The Dung in His Soup
“Your twentieth!” Ben admired his owner's beautifully shining trophy, his mind locked in the fame and prizes. “It’s so wonderful, isn’t it?”
Alanna nodded slightly and then smiled, although her expression was a bit off for someone who had just achieved a milestone. “I’m glad I got it.” Her voice showed little excitement, although Ben neither noticed or cared. He was still eyeing the bag of Neopoints enthusiastically.
“What’s your next entry going to be about?”
Alanna’s faked expressions of joy and accomplishment faded into nothingness, and were promptly replaced with the air of defeat and sadness. “I’m... I’m done.”
“What do you mean ‘you’re done’?!” Ben stared in alarm, hoping that Alanna meant something else.
“I’m done.” Alanna’s green eyes shimmered of fallen hopes. “That was my last. And I am no longer allowed to stay in Neopia until summer vacation.” A tear rolled down her eyes as she saw her pet’s horrified face, hoping she was being sarcastic or joking.
“You can’t do this!” Ben threw himself to the floor, beginning a temper tantrum. “You can’t do this to me! I need that prize money! And you need the fame! I need you here!”
“I don’t need fame,” Alanna said bitterly, her expression now changed and her tears dissolving. “I never intended to have fame, and I hardly think I have it now. I’ve always been about doing what I love.” Her eyes looked crestfallen as she processed what he had just said, feeling rejected at his order of priorities. She now understood his motivation. “And if your wants, your needs for fame and money, come before you wanting to spend time with your owner...” Alanna trailed off, staring at her Aisha and wondering what had gone wrong. “I believe this break will be the best for both of us.”
Ben howled in anger and pounded his fists against the carpet in rage. He held back the urge to scream that the prize money was their only small income. He resisted the urge to scream that school and parents had already controlled her enough.
But he knew there would be a way to get around those ‘minor’ details. The loss of pride and popularity amongst his friends shimmered in his eyes, the greed stronger than any other emotion.
Alanna dragged out a suitcase Ben had hardly noticed before now. Her expression was still bitter as he wondered what of this was his fault.
“See you in a month, Ben.”
Ben snarled once, showing disapproval.
“Sorry this is short notice.”
With that, Alanna was gone. Ben angrily began to trudge around the house, destroying everything he could...
Three days. Ben had already been alone in this wretched, destroyed house for three days, and he had already run out of things to do. He was bored, hungry, ownerless, and most importantly - nothing to brag about. He was now sitting in the corner of his tiny room, curled up in a cloud-patterned ball of fluff, silently hoping his ‘friends’ wouldn’t come around asking about his owner’s next project, his owner’s next time-consuming venture.
The sunlight trickled in through a slightly opened window, warming his back. He needed to go out and eat soon. Ben had already wasted sixteen out of eighteen thousand neopoints that he was supposed to conserve and make last the entire month. How was he to know that buying a new outfit and a few large pizzas would cost that much?
Ben felt his pocket warily, his emotions also fused with a bit of worry. The only way he was going to survive twenty-seven more days was by making friends with someone with a large access to food.
Or at least taking what rightfully belonged to him...
Remembering that anyone with less than three thousand Neopoints could visit the Soup Faerie, the idea grew in his mind. He was not pleasantly happy at the idea of being seen eating soup where poorer Neopets found refuge. He was not excited about the idea of visiting a faerie he considered overrated.
His stomach rumbled, blocking out all doubts in his Cloud Aisha mind.
Picking up his unsure feet, he began to slowly walk towards a place he never thought he’d have to visit. A place he wanted to be unassociated with, and hoped nobody would notice him...
“I need soup.” Ben tried to be as quick to the point as possible, trying not to have any form of conversation with this foreign faerie he assumed he disliked.
Concern shone in the Soup Faerie’s brown eyes as she spoke quietly, her gentle voice reaching out to meet Ben’s angry disposition. “Any particular reason you seem so upset?”
“Leave me alone, and hand over the soup.” Ben scowled, trying to use force to achieve what he wanted. It didn’t work.
The Soup Faerie’s eyes now twinkled. Her eyes scanned Ben’s face for something only she could sense, something only she would ever be able to find. Her expression changed to a gentle smile as she found what she was looking for.
“What are you smiling about, stupid faerie? I just want my soup!”
She handed him a bowl of perfectly concocted soup, her special ingredients containing a care and love for Neopets she hardly knew. “Oh, nothing. Here’s the soup you seem to need immediately.”
Ben looked into the bowl of soup with satisfaction, the aroma of Neopia’s finest soup reaching his nostrils. He sat down and prepared to eat when he noticed something he did not approve of...
“This vegetable soup is nice, but WHY IS THERE A LUMP OF DUNG FLOATING IN IT?!” He now believed this was the reason she had been smiling, and now began to despise this faerie even more. His face was contorted with rage, he wanted to harm her dangling brown hair in revenge...
The Soup Faerie appeared troubled, and then began to reassure the Neopian who was now backing away from her pot of soup.
“Most people see a lump of dung in my soup. They see a lump of dung in everything they are faced with in their Neopian travels. But a few see the potato...”
“Liar.” Ben stared at the faerie with disgust. “You just wanted to watch my face as I ate dung.”
With one, simple motion, he flung the soup at her face. The warm soup had to burn, and couldn’t have been pleasant to have in your hair. Yet as Ben stomped off, muttering under his breath, the Soup Faerie simply took out a spare bandana and began to dab at the dripping soup. Sympathy and pity filled her eyes...
A few days had passed, and Ben’s stomach was rumbling once more. He was down to one thousand Neopoints that jingled in his pocket. He was unsure how he had already spent so much, and even more unsure to how he was to survive. He still had three long weeks...
He destroyed yet another glass plate in rage and anger. Yet he found that the extreme feelings were beginning to die down. Ben was just egging on the destruction, just trying to make more of a case and more of a disruption to get his way...
More amused than disgusted, Ben sat on a clean section of the floor. Ben’s friends still had not heard the news about his temporary abandonment. And he preferred to keep it that way. Ben was only venturing outside when he was entirely bored, and he avoided all conversation about owners or neopoints.
And then he was back to the issue about food. In order for him to get free omelette or any other free food, he would have to venture entirely across Neopia. His house was within walking distance of the Soup Kitchen. Just because he didn’t want to deal with someone he hated, he was going to be denied the food he obviously had a right to?
Snarling at the thought of the Soup Faerie, Ben stood up. He wanted to give that prankster a piece of his mind, and he wanted his soup.
Before he knew it, he had passed by thousands of busy Neopians. His anger had carried him to the home of the Soup Faerie. Making sure his scowl was plastered on his face, and that he had his words recited well, Ben opened up the wooden door and barged in.
The Soup Faerie’s eyes twinkled slightly as she recognized Ben. “Here you go. Minestrone cooked to my best ability.” Her lips flickered up in a smile. Perhaps it was because she thought this demanding Neopet looked ridiculous, or maybe it was for another reason. “And thanks for the conditioner the last time you were here.”
Ben glared, not finding humour in her comment. He warily reached to grab the bowl of steaming soup, and then pressed it to his mouth after a long dung inspection.
The Soup Faerie nodded and took this as a compliment. She watched as he walked away, and saw that as soon as he left the building he drank the soup much faster...
He was back the next day. And the next. And a few days after that. No dung had made any more appearances. He got everything else, everything else from minestrone to lamb broth. Each soup was a bit better than the last, and Ben began to honestly enjoy the soup.
He still did not trust the Soup Faerie, however.
His enjoyment was masked by rudeness and faked harsh actions. The Soup Faerie could entirely see through his act, and he realized this, but he also wasn’t willing to give up his bratty ways quite yet. As much as he enjoyed the soups, he was resolved to the idea that he would never, NEVER allow the Soup Faerie to get on his nice side. He had to remain enemies.
The Soup Faerie was a bit more willing to open up, however.
Ben, although irritated at first, had gotten used to the conversations. “How are you today?” or “I didn’t catch your name. And how does the soup taste?” Ben answered in one word replies, trying his hardest to just survive the month.
Ben had two weeks left, two weeks left until he’d never have to drink this soup again.
“Hey, Ben. I know, you demand more soup.” The Soup Faerie smiled slightly, amused to watch the small changes that had taken place in Ben’s attitude since the first day. Her brown eyes twinkled of a plot, a planned action, but Ben hardly noticed as she held out a bowl of soup.
“Hey!” He took the bowl and stared at the lump in the center. It faintly reminded him of a potato, but since it was vegetable soup... after he had played the pick your own berries game, he knew what dung looked like. “What is this smelly dung doing in my soup, again?!”
“I don’t think you should call potatoes dung. They’re really quite tasty once you try them...”
Ben stomped angrily on the floor, trying to resort to his previous state of anger towards the faerie. She had purposely snuck this into his soup, purposely tried to gross him out. And right when he was beginning to have difficulty acting rude!
Ben lifted the bowl of soup, preparing to throw it at her face. But as compassion and good intent shimmered in her face, her strands of brown hair danced around her face, nothing but innocence glittered from all of her sparkles...
Ben lowered the bowl of soup at the same time he found himself desperately flinging it. It went a grand total of half a metre before hitting the ground.
Ben was embarrassed that he had not shown the rule he once had. He felt horrible as he realized he know longer possessed the courage - or was it the desire to have things his way? - to harm someone he had always claimed to hate. His eyes shifting as he saw the Soup Faerie’s eyes directly scanning his face... Ben turned the other way and nearly ran through the door.
Resting on her knees, the Soup Faerie began to mop up the soup stained floor with her spare bandana...
Completely broke. Empty pocket. One week left.
If only those pants he had spent 12k on hadn’t received a hole when all of his Neopoints were in that very pocket...
He had tried everything he could for three days. Now he was desperate.
His mind replayed the conversation he had just taken part of. His friends knew now; they had found out...
“Ben, are you alright? You’ve been really quiet these past few days.”
“Alright?” Ben looked up guiltily at his friend. “Of course I am.”
“Dude, I can hear your stomach rumbling. You’ve been acting different. And I haven’t seen your owner in weeks.”
“She’ll be back... soon. Don’t worry about it, Adrienne.”
“Be back? Ben, how long has she been gone?” Concern spread on her pink Acara face as she questioned Ben.
“That’s... that’s...” His old attitude crept into him willingly, something he forced out. “None of your business.”
“I was just going to offer to help.” Adrienne shrugged. She adjusted her golden necklace and then looked at Ben with her dark green eyes. “It was better when your attitude vanished with your owner.”
Ben watched as she walked away, watched as she went into her own house and slammed the door. He reluctantly crawled back into his own house, all alone once more...
He looked around with disgust as he realized he was at the Soup Kitchen once more. The Soup Faerie looked up as he entered, the same scheming and compassionate feelings blending into one facial expression. He hadn’t wished to come back, although it seemed he was unable to stay away.
“I’m back. Still hungry.”
“That’s usually the reason people come here.” She smiled gently and then performed the same swift motion she always did, the movement to hold out the soup. “Nice to see you again, Ben.”
Ben was far too hungry to deny the food or the chef. He reached out to grab the bowl with caution, and his eyes scanned the soup.
“DUNG. Lovely.” He found that his reaction to the soup he despised had been muffled, especially now that it looked more like a potato than ever...
“Seeing the expression on your face, I almost would think you’d rather scoop out the potato and just continue on with the soup.” The Soup Faerie’s expression did not change at all, except for her eyes flashing a lighter colour of brown.
“It’s not a potato.” Ben’s face showed slight exasperation, but hunger overwhelmed him. He remembered the advice just given to him, and it suddenly sounded quite reasonable. “But... I am hungry...”
Everything but the vegetable soup was flung into the trashcan nearest the door. Ben’s eyes shifted as he made sure nobody else was inside the building to witness his acceptance of the soup, and he sipped down half the bowl, the soup tasting strongly of potato...
The bell above the door jingled slightly, a sound he had not noticed before. He turned around to pretend he had taken no interest in the soup, but it was too late.
Adrienne stood in the doorway, shocked and distressed.
“I thought I might find you here, after your owner left and such.” Her voice was quiet as she tentatively skulked to the counter. “I bet you never would have guessed I come here often.”
The Soup Faerie listened while concocting the free dinner she provided for all without money. Her eyes did not meet the Aisha and Acara, but she still understood what was going on.
“But... I thought you were ‘rich’!?”
“Last week my mom bought Madison that pirate paint brush.” Her eyes looked to the floor. “And before we started saving for that, we were also poor.” Adrienne’s eyes looked up again, hope spreading in them. “I can help you, though. I still have a tiny bit of food until Mom starts saving again... soon...”
“I won’t steal your food.” Ben looked at his friend differently, never having guessed she had ever been poor enough to dream about the Soup Kitchen, let alone eat there. “And just a question, but what soup is that?”
Adrienne looked confused. “Golden Juppie. Why do you ask?”
“Does she ever give you vegetable soup, with a nice lump of dung it in?” Ben’s tone was bitter and accusing, purposely worded so that everyone in the room would understand the blatant loathing.
“Ben! Don’t say things like that! I’m sure she’d never ruin anyone’s bowl like tha-”
Ben lowered his bowl in anger, a preventative move so that he would not lose his temper. “So why do I get this meal frequently?” His eyes shone with rage as he demanded an explanation.
The Soup Faerie’s eyes met Ben’s angry gaze. “Some people just need a few more potatoes than others.” The Soup Faerie gave Ben a look that suggested he should understand what she meant, a look stating that there was something he was missing...
Ben dropped the bowl in shock when he realized the meaning. When he realized all he had been missing. Why had the dung looked more like a potato the more he found he had to force his old behaviors? Why had he been drawn back to this horrible place, when nobody was forcing him to?
The soup bowl shattered on the ground as he realized he was in control of the soup. He had been blaming the horrid Soup Faerie all along, when in reality she was just trying to make sure he saw the dung in his attitude...
He hurriedly bent over to scoop up the broken bowl. He knew people liked his new attitude better, and realized he was fighting a lost cause by stabbing everyone with rudeness and harsh words. His fingers got cut, but he managed to fling all of the pieces into the trash can in record time. He felt the gaze of both Adrienne and the Soup Faerie pierce the air, yet he did not look up to make eye contact.
Everything made sense now.
Turning around and zooming swiftly through the door, he muttered two words he never thought he would. In fact, he had promised they would never exit his mouth.
Ben moaned and tossed over in bed, surrounded in darkness.
His nose was on fire, his eyes were perpetually watering, his stomach was burning, and his entire body felt as cold as ice.
He pulled the covers up closer to his chin as his stomach protested against the sickness inside of him. His owner was supposed to have been here yesterday. His owner would feed him, take him to the Neohospital, and care about him...
Or would she?
That thought burnt more than the illness inside of him.
He was barely able to gather the strength to leave the house, let alone seek help on his own. Adrienne didn’t realize he was sick, seeing as she had been shipped off to a Neohotel for a week when her sister complained about a lump of dung in her soup. And all of Ben’s other friends... they must have figured he was being antisocial as he had been when Alanna had first abandoned him. They didn’t care.
He was turning and rolling around in the bed in agony, contemplating the difficult questions he had been left with, when he heard the doorbell jingle slightly.
Lifting himself out of bed shakily, he managed to drag himself out of his room and down the stairs. He wobbled, he tripped, he nearly toppled over... but something inside of him said that this doorbell held something important. That he needed to answer the door, no matter how he felt.
He reached the doorknob with so little strength he wondered how he was to make it back up the stairs. Remnants of glass and broken furniture from what seemed so long ago still lingered around the living room. He knew he could sleep on the couch if he really couldn’t make it back upstairs, knew he wasn’t entirely without hope...
He opened the door, expecting the best.
At first he thought he had been pranked, seeing as nobody stood at the doorway. Confusion arose in him as he suddenly remembered to look down, the aroma of something he could eat seeping through the dusk air...
A tiny basket sat there, emitting the smell of soup and compassion. He bent down slowly to pick up a tiny card placed on top of the bag. At first glance he could see the stationery was unique, and that this had been carefully planned. He opened the letter, expecting to read text.
There were no words. Just a beautifully sketched soup ladle, amidst a background of glowing pink sparkles. It was a simple but thought-out drawing, crafted by someone who cared about his wellbeing.
As Ben dragged the basket into the house and opened it up, his assumptions were correct. The Soup Faerie’s finest vegetable soup sat inside of a pot, waiting for Ben to pry off the lid. The aroma seeped through the container, tickling all of his sickened senses... the smell of potato was the strongest...
Ben dug out the wooden spoon carefully packaged alongside the container. He gently removed the lid, and raised the spoon, full of potato, to his mouth.
The ‘dung’ looked like a potato now. In fact, he would have argued to anyone who asked that the object was not dung in any way. With no doubts in his mind about the Soup Faerie’s plan, with no doubts about her honesty, Ben took a bite. He was overwhelmed with potato, and yet something else tingled gently in his mouth. As his pain weakened, and the soup seeped into his body, he realized that he was getting healthier by the second...
Ben stood in the middle of the Neopian Marketplace, watching the busy creatures bustling by. He was looking for one user in particular.
He did not understand why today, nor why she should come this way, but he knew he was entirely right.
The Soup Kitchen was busier than usual, the line trickling out into the streets. Maybe it was because it was the weekend, and more users were on. Or perhaps her plan had been working with many more pets.
He first saw the worn shoes treading the tattered walkway. He next saw the suitcase drag along the floor, the jeans appear into his vision, her favourite shirt, her golden hair in the sunlight, her green eyes sparkle...
Ben burst out into the pathway, not caring how many users stopped to stare at the cloud Aisha who had leapt out of nowhere. Alanna was nearly tackled to the floor as Ben and she collided, the shock radiating from the expression on Alanna’s face. She reached down to hug the pet who was embracing her, and then backed away to question him.
“Ben, is this really... you?”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“When I left, you looked like you wanted revenge. And now, this after a month of abandonment?”
Ben’s face changed as he thought back on what seemed to be years ago, let alone one measly month. “Someone... someone taught me to see the potato in my soup.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just glad I haven’t heard the word ‘fame’.”
As the Soup Faerie watched out her window, accomplishment filling her sparkles, her eyes glittered gently. She did not need any more thanks. She had received all she could want in witnessing this scene.
Ben saw movement inside of the Soup Kitchen and a faint smile lined his face. He had once hated all pertaining to the faerie who cared, the faerie who helped the poor, but now he was glad he had found the dung in his soup...