“You’ve reached Neopia’s 411. How can I help you? No... this isn’t a ‘phone’! No, there’s somebody in here... look, I think you need more help than I can provide.” Click.
Sarah the Zafara groaned and adjusted her glasses. “Samuel? Sam? Can you come in here, please?”
A tiny Slorg wiggled its way into the room. Samuel looked back and forth warily, as if expecting a trap. His voice came out as a squeak – a squeak perfect for the size of such a small room. “You... you called?”
“No, in fact – I didn’t ‘call’!” Sarah’s voice turned to unexpected rage. “That was the fifteenth irate Neopian I’ve had to deal with today! And the problem is – THEY ALL THINK I’M ‘CALLING’!”
Samuel stared at Sarah, slight confusion on his face. “Well, you are in charge of Neopia’s help desk. And all those humans are familiar with technology that we aren’t allowed to have here. I mean, you sit here all day, in this cylinder shaped... box... and answer people’s questions... is it really that surprising that the humans think you’re using some weirdo Virtupets technology?”
Sarah pounded her fist on the desk. “It is not a BOX. It is a fully functional office! And don’t you understand? It’s not the users who are calling me. They’re used to weird Alien Vending Machines and Qasalan Expelliboxes and even Niguel the Chia Stock Broker!” Her eye twitched at the latter name as her fist curled in anger. “I love this job. But all of those devices – or people, in Niguel’s case – get to use technology that wouldn’t be allowed if I was in charge! It’s not the users bugging me; the Chia Police themselves keep swarming around the place, thinking they’re going to bust me for some technology I don’t even have!”
“Umm, Sarah... I think there’s someone outside the window that wants to talk to y-”
“NOT RIGHT NOW! I GET THIS LITTLE WINDOW IN THE MIDDLE OF WHO-KNOWS-WHERE TO POLITELY ANSWER PEOPLE’S QUESTIONS AND THEY GET VENDING MACHINES AND MAGICAL BOXES AND THE VIRTUPETS SPACE STATION EVEN GETS SPEAKERS AND...”
“... Excuse me?” Someone rapped on the outside of the tiny, metallic cylinder. Then they pressed their face up to Sarah’s window.
“...Yes? Can you wait a second?”
The Chia outside the window glared. “Oh, I would... but you forgot to close the window BEFORE you started your screaming rampage.”
Sarah grinned sheepishly. “Have a nice day.” She began to close the window.
The Chia shoved his hand into the empty space and refused to let it shut.
“Erm, you said so yourself. I have to close this.” Sarah tried to wiggle the window free from his grasp. “It’s, uh, five-thirty. Closing time...”
The Chia used his free hand to pull out a badge. “I’m from the Chia Police. Tomorrow we’re closing down the booth.”
Sarah stared at him through her thick glasses. Then she backed away – as much as one can back away in a small metal cylinder – and began to shake her head. “You... you can’t do this. Neopians have questions, and I have to answer them!”
“Well, you don’t seem like the most polite person to do the job in the first place...” The Chia opened the door to the Help Booth, waiting for Sarah to hop out.
“If it’s a matter of her attitude, sir – I could always take over.” Samuel smiled his best smile and scooted towards the window.
“Shut up!” Sarah whispered harshly. Then she tried to close the door. Directing her voice towards the Chia, she began to demand an answer. “Look, Sir... lots of your type have been swarming around here recently. They seem to think I have technology that doesn’t belong in Neopia. I can assure you that I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve had the same technology since Y3, you know...”
“And that’s exactly the problem.” The Chia shoved the door open, and began to lead Sarah out.
“Wait what? What’s the problem?”
“You’ve said so yourself.” The Chia closed the door, leaving Sarah and Samuel locked out of their beloved booth. “You’ve had – what – one art revamp within the past five years? The rest of your booth has stayed exactly the same. Your technology, the way you answer questions...” The Chia glared for a second. “None of it’s changed. But this site is changing. It has been changing. You’ve said so yourself. You’re outdated.”
Sarah stood there as the Chia took Sarah’s key and locked the door. “I’m not supposed to know this – but the sidebar is changing tomorrow. Along with most of the layout. And there’s no ‘help’ button on it.”
Sarah watched the Chia pocket her key and begin to walk away. “Wait! What am I supposed to do now? Aren’t there other positions open where I could...”
“I’d suggest you find a new job.”
“I’ve read every book in Neopia! I’ve seen every item! Isn’t there anything, anything...”
Her voice trailed off into the air as the Chia disappeared in the distance.
Sarah slumped into the grass. Her booth had been located on the edge of Neopia Central for as long as she could remember. She had been drawn into Neopia just for this purpose – just to run the booth. But now... now it was gone. It’d sit there for years, a relic to the old Neopia – but a disorganized, cluttered relic to be mocked.
Her voice came out a pitiful squeak. A voice about equal to Sam’s ‘I’m terrified’ voice.
Suddenly, Sarah regretted being rude to Samuel all those years.
“Well... now what?” Sarah turned to Samuel.
Samuel looked up and grinned. “Well, I guess it’s time to go job hunting...”
Sarah looked around with a terrified expression.
Samuel jabbed her in the side. “Say something! The Shop Wizard is a very busy man. He’s not going to notice you standing around...”
“I NEED TO FIND AN ITEM.” Sarah blurted it out without a second thought, and then began to regret it.
The Shop Wizard turned around and smiled. Bouncing up and down in all of his JubJub enthusiasm, he politely responded, “I can help you find any item in the Neopian shops... unless you reallyreallyreallyreally need to find that item and you’re running out of time and I feel like banning you.” He grinned mischievously, a tale of a million shop-pricers’ and questers’ failures lurking behind his eyes.
“I need a job.”
The Shop Wizard turned around and began screaming characters to the sky. “J... O... B... wait. Is this a partial search, or do you want it to be identical to your phrase?”
“Identical it is. Shop or gallery?”
“Ehh, I’m not going to even ask if you want me to put a maximum or minimum price on this search. Nobody ever does.” He laughed to himself and then insanely began screaming out bizarre words and phrases as he began to glow and sparkle in a million different colors.
Sarah was getting irritated. “WAIT, I’M NOT-“
“Shhh! Don’t interrupt the spell!” Samuel succeeded in keeping a straight face, but then burst out laughing.
“Well, that’s strange. Nothing came up. Are you sure you spelled it right?” The Shop Wizard shrugged, a few leftover sparkles falling to the ground. “Let’s try a partial search!!”
“NO!” Sarah launched herself at the Shop Wizard, begging him not to continue.
“Hmmm... looks like no shops have a ‘Green Brightvale Job Coupon’. You’ll have to check out the trading post.” He paused. In an almost inaudible, deranged voice, he muttered, “Loser.” He turned around and began to face another customer. “Have a nice day!”
“I KNOW EVERY ITEM IN NEOPIA. I could have told you that ‘Job’ was not an item, dimwit!” Sarah stomped one foot deep into the ground as she clenched her fist.
The Shop Wizard turned around. Apparently he hadn’t heard the last word, because his eyes lit up. “Did you say that you... knew every item?”
“Yes. I do, in fact. I know a lot more about the Neopian Markets than you could ever dream to know.” Sarah proudly shifted her glasses farther back onto her face. “I’ve read about you. You’re supposed to be really helpful. And I was inquiring about a job here to help Neopians find their items.”
“I’d let you do another search but you’ve got about... HA! NONE! NO MORE SEARCHES FOR THE HOUR AHAHAHAHA!” His insane laughing echoed throughout the Neopian Marketplace as he danced around, laughing maliciously to himself. “I love this job...”
“...Never mind.” Sarah rolled her eyes and began to walk away. “He’s nothing like what he was in the books! Nothing! At all!”
Samuel began to laugh.
“...What? Sam? What’s so funny?”
“Well, you know how you just got Shop Wizard banned, and it lasts until the start of the next hour?”
Sarah’s eyes shimmered with hope, optimistically believing that Sam had a solution to her job problems. “...Yeah?”
“It’s almost six. You’ll be unbanned in about a minute. Want to go back and ask him some more questions?”
“I would like a job. This is, after all, the Faerieland Employment Agency... right?” Sarah grinned hopefully at the secretary behind the desk.
“Well, there are new jobs every ten minutes. I can’t guarantee anything, but you can go sit in that room-” She motioned towards a door, “And wait there... along with everyone else.”
“Oh, thank you!” Sarah skipped over to the door and pulled it open.
Hundreds of pets sat in one tiny room, all cramped around ten or so small windows. A large clock ticked overhead, and every single one of them stared at the clock with huge red eyes.
Tick... tick... tick...
With every tick of the clock, they all jerked slightly in unison.
“The jobs are coming! THE JOBS ARE COMING!”
Finally, something to break the monotonous ticking! Sarah’s heart leapt with hope.
However, then Sarah saw who the speaker was.
A young blue Techo screamed and ran across the room, practically foaming at the mouth.
“Shut up, idiot! It’s not for another two minutes!” a dirt covered Skeith snarled at the Techo as he ran past.
A Lupe with once-brave looking clothing shook his head and muttered, “Loser!”
A Wocky with bulging red eyes began to laugh cruelly as she drooled all over herself. “Why are you screaming at him? He’s not in line anymore. All the better for us!”
With wide eyes, Sarah quietly closed the door. She turned back towards the desk, and quietly shuffled over to the secretary.
“Interesting bunch, right?”
Sarah was speechless. She just nodded.
“Let me guess. You want me to do what everyone and their brother have asked me to do: let you do a Super Job without a coupon.”
“I was just at the Shop Wizard, and he was totally rude, so if I can avoid buying a coupon...” Sarah’s eyes looked hopeful.
“I can’t help you. Sorry.” The secretary Lenny turned around in her chair and began to file something into the cabinet behind her.
“I know everything in Neopia! I know where to get the best items. I know how to do a job extra fast. I’ve even read about your facilities, and I’m certain I’d be the best worker there is...”
The Lenny ignored her.
“Don’t you know who I am?!” Sarah begged and pleaded.
The Lenny turned back around. “Nope. I haven’t got a clue. What’s your owner’s name?”
Sarah stood there, speechless.
“Oh wait. Don’t tell me you’re that girl I kicked out of here yesterday...”
Sarah shook her head, and then began to walk away.
“You do look familiar. But I can’t quite put my finger on it...” The Lenny scratched her head. Then she turned back around. “Sorry, kid.”
Sarah walked slowly out of the building, a dejected expression stretching across her face. “She didn’t even recognize us. I’ve been helping Neopia for all these years, and she had no idea who I was.”
Samuel shrugged. “You’re a genius. You’ll get a job somewhere. I promise.”
A tiny bell jingled as Sarah entered the shop.
Potion after potion lined the walls. Sarah’s books led her to recognize every single one of them, and she excitedly trembled at finally getting to see all of them in person.
Some shimmered in the light, sparkling brilliantly of every color. Yet, at the same time, many seemed to eat the life right out of the air, darkening their corner of the shop. Some floated and hovered in their jars. Some potions hardly even seemed to be there at all, nothing more than wisps of air. Some, when Sarah put her hand closer, warmed her. And others felt rather cold.
“You know, Sam, we really should have visited more of Neopia while we could. Things look so different than the books describe them...”
“Can I help you?”
Sarah turned around. A bright red Zafara stood in front of her. She was wearing a starry wizards’ hat and a brilliant navy blue cloak, each step causing her clothes to billow in the wind.
Sarah practically squealed at yet another book coming to life. “It’s KAYLA!”
Kayla lifted an eyebrow. “Yes... and this is my shop. Right in the middle of Meridell’s castle. Which is why it said ‘Kayla's Potion Shop’ on the sign.” Despite her words, however, Kayla grinned slightly at the fangirling Sarah.
“Well... I was looking for a job.”
“Oh, really?” Kayla walked behind her stone table and began pouring various chemicals together. “Well... I have been looking for someone to help me run the shop. What makes you qualified for this job?”
“Well... my name is Sarah, and I used to help Neopians find the answers to their question-” Sarah began, but she was abruptly cut off.
“You sound vaguely familiar.”
“Well... yes... you’ve probably seen me once or twice.” Sarah frowned, remembering all of the times she had helped Kayla in the past. “As I was saying...”
“Oh, you’re that girl in charge of Neopia’s help desk!”
“Yeah...” Sarah’s eyes lit up at the recognition. “AS I WAS SAYING...”
“You’re one of the most intelligent people in Neopia. Possibly the smartest. But this job... it’s not about the books. It’s dangerous, pouring potions like this. There’s a lot of places where I could go wrong when I’m coming up with new items, or simply replacing the old ones...”
“Are you saying that you don’t want me working here?” Sarah sighed and got ready to leave.
“Nope.” Kayla shook her head. “I’d love for you to work here. Someone with your intelligence would be a powerful tool in protecting Meridell in the years to come.” Kayla’s voice suddenly got softer. “But... you live to help people. You live to read your books. Frankly, I don’t think you would be happy here.”
Kayla sighed. “I’m not nearly as smart as you are. But... trust me. This isn’t the job for you.”
Samuel nudged Sarah. “Sarah... I think it’s time to go.”
Sarah walked slowly out of the shop, her head lowered in defeat.
“Best of luck to you. Stop by if you ever need any potions.” Kayla’s voice rang out sweetly, but it was not enough to encourage Sarah.
Sarah hadn’t said a word the whole trip home. It was beginning to get dark. Tomorrow was the start of a new reality – a reality that seemed to be jobless.
With every step, her feet dragged along the floor. She could hardly force herself to budge, let alone stroll with intelligence and charisma. Sam was inching along beside her, his usual exuberant self, but even he seemed to be concerned. As the sky got darker and darker, so did Sarah’s spirits.
They walked past a small, tattered booth. Signs stuck out from every angle, each screaming for someone to read them. Sarah stopped and turned around. Letting curiosity get the best of her, she shuffled close enough to read the words.
The booth was rather empty. And, as she read all the signs, she quickly figured out what she had to do.
“Today is the 26th day of Eating, Y8
Today's Weather: ???
Average temperature tonight is 26 degrees C (79 degrees F)”
“Why, it’s the Weather Predictions Booth! I’ve read about this!” Sarah beamed, and then went behind the sign.
Samuel called out with concern. “Hey, Sarah... I don’t know if that’s a good idea...”
“This sign is broken. And I’ve lived in Neopia Central all my life! I could make a prediction about the weather. Let’s see... well, it looks like it’ll be a clear night.” Sarah smiled, and changed the text on the sign.
“Today is the 26th day of Eating, Y8
Today's Weather: Warm... but clear skies
Average temperature tonight is 20 degrees C (68 degrees F)”
Right then, she felt a drop on her face.
More began to spill down...
She slumped to the ground and buried her face in her paws.
An angry Wocky – who looked a lot like one of the deranged Neopets at the Employment Agency – screamed at Sarah as she passed by. Some Kacheek on a bicycle threw something at her, and yet another person ranted about the weather prediction being off.
Tears began to form in Sarah’s eyes. Sam inched up close to her, and then curled up on her head. For such a small creature, it was the only comforting thing he could think to do.
“It’s all gone, Sam. It’s all gone...”
Sarah’s voice echoed in the darkness as she began to stand up and walk. The rain pounded against her with every step, splashing mud and filth all over her feet. Her blue Zafara fur became caked with mud, and her glasses soon were difficult to see out of.
Sarah’s eyes shimmered in failure. “That Chia Policeman was right. We have been outdated. Even though the sidebar hasn't changed yet... nobody even knows who I am. Today.”
Thunder boomed close by, yet Sarah didn’t flinch. Her eyes were unfocused, staring forward, deep inside of her well-learned thoughts.
"What if this new Neopia doesn’t need us?”
Sarah looked up. Her old booth sat right in front of her. It saddened her to see it, but she quickly realized that it had a decent enough porch to keep off the rain. With Sam still on her head, she crawled up underneath its tiny porch.
“Sarah... we have a house.” Sam looked at the rain. No longer was he enthusiastic. He was tired. He was cold. And he was scared for Sarah.
“I... I don’t want to move.” Sarah laughed bitterly, her frustration ringing through the air. Yet... suddenly her facial expression changed. “I feel like I’m supposed to... be here.”
“What?” Sam looked down at her, confused.
With that, a shadow emerged from the darkness. It was a child, sopping wet and confused. Her teeth shattered, and her eyes were red with tears.
“Mommy says I’m not allowed to talk to strangers. But I’m cold.”
Sarah stood up. Pity broke her heart. “Where is your mom?”
“I... I don’t know.” The child shivered. Her yellow Kougra fur was covered in mud. She looked tired and lost. “It’s only been an hour or two. But I’m still... scared.” She looked up at Sarah, her eyes shining with fear. “Can you... can you tell me a story while I wait for Mommy?”
Sarah didn’t know if this child’s owner was ever coming back. She didn’t know if this child had a place to stay, food to eat, or a blanket to keep her warm.
Sarah didn’t know everything.
But Sarah did know that the little girl had come to the right place.
“What is your name?”
The little Kougra smiled, despite the cold. “I’m Kelsie. What’s yours?”
“My name is Sarah. I was in charge of this booth we’re sitting under... but...” Sarah stopped herself. The child didn’t need to hear her rants. And something inside of her told her that it was the start of something new... “I know a lot of stories. Do you want to hear one from year four?”
Kelsie’s face lit up in shock. “That was a long time ago...”
Sarah smiled. As she closed her eyes and began to speak... the rain stopped.
Kayla was right.
Sarah looked at all of the children sitting around the booth, eagerly waiting to hear a story.
Although Sarah could never get back into her booth, could never legally call it her own... it had still remained hers. But, this time, it wasn’t about answering random users’ questions. It wasn’t about helping jerks find their way around Neopia, or acting like a know-it-all.
Sarah’s booth had become Neopia’s Lost and Found.
Not for items.
For stories long forgotten...
When a pet got lost, they knew where to come. Their owners also knew where to look. It was Neopia’s safe haven, Neopia’s hiding place for the confused and scared.
Sarah truly got to help.
As Sarah began to talk in a melodic voice, bringing each story of the Neopedia to life, recalling every Neopian Times story and adventure in existence... her audience listened in wonder. No longer were they afraid to be alone in such a huge, huge world. Because, suddenly, there were others lost like them.
Many of the kids were regulars. Sarah had started a story time, whether she had wanted to or not. Now she knew, however, that she was cool with it. The majority of the kids were happy, loved pets – blessed pets who loved to hear a good tale. However, some of the kids didn’t have a home, didn’t have owners who were ever coming back, didn’t have anything more than the Soup Kitchen... Sarah would keep reading and recalling for all of them.
When owners would find their pets, safe and unconcerned, they’d graciously pull out their bags of Neopoints. Sarah didn’t need a lot of Neopoints..
To this day, you can still find Sarah in the same exact spot where users once demanded her answers. She’s still recalling stories of the past.
She was horribly, horribly, out of touch with the current technology. She was kind of an outcast. All of her information and history stored in her head was far too old to have relevance. Her help page had been far-flung, with ‘General Info’, ‘User Prefs’, and ‘Safety Tips’ right next to each other.
She was outdated.
But, occasionally, people wanted to hear about the past...