Souma could see the faces in her panicking mind. She felt confined, trapped within the walls of expectation. All eyes were on the Wocky just waiting for the inevitable. She could sense the end, her inescapable destiny. Slowly, her paws slipped, their clammy grip losing their hold. She had almost made it this time. If only she could go the last little bit. Then she would prove them wrong. The predictions would be wrong. Grabbing her hold tighter, Souma took a glance below her. The dizzying drop below her did nothing to air the pet as the girl’s stomach flew into her throat due to the butterflies that had appeared in it. As her courage and determination deserted her, Souma felt her paws slide off their hold and she began to fall, a scream of terror coming from her mouth.
It seemed like forever before the rope grew taunt, suspending the Wocky in mid-air. As she dangled in the space, she mentally criticized herself. After a short time, a voice called out, “Souma, are you alright?”
Opening her eyes, she looked down at Chiharu, a white Kougra. Without a single word, Souma nodded her head and was slowly lowered to the ground. Chiharu walked over to Souma with a silent stride. She touched the Wocky’s shoulder comfortingly and said in her melodic tone, “Don’t worry, maybe you’ll make it next time.”
Souma wordlessly nodded and, taking off her harness, walked off into the crowd of young pets around her. Taking a quick glance back, she saw the climbing rock that had once again defeated her. It was the time of the school year when each student had to attempt to climb up and again Souma had failed the test. Holding back hot tears of frustration in her bright green eyes, the brown pet ran to the back of the crowd, more than ready to get out of the spotlight.
After gym, Chiharu approached Souma with a kind air surrounding her. Souma was standing in front of her adversary, the gray wall standing thirty feet above her. Now that everyone had left, Souma let the tears fall as she questioned no one in particular, “Why of all the fears to have did it have to be a fear of heights?”
Again Chiharu placed a soft paw on Souma’s shoulder. With the same kind voice she had spoken with before, she answered, “Everyone has fears, Souma. Yours is not one you should be ashamed of.”
“But I do horribly in every single gym exercise, especially this one! And every time we need to climb up, I always get so scared. I always almost reach the top. But then I look down and I see how high I am and I just can’t hold on anymore. I’m such a coward!” Souma cried.
“Just because you get scared,” Chiharu reassured her, “doesn’t mean you are a coward. To be frightened isn’t a bad thing. However, if you let that fear control you, that’s when you’re a coward. And believe me, Souma, you aren’t a coward. Every time you fail, you try again. A coward would just give up and never try again. But you don’t. And I don’t think you should be upset that you can’t make it to the top of the wall because you always try your best.”
“But...” Souma replied, “I want to be able to make it to the top!”
“Then,” Chiharu responded, “you’ll just have to make it so that there is no room for the fear to stop you. Give yourself an iron heart filled with determination that will stay strong until you reach your goal. When you do that, you will reach the top and you will be able to accomplish anything you want.”
Souma gazed up at Chiharu. The Kougra always seemed too nice to be the physical instructor. But Souma was glad that she was. Because no matter how much she failed, Chiharu never criticized the Wocky and she always heard her out, even when she cried.
Nodding her head, Souma smiled. “Okay!”
“That’s better.” Chiharu returned Souma’s smile. Turning around, the Kougra commented, “Now come on, you’ll be late for your next class and Takeo’s probably worried.”
Souma’s smile grew. Takeo was a shadow Bori who had been her friend for as long as she could remember. He was always getting nervous whenever Souma didn’t arrive somewhere on time. Quite often he had ended up looking for her. And when she would turn up, he was always saying how she had really scared him. Souma guessed it was because she was his only friend. His mother had died when he was younger and now, he watched over Souma like he was her personal bodyguard. Sometimes it was annoying, but overall, Souma was thankful that he cared about her. It was as though he was the loving brother she never had or the best friend that she imagined one should be like. He was most likely searching for her at that moment.
In fact, right as Souma and Chiharu exited the gym, they both collided with the Bori. He quickly jumped up and exclaimed, “Souma, where were you? Class starts in a few minutes!”
Souma took the claw Takeo had extended to her and replied, “It was rock climbing day.”
Takeo’s tone immediately softened. “Oh,” he apologized, “I didn’t know.”
“It’s alright,” Souma assured him. Takeo didn’t always participate in the gym activities as he was often helping with some other job. Because of his reliability and trust, he was often excused from gym or a class to help with one thing or another.
Quickly reminding the two pets that they had class, Chiharu left to attend to her next job, whether it be assisting in the health class or taking care of the gym equipment. Both young students said their farewell to the Kougra and rushed to their class.
The dismissal bell rang loud and clear and the hoard of pets broke through the school doors, screaming with joy, eager to taste freedom. Souma and Takeo walked quietly in contrast to the rest of the crowd. When they were finally left behind by the pack, Takeo asked, “Are you going to be okay?”
Souma nodded. “Yeah, Chiharu talked with me afterward. She made me feel better about failing again. I just wish....” The Wocky trailed off.
“You wish you could make it to the top?” Takeo finished. Souma nodded again.
For the rest of the trip home, neither pet said a word.
Souma lay on her bed staring at the ceiling of her family’s home. They lived in one of the many apartment buildings that had been constructed in Neopia Central. Takeo lived a few floors below her.
Tossing and turning in the sheets of her starry bed, Souma turned the words that Chiharu had told her over in her head. The sequins on the dark blue painted walls and ceiling shone in the light from Souma’s window, giving the room a space-like feeling. A dresser that had been painted and decorated the same way lay against the left wall and was covered with numerous things from Kreludor and the Virtupets Space Station. Every four or so months, her father (a white Wocky) sent Souma a new item from his post on the station or the moon.
Standing up, Souma walked over to the dresser and picked up one of the items, a stone the size of a neopoint. When she had been sent the violet and silver swirl colored rock, the letter she had received told her that it was actually part of a chunk of space metal, an item considered lucky that the Grundos and other pets would use to give them courage. Gripping the piece of metal, Souma recalled the rock wall.
After she had failed again, she had been taunted and asked why she even tried. Everyone knew she couldn’t climb the wall. She wasn’t brave enough. No matter how much she wanted to reach the top, she never would because she was too afraid. Through the condemnation, Chiharu’s voice rang, “If you want to reach the top, you’ll just have to make it so that there is no room for the fear to stop you. Give yourself and iron heart filled with determination that will stay strong until you reach your goal.”
Squeezing the space metal tighter, Chiharu’s other words sounded in Souma’s mind, “Don’t worry, maybe you’ll make it next time.” With those words, Souma responded, “I can’t wait until next time.”
Tucking the iron stone into her jeans pocket, Souma prepared to leave and was about to go out the door when she passed by a picture of Takeo and herself. Glancing at the picture, she decided that it wouldn’t be good if he came by to check on her and she had disappeared. So, taking a sheet of paper and her pencil, she scribbled down a quick note and on her way down from her apartment, she stopped by Takeo’s, slipping the paper under the door. Then without a word she ran out of the complex and toward the now abandoned school.
Wiping the sweat from her brow, Souma took a deep breath, the butterflies in her stomach already coming up
Takeo ran through the busy Neopia Central streets. Even though it was getting toward evening, pets crowded the roads at every curve. In his claws, Takeo clutched a wrinkled sheet of paper.
Souma took every buckle and fastened them securely, making sure that none of them were the least bit loose.
As he passed a turn, Takeo collided with another pet. Looking up, he saw it was Chiharu. Smiling, she stated, “Oh, sorry, Takeo. I didn’t notice you until too late. Although, why are you in such a rush. It’s not like you to be so....”
Clutching the shard of metal in her right hand, Souma glanced at the task ahead of her. Placing the stone-like-item pack in her pocket, she took another deep breath and began.
“SOUMA’S TRYING TO CLIMB THE WALL!” the Bori interjected.
Chiharu felt her heart skip a beat and she found herself unable to speak.
Souma grabbed at the next hold. Slowly she ascended, taking each new hold as she came to it. As she made it further and further up the wall, the brown Wocky could sense the end getting closer, the top coming up swiftly. When she was about two-thirds of the way up, the pet heard a familiar voice from below her, “Souma!”
Turning back, the Wocky saw Takeo and Chiharu, both pets watching her. With a fear filled tone in her musical voice, Chiharu called out, “Souma, come down! You could get hurt even with the safety harness. You don’t need to do this; wait until next time!”
Souma shook her head. “No!” she yelled back, “I can climb up; just wait. I can make it to the top. Then, no matter what others say, I can know that I’m not the coward everyone thinks I am! I need to prove them wrong!”
“You don’t need to prove anything!” Takeo retorted. “You don’t need to listen to the others! Just come down before you get hurt!”
Looking back at the wall, the Wocky replied, “If you’re going to join the voices of everyone else, then I’ll just have to prove you wrong too!”
Takeo felt the words sting him. Glancing at Chiharu, he saw the same hurt. Both of them knew that Souma’s words hit the mark. Right at that moment, they sounded like the countless pets who told the Wocky she could only fail.
As Takeo and Chiharu stood in dumb silence, Souma resumed climbing. She reached up and grabbed the holds, the skin of her paws showing white through her fur. Pulling herself up, the Wocky reached for the next grip. However, as she was about to grab it, Souma felt her on of her legs slip and with a short cry of surprise, the Wocky found herself dangling by one of her paws. As she hung onto the wall, Souma sensed her strength draining and the air of expectation, the expectation of failure, arose. It was as though everyone else was still there, watching her and waiting for her to fall short of her goal.
“Souma!” Chiharu exclaimed. The Kougra watched the younger pet above her. If she lost her grip, then Souma wouldn’t be able to make it the rest of the way. Her strength was already at its limit. If she couldn’t hold on, she would lose the strength. And even though it wasn’t likely that she could get hurt from falling, Chiharu was worried for Souma. With another failure, Chiharu feared that the girl wouldn’t be able to gather the power to try again, but the pet didn’t want Souma to push herself beyond what she could do and hurt herself beyond repair. With uncertainty, she spoke to the Bori next to her, “Takeo, what should we....”
The Kougra didn’t get very far as Takeo shouted, “COME ON, SOUMA! STOP FOOLING AROUND! YOU CAN DO IT!”
Chiharu stared at Takeo, surprised. Then she too joined in the shouting.
Souma’s heart skipped a beat when she heard the two. They were shouting for her to continue, and now that they were, she couldn’t let them down. The vision of the pets below her disappeared. No longer was the air of failure around her. It could no longer exist. Sticking her paw into her pocket, the Wocky grasped the metal stone in her paw. Clenching her teeth, she told herself, “I need to give myself a heart of iron. Make it so that there is no room for the fear to stop me!”
Swinging her arm up, Souma found another grip and continued to pull herself up, the shouts of Takeo and Chiharu backing her up. To the Wocky, it was like they were pushing her along. When she was only a few feet from the top, however, she felt her arms turning to jelly and the last of her strength left. Looking up, she saw it; she saw the top just one grip away. Taking a pause, she listened intently to the shouts of encouragement that she was being told. In her mind and heart, she wished, she wished for the strength to make it the rest of the way. Then, with a deep breath, she pulled up with her arm. Pain entered her arm and she strained it. It quivered as she attempted to continue up, threatening to give way and cause her to fall. However, just as she thought that her arm would fail her, she felt just a bit of power enter her arm. Using the burst of strength, she grabbed the last hold and pulled herself up and rang the bell at the top. Right as she did, Souma’s arms and legs lost all power and collapsed, leaving her dangling by the safety lines.
Chiharu rushed over and lowered the Wocky to ground. Both she and Takeo hurried over to Souma who sat against the climbing wall. Takeo asked anxiously, “Are you alright?”
Souma nodded. She had done it. She had reached the top. Managing to move her arm, Souma reached into her pocket and took out the chunk of space metal. It was in that moment when she could feel her triumph that she noticed- for the first time- that the item in her paw was in the shape of a heart. But not any heart, one made of iron: an iron heart.