A Talent Like No Other
Darwin sat on the stoop of his tiny home, overlooking the white concrete sidewalk in front of it, preceded by a series of vibrant gardens and a green lawn that was in dire need of mowing. He fiddled with a handful of grass, tearing each piece into long threads, which he braided into thin little green ropes. The blue Kyrii gently brushed off a small spider on his shoulder and sighed. He was a rather bright Neopet, top in his class, and his intelligent eyes showed that he thought about things deeply.
Across the street sat a rather large manor, accompanied by a pool house that was as big as Darwin’s little abode. He sighed at the sight of the mansion. The residents were very well off, painted in the most exotic and expensive of colors.
Oh, what are their names again? he thought to himself. Ahh, yes... Gloria, Beatrice, and Edwin.
The Three Impeccables, as they liked to call themselves, were always admired by their peers in school. They only got average grades, but the two sisters were adored for their talent in dancing, and the brother, Edwin, was respected for being the Yooyuball captain at their school. They were incredibly popular, and even though the siblings weren’t exactly revered for their academic abilities, all the teachers adored them and gave them special privileges for being such a “delightful addition to the classroom.”
Darwin had never been very fond of them. Every time they passed by him in the hallways in school, they would snicker or glare at him. Darwin knew why they didn’t like him. It was all because of that day in History class, on Current Event Day, when it was Gloria’s turn to share her topic. It was all about fashion and the latest trends; all the little things, really. The teacher was beaming, so proud to have this student in her class.
Out of annoyance, Darwin made the mistake of muttering, “Maybe we could discuss something that's actually important...”
The class became quiet, and both Gloria and the teacher glowered at him in disbelief. He didn’t just insult one of the Three Impeccables, did he?
“How dare you!” Gloria barked at him, “You are so rude! How dare you interrupt me!”
Darwin could only shrink down in his seat, wishing that he were invisible. Throughout the rest of class, Gloria would give him menacing looks, and she eventually got all the students in the class to join in with her by the end of the hour. Ever since that day, the Three Impeccables loathed him, and managed to get everyone who was on their good side to take a disliking to him, too.
It only made it worse that they were his neighbors. They usually ignored him, but on some days when everyone was outside, Darwin would see them casting dirty looks toward him from across the street. Their owner spoiled the three like no other owner, giving them only the finest gourmet foods, the rarest Petpets, and spending millions on Edwin at the Training School.
Darwin finally realized that it was getting late when he noticed the sun almost disappearing in the horizon, and he decided to head inside. In the corner of the dining room sat a beautiful antique piano. That was Darwin’s most prized possession, and he had played that piano ever since he could remember. Nobody ever heard him play the music he liked to play; the only time they heard him perform was in music class, with his favorite teacher. The music he played in that class was too simple.
That teacher was Mr. Trompette, the music teacher. He was very strict, but the Kyrii always preferred the strict teachers over the ones who let the students off easy. Mr. Trompette was a kind old Gelert, but he knew how to teach the classroom like a professional conductor. Actually, he used to be a conductor for the Neopian Philharmonic years ago, but he grew tired of travelling all over Neopia and decided to settle for something more practical.
Darwin’s temptation to play his piano grew too much, so he gave in and sat on the old wooden bench and put his fingers on the keys and began playing the most beautiful music ever. It was a ballad that he found in a music store, starting out quiet and soft, then thunderous and loud in a minor key, and then back to a sweet and happy tune, which faded into the end of the song. Soon the clock rounded to 11:00, and the Kyrii went to bed.
The soft light of the sun flooded the house through the curtains, and Darwin felt very reluctant to get up. With a glance at the alarm clock, he quickly realized that the school bell would be ringing in only seven minutes! He hastily grabbed a banana, ran a comb through his hair and dashed out the front door, while forgetting to lock it in his hurry. He ran through the street, checking his watch every couple of seconds to confirm how much time he had left.
He barely made it to class on time. The very second he sat in his seat, the bell buzzed throughout the school. His classmates looked at him curiously, seeing that he was out of breath and slightly dazed. In the back of the classroom, Edwin snickered and looked at him tauntingly. Darwin sighed and quickly looked away, settling into his seat.
“Well, class,” the science teacher, Mr. Noakes, said while grinning, “I have just been informed that the school will be having a talent show next month. The winner will be allowed to spend a day with the Neopian band of their choice. If you would like to sign up, please speak with Mrs. Owen about further information.”
The class chattered away incessantly, and Mr. Noakes made no attempt at trying to calm the class down. They all knew who would win this year’s competition, like all the other years. It would be Gloria and Beatrice again, probably dancing again, as usual. Edwin would occasionally enter, doing some weird stunt to shock the crowd.
Darwin thought nothing of it; he had no intentions of ever entering. Everybody these days prefers dancing, singing, and guitar solos over the boring piano. Finally, the bell rung, and everybody rushed out the doors in a frenzy to go meet up with their friends. Darwin was the last to leave, and went on to his least favorite class, Physical Education...
The rest of the day went by rather fast, and finally it came time for the last class, Music, with Mr. Trompette. The Kyrii walked into the class and took his seat at the front of the room, as usual. Beatrice and her friends sat behind him, and a chatty Zafara sat next to him, blabbering to him about the talent show.
“Hey, Darwin! Are you entering the talent show? I am, I’m gonna burp the names of all the Neopets species in alphabetical order... backwards! Isn’t that great?” she squealed enthusiastically.
“Yes, Izzy, that’s awesome,” he said while faking an equally excited voice.
“So what are you gonna do for the talent show?” She beamed.
“Nothing? But don’t you play piano, like, really good?”
“Eh... nobody cares for piano. It’d be pointless for me to try.”
Beatrice had obviously been listening when she piped in, “Yeah! It would be pointless for you to try! I can probably play piano better than you! You have no talent!”
Darwin sighed, and Izzy glanced at Gloria cautiously.
“Oh, don’t listen to her,” Izzy said in a lowered voice. “She’s just trying to make you upset.”
“Well, it’s working,” Darwin mumbled. He shuffled uncomfortably in his seat and sighed with relief when the passing bell finally rung. Mr. Trompette strode into the classroom, with much grace for a Neopet of his age, and smiled at the class.
“Well, I am aware that you all know about the talent show!” he said in a warm voice, “There’s been a lot of chattering today regarding it! Okay, let’s get started with class, shall we?”
He instructed the Neopets to take their instruments and prepare to play. Darwin took his place at the only piano in the room, and the whole class began to play the simple music. He could hear Beatrice’s violin screech continuously, making him flinch each time. The sheet music he was playing was too easy, and he even began daydreaming while he played it.
He thought about the talent show, and contemplated entering it.
Nahh, it’s pointless. I’d never win... he thought. No one cares about petty little instruments like the piano.
Finally, the song came to a clumsy end and Mr. Trompette frowned at the class.
“I know you guys can do better than this! You have to practice more!” he said in a raised voice. His brows furrowed and he looked around the room, glaring at all the students, especially Beatrice, who had truly made the song into a disaster. She glared back at him. There was only one student he wasn’t angry with, and that, of course, was Darwin.
He sat on the piano bench quietly, looking at the pedals and toying with the sleeve on his shirt. Mr. Trompette loved to lecture the class on how they needed to practice. For the rest of the hour, Mr. Trompette grumpily made each student play their part until they got it right, and before he could get to the last student, the bell rung. That student smiled in relief and burst out the door before anyone else could.
Darwin stacked all his books together and, as he got up, Mr. Trompette interrupted him.
“Darwin, are you going to enter the talent show?” he asked in a calm voice.
“No... I don’t think I have much of a chance, Mr. Trompette,” he said.
“Oh, don’t give me that. You are much more talented than anyone else around here is. You know it, too,” the Gelert said with a snort, like it was so obvious, “I want you to go to Mrs. Owen and sign up. It’ll do you good.”
“Oh... okay, Mr. Trompette,” the Kyrii muttered and cringed as he walked out the door.
“See you tomorrow, Darwin! I better see your name on that audition list!”
“Bye, Mr. Trompette.”
Darwin trudged to Mrs. Owen’s class. There was a large line, so he decided to sit in one of the desks and wait until everyone was done signing up. Finally, after twenty minutes of waiting, there were only two students in the line, so Darwin got out of his seat and stood in the small line.
“Ahh, Darwin, I see you decided to enter,” Mrs. Owen said kindly. “Here is the submission form.”
She handed it to him with a pencil and Darwin began filling out the paperwork. It asked questions like, “What purpose do you have for entering the talent show?” and, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate yourself on your talent?”
Some of the questions seemed pointless, like, “What is your favorite food?” but Darwin filled out the questions nevertheless. It only took him three minutes, and then he handed the paperwork to Mrs. Owen.
“Thank you!” she called out to him as he walked out the door. He waved back mechanically, regretting entering the talent show. He knew he would make a fool of himself. The Kyrii went to his locker and packed his bag, then walked out the front doors of the school and began walking home. It was hot outside, but the sun was setting and the shadows became elongated as Darwin made his way home.
He walked in the front door of his house without even glancing at the mansion in front of him, and sat down at the piano. First, he practiced some scales and simple little songs to warm up, and then he went on to his favorite song. He played the same song he did the day before, but he became frustrated when he made a small little mistake near the end of the song. He grumbled angrily at the piano and got up to make himself dinner.
The only things in the fridge were some leftover macaroni and part of a Tigersquash Sandwich from the day before. He chose the Tigersquash Sandwich and sat at the table, chewing slowly on his dinner to savor its tangy flavor. When he finished, he washed the plate and put it back in the worn cupboard, and sat on the couch to read for a bit.
The next few days went by quickly, and then the auditioning day finally came. Darwin went to school on time, but he was incredibly jittery and anxious. All those who'd signed up for the auditions were to go to the theater room before lunch. The day trudged on slowly and finally the lunch bell rung. Darwin walked to the theater in a terrified daze, realizing his mistake in signing the forms.
“Okay!” Mrs. Owen grinned while she clasped her wings together, “It says on this list... that Izzy is to go up first!”
Izzy skipped up to the stage confidently and began burping the names of all the Neopet species. She grinned with pride when she finished. Someone giggled in the back of the room.
“That was... err, very nice, Izzy...” Mrs. Owen stuttered, “Maybe next year.”
Izzy frowned and walked off the stage, embarrassed, and sat back down in her seat.
“Next up... is Gloria and Beatrice!” Mrs. Owen chirped happily. The two sisters strode with ease up the stairs, turned on their music, and began to dance. They were very talented at what they did, but Darwin took note of the fact that they kept repeating the same moves over and over, and he realized that their choreography choice was terrible. It was redundant and, even though he knew he wasn’t capable of dancing like that, Darwin knew that the actors in the school play were better dancers.
After each performance, different Neopets would file out of the room, not wanting to waste their lunchtime. Edwin was one of the last to try out, and of course, he made it in... by smashing a concrete block into two pieces with a swift hit. Darwin realized with mitigation that there would be no one to judge him on his performance, except for Mrs. Owen.
“Well, I guess you’re the last to go, Darwin,” she said with a weak smile.
He walked up to the stage and asked, “Can we roll the piano here?”
She agreed, and helped him roll the theater piano to the center of the stage, and then she went back to her seat with the notepad. Darwin sat on the bench and stared at the ivory keys for a moment, and then he rested his paws on them before beginning to play.
He played beautifully, playing the piece that he had practiced for so many nights. When he finished, Mrs. Owen began clapping enthusiastically.
“Well done!” she smiled, “I bet you just can’t wait for the talent show!”
Darwin nodded, lying to his teacher. He was still terrified by the thought of performing in front of the entire school. She kept chattering away about how wonderfully talented he was, but Darwin could only tune out her talking to realize in a sickly horror that, now that he was officially signed up for the talent show, he had no other alternative. He had to perform, whether he liked it or not.
Later on that night, Darwin tried to play the song he played earlier that day, but he realized how boring it had become for him after all those endless nights of practice. He was sure other Neopets had heard this song before... he had to make sure his performance was the best he could give. He had an idea...
It was the day of the talent show.
The whole school was buzzing with excitement, and in between passing periods, Neopets performed in the hallways to practice. The teachers had to shoo them to class, and the day seemed to go by way too fast for Darwin. The talent show was going to take place at the end of the day, at the time Darwin would be in music class.
During lunch, Gloria and Beatrice flaunted some of their dance moves in the courtyard, and a few other Neopians practiced as well.
Lunch was over, and the talent show contestants were to report to the theater to sit behind the stage. Everyone bustled noisily in their seats, and Darwin’s paws began to sweat. The whole school shuffled into the theater at last, and soft murmurs could be heard from beyond the curtains.
“Welcome to the annual talent show!” Mrs. Owen called out. “First up is Edwin, showing off some of his crazy karate moves!”
The curtains opened and Edwin sauntered to the middle of the stage. He began showing off, doing various kicks and tricks, and then he proceeded to smash some wooden boards and concrete slabs. The crowd was in awe of his strength, eyes wide open at his amazing feats.
Several other Neopets performed, playing their guitar or doing light shows with flashlights. Gloria and Beatrice performed, doing the exact same dance they did at the audition. The audience clapped and cheered when they were done, and then Darwin was the very last to go.
“Next up is Darwin, performing on the piano!” Mrs. Owen bellowed. Gloria and her friends hissed with disapproval, but the audience continued to clap politely. Darwin made his way up the stage and then sat at the piano. The curtains opened, and a flood of bright light shone on him. He looked toward the audience (who he was unable to see because it was pitch black beyond the stage), and then he took a deep breath and began to play the piano.
It was a beautiful song, perfect in its sweet melody, alternating from being soft to thunderous, scary to pleasant. It was a story told in a song, and the only person who knew what the story was about was the composer. Its untold meaning was left for the amazed audience to decipher. The end of the song ended on a sweet note, and Darwin sat on the bench, smiling to himself.
The room was entirely silent. Then there was clapping, followed by cheering that was louder than it had been for anyone else. The Three Impeccables stared in shock that the crowd actually liked someone better than they.
It was obvious who'd won the talent show this year, and everyone knew it. Darwin was asked to go up to the stage and receive his trophy.
“Now, since you have won the talent show, you are allowed to spend a day with your favorite music group. Who will it be?” Mrs. Owen asked with a smile.
“Well, I’ve always admired the Neopian Philharmonic...” Darwin admitted.
Later on that week, when Darwin was spending the day with the Neopian Philharmonic at their music studio, the conductor, a friendly old Lenny, asked him to play the piece that he had played at the talent show. After he finished playing it, the conductor couldn’t help but ask, “Who wrote that wonderful song?”
Darwin couldn’t help but grin.