Hug a Tree to Keep It Green
When Dudley Bibbles woke up, he saw fire.
Dudley Bibbles was the middle-aged yellow Chia who ran the Neopian Post Office. He lived very comfortably on the second floor of the Post Office, so that he could conveniently wake in the morning and head straight to work. Unlike other Neopians, Dudley enjoyed his job, loved his stamps, and happily interacted with customers, no matter how pushy and impatient.
Usually, when he woke up, he didn't see fire.
Nothing was on fire yet, but from his bedroom window, the grey-haired Chia could see a group of four Neopets standing before the Money Tree, holding glowing Flamestrike Bottles, red-hot Fire Motes, and large, sharpened swords. It was early in the morning, not even four-thirty yet, and no one else was awake.
Immediately, Dudley threw on his postman's uniform, grabbed his spectacles, and ran downstairs and outside.
Three of the Neopets held weapons. One held a clipboard and an air of authority. "What's going on?" Dudley asked the clipboard-wielding Neopet, a mutant Hissi with chunky forearms and four glinting green eyes, wearing an atrocious sweater. "Are you doing something to the Money Tree?"
"Yes," the Hissi's left head answered.
"Are you cutting it down?" Dudley pressed, when the Hissi did not elaborate.
"Yes," the left head replied again.
“And burning it?”
"You can't do that!"
"Yes," the head repeated.
Dudley balled up his little fists. "See here. Every morning I wake up and look out, and I see the Money Tree, all big and beautiful. It's a Neopian symbol! Why would you cut it down?"
"There is a reason," the left head said, flicking its tongue.
"What reason?" Dudley asked, growing extremely irritated.
"The reason is," the Hissi head started. Dudley waited. The head did not continue.
"Well, can someone tell me why?" he said angrily.
"Oh!" the left Hissi head answered. "Oh, he can." He nudged his head toward the right Hissi head.
Dudley turned to the other head. The right head blinked one eye at a time. "Yes?" it asked, sounding as if he had been disturbed from a very important task.
Dudley said tersely, keeping his voice down with difficulty, "Is someone going to tell me why you're planning to chop down the Money Tree?"
"I can tell you that," the right head chirped, bobbing up and down.
"We need to chop it down so we can put a new Tree up."
Dudley blinked. "That makes no sense. There's already a perfectly good tree here! Why chop it down if you're just going to plant another one?"
"Hey," the right head said, blinking his left eye first and then the right. "Who said anything about planting? We're putting a new Tree up. A solid gold one."
"What?" Dudley cried shrilly. "That's ridiculous! Why does Neopia need a solid gold Money Tree?"
The right head stared at Dudley. "Why, it's obvious, innit?" he said. "It can't rightfully be a Money Tree unless it's made the same as money."
Dudley stared back at the Hissi heads with his mouth open. This was preposterous! Who would allow this? "Who gave you permission to cut down the Tree?" he asked loudly, shaking a little yellow fist at the heads.
“Eduin, Esmond,” a male green Cybunny carrying an armful of Fire Motes said. “I think we should start hacking at the Tree soon. Holding these Motes for extended periods of time seems to cause mysterious burns on my paws.”
“You can’t burn the Tree!” Dudley yelled.
“Would you prefer we just use the swords then?” the right head said. “We were considering either just burning or just chopping down the Tree, but we decided to bring the weapons for both. It’s quite a big tree, after all.”
“You’re not going to be burning or chopping. The Money Tree is staying.” Dudley glared at the two-headed Hissi, the Cybunny that now smelled heavily like smoke, a gold Wocky carrying a box of Flamestrike Bottles and a large blade, and a burly rainbow Grarrl wearing sunglasses and a frown, holding a sword in his claws. When all four (or five?) simply looked back at him uninterestedly, Dudley ran to the Tree and wrapped his short arms as far as they would go (not even a quarter around the enormous trunk).
“I sense a dilemma,” the Hissi’s left head said sadly.
“You are not cutting this Tree down,” Dudley said stoutly. “I can stay here as long as it takes.”
“Don’t you want a nice shiny gold Tree?” the right Hissi head wheedled.
“Not particularly. I like my trees green and with leaves and roots and the ability to grow.”
The left Hissi head sighed. The right Hissi head sighed. The Cybunny dropped the Fire Motes and blew at his paws as the Motes smoked on the ground. The Grarrl wearing sunglasses, despite it being five in the morning and completely dark, slashed the air with his sword.
When the sky slowly started to lighten, the five (or four?) Neopets finally left, grumbling, leaving the Fire Motes smoldering faintly in the dirt.
The next morning they returned.
“I’ve been expecting you,” Dudley said.
It was four in the morning, and he had been up since half past three. There was no way in Neopia he would allow the magnificent Money Tree, its deep roots anchored in Neopia Central for over a hundred years, become cinders. He had tried to rally up support, to gather more Neopets to protect the Tree, but everyone he had asked said the idea was insane and impossible and are you sure you haven’t gone loopy? They passed him, donating items at the base of the Tree as other Neopets eagerly and instantly retrieved the free loot, disregarding the bumbling postman and his wild accusations. Nobody believed the Tree was in any danger, so at four in the morning, in the dark and the cold, Dudley was a lone defender.
He saw them first from a distance, tiny glowing fireballs and flames reflecting off the metal of large, tree-chopping blades. From his position tied to the Tree, he watched the same four Neopets approach, carrying their flames in the silent, sleepy, still morning.
The right Hissi head blinked one eye at a time once he saw Dudley, and raised an arm to point at the Chia in surprise. “He’s back!” the left head said, astonished.
“We’ll never get the Tree down,” the Cybunny said, now wearing thick gardening gloves as he held the Motes. “We can’t hurt a living thing.”
“Yes, very unethical, that,” the right Hissi head agreed. “You make things so troublesome,” he said to Dudley, moving to stand directly before the Chia. “But we have orders.”
“From whom?” Dudley asked, as the bark of the tree chafed him uncomfortably.
“Orly,” the left Hissi head replied.
“Why, she’s here,” the left Hissi head answered.
“Is she an invisible Neopet?” Dudley asked suspiciously.
“No, no. But wouldn’t that be difficult? We’d never know where the boss would ever be.”
“Who is she then?” Dudley asked impatiently.
“That guy,” the right head said, pointing his thumb at the gold Wocky, standing several feet away and observing the Money Tree interestedly.
“Her? But she hasn’t said anything!”
“All part of her genius,” the right Hissi head said jovially. “She’s very sneaky.”
“But you’re the ones with the clipboard,” Dudley said, as if it ensured their power.
“Yes,” the left head acquiesced.
“But she has the brains,” the other supplied.
The gold Wocky was now watching them, as if she sensed that the conversation had swerved toward her. The Hissi beckoned her, and the Wocky approached, eyes gleaming calculatingly in the firelight of the Flamestrike Bottles.
“Boss,” the right Hissi head greeted, followed by the left head.
The gold Wocky inclined her head at them, then focused on Dudley with an uneasy, unnerving gaze in her large, amber-gold eyes. “Hello. You are causing problems,” the Wocky said, in a sonorous, domineering voice reminiscent of Dr. Sloth’s, had he been female. “We’ll have to exterminate you.” She was holding a crate of Flamestrike Bottles, and rummaged through it before extracting from the bottom three Jars of Eyeballs and a pot of glue. The eyeballs squelched unpleasantly against each other, rotating to fix their pupils on Dudley. The yellow Chia blinked nervously at the eyes. He shivered.
The gold Wocky placed the Jars around Dudley and the Money Tree, applying the Jars to the ground with a special sort of paste. “You leave the Tree and we will know.”
Dudley stayed strapped to the Money Tree until dawn rose and the first Neopets came, ready to collect free items as soon as possible. Most were poor Neopets, bedraggled with bags under their eyes, trying to scavenge food and neopoints for survival. There was one Neopet who looked very prosperous and well groomed, a top hat perched upon his head, evidently looking for any extraordinary lucky finds among the fishing trash and tacky old Tombola merchandise.
He yawned. It had been tiring staying tied to the Tree for so long, but he knew that had he left the Tree unattended for just a moment, it would become smoke and ashes. Blinking at the sunlight, he watched Neopians slowly gather around him.
Once there was a small crowd at the Tree, Dudley untied himself and left, avoiding the stares of the eyeballs that followed him. He knew that Orly couldn’t cut down the Money Tree with so many Neopians, so many witnesses, around.
He then went to visit the Defenders of Neopia. If anyone could be of assistance to Dudley, he would find him or her here. He had heard rather grand tales of the superheroes, and came to Headquarters with high expectations. The large, clean lobby looked impressive, with its chrome pillars and polished floor proudly displaying the emblem, but past that, Dudley was quite disappointed. After a half-hour long wait in line, a bored receptionist asked him to file out a form, and if there were any true danger, the Defenders would be on to it as fast as possible. “Don’t worry, we’ll help,” the female blue Tonu at the desk said, before waving Dudley away. He filled out the form and handed it back to the Tonu after another long wait in line.
The Tonu skimmed over it, then looked suspiciously up at Dudley. “Is this a joke?”
“Pardon?” Dudley said, adjusting his spectacles.
“These four Neopets, led by a gold Wocky, are planning to cut down and-or burn down the Money Tree so they can erect a brand-new pure gold Money Tree, and they have left Jars of Eyeballs to watch for them?”
The Tonu scrutinized Dudley, and then gave him a very false smile. “I’ll be sure to give this to the Defenders the very moment I can,” she said, in a completely unconvincing voice. “Don’t worry, we’ll help. Next!”
“It’s true!” Dudley insisted, and stomped away.
He worked at the Post Office for a while, before pushing his assistant behind the counter and going to eat. He was famished. After lunch, he went to sleep, falling easily into slumber despite the early afternoon sun seeping through his curtains.
When Dudley awoke, it was dusk. He ate a late dinner, then went downstairs to send his assistant home and close the Post Office. Through the window, he could see the number of Neopets around the Money Tree dwindle. One particularly unkempt Quiggle was attempting to pry a Jar of Eyeballs from the ground.
When Neopia Central became nearly empty of Neopets, Dudley carefully tied himself to the Tree as the Jars of Eyeballs glowered at him reproachfully. He waited. Earlier there had been a brief rain shower, and the bark of the tree was wet against his back. The last Neopets hoping for donations at the Tree left. Hours passed in the darkness. Dudley’s eyes glazed as he watched the dim streetlights in the distance, the lights at the NC Mall that were never turned off. The golden Wocky and his minions weren’t coming. He supposed this was good: he had saved the Money Tree one more day.
But it was terribly boring.
Then, a sandwich appeared.
Dudley stared at it. He was quite a rotund figure and would readily admit that he loved food. And there, before him, was food, looking delicious and fresh. I’m dreaming, Dudley thought. It wasn’t unordinary. His dreams often incorporated hot food, stamps, fat parcels in the mail, and the Happiness Faerie.
“Well, are you going to eat it?” a familiar voice asked impatiently.
One head of a mutant Hissi appeared, followed by the other. It seemed that the scrumptious sandwich had been attached to an arm, which had been attached to this Hissi. The other arm held the important-looking clipboard.
“You? Why are you here? You can’t chop down the Tree, I’m still strapped to it, and I quadruple-knotted it, so don’t think you can pry me away.”
“We brought food,” the left head said.
“You looked hungry,” piped the right head.
“But you’re the enemy,” Dudley said. “Why would you help me?”
“You looked hungry,” the right head repeated.
“Where are the others?”
The Hissi waved his arm carelessly. “Somewhere. Now, are you going to eat up or not?” the right head asked irritably.
“If you don’t, I will,” the other head said.
“I want it,” said Dudley, taking the sandwich. It smelled so good. He wondered vaguely if it could be poisoned, but quickly decided to trust his sense of smell and took a large bite.
He didn’t feel poisoned. “S’good,” Dudley mumbled.
The heads beamed.
“This is nice of you,” Dudley said, taking another bite. “Are you sure Orly won’t mind?”
The Hissi shrugged, one shoulder at a time. “Quite frankly, I enjoyed talking to you,” the right head said. “You seemed like a nice fellow. A bit angry, but generally nice. Sometimes I get lonely. It was nice to have a bit of a chat with you.”
“How can you ever get lonely? You’ve got two heads!”
“Yes, but Eduin? Dull as a salted Slorg,” the right head said. “We never talk to each other.”
“Oh. So, you’re Eduin,” Dudley said to the left head. He turned to the other one. “And you are?”
“Nice to meet you,” Eduin said, followed by Esmond, who said it whilst blinking his eyes one at a time.
Dudley finished his sandwich. He regarded the Hissi heads carefully. “You seem like smart fellows. Can’t you see that replacing the Money Tree is a silly idea?”
“Well, I dunno,” Esmond said.
“I quite like gold,” Eduin answered.
“The money could go towards better things. Orly could help poor Neopians or build a daycare or endorse the Happiness Faerie, perhaps? And besides, I’ve already got lots of Money Tree stamps. I’d have to renamed them Old Money Tree stamps and make New Money Tree stamps if you make a new Money Tree. It would be quite tedious.”
“I understand,” Eduin said solemnly.
“You make quite an argument,” Esmond contemplated. “But Orly gave us a clipboard.”
“I can give you stamps,” Dudley said. “Perhaps I could rummage for some metallic ones.”
“I can try,” Dudley promised.
“Oh, you’re too kind,” Eduin said. “You know, I don’t think I want a gold Tree anymore.”
Esmond blinked his left eye, then his right. “Well, I do enjoy our conversations. I find them quite enlightening. And Orly isn’t much of a talker. She’s got the personality of a wilted Silly Daisy. So, I suppose I’ll help you. Would it require tying myself to the Tree?”
“No, I’ve got that covered. But could you bring Orly here? We need a nice long chat.”
Orly came. She brought an army.
Well, a small army. She came with a crowd, including the Grarrl who always wore sunglasses and the Cybunny with the garden gloves, as well as three other Neopets. She stepped forward. Dudley felt quite defenseless, roped to a tree with just a two-headed Hissi standing apprehensively beside him. He swallowed nervously. All this stress is going to make me lose more of my grey hair, he thought sadly. He was already balding.
“I was hoping only you would come,” Dudley said to Orly.
“I never let my guard down.” The gold Wocky’s eyes trailed over Dudley and up to the branches of the Tree, as she envisioned a wonderful gold recreation. “Have you come to your senses, Chia?”
“Dudley. I’m Dudley.”
“Dudley. I once knew someone named Dudley. So, Dudley: ready to surrender?”
“Actually, I was hoping I could open your eyes and talk some sense into you. You do know your plan is ridiculous, don’t you?”
“What, do you not like gold?” she asked. “Is it not one of the most precious metals in Neopia?”
Esmond said dejectedly, “She never talked this much to me.”
“Well, yes. But you can’t chop down the Money Tree! It’s been standing in the heart of Neopia Central for ages. Look at this face.” Dudley gestured to a face in the trunk, where the wood looked like smiling eyes and a large grin, complete with a small twig of a nose. “The Tree looks so cheery. Do you really want to turn this smile upside down?”
“An illusion in the bark,” Orly said. “The Tree doesn’t care. And if it does, it should be honoured. Forever preserved in gold! Many can only dream of such things. I am lucky to actually be gold.”
“But a gold Money Tree? The Tree is a living thing, green and growing, part of nature. You can’t just make it firewood and put up a new, shinier one.”
“Why not? A lot of furniture could be built,” Orly said obstinately.
“The Money Tree is a icon of Neopia. Nobody knows how long it has been standing, but generations of Neopets have given and gotten items there. And generations of the future still should. Not to some gold imitation, but to the real thing, something that started as a seed and grew over centuries. Something that our ancestors saw and our children will see, something that always changes.”
“A moving speech,” Orly said dryly, sounding bored.
“I agree,” Eduin chirped sincerely.
“Why is it so important to you to have a golden Money Tree anyway?”
She puffed her cheeks and exhaled noisily. “Tyrannian Neopets have their own land. Snow and ice Neopets have Terror Mountain. Desert Neopets have the Lost Desert. Gold Neopets are one of the most beautiful, and we haven’t got our own land? I think we deserve it.”
“Yellow Neopets haven’t got their own land either,” Dudley said fairly, indicating his own colour.
“But you could, if someone took the initiative and created one. Which is what I’m doing. Years from now, Neopians of Goldenia will hail me as a legend.”
“You can’t just make it smack dab in the middle of Neopia Central. Don’t you see? Neopia Central is a place for all colours. Look at the Rainbow Pool.”
“There’s no gold in a rainbow,” Orly replied grumpily.
“Yes, but...” Dudley faltered.
“No rebuttal? How about a white flag then?”
“You’re insane!” a voice cried.
“Yes, you’re insane!” Dudley repeated, pointing accusingly at the gold Wocky.
“Not her. You, Chia. Dudley Bibbles, am I correct?”
Dudley twisted in his ropes to see who had spoken. Defenders of Neopia superhero Lightning Lenny stood, basked in the light from a streetlamp, complete with neon blue spandex uniform, grey mask, and heroic voice.
“Erm, yes,” Dudley said nervously. “I’m Dudley.”
“You’re to be imprisoned, under the label of Potential Danger Class the Fourth: Raving Psychotic with Traces of Extreme Lunacy. Now, you can untie yourself and make this easy.”
“What?” Dudley screeched.
“The Defenders have written evidence that you may be mentally unstable, as well as witnesses to this abnormal behaviour of attaching yourself to trees.” He turned to Orly and her group of followers, who hastily slipped their swords behind their backs. “Don’t worry. We’ll help,” Lightning Lenny assured.
The Lenny superhero neared Dudley, who remained stubbornly tied to the Money Tree. “I’m not crazy,” Dudley insisted.
Lightning Lenny shook his head. “That’s what they all say.”
“You’re not crazy,” Lightning Lenny said.
Dudley sprang up from his seat in a dreary dungeon below Defenders of Neopia Headquarters, where he was being kept captive until fully conclusive test results about his insanity were finalized. So far, he had spent two agonizing hours there, watching water drip from a crack in the ceiling and wondering about the state of the Money Tree. “That’s what I’ve been telling you!” Dudley said. “Can I be let out?”
“Yes, yes,” Lightning Lenny said grudgingly, searching for his keys. He hated being wrong.
“Why did you finally believe me?”
“Oh, we didn’t believe you,” another voice said. The Marvelous Stretchy Chia appeared, jangling a set of keys. “We believed a mutant Hissi. Eduin and Esmond, I think. They tied themselves to the Money Tree and told us the whole story.”
“You believed them and not me?” Dudley floundered.
“Well, they were so much more charismatic,” Lightning Lenny explained.
“And they have two heads,” the Marvelous Stretchy Chia added, bobbing his blue head.
“And they said a very persuasive speech about seeds and generations of the past and future. I was quite moved.”
“They also had a clipboard with detailed sketched of Goldenia. We confirmed that the drawings had been done by one Orliana Golfrey.” The Stretchy Chia unlocked the dungeon cell and swung the door open.
“Where’s Orly now?” Dudley asked, enjoying the feel of freedom.
“In the cell beside you.”
Dudley looked curiously in the next cell, where the gold Wocky glowered powerfully at him. He coughed and turned away. His skin prickled uncomfortably, and in the farthest recesses of his mind, Dudley wondered if he had just been enchanted with some horrible voodoo curse.
“Are you okay?” the Marvelous Stretchy Chia asked, leading him up a set of shiny chrome stairs back to the lobby.
“You looked a little weird for a moment. But you’re not insane, so I suppose it doesn’t concern us. You’re free now. Sorry about the inconvenience.”
Dudley left the Defenders Headquarters and was met outside by Eduin and Esmond.
“Hello, fellows,” Dudley said, glad to see them. “Thanks for helping me save the Money Tree.”
“Nothing to it,” Esmond replied.
“It was a pleasure to tie ourselves to a tree,” Ediun said amiably.
“Orly talks a lot when she’s being dragged to prison,” Esmond noted.
“She never talked much to me.”
“But she made pretty drawings.”
“Though I was never fond of the name Goldenia.”
“But in the end, you’re not insane,” Esmond concluded happily.
Dudley laughed. “Why did Orly trust you with her blueprints anyway?”
“She was very eager to do some chopping, so she handed the clipboard to the nearest Neopet.”
“I always thought her genius only came in brief flashes,” said Eduin.
The three of them headed to the Post Office for a well-deserved breakfast. The Money Tree waved as they passed.