Grey to Fuchsia
RINGGG! The old alarm sounded exactly at seven o’clock, same as yesterday, same as the day before. Edgar Rutherford turned gingerly in his bed and rubbed his eyes, crusted with fatigue from another night of unsteady slumber. The Grey Moehog reached over to his nightstand, slapping his hoof against the moth-eaten wooden surface a few times before finding the alarm clock and turned it off with a grunt.
Edgar Rutherford of 253 Wishing Well Drive, Neopia Central had another bland, listless day to look forward to. He ran through the day’s expected events over in his mind as he lay in his bed, squeezing out a few extra minutes of rest from a well-oiled routine established over many years. Make the bed, wash up, eat two hard-boiled eggs with a glass of milk, iron his shirt, head to work…
With another grunt, Edgar got out of bed. Shouldn’t a night’s rest invigorate him? Instead, he felt like he had powered through hard labour instead. The years are creeping up on him, he thought bitterly as he rubbed the base of his neck, trying to loosen the tight muscles. Edgar had been living in this house on Wishing Well Drive for nearly twenty years. He picked this street precisely because of its hope-invoking name. Which, as time ticked on, turned out to be rather ironic.
He folded up his blanket neatly, smoothed out the sheets, and headed to the bathroom. In the dimly lit mirror, he found his reflection.
Edgar wasn’t always a Grey Moehog. In his childhood, he had been a brilliant shade of blue, like the Neopia Central sky. He had, however, been alone for as long as he could remember. He played alone, not getting on well with the other young Moehogs at school. Edgar preferred the realms of imagination and make-belief, spending hours upon hours each day creating adventures for himself. He could be a daring pirate of Krawk Island one day and a curse breaker in the tombs of Lost Desert the next. Who needed friends when he had the limitless bounds of his mind to explore?
When was the last time he had dreamt up a new adventure? Edgar pondered wistfully as he spat out his toothpaste and rinsed.
No matter how rich his inner world had been, eventually Edgar was forced to pull himself out and into adult Neopian society. He got a job at the Neolodge, booking stays at exotic places for groups of excited families, dreamy-looking couples, and sometimes even a daring solo adventurer. Once upon a time, he contemplated booking a trip for himself, but he was much too self-conscious to go on a trip alone. Then as the years went on, the desire for adventure slowly faded away. One day he woke up and there he was – Grey.
In the kitchen, Edgar took out two eggs he had boiled the night before and cracked them against his glass of milk. He glanced at the wall clock – a quarter past seven, only fifteen minutes until he needed to head out. He shouldn’t have taken those few extra minutes to loaf in bed, now there might not be enough time to iron his… Edgar paused. His eyes fell on the calendar hanging beside the clock. It was February 14th. Valentine’s Day.
‘Great,’ he thought dully. ‘The worst day of the year.’
Fifteen minutes later, his shirt still crinkled in a few places, Edgar rushed out the door. The gleaming sunlit streets of Neopia Central greeted him. Wishing Well Drive was normally a sleepy, inconspicuous street. However, today it was fully decked out in dazzling arrays of pink, white, and red ornaments. Sparkling streamers lined the streetlamps, linking them together like beams of pink light. Edgar narrowed his eyes. The words ‘HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY’ were printed on repeat across the streamers.
Shaking his head, Edgar quickened his step. The array of colours closing in on him felt cloistering sweet and gave him a sense of claustrophobia. He suddenly felt very conscious of the fact that he was Grey.
Valentine’s Day was always Edgar’s least favourite day of the year. And the Day of Giving of course. And Halloween. And New Year’s. Why couldn’t people just keep the festivities in their own homes? Or better yet, not have special days at all. To Edgar, every day was like every other day.
Edgar turned the corner and finally reached the Neolodge. As expected, the lineup was already out the door. He sighed and dragged himself through the employee entrance to the side of the building.
“Edgar!” A stern, matronly voice rang behind him as he made his way to the front desk. Edgar closed his eyes briefly, bracing for the onslaught he knew was coming.
“You know that today is our busiest day of the year,” an Elderly Lenny frowned down at him. “I was expecting an early start to the day, but you are…” she adjusted her glasses and checked her watch, “two minutes late. This is most displeasing. Caroline called in sick again, so we are still one staff short. Poor girl, I’ve never heard of such a nasty case of Chickaroo. She still cannot stop clucking.”
“Sorry Mrs. Buttonworth,” Edgar said. “I forgot it was Valentine’s Day. I’ll start tending to the guests straight away.” He hurried away before she could say anything more.
Edgar spent most of the morning helping guests check into their hotels. Many had booked moons in advance; some came in to see if last-minute rooms were available.
“Ahh, the Royal Neopian, an excellent choice,” Edgar found himself saying, “one of my very favourites.” He had never been to the Royal Neopian, and wasn’t even sure what it looked like apart from the pictures in the brochure the Neolodge handed out to its guests.
“The Faerie Castle? What a delightful choice. Queen Fyora herself once inspected its halls herself.” She might have done so; it was plausible.
“For this amount of budget, I can offer you the Fleapit Motel. Oh, don’t mind the name, it’s just a silly moniker given by its owners.” It wasn’t just a silly moniker.
On and on it went. He had a bank of well-rehearsed scripts to draw from. A response for every type of guest. Every trip is to be magical and memorable, especially on such a day as Valentine’s Day. He served couple after couple. No daring soloists appeared today.
In his first few years of manning the Neolodge front desk, Edgar had felt pangs of loneliness now and then when he helped smiling couples, families with young ones trailing behind them, and excited friend groups. But he always banished them to the back of his mind, opting for optimism instead. One day, he used to think, he would meet someone, have a nice friend group, and maybe even start a family. He tried to put himself out there and even joined a Gormball association on the weekends. But no one ever stuck around. As the years passed, he grew used to his daily routine and the few outing invitations from acquittances eventually trickled to a stop.
“Hey Edgar,” a humming voice greeted him, breaking Edgar out of his melancholic reverie. It was Dandelion, a Yellow Buzz who usually covered for Edgar during his lunch break. “What a day eh?”
Edgar shrugged; his mouth very dry. There must have been at least fifty guests this morning.
“Go take your break, I’ve got this,” Dandelion said. “Before you come back though, could you check the back patio? I think I heard a disturbance there earlier. It’s probably nothing, but we better make sure just in case. Can you imagine if it’s those prankster kids again and Mrs. Buttonworth finds out? Oof!”
“Sure,” Edgar said. His coworker was always more than eager to hand off bits of work to someone else and Edgar was his favourite target.
The back patio was an oasis of calm compared to the front desk. Sometimes the Neolodge used it to host private events, but today it was quiet and deserted. Edgar looked around and saw no one. The only sound was the muffled chatter of guests drifting from the front lobby. He was about to leave when he spotted it: a slimy green trail that led from a set of stairs down the patio and into the garden. Frowning, Edgar cautiously followed it around the corner. The trail disappeared into a blackberry bush.
Edgar was not a battle Neopet, having never even set hoof into the Battledome to watch a competition. His only opponent had been Punchbag Bob back in his youth. If this turns out to be Meuka… he thought nervously.
The bush rustled, and a few blackberries dropped to the ground. Edgar took a tentative step back.
A round eye, glistening like a beetle, poked out from behind a patch of leaves. A second eye immediately followed. A green jelly-like body wiggled from the bush and snapped up a blackberry. It was a Slorg.
Edgar heaved a sigh of relief. It must be a Petpet belonging to one of the guests. Probably got lost in the crowd and chaos of the morning.
“Come on little guy, let’s get you back to your owner,” Edgar reached a hoof out. The Slorg took a curious sniff, turned and glided away in the opposite direction.
“Oh, come on now,” Edgar sighed. “I don’t want to pick you up, but I will if you try to run away – er, glide away.”
The Slorg either didn’t understand him or simply chose not to listen. It continued its slimy trail into the garden, towards the rose bushes that Mrs. Buttonworth painstakingly tended over.
“Please don’t make my job even more miserable than it already is today,” Edgar said dully. The Slorg stopped and looked back at him. It blinked. Edgar stared back. After a long moment, the Slorg turned and continued on. Was it trying to communicate with him in its own Slorg way?
“I don’t have time for this,” Edgar muttered. He strode forward and scooped the Slorg up. As he did so, he noticed a pink shimmer in the nearby rosebush. He nudged forward a bit, Slorg under his arm, and parted the leaves with his free arm.
A Valentine Petpet Paint Brush sat wedged between two branches.
Edgar took a sharp breath in. What was the going rate for Valentine Petpet Paint Brushes? Six… no seven million? They usually increase in price around Valentine’s Day too, so it might be worth even more. Seven million Neopoints, Fyora’s light! He could finally retire from the Neolodge. He could…
The Slorg wiggled in his arm, slime oozing from its body. Edgar clutched tighter around its squishy form, trying to hold steady. That appeared to be a mistake, however, as the Slorg popped out from underneath his grip, sliding out as easily as a slippery fish. The Slorg tumbled down into the rose bush, fell on top of the Paint Brush, and crashed through the smattering of leaves and branches onto the ground.
The Slorg rolled off its back and straightened itself. There was a faint pink glow, and the green slime was gone. In its place was bright fuchsia. The Paint Brush gently dissolved into mist.
“No…” Edgar looked down, horrorstruck. His dream was over before he could even start celebrating.
“Why me?” he whispered, tears rushing out despite himself as he knelt beside the now Valentine Slorg. “Why is my luck always so rotten? Why can’t anything go right in my life?”
The Slorg looked curiously up at him and smiled. It nudged his knee with its head, leaving behind a trail of fuchsia slime, dotted with pink hearts.
“It’s not about what life gives you,” a cheery female voice rang behind him. “It’s about what you do with what you are given.”
Edgar turned. A Grey Wocky was smiling from the patio steps. A smiling Grey pet? Edgar wiped away his tears and stared at the newcomer.
“Adoline!” She trotted up to the Slorg. “There you are my dear, I’ve been looking all over for you! And will you look at that! You’ve gone and given yourself a makeover!”
The Slorg chirruped happily.
Edgar cleared his throat and shuffled to his feet, trying to regain his composure. “I’m sorry ma’am,” he said. “Guests are not allowed in the back garden today.”
“Oh, I don’t mean to be a bother,” the Wocky said. “My little friend here got away from me when I was inquiring about last-minute room availability. Took the charming Yellow Buzz up front quite a bit of searching, but he managed to find me a great little nook at the Mountain Lodge. I’ve always wanted to go up to Terror Mountain!”
“And you’re…” Edgar looked at her incredulously, “… going on a trip by yourself for Valentine’s Day?”
“That I am!” The Wocky said, flashing him a gleaming smile. “It’s my favourite holiday! I just love all the effort Neopia Central puts into the décor. This year I thought why don’t I treat myself to a trip instead of my usual order from the Chocolate Factory? So here I am.”
“How are you so cheerful?” Edgar was still staring at her. “You’re a Grey pet.”
“My friend,” the Wocky said, “it’s just paint, isn’t it?”
The Slorg chirruped again beside them and nudged Edgar again with its head.
“Seems like she’s taken a liking to you,” the Wocky said. “Adoline always has a mind of her own. I think you are to be her new owner.”
“New… I’m sorry what?” Edgar raised his eyebrows.
“We Neopets typically choose our own Petpet, but I think sometimes it’s the Petpet that chooses the Neopet. And Adoline here has chosen you,” the Wocky said kindly.
“Will you look at the time!” She exclaimed. “The ship to Terror Mountain will be departing soon, so I must get going. Please take good care of Adoline, she is darling. I hope you don’t mind if I drop by to visit her every now and then. Goodbye for now, friend!”
“Wait, I don’t even know your name!” Edgar looked up, but the Grey Wocky was already trotting away.
He looked down again at Adoline, who chirruped, eyes crinkled into a smile that resembled crescent moons. He knelt down and gave her a few pats. Little pink slime hearts dotted his hoof as he drew his arm back.
“It’s about what you do with what you are given,” Edgar muttered. A small smile found his lips as he thought: perhaps this year’s Valentine’s Day isn’t so bad after all.