Unheard, Unseeing — Creamy's Petpet Spotlight
Author’s Note: This story was originally intended as a Petpet Spotlight entry; however, by the time I had finished writing, I found I had gone a couple hundred words over the contest’s word limit. As I would hate to let this story go to waste — and would hate even more to have to chop it up and cut it down to conform to the word limit — and as a story about a Neopet and their Petpet could very easily suit the theme of “Sidekicks and Partners” — I have decided to use this little piece as my collab entry.
I would ask the reader to keep in mind that, as this story was written for the Petpet Spotlight, it is very short and does not quite reach the depths of what many may consider standard for a Neopian Times story. Instead, this story is more of a parable, about diversity and inclusion and the importance of being a friend to those "different" members of our society who might otherwise go overlooked.
For all its childish simplicity, I hope that its meaning still rings true. And I hope you enjoy it! Thank you so much for reading! Happy Sidekicks and Partners collab!
It all started when Alice was very young. It could have been only a short time ago, as Alice is still quite young.... We'll say it could have been in her first year of Neoschool — first or second. That would mean these events transpired 'some years ago'.
It all started with this: Alice wasn't getting along very well in school. It wasn't that she was doing poorly in terms of academics, no; Alice's problem, rather, was that she was having infinite difficulty making friends. The plushie Kacheek did not know how to communicate with her classmates. Or rather, her classmates didn't know how to communicate with her.
"Did anyone watch The Wandering Wonderers on Neovision last night?" a yellow Grarrl boy in a Wandering Wonderers t-shirt loudly addressed the other kids at break time.
"I sawed it!" the faerie Usul sitting at the desk next to Alice squealed, positively glowing with love for her favourite kids' Neovision show. "It was so good!"
"It was so cool when Lawrence and Robby Wocky were on that rickety bridge!" the raspy voice of an energetic brown Korbat exclaimed ebulliently.
"The bridge broke! You're horrible!" Sarah, a pretty woodland Xweetok, admonished him, but the Korbat defended his stance with conviction. "It was awesome! And besides, they didn't die! The princess saved them!"
Alice had seen last night's episode of The Wandering Wonderers, too. Every kid in school followed the adventures of the six intrepid teenaged Neopets. Alice loved the show as much as anyone.
"Hey Awice, do you watch da Wandwing Wondews?" the faerie Usul (I think her name was Gwendolyn Evangelina, but she couldn't very well pronounce that) asked the plushie Kacheek sitting ever-silent at her desk. Alice smiled and nodded fervently.
"My favourite character is John Shadowdark," the Grarrl super-fan talked right over her. "Or Phin McGill, or the Wocky brothers, both of them. Or that Werelupe guy from season one, episode fourteen..." He was too excited to notice Alice's nod.
Alice's hands burned she wanted so badly to join in... But she stopped herself. It was no use signing. For she knew nobody would understand her.
Alice Nobreguinha could not speak. She was born mute. Not deaf, but voiceless. Her words were all conveyed in hand gestures and facial expressions, in a language for the unspeaking called Neopian Sign.
Those who knew Neopian Sign Language could converse with Alice as easily as if they were speaking a verbal language. The other children in Alice's class, however, did not know sign language. For many, it was a difficult concept to understand. Why did the little Kacheek flail her arms around whenever somebody asked her a question?
Alice carried with her an unjust stigma she could never quite overcome. Even though she demonstrated time and time again that she was exactly like the other kids in most ways, it was difficult for many to accept her because she was different in some way. This scenario may be hard for you to imagine. Keep in mind that the persons in question were very young children at the time this story took place! You and I are mature members of society, and we would never dream of shunning someone just because they're different from us!
I wish I had just one friend who understands me, Alice thought a silent thought as she sat there, so alone, in that noisy classroom. The lively conversation about her favourite show went on around her.
Just a short ways down the street from that fateful Neopia Central Neoschool was a Petpet shop, a little family-owned and operated place called Papa Bob's Petpets. Behind the checkout counter stood Papa Bob, a portly and amiable-looking camouflage Meerca busily engaged in counting the till, and on top of the counter sat a cardboard box.
This box wasn't empty, no; what it contained might surprise you... A tiny pile of snow in two little balls, a small body and a larger head.
It was an Abominable Snowball. And it wasn't an It. It was a He. He hadn't always been in a box on a Petpet shop counter, of course. He was born like all Abominable Snowballs, of a pile of snow and a bit of enchantment. His particular Mother Snow was from Happy Valley. A snow faerie cast a simple Living Spell, and poof, he and his brothers and sisters were born.
As snow isn't exactly hard to come by in Terror Mountain, the Snowballs were to be shipped to other parts of Neopia where there was a higher demand for them. Within only a few days they were all gathered into a large refrigerated Petpet crate and loaded onto a boat. Here is what our Abominable Snowball friend remembers about being on the boat:
The air smelled salty, and he could hear seagulls overhead, and the boat must have been small and rocking in the waves, as he felt a bit seasick.
After about a day's travel the boat made its first stop on Mystery Island. There the air felt balmy and sticky, and heavy in his little snow lungs. The scent of salt had been replaced by the aroma of tropical flowers, and he could hear people, many people, their voices mingled with the sound of the lapping waves.
Their next stop was Roo Island, the land of fun and games. There was music in the air, and laughter, and some of our Snowball friend's brothers and sisters remarked about the dazzling, happy colours they could see.
"Colours?" Our little friend was confused. "What do you mean colours?" He had never smelled or heard or felt 'colours' before.
"Like red and green," one of his sisters said. "And blue and yellow; or white, like us!"
Our friend was very confused now. He was a 'colour', and he was white? All his life he had thought he was an Abominable Snowball! He didn't understand what his sister was talking about.
His sister had an idea. (She was very insightful for being barely a week old.) She took off her hat, the green and red one that all basic Abominable Snowballs have, and held it out in front of him. "Do you know what colour this is?"
"What colour is what?" asked our friend, an expression of utter bewilderment on his face. He sensed nothing!
Then his sister slid over to one of their shared food bowls, and returned with a single brown cube of Petpet food. "What colour is this?" she tested him.
Our friend smelled it. "This is a colour? I thought it was food."
"It's both!" his sister laughed. "It is food, and its colour is brown. Can't you see that?"
It was discovered at that moment that our Abominable Snowball friend was blind.
Our friend wasn't sad that he was blind. It didn't seem of terrible importance to him whether he could see or not. After all, he had gotten by this far.
When the boat reached its final destination of Neopia Central, however, it was a different story. Our Snowball friend and his remaining brothers and sisters were slid out of their crate and put into two refrigerated, glass-sided Petpet cages. Their new place of residence: Papa Bob's Petpets. There they would await the day a special Neopet would come for each one of them, and take them to their forever homes.
One by one, our Snowball friend's brothers and sisters were adopted out around him. The reason — and this is such a ridiculous, petty irony! — was that the cages were almost soundproof, there was a hastily scribbled note that read 'PLEASE DON'T TAP ON THE GLASS! IT SCARES THE PETPETS!' on every cage, and our friend had very little way of knowing when a prospective adopter was even looking at him.
The result? All the customers believed our friend simply wasn't interested in them. He seemed lethargic and apathetic, they said. They wanted a bright-eyed Petpet.
A month passed in this way. All the other Abominable Snowballs had been taken to their forever homes. Our friend was the only one left. At Papa Bob's there's a rule that says that if a Petpet doesn't sell after a month's time, the Petpet must be sent to another Petpet shop. Papa Bob's family couldn't continuously afford to feed a Petpet they couldn't sell, and on the fourth day of the month of Eating, our little friend's time was up.
And this brings us back to the beginning: an Abominable Snowball sitting in a cardboard box atop a Petpet shop counter. Papa Bob had placed him there so that he'd be ready to be picked up by the Petpet breeder when he came to retrieve him that evening.
When Alice’s sister Julie picked her up from Neoschool that day, Alice was in very low spirits. Alice often came home depressed that first or second year of Neoschool; the sole, gleaming benefit of this being that by now Julie was an expert at cheering her up. She would take her for ice cream, or to the park, or promise to watch a movie with her later. On days when Alice felt especially dejected, however, only the Petpet shop would do the trick.
Alice had always loved Petpets. She had a gentle way with them that they seemed to take to. She had never had a Petpet of her own, as Petpets were expensive to keep, and Alice was still quite young for the responsibility. Nevertheless, the plushie Kacheek derived the utmost joy from wandering the shop. Of all the creatures in the world who didn't understand her when she signed, Petpets seemed the most accepting of her muteness. You didn't have to use spoken words to win their friendship.
Julie and Alice spent nearly an hour in Papa Bob's Petpets. Alice's smile never faltered. Eventually though, Julie announced that it was time to go home and make dinner. "Come on Alice, that meatloaf's not gonna cook itself! Hehe, if only."
They were moving toward the exit when something unusual caught Alice's eye. On the checkout counter sat a cardboard box...
The Kacheek went boldly up to the box and peeked inside. What met her curious gaze surprised her.
Alice smiled at the Abominable Snowball. She gave him (for she knew it was a He) a little wave. But the Petpet did not respond. He didn't come to her hand when she held it out to him, nor did he cower in fear. He just sat there, as if he didn't notice her.
After a day of feeling particularly invisible, you'd think this would have only served to feed the plushie Kacheek's discouragement. But Alice could tell something wasn't right...
"What do you see, Alice?" her older sister’s cheerful voice chirped behind her.
Alice pointed to the Petpet. She put her index and middle finger beneath her eyes in a bent position, then she brought her hand forward.
The speckled Kacheek quirked an eyebrow. "How do you know he's blind?"
At the sound of Julie's voice, the Abominable Snowball became alert. He slid his little snow body forward, as if trying to figure out where the voice was coming from. But for silent Alice he'd given no indication that he even knew she was there.
Just then, Papa Bob, the Meerca shopkeep himself, strolled out of the back room. "Excuse me," said Julie, "just curious, why is this Abominable Snowball in this box?"
"He's going to another store tonight," was Papa Bob's matter-of-fact reply. "We can't seem to sell him here."
"Is it because he's blind?"
Papa Bob stopped what he was doing (which was trying futilely to reach something behind the counter with his stubby Meerca arms), and looked up suddenly. "How do you know he's blind?"
"My sister figured it out," replied Julie, beaming with pride for her little sister’s discernment. "The Petpet responded to me, I guess 'cause he could hear me, but he doesn't even seem to notice my sister. My sister is mute, you see."
Papa Bob waved his chubby Meerca hand in front of the Abominable Snowball's face. Our Snowball friend didn't even blink. "Hmph." Papa Bob shrugged. "He's blind. What do you know?"
Papa Bob continued about his business. Julie returned to her pursuit of the door. But Alice, she remained rooted in the same spot, just watching the tiny blind Petpet...
"Alice, come on, we've gotta get dinner in the oven."
Alice looked up sharply. What she would sign next came as a shock to Julie. She pointed to herself, brought both hands toward her body with her fingers slightly bent, then she pointed to the Petpet: 'I have him,' that is to sign. And her facial expression was undefined, leaving Julie to wonder whether this was a question, or a statement.
Julie's speckled face fell. "Alice, how are you gonna have a blind Petpet? He'd need special training, and you'd have to be with him all the time, and... Alice, he can't even hear you!"
'You have mute sister,' Alice signed, succinctly and so full of meaning that Julie wavered.
A Petpet who had not been adopted because he was blind. A Neopet who had no friends at school because she was mute. Both had been shunned by society because they were different, because the simple act of accepting them required effort not everyone was willing to put forth.
Julie drew in a long breath. She blinked. Then she let her breath out. "Okay."
Alice named her Abominable Snowball friend Creamy. She called him that because he reminded her of ice cream, and ice cream always cheered her up when she was feeling blue. It's true that it would take time and effort for Alice and Creamy to overcome the barriers that divided them, but in the days to come, Alice and Creamy would indeed make each other very happy.
'Some years' have passed since this story took place, and let me assure you Dear Reader, Alice and Creamy have found their way in the world. They now have friends who love them for who they are — not because they accept them in spite of their disabilities, but because they appreciate them for their abilities.
But would any of this have happened if they hadn't first met each other? Alice and Creamy reached out to one another in a way that no one else could. Their separation from society drew them together. They understood each other’s pain, felt each other’s longing, fulfilled each other’s desperate need for friendship, and a sense of worth and belonging; and in doing so... you could say they restored each other's faith in Neopian kind.
If every Creamy had an Alice, and Alice had a Creamy, the world would be a better, kinder place. May we all try to be such a friend in the coming year. Our friendship may be the turning point for an unheard, unseen soul.