Neopian Fresh Foods
Only in Neopia would one be able to find such a building- one lovingly constructed into the detailed likeness of a sinfully greasy, painfully delicious hamburger. Its prominent position in Neopia Central is not to be sniffed at- after all, simply the sight of the Food Shop in the distance is likely to fill any Neopet's nostrils with the tantalizing scent of fast food. However, no Neopet- except, perhaps, a desperate few- ventures behind the Food Shop, where a vastly different scent awaits.
Night had fallen over Neopia Central, and the chatter and clatter of the last remaining customers gradually leaving faded into the twilight. Two tentative Neopet heads watched from the cover of a conveniently placed bush as the Chia Chef hung up his apron, turned off the lights, locked the doors, and left for home.
"Did you really have to choose a bush as a hiding place?" the first, a red Bori, hissed. "And where are you taking me? Are we stealing food? Max! Why can't we go to the Soup kitchen instead? I heard the Faerie there is really pretty."
"No one's seen us yet, have they?" the other, a blue Kyrii, hissed back ferociously. "And, for your information, we can't go there. We're on a midnight jaunt from the Pound, in case you forgot! That pretty Faerie of yours will just zap us straight back there again!"
Remembering the thin gray gruel at lunch that had barely served to line his stomach, the Bori nodded guiltily.
"Come on, Jack. This isn't illegal, per se. We're just taking food that no one wants, anyway!" the Kyrii exclaimed. "Let's go!"
Before he could reply, she plunged out from under the cover of the bush, running as fast as she could to the dark area around the back of Neopian Fresh Foods, Jack following at her heels. In the darkness, no moonlight illuminated the shadows around the back of the giant hamburger, and their senses of sight gave way to smell.
And what a smell- a terrible and yet oddly appealing scent. It smelled like Orange Chicken, and Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, and all manner of delicious food-yet, at the same time, there was a distinct, almost overpowering smell of decay.
"Neopian Fresh Food's dumpster," Max whispered triumphantly through clenched teeth. Jack realized she was trying to avoid breathing through her nose too deeply. "It's what they threw out today, that they couldn't feed to the customers. It's still good, and we can have it, at least before the Cleaners come to dump it later."
With that, she moved forward in the darkness. As Jack's night vision slowly adjusted, he saw Max's stout Kyrii figure clamber up and over into what was clearly the side of a very large dumpster. There was a muffled thud, and then a squelch.
"Come on, Jack! It doesn't smell that bad once you have it in your mouth," came another hiss, oddly distorted by the dumpster's acoustics.
Apprehensively, bracing himself and trying to clamp his nostrils shut, Jack hooked long Bori claws over the edge, scrabbled madly with his back legs- and suddenly, whoompf, splash, squelch- he was down, knee deep in varying items of food. Max was already rooting around in a corner. As he watched, within the span of several seconds she had unearthed a relatively respectable Radish, Pteri Kabob, and a rather stained Plushie Broccoli, which she used her paws to roughly wipe over before downing them with great gusto.
Suddenly awakening to the prospect of more food than he'd ever seen in his young life, Jack thrust a paw down into the mass at his feet. It emerged covered in slime, but clutching a nearly intact Sausage Jacket Potato. Thrilled, he barely hesitated to gulp it down with barely a chew. Despite the now all-encompassing stench and slimy aftertaste, the greasy, buttery sausages and creamy potato were a great improvement from the tasteless, watery, gruel substance they'd been served, week after week, in the Pound.
There was such a lot of food, he thought, as he continued to scavenge. It was a terrible waste that it was all just sitting here, when it could easily feed twenty, thirty, more Neopets. However, distracted by a Left-Over Turkey Wing Sandwich, he pushed the thought aside and continued to fill his belly.
Minutes later and temporarily sated, he burrowed around a little and emerged with a clump of Shoyru Spaghetti tangled around his claws. He'd slurped down half of it before a stroke of inspiration hit. Taking careful aim at the back of Max's head as she chomped efficiently on a soggy Breakfast Croissant, he pulled his paw back, and then released-
Spaghetti noodles, tomato sauce and some shoyru meatballs neatly hit Max's mane and drizzled slowly all down the back of her head. Max herself had frozen, and all of a sudden she seemed to be emitting a strange aura. Jack knew that aura. It meant he was in trouble.
In less than a second, Max managed to scoop up a random lump of food, spin around in the sludge, and then scored a hit neatly between Jack's eyes with a melting Vanilla Waffle Cone. Jack detected a murderous rage in her eyes- but offset by the effect of the disheveled spaghetti noodles swinging from her head, and red spaghetti sauce splattered down her nose, it only became utterly hilarious. Laughing now, Jack reached down, scooped up a lump of unidentifiable slime, and slung it in Max's general direction. Within seconds, they were assailing each other with rotting food, laughing all the while, the smell and their surroundings entirely forgotten.
"Who's there?" A voice rang out in the darkness. "Who's back there?"
A flashlight beam suddenly penetrated the shadowy darkness, boucing crazily off the back wall of Neopian Fresh Foods and the side of the dumpster. Inside the dumpster, Max and Jack froze, the clumps of food clinging to their fur entirely forgotten.
"What do we do?" Jack whispered hysterically. "Max!"
"I don't know-" Max retorted, but she was cut off by the bright light of the torch swinging down into their eyes, temporarily blinding them. When their vision adjusted, the two filthy Neopets looked up into the angry, squinty eyes of the Chia Chef peering down at them.
Max's eyes abruptly went dull. "I'm sorry, Jack, it was my fault... I shouldn't have forgotten myself. We shouldn't have laughed so loudly," she muttered. "This is the fifth time I've been caught foraging," she continued, frustratedly.
"You're coming with me, now," the Chia Chef said. He had one hand clamped firmly over his own nose.
One hour later, two less-filthy Neopets sat in the Pound Office, looking guiltily at the floor, and trying to avoid the angry gaze of the Techo director.
"Pets who leave the Pound are severely punished. You should be aware of that," he burst out. "I suppose by now you should have found it's impossible to not be caught- this is the FIFTH time, Max! And bringing Jack along with you! The nerve!"
Max's nostrils flared. "I go, for your information, because I'm HUNGRY! The food here isn't even food! Doesn't it say something about your kitchens that DUMPSTER FOOD is better than that gray slime you serve us three times a day?"
The Techo director's eyes flashed, but he said nothing. "No matter what, Miss Max, there is no excuse to leave the Pound, when you are required to stay here under Neopian Law."
"If I may, sir," Jack piped up.
"WHAT!" The Techo director whirled angrily towards Jack. "Are you going to make an excuse, too?"
"I was just thinking, sir," Jack continued timidly, "why not just get the Food Shop to deliver their leftover food to the Pound, sir?"
The Director did not reply, but Jack could tell that his words had struck a chord. "The food there is better than anything here," he continued breathlessly. "Instead of leaving it in a dumpster to rot, we could eat it! It would save the Pound money on preparing food, too."
"That's a mad idea, Jack," Max muttered as they were ushered out into the hallway thirty seconds later. "He'll never do it."
Jack didn't meet her eyes, only stared straight ahead at the gloomy room awaiting them. "I know he won't- I just did it to save our skins."
However, two days later, as Jack approached the Pound cafeteria for lunch, he could tell that the atmosphere emanating from the cafeteria doors was slightly different. Instead of the usual heavy, depressing atmosphere, there was an air of –almost- cheer. He opened the door, and was almost bowled over by an onslaught of the most delicious scents imaginable.
The cafeteria was crowded to bursting, and he could see- and smell- why. Gone was the unidentifiable gray slime from each pet's bowl, replaced now by food. Real food. Hot Buttered Toast and Plushie Burgers and Lenny Soup and much more were being consumed rapidly by a stream of deliriously happy Pound pets. Smells of fried onions and butter floated across on the air. There were greasy hamburgers and plates of Shoyru Spaghetti on several tables.
Out of nowhere, a blue, Kyrii-shaped blur attacked him in a massive hug, almost knocking Jack off balance. Max was shouting something hysterically, but it seemed unintelligible- like she had her mouth full.
"I can't believe this is reality!" Max screamed into his fur, after finally swallowing her half-eaten mouthful of food. "You're mad, but it worked! REAL FOOD! In here! Jack, you're a genius!"
Jack grinned lopsidedly as she released him. "You need to take credit for it too," he said. "You brought me dumpster diving in the first place, after all."
Max smiled a toothy Kyrii smile at him, and suddenly everything seemed right with the world- they weren't in trouble, and the delicious smells of a promised lunch and the happy chatter of satiated Neopets permeated the air all around.
But the moment was quickly broken by his stomach rumbling loudly, and a subsequent fight to get to the front of the food line as quickly as possible.