A Pound Story: Part One
She wasn’t sure how many years it had been, but even now, out of the Pound and part of a loving family, returning to what one could consider her origins sent chills down her spine. While the Neopian Pound looked friendly enough on the outside – one might even mistake it for a cute, but somewhat misplaced little cottage, were it not for the sign – she knew better than most what awaited within.
Since having left the Pound, she figured she had changed a lot. Not only did she have a loving family, she had also had had a lot of opportunities since she had been adopted – being painted, starting Neoschool, getting a modeling job – and she felt she was returning as an almost completely new Usul.
Taking one last breath of fresh air, she readied herself, and strode in, shoulders back and head held high. Confidence was key. In order to win them over, she put on her best smile, even though it was just an act. As a model, though, she supposed she was good at that.
"Hello!" she called to the Uni behind the counter, trying to sound as friendly as possible. "I’m here as part of the Neoschool weekend program."
Ihae handed her the sheets from her school, explaining that she was here to help out on weekends for a month, a job she had been forced into as part of her schoolwork. It built character, and allowed privileged Neopians to see just how good they had it, all while helping out… at least according to her teachers. Mrs. Green especially had made sure they all knew how good they had it.
While she didn’t seem the type, Ihae knew exactly how good she had it, but she supposed she ought to get over her past. Even walking past the Pound still made her uncomfortable, and she felt a chill whenever she did so – almost as if she were back inside herself, abandoned and hopeless.
Plus, she could consider herself lucky – helping out at the Pound hadn’t seemed so bad in comparison to some of the other options… She shuddered at the thought of what some of her classmates would have to go through this month, but luckily the Uni was currently too engrossed in the paperwork to notice her violent reaction.
"I see… Well, we’re glad to have you back to help, Ihae!" The Usul was shocked to have been recognized, especially after having changed so much after her time in the Pound, something the Uni seemed to catch onto, but she just giggled and offered her a friendly smile. "Quite a few pets come through here, but I make sure to remember every one of them. I’m Rose, by the way, since not everyone seems to remember me." Ihae was among them, she realized now, somewhat guiltily. "But either way, let’s get started. Follow me."
Rose got up from behind the desk and entered the waiting room from the door leading to her office. Having recovered from the initial shock of being recognized and having come to trust her new boss, at least a little bit, Ihae followed diligently. While she was still a bit nervous, she couldn’t wait to get to work.
Ihae closed the door behind her, glad that day one was over. While she had done okay for the fact that she was back at the Pound, even if just for a short time, she was physically exhausted. It took mountains of supplies to take care of all the pets here, and her first day had consisted of delivering items from the storeroom to wherever they were currently needed, mostly as an exercise in getting to know the place. The last few boxes had been particularly heavy, though, and she couldn’t wait to get home, shower, and curl up with a good magazine.
The next day would probably be the same, though, and she groaned at the thought of having to repeat this every weekend for the rest of the month. She was glad to help, but she just wasn’t cut out for physical labor. By her estimate, if she continued like this throughout the program, she would have moved the equivalent of Terror Mountain by the end of it.
Just as she was on her way out the door, she heard crying from the corner, and stopped in her tracks. She approached the source of the noise, but hesitated. It was Rose’s job to take care of the new pets, but when Ihae looked over, she wasn’t in her office behind the counter. Neither was Dr. Death, nor the nameless Hissi who was in charge of the transfer services. She was alone.
But then she suddenly remembered her first day at the Pound, not on the job, but as a pet left quietly in the waiting room herself. In that moment, it had hit her that she was now truly alone, and that everything in her life up until that point was gone forever now – her friends, her family, and especially her owner. It still hurt to think about it, how one person could so carelessly crush a pet’s life.
With that, she knew it was now her job to take care of the new arrival. She gave herself a moment to restore her calm, and walked to the far corner where the new pet was sitting, back turned to her and shuddering from what had now developed into full-on sobbing.
"Hello there..." The pet, a small Blue Tuskaninny, startled and turned toward her, alarmed. She stared at Ihae, as if she had somehow expected to be alone in the waiting room. Her eyes had reddened from crying, and her face was a bit of a mess. Seeming to suddenly realize this from that way Ihae looked at her, she averted her gaze. Ihae asked for her name. It took the Tuskaninny a few moments to recover enough to speak.
"...It’s Yvonne," she answered briskly. She seemed upset to have been noticed, but Ihae tried not to mind.
"I know you might be scared, but don’t worry, Yvonne," Ihae started, "It’s not the end of the world. You’ll be out of here sooner than you know it! ...I’ve been through it myself," she added, hoping to cheer the Tuskaninny up, at least a bit. Instead, Yvonne glared back at her.
"As if you would know what it’s like!" she scoffed. Ihae was taken aback. "How long did it take you to find a new home? A day, maybe even a week?" Ihae was silent. "I was here a month until I got out," the Tuskaninny continued, new tears forming in the corners of her eyes, "but now here I am again. Have you been through that?"
Ihae had not, something Yvonne picked up from the guilty silence that lasted between them for a few moments. Finally, she turned her head, choosing to instead stare angrily and tearfully at a picture on the wall, depicting the Pound’s founder, Ms. Worley.
Suddenly, the silence was broken by the sound of a door opening, the clicking of hooves announcing the entrance of Rose. Yvonne sniffled, alerting Rose to their presence in the corner, which would have gone unnoticed had the silence between the two of them continued. Rose made eye contact with Ihae and gestured towards the door, not unkindly. Ihae took her leave, looking back to see Rose now attempting to comfort the Tuskaninny.
While preparing for her next shoot a few days later, Ihae just couldn’t get the young Tuskaninny she had met that weekend off of her mind. She had seen Yvonne a few times during her second day, but she had been too busy to stop and talk to the Tuskaninny. It wasn’t like she would know what to say to her, even – Ihae had only been at the Pound for two weeks, which had seemed like an eternity to her, but was measly in comparison to having spent a whole month there, and to even have been taken back.
Still, she wished she could do something to cheer her up – or even to cheer up any of the other pets in the Pound, many of whom, like Yvonne, seemed to be hopeless cases. If they made it out, it was often only a matter of time until they were brought back for various reasons, anything from actual behavioral problems to even their new owners just getting bored of them. It was something Ihae had never had to go through, luckily, but she had met enough who had during her time at the Pound. Some of them might even still be there, she realized.
But no matter how hard Ihae thought about it – and she had been thinking about it almost non-stop since that first day at the Pound – she couldn’t come up with something, anything, to help the poor pets who had been left behind there.
Then again, she supposed, the month had only just begun. She had enough time to come up with something… hopefully.
To be continued…