Fly Away Draik
My owner looked at me, his eyes large with excitement. Carefully, he picked me up off the nest where I had been born, and placed me on the ground before him. Taking a few steps back, his eyes never leaving mine, he spoke to me for the first time.
"Fly over to me, Coravin. Fly."
Not sure what he was talking about, I looked behind me expecting to see someone further on in the cave whom he was addressing.
Seeing my confusion, my owner spoke to me for the second time.
"You have wings, you stupid Draik. Flap them and fly."
I looked behind me again, and this time saw the large wings that were protruding from my back. A wave of excitement came over me as I realized what he had been talking about. I could fly! Focusing everything into it, I closed my eyes and began to flap my wings. Faster and faster until I couldn't hold onto my excitement any longer – I opened my eyes.
"How pathetic, you can't even fly."
That was the last thing my owner ever said to me.
A few weeks passed before my owner showed even the slightest bit of interest in me. On that faithful morning I was awoken from sleep by my sister, and shoved out the front door into the open arms of my owner. He didn't speak to me, but pulled me along behind him as he walked briskly down the street toward our destination.
"So, is this the Draik I've heard so much about?" The voice came from behind us, forcing us to stop for the first time in almost an hour. My owner looked back to see just who had been speaking, and soon took to the same stride as the man who joined us on our journey.
They talked for the rest of the walk, speaking over my head as if I wasn't even there. And I wasn't there, not the whole time. Bits and pieces of their conversation made it past the haze that was separating reality from fantasy, and I was slowly able to piece together what it was they were discussing.
We finally stopped in front of a large white building, where the man and my owner spoke their farewells before heading in different directions; the man continuing on down the street while my owner pulled me into the large white building.
I had heard my siblings talking about the Pound Chat boards many times, and it was the favorite setting of the stories my sister would tell me each night before she tucked me into bed. These stories would give me nightmares, my sister the master wordsmith she was. But not once had I thought I would be brought here myself, to experience firsthand what scared my siblings so much and haunted my dreams each night.
My owner moved quickly through the building, passing hundreds of wooden booths depicting titles in bright colors to catch the attention of passersby. It wasn't until I could see the back wall of the building that we did stop, and I could take a better look around as my owner began up a discussion with a booth owner.
There were no windows and as far as I could see and no doors other than the ones we had entered through. The Pound Chat was a large, featureless rectangle.
The booths surrounding me all exclaimed they were looking for a Draik to trade for, and it was then that I finally understood the purpose of us coming here. And as I looked around, horrified by this discovery, I finally saw what made this place so terrifying; hundreds and hundreds of pets were locked up in cages and chains, made up and ready to go in case some other owner had a desirable trade offer.
I looked back at my owner, who was now in a heated discussion with the booth owner. He wasn't paying any mind to me, and I took this as an opportunity to make a break for it. Facing in the general direction I believed the doors to be, I took off.
I went mostly unnoticed in the large crowd, and for the first time I was thankful I was so small. I ran, zigzagging through the legs of Neopians and their pets, dashing behind garbage cans or booths when a pet would call out to their owner of my presence.
After a short time, the doors appeared in my view, and I could feel the excitement begin to build inside me. Standing behind a large sign advertising the perks of being 'Premium', I quickly looked behind me to see if I had been followed. Not seeing my owner anywhere, I counted to three and made a mad dash for the great glass doors not meters before me.
In all my excitement I had failed to look for a clear path through the masses, and as soon as I came out from behind the sign I was knocked back, my nose screaming in pain as I ricocheted off someone's knee and onto the floor.
I raised both hands to cover my now throbbing nose, and peeked a look up at who it was that had, unknowingly, blocked my escape. Surprisingly, it was a young girl who stood before me, sporting a baby Acara on her head like a hat, and looking down at me confused.
"Are you alright?" she asked, concern filling her voice. Slowly, she crouched down beside me and, ever so carefully, pulled my hands back away from my nose. "Looks like it isn't bleeding; that's good."
She smiled at me, and I couldn't help but smile back. Suddenly, her arms wrapped themselves around me, and I found myself rising up off the ground. She held me firmly in her grasp as she took a few steps forward, her eyes scanning the area around us.
"No one seems to be looking for him, Tally." The Acara spoke, his voice soft and childish. I raised my head to look at him, only to see him staring back, a bored expression on his face. His large purple eyes seemed to be filled with more knowledge then someone his age should have, but they seemed kind, almost sad, and I gave him a small smile before I began to wiggle my way out of the girls arms.
I landed on the floor with a small thud, and quickly scurried away, back into the crowd and away from the girl and her Acara with the knowing eyes. As I ran, I didn't stop to look back.
I found my owner where I had left him, still discussing my future with another owner behind a booth. He hadn't seemed to have noticed I had gone, and I took a seat on the floor near his feet to curl up and rest. My nose still hurt terribly, and I couldn't help it as tears began to roll down my cheeks. I sat there for the rest of the day, my owner's voice rolling in and out of the haze that once again filled my head. I watched as caged pets were traded without a say for themselves; some were accepting, having experienced this their whole lives, while others protested, throwing themselves at their constraints, calling back to their once-owners to give them another chance. But no one ever looked back to see their pet go, and everyone ignored the cries and shouts that almost constantly filled the large building.
I fell asleep listening to these cries, knowing full well that one day soon my voice too would be a part of this horrible song.
My owner and I would return to the Pound Chat daily over the course of the next week, and each day played out the same as the last. My owner would find a booth or two, and spend his time discussing and arguing with its maker, trying to find someone willing to trade their Draik for one that was less than perfect. But this had become much more than a challenge then he had expected, and by the end of the week, my owner was willing to take almost any offer for me, for as the week passed, rumors began to spread. No one wanted a Draik that couldn't fly.
It had become a habit for me to watch the doors of the Pound Chat, safely hidden behind the large 'Premium' sign. I wasn't looking for anyone in particular, but it felt like every day would be the last where I would have the freedom I did now. I had been deterred since my first escape attempt, and the freedom I once dreamed about so often seemed like a thing of the past, and something I would never get to taste in the future.
I had seen the girl with the Acara many times throughout the week, and sometimes I would follow behind her, using the crowd as my cover. I would watch as she went from booth to booth, stopping to chat for a while before moving on. Sometimes she would bargain with the owner, and sometimes she would call them names if they didn't accept her offer. But the whole time she was smiling, chatting away with the Acara on her head, not seeming to care that she never traded.
The following week I overheard my owner discussing a potential trade with someone. There booth read 'Seeking Draik!!!', and I listened as my owner did everything in his power to say good things about me. There wasn't much, as he never spent time to get to know me, but he stretched what he could. Not once did he mention that I was broken. But the booth owner seemed interested, and even came around to our side to take a look at me.
"He looks kind of small," the man grumbled, his eyes squinting at me. "I don't know. He doesn't seem real worth my Draik here. Does he fight?"
"Well, no... he likes to read. He's really smart," my owner said, a smile plastered on his face. I could see how much strain it was for him to compliment me, and I sighed inwardly. I did like to read, but I only ever got the books my siblings had already read before, so it wasn't many. Or often.
"What about his wings? I don't think I've ever seen a Draik with such limp wings before." The man leaned over and tugged at my left wing. It hurt, and a small moan escaped my lips. The man smiled, and stood up straight again. "Thanks for the offer, but no way. I don't want him. Try someone else."
The man walked back behind his booth, and pointedly looked off to the side, his gaze sliding over my owners without stopping.
Having accepted defeat, my owners hand closed tightly around mine. I looked up, confused as to why he would be holding onto me, only to see the anger that masked his face. I had never seen him look so angry, and it scared me immensely.
"One more today, then I can try again tomorrow."
I looked at my feet as he spoke, knowing that it wasn't for me, but for himself.
The following morning I sat at my owner's feet, eyes closed as I half-listened to him trying to make me sound desirable. Books and colorful dust surrounded us, as after the incident yesterday, my owner bought as many books as he could find, hoping that if I became well-read I would be a worthy trade. He hadn't had much luck though, and as the morning turned to afternoon he was growing impatient with me.
"I've just about had enough of this," my owner grumbled to himself as he was shot down once more. For a moment our eyes met, and for the first time ever, I wished that he had been able to find someone to trade with him. His eyes held nothing but hatred for me, and I knew then that I would never be part of the family I so desperately longed for.
Slowly, I got to my feet, my eyes never leaving the floor. I stood there for a moment, until I felt a tug on my right arm as my owner began to drag me along behind him. We walked for a while before we came to a halt, and when my arm was released from his grasp I sneaked a peek up to where to we stopped.
I let out a little gasp when I saw the bold print title, painted in a rainbow of colors. It was not the usual stall my owner would bring me to, ones seeking Draiks and nothing more. I took a step back and tripped over my tail, falling to the floor. I sat there until tears began to roll down my cheeks, and sobs escaped my tightly closed lips. I could hear my owner bargaining with the stall owner, but instead of him hiding the fact I couldn't fly, it was the first thing out of his mouth.
"He'd make a perfect lab pet. It's almost like he isn't even a Draik. I mean, come on, have you ever heard of a Draik that couldn't fly?"
Both erupted into laughter, and I felt my heart sink. Ever so slowly I began to slide myself back along the floor and into the crowd of people.
"Your owner's been looking for you, you know."
I gasped, the sudden voice bringing me out of whatever world I had taken solace in. I was sitting beneath an abandoned stall, hidden from curious eyes so I may get some peace. But standing before me now was the baby Acara, his eyes wide and filled with concern.
"He's been searching for hours. He seems really worried."
This caught me off guard, and for a moment it crossed my mind that my owner did want me. But all too quickly the truth sank in – he wanted me back to trade with the man who needed a lab pet. He didn't care about me.
I looked down at my feet and watched them blur as the tears began to flow once more. I squeezed my eyes shut in a hopeless attempt to quench the tears, but they would not stop. As I sat there, utterly lost in despair, the baby Acara walked off around the front of the stall. Moments later he returned, his owner in tow. Carefully, she sat down beside me.
"If you like, I can take you away from here." She spoke softly, barely above a whisper, and I had to struggle to hear her between my sobs. "And you'll have a real home, with a real family that loves you for you. If you want."
I looked up for the first time, and looked into her eyes. She smiled, and I saw it reach all the way into her eyes, which sparkled back at me like stars in a night sky. Tentatively, I smiled back, and the girls face lit up with excitement.
"I have some clothes for you. You can wear them as a disguise, so that no one will recognize you when you try to leave." She handed over her backpack, which was stuffed to the top with clothes. Red and pink dresses soon spilled out before us as she emptied the bag, and I gave a skeptical look up at the now embarrassed girl. "Sorry, I don't have any boy clothes."
My hand was held tightly in the girls grasp as we walked around the Pound Chat. The Acara was once more perched on her head, giving the impression she was wearing a fuzzy blue hat. In hopes not to draw suspicion, we had stopped at some stalls, feigning interest before moving on.
As our destination approached, my owner soon came into view. He was standing near the door, inspecting every Neopet that went through. Every few people that passed he would start up conversation with, and it soon became clear that he was questioning them. Worried, I looked up at the girls face, and was surprised to see that, unlike myself, she seemed quite sure that this would work.
"Hey Cora, remember to smile and be cute. You are a lady, after all." The Acara's voice drifted down to me, and my smile came naturally as we were stopped at the door by my owner.
"Is this your Draik?" he asked, squinting down at me. After a second, though, he looked up at the girl, waiting for her response.
"Of course she is. I've had her since she was just a wish in an egg," she replied, pride filling her voice. "Now if you don't mind, I have an appointment I don't intend to be late for."
My owner looked startled, but moved aside to let us pass. As we walked out the doors and into the bright afternoon, I could hear him stop and question the next family who was trying to leave and continue on with their day. And the farther we walked, the harder it was for me to make out what he was saying, until it got to the point where I could no longer hear his voice, nor those of anything but the Beekadoodle singing happily around us, their sweet songs my personal victory.