"Winner, winner, we have a winner!"
The desert Cybunny's energetic calls caught the attention of a few passersby. They stopped chatting, stopped swinging their shopping bags around, and let their gazes linger on me for a little bit.
"My prize?" I sighed, staring at the white-speckled orange circles on my scratchcard.
The Cybunny ducked under the counter of her stall and came up holding a crumbling ball of dirt.
"A Sand Snowball," I said. "Lovely."
Trudging away from the Scratchcard Kiosk, I dropped the snowball on the hot ground. A scrappy thief eagerly snatched it up in my trail. Eyeing him in disgust, I hurried away. This market was full of hounding thieves. I couldn't stand them one bit. They always ruined my shopping trips.
I whipped my head around, mane flying out in all directions. Hadn't someone just called my last name?
"Faulkner! Hey, Faulkner! Over here!"
Ah. The tall, camouflage Ruki wildly whipping his arms about in an act of trying to get my attention. I curled my paw, indicating he should come over to me.
Bounding over, the Ruki greeted me with a mile-wide smile. "Boy, Danny, have I got the joke for you!" He beamed.
"Cambolini... I'm not in the mood for one of your jokes." I frowned. Cambolini's jokes were worse than Malkus Vile.
"What's this?" he teased, pushing up the sleeves of his tan trench coat. "Danny Faulkner, not in the mood for a joke? What's got you in a funk today?"
Cambolini's face fell. "Again? You're still trying for that jackpot?"
Reasoning with him had proved futile in the past, but I gave it a try anyway. "Cam, you know it's been my dream forever to be a Desert Ogrin. The beautiful, velvety fur, the gorgeous aqua eyes, the funky, fashionable headdress... " I sighed, trying in vain to smooth down my orange-ish mane. "Being a yellow Ogrin is too plain! I want to catch eyes and turn heads with my looks! And winning the jackpot from the scratchcards is the only way I can afford a paintbrush and trip to the Rainbow pool."
"You know," Cambolini offered, "they do have paintbrushes on the scratchcards."
"Please," I dismissed the thought with a wave of my hand. "They haven't given out one of those in years, besides, I'd still need the money to go to the Rainbow Pool."
“You don’t need to go to the Rainbow Pool to paint yourself, Danny. You know that.”
“Cam... it’s part of the experience.”
"I just don't think it's good for you to obsess over winning those scratchcards. At least you don't stick out in the crowd with your yellow color! There's gotta be tons of Neopets in the Lost Desert that are painted yellow."
"Correction, Cam. People are born yellow. No one gets painted yellow, unless they're adopted by some noob who thinks they're soooo cool with their newbie-only paintbrushes."
"Then why do they still make yellow paint brushes?" Cambolini challenged.
"For Fyora's sake, I don't know! It's not like anyone buys them or anything! Honestly, Cam, just... drop it, okay? I'm going to win that jackpot someday, I just know it."
Cambolini shrugged. "Okay... just don't say I didn't warn you."
I gave him one last withering look, then walked away. My house was only a short distance away, and I reached it within five minutes.
"Lorrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiii! I'm hoooooooooome!" I bellowed upon entering the house.
Lori Faulkner, my short, redhead owner waved at me from the couch where she sat, reading Peopatra's Petpets aloud to my two younger sisters, Salli and Sara. The twin Zafaras were huddled at Lori's feet.
"Danny!" they both cried in unison, scrambling to their paws and tripping over their tiny blue tails. I scooped them up and gave them a big hug.
Closing the book, Lori grinned. "Any luck?" she asked, knowing that I had just gone on one of my daily scratchcard runs.
"No," I sighed, "but I did run into Cambolini. He tried to convince me to give up scratchcarding, as he usually does. He won't stop me, though. Tomorrow is a Monday, and when school ends for the day, I'm going straight to the kiosk."
"Sounds good." Lori nodded. "Play with your sisters, would you?"
Salli and Sara hopped up and down, ears flopping wildly around. Their big eyes gleamed as they shouted out what they wanted to do.
"Dress-up!" Salli cheered.
"Plushies!" Sara begged.
"Cards!" Salli shouted.
"Puzzles!" Sara shrieked.
"USUKI!" they both chorused.
"Usuki it is," I chucked. Grabbing their hands, I shouted, "Let's go, girls! Teenage Usuki and her Dream Boat await!"
The next morning, I woke up feeling strange. Not bad strange, good strange.
Swinging my feet out of the covers, I hopped out of bed and hit the ground right next to a pair of scissors I could've easily landed on and cut my foot to shreds.
I smiled. I was feeling lucky strange.
"Good morning!" I sing-songed when I sat down at the breakfast table. "Lori, can you make me some... Tchea toast?"
Lori grabbed the fruit bowl. "Oh no, we're... well, it looks like you're having a spot of good luck, there's just one tchea left! Perfect."
A smile crept across my face. I didn't think my luck was just a spot...
And I was right. At school, during math, our teacher decided not to give us that pop quiz on plotting graphs, my worst subject. During Neopian History, Mr. Biggs couldn't find the testing papers so we got to watch "Mystery Island Mania," my most favorite movie ever. In P.E., when we were playing Tug O' War, I was selected as captain and our team never lost once. While painting landscapes in Art, I got the last bit of red, orange, and yellow paint. My science teacher selected Cambolini's and my lab as the best-done lab in the whole class. We had a substitute teacher in Language-Arts who let us do whatever we want. And when the bell rang, I had a pocket full of Neopoints and a soul full of luck. I couldn't wait to get to the scratchcard kiosk.
I was walking out of my last class when I caught sight of Cambolini. He was with Parker and Aimee, my other two good friends.
"And when the sub said 'Cam-boh-li-ni?' and you were like 'Yeah, like tor-te-li-ni!'?" Aimee was laughing.
Cambolini smirked. "And in history, when Mr. Biggs was all 'Oh no! The papers seem to be gone!' did you see Danny's face? She was all 'OMG!'"
"What's that about me now?" I asked, approaching the group.
Parker adjusted his backpack. "In history! And oh man, in science-"
I giggled. "'Best lab I've ever seen in all my life?' When Ms. Flowers said that Cambolini was like, 'Oh, so we're better than all the cavepets you used to teach?'"
Aimee's eyes widened. "No way! You said that?"
"Thought it." Cambolini grinned. "Hey, Danny, we're all going down to play Geos; do you want to come with us?"
I shook my head no. "The kiosk calls, Cambolini. I'm riding the highway of good luck, too, so wouldn't want to ruin it."
Cambolini frowned, but Parker and Aimee grinned. "Then come with us! We'll need all the luck we can get at Geos!"
"Sorry, guys. I bought a ton of scratch cards off the Shop Wizard and wouldn't want to waste them! Bye!"
I waved to them as I took off towards the market. The kiosk was getting closer, closer, so I pulled out all fifteen scratchcards I had rush-ordered off the Shop Wizard last night. Most of them were Coltzans Cash and Suteks Riches but I also ordered a few Geb Gajillionaires and Bagguss Bonanzas... If only Sandtravaganzas were cheap enough.
The desert Cybunny greeted me with her usual energetic "Welcome, welcome, welcome! Wanna buy a scratchcard?"
"One, please," I requested, handing her a 500 NP coin. It was my tradition to buy a kiosk card and scratch it before using my Shop Wizard cards.
The Cybunny eagerly wiped my coin and dropped it in a clay vase, where it made a hollow ping sound as it hit the other coins. She slid a card from the stack near the vase and slid it towards me, facedown.
Paws trembling in anticipation, I slowly picked up the card. "It's a... "I flipped it over. "SANDTRAVAGANZA!" I screamed.
Almost everyone in the market stopped moving. Then they all rushed towards me.
"I give you one hundred thousand Neopoints for that card!" an old Techo rasped.
"One hundred? I'll give you two hundred thousand!" a heavily made-up Kyrii declared.
An Anubis-toting Gelert pushed her way next to me. "A petpet paint brush, darling, for that card," she bartered.
A gold Chia waved some paper around. "Lab map pieces! All nine of 'em!"
The scratchcard was driving people crazy. To ward the crowd off, I scraped a claw against one of the shiny silver circles, rendering it used and unsellable. Most of the offerers gave me dirty looks and backed off.
"Whew," I sighed to the Cybunny. "That happens often?"
She flipped her hair. "Can't say I sell Sandtravaganzas often, sweetheart. I think the last buyer is dead."
My eyes bugged out of my head. "Dead?! Just how old are you?"
She gave me a sly wink. "Scratch your card, sweetheart. I haven't much time."
"Well, stop your watch, because I've got fifteen scratchcards ready to go after this one." Nevertheless, I did continue to scratch the Sandtravaganza card.
A red shield. A bag. A bag. A pair of boots. A bag!
"Three of a kind Neopoints, eh? Not bad for a Sandtravaganza- if you get a good amount." The Cybunny smirked. Without taking her eyes of me, she grabbed a bag from underneath the counter and tossed it to my arms.
The sound of clinking coins filled me with unexplainable joy. Could it be the jackpot?
The bag opened with ease. I frowned at what I saw. Five 100 NP coins.
Wait a second... Upon closer inspection, I saw that one of the coins was a 1000 NP coin. No, they were all 1000 NP coins.
"Five thousand Neopoints, sweetheart," I sneered.
"Just scratch your cards," she said, rolling her eyes.
I had won three snowballs, two lunchboxes, two beanbags, a plushie, and a pottery catalogue when I was on my tenth card.
The first circle was a Scarab Ring.. The second was something I had never seen before, a gleaming pile of gold coins marked my two letters: JP.
JP... Jumping Petpets? Jesting Pirates?
"Excuse me," I said, showing the symbol to the Cybunny. "What's this?"
"The Jackpot symbol. Current jackpot's at 1,825,034 Neopoints," she yawned, pawing through the catalogue I had won and placed on the counter.
"Oh... oh my Fyora... " I whimpered.
I mentally smacked my forehead. Here it was! The long awaited jackpot, my dream for so many years, and all I could say was "Oh my Fyora."
Determined to win, I scratched off another circle. A Scarab Ring. I scratched again. The jackpot.
The Cybunny peered at my card. "Ah. Good luck." She nodded.
I held my breath. My paws were shaking. As I scratched off another circle, I closed my eyes and held the card out to the Cybunny.
"Well?" I asked.
"Three of a kind!" she cheered.
"WHAT?" I heard myself shriek. My eyes snapped open. The card fluttered to the ground.
She handed a ring to me. "Here's your prize!"
"No... no... I won the jackpot!"
She picked up the card. "Sorry, sweetheart. You scratched a third ring, not the jackpot."
All the happiness and anticipation drained away like water in a bathtub. Fresh rage replaced it. I couldn't believe it. I was so close! And the jackpot could've done anything. Bought me a brush, trip to the Rainbow Pool, new clothes, rare petpet, even a Lost Desert petpet paint brush if I wanted it. And I did. But now... I was about thirty-thousand Neopoints poorer, instead of close to two million Neopoints richer. Why did I spend all my savings on the cards, when all they’ve brought me is bad luck! This wasn't fair.
"Fine!" I spat, taking all my prizes and marching away. People stared at me as I stomped through the markets streets, my feet poofing up clouds of sand dust with every angry step I took.
Some unfortunate Kacheek approached me. "Penny to spare, miss? My family... we have nothing to eat... "
He gestured behind him. Two tiny Shoyrus stared at the ground dejectedly and a crazy-looking bandaged Aisha muttered into a crystal ball.
"Take it all," I snapped, dumping my prizes and remaining scratchcards in his arms.
His eyes widened at the treasure. "Oh, thank you, miss! Thank you!"
I started to walk, but the Aisha stopped me with a commanding "Halt."
"You've had a spot of bad luck, no? But rest assured. You’re passing on your previous good luck to us. That is a good deed. And remember... what goes around, comes around." She smiled mystically.
"Whatever," I scoffed. This time, when I tried to leave, she didn't stop me.
The whole scratchcard debacle had put me in a permanently surly mood. I hardly smiled. I never laughed. Almost everything made me mad. I spent a lot of time just thinking about how much money I had wasted on scratchcards. I should’ve just saved my money to buy a brush instead of gambling it all away! I tried to avoid the scratchcard kiosk. I frowned whenever I saw someone win a prize. I scowled whenever I saw someone toting a Coltzan lunchbox or wearing Sandstone Boots or hugging a Scarab plushie. I turned away at the words "scratchcard," "kiosk," or "win."
I never once saw the poor Kacheek or his family. One day, though, about four weeks after I gave him my prizes, I saw him at the Kiosk. He was slowly, carefully scratching off one of the cards. I walked the other direction before he saw me and gloated about whatever prize he was about to get.
Three days past from when I saw him. When I came home from school, Lori was at the dinner table, reading the evening newspaper.
“Look at this,” she said as I dumped my backpack on the ground. “Some homeless Neopet won the jackpot from scratch cards. Lucky them.”
“Yeah, lucky,” I scowled.
Later, when I was upstairs doing homework, Lori came into my room with a bag in her hands.
“Just got the mail. Package for you from the... Orsha family? Do you know them?”
I shrugged, accepting the brown paper bag from her hands. She left my room and I untied the strings, digging around the bag for its contents.
Something cool and wet got on my paw. I withdrew it from the bag and saw that somehow, my paw had turned a golden brown.
"What the... " I muttered, reaching into the bag again. I grasped the smooth handle of the mysterious object and pulled it out.
For a moment, I could not speak. Then, when I found my voice, I screamed. Because in my hand was a Lost Desert Paintbrush.
Lori came sprinting into my room, slamming open the door. “What was it? What was in the package?”
Her jaw dropped when I whipped around, paint brush clutched in my paw.
“But who... why... when... who... how?!” she cried, grabbing the brush.
I dug through the bag. “There’s a note!” I exclaimed, unfolding the crumbled ivory paper.
Scrawled in black ink were five words. “What goes around comes around.”