The Color of Hope
Though official records showed she had only been registered with the NOA (Neopian Owner’s Association) for a few hours, Kirsche had extensive experience with the world of Neopia as an owner. When she had truly first registered, she had been a naïve thirteen-year-old, barely old enough to grasp the deeper workings of the world. Now, after six years of living “under the radar”, she was back, a woman of nineteen. She looked out the window of her new “pity apartment” (her name for the places the NeoHomeless stay) at bustling Neopia Central, the people and the pets running to shelter under the deluge of gray rain to match the ominous sky. If her friend Sean, her only connection to the outside world, hadn’t randomly mentioned his latest quest for Illusen and revitalized her interest, she wouldn’t have come back. Neopia wasn’t too different from what she remembered, save for the few extra locations and pet types.
Speaking of pet types... it was time to go adopt her dream pet! She was about to walk out the door, but she stopped, her hand inches from the door handle. Was she really ready to go out there and make a first impression on a pet that would stay with her for all time? She quickly walked to the bathroom and checked her appearance in the full-length mirror there. Not that it would help. She’d been a hermit for six years, after all, and her sense of fashion wasn’t the best...
Her long, curly, light brown hair spilled over her shoulders, cascading to her chest, covered by a light blue camouflage shirt, with pockets on the sides. The very end of this was tucked into a pair of baggy lime green pants, the cuffs of which were tied down around her ankles with gray-brown twine, enhancing the baggy appearance. The look was completed with simple teal shoes.
Maybe the lime green was a bit loud, especially for first impressions, but was there any time to find something different? How long would her dream pet, if it was there, stay in the pound?
She ran to the door and threw it open, forgetting (or perhaps not bothering?) to lock it. After all, there was very little of interest in there.
The cold gray rain fell heavily on her head and shoulders, soaking her shirt and hair as she cursed her lack of an umbrella. She ran to the Neopian Pound, her wet hands slipping on the wet glass of the double-doors as she pushed them open, quickly escaping the downpour to gray cement shelter. Clearly, she thought, Dr. Death is in charge of the Pound’s décor...
“Phew,” she breathed, wringing her hair out as she approached the smiling pink Uni, cheerful despite the outside gloom and the company of grumpy Dr. Death.
“Hello!” said the Uni perkily, her dark pink wings fluttering slightly. “Are you here to adopt a Neopet? How wonderful! Come with me!” Hooves clomping on the gray cement floor, she led Kirsche to the back, where the cages were stacked floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, in a room that stretched seemingly forever.
Kirsche wanted to take the entire Pound population home right then and there. The air was thick with an aura of despair, and the gray color scheme didn’t help one bit. Even she, a complete outsider, felt deprived of hope, standing in that room.
Kirsche looked at the Neopets. Some were perfectly healthy. Some were clearly diseased. Some were starving, their ribs visible. Despite their varied physical conditions, all the Neopets shared a single trait: Their longing, soulful stares, boring into her, as if each and every pair of eyes was begging her, without their owners saying anything, to take them home.
“How am I supposed to choose?” she asked, overwhelmed, tears shining in, but not falling from, her dark green eyes.
“Oh, that’s always the hardest part,” said the Uni, somehow still cheerful and perky, despite the despair in the room. “Let me show you to one.”
How does she do it? Kirsche wondered, following her to a random cage. How does she stay so happy in a place like this?
Then, she looked at the Neopet in the cage.
Blue-furred perfection stared back.
“This is DesertKauDawg,” said the Uni. “She’s level one, she likes...”
“I’ll take her,” Kirsche interrupted, her voice hardly above an entranced murmur. Something in her had jumped when her eyes met those of the sleek blue Lupe lying in the cage, her bushy tail still, curled around her. The tears that had been threatening to fall finally did, and she wiped them away. This was her dream pet. Those eyes, mournful like all the rest, held a bold defiance, and an intelligence to match, if not surpass, her own.
On “I’ll take her”, DesertKauDawg stood, regarding her curiously, still not speaking. Some of the sadness in her eyes was replaced with more defiance.
“A... Alright, then!” said the cheerful Uni, opening the cage door. The Lupe emerged, stretching. “Let’s go back to the front, and you can complete the adoption!”
Kirsche paid about eighty Neopoints for the adoption and left the building with her new pet in tow.
As they walked through the pouring rain, Kirsche looked worriedly down at DesertKauDawg. She hadn’t said a word.
“I’m Kirsche,” she said. “Your new owner. Um... May I call you Desi?”
DesertKauDawg looked up at her, regarding her from one large eye. “...Sure,” she said sullenly.
She’s been pounded, Kirsche reasoned. She has a perfectly good reason to be sad. After all, I’m not the same owner she first saw, I’m not the same owner that read her all those books that’ve made her so smart. I’m not the same owner that raised her for... how long?
“How old are you, Desi?” she asked.
Three months. That can be a lot for a Neopet. It’s certainly quite some time for humans, Kirsche finished the thought.
“Well, I promise, I won’t abandon you.”
“Don’t they all say that?” asked Desi skeptically.
“No! I mean it!” They reached the apartment and Kirsche held the door open for Desi. “I won’t. I’ve had too many false friends to be one, myself. I swear it.”
Desi gave her a long, unreadable look, but said nothing, walking to the corner and curling up there on the plain brown carpet. Kirsche, smiling sympathetically, walked into the bathroom and emerged with two towels. Desi gave no protest as she began drying her off.
“Your Newbie Pack came,” noted the Lupe.
“It did?” said Kirsche, leaving the fuzzy white towel draped across her pet’s cyan hide as she stood, crossing the room to the door and cracking it open. Sure enough, there was a plain brown package sitting outside, already soaked. The mailman was nowhere in sight. She picked up the cardboard box and brought it in, setting it down on the floor. Desi looked up, her expression apathetic.
“Let’s see what we’ve got,” said Kirsche, tearing the soggy brown cardboard away, to find the contents of the package miraculously dry, except for the pair of cardboard Petpets (a Liobits and a Frogler). In addition, there were two starter paintbrushes (Red and Yellow), a few food items, and a blue Ixi plushie.
Kirsche picked up the Liobits, dripping wet, by the mane, and shook it a little. A few water droplets fell off...
...and it fell apart.
As if responding to that, the Frogler, too, collapsed like the cardboard it was. Desi snorted and laid her head down, curling her tail over her nose and giving its tip an annoyed flick, as if to say, “Figures.”
“Stupid rain...” grumbled Kirsche, gathering up the soggy pieces and depositing them in the trash. Whatever magic had animated the cardboard apparently wasn’t waterproof.
“Can’t change nature...” said Desi, standing. The towel slid to the floor, and she shook herself dry.
Kirsche picked up the red paintbrush, which, at the moment, was dripping onto the carpet.
“Ever wanted to be red?” she asked.
Desi shook her head. “Nah.”
“Well, if you had to pick a color, what would you be?”
Desert, huh? thought Kirsche. I wonder if... “Hey, Desi...” she said aloud. “Wanna see something cool?”
“Like what?” asked the blue Lupe.
Kirsche went into her room and emerged a few minutes later with a book titled Lost Desert Myth and Legend.
“It’s just something I picked up. I don’t think it’ll make you any smarter, ‘cause you probably know everything in there already, but...”
Desi swiped the book from her hand and plopped down, the cover falling open as she eagerly began to read.
“I’m hoping to live in the Lost Desert, myself,” Kirsche continued, her pet absorbed in the pages before her. “But you’re my pet, so I’ve gotta check with you.”
“...Live there?” Desi looked up. “You mean... Can we live near the pyramids?”
“Yeah,” said Kirsche, smiling.
“Or Coltzan’s Shrine?”
“And play the fruit machine every day?”
“Of course. Whatever you want, Desi. I’ll find a way to paint you Desert, and build a Neohome there. And I’ll get you a Lost Desert Petpet...”
“Actually...” Desi interrupted, “can I have a Tyrannian one? I think they’re cooler.”
“Of course, Desi. Of course. We just have to get the money for all this. And we’ll do it, too! ...But even if we wind up in a cardboard Neohome smack-dab in the middle of Neopia Central’s worst neighborhood, I’ll never give up on you. Ever. I mean it.”
As Kirsche smiled at her Neopet, something changed. Through the sorrow of being disowned, through the despair of the pound, through her misguided paranoia of humanity, there was something completely new in the Lupe’s eyes...
This is my first story attempt at the NT. Feedback is much appreciated.