A Waffle Paradise Circulation: 180,823,044 Issue: 450 | 2nd day of Swimming, Y12
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450 Days

by sweetie_me274


The sun inched across a blazing sky that morning as if it would be its last. The reds curiously spilled across the blanket of morning blue. Just barely visible through the sleepy fog was a strange clump of Beekadoodles hurdling towards the sun in perfect unison. Perhaps, this writer wonders, there were even 450 of them making that strange journey on that strange day.

     The number 450, of course, was and always had been a special one. It’s equal to 5 times 9 times 10; but it’s also the number of Cocoa Juppies sold at the Tropical Food Shop each month, the number of pink seashells stashed under the pier by some unknown collector, the number of herbs Jhuidah grows in her secret garden to add to the cooking pot.

     It was also the number of days it had been since a certain red Mynci had seen her family – the number of days she’d been studying abroad on Mystery Island, researching medicinal plants and curious creatures while penning her own novel on the side. Karina was this Mynci’s name, and it also took her 450 steps to get from her seaside hut to the Mystery Island Academy of Research.

     The day the letter had come her Cybunny sister Snow Angel fetched the mail. It had been an oddly heavy envelope sealed with a fancy crest that sent splashes of ominous curiosity across a simple summer day. Words like “cordially”, “enrollment”, “enrichment”, and “inquiry” had slithered out of the weak paper wrapping and gnawed away at Karina’s paws as she read them. At first, none of them had understood. Then, none of them had wanted to.

     “Mystery Island?” Snow Angel had murmured as she peered over Karina’s shaking shoulder.

     “Isn’t that practically on the other side of Neopia?” injected Graphie, the perplexed yellow Poogle sitting at their table. She turned to Cutie, her snow Bruce sibling curled over the kitchen counter, and long sigh of silence grew between them all.

     After dinner that night, Karina crawled into her owner’s lap. Christine pulled back her billowy brown hair and pushed aside her book. “Mystery Island is amazing,” she had whispered into her pet’s ear that night, soft as a lullaby, steady as a promise.

     The following weeks Karina has searched for the happiness she had felt during the hours she spent poured over her application. She fetched Mystery Island Jungle Lore and reread her favorite story, tracing the rays of sun in the beautiful accompanying picture. She reached for her official Mystery Island Travel Brochure that she had bought months ago just in case.

     And then she left. It was a tiresome journey, for Mystery Island truly was on the opposite side of Neopia. The entire family had first gone to Kiko Lake, a goodbye party of sorts. With her nose pressed on the floor of the Glass Bottomed Boat, Snow Angel reached for Karina’s paw and whispered to her. “You could always do research here instead, you know,” she muttered, though they both knew the words were futile. The sun set heavily and they boarded another boat, this one with a thick wooden bottom and a chilling atmosphere, and sailed to Brightvale.

     Christine led Karina and her sisters through the dusk to the Scrollery, a loving smile sealed upon her face. “To buy a parting gift,” she told her Mynci, gently stroking Karina’s cheek. Cutie suggested they purchase the Insanely Huge Scroll, but Christine slipped the shopkeeper 16,104 Neopoints and left with a Scroll of Benevolence. “It says it’s supposed to give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside,” Christine said kindly as she handed Karina the carefully wrapped package.

     “It can’t be time quite yet,” Karina said, although darkness was settling all around them and she knew the shops would soon be closing. Her owner and her sisters would catch the boat back to Kiko Lake, where they would spend the night. But Karina had to march the other direction, off to Meridell, where she would spend the night before departing across the seas to Mystery Island.

     Though it was past time to say goodbye, they decided to stroll by Brightvale Castle for just a passing glance. Upon entering, a rather extravagantly dressed Lenny impatiently hurried them down a hall and then they found themselves before the wise King Hagan.

     “Go on, Karina, think of something to tell him!” Snow Angel encouraged with excitement. “She’s really smart. She’s about to leave for Mystery Island for six months of research,” she added, her tone falling as she remember their inevitable parting. Karina nervously stepped towards the King. She opened her mouth and every intelligent thought she had ever thought seemed to disappear.

     “A wise friend once told me that success is like the wrath of a family of inquisitive Weewoo,” she babbled shyly, immediately throwing her hands in her face in frustration.

     The king stood a moment and eyed Karina up and down. The Lenny guard whispered to her, “It seems he is not displeased. That’s good.”

     Indeed there was some good in the moment, as Christine squeezed Karina’s paw in reassurance and her sisters fit around her to get a better view. The king turned around and reached for something behind him, mumbling, “Well, you’re not the sharpest tack in the drawer, but that wasn’t too bad. I give you a B. Here is something to help you study.” He tucked a copy of Brightvale Castle in her nervous paw while the Lenny guard handed her a small cloth pouch filled with a few Neopoints.

     Her family came around her in embrace, flowed out of the great castle, and then broke apart, disappearing into darkness. It was almost as if they were ebbing away, only it was not them heading out into the sea, but Karina.

     - -

     Karina would later discover that her bag from King Hagan had exactly 450 Neopoints, the book from him exactly 450 pages. But she only had four pictures: Christine hugging Karina after she had won the Math-tath-alon; Graphie fast asleep on a messy mattress after a bout of insomnia; Snow Angel proudly holding her first violin; and finally, Cutie looking concerned while waiting at the hospital with a dazed, amnesic Christine. She spent hours rearranging these photos, messily taken with their memorable Zafara Tourist Camera, on the dirty floor of her hut throughout her first night in Mystery Island. She counted the minutes as they passed in unison with the pattering rain, and she fell asleep long before she reached 450.

     On her first day at class she learned that she was the youngest student; on her second, that she would likely be staying a lot longer than six months; on her third, that Training School students next door were stronger, faster, and always top priority. But it was on her fourth day that she fell in love with the beach and found the one corner of sand not covered with volleyball nets.

     The entire “research enrichment opportunity” was really student-directed study, meaning Karina was spending 2000 Neopoints a day – and that wasn’t including her hut or her food - to live away from her family and conduct research for an institution that would likely never credit her for it anyway. Consequently, Karina decided it was her prerogative to spend a day now and then buried in the sand with a poetic mind rather than measuring the sizes of petpets at the Rock Pool.

     By the twentieth day she had learned to enjoy gathering data; in this author’s opinion, she liked to pretend that each leaf had a soul and that when she examined its texture she was really searching for its song. She renamed them so that she felt as though she were studying alongside friends, not exotic species. As though she still had some notion of what it felt like to belong.

     Her family wrote to her every week: Christine would give her an overview of what was happening both in and out of the household; Cutie, the temporary guardian of Karina’s Walein, Glookie, would update her to the status of the little petpet; Graphie sent her rants about the loneliness of it all; Snow Angel sent her annotated copies of the Neopian Times (particularly thoughtful as Mystery Island only had the Mystery Island Monthly). In the beginning Karina poured each day into responding to the letters, but on the fortieth day she stopped.

     She wrote a final letter saying why; she told she’d be staying at least an extra three months longer than originally planned and that she was just too busy working to write all the time; she sent a copy of her published research article so that they knew not to worry; she signed it with “love”, and she must have traced the word at least 450 times before she sealed the letter.

     Of course this really wasn’t why she had stopped writing. She stopped writing because she was sad.

     In just 40 days she had faded into someone else. Her feet were blistered from walking on hot sand. She ate exotic fruits because they were cheap. She sat on the dock in the harbor, waiting for something big and grand. But the Karina who loved to learn and loved to think had evaporated in the sticky Mystery Island heat, and she didn’t have the heart to tell this to the family that was paying for that Karina to do what she loved because they loved her. She wondered how there could be so much love sent to her from across Neopia but so little received in her cold, tiny Mystery Island hut.

     - -

      On day 137, Karina commuted to Geraptiku to examine plant life in the Deserted Tomb.

     On day 215 / Karina got a part-time / job writing Haikus.

     On day 366, Karina sat alone at the harbor, looking out at the lonely blue.

     On day 450 Karina began to wonder. When she had seen the advertisement in the Neopian Times, it had looked like all she could ever ask for – she had loved Mystery Island, after all, when they took a family vacation there the year before. Even though she had been a little saddened at leaving her family, she’d been elated to be accepted, to be chosen among thousands. She’d dreaded leaving behind a home, but she had always held a little curiosity inside her that she was sure would have erupted upon arriving at the island.

     But instead all she wondered now was whether Snow Angel still visited the music shop after school and if Graphie had been able to maintain her math grade without Karina’s help. She wondered why the Scroll of Benevolence made her feel sick to her stomach, not happy and reminded of home. She wondered why she had read King Hagan’s book several times but still didn’t feel the teeniest bit smarter.

     She left her house with the intention of going to the Academy to log some research but she found that her feet had other plans. On step 247, she turned towards the beach and walked another 153 until she was met by sand and sun. By now the sky was soft and the sun was yellow; it was hardly the vicious battle of blues and reds and had been only a few hours earlier. Things could change, Karina knew. But just then the flock of Beekadoodles – still 450, now Karina was sure – soared past, and she was left unsure of whether anything could ever really change at all.

     The cool water latched on to the tips of her toes and dragged her towards the water’s edge. She sat relaxed, her foot free in the water. An inch further and both feet were off the ground. She began to feel 450 days of sadness melt away in the Mystery Island sun. Karina pushed off the slightest bit more and then she was floating on her back, her body light as a feather. She began to think big things, and for the first time in 450 days, they were more happy than sad.

     She felt all the color and excitement of Mystery Island in that moment: the friendly plants, the warm beaches, even her cozy, ancient hut. She thought of the past and of tomorrow; of her family and her research; of the Scroll of Benevolence; of King Hagan. If she could have seen him in that moment, she’d have known exactly what to say.

     “One should never assume that hard work is comparable to a family of lovable friends,” she whispered to herself. The water flowed around her. She felt the best of Mystery Island but then she felt Neopia Central reeling her in. She closed her eyes in satisfaction and

     - -

     “Karina!” Snow Angel called again with impatience. I jolted back to reality and my pen skidded across the page of my notebook. I looked up at my sister, paying close attention to her delicate eyes, her pink nose, her shy ears – as if it had been the longest time since I’d seen her.

     “Yeah?” I asked absentmindedly, returning to my journal and trying to remember my train of thought.

     “I’m going to go check the mail. Aren’t you expecting a response to that thing you applied for soon? That research boarding school thing?”

     Her words rolled towards me and hit me slowly. She reached for the front door but somewhere in me a voice called out to her. My hands, entirely on their own, closed my notebook and tossed my pen aside. “I’ll get it,” I – some part of me – said.

     She shrugged her shoulders and my feet sent me out the front door and towards the mailbox. My anxious little hands reached inside and found junk mail, junk mail, and a heavy little envelope sealed with an ominous crest. I felt excitement mount within me for a moment and I opened the letter. Words like “cordially”, “enrollment”, “enrichment”, and “inquiry” slithered out of the weak paper wrapping and gnawed away at my paws as I read them. I had been accepted.

     Happiness hit me first, then pride. I held the letter in front of me and read it once more. Satisfied, I ripped it in two, walked back towards the house, and prepared to toss it with the rest of trash. Snow Angel called from inside, “Did it come?”

     “No,” I called back. She made a sympathetic face but I couldn’t hold back a smile. “But Issue 450 of the Neopian Times did.” I picked up the paper, waiting patiently at the front door, and brought it to over my sister. Sitting down beside her, I opened up the front page before us.

     I glanced at Snow Angel’s smile, and then at the words in front of us, and I was glad that there would be plenty more of both in the next 450 days to come.

The End

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