Christmas in the City
City snow isn't pretty.
Except when it's drifting down from the sky in fluffy, frozen puffs – sometimes slowly, gently, like in stories; other times in a vicious, whirling maelstrom of delicate frost.
But in both cases, the city warps that initial beauty. The smoke that rises from the factories stains it grey, then black – and when it finally touches the ground, flakes of snow-ash melt into half-frozen puddles of murky water, before a cart races by, spinning wheels sending stagnant water flying into glass windows and unfortunate passersby.
You stare out of the window, and sigh almost imperceptibly at the ugly scene outside. The snow is grey, the shoppers clutching shopping bags with harried expressions on their faces, and the lights, haphazardly strung across every available surface, are unpleasantly tacky in their distastefully bright colours.
Times like this, you wish you were back at your old home at Terror Mountain. It was much colder there, yes, but the snow there was untainted and untouched. You remember how the glass windows looked, patterned with frost – how appealing the shops were, lit up with a warm golden glow that shone through the windows – how the fir trees swayed in the wind, draped in softly shining lights and delicate ornaments. Oh, yes, you remember – skiing down the mountain at ridiculous speeds with the other kids as the tourists watched from the ski lift in transfixed horror and amusement, getting slushies from Happy Valley and swapping Chia Pops from the shop with the reaaally long name. You remember Mika and Carassa, the two nice older Chias who let you and your friends play with their strange, fascinating objects from far-off places - when there weren't any customers, of course – and telling scary stories about the Snowager by the warm, crackling fire at night.
You let out a small sigh of nostalgia as you remember your old friends – Min, Kay, and Xan – back at Terror Mountain. It's been four years since you moved, and you're still keeping in contact with them, but oh, how you miss them sometimes.
You wonder if they're thinking of you and those happy times. Of course, you're not a kid anymore, but it's still kind of lonely to be alone in your big, modern city house here at Neopia Central. On Christmas Eve, no less.
The clock strikes – midnight. Scratch that, you're left alone on Christmas Day. You sigh again, and return to your reminiscences.
You remember how you would go carolling with the others, singing merrily to the adults at the door, who often would invite you in for a nice cup of hot cocoa with marshmallows. One nice old lady even made it a point to give out small presents – often toys or sweets – to the young carollers every year. Even from outside, you could smell the rich fragrance of melting chocolate and baking gingerbread that wafted from the gaps underneath the doors. Even now, whenever you pass by the Chocolate Factory, you inhale the rich scent because even though it's just commercial chocolate and not the hot cocoa that is a Christmas tradition on Terror Mountain, it reminds you of Christmas.
A knock on the door brings you out of your reminiscences. Mumbling a 'coming', you stumble off the window seat and make for the door, expecting your older sister, back from a hard day of work at the Neolodge, or maybe the postman bringing the bills and a last minute store-bought Christmas card from your classmates at school.
You open the door, and blink. It takes a moment for the image to sink in, because those three figures look like Min, Kay and Xan – your old friends from Terror Mountain – but they can't be, because hello, this is Neopia Central, and it is a looooong way.
You rub your eyes. The illusion doesn't change, and you think all the reminiscing must have made you hallucinate.
"Surprise!" one of the hallucinations – a pink Xweetok that looks disturbingly like Min – beams at you and thrusts a small pile of presents into your paralysed arms. "We came to see you!"
One of the other hallucinations that resembles Xan but can't be, snorts. "She's obviously in shock, guys. Hey!" He waves an arm in front of your face. "Collie? Anyone in there?"
"Colena," you correct automatically, before pausing. "Wait. I'm hallucinating. I'm talking to a hallucination."
"Don't be ridiculous," the Christmas Acara that is definitely not Kay says with mock irritation, pushing you aside. "Gosh, I'm cold. If you aren't going to invite us in, Collie, we're coming in ourselves."
And sure enough, they do, marching in your Neohome and hanging their coats on your wall like they've been living there all their lives.
"Hold up," you finally manage to stammer, "what are you guys doing here? You didn't even tell me –"
"Surprise," Xan says, ever-deadpan, and helps himself to the cookies you baked in a pathetic attempt to replicate the special Christmas-scent that only Terror Mountain has. Min frowns at him, but is placated slightly when he offers her a cookie.
"We missed you!" she exclaims, biting into a cookie and getting crumbs all over the sofa – your sister is going to kill you when she gets back. "So we decided to pay you a visit! Why'd you think we asked for your address?"
"You said you were going to send me a Christmas card!" you protest. Kay snorts.
"See, guys, I told you she would totally fall for it," she says, and is probably about to lapse into a whole bragging rant before getting distracted by a jar of Christmas candy.
"We brought presents from the others, too," Min says, her voice slightly muffled by the cookie, and gestures vaguely at the pile of packages that are still in your arms.
"Well, what're you waiting for?" Kay says impatiently, "open them!"
"I didn't get any gifts for you guys, though," you say, slightly guiltily. Xan rolls his eyes.
"I'm not even gonna grace that with a sarcastic remark. Collie, just open them."
You do, and they're not the expensive type that your schoolmates boast about, but they remind you of home and you have to bite your lip to stop yourself from crying.
Halfway through dinner, Xan cracks a joke that is so characteristically him and for some reason, it finally starts to kick in that they really, really are here, miles and miles from Terror Mountain. You feel a prickling at your eyes because you haven't felt this happy in years. Four years, to be exact.
"Oh, man," Xan says when he spots you not-so-subtly wiping at your eyes, "don't cry. I can't deal with crying. Especially crying girls." He winces as Min whacks him on the back of his head, glaring at her.
"Man up, Xan," Min scoffs, and then more gently, says to you, "Hey, it's all right."
"You guys!" you finally burst out, and enforce a group hug, sniffing slightly.
"Don't ruin the 'do, Collie!" Kay protests, disentangling herself from the messy group hug, but her slight smile gives her away. "Anyway, Merry Christmas, Collie."
"Merry Christmas," Min and Xan echo.
"Merry Christmas, guys," you manage to say, still sniffing slightly.
And even though the tearful reunion isn't really tearful– "Any tears, and I'm outta here," Xan declared – and the jars that just two hours ago were filled brim-full with gingerbread and sugar cookies, candy canes, and gourmet chocolate are now empty, it kind of is.