BattlerJoe escaped out through the path, ran through several
neighborhoods, and found himself in a heavily wooded area outside of Neopia Central.
He decided he was probably safe enough to fly, and he could make better time by
nightfall if he flew. He kicked up and rose above the trees. Looking around, he
saw a bit of blue below the horizon, and flew towards it. The blue spot revealed
itself to be the ocean, and the beach was deserted, even at this time of day.
The red Shoyru figured this meant it would stay deserted most of the time. He
flew as far as the edge of the woods, only a few hundred meters from the shore,
and landed. This would be home -- for awhile.
BattlerJoe decided his first order of business
would be to build a lean-to. There was plenty of brush, and with a little hunting
around, he found a protruding branch low enough to lean fallen boughs on. Soon
he had constructed a small lean-to, which would keep the worst of the wind and
rain out, if not all. He finished by piling pine needles on the bottom, and
when he tested his new bed, he found it to be softer than the straw mattress
he had slept on in his old home.
Now he needed a fire. This was the easiest thing
he had to do by far -- he simply gathered several sticks, placed them on a clear
patch of sand, and breathed fire heavily into the pile of wood. It lit and burned,
producing heat that BattlerJoe was thankful for in the now-cold night. He was
fairly certain that the fire would not be seen in this remote place, and he
was absolutely freezing. He sat in front of it, warming his paws, then curled
up in his tent. He closed his eyes. He was exhausted, but unable to sleep.
Who did that voice come from? Did I just imagine
it? BattlerJoe supposed it was possible. It wasn't all that unlikely that he
could have guessed that his owner was getting busted. He had been expecting
this for a long time, and he had seen the police running by. So maybe it had
all been his imagination. It wouldn't be the first time I imagined something
like this. BattlerJoe again had a vague memory of someone named Bart Mint Bar,
and lying on his mat, bruised and crying after a battle he hadn't wanted to
fight… and someone singing a lullaby in an off-key but comforting voice. BattlerJoe
had laughed at the bad singing, then drifted off to sleep, still hurting, but
also comforted, knowing he had a friend close by.
BattlerJoe turned over and thought of the voice
from today. Go by a different name if anyone asks. We will meet you at the money
tree in a week. He didn't know about the Money Tree, but he had a week to decide
whether to go or not. One thing he did know was that if he was out on his own,
he might as week have a name he liked.
I'm Joe from now on, he decided. Just Joe.
* * *
The next few days passed fairly smoothly. Joe lived off of his daily omelette
and jelly, but otherwise kept himself scarce. He didn't want to risk too much
too soon -- Joe thought the Neopian Police might still be looking for him. Yet
the riskiest thing he could think of was always on his mind -- whether or not
to go to the Money Tree. It made sense to go sometime, anyway. Free stuff was
But the fact remained that someone who knew
him -- or knew that he was hiding from the police -- would be there. Joe just
wasn't sure that he was willing to take a gamble that the person was well-intentioned,
even if he or she had warned him off when the NeoPolice were looking for him.
The hidden person could be a police officer in disguise, hoping Joe would lead
him or her to other "criminals." But if that were the case, wouldn't they know
by now that Joe was innocent? Joe didn't know.
The sixth day dawned dimly, fog drifting onto
the coast and making it difficult to see more than a few meters ahead. Joe shivered
as he woke up, and saw that his fire had gone out again. No big deal. He would
light another one. Joe walked a bit into the woods and gathered up an armload
of branches, yawning, still not completely awake. He stumbled back to the fire,
built it up and lit it. He warmed his hands on it for a moment, then froze.
He has heard something -- or someone -- rustling in the bushes.
"Hello?" Joe asked nervously, looking towards
the place where the bushes were rustling. "Someone there?" He leapt and parted
the bushes where he was sure the intruder was hiding. There was no one. Joe
laughed nervously. "Okay, well, I guess you… uh… don't exist, so I'm just going
back to, uh, my fire." Joe smacked his forehead with his paw and laughed for
real this time. "I'm losing it," he muttered, and walked back to his fire, then
stopped in front of his tent.
There, on his bed of pine needles, was a candy
bar. A chocolate-coated mint bar.
"Bart Mint Bar," Joe whispered, and stood stock-still.
He was starting to remember.
* * *
Little BattlerJoe was crying as his owner stood looking sternly down at him.
Light streamed in the window, indicating that it was mid afternoon, the time
his owner always wanted to send him to the Battledome.
"You're going to the Battledome and that's that!"
BattlerJoe's owner said. BattlerJoe shook his head.
"I hate it! I hate it!" he wailed. His owner
glared at him a moment longer then shrugged.
"Fine," he said. "You don't fight, you don't
eat." BattlerJoe's owner turned from him and walked upstairs, leaving the small
Shoyru to sit on his mat, crying miserably. After awhile, he cried himself to
The little neopet woke up at dusk and looked
around, half-asleep and wondering where the strange feeling of guilt was coming
from. Then he remembered. He was being punished, and he wasn't going to be able
to eat until he went to the Battledome. He tiptoed to the kitchen and looked
in the icebox, but it was empty, and a note was taped inside the door.
"Maybe in the morning you'll feel like battling.
Until then, I don't feel like talking. Don't wake me up," BattlerJoe read to
himself, and sighed. He had had fights like this before with his owner, and
he always gave in. Hunger was a great motivator.
He opened the back door and sat on the step,
looking out on the garden. The sound of bluebells jingling reached his ears,
and he turned sadly towards the sound, wondering if someone had come to visit
his owner. No one was there. He sniffled and started to go back inside when
he heard a voice from a close by.
"Heads up, kid!" the voice said cheerfully.
BattlerJoe turned just in time to snatch a chocolate-coated mint bar out of
midair. BattlerJoe looked down at it, then looked wildly around to see who had
thrown it, but nobody was there.
"Hey!" the young Shoyru yelled. "Hey! Who's
there?" He continued to look around, and a gust of wind blew bits of summer
pollen and dust every which way. Suddenly he did see someone, although not very
clearly in the dim light. "Did you give me this?" The little neopet asked the
"Yeah," the figure said. "Yeah, you looked really
sad, and I just happened to have that from the Money Tree."
"I don't think I should take it," the Shoyru
said sadly. "I don't know you." The figure stood silent for a moment then seemed
"How about if we split it? I wouldn't eat half
if something was wrong with it," the figure said. BattlerJoe looked around again,
then nodded. He was young, hungry, and lonely, and all of these things combined
made it easy to accept an offer an older neopet would have rejected.
"Okay," he said. "Okay, Mr. Mint Bar." The figure
laughed as it sat down next to him.
"Call me Bart," the figure said.
"Okay, Bart Mint Bar," BattlerJoe said, and
the figure laughed again and patted the Shoyru on the back.
"I like that," Bart Mint Bar said. "I think
we're going to be friends."
The wind blew up again and the figure seemed
to change with it, almost to melt, but it was dark and hard to see clearly.
BattlerJoe snapped the mint bar in half and felt a larger paw gently take it
from him, but was no longer able to see anything in the dark. He sat eating
in the darkness, enjoying a food he had never tasted before, and the company
of his new friend.
* * *
Joe's mind came back to the present slowly, full of questions. Who had Bart
Mint Bar really been? He had acted strangely, and Joe knew looking back that
he had been stupid to trust a stranger on sight. Yet he felt nothing but a warm
sense of safety, remembering that strange figure, and that night so long ago.
He wished he could remember more. However, memories of his life when he had
frequented the Battledome were hazy, and he couldn't call much of anything back.
He leaned into his shelter and gingerly pulled
out the cheap candy bar. A note was attached to the bottom.
Remember: Tomorrow at the Money Tree.
Joe stared at the mint bar for a moment longer
before deciding what to do. He wouldn't eat the candy, not this time… but… it
was a crowded place, busy enough to go unnoticed, but with enough people around
that he wouldn't likely be harmed. He should go and get a tent anyway. The lean-to
would only last a little while longer; already the leaves were coming off, and
the next rainstorm would destroy it makeshift shelter completely. Joe shrugged.
He might as well go.
What was the worst that could happen?
To be continued...