Not Quite NeoFlu
My first indication that something was wrong was when Aldrai stopped eating. Normally I did not worry about him too much – he was a light eater, generally picking at his food unless he’d been doing something taxing. He and Un-eairkagh would spar in the backyard, the Eyrie honing his reflexes and my shy, retiring, Zafara honing what can best be described as magic. Considerable magic. That was when Aldrai would devourer everything on his plate and then start eyeing everyone else’s portions as well, for his body demanded energy to replace what was lost.
But with the snows there had been no sparring and Aldrai’s appetite had been normal.
He was not one to starve himself either, as Moonfall sometimes dramatically did. She’d throw up her hoof in grief, proclaim herself forlorn and forsaken by the owner she had so willingly trusted and then storm off to her room and sneak into the kitchen for leftovers when she thought I was asleep upstairs. So when Aldrai picked at his food and then mumbled something about going to lie down, I knew something was wrong.
Obviously, I leapt to the most likely conditions first. He was trying some sort of magic he should best leave alone and was threatening to tear apart the substance of Neopia itself. His dabbling had attracted the attention of the powers that be and he had to find a way to protect us. He’d been poisoned by our enemies – and don’t laugh at that one. My little family had caused enough trouble over our years to have enemies. A check of his room ruled out the first two possibilities. There were no circles drawn in chalk on the floor, no new books from the library, and no threatening letters from Fyora herself. A check around the house ruled out the second. We had a good security system and nothing had been triggered. Not even ninjas could get through.
And yes, we’ve had a run-in with those as well. What can I say? I live an interesting life.
When Terraile, my faerie Pteri, stopped eating as well, I grew very worried. Winter had set in hard over the weekend and we were cooped up indoors. The fresh snow had no footprints around our house as no one in the neighborhood dared venture out as the drifts piled up. I decided it might be time for outside consult.
My brother was your classic mad scientist. I don’t think it can be summarized any better way. And I, his stoic and resourceful sister, often acted the heroine while he played the part of backup. The kind of backup that brings more explosives than Dr. Sloth could ever dream of dumping on Neopia’s surface. Yeah. Mad scientist. My first resort was the two-way communicator that he’d built. He claimed its reliability was up to 65%. I just swore at it – colorfully, I might add – for about five minutes, trying to get it to work before giving up.
“Must be the weather,” Un-eairkagh said. He leaned by the doorway, watching as I fumbled with the device.
“I think it’s his tampering. It worked when he first got it off Virtupets.”
“That was fun,” the Eyrie said dreamily. My ears perked up and gears started turning.
“I thought I said you weren’t allowed to go with my brother on any of his Virtupet runs.”
“Yeah, well, what you say and what I do sometimes conflict. Besides, he needs someone for distraction. The guards are starting to recognize him now.”
Mad, sometimes unscrupulous, scientist. That was also how Un-eairkagh got elected to go to my brother’s house in person with me. Don’t get me wrong: the Eyrie is loyal, brave, and as stubborn as any as you’re going to find in this household. But he is also impulsive with a poor sense of consequences. I try to keep him on a tight leash and often fail. But he’s strong and can fly.
I bundled up tight as even though the snows had cleared the wind was brutal. After the Eyrie’s initial leap, throwing snow up in the wake of his wings, my scarf came undone and my cheeks were exposed to the cold. I didn’t mind. I’d been through worse than a cold flight. My brother lived a few blocks over, within walking distance, but the snow had piled up in drifts too tall for me to slog through. Besides, flying was faster and Un-eairkagh certainly needed the outlet for his boundless energy. He dropped fast and hard into the snow of my brother’s front yard.
Well, what was left of it.
There was a ‘fwooosh’ coming from the side of the house, which looked more like a bunker, and I tentatively made towards that sound. Un-eairkagh bounded ahead like an oversized puppy dog, his white fur almost indistinguishable from the snowdrifts that started at the edge of the yard. Underneath my feet I could see the grass, crusted with ice.
My brother was dressed in his lab coat, his goggles on over his eyes, an oversized metal canister on his back, and some sort of nozzle in his hands. His Scorchio was also by his side, gasping for breath.
He turned and grinned at me, then lifted his goggles up onto his forehead. I could see old scorch marks on the leather gloves he wore.
“Good seeing ya, Sabreur,” I said warmly.
“And you, Kiddo. Want us to clear your yard when we’re done?”
I glanced around. Puddles were near where the two had been working and as I watched his Scorchio inhaled and then spat fire onto the nearest pile of snow and watched it dissolve into water. Of course my brother would use fire to deal with clearing the front walk. And of course he’d take it five steps too far and clear the entire yard.
“No thanks, I think I’ll just wait for spring.”
“Suit yourself.” He started to pull his goggles back on.
“Wait!” I took a deep breath. “Look, something is wrong with Aldrai and Terraile. They’re listless, not eating, and are complaining of headaches. I just don’t know what’s going on... I’ve ruled out all the usual possibilities. No signs of magical tampering, etc.”
I put my hands on my hips and tried to strike a dramatic pose. It’s difficult under a layer of sweater and down jacket. My brother just stared at me a moment.
“Have you considered they might have caught the flu?”
“You know. An illness.”
My mouth formed a silent ‘oh’ and he just sighed at me beneath his messy brown hair.
“Try getting them some medicine. And you call me paranoid...”
“You booby-trapped every entrance to your house! You ARE paranoid!”
“I regularly sneak into Virtupets to borrow ideas and sometimes equipment for my research! I have reason to be paranoid!”
Our conversation ended when we attracted the attention of the neighbors and Sabreur went back to melting his yard. I merely grunted and climbed back onto Un-eairkagh’s back, tucking my legs under his wings.
The next landing we took was outside the Neopian Pharmacy. I silently hoped that it would have a cure and we wouldn’t have to go somewhere as exotic as Sakhmet. Un-eairkagh whooped before landing and I screamed as he plowed feet-first into a snowdrift. I was knocked off and rolled down to where the snow was manageable, the wetness plastering my long hair to my face. It took a few moments to disentangle myself and then find where my glasses had fallen. After that we entered the store and my glasses fogged up from the sudden burst of heat. Un-eairkagh bounced around, ogling all the medicines stocked on the shelves. At least he didn’t touch. That rule had been hard to establish.
“NeoFlu?” the shopkeeper asked dryly from behind the counter. She sounded bored and a bit stressed.
“Pets aren’t eating, listless, sore, headaches,” I said, ticking off the symptoms on my fingers, “Seems so.”
I nodded my thanks and picked up two. Doubled the amount as an afterthought. If this was contagious, it would only be a matter of time before Un-eairkagh and Moonfall had it as well and I did not want to make another trip out here. I paid and returned home.
My two sick pets accepted the medicine gratefully. I beamed, the proud and responsible owner, and waited for them to get better.
The next day both were throwing up.
“It didn’t work!” I yelled at the communicator. My brother’s voice had that metallic overtone I often heard from announcements at the Virtupets Space Station, which made his resource for building it highly suspect. But at least it worked this time.
“Then maybe you got the wrong illness.”
“The back of the box listed everything and I’ve already given them the dose.”
“Well, I’m no medical expert. Go visit the faeries or something. Sheesh.” He cut off abruptly. I sighed.
My pets sick and medicine not working. Maybe it was ninjas sneaking in and poisoning us. But why so selectively? It was at that moment that Moonfall stalked in, holding a carton of milk between her paws with her nose screwed up and a look of disgust on her face.
“Kiddo,” she said, “When’s the last time you cleaned the fridge?”
“I have no idea.”
“This milk is long past expired.”
The wheels started turning. Some caught. Something clicked. Aldrai drank milk. Terraile put milk in her tea. Un-eairkagh pretended he’d rather die than touch the stuff. Moonfall didn’t touch it either, preferring her tea plain, and I hated milk with a passion.
“Toss it then!” I cried. “Jeez! Do I have to think of everything around here?!”
“You could think of checking dates every other week or so,” she said reproachfully and left, swishing her tail in indignation as she did.
Aldrai and Terraile were feeling better within days. I just said they must have had a particularly bad stomach bug and left it at that. After all, I really didn’t have the energy to explain why I’d been so lax as to keep the milk around for that long. Being cooped up in bed with a wracking fever, joint pain, and a roaring headache does that to a person.
“It’s too bad Neopet medicine probably wouldn’t work,” Terraile said, tucking the covers closer around me as I groaned and stared at the snow falling outside my window, “Or that the weather is too bad for flying. We’d take you to the Healing Springs.”
“Just let me die,” I moaned.
But Terraile fussed on and downstairs Moonfall made some chicken soup. Ironic, isn’t it? I make a desperate trip to the store to get some medicine for the NeoFlu, which wasn’t the cause at all, and the exposure to the wet and cold gives me the flu instead.
I swear, it was Un-eairkagh dumping me in the snowbank. As soon as I feel like I’m able to move, I’m going to throttle his furry neck. Just like any good, responsible, Neopet owner would.