I couldn't imagine life without Filly - we were about as close as two sisters can be. We spent almost every second of our time together, especially at school. I always thought that this was because nobody understood us as well as we understood each other; we were twins, after all, and being the only Poogles in our class meant that we were naturally better matched in lessons and sports. Everything was just better if it was only the two of us. I had other friends, of course, but I had the most fun with Filly. Why would I want to play with anybody else? I always thought that my classmates didn't really ask us to join in with their games because they knew we were content together. Turns out I was very wrong...
Last summer, my friend Saf invited me to her birthday party – she was taking the whole class to Roo Island for the day, and everyone was so excited.
'Thank you so much for inviting me, it sounds like so much fun!' I beamed, already deciding in my head which colour Uni I would choose on the Merry Go Round.
'You're welcome, Hazel.' Saf smiled. 'You should come and play with us more often.' As she said this, her eyes drifted over to the other side of the classroom, where Filly was waiting impatiently for me. Her pretty eyes widened slightly, and she gulped. Following her gaze, I bit my lip.
'Can Filly come too? She'd love it,' I pleaded.
'I don't think so,' Saf replied, beginning to fidget anxiously.
'Why not?' I frowned, puzzled. Sure, Saf and Filly didn't really talk, but the entire class was coming! It seemed strange to only leave out my sister.
'I guess there's no reason,' Saf muttered faintly, 'She – she can come.' I grinned from ear to ear, my puzzlement vanishing immediately. I was so excited! I couldn't wait to tell Filly, and she seemed excited too, but something in her eyes told me that she was baffled as to why we'd been invited. I tried not to worry about it, and spent the evening listening to my mother's stories about Roo Island – I hadn't been there since I was very young, and remembering all the fun things there were to do meant that I was bursting with anticipation.
However, the next day, Saf came up to me after our History of Neopia lesson.
'About my party,' she began, 'it turns out, plans have had to change. We're going to Maraqua for the day instead!'
My heart sank. Filly and I were Plushie Poogles – to spend an entire day under the water was pretty much impossible. We wouldn't dry out until her next birthday! I scrutinised Saf's face. She looked uncomfortable and shifty, almost as if she knew exactly what was going through my mind, and when I dolefully explained why we couldn't go, she seemed relieved.
'Never mind!' she trilled brightly. 'Maybe next time!'
I sat down at my desk, waiting for Filly to arrive from her class, Neopian Geography. I was feeling hurt and suspicious, and all of the other times that my friends had uninvited me from things when I insisted upon bringing my twin flitted through my head. Lucy's birthday, Birch's sleepover, Chestnut's Winter Starlight Festival party... it seemed as though the only times I'd actually attended a friend's event was the one time Filly was in the Hospital for a few days. I didn't understand. Filly was quiet, and shy, and there was no way she could have bullied or offended anyone. When I played with her, she was a lot of fun, and I felt very sorry that others couldn't seem to see everything I loved about her. As I sat thinking, I became more and more angry. It wasn't fair that everyone treated my sister like this! She had never done anything to them!
'Hi, Hazel,' a voice said behind me, 'how was history class?' I turned round and hugged my sister tightly.
'What was that for?' she half-laughed, readjusting her stuffing that I'd squeezed out of place.
'Please don't be upset with me, Fil, but I need to ask you something,' I said earnestly. She sat down beside me, looking concerned.
'What is it?'
'You've never... you've never upset any of my friends, have you? You've never argued with them or anything?'
'Of course not!' Filly exclaimed. 'I would never!'
Seeing the hurt and indignation on her face made me more annoyed at my friends than ever. I left Filly sitting at the desk, staring at me in bewilderment, and marched over to where Saf was standing in a group with some other girls.
'I need a word,' I snapped. Saf looked at me, and then at Filly sitting a few metres away, and her eyes widened again.
'What's wrong, Hazel?' she said nervously.
'What is your problem with my sister?' I challenged. 'What has she ever done to you?'
Saf blinked anxiously. 'Don't you know?' she whispered.
'She's so... creepy, Hazel. She isn't like you. She isn't like any of us. There's something strange and sinister about her.'
My mouth dropped open in shock. I was getting ready to yell at Saf for being so mean about Filly, but then a memory popped into my mind. Filly, on our birthday, receiving a beautifully wrapped parcel with a pretty little Doglefox inside, complete with ribbon around its neck. I was secretly jealous – I'd gotten a Cello, which is what I'd asked for, but I didn't know a petpet was a gift option! Mother picked up the Doglefox to put in Filly's arms, but its little tail drooped down, and it began to wriggle as much as it possibly could to escape. Mother put it on the floor, and it immediately ran to the opposite side of the room to Fil, cowering and shivering in fear. Another time, we were playing at the Coconut Shy, and after one look at my sister, the owner pushed a coconut into her hands and said she could have it as long as we left immediately. Baby neopets cried when she walked past, the Kadoaties decided they weren't hungry anymore, and Ghosts wanting to steal our neopoints simply sank back into the ground. I turned to stare at my sister, my mind in a whirl. As twins, we were of course identical, but as I studied her I noticed the red tint to her eyes, the snarl to her smile... my stomach dropped. She wasn't a Plushie Poogle after all.
Without another word, I bolted from the classroom and ran straight home.
'Why didn't you tell me?' I demanded breathlessly as I burst into my Neohome. My mother was sitting on the sofa, reading the Neopian Times. She looked up, alarmed, and upon seeing the look on my face, immediately knew that I had finally found out the awful, terrible secret that had been hidden from me for so long.
'I'm sorry, Hazel,' she sighed, 'but we really didn't see a good enough reason for you to know. You were so happy in your ignorance. Your love for Filly was beautiful, and nobody wanted to spoil that.'
'How could you keep it a secret from me? That my twin sister is a... is a...'
'Malevolent Sentient Poogle Plushie,' Mother finished for me simply.
I cried for three hours.
Finally, Filly got home from school. She was worried – the school had given me a bad mark for my unexplained absence.
'Are you okay, Hazel?' she whispered, sitting down beside me.
'She knows about you, darling,' Mother sighed. Filly blanched.
'I'm so sorry, Hazel,' she began to cry, 'I'm sorry for not telling you. I can't help what I am.'
As she hugged me, I was even more confused than ever.
'Filly, I don't understand. You're meant to be malevolent... I looked it up, it means you want to do evil to other people. But you're so nice to me!'
'Of course I'm nice to you, I love you! You're my sister!' she frowned, trying to explain. 'I'm better when I'm with you. That's why I try to spend all my time with you – you make me a good Poogle. When we play together, and chat together, and do homework together, I could swear that I'm just a Plushie Poogle. Just like you.'
'But what about the others, at school? Why are they scared of you?'
'It's because of what I look like,' she sighed, 'I can't help looking sinister. I guess you don't notice my appearance because you see me all the time. And sometimes... sometimes when I'm in lessons without you, I really do want to do bad things... I want to splatter ink on Mary's back, or trip up Saf, or copy Lou's answers.'
I smiled, suddenly realising that Filly was still my sister, and still the same best friend that I'd known all my life. 'But you don't do those things,' I reassured her. 'You might think about them, but you don't do them. That means you're not really bad.'
Filly sighed a tearful sigh. 'It's such a burden to be this way. I wish I could be normal, and then I wouldn't have to worry about doing something bad every time I don't have your good influence there to guide me.'
We both fell silent, pondering. But no matter what we considered, neither of us could come up with a solution. It seemed hopeless.
'I might have an idea,' Mother said eventually, sounding nervous. 'But it'll involve a lot of neopoints, and it might be dangerous.'
'I'll do it,' Filly said firmly, 'I'll do anything.'
The next day, Mother led us through some very scary pathways we'd never been down before. She was tight-lipped and nervous, and she was holding a big map in her hands. After what seemed like hours of unfamiliar terrain, we arrived at a scary, dilapidated building.
'I'm so sorry to do this,' Mother finally broke her silence, 'but I don't think there's any other way. A paint brush will only paint the outside... what you need is something to really zap the malevolence out of you.'
We both thought about this, and then realised what she meant – Filly first, then a few seconds later, me. Filly was pale and wide-eyed, but still seemed determined. I was a nervous wreck.
'The Secret Laboratory,' I murmured, 'I thought it was just a myth.'
'It's dangerous,' Mother said, her voice wobbly, 'but I think it'll work.'
'I just want to be the real me, the self I am inside,' Filly said with resolve. I admired her bravery so much – I certainly would be too scared to be zapped! Holding hands, we all stepped inside.
I was shocked. Hundreds of neopets and their owners filled the laboratory, all waiting to be zapped by that horrible ray. As I looked around, I heard lots of snippets of conversation, like 'come on Izzy, we want some good stat changes today', and 'please let me get a good species change! I'm so sick of this!' I was horrified. How could these owners do this to their pets just for better hit points or a rarer species? All the pets looked terrified. They were cowering and crying, and saying things like 'Please don't do this! I like being a Peophin!' I grabbed Filly's hand firmly, and was about to drag her away, when she pointed at another group of pets and owners, heading for the exit. They were all smiling and laughing, pleased with their changes and not in the least bit hurt. Some owners looked a little annoyed with the results, but the pets were marvelling over their new feathers or tails or pretty colours.
'It's fine, Hazel,' Filly smiled excitedly, 'It really is fine.' We headed up to the ray, all holding hands (and paws), our hearts beating as quickly as though we'd just run a race. And before I knew it, there was a puff of smoke, a sound like a lightning bolt, and it was over!
Mother and I coughed, anxiously waving the smoke out of our faces to try and catch a glimpse of Filly. She was curled up in a little ball, her paws over her face, quivering in fright, and for a moment I saw a flash of yellow and thought despairingly that she hadn't changed. But then, she unfurled herself and stood up, and a beautiful light flooded the room. She stood proudly, majestically, with a liveliness and freedom in her eyes that I had never seen before.
'I'm gold,' she whispered, and we all gasped in awe. She looked like a magnificent statue, smooth, and bright, and special. She laughed with pure joy, and we all hugged each other in delight. I felt her polished, pleasantly cool golden shoulder against mine, and I began to cry with happiness. My wonderful sister was finally the Poogle she was always meant to be.