by the left paw, who held onto Prilm with her other paw. And finally, at last, the little family trudged toward the ferry to catch a boat to Shenkuu, happy at last.