Roxy frowned as she scanned the demanding criteria sheet.
The Ixi's snowy white brow knitted with worry, her mind rolling around each required
leap, tumble, balance and flexibility move. She turned away from the paper and
passed it to her friend with a resigned sigh.
"There's no denying it this time, Em, we're out
of our league," she moaned. Her friend, a meticulously groomed Kyrii named Emily,
snatched the sheet from Roxy's proffered hoof and glanced at it despondently.
The Kyrii snorted.
"Are you kidding? We can take care of this. I
mean, what's a few rolls and jumps?" she replied, playing with her aggressively
red mane. Roxy shook her head.
"No, we can't. We're terrible at gymnastics.
We've got no balance, we can't flex anything, and--"
"But look!" Emily interjected, jabbing a rusty
brown paw at the paper. "It says here that there's a dance component to the
presentation as well!" The Kyrii raised an eyebrow and smirked at her friend.
"We can dance, Roxy."
"Neither of us has any rhythm, Emily," the Ixi
muttered. Emily rolled her eyes.
"Okay, so we can't dance traditionally. That
doesn't mean that we can't do modern dance."
Roxy flopped dejectedly onto the worn blue mat
that laid on the gymnasium's floor, glaring at their teacher, Ms. Ferguson,
through narrowed eyes. Emily had resumed staring at the criteria sheet, rubbing
her chin thoughtfully. Roxy glanced at her momentarily before returning her
gaze to Ms. Ferguson.
"Darn Lenny's got it in for us," the Ixi grumbled.
"Always assigning these stupid, dancey, gymnast projects! As if every female
Neopet is naturally graceful and poised!" Roxy emitted a sudden yelp and then
whirled around to glare at Emily, who had rapped her smartly between the horns.
"Come on, Roxy," the Kyrii said sweetly. "We've
always soared through these projects. And you know exactly why." Roxy groaned.
"Don't say it, Emil--"
"We razzle dazzle them, that's it, Roxy!" Emily
declared. Roxy screwed her eyes shut.
"Please, don't say it! I'm so sick of it! Every
single time we get a new assignment in gym class, we always do something completely
strange and flashy that usually makes us the laughing stock of the entire school,"
she lamented. Emily grinned.
"But we always pass, don't we?" she prompted.
The Ixi spat bitterly on the ground.
"Barely! Remember our synchronized swimming routine
last year? We're hopeless at swimming, and synchronizing, yet we still just
passed the project because you somehow managed to rig up fireworks to accompany
"Exactly. We razzle dazzled them. And, as a result,
"We scraped by. And that was only because
Ms. Ferguson enjoyed the fireworks. We weren't even in sync! And after that,
we couldn't walk down the hallways without someone stopping us to ask if we
were stowing fireworks in our lockers."
"It doesn't matter! All that matters is that
you have showmanship. Showmanship, and creativity." Emily plopped down next
to Roxy, rubbing her paws together gleefully. "Now... What should we do for
this little assignment?" she mused. Roxy folded her hooves over her ears.
"Anything that doesn't involve pyrotechnics,"
she muttered. Emily ignored her, studying the criteria sheet with an amused
"This isn't so bad. Look, we need three rolls,
three leaps, and a finishing and starting pose. We can do that." The Kyrii tapped
her lip thoughtfully. "Now, do we have to do three different rolls, or
can they be the same? Cause' if they can be the same, then we could just do
three log rolls and that'd be it." Roxy shook her head.
"No, no, didn't you listen to Ms. Ferguson? Three
different rolls." She sighed. "I'm no good at rolling. My horns get in the way."
Emily nodded sympathetically. "And I'm no good
at leaping; I'm too lazy."
"And you're the most uncoordinated Neopet in
"Aside from you."
"So, what do we do?" Roxy asked, feeling a bit
annoyed. Emily gnawed her lower lip.
"Hrm... Well, we could incorporate our lack of
grace into our routine. We could be Pfish! Beached Pfish!" She grabbed Roxy
by the shoulders. "Just think, Rox! Beached Pfish flop around on the ground
just like we do when we try to roll and tumble! And beached Pfish also jump
into the air, real ungracefully, just like us!" She laughed. "We'll do the Routine
of the Beached Pfish! It's brilliant, it's workable, and it's creative!" The
Kyrii cackled. "Ms. Ferguson'll have to give us A's." Roxy massaged her temples
with the knuckles of her hooves.
"Oh, Fyora, you want us to be Pfish. And how
will she know that we're flopping around for artistic purposes, and not because
we stink at gymnastics?" she demanded. Emily grinned.
"We wear costumes, obviously. Some silver paint,
a few sequins for scales, maybe some paper fins..."
"Are you nuts? We'll look like idiots! Everyone
in the class will laugh at as! Again!" the Ixi shrieked. Emily shrugged.
"So? They'll be too busy laughing to notice how
terrible we are." The Kyrii sighed, raising her brassy red shoulders in an elegant
shrug. "But, if you have a better idea..."
Roxy snorted. "You know I don't." She made an
indistinguishable little noise and lowered her head to the mat, mumbling into
the sweaty plastic. "Fine. We'll be Pfish. Graceful Pfish."
Emily laughed and patted her friend jovially
on the back. "Atta Ixi, Rox! Okay, let's get choreographing!" The Kyrii pulled
a hidden pencil from her shaggy mane of hair and began to quickly scribble down
some notes and diagrams. Interested, Roxy leaned over to examine her friend's
"Em? Is that our choreography?" she asked warily.
"Uh huh. See, we'll start on either side of the
mat, lying down as though we're in the water. You know, like happy Pfish. Then
we start leaping anxiously, because we've been caught in a net." She began to
write at a fevered pace, her mane falling haphazardly over her eyes. "Then we
fall to the ground and start flopping around, those'll be our tumbling moves,
and all the while we'll be interspersing the gymnastic moves with some little
dancey gestures so that we look profound and put together. Then our finishing
pose will be us lying on the ground, twitching our back legs a little, to symbolize
the end of the Pfish's life." She raised her eyebrows expectantly. "Whaddya
think?" But Roxy wasn't paying attention to Emily. The Ixi was staring towards
the other end of the gym, an expression of horror etched across her face. She
pointed a quivering hoof in the direction of her gaze.
"Fyora, look at that, Em!"
Emily craned her neck around and followed Roxy's
indication. "Ah..." the Kyrii said. "Good old Bri seems determined to upstage
Roxy moaned. "Look at her, Emily! Do you see
what her group is doing? They're doing a perfect routine! They have every move
down! They're in sync, they're on beat, they've got rhythm and they aren't dressed
like giant Pfish!" the Ixi sobbed. Emily ignored Roxy's tirade, sniffing haughtily.
"So they're technically good. But look at them,
Rox! They're boring, they're mechanical, and they haven't got a shred of creativity
between them." The Kyrii shook her head in mock sympathy. "It's a shame, Rox,
that the arts are being so stripped down at our schools." She gave her friend
an encouraging pat between the shoulder blades. "You'll see. Bri's group will
be on key and they'll have every tumble perfectly executed, but we'll be remembered
for doing something special. We'll walk home with A's, mark my words!" Roxy
plopped her head on her hoof.
"I don't know whether your unwavering optimism
is encouraging or really pathetic," she muttered. Emily shrugged.
"You'll see, Rox. We'll razzle dazzle them. We'll
be awesome. Now, let's start sketching out our costumes." The Kyrii twirled
the pencil deftly between her paws and flipped the criteria sheet over so that
its blank side was exposed. Emily touched the tip of the pencil to the paper
and pursed her lips thoughtfully.
"They'll be silver, of course; we can get the
fabric from the art room... We'll wrap them around ourselves like tails, except
they'll leave our legs free so that we can move." She was drawing furiously
now, completely absorbed in her work. "We'll paint our fur silver, too, and
wear little cardboard fins on our heads." Her eyes lit up suddenly. "And sequins!
We can attach sequins to our faces so that we look like we have scales!" Emily
laughed. "This is going to be great!" Roxy frowned.
"We are going to look so stupid," she said dully.
"It's not stupid, Roxy. It's thoughtful. Just
think, the Pfish dance--"
"Oh, it's a dance, now?"
"Yes, Roxy, it's a dance. It's an expression
of a concept that I have," Emily snapped peevishly. Roxy raised an eyebrow.
"A concept that you just came up with in the
last five minutes?" she prompted. Emily exhaled dreamily, tilting her face skywards.
"The concept of freedom, Rox! Just think-- the
Pfish are free, right? They're swimming around in the ocean and then-- bam!
They get caught in a net. Then they're hauled on land and sold in Petpet shops
or they're left to rot. It's a metaphor, you see. It's a metaphor for how we
feel in this school."
"How we feel?"
"It's how I feel, and I know that you feel the
same way. You're always telling me how much you hate having to come to Neoschool
every day and memorize pointless facts about turnip harvests and what the square
root of 81 is and how to calculate the chemical content in Tigersquash juice.
It's like you're trapped, right? Trapped in a net."
"A metaphorical net?"
"Exactly! And just look at this gym class, Rox!
We're staunched. We're doing a gymnastic-slash-dance unit and we've got to follow
a rigid set of rules! They're staunching all creativity. It's mechanical, it's
technical, it's being taken from the sea and put into a net." Emily thumped
her first into her paw. "Creative restraint, Rox. That's all it is." Roxy cocked
her head to the side.
"You know something, Em, I think that you may
have something there. We are staunched. Even in art class, we have to paint
what the teacher tells us. 'Paint a Miamouse!', 'Draw a Juppie!', 'Sketch a
red Skeith!'. We never get to do anything that's our own here." Emily nodded
enthusiastically, rubbing her paws together with excitement.
"Yes! And this, this will be our protest.
We'll take something as mundane and rigid as a gym class gymnastics routine
and turn it into a statement. That's art, Rox. You can't deny raw passion like
the Dance of the Pfish."
"You're right. We've always done weird, showy
stuff for our routines, but this time it's something that actually has meaning.
We'll be getting something across. Finally, there's some substance with our
style." Roxy grinned.
"You know what, Emily? I'm actually excited about
this. I mean, usually when we do routines, I feel like I'm about to be sacrificed
to Mumbo Pango, but this time..." she trailed off uncertainly, twirling her
hoof in the air as she searched for words to express herself with. "Well, it
feels like this time, this time we've actually got something."
"Well, of course we do. It's original, and it's
got staying power. Now, let's go to the art room-- we have to pick up the stuff
for our costumes."
Emily led the way to the art room, traveling
with her usual powerful stride. Roxy clip-clopped alongside her, her mind already
spinning with ideas for her outfit. Emily stopped in front of the paint-streaked
door to the art room.
"Here we are," she announced grandly.
The two pets entered the art room and, after
a brief pleading session with the teacher, emerged a few minutes later, their
arms laden down with gauzy silver fabric, paint, glitter, sequins and thread.
They returned to the gym and dumped their supplies on the gymnastic mats, sending
a shimmering tide of silver washing over the dusty blue of the mat. Emily grabbed
a pair of scissors and went right to work, deftly shearing away a portion of
"See, Rox? Just cut enough to make a bit of a
wrap-- we want to make sure that our feet and hands are free."
Roxy retrieved some of the material and followed
Emily's lead, leaning over to examine her friend's progress.
"That looks pretty good," the Ixi admired. Emily
"It does, doesn't it?" She wound the cloth around
her body, tying it over the shoulder to fashion a makeshift toga. The Kyrii
moved her arms experimentally, seeing if she was free to move in the outfit.
"Yeah, this works. Okay, pass me those sequins
and that can of paint. I'm going to do my makeup."
Roxy complied and Emily wasted no time in daubing
her face with the paint, smearing it into her rusty red fur. When she was satisfied,
the Kyrii tore into the sequins, pressing them into the still-wet paint so that
they remained fixed on her face. Finally, she sprinkled a bit of the glitter
on herself. Emily flipped back her thick, curly mane and grinned.
"How do I look?" she asked. Roxy laughed.
"Like a giant Pfish! This is awesome, Em, really
"Well, we certainly aren't scrimping on the creativity,
now are we?"
Both pets spun around at the wheezy voice, smoothing
over their shocked expressions as they came face to face with their teacher,
Ms. Ferguson. The Lenny's beak twitched in amusement at Emily's costume, her
faded-yellow head feathers quivering slightly. Emily shrugged, affixing a rakish
smile to her face.
"Well, Ms. Ferguson, gymnastics and dance are
an art form..."
"Yes, yes. But of course, the curriculum isn't
entirely interested in high art. We just want to see you abiding by the standards."
She chuckled a bit. "You girls always are very interesting, aren't you?" Ms.
Ferguson glanced at her watch. "Well, you'll be performing shortly. I shall
expect something good from you two this time."
After the Lenny had wandered out of earshot,
Emily bent down slightly and nudged Roxy with her elbow.
"'Abide by the standards', pff! See what I mean,
Rox? They don't care about art. Not yet." The Kyrii flung a paw around
her friend's shoulders. "But we'll make them care, right Roxy?"
"Yeah! So, you want to help me put on those sequins?"
Emily was just finishing up with Roxy's makeup
when Ms. Ferguson's cacophonous voice rang throughout the gymnasium.
"Everyone please gather in the center of the
room! We're going to perform our routines now, starting with Bri and her group."
Emily rubbed her paws together while Roxy nervously
adjusted her costume. The Ixi had paled considerably, giving her already white
fur a far more ghostly shade.
"I'm nervous, Emily," she murmured as the two
made their way to the center of the gym. "Everyone else seems so much more put
together than us."
Emily cast a distinctly scornful eye over the
other groups. "Come on, Rox," she said in a low voice. "I'll bet that all of
these guys have identical routines. You know, tumble, leap, flex and finish--
ours is much more original." The Kyrii chuckled a bit as she seated herself
on the mat, pulling her friend down to sit beside her. "I'd be quite surprised
if we didn't get a high B, at the very least." She craned her head up a little.
"Ah, the harpy is addressing the crowd again."
A sudden silence washed over the assembled pets
as Ms. Ferguson stood up and gestured with her wing for silence. The Lenny smiled
benignly at the sleek Kougra that stood on the gymnastics mat.
"All right Bri, is your group ready to go?"
The Kougra nodded, looking bored, and waved to
"Come on guys, let's get into our positions."
Bri's group had a good routine. They performed
every move with feline grace-- unsurprising since all of its members were Kougras--
and remained perfectly synchronized throughout the entire process, from their
starting pose, an aesthetically pleasing arrangement of all the members, to
their finishing pose, an impressive pyramid. There was a smattering of applause
from all the students, and a standing ovation from Ms. Ferguson. Roxy had watched
the entire routine with an expression of mounting terror.
"Emily, did you see that?" she moaned under the
applause. "They were perfect. Why didn't we add a pyramid?"
"Because dying Pfish don't arrange themselves
in pyramids, you dummy," Emily replied lightly. She, apparently, was unfazed
by Bri's polished performance. Roxy shuddered.
"I'm starting to think that making an artistic
statement was a bad idea."
"You should've told me you were so nervous, Rox.
Half a second." The Kyrii stood up and waved her paw in the air. "Ms. Ferguson!
Ms. Ferguson! We'll go next!" Roxy gasped and quickly tugged Emily back down.
"What are you doing? Are you nuts? You just said
that you knew how nervous I was!" she hissed. Emily shrugged.
"Well, now we can get it over with." She grinned
suddenly. "Come on, Rox, our patrons await."
Emily leapt up and scurried to the main gymnastics
mat, a feat made difficult by her cumbersome Pfish costume. Roxy trailed dejectedly
behind, a fine line of sweat already beading on her brow. Emily nudged her friend
playfully and sniggered.
"Why so jumpy? Show me the moxy, Roxy." The Ixi
glared at her.
"Oh shut up," she muttered. Emily only laughed
in response, and struck the first pose of the routine.
Roxy tried her hardest to remember everything
that Emily had said about the order of the moves, but it was difficult for her
to concentrate on gymnastics and theatrics when her face was covered in sequins
and paint, which were starting to make her skin quite itchy. Emily, for her
part, seemed to have no trouble remembering all of the complex choreography.
The Kyrii flopped around on the ground, her eyes bulging and her mouth emitting
horrible gasping noises that Roxy assumed were supposed to be the anguished
cries of a beached Pfish. The dance finally ended with both pets draped belly-up
overtop the other, their limbs twitching slightly. Their routine was followed
by a strange silence. There wasn't any applause, not for a few seconds, anyway,
and the audience seemed to be caught in a dreamlike stupor. Bri's enthusiastic
clapping finally broke the crushing silence, which encouraged all of the other
students to join in. Some even stood on their feet and whistled, cheering as
loudly as the could.
Back on the mat, Emily twisted herself into a
stand and bent down to help Roxy up off the floor. The Kyrii took a flourishing
"What did I tell you, Rox?" she crowed. "They
But Roxy still looked grim. The Ixi nodded slightly
in the direction of the sour-faced Ms. Ferguson.
"Not all of them," she said quietly. Emily
"Philistine. No worries, though. We managed to
impress the really important crowd."
"And Ms. Ferguson isn't important? She's the
one handing out the grades, Emily, not our classmates!"
"So what? Grades don't matter anymore, Roxy!
Look! We entertained our peers! If we got through to them, then that's all I
"It didn't use to be. You used to always try
and razzle dazzle your way to a decent grade. Why the change of heart?"
Emily smiled. "I suppose you could say that I
had an epiphany, Rox."
"While you were pretending to be a Pfish?"
"Yeah, I had an epiphany while I was pretending
to be a Pfish. And you know what I realized? I realized that The Dance of the
Pfish really did mean something. I realized that as long as they, the students,
liked it, then that was all that mattered, because if they got it, then
we'd have accomplished our goal." She laughed. "You know what else? I bet that
Ms. Ferguson failed us. I bet you five hundred Neopoints that she failed us.
But I don't care. She'll fail us because we weren't perfect. We couldn't do
any of those moves and she knows it, and this time we couldn't distract her
with flashy pyrotechnics. But we'll take the F with pride, Roxy. It'll be the
best F that we've ever received."
Roxy still looked troubled. "They probably just
liked us because we were weird."
"Then they still liked it."
Emily and Roxy did receive an F. Ms. Ferguson
wrote on their marking sheet that their routine was "creative but lacking in
poise." Roxy wasn't surprised. Emily burst into a fit of giggles when she read
"It proves my point, Roxy. That was the point
of the Dance of the Pfish. There's no room for creativity or art in this net.
Our message has come full circle."
Roxy was about to reply, but was interrupted
by Bri's delicate voice.
"Hey guys!" The Kougra had approached them from
behind, her eyes shining with admiration. Emily glanced at her.
"What's up?" she greeted. Bri grinned.
"You guys had the best routine out of anybody.
I loved it; it was awesome!"
Roxy was curious. "Why'd you like it?" she asked
casually. Bri shrugged.
"I dunno. Because it was different, and cool.
You guys should go into performing or something. You should definitely try out
for the school play." Her ears perked up suddenly. "Well, I've got to go, my
friends are calling me. See ya later!" she said quickly before loping off to
rejoin her friends. Emily turned to Roxy, a self-satisfied smirk on her face.
"All right, I see. You win. You were right. Happy?"
"Very. Y'know what? We should go into
performing. We'd make a mint."
"I thought it wasn't about grades or money."
"Well it's not, of course, but a pet's gotta
"We can be profound all the same."
"Profound, different and cool."
"That's what they like, Emily."
"That's what they like." The Kyrii was quiet
for a moment, smiling slightly. "That's what I like, too."