An Eerie Gift
Theodore wrapped his bulky claws around the small, smooth pebble in his pocket. The blue Bori remembered when his baby sister, an Acara with powder blue fur and a charming enthusiasm, had brought it back from the lake for him. She had held it out with bright eyes, his mispronounced name the only word comprehensible in her excited babbling. He was amused and accepted the little gift, intending to perhaps place it on a shelf among other such knick-knacks. But he soon found he felt the strangest sense of unease when the polished stone was far from reach.
The first time Theodore tried to leave it behind on the shelf above his bed a suffocating panic rose from nowhere the second he stepped outside his bedroom door. His heart raced and he sprinted back to fetch the stone, a sense of peace descending upon him as soon as his paw touched its unassuming grey surface. He had stood staring at the pebble in his paw with some bewilderment while the adrenaline faded and briefly wondered what in Neopia had just happened. He had somewhere to be, though, so there wasn't much time to ponder and he simply tucked it into his pocket and left again.
Theodore tried once more, perhaps a few days later, to leave without the stone, but there was the same instinctive terror, and so for the past several months it hadn't left his pocket. It almost frightened him, though this fear felt strangely repressed, felt smothered by an uncannily artificial-feeling peace.
Theodore thought the pebble's hold on him seemed to be worsening, too. Just the past week he was sure he'd felt some sort of whisper in his thoughts that was not his own, some sort of wordless hint of an intense joy that was somehow recognizable as the little stone's. He had pulled it out to stare at it, almost expecting it to have grown a face or to wiggle in his palm, but it looked and acted like any stone should. There was just this bizarre sort of feeling about it. Theodore had suddenly been overcome by a feeling of deep disgust and had had an urge to throw the pebble far away from himself, but swallowed it for fear of the overwhelming dread that would surely have risen had he cast it away.
Presently Theodore took his paw out of his pocket, leaving the stone resting there, and began to follow the path through the trees back to his home. His mother peered out from the living room when he came through the front door, her glossy burgundy fur somewhat disheveled. Her wide Mynci eyes showed some relief when they identified Theodore, and she said, "Oh, good, I need your help with something."
The two spent the next several minutes rearranging various pieces of furniture in the living room, but then Theodore's mother paused to look at him shrewdly and ask, "Are you okay, Theodore? You sure look awful tired. You been sleeping?"
He didn't know if he was okay and he certainly hadn't been sleeping. It was as though whatever negative emotions the stone was seemingly subduing during the day all rushed forward as soon as he fell unconscious. He had terrible nightmares and was just avoiding going to sleep when he could. At night he often slipped out of the house to take walks in the darkness to keep himself awake, and at day he often fell asleep for short, terrifying spells whenever he wasn't standing or moving.
Theodore absently slipped the stone from his pocket and rolled it about over his claws. "Yeah, of course. I'm fine."
"Is that that rock Mallory brought you from the lake all those months back?"
His mother made a happy little noise, seeming charmed that he was carrying his sister's gift around, and they got back to pushing couches, tables and bookshelves to their new places in the room.
When Theodore's mother decided that the job was done and Theodore's assistance was no longer needed, he retreated to his room. He pulled the pebble from his pocket and set it on its place on a shelf before flopping down onto his bed, exhausted. He was always exhausted these days. He picked up a book he'd earlier been reading and had cast carelessly aside on top of the messy snarl of blankets covering his mattress and opened it to the page he had marked with an old receipt, but his eyes were stinging from tiredness and his mind was horribly clouded. Soon enough he had unintentionally drifted off to sleep.
He dreamt, but not clearly. There was the feeling of something wrapping itself around him tightly, so tightly he could scarcely breathe. The something said something he couldn't hear, but he did catch its tone of smugness and could tell that its power over him gave it a sense of satisfaction. His thoughts began to quiet, to weaken, and the smugness began to seep its way into his own mind. He felt suffocated as the something took greater and greater hold and all that was left of him was a feeling of terror.
Theodore woke suddenly, sitting up and hitting his head on the shelf above his bed. The stone tumbled off the shelf and into his lap, seeming somehow to smirk up at him as his head throbbed.
At that moment Theodore decided that enough was enough. A fierce determination worked its way through his exhaustion and the strange repressive sense of peace and he snatched up the stone in his paw and marched to the door.
"Hey, where you going?" his mother called as he strode outside, but he didn't stop to answer.
Walking quickly at first and then running, he made his way through tall dead grasses to the lake perhaps a mile away. When his paws hit its pebbled shores, he simply stopped and stood for a moment.
Here was where this eerie stone had come from. It was a pleasant scene, with trees all around and sparkling waters, but Theodore was afraid. The terror when the stone was far from reach couldn't really mean anything, could it? Wasn't it just the stone for some reason attempting to keep him near? Wouldn't it perhaps go away if there was enough distance, or perhaps enough time? In his bedroom earlier he had for a moment been sure of these things, but now the doubt gnawed. Maybe he was just crazy. Maybe none of it was anything to do with the little pebble of his.
But Theodore's determination was still strong, and it seemed worth a try. Living the way he had been wasn't any good. It wasn't any good at all. Wasn't this worth a try?
Theodore swung back his arm and hurled the stone into the depths of the lake with a bit of a grunt. He watched it hit the surface of the water with a plopping noise and disappear from sight as the fear bubbled up in his stomach. Shakily he began to run back the way he'd come.
In a matter of minutes Theodore was stumbling back into his house, breathing heavily, the panicked feeling only getting worse as the distance and time increased and the realization of how impossible it would be to retrieve the stone sunk in.
His mother came into the entryway with a stern look on her face. "Where you been, huh? You know you're supposed to tell me where you're going."
Theodore swayed and he collapsed onto the hard tile next to the still-open door, mumbling incoherently in response to his mother, the volume of his gibberish fluctuating unsettlingly.
His mother's stern look melted away quickly as she scurried to his side. Alarmed, she began to ask more questions, but Theodore didn't hear her.
The stone had found someone it wanted to keep. It didn't like to let go. Creeping up around Theodore's terror was a piercing regret. Even as he sat on the floor in his house his mind wandered. It wandered away through the yellow grasses that had come halfway up to his knees, and in the entryway his body slumped down and his eyes fell shut. His mind wandered farther still until it came to the lake and dove in. The stone was surprisingly easy to find, the strange feeling about it making it stand out in the mud and weeds of the lake bottom. Theodore's mind flowed into the stone and suddenly the terror was gone. There was only peace. Blissful, powerful serenity.
For a moment he basked in this peace and understood that here in this pebble he was with many others who had gotten there in much the same way he had, and then his thoughts melded into the unified mixture of minds around his and Theodore the blue Bori was gone forever. A shaft of sunlight fell on the stone through the waters and the way it glimmered made it look somehow delighted, as though if it could it would be chuckling to itself.