I am lnking
I am lnking. I am five years old, my favorite colour is blue and I have a Deluxe Pinchit Plushie named Pinchy, who's got a tomato stain on his bottom and a neocola stain on his mouth, but I still love him. I live with my brother, Hemlones (who's the one who tried to feed Pinchy neocola, which made the stain) and our friend Veels. Veels is a grown up, and is very clever and very busy. He doesn't work in a normal job in the daytime; he sells big boxes from our house in the middle of the night. That means he's usually sleeping in the morning because sometimes he has to stay up quite late. The pets he sells the boxes to have to stay up late as well, and sometimes I think it's a bit silly because a Good Night's Sleep is Necessary for Development. That's what the green Gelert doctor from the hospital told us, when he came to school for a talk about washing hands and brushing teeth and eating breakfast.
Veels doesn't cook us breakfast, but now that I'm a Big Boy, I can heat up sausage omelette on the stove, as long as I balance on some of Veels' empty boxes. My brother Hemlones isn't allowed near the stove, because one time, when he tried to make a cake, he couldn't keep the flour in the bowl and we ended up playing Terror Mountain Explorers on the kitchen floor. But I am careful, and I only burn my paws sometimes. And even when that happens, I know where the band-aids are.
We all have jobs to do in my house. I have to cook the food when Veels is Too Busy. When the jobs first started, he wasn't Too Busy very often. And then he started to get Too Busy most days. But that's okay, because he has his own jobs – he has to sell the boxes in the middle of the night, and he also has to hold all our neopoints in the big pockets of his big green jacket. And he has to go into neoschool to talk to our teacher Mrs. Harvey when Hemlones gets in trouble. And Hemlones' job is to clean our bedroom. But he seems to be Too Busy to do that most days. Luckily Veels doesn't get mad like other Grown Ups do. His face doesn't get red, and he doesn't make big fists out of his hands – he just sighs and rolls his eyes and goes off to do something else. Or to sleep. Sometimes I think I'd quite like for him to get angry with us, because then we could kiss and make up and have a hug and go out for ice cream like normal families. But Veels doesn't really do stuff like that.
Sometimes when we get home from neoschool, he's is still asleep on the couch, making little snory-snuffly noises that makes Hemlones giggle behind his paws, but I stamp on his tail because I know that if Veels wakes up he will be grumpy, and then he might not talk to us for the whole evening. So I push Hemlones into the other room, and fix and Orange and Mango Coffee to leave by the sofa for Veels when he wakes up. I'm quite good at cooking, really. Because I know that other pets in my class definitely couldn't make Orange and Mango Coffee like I can. And now that I'm getting bigger, I can use the oven and the stove without Veels having to watch. I should have probably started to make us some dinner, because Veels was snory-snuffling on the couch, which meant that he wasn't going to make it. But instead I went into the other room to play plushies with Hemlones.
We were just getting to the exciting bit when Hemlones' blue Ixi plushie gets squished to a pancake in the Battledome by Pinchy's fat tomato stained bottom when Veels pushed into the room. His eyes were all puffy and red and just-woken-up-ish, and my mug of coffee was swinging from his hand. He opened his mouth, and as he did, I could see some of the little blue furs around his mouth were wet with my coffee, so he'd obviously had a sip.
"Did you like my coffee?" I asked.
He frowned, then looked down at the cup like he couldn't quite remember it was there, which seemed a little strange, because he'd obviously just had a big gulp of it.
"What? Yes. Yes, thank you, Ink," he said, and then looked back at me and Hemlones and Pinchy sitting on Blue Ixi's head.
"Boys, I need you out of the house for a few days. I've got some big deals planned, and I can't really have-"
Hemlones giggled as he whipped out Blue Ixi from under Pinchy's bottom, and plonked him down hard on Pinchy's round head. I glared at him because it wasn't fair because I had been listening to Veels, and that's when the game was on quit-sey and you weren't allowed to play until quit-sey was turned off again.
Veels frowned too, and I smiled, because obviously Veels agreed that you shouldn't play when quit-sey was on.
"- have you around," he finished.
"That's okay," Hemlones said, still squishing Blue Ixi on top of a squashed and unhappy Pinchy. "I'll go and stay with Ben."
Ben was Hemlones' friend who he always sat with at lunch. Ben didn't like me to sit with them, and when I tried to go over with my lunch box, they stole it and ran away. When I got home from school I tried to talk to Hemlones about it, but he just looked at the ground and said he was sorry but Ben had said it would be funny.
And I had said it wasn't and it had made me cry.
And he had said it was just a joke.
But after that I didn't try to sit with them any more.
"No, Hem, I'd rather you both were together. And I don't know how Ink would take to staying with Ben-" Hemlones glared at me "-But don't worry. I've found a place for you to stay."
We were going to stay with Clait and Sotian. Two friends of Veels who he did business with a lot. When we asked if they had any kids our age, he told us no, though Sotian was still Fairly Young. But Fairly Young by Veels' measuring could be anywhere between a big kid and a grown up. Which is quite a big difference. So I just wrinkled my nose and went to pack my bag. I was a little scared to be leaving Veels, because he was our friend, and he looked after us, but I could think of scarier things. Like having to stand up and do a speech in front of my class on caring for petpets. Or the time when I had to haggle for a Bunch of Grapes and I accidentally haggled too low because I didn't know how much neopoints to put down, and got kicked out of the shop. Because at least these pets were Veels' friends, and we wouldn't be gone very long.
I kept telling myself this in my head, using my little head voice that nobody could hear but me, but it didn't stop the prickly feeling behind my eyes.
Clait and Sotian didn't pick us up until late.
Past our bedtime.
Veels said it was because it wasn't safe for them to be out in the daytime, which seemed a little strange to me, because it was much easier to be safe in the daytime, where you could look both ways before crossing the road, and see if bullies were coming. At night the darkness oozed into all the creepy corners, and you couldn't see very far. I thought it felt very UNsafe.
Sotian arrived first, though, and that made me feel better, because he was a Lupe too. He wore a black jacket that shone and squeaked and a bandana with red spots that was a bit like the one Hemlones wore around his neck, but Sotian had it around his head. It looked very stylish. Hemlones had been very quiet all afternoon, and I know it was because he was scared about leaving Veels, but when he saw the spotty Lupe, he became much louder. I know it's because he wanted Sotian to like him, because he could tell that he was a very cool pet. And Hemlones likes to be cool. He rushed out the door, leaving me with Veels and the bags.
"Are you Sotian, or Clait?" he asked (because we didn't know which was which then). "I'm Hemlones. But you can call me Hem. You can tell me apart from my brother because I have a bandana," and he looked hopefully at Sotian's scarf around his head. "My brother is called Inking," he said, like the words couldn't get out of his mouth fast enough. "It's actually spelt Lnking – with an L, but if you make the L not a capital and squint, then it looks like an I."
I went very red, because that was a Family Secret, and it was embarrassing, because I didn't like that my name was spelt wrong. I especially didn't like being called Linking. But I knew Hemlones just wanted to look cool. Sometimes people think that by saying mean things about other people, it will make them cooler. Actually it just makes them mean.
Veels carried both our bags under one arm, and went out to shake Sotian's paw.
"Veels!" Sotian said, "Apparently someone went digging on the Forgotten Shore. Found a way around the once a day rule. We've got a baker's dozen Pirate Draik Eggs at home. Paid next to nothing for them too – The guy owed Clait for a sticky situation a few years back. So if you're interested?"
I didn't understand any of this. If the shore was forgotten, how did anyone know how to get there? Surely, if they knew the way, it would be the Remembered Shore.
"I would be," Veels said, "but let's not talk about it around the boys."
Hemlones looked sad, like he wanted to be a part of anything that Sotian was a part of.
"Here's their keep for three days," Veels continued, reaching inside his big green jacket for a big jingly bag of neopoints, which Sotian took and tucked away inside his shiny squeaky one. "I'll see you in a couple of sleeps, boys!" And he handed our bags to Sotian, and went back into the house.
We had to catch a Uni taxi to get to Clait and Sotian's house. Hemlones talked all the way, but I just sat on the seat with my bag cuddled up to my chest. I liked Sotian, and I thought he was cool, but I didn't have anything to say that would make him think I was cool too. Anyway, I was still thinking about the Pirate Draik Eggs. Did they have tiny little clothes on inside the eggs? Or did they magically appear once they were hatched?
Clait was scary.
Even Hemlones thought so.
Their house turned out to be a shed at the back of somebody else's house, with two beds, a sink, and lots and lots of boxes. Clait was digging through the boxes when we arrived, and at first I thought he was a girl, because all you could see were great big pink and purple wings (which are girl colours), but when he turned around with his big glary eyes, sharp teeth and pointy black claws, I felt bad for even thinking it. I cuddled my bag to my chest and stared at the dusty floor and was glad that Pinchy was tucked away safe with my homework and toothbrush and underwear, and couldn't see Clait, because he definitely would have been scared. Then he turned his big faerie eyes on Hemlones, who had tied his bandana around his head like Sotian, and wrinkled his purple lip so that Hemlones went bright red and took it off, which for some reason made Clait laugh.
"Boys," said Sotian, "here's Clait. Clait, these are Veels' kids. Hem and Ink."
I was glad he'd called me Ink instead of Link.
Hem and I had to share a camp bed on the floor, which made our noses run and our eyes get itchy because of all the dust. Sotian was sleeping in the bed next to ours, snoring much louder than Veels had ever snored. Clait was still hidden away by the boxes, I wasn't sure whether he was awake or asleep. In the little bit of light that crept in through the shed walls, I could see Hemlones's eyes glittering. He was definitely awake.
"Hem," I whispered. "Are you a little bit scared?"
"No," he whispered back, but his voice was all wobbly. "This is like a cool adventure." But his voice went all high and squeaky at the end, that I knew he might be trying not to cry, so I pulled Pinchy out of my bag and we both curled up around him in a tight little ball of Lupe fur, and stained Deluxe Pinchit Plushie. And eventually, we did go to sleep. Because a Good Night's Sleep is Necessary for Good Development.
The number of pets that came to Clait and Sotian's house was much, much more than had ever come to our house. Even though we went to neoschool in the daytime - we had to catch a Uni taxi there and back – by ourselves! The drivers were very impressed we were such Big Boys, but they always got funny looks on their faces when they dropped us off at Clait and Sotian's house. So while that took up a lot of the day, we still got a good look at the pets that came to buy boxes.
There was a grey, scruffy looking Lupe with a white shirt and an earring who smelt of the sea who came early in the morning with lots of large, damp boxes which Clait took, smiling his sharp pointy teeth.
Then there was a group of slinky shadows who came and took a few small boxes. They made me feel cold and I had to turn Pinchy's face into my chest so that he couldn't see them.
And then the scariest of all was a Gelert with large pointed teeth slick purple hair, and a big cape and a tail that was bent in a funny shape, who came and took the biggest boxes of all. He smelt like old furniture and blood and I couldn't help but let out a little whimper. And when he heard, he turned his bright red eyes on me and I cowered down into the camp bed.
"How much," he asked, and his voice sounded funny and strange like he came from far away where people didn't talk the same as they did here, "for the little Lupes?"
Clait got an excited look in his eyes when the Gelert said this, but Sotian, who had been looking through the damp, salty boxes got up quickly, and went over to the Gelert.
"Nah, sorry, Count," he said, slapping the pet on the shoulder. The Gelert didn't seem to appreciate it. "Those are Veels' kids – you know, the Lutari who runs paint brushes in the centre of town? Not for sale."
Clait glared at him, and Sotian's eyebrows gave a little wobble.
"You've got your petpets, mate, and we'll have another installment same time next week."
The Gelert huffed, flashed his sharp teeth and was away with a swish of his cape. I cuddled into Hemlones and Pinchy on our little camp bed until he was well out of sight.
Clait and Sotian went over to the damp boxes to examine their contents, but not before Clait had cuffed the spotted Lupe around his head, almost knocking over his bandanna. He said something too, but I couldn't make it out.
I woke up that night because Hemlones and Sotian were talking. I was quite annoyed, because I had been trying to sleep, and I needed to develop well, but actually, I was quite interested in what they were saying.
"Who was that Gelert?" Hemlones was asking.
"That, little man, was Count Siznir. A nasty piece of work."
"He had very big teeth."
"He's a vampire, he needs them."
"To eat. That's why he buys those petpets off us."
Hemlones mouth made a little 'O' and I felt mine do the same.
"You mean he eats petpets?" I asked.
Sotian looked at the ceiling, and his mouth did a little twitch.
"Not a nice sounding diet, is it, boys? I much prefer a good Peanut Butter Bone myself."
It was only when we were settling back down to sleep that I realized that the Count had wanted to buy us in the same way he'd wanted to buy the petpets. The petpets he was going to eat.
My spine wriggled, and I curled into a tight little knot around Pinchy.
We went home two days later.
Luckily the Count hadn't come back while we were at Clait and Sotian's, but I had lots of nightmares about him and his pointy teeth. I asked Hemlones if he'd been having them too, but he just told me to be quiet and that he didn't want to talk about it.
We said goodbye to Clait, but he just twitched his tail and didn't even look at us. Sotian came in the taxi back to our house though, and talked quite happily. He seemed to like us, but he also seemed a to be quite glad we were going home. Which was a bit odd. Now that we were away from Clait, Hemlones had got Sotian to tie his bandanna around his head again, and wanted to know where he could buy a squeaky shiny jacket too.
"Haha," Sotian said. "You'll have to do a bit of growing first, little guy."
That shut Hemlones up.
Veels was happy to see us.
And we were happy to see him.
We rushed out of the taxi and he knelt down on the path and we bundled into his arms and snuffled the soft, homey smell of his big green jacket. He rubbed between my ears and laughed at Hemlones' bandanna, but not the sneery laugh that Clait had given when he saw it – a warm and nice and comfortable laugh.
Sotian followed with our bags.
"They've been pretty good, man," he said to Veels, handing our luggage over. "Not sure what you complain about, really. They can look after themselves. The Count gave them a bit of a scare, though."
Veels' eyes went wide when he heard the Count's name, and he held tighter to both our paws. I got the feeling he didn't like the idea of us coming close to the Count at all.
"Thanks, Sotian," he said, a bit stiffly, and Sotian dipped his head, waved to Hemlones and I, and went back to the taxi.
Veels made us dinner that night. And it was a welcome change from the cold pizza we'd been eating for the best three days, so that my tummy puffed out like a balloon. I was glad we had Veels to look after us, even though he sometimes slept all day and stayed up all night and didn't take us out for ice cream like a normal family does.
But he does protect us from pets like the Count.
I am sure he does love us, just in his own way.
That night, we were unpacking our toothbrushes and homework and underwear, when I noticed Hemlones take something else out of his bag.
It was wriggling.
It was a petpet.
"Where did you get that?" I asked, my mouth in an 'O' shape because we had never been allowed petpets.
"I took it from one of the Count's boxes. I tried to be sneaky," Hemlones replied. "But Sotian saw."
"What did he say?"
"He laughed, and said I was continuing the family business."
I paused for a second.
"Hem," I asked, putting my head on its side. "What is our family business?"
"I don't know," he replied.