Protectors of the Fourth Wall: Part Three
To be specific, the Meepits were on a street in what appeared to be suburban Neopia Central. There was something distinctly off about the world. It was too quiet, as cliche as it sounded. No one roamed the streets. No petpets sang from the trees. The occasional gust of wind rattled the dry dead leaves that littered the street. Everything suffered from a lack of detail. It looked okay when just glancing around, but a closer look uncovered a disconcerting featurelessness. They were in what looked to be a poorly drawn comic.
"So where are we supposed to go?" Lex wondered aloud.
"I have no idea," Erik replied.
They lapsed into a thoughtful silence. Or at least Erik was thoughtful and silent. His Christmas Meepit companion was playing in the crunchy autumn leaves. How professional. Whatever, Erik could still focus on the mission at hand, at least. Where would the characters be? Somewhere well defined as a location in-story no doubt. Considering how protagonists usually got distinct hang-outs, he should probably look around for the most interesting home on the street. On top of that, it would probably have the most detail as well. Places visited frequently were likely to be better drawn than random houses on the street.
Erik looked around, but no houses stood out. The artist was equally lazy with all their buildings, it seemed. What else could he look for? Maybe the teleporter had malfunctioned and there were in the wrong place.
"Please come over here, Erik," Lex sang, oddly enough.
"What?" the plain Meepit responded, jolted from his thoughts.
"I've found the house. It's this green one."
"Really? How do you know?"
"Look at the leaf piles. Note how that house is the epicenter of leaf activity. I guess the artist wanted to show fall but didn't bother with leaves elsewhere."
"Good job," Erik said a little awkwardly. He still wasn't entirely sure how to act around Lex. The Meepit was strange, but clearly intelligent. It was really hard to know what he was thinking. "How are we going to get inside; we can't just open the door, it's too far up."
"Just follow me; I know one or two things about sneaking into buildings." Suddenly Lex darted behind the nearest tree. He set off across the street, somersaulting and generally acting like a spy in a bad action flick. When he reached the lawn, he gestured for Erik to follow.
Erik thought about it for a moment. Nope, his dignity was still intact enough that he was not doing something that stupid looking. He simply walked across the street, hurrying a little, as who knew how much time they had.
"Well, where's your sense of adventure?" Lex asked, slightly annoyed.
"Look, I just want to get this job done." Erik sighed.
"And I just want us to be able to work as an effective team."
"We'll work on team building later; let's just hurry up. We've taken enough time as it is."
Still grumbling about Erik thinking himself to be Snooty McCoolpants, Lex led the way. Hopefully this little grudge thing wouldn't last too long. Apparently the Christmas petpet took things very personally.
When they reached the front door, Lex rubbed his paws together.
With a cocky "Watch and learn," he leaped impossibly high to the doorknob. Was he hiding a levitation device under that Santa jacket of his? In a smooth, practiced movement Lex grabbed the knob and turned it, hanging on like a gymnast.
"Now push the door open."
Erik did as instructed and the door swung easily open. Apparently the comic pets kept their door well oiled. Lex jumped down with an unnecessary flourish.
"Pretty great, huh."
"I'm impressed. That was awesome!" Erik knew he was making his stupid astonished face where his mouth dropped open and his eyes widened to hilarious results. "How do you know how to do that, anyways?" He was actually very curious, plus he wanted to get back on Lex's good side. While the Meepit had already seemed to have forgotten his annoyance of a few moments ago, it was better to be safe.
"That's confidential," Lex replied with an enigmatic smile. Of course it was. Erik wondered idly if Lex had practiced that smile, it was the epitome of mystery and seemed too perfect to be spontaneous.
The artwork inside the house was even stranger than the street. In such close quarters the simplicity and sloppiness were even more prominent. The overall effect was very disturbing. Everything about the house was slightly off.
Erik peeked through the doorway. He could see the pets now. It was hard to tell what exactly they were supposed to be. One was either a Wocky or a Poogle and green coloured. The other was a purple blob-ish thing. A Chia, perhaps?
"...you ever get the feeling you're being watched?" the Wocky/Poogle (Woockle?) wondered.
"No. Who would want to watch us?"
It was a that moment Erik realized what their gag was. They were going to stare directly into the "camera" and perhaps make a few more quips about how boring they were. He didn't even have a second to come up with a distraction, so he did the first thing that came to mind. It was a brilliant strategy, worthy of Neopia's greatest minds. All at once it was elegant, subtle; simply glorious. That is, he ran out squeaking at the top of his little lungs. Once he saw what Erik was doing, Lex joined him.
Sometimes the simple works just as well as the complicated, though. Their gimmick forgotten, the pets ogled the Meepits, who had stopped squeaking. Well, this was awkward. The parties stared at each other for a few moments before the Chia got an idea.
"Hey, those are Meepits, right?"
"Yep," the Woockle confirmed unnecessarily.
"And they're worth, like, a million NP, right?"
"So let's catch them!"
Oh dear, it looked like a chase scene was imminent. Lex and Erik took this as their cue to leave. Scampering back the way they came, their mistake was immediately apparent. Why had they closed the door behind them? Their escape was blocked! Time for a new plan.
"Follow me!" Lex called.
Erik was more than willing to follow his partner's lead. After all, Lex was the expert. Well, self-proclaimed expert. One who was very good at opening doors, but not so good at sneaking around. That was enough for now.
There was very little furniture in the room, which was in keeping with the lack of attention to detail the artist had already shown. So it was bit hard to find a hiding place, unfortunately. Erik suddenly noticed something, and from Lex's gasp, he had noticed it, too. A convenient hole in the wall. The pair made a mad dash for it. Apparently the Plot Convenience Faerie had punched through the wall in the night. Or perhaps this comic just had a reoccurring gag involving the hole in the wall. Either way, Erik was extremely grateful. Lex slithered through the hole, managing to keep his furry coat from getting caught on the sharp edges somehow. Clearly this sort of thing was not new at all to Lex. Erik was about halfway though the hole when a giant hand grabbed him. Whichever pet it was grabbing him, they were not gentle in the least. No amount of wriggling could free Erik, and he couldn't get get enough air to call out to Lex.
That was over quickly enough, at least. Next thing the Meepit knew, he was dumped unceremoniously into a tiny cage. The inside was barely large enough for him to lie down. How had they found the cage quickly enough anyways? The chase had only lasted a few seconds. It must have been lying around for some random reason. Considering its height, the cage was probably intended for a Beekadoodle or petpet similarly endowed with flight. Perhaps one of these pets had owned one once.
With the mental distraction of the cage out of the way, Erik was forced to face the ugly reality. He was trapped! In this distorted comic world! It was a nightmare come true. It really didn't get much worse than this. He had to return to his starting point in order to teleport back to his own world. But how?
A little bit of ineffectual bouncing around the cage told Erik that he could not escape. It looked like he was going to finally find out what having an owner was like. The pets were talking, but Erik didn't bother to listen. It wasn't like he could do anything from within the cage. All that was left to do now was wait to be sold to some Meepit enthusiast who thought that Meepits were simply adorable, misunderstood, sweeties. That or an evil mastermind wannabe. The sort of pet who dressed up like Sloth, took lessons in maniacal laughter and plotted to take over the world, without actually even seriously considering ever implementing one of their plans. This was going to stink.
The ferry ride to Mystery Island was mysteriously short. Erik had visited the island before, and remembered a long, arduous ride out into the middle of the ocean. This was a quick, painless affair. Either the world of the comic was just smaller, or the journey only took one panel and so it seemed to take little time in-story. At least the topic gave Erik something to think about other than his impending doom.
By the time Erik had been sitting out in the Trading Post for an hour, his alarm had pretty much worn off. If he was adopted by a loony Kadoatie lady who wanted a change of pace, so be it. He could escape once he got to their house. After all, he could sense where he needed to go in order to return to his own world. It might take a little walking, but he was up to the task. And even if he wasn't able to escape, at least he would escape the monotony of this terrible, terrible waiting.
The pets had already gotten one offer that was slightly lower than their asking price. Rather than being rational, impatient beings like Erik, they decided to wait and see if any better offers presented themselves. Of course, nothing had, and that had been forty five minutes ago.
Erik was starting to get a little thirsty. Unfortunately, there was no way he could communicate this to the Neopets. He had already tried panting loudly, but they had just ignored him, putting his actions down to "Meepit trickery". Once more Erik's species' reputation turned around and bit him on the backside. Just great. Hopefully the pets' subconsciousness were chugging along and one of them would remember that even tricky Meepits needed water to live.
Finally someone came by and examined Erik. At least it broke up the boredom. He made a special effort to look cute and misunderstood. This pet just screamed petpet lover. As if the PPL shirt wasn't enough, the yellow Wocky was dressed in all other manner of petpet accessories. A hat with Kadoatie ears, Noil slippers, the whole shebang. It was doubly surprising considering how little detail this comic went into. Actually, the detail probably meant that she was either a reoccurring character, or at the very least that she was going to adopt him.
"Aww, hewwo there wittle cuteee!" This last word ended in a shrill shriek. Erik somehow managed not to cringe from the horrible sound. And honestly, would it hurt for pets to be less patronizing towards that small and furry?
"I'll take him," the insane Wocky told the petpetnappers.
"That will be two baby paint brushes," the Woockle said.
"Good thing I knew I wanted something special today! Here you go." To Erik's relief, the crazed Wocky was prepared.
"Here's your Meepit!" The Chia handed Erik over. "We're even including this travel carrier for free."
"Wow, that's fantastic!" The Wocky was shaking with unbridled joy. Erik couldn't wait to be as far away as possible from her.
The trip back on the ferry was also short and sweet. Fortunately the loony Wocky lived in Neopia Central, so Erik wouldn't have too far to walk. He could feel his excitement mounting as they approached the Wocky's house. Soon, soon, he could escape!
"Hello little buddy," the Wocky said once they were inside. "Your name is going to be Max. I really like that name; it's so pretty!" Weird. Erik hadn't even thought of the possibility of getting renamed. It just felt weird to think that someone thought that name fit with him.
Well, he wouldn't have to put up with it for long. Just then, the Wocky took him out of the cage.
"This is your new home. Isn't it nice?" No. Nothing in this comic was. The artwork just made everything faintly disturbing. Especially the eyes of the pets. They were just empty and creepy. The lack of detail and furniture gave it a surreal, sterile feeling and Erik didn't think he'd ever be able to relax in this abstract nightmare. He looked around the room for an escape.
There, that window was open and screen-less. Perfect. Waiting until the yellow Wocky turned her back, which took a while because she wouldn't shut up about how much fun they were going to have together. He almost felt bad about running away. After all, she had paid for him and seemed genuinely interested in providing him with a good home. She was just too annoying, though, and if the art was really starting to get to him. There was no way he could stay.
Finally the window of opportunity opened, so to speak. The Wocky went into the kitchen to get him some food. Seizing the moment just as he had already practiced in his head many times, Erik dashed for the window, jumping up onto the couch and out to freedom!
Ah, finally, he was on his way back. Erik began the run to the point of return. It was very easy to sense and he knew he would be there in a manner on minutes. Hopefully Lex wasn't too worried. A horrible thought occurred to Erik. What if Lex had gone to the Trading Post to look for Erik and gotten himself caught? What little Erik knew about the Christmas Meepit told him that Lex wouldn't leave his partner behind unless there really wasn't another choice. Then he scolded himself mentally. If Erik could escape, the ultra-skillful Lex would have no problem.
He was there! Erik knew it. He could practically see the Xs taped on the floor. Just a few more steps and he materialized in the flux capacitor room.
He hardly dared to believe it. Yes! He had made it out! Everything looked normal again and he had one of the most interesting jobs in Neopia.
Oswald was the first to notice him. "Erik! Erik! Erik! You're back (well, obviously)! What happened? Lex said you were caught, but what happened next?"
"Oswald, Oswald, Oswald. I am indeed here. I'll tell you what happened once you gather everyone who wants to hear about my misadventures."
And so Erik's first exciting day at the Protectors of the Fourth Wall ended. He told Lex (who had been stopped from returning for Erik, as he apologetically explained at least a dozen times), Oswald, Harlene, Victor and the several other Protectors and technical staff who came over to listen to the story. Apparently his entrapment had caused quite a stir amongst the Meepits of the organization.
The next Friday Erik and Lex were called to see the Director. The ghost Meepit greeted them. "Please sit down, you two. I just wanted to discuss your first mission. I think we can call it a success, even if there were a few rocky bits. You both showed great problem solving! Working as a team will come as you get to know each other a little better, I promise. Anyways, I have decided that you can definitely stay on with the Protectors. You are both adequate and your team has real potential. Report to work every day at 9:00 am. Even if you don't have a mission, there are always things that need to be done around the HQ, and we often go out into the community in this area and help out where we can. Some teams even go into some of the more boring or cliche stories and make them a little more interesting when they have spare time here. Good job, good luck and I'll see you two later. Now go home and get some rest."
Well, he had the job for sure now. And it was basically the coolest job in the universe. Things were looking good.