Stuck: Part Three
Surprisingly enough, the pound wasn’t too intimidating after all.
The first night was easily the worst. I got Jellied Eyeballs for dinner, one of the creepiest foods I had ever seen. Plus, I could have sworn that Mellon was making fun of me as he munched on one of his own Pumpkin Cookies.
“Honestly, Raree, you can eat around the eyes. The jelly is normal enough.” Mellon sighed helplessly as I pushed the bowl as far away from myself as I could. “Besides, the eyes aren’t real. They’re just Eyeballberries. Quite delicious, actually.”
“I’ll pass,” I muttered darkly, ignoring the grumbles that my stomach was emitting. Across the barred wall, Mellon shook his head, then stuck his arm through the bars.
“Here. Stop whining and take it.”
I gazed at the Pumpkin Cookie in astonishment, then looked at Mellon. “But- it’s your dinner, I can’t-”
“If you don’t eat something, I’ll have to endure hearing your stomach all night long. And I’d rather not. Take it already!”
I hopped forward, examining the food carefully to see if it had been tampered with. Mellon just rolled his eyes and shoved the cookie into my mouth.
“That’s all I got, so you might want to bed down for the night before your stomach starts complaining again. It’s easier to ignore when you’re asleep,” Mellon commented sagely. Off to the left, Vent mumbled something about Blumaroos who thought they knew everything.
I chewed the cookie and swallowed hurriedly, mumbling a ‘thank you’ in the process. One kick was all it took to unroll the sleeping bag; I had to admit, it looked very comfortable. In fact, I actually smiled a bit as I crawled into the bag and closed my eyes.
“Has anyone got leftovers?” a voice hollered.
I opened my eyes again and eyed the Jellied Eyeballs. Well, someone else might like them. “Um... I do,” I offered weakly, my voice trailing off.
“That’s no good for me, can’t get the food to this side,” the voice grumbled. I recognized it as Raw’s.
I slowly turned my head to the side and saw that Mellon was watching me. The Blumaroo was smirking again.
“Such a pity, isn’t it?” he called out, turning so that he was facing his wall. “I do know that Jellied Eyeballs are a favorite of yours, Raw...”
“Mellon, stop it,” Raw whined, “you know it bothers me when you tease me about food-”
“Such a pity, as I have a slice of my Pumpkin Pie left,” Tar drawled.
“And I just happen to have a piece of my Clawmatoe left over,” a voice far off to my right purred.
“Raw,” Chall said with a hint of exasperation, “if I let you have half of my Cheese Ghostkersandwich, will you stop yapping?”
With that, the talk started dying off, and I managed to fall asleep.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to stay asleep, not when the midnight conversations started.
When I woke up the first time, it was pitch black, and I could only hear two voices talking, far off to the right. My area seemed to be completely silent. The voices were far off enough that I couldn’t distinguish any words, so, with a sigh, I turned over and fell asleep again.
The second time I woke up, my stomach was starting to growl, it was still pitch-black dark, and the conversation was close enough for me to hear.
“Yeah, sure, you can say it wasn’t necessarily because of the pirates all you want, but the Maraquans should’ve been more on guard, especially after they had already been attacked once before.” I vaguely recognized the voice of Sols, that Buzz that hadn’t said anything past a greeting.
“Oh, don’t get on about that attack again. I’m telling you, it’s all about the trade system. If Kelpbeard had kept his trading line functional, they could’ve relayed the message across straight away, but his voluntary isolation made that possibility, well, impossible!” I was astonished to hear Raw, who had previously only talked about food, making statements that sounded more like they came from a library than a pound.
Sols harrumphed. “But then, don’t the pirates have trade lines too? They could’ve intercepted a message, delayed it, even changed its contents...”
I yawned, pulled the top of my sleeping bag over my head with my toes, and fell asleep again.
The third time I woke, my stomach was rumbling in notable hunger, a dim light had filtered in, and there was talk coming in from all around.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this for once, Fer, your jokes aren’t appreciated!” Chall was hissing out his speech, and I could visualize the Kougra spitting as he spoke.
“Chall, calm down.” I turned my head a bit and watched as Mellon, who was balanced precariously on his tail, continued to speak. “Fer’s just trying to lighten the mood.”
“It doesn’t need to be lightened,” Mug rumbled. “The matter is serious. Can we reach a decision?”
“That depends on if we’re all ready to agree,” Mellon commented wryly. “Right, Vent?”
“I’m telling you, they’ll notice if we’re behaving differently, and then we’ll never find out what’s going on!” Vent sounded frustrated.
Fer giggled. “It’s maintenance, people, it isn’t like there are hordes of Meepits coming to attack us.”
“But it could be serious.” Chall still sounded frustrated, even if he wasn’t hissing anymore. “There could be a problem with the structure of the building, they might be running out of room, funds might be running low- you know what inflation had done to the economy! 250 Neopoints isn’t enough to take care of a pet anymore!”
“Why don’t you just ask?” I found myself wondering aloud.
The others fell silent, and Mellon turned towards my cage, evidently surprised. “Go back to sleep, Raree. This doesn’t concern you.”
“But- if you just-”
“You don’t know the whole situation, Sojo.” Vent now sounded weary, of all things. “Now please, go to sleep. Morning will be here far too soon.”
And I, too sleepy to argue, had to comply.
The next day, after gulping down all three portions of my Carrot and Peas Omelette, I was told that it was an exercise day.
“We’re on first shift, so we’ll be going out soon,” Chall told us all confidently. “Betcha it’s sunny outside today.”
Mellon shook his head in feigned dismay. “Oooh, now you’ve done it. It’s definitely gonna rain now, Chall.”
“I’d like to see you say that outside!”
A few of the pets laughed, surprising me. The mood now seemed completely different from what it had been earlier that morning; much more carefree and light-hearted.
And then, I heard it; the clink of keys on locks. Peering through the bars on the back wall of my cage, I saw that Dr. Death was walking along, unlocking each door he went past. The Techo let Mellon out, gesturing for the Blumaroo to go on ahead, then walked up to my door and turned the key.
“Don’t get any ideas about running away,” he warned, his eyes twinkling. “I think you’ll find that you won’t particularly want to, though.”
Briefly I wondered what that was supposed to mean, but then I was headed down the thin corridor and, honestly, I didn’t care anymore.
Chall had been right; the sun was shining blindingly outside. But the playground was small, and surrounded by thick stone walls. A few trees grew within the walls, their branches spreading out and shading half of the area.
My eyes were almost instantly put to the task of finding out what my new acquaintances looked like. Of course, I spotted Mellon first. The Blumaroo was a bit scruffier in bold daylight, his yellow fur patchy here and there.
The rather short blue Gelert talking to him had to be Vent, and the Meerca with an elongated tail Tar, while the Kacheek who had already claimed a swing was Fer. I turned around and watched as the others came in; Mug, a gigantic Eyrie with ruffled wings, Raw, that impish little Shoyru who had a bent cone on his head, Sols, the Buzz with a torn wing. There were a few other pets as well, ones who hadn’t introduced themselves, probably.
The biggest surprise was Chall. He turned out to be a girl.
“Well, duh I’m a girl,” he- err, she told me as she swatted at me playfully after I had blurted out my misconception. “Why do you newbs never realize that?”
“It’s your voice,” Fer said from the swingset, his expression completely serious. “You have a very manly voice.”
Chall ran over to the swingset and tackled the Kacheek, knocking him onto the ground. As the two playfully started to wrestle, Raw sidled over to stand next to me and cleared his throat quietly.
“Don’t make too much of a deal about Chall being a girl,” he muttered, his eyes focused on the wrestling pets. “She’s more sensitive about it than she looks.”
“Why?” I blurted out without thinking (again), looking up at the Shoyru. “She seemed fine about it just then-”
“The second owner she had zapped her for a while before abandoning her again,” he interrupted, not looking at me. “You see, Chall used to be, well, male. I think she’s still getting used to the change.”
“Oh.” I was silent for a while as I mulled that over in my head. In fact, I was starting to realize how lucky I had been when Terri zapped me with the lab ray. What if I hadn’t been turned Coconut? I could’ve become a girl, and that thought was just creepy.
In any case, I didn’t want to dwell too much on the thought. “So, did you decide?”
Raw finally looked at me, confused. “On what?”
“Was it the trading line or the pirates?”
He stared at me for a moment longer, then laughed out loud. “Oh, from last night. We’ve been debating that one for a while now, still haven’t reached an answer. I’m surprised you heard.”
“Well, I didn’t hear much...”
Raw shook his head, still grinning, and patted my head before walking off to chat with Mug. I looked around, trying to figure out what I could do. Escaping wouldn’t do much good, I knew, as Terri couldn’t legally reclaim me then; still, I was curious as to why Dr. Death had said that I wouldn’t want to.
It was then that I noticed that Mellon was talking in low tones to a red Pteri while gesturing towards me. I didn’t think much of it, of course: not until the two suddenly started talking loudly enough that I could hear them.
The Pteri gasped. “Are you saying that that coconut can fly?”
Mellon rolled his eyes. “Not at all. He could be carried-”
The Pteri took a step back. “Me? A Pteri carry a Coconut Ju-”
“You can grip him by the husk!” The Blumaroo scowled as he interrupted her.
“Look, it’s not a question of where I grip him, it’s a question of weight ratios. A 34 pound Pteri could not carry a 23 pound Jubjub!”
Mellon let out a gusty sigh. “Come on, Mopy, don’t get started on statistics again.”
The Pteri had a very intense look about herself now. “Listen, in order to maintain air-speed velocity, I have to beat my wings three times per second, right?”
“But it d-”
“Am I right?”
“He could be carried by a Lenny,” a Kau who was scratching out a game of Roodoku in the dirt volunteered.
“Well, yeah, a Lenny could carry him, but we haven’t got any of them out here right now.”
“Oh, for crying out loud.” Mellon stomped over to where I was standing, muttering under his breath. “Raree, just climb that tree.”
“But I don’t have any arms-”
“Just do it!”
He picked me up and, before I could protest, placed me on one of the lower branches. The branches were close enough together that I could hop up from one to another; in a short period of time I had reached the point where I could see over the wall.
“Oh,” I said quietly, realization dawning. The playground was completely surrounded by user shops, hundreds of them. Without a map from the Shop Wizard, a pet could get lost among the shops in no time at all. The pound was preferable to that.
“You’re not the only one who had t’see it t’believe it,” a voice mumbled behind me. I turned around quickly; Tar was sitting behind me on the branch, his tail wrapped around the trunk. He gave me a crooked smile. “Come along now, Raree. Our shift’s almost over.”
Before I could protest, he had picked me up and was moving with lightning speed from branch to branch. Then we were on the ground again; he deposited me onto the dirt and ambled off towards the door, where Dr. Death was standing.
Only Mellon and I were still on the playground; Dr. Death gestured impatiently for us to hurry up.
“You understand, now?” Mellon questioned as I hurriedly scampered forward. I nodded briefly. “Hmm. Seems like even a Raree could have some brains.”
And with that, we were back inside the building again.
I found, with time, that the pound was nowhere near as bad as everyone said it was. Yes, the food was given on a minimal basis. Yes, we had very few activities planned. But at the same time, everyone was always willing to talk, to play a word game, to recite their story of that time they had almost won at the fruit machine. The other pets got used to me, and even started calling me by my name. Even Mellon warmed up to me in time.
“You know, kid,” he commented to me on my seventh day at the pound, “you’ve given me hope for the future.”
The light was starting to dim in the cells, so it was nearly dinnertime. A rumor had been spread that we were getting omelette again for dinner, but I didn’t mind, as they were certainly filling.
“How so?” I questioned, grinning. I had gotten used to Mellon’s harsh words with time, and grown to like his sarcastic sense of humor.
He shrugged. “Every other Raree I’ve seen in the pound was stuck-up, closed-minded for the short times they were there. Even the ones who got stuck usually refused to so much as acknowledge us. But you’re different. Sure, you’re way too picky about food and hygiene and stuff, and you can be pretty dense about how the world works, but you’re willing to learn. It gives me hope that there are other pets like you.”
It was the closest thing to a compliment I had ever gotten from him. “Aw, thanks, Mellon. Y’know, you’re a lot better than what I expected Poundees to be like at first.”
He snorted. “Well, duh.”
I heard an odd, clicking sound. Mellon froze, his ears perked up. The subdued chatter that had previously surrounded us died away, confusing me greatly.
Then, three things happened almost instantaneously.
First, the metal wall at the front of my cage slid to the side, revealing bars and a closed door.
Second, the lights in the hall came on, and I could see the pets in cages across the hall and to either side of me with ease.
Third, a human I didn’t recognize opened my door, picked me up, and started sprinting down the hallway.
To be continued...