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Here Comes Scorchy Claws


by battlesunn

--------

Mr. Bronston sighed as he trudged dejectedly down the frost covered streets of Neopia Central, his hands shoved in his pockets in an attempt to keep them warm and his wings folded tightly against his back to shelter them from the icy wind. The ironically festive-colored red Draik gave a little cough, a small jet of flame shooting from his mouth as he did. He hated winter. Draiks weren't suited to the season's freezing temperatures, and every time the season came around, Mr. Bronston developed a perpetual runny nose and head cold.

Mr. Bronston also harbored a strong dislike for the holidays. Christmas in particular. As a teacher, Mr. Bronston was not one of the most financially well-off Neopets in Neopia, and Christmas was the one time of the year when the only pathway to happiness was paved in gold.

He was temporarily off work. Students attending Neoschool always got a two-week break that started around the fifteenth of Celebrating, and when the students weren't at school, neither were the teachers. Generally Mr. Bronston liked not having to go to work and teach. He relished every day off and sick leave that he could grab. But to be unemployed for two weeks meant that for fourteen days, Mr. Bronston would have no source of monetary income whatsoever.

The Draik heaved another heavy sigh, kicking morosely at a large pile of snow, a leftover from the previous night's storm. He could barely afford to feed himself, let alone his family. Mr. Bronston cast a menacing scowl in the direction of two young Aishas who were laughing and chatting, clinging excitedly to bulging shopping bags-- full of expensive Christmas presents, no doubt. It wasn't fair that everyone else was happy when he wasn't. He was a good Draik, didn't he deserve some holiday cheer?

Mr. Bronston shook his head and started off down the street again. He wasn't really going anywhere in particular, just walking around to try and shake off some of the "festive" depression that was beginning to settle in. The Draik warily eyed the Neopian stores, full to the bursting with Christmas decorations and bedecked with hundreds of sparkling faerie lights. There was a sign posted on one of the shop's large frosted windows.

"Come to Neopia Central in front of the Wishing Well on the twenty-fourth of the Month of Celebrating and meet Scorchy Claws!" the notice read. Below that, in a smaller print, the message also said: "Male, red Neopet needed to play Scorchy Claws. Inquire at Wishing Well."

Mr. Bronston snorted contemptuously. Scorchy Claws, what a dumb tradition. As if young Neopets needed any more benevolent beings swooping down and giving them things.

It was then that Mr. Bronston was struck by a sudden thought. The Draik stopped in his tracks and allowed a small smile to creep across his reptilian features.

"Of course..." he murmured, stroking his whiskers thoughtfully. "These little Scorchy Claws gimmicks always need some sap to sit in the chair and wear the outfit... I could do that!" Mr. Bronston unfurled his leathery wings and launched himself into the sky, soaring off towards the Wishing Well.

He arrived a few minutes after his departure from the storefront. Mr. Bronston immediately spotted an old female Shoyru who looked as though she was the one conducting the job interviews. She looked pleasant enough, with her cheerful green scales and kindly smile. Feeling a bit more self-assured, Mr. Bronston landed on the ground a few feet away from her and conspicuously straightened his tie. The Draik smiled slightly and held out his claws.

"Hello," he said, in what he hoped was a nice, avuncular tone. "I've come to ask about the job? You know, the Scorchy Claws job?"

The Shoyru grinned and nodded. "Oh, of course!" she exclaimed. She gave Mr. Bronston an appraising look. "Well, you certainly look enough like Scorchy Claws. Let's see, you're red, you have scales, and you've got wings... Mmm-hmm, I think that you'd make a good substitute for a real Scorchio. We can't seem to find many of those who'd be willing to put on a suit and spend a whole day with young Neopets." Her expression changed suddenly. She stared at Mr. Bronston shrewdly, folding her emerald-green paws in front of her chest.

"You do like children, don't you?" she asked sternly. Mr. Bronston faltered a bit before regaining his calm demeanor and nodding enthusiastically.

"Oh yes, I love children," he replied, lying through his teeth. "In fact, I even work as a teacher. I just thought that I would take this job to get some extra cash--" he quickly corrected himself. "--Well, what I meant to say was that I wanted to take this job to bring some holiday cheer to young Neopets." Mr. Bronston put on what he hoped was a winning grin. The Shoyru seemed to buy it. She relaxed her face into a smile once again and patted Mr. Bronston's claws.

"Oh good. I just wanted to make sure that you weren't just in it for the money," she said. Mr. Bronston shook his head fervently.

"Oh no, certainly not. I'm definitely not in it just for the money. Speaking of which, how much does this job pay?" he asked casually. The Shoyru looked at him oddly.

"Well, it pays about eight hundred Neopoints an hour, and you work from ten AM to eight PM, so you'd make about eight thousand Neopoints in all," she replied. Mr. Bronston frowned.

"Oh... Well, I suppose that's fine. All for the children and holiday spirit, eh?" he said in a tone that subtly betrayed his disappointment at the meager salary. The Shoyru nodded.

"That's the spirit. So, just come here on the twenty-fourth at around eight thirty AM and I'll give you your instructions," she said warmly. Mr. Bronston had already flared his wings, preparing for flight.

"Right. Eight thirty. Whatever you say, miss." He beat his wings and took to the skies, zooming off into the distance. The Shoyru watched him go until he was a mere speck in the distance before turning and sighing happily.

"It's so nice to see grown Neopets who still have the holiday spirit. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to find anyone who'd work for that low a price!" the Shoyru said to herself as she started off down the road to the Marketplace.

***

Mr. Bronston fidgeted agitatedly in the large wooden chair that he had been instructed to sit in. It really was quite an uncomfortable piece of furniture; the seat's hard wooden back crushing the Draik's wings painfully into his sides.

Mr. Bronston had arrived a bit early for his "orientation", as the Shoyru put it. The Draik had been outfitted in an itchy red and white suit, complete with a ticklish fake beard and a broad black belt that stretched across his stomach, which had been significantly expanded by the large pillow that was stuffed under his shirt. All in all, it was a very convincing illusion. The Shoyru approached Mr. Bronston, a warm smile on her face.

"So, are you ready for your big debut?" she asked. The Draik tugged at his beard.

"Can I take off the beard?" he begged, giving her a pleading expression. She shook her head.

"Absolutely not! It's positively essential to complete the look." The Shoyru clasped her paws together. "Now, Mr... Um..." she began uncertainly.

"Bronston," the Draik supplied.

"Yes, Johnston. I'd like to introduce you to Larry." The Shoyru stepped back to reveal a gigantic green Skeith who was clad in a ridiculously small pointed hat and bell-festooned tunic. Mr. Bronston's breath caught in his throat as he stared up at the Skeith, who was easily four feet taller than he was.

"Who are YOU?" he sputtered. The Skeith glared down at Mr. Bronston.

"I'm the elf," he rumbled. Mr. Bronston's jaw dropped. He scowled at the Shoyru.

"Did you interview him too? Are you sure he won't EAT any of the customers?" he asked, in a voice dripping with sarcasm. The Shoyru put her paws on her hips.

"Now Mr. Gronston, that was quite uncalled for. Larry is on a strict Tombola prize diet, and he would never cheat on it." She turned to the Skeith. "Would you, dear?"

The Skeith smacked his gums. "No, mom."

Mr. Bronston's eyes widened. "Mom?" he exclaimed, giving a strangled cry. The Shoyru nodded proudly.

"Yes, and I'm sure that you boys will have a wonderful time fulfilling all of the young Pet's wishes." She passed Larry a small bag filled with Neopoints.

"Here's your lunch money, sweetie. Remember to go and eat at noon, okay? Mommy will back to pick you up at eight. Until then, Mr. Pronston will watch you, alright?"

"Okay mom."

Mr. Bronston was looking slightly sick. "This wasn't in the job description..." he moaned. The Shoyru ignored him, continuing to speak to her son.

"I've got to go now honeybunch; the first Neopets are coming. Toodle-oo!" She grabbed her purse and dashed off, presumably to do some Christmas shopping. Mr. Bronston glanced nervously at the Skeith.

"So... You watch Gormball?"

Larry's reply was cut off by a small giggle. Both Neopets looked down and saw a baby Usul, not an hour over ten days. Mr. Bronston bit his lip. What was he supposed to do? The owner of the Usul was looking at the Draik expectantly. Mr. Bronston cleared his throat.

"Uh, ho-ho-ho little Usul. What do you want for Christmas?" he asked, lowering his voice to try and sound more authentic. Unfortunately, the tone that he had intended to be a jolly chuckle came out sounding more like a menacing growl.

The Usul squeaked in terror, running to her owner and hiding behind her legs. The owner glared at Mr. Bronston, scooping her Neopet up into her arms and flouncing off, muttering something about grown Pets who derived pleasure from scaring young children. Mr. Bronston snorted, leaning back into his chair. Larry the Skeith towered over him, casting his shadow over the irritated Draik.

"Why'd you scare her away?" he boomed. Mr. Bronston winced, covering his ears with his claws.

"Ow! Don't yell; I'm right here!" he snapped. "Anyway, I didn't mean to frighten her, she was just a wuss, that's all." Mr. Bronston sighed, massaging his temples.

"It's going to be a long day..." he muttered.

***

By noon, Mr. Bronston had been visited by no fewer than ninety young Neopets, most of whom were too terrified of Larry the elf to even get close enough to tell "Scorchy Claws" what they wanted for Christmas.

Mr. Bronston drummed his claws on the arm of his chair, gazing down at the little spotted Acara on his knee. The Acara was one of the few Pets brave enough to actually come up to the Draik, and the young Neopet was currently engrossed in rattling off a long list of atrociously expensive items that he wanted.

"And I want a Moltenore, and a fire paint brush, and a Rainbow Scorchstone, and a Trumpet of Deafening..."

Mr. Bronston rolled his eyes. "A Trumpet of Deafening. Your owner will like that."

Finally, Larry intervened, plucking the Acara from Mr. Bronston's lap and depositing him neatly in his owner's arms.

"Next!" the Skeith roared, the bells on his costume jingling with his massive bulk. The line moved forward, and yet another Pet scrambled up onto Mr. Bronston's knee and began to recite an exhausting list of desired gifts. Larry bent down so that his head was level with Mr. Bronston's ear.

"I'm going to take my lunch break now," he growled. Mr. Bronston simply nodded; too terrified to refuse the Skeith's right to take off when he himself got no breaks.

"Yeah, go ahead," he said quickly, keeping his eyes averted from the giant Neopet.

Larry said a quick thanks and lumbered off, singing a song in his cracked baritone about Tombola booby prizes and how dull they tasted, leaving Mr. Bronston to deal with the hordes of whiny Neopets all on his own.

***

Zarrelian the Halloween Ixi watched with rapt attention as the long queue of Pets jerked forward, inching ever so closer to the benevolent figure of Scorchy Claws. The Ixi smirked, rubbing his hooves together conspiratorially and sniggering under his breath. Zarrelian didn't really care about Christmas, or festive cheer or Scorchy Claws. He was only going so as to inconvenience his brother and sister (who were standing tersely behind him) and to have a bit of fun with whoever was unlucky enough to have to sit on the coveted throne this holiday season.

Zarrelian's sister, an Island Gelert called Shelleylou, narrowed her eyes as she glared angrily at the Ixi. She snorted, nudging her brother, a skunk Krawk, in the ribs.

"Tell me, Ezanna," she began. "Why is it that we have to stand here in the freezing cold with a bunch of snot nosed little children just so that our delusional brother can uphold his Christmas fantasies about some fat, overzealous Scorchio?"

Ezanna rolled his eyes. "Because apparently Zarrelian still believes in Scorchy Claws, despite being the oldest Pet here." The Krawk glanced around nervously. "I hope nobody I know sees me."

Shelleylou gritted her teeth. "How come we had to accompany him? Why not Mordegan?" she growled.

"Because our dear brother Mordegan is busily volunteering his time to help needy pets at some food drive," Ezanna replied, picking idly at a loose bit of yarn on his scarf.

Shelleylou toyed with her leaf pendant, a nice accessory of the Island paint brush. "Ah. Good old Lupe nobility kicking in, I suppose," she mused.

Ezanna rolled his eyes again. "It must have been."

The line continued to jerk forward. Ezanna blew on his claws in a vain attempt to keep them warm while Shelleylou continued to rant.

"I think it's a bit ridiculous for our owner to support his habit, don't you? I mean, when I was his age I certainly didn't drag Battlesunn over to Neopia Central in the middle of winter just so that I could sit on some costumed Neopet's knee and tell him what I wanted to find under the tree," she said. Ezanna examined his claws. They looked as though they were turning a bit blue at the tips.

"I can't argue with that." The Krawk tipped his snout to the darkening sky. "It looks like it might snow."

Shelleylou shuddered. "I hope it doesn't. I'm already freezing my tail off; Island Pets aren't meant to be in such cold weather."

"Then you should've opted for the Christmas look," Ezanna quipped. Shelleylou was about to reply when they heard Zarrelian's high-pitched voice cutting through the brisk air.

"It's my turn! Get out of my way, I wanna sit on Scorchy Claws' knee!" the Ixi cried, running up to Mr. Bronston's chair.

Mr. Bronston blinked. He hoped that what he saw in front of him was an illusion, some horrible mirage sent to deter him from the bad side of the holidays.

"Oh no..." the Draik moaned. "Oh Faeries, no! Not Zarrelian!"

Zarrelian was one of Mr. Bronston's students. He was the bane of the Draik's existence, a horrible, irritating and surprisingly clever little terror of an Ixi. But he wasn't just any Ixi; he was the Ixi of Doom, the pupil of the apocalypse, the harbinger of all things terrible. The one thing that Mr. Bronston was enjoying about his temporary unemployment was the reprieve from Zarrelian's presence. But he was here, and he was sitting on Mr. Bronston's knee!

Mr. Bronston steeled himself, doing his best to hide his face behind the large beard. Maybe he won't recognize me... He thought.

No such luck.

Zarrelian gasped, his expression of shock quickly melting into a sickeningly twisted smile.

"Mr. Bronston! What a pleasure to see you. Are you really so desperate for Christmas money that you had to get a job here?" the Ixi impudently asked, his bright green eyes glittering maliciously. Mr. Bronston snarled.

"We may not be in a classroom right now, Ixi, but I swear, if you try ANYTHING, I will have you in detention from now until summer!" the Draik hissed. Zarrelian giggled.

"But right now, you can't do anything." He put on an expression of mock contemplation. "Hmm..." The Ixi tapped his chin with his hoof. "Now, what do I want for Christmas..." Zarrelian brightened up. "Ah! I know. I want you to get fired."

Mr. Bronston seethed. "You can't do anything, you impudent little pixie."

Zarrelian narrowed his eyes. "I could make you blow fire at me. Wouldn't that be a nice sight for all the little Pets to see? Their hero, Scorchy Claws, torching an innocent little Ixi." He laughed; it was a terrible, grating sound. Mr. Bronston bared his teeth.

"Get OFF me!" he demanded, pushing himself as far back against the chair as possible.

"NEVER! You can't make me get off! At least, not until my time limit is up." The Ixi jerked his oversized head in the direction of a small sign that read Five minute visit maximum.

Mr. Bronston sighed gratefully. "Alright, no problem." He leaned back in his chair, folding his arms behind his head. "I can wait five minutes."

Zarrelian sniggered. "What if I pulled off your beard? Then what would you do?"

Mr. Bronston gasped. "You wouldn't!"

"I would! In fact, I think I will right now..." The Ixi reared up, grasping Mr. Bronston's fake beard between the knuckles of his hooves.

Back in the line, Shelleylou and Ezanna exchanged confused looks.

"What's he doing?" the Gelert asked, straining her eyes for a better view. Ezanna shielded his gaze with his claws.

"I'm not sure. Do you think we should go up there?" he asked worriedly. Shelleylou yawned.

"No," she replied simply. Ezanna relaxed.

"Oh, alright then."

Zarrelian laughed maniacally as he began to tug at the beard. To Mr. Bronston, it all seemed to be happening in slow motion.

"Nooo!" the Draik cried. "I'll have to eat Tombola food for Christmas dinner!"

Suddenly, Zarrelian froze. The Ixi looked up and squeaked in terror. Standing before him was the biggest, meanest, most bell-bedecked Skeith that he had ever seen. The Skeith's gargantuan form seemed to block out the sun, casting the entire world into darkness. Mr. Bronston looked up, his face breaking into a relieved smile.

"Larry!" he cried. "You're back from your lunch break!"

Larry simply reached forward and picked up Zarrelian by one hoof, raising the wildly protesting Ixi up to his face and staring straight at him. Zarrelian turned very white, practically petrified with fear.

"Please don't eat me!" he whimpered.

Ezanna and Shelleylou watched their brother being hoisted up into the air with mild amusement. Ezanna raised his eyebrows at Shelleylou.

"Should we intervene now?" he asked. Shelleylou shook her head.

"No. We should let nature run its course," she answered, smiling slightly.

"But what if that Skeith eats him?"

"Well, if that's what nature wants..."

Mr. Bronston was also enjoying himself. Ever since he had met Zarrelian his one dream had been to be able to threaten him with imminent consumption. The Draik didn't even notice that all the other customers had fled the scene, screaming about a mad elf.

Larry stared impassively at Zarrelian for a few more moments before dropping him unceremoniously to the ground and trundling off, presumably to find a more appetizing snack. The Ixi took off as soon as his hooves touched solid earth, yelping like a scalded Doglefox with Ezanna and Shelleylou trailing unenthusiastically after him.

Mr. Bronston laughed as he pulled off the ridiculous Scorchy suit, his mind still dwelling on the memory of his least favorite student suspended helplessly in the air, because for Mr. Bronston, a sight like that was the best Christmas gift of all.

As he took off and began flying back towards the Marketplace, the Draik couldn't help but allow a small smile to flit across his face. Maybe the holidays weren't so bad after all...

The End

 
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