The Making of a Star: "Wizard" Windelle
A young blue Ixi made his way down the dirt lanes of Meridell, on the lookout for vendors selling cheap food. As he passed by Ye Olde Petpets, he noticed something unusual.
A small Techo, only five or six years old, was huddled in the petpet pen, asleep. The Techo was thin and scrawny; his dirty clothing was in tatters. His white skin was so stained with dirt that its colour could barely be discerned. The Ixi could tell that the Techo was an orphan, like himself.
The Ixi stayed near the shop until the Techo awoke. Looking vaguely surprised at first to find himself in a petpet pen, the Techo rose to his feet quickly, casting frightened glances in the direction of the shopkeeper, who had not yet noticed his presence. Hurriedly, he leaped out of the pen and began to walk rapidly away.
“Hey, kid,” the Ixi called, getting the Techo’s attention. “Over here.”
The Techo surveyed the Ixi critically. He appeared rather dirty; his clothing was mere rags. He was also extremely smelly. However, he did not appear to be starving. The Techo had not eaten for days, so, on the chance that this other boy knew where food was to be found, he decided to talk to him.
“What do you want?” the Techo asked.
“You got a name?” asked the Ixi.
“Windelle,” said the Techo hesitantly.
“I’m Karl,” said the Ixi, “but everybody calls me Shorty. Come with me, and I can get you some food.”
“Why?” asked Windelle. He had already learned from experience that people didn’t offer him food unless they wanted something in return.
“I know where you can get food, lots of it. But first you have to pass the test.”
Reluctantly, Windelle agreed, deciding that his situation could hardly get any worse.
Shorty took him to the rubbish dump on Meri Acres Farm. There, hiding among the garbage, was a small group of orphaned pets. Shorty was their leader.
“We get plenty of food from the dump,” Shorty explained, “and from the nearby farmers. Stick with us, and you’ll get plenty to eat. But to be part of the group, first you have to pass a test, to prove you can handle it.”
The test, as it turned out, was one of thievery. Shorty told Windelle about Old Man Higgins, the grouchiest farmer in Meri Acres, who guarded his potatoes with an iron fist. “If you can steal a bag of potatoes from Higgins, you’ll pass the test,” Shorty explained. He handed Windelle a cloth sack. “The sack has to be completely full, or there won’t be enough to go around. If it’s not full, you don’t pass.”
“Are you sure he can handle it?” asked one of the boys skeptically. “He’s awfully scrawny, and Higgins is a mean old grouch. He might not survive.”
“If he can’t contribute, he can’t be in the group. He has to prove he can keep up with the rest of us,” said Shorty firmly.
Windelle wasn’t sure how he felt about thievery. He had tried not to steal, but there was hardly any food to be found, and he was really hungry. He looked over at the garden belonging to Old Man Higgins. It was full of potato plants. Windelle decided that Higgins wouldn’t miss one little sack of potatoes. Besides, Windelle was starving. He reasoned that, just this once, it would be acceptable.
So, he found himself creeping through the shadows of Higgins’s thatch-roofed cottage, making his way into the large potato garden. He was so hungry that his mouth began to water at the sight of so many large potatoes, just begging to be eaten. It took all of his self-control not to start eating them then and there. Keeping one eye on the door of the cottage, Windelle began to fill the sack as quickly as possible.
The sack was nearly full when a shout behind him made Windelle whirl around. A wizened old Kyrii with a graying beard stood in the doorway of the cottage, shaking his cane into the air angrily.
“Drop it, you filthy ragamuffin! How dare you steal from me!” he shouted, advancing off the porch and toward the terrified Techo.
Windelle ran. As he hurried out of the garden, he glanced into the sack and saw that it was nearly full. He only needed one or two more potatoes. Despite his fear of Higgins, Windelle couldn’t stand to leave now, not when he was so close to his goal. Deftly, he swooped down and snagged two more potatoes. Without stopping to see where the old Kyrii was, he began to run. He raced as fast as he could, but the sack of potatoes was heavy, and it slowed him down.
Suddenly, his feet flew out from under him as he tripped, stumbling over Higgins’s cane, which the Kyrii had thrown to the ground during the pursuit. The Techo gripped the sack of potatoes as tightly as he could, preventing it from opening and spilling its precious contents. He scrambled to his feet, but he wasn’t quite fast enough. The old Kyrii grabbed his ankle, yanking him back into the dirt.
“I’ve got you now, you dirty thief!” huffed Higgins.
There was no time to think. Windelle used the only weapon he had: one of the potatoes still clutched in his hands. He threw it with all his might, straight at the Kyrii’s face.
Higgins let out a snarl of rage as the large potato hit him squarely in the forehead. He was so surprised that, for a moment, his grip on Windelle’s ankle loosened. Windelle seized his opportunity. Scrambling to his feet, he ran.
As he crossed the old dirt road, heading for the rubbish dump, Windelle could hear the whoops and cries of the other boys, egging him on. He didn’t stop running until he reached the relative safety of the rubbish dump, where Higgins would not pursue him.
Shorty looked fairly surprised to see him alive. Panting, doubled over in exhaustion, Windelle didn’t have the breath to say anything. He held out the sack, overflowing with potatoes, and dropped it at Shorty’s feet.
“Did you see that, Shorty?” asked one of the boys. “I’ve never seen anybody run that fast! And he was carrying that heavy sack, too!”
“I can’t believe somebody his age got that many of ‘em,” added another boy. “When Higgins tripped him up, I thought he was a goner, for sure!”
“Did you see him bean Higgins with that potato?” another boy added. “Old Man never knew what hit him!”
“Wait,” said Shorty, “we have to see if he passed.” He opened the sack at his feet and peered into it. “I’d say you’re one potato short of a full bag.”
“Aw, come on, Shorty, cut ‘em some slack,” the boys protested.
“You know the rules,” said Shorty. “He has to fill up the bag in order to be part of the group.”
“Did you say one more potato?” asked Windelle, who had recovered his breath at last. He had a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
“Yep, that’s the deal,” said Shorty.
“In that case,” said the Techo, “I’ve passed.” He held out his hand. Cradled in his palm was one last potato, one of the two he had snatched just after Higgins emerged from the cottage.
Shorty took it from him with a look of amazement. “Well,” he said finally, “I did say one more, didn’t I? You’re in, kid.”
The Techo grinned in relief as the other boys cheered.
“Now that you’re one of us, you need a nickname. We all have one,” Shorty continued.
“Did you see the way he pulled those potatoes out of nowhere? Higgins never knew where it came from, and neither did Shorty!” one of the other boys was saying.
“Yeah,” agreed another. “It was like magic, the way those potatoes appeared in his hands.”
“Magic,” said Shorty thoughtfully. “I’ve got it. How about we call you Wizard?”
The other boys cheered their approval. Windelle considered it for a moment. “Wizard Windelle,” he mused. “I like the sound of that.”
Before long, the rubbish dump became the closest thing to a home that Wizard could remember. For the young pets living in the dump, each day consisted of scavenging for food in the rubbish, occasionally snatching fruits and vegetables from nearby farmers, and otherwise terrorizing the relatively peaceful Meri Acres Farm.
Wizard was never very comfortable with stealing, so he usually stuck to whatever he could find in the dump. There was no denying, however, that he was good at thievery. He was by far the fastest and swiftest of the group. By the time he was about ten years old, the story of his first theft had become a legend among the younger pets.
One day, Shorty returned from a trip to Meridell holding a small, leather ball. “What’s that?” asked one of the boys curiously. “Is it food?”
“No,” said Shorty with a laugh. “It’s a practice Yooyu. You know, for playing Yooyuball with, instead of a real Yooyu.”
“Where’d you get it?”
“Found it,” Shorty said with a shrug. “Do you wanna play?”
Shorty quickly taught them the rules, and some of the younger boys joined him in a game, using an old bucket as a goal. Wizard watched them for a few minutes, analyzing the game.
“Hey, Wizard, do you want to play?” called Shorty.
“I don’t know how,” Wizard admitted. “I’ve never played sports before.”
“It’s easy,” said Shorty. “You can be on my team. Just throw the ball to me, and I’ll make the goal.”
“I don’t know how to throw it,” said Wizard. “I’ve never tried.”
Shorty grinned. “Yooyus are just like potatoes,” he said. “Pretend I’m Higgins, and you’re trying to hit me with it. Just aim for my hands instead of my head, okay?”
Wizard took his advice. To his surprise, he found that playing Yooyuball came to him naturally. He was fast, had good aim, and could outmaneuver the others easily. In addition, he was able to invent trick plays, fooling his opponents with his quick thinking. Playing Yooyuball with the others became one of the few things in his life that he genuinely enjoyed.
As the years went by, the number of young pets living in the rubbish dump began to dwindle, one by one. Some of them were caught stealing or living in the streets and sent away to be adopted. Others merely chose to make their home elsewhere. By the time Wizard was twelve, only he and Shorty were left.
Wizard often asked Shorty why he didn’t find any other boys to join their group, just as he had found Wizard. At first, Shorty didn’t answer him, but eventually he admitted, “I’m starting to wonder if this is the best place for them. I always thought I was helping the others, by keeping them from starving. But the truth is, they’re probably better off being caught and adopted by a family.”
Wizard had to wonder if Shorty was right. After all, there was no way of knowing where he would have ended up if Shorty hadn’t found him that day. Maybe he would have starved to death; maybe he would have been rescued, and adopted.
Wizard never asked Shorty about adding to their group again, and for a short while they were content, just the two of them. Shorty traveled throughout Meridell, finding food, clothing, and other necessities, while Wizard rummaged around the rubbish dump for anything edible or valuable.
Until one day when Shorty didn’t come back.
Alone, hungry, and vulnerable, Wizard wandered about Meri Acres, looking for his friend. For days, he searched aimlessly, unable to find the Ixi. Soon, their supply of food ran out, and he couldn’t find more without Shorty’s help.
One night, it began to rain. Wizard was too far from the dump to seek shelter there, so he sought refuge on the porch of the nearest cottage. He planned to wait there just until the rain stopped, but he was so exhausted that before long he collapsed. He was barely conscious when a nearby light flickered on, and the cottage door opened.
“Well, well,” said a voice softly. “What do we have here?”
Wizard was too exhausted to answer.
Wizard awoke to the most amazing scent he had ever encountered. Rapidly, he sat up, searching for the source of the delicious aroma. He spotted a perfect apple pie, resting on the porch beside him.
He knew he shouldn’t eat it, but he was so hungry. Perhaps he would just take a small bite....
“Go ahead, it’s for you,” someone said.
Guiltily, Wizard whirled around and noticed the small green Acara who was watching him from the nearby garden. Belatedly, he realized that it had stopped raining; it was early morning now, and the sun was shining. He must have been asleep for hours.
Wizard looked back and forth from the Acara to the pie as if it were some kind of trick.
“Go ahead,” the Acara repeated. “You looked like you could use a good meal, so I baked it for you while you were asleep.”
Wizard pulled the pie closer and began to devour it, not bothering to use the fork lying beside it.
“For Fyora’s sake,” said the Acara in surprise, “you’d think you’ve never had a pie before!”
“I haven’t,” said Wizard honestly.
The Acara’s gaze softened, and she studied him for a moment. “My name is Jessie,” she said finally. “What’s yours?”
“Wizard,” the Techo choked through a mouthful of pie.
“Well, Wizard, how would you like some more pie?”
Wizard looked at her as if she had suggested something completely absurd. “Why would you offer me food? You don’t even know me,” he said.
“No, I don’t,” said Jessie, “but you look like a kid who hasn’t had a decent meal in ages, and I simply can’t allow anyone to leave my home hungry. It’s basic hospitality, you see. Would you like some more pie, or not?”
“Yes,” said Wizard, who was beginning to wonder if perhaps she had poisoned it. He decided that he was too hungry to care; besides, it was delicious.
“Then you may go inside to have some more,” said Jessie, “but first, I have one request.”
“Of course,” said Wizard with a groan, “there’s always a catch.”
Jessie, who had no idea what he was talking about, ignored this comment and said, “You may not track dung all over my clean carpet. You’ll have to bathe first.”
This seemed a small price to pay for another pie, so Wizard agreed. Jessie brought him a bar of soap (which he hadn’t used in ages) and he quickly scrubbed the dirt away in a nearby pond. When he was finished, he almost didn’t recognize himself; his white skin had been so stained by dirt that he had almost forgotten its true colour.
True to her word, Jessie had baked him another pie. In the course of an hour, Wizard proceeded to devour all the food she offered him, which included the entire contents of her fridge.
“So, Wizard,” she asked as he ate, “where is your home?”
“I don’t have one,” Wizard confessed. “I’m an orphan. I’ve been homeless since I was five.”
Jessie looked concerned. “Have you lived alone all this time?”
“No. But everyone’s gone now,” he said. “My best friend disappeared. I don’t think he’s coming back.”
“I see,” said Jessie briskly. “In that case, you’ll just have to stay with me for the time being.”
Wizard was completely taken aback, but he didn’t object. After all, he had nowhere else to go.
Over the next few weeks, Jessie provided him with everything he needed: new clothes, a soft bed to sleep in, and plenty of warm, home-cooked meals. Wizard had no idea why she was being so kind, but he vowed that, one day, he would return the kindness she had shown him.
For the next five years, Jessie raised Wizard as if he were her son. He enrolled in school and quickly caught up to the other students his age. Before long, he began to feel like any ordinary young Techo. Still, he couldn’t forget his past. He never took a meal for granted, and every day he was grateful for what he had been given.
Yooyuball fever swept the school that Wizard attended. Every day after class let out, Wizard and the other students would head to the wide open fields of Meri Acres, where they created a makeshift field.
Wizard enjoyed the sport immensely. It reminded him of his old friends, and it entertained him in a way that nothing else could. Before long, one of the teams appointed him captain, and he spent many long hours developing trick plays for his team to use.
It was after the success of one such play that Wizard noticed the presence of two strangers. They wore stiff, expensive suits, which looked very out of place in Meri Acres. They watched the Yooyuball game with interest, and seemed to pay special attention to Wizard.
At the end of the game, Wizard was heading home when he realized that he was being followed. Subtly, he sneaked a glance over his shoulder and saw that the strangers were watching him. Trying not to panic, he hurried home, shutting the door quickly behind him and peeking through the curtains. To his surprise, the strangers didn’t pass Jessie’s cottage, but walked right up to the porch.
“What’s wrong?” asked Jessie, emerging from the living room.
“There are two strangers at the door,” said Wizard.
Jessie hastened to open it. “Good evening,” she said, surveying the strangers critically.
“Good evening,” said the Ogrin. “Is your son a white Techo?”
“Yes,” said Jessie. “What is this about?”
“We’re representatives of the official Meridell Yooyuball Team,” said the Ogrin. “We came to Meri Acres because we heard rumors that your community had a rather impressive Yooyuball squad. May we come in and discuss your son’s athletic ability?”
“Yes, of course,” said Jessie, promptly whisking them inside.
“By the way, what is your name?” the Gnorbu asked Wizard.
“Wizard,” he replied. “Wizard Windelle.”
“Wizard Windelle,” the Ogrin repeated. He smiled broadly. “I like the sound of that,” he said. He turned to the Gnorbu and whispered, “I can picture it now! We’ll say he’s called Wizard because his Yooyuball skills seem magical!”
Once everyone was seated in the living room, the two strangers began to explain why they had come.
“Your ability is quite impressive,” the Ogrin said to Wizard. “In fact, if I’m being honest, I’d say that was one of the best trick plays I’ve ever seen in a youth league. With the proper training, we think you could play Yooyuball professionally. We’d like to offer you a scholarship to the official Meridell Yooyuball Academy, where you can be trained and prepared for a professional career.”
“We’ll have to think about it,” said Jessie. Looking slightly disappointed, the strangers left their contact information and departed.
That evening, Jessie and Wizard discussed the decision for hours.
“I think you should do it,” said Jessie. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you.”
“Do you really think I can do it?” asked Wizard quietly.
“I always knew,” she replied, “from the minute you showed up on my doorstep, covered in dirt, that you were strong enough to do anything you wanted. Do you really want to do this?”
“Yes,” he replied, with no hesitation.
Jessie smiled. “I know you can do it.”
Many years later, the small community of Meri Acres Farm was in an uproar. One of their own had become a Yooyuball sensation and a member of Meridell’s official Yooyuball team. They were swamped by reporters who wanted to know everything there was to know about “Wizard” Windelle, the homeless Techo who had become a Yooyuball star.
Old Man Higgins, who had no idea what all the commotion was about, grew increasingly more grouchy as dozens of visiting carriages, pulled by Unis and carrying reporters and fans, trampled over his potato garden on their way into Meri Acres.
“Watch out for my garden!” he spluttered angrily as yet another carriage passed by one evening. To his surprise, the carriage stopped, and a tall, ghostly white figure emerged. As he approached, Higgins could see that he was wearing a fancy uniform in Meridell’s colours.
“Who’re you?” Higgins demanded.
“You don’t remember me?” the Techo said with a laugh.
Higgins thought for a moment. Something about this Techo seemed awfully familiar.... He gasped in surprise. “You! You’re the thief who threw a potato at my head!”
“Yes,” said the Techo with another laugh. “You remembered!”
“How could I forget?” grumbled Higgins. “My poor head has never been the same! And you, sir, owe me a sack of potatoes!”
“Indeed I do,” said the Techo solemnly, “which is why I’m here.” He produced from his pocket a small sack and tossed it lightly toward the Kyrii, who caught it clumsily. It was overflowing with golden coins.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have any potatoes with me at the moment,” the Techo continued, “so this will have to do. That should be more than enough to cover the cost of a sack of potatoes, plus any additional medical fees incurred by your head injury. I just wanted to apologize, in person, for what I did. I’m sorry for any pain I may have caused you.”
Higgins was at a loss for words. “Thank you,” he said finally.
“You’re quite welcome,” the Techo replied, striding away. A few feet from his carriage, he stopped suddenly, and knelt to retrieve a small potato from the ground. He examined it for a moment before turning around and tossing it back to Higgins, who caught it with a grunt of surprise.
“Shorty was right,” Wizard said incredulously. “Throwing a potato is like throwing a Yooyu.”
Higgins, who had no idea what he was talking about, merely watched in shock as the Techo slid back into the carriage and rode swiftly away.
The carriage made its way through the winding, dusty lanes of Meri Acres, and Wizard looked out the window in amazement, finding everything just as he remembered it. After a few minutes, the carriage slid to a stop in the center of Meri Acres, where a makeshift podium had been erected for Wizard’s interview with the press.
Stopping briefly to greet fans, Wizard made his way up to the podium and began to answer the reporters’ questions.
“So, Wizard, how did you learn to play Yooyuball?” someone asked.
Wizard smiled. “Well, you see, Yooyus are kind of like potatoes...” he began. As he gazed out into the crowd, he thought he caught a glimpse of a short blue Ixi. In fact, he was certain that the Ixi looked very familiar....
“My best friend taught me to play,” Wizard continued. “And if you’re listening, Shorty, I just wanted to say thanks for everything.”
When the interview had concluded, Wizard looked for Shorty in the crowd, but didn’t see a blue Ixi anywhere. He climbed back into the carriage, and it rolled away, cutting a path through the dispersing crowd.
The carriage’s final stop was at Jessie’s cottage. Jessie was eagerly looking forward to seeing Wizard in the Altador Cup this year. Throughout the years, she had always been his proudest fan. Wizard had offered to buy her a much fancier home, but she had refused, insisting that lavish furnishings had never suited her tastes. Even so, Wizard had given her the majority of his Altador Cup earnings; she was now quite wealthy.
When the carriage halted, Wizard climbed out and headed up the path toward his home, where his mother was waiting to greet him.