James, a blue Lutari, stood approximately half a foot taller than the majority of others of his species. This led to a lot of stares, and, at times, frustration, which had given James a reputation for having a rather haughty temperament. It was because of this that he often took a number of subconscious precautions in order to assert the fact that he preferred to be left quite alone.
James set one foot on the crosswalk and looked around, as if he might have been doing something terrible. A formally dressed red Acara stood lost in thought on the other side. With a deep breath James set off across the road, took the brim of his hat by two fingers and swung it just so to hide his face as he passed. The Acara had taken to whistling an old tune James was sure he'd heard somewhere before, but couldn't quite say where.
As he neared the hotel, vines swarming the main entrance, James reached into his pocket and touched the stolen card. He opened his jacket and slid out a copy of a beloved novel, clutching it tight as if for comfort. He thought perhaps he could absorb its magic. As he entered the doorman greeted him as "sir", he nodded politely, and ran quickly inside. The hotel was fairly proper, and as he approached the front desk he felt that somebody might notice he didn't quite belong.
"What can I do for you?" The female Aisha behind the desk gave him a placid smile.
"Just a room for the night." He handed over the card and she gave him a fleeting glance, but continued on. James's heart fluttered as the card was approved. He was given a receipt that he tucked inside the pages of the book. He snagged the key as it was being handed to him.
He made his way upstairs. As he lay on the bed he considered the week's events.
- - -
The fire was getting closer. He stood there in the night, smiling, his eyes glowing orange from the reflection of the flames. It seemed he was made of the fire himself. It danced within his tear-stained eyes. He was not sad. He took one last gulp of the cold coffee and with a flick of the wrist tossed the cup into the oncoming fire. He turned his back to the heat which ate at his coattails and promptly walked into the house.
He gathered up everything that was necessary and tossed it into a pack lying prepared on the table. A bowl, a spoon, a notebook, whatever of his clothes he could grab in one handful. He had to exit through the kitchen window because the flames had already reached the front door.
The heat still touched his back but he refused to look behind him as he trudged on across the prairie. The grass had become so long it tickled his arms in places. He walked for a very long time until he could not walk anymore. By then he had reached a city and he rented out a hotel for the night.
Once he was safely inside the room he took the notebook and pen from his bag and lounged on the bed, beginning to write.
March 26th, 2014
He contemplated the date for a while. Not because he was unsure of it. Though he couldn't be sure of anything, what really puzzled him was what he ought to say. Many words swam at the back of his mind, struggling to form themselves into some proper order, but what he wanted to say was more of a feeling than something that could be overtly stated. He picked up the pen and tried again.
It is March the twenty-sixth, twenty-fourteen. I have lost my books. I have nothing. But I am not sad. I am writing because I have to say that I
Again his mind drew a blank. Whatever he was thinking wasn't ready to swim to the surface yet. He closed the book and went to sleep.
- - -
There was a sudden knock on the hotel door and James jumped, backing into the window. He looked down and found himself to be on the third floor, surely not a smart place to jump from. When the words "room service" came quietly from behind the door he relaxed slightly. Despite this he left the chain secured, looking out of the crack in the door. Another Aisha, this time small and pink although still with a visible blush, stood hovering from foot to foot, looking slightly alarmed.
"I didn't call room service."
"I have towels and things."
"I'll take them later."
"I have one. I'm fine."
And then he slammed the door in her face.
James felt guilty for his impertinence. This guilt quickly evaporated, however, as he considered his situation. It wasn't his fault that his nature had become so defensive.
He decided that it might not be such a good idea after all to stick around, so he tied all his sheets together and let himself out the window. He knew he was being paranoid. A pang of discomfort hit him as he realized the book he held in his coat pocket was the only one he had left.
Once he hit the ground he had no idea what to do, so he carried himself to the bakery. The night sky was dimly lit from the glow of a distant city, a handful of faded stars sparkling on the horizon. The streets were quiet except for the crunch of his feet on the gravel and the occasional cough from an apartment window. He swung open the door and stepped inside, his scarf up to his nose in a knot of warmth. He flicked his wrist back in order to close it but there was a loud crack as his joints moved. His eyes were teary from the pain as he approached the counter and asked for a biscuit. Please.
"Sure thing, some just came out of the oven." The spotted Kacheek running the place gave a friendly smile and put one on a plate, sliding it over James, who just managed to catch it before it went spinning off the edge. "How come you're out so late?"
"House is gone. I've taken to roaming."
"Well I'm awfully glad to have some company!" said the baker.
"Me too," he said, distracted by the swinging lamps above his head. He was glad that, for once, somebody had skipped the double take upon their first sight of him.
"I know what you mean about roaming. I mean, I've been staying open later, because I don't really have anywhere to go. But if I did, I would go there."
"You would go where?"
The baker began to wipe down the counter, smiling to himself. He looked up, his eyes twinkling. "I don't know. I'd go somewhere nice, I guess."
"What's stopping you?"
"This shop. I could always eat out of the soup kitchen, but I like having interaction with other Neopets. Also, it's really warm here."
James yawned. "It's making me sleepy. There's lots of warm places out there, though. Lutari Island; The Lost Desert. Or Terror Mountain, if you're up for a change."
"I'm sorry about that. I can open the door if you'd like. Or a window."
"No, no. I'm feeling more relaxed now," he said airily. "You can't imagine what my week has been like."
He paused for a moment, considering his statement. Were things really so bad he couldn't fix them? Acute paranoia— and for what? Collecting books had been half the fun of owning them. And now he could start all over. Loss builds character, he thought to himself. Happiness is a grand feeling, but without loss it didn't mean a great deal at all. He turned to leave. As he took a glance out the window he noted how beautiful the dark blue of the night looked against the yellowness of the bakery's interior.
"Where are you going?" asked the baker.
He paused, taking a deep breath. He reached inside his pocket and felt the card, clutching it tightly between his fingers.
"I have to return something."
And so the bell on the bakery door rang as he exited, melting instantly into the darkness.