The Greatest Gift
In a fragmented part of her memory, she could still smell the fragrance of cocoa and marshmallows. The images were blurred, however. They were just faint and hazy outlines, no clearer than the foggy landscape on a gloomy day.
But perhaps it was for the best.
Perhaps it was a defensive mechanism of her own mind, such that she would not be subject to the torment of an emotional roller-coaster, asking herself (as did some others she had seen), Why? Why did it have to be me?
After all, there was never an answer to that question. Who could provide one? Who could explain why they had been abandoned and simply left to starve? Who could justify why they were subject to the critical eye of those who would stroll the pound, selectively adopting those with names or colours they liked? Then, there were those like her, an ordinary yellow Wocky with a terrible name, who no one would so much give a second glance at. Why? Why did fate play them such a cruel card?
The Wocky knew if she dealt with such thoughts, she would go as mad as those that tempted fate with Count Von Roo.
Time was fluid in the pound; there was not a Neopian Times article they could read, nor was there a way to access the new updates each them they were made. The only semblance of time was the month of Celebrating, when the dreary surroundings would be draped with wreaths and bells to herald Christmas. At least it bought some colour to the grey walls.
Going by that measurement of time, she had spent five Christmases in the pound. It looks like she would spend a sixth there.
The Wocky sighed. She had long since given up hope of being adopted — as did many of the others who had spent a similarly long time there as well. Each of them knew, deep down, that they certainly did not possess the qualities everyone out there was looking for. But what could they do? This was how they were made. And it was not like they had access to a nifty paint brush or morphing potion that could transform them into something more beautiful.
Those painted ones or restricted ones didn't know how lucky they were. Especially draiks and krawks — they never spent more than a few minutes in the Pound. Then there were those like her…
The Wocky sighed again. At least, she supposed, she wasn't one of the lesser-liked species of pets. It was a terrible thought, she knew, but it was her only source of comfort.
The doors to the pound opened, letting in a shaft of pale sunlight that illuminated the surroundings. Squinting, she could just make out the faint silhouette of an approaching Ogrin. When the Ogrin finally came into view, she saw that she was of a rather petite build, sporting a snow-coloured mane, her fur a mix of pale cream and blue. She wore a pair of violet glasses, her sapphire eyes all too bright despite her elderly appearance.
As the Ogrin took in the surroundings, she became aware of the curious gazes of the Neopians who called the pound their home. "Hi there," she began. "Where should I start?"
"Restricted and limited edition pets are on the left, ordinary painted ones on the right, and ordinary basics are at the far corridor," a pink Uni piped up.
The Ogrin nodded thoughtfully. Then, in a move that surprised them all, she strode past without batting an eyelid at the Neopians that lined the corridor, gaze directed towards the isolated group at the far end of the room.
Is she coming here? the Wocky thought in surprise. Well that's a first.
The Ogrin came to a stop before the large group of Neopians, her gaze sweeping across them. "Hello," she said at length, breaking the silence that had enveloped the room. "I hope to find three of you to come home with me."
The Wocky raised her eyebrows in surprise. Three?
As if reading her thoughts, the Ogrin continued on. "I am rather lonely these days, and it'll be nice to have some of you home with me." She cleared her throat. "Now, I'm truly sorry that can't adopt all of you. But I hope you will be able to find a home one day."
She walked along the row of Neopians, her gaze sweeping intently across them. "You," she pointed to a red Meerca, "and you," she pointed to a green Yurble, "are coming with me."
The Meerca and Yurble exchanged surprised glances, before a large grin enveloped their faces. "Finally!" they cried out in ecstasy, leaping forward to join the Ogrin by her side.
Finally indeed, the Wocky felt a small smile pull at her lips despite herself. Those two had been the longest residents of the pound, both having been abandoned sometime way back in Y2. They do deserve a chance at a better life. As her thoughts drifted, she found herself dreaming how wonderful it would be if she was to be chosen as the third and final pet. Perhaps she would be able to explore Mystery Island, as she had always dreamed of doing. Perhaps she would get to visit TDMBGPOP. Perhaps she would get to nick something from the Snowager. Perhaps…
The Wocky was so lost in thought that she failed to realise the Ogrin had come to a stop directly in front of her, until she let out a soft chuckle. "Well, yellow Wocky. Would you like to come home with me?"
The Wocky stared at her, mouth agape. It would have been comical if she had not been so genuinely amazed at what was happening. "You want to adopt me?"
The Ogrin let out a loud laugh. "Yes, yes I do."
"Come on with us!" the Meerca and Yurble bounced on their feet. "We can be a family! A home!"
The words rolled on her tongue, foreign and unfamiliar. Yet those were the very things she had always unconsciously longed for. Scurrying forward, she joined the Meerca and Yurble at their sides.
"Come along now, let me fill out those paperwork before we go home," the Ogrin licked her lips, before heading towards the receptionist desk. The three Neopians followed close behind.
The other Neopians around them waved them off with a smile, though a longing gaze was obvious in their eyes. "Take care! Don't forget about us!"
"We won't!" the Wocky answered.
"May you find a family one day," the Yurble added.
"All the best in everything! Until we meet again," the Meerca waved.
It was a couple of hours before the four Neopians finally made their way to the Ogrin's home. Along the journey back, the Ogrin had introduced herself as Sheila, a resident of Meridell. She had spent her days working in the farms, or volunteering her culinary skills in the Soup Kitchen. The Soup Faerie had recently mentioned of how those poor Neopians in the Pound had been surviving on the meagre meals that the Soup Kitchen had to offer, and how some have been subject to such a life for a long time. It was then the Ogrin had made the decision to adopt as many as she could, giving them a new lease of life.
"My home really isn't much," she spoke as they walked up the cobbled path. "But I will do my best to give you the things you haven't had the chance to experience in the Pound."
"Don't fret on it, Ma'am" the Meerca spoke up. "Adopting us is the greatest gift we could have ever asked for."
The Ogrin laughed at that. "You're making me feel old! Just call me Sheila, alright?" Turning the key, she pushed open the door and turned around to face the three smiling Neopians. "Well, this is it. Welcome home."
The three Neopians gasped. The house was decorated with wreaths and flowers, a majestic Christmas tree standing by the fireplace. A cozy fire was burning, giving the room a warm glow.
The Meerca and Yurble bounded in excitedly, regarding their surroundings with wide joyous eyes like a child opening a Christmas present. "This is wonderful! Thank you, thank you for giving us a new home!"
The Wocky remained frozen at her feet. It was as if she was watching the scene play out from a distance, as if she were detached from her own body. Is this a dream? Will I wake to find myself back in the Pound?
"Come on in, little Wocky," Sheila beckoned, breaking her train of thought. "It's cold outside."
Somewhere within the house, the faint sounds of 'Joy to the World' echoed through her ears. From the kitchen drifted the faint fragrance of cocoa and marshmallows reached her nose. The Wocky hesitantly entered the house, bracing herself for the scene to change, to find herself back in the Pound once more.
But that did not happen. As soon as she entered, she was enveloped in a tight hug with the Meerca, Yurble, and Sheila. "Welcome home," Sheila repeated with a smile. "And Merry Christmas."
A strange sensation of warmth unlike anything the Wocky felt before spread through her being, as she felt her lips pull upward in a smile.
Her memory was still hazy, and she still could not recall her past. But that did not matter anymore.
She had a family and a home now.
And there were new memories to make.