Ember: Part One
Ember had always been different.
She knew she was different because of the way pets stared, and young ones pointed, but she didn’t know why she was different. Pets always asked her what she was, but she didn’t know that either.
“Am I different from everyone else?” she once asked her mother as they were eating lunch.
“Of course you are, dear,” was her mother’s reply. “Everyone’s different in their own, special way.”
“Yes, I know that.” Ember was slightly frustrated- wasn’t it obvious she didn’t mean that? “But am I different different?”
Her mother paused from eating for a second, and looked at her.
“Listen, Ember, you must never let anyone tell you you are any different, or aren’t as good as anybody else, okay?”
Ember frowned, puzzled. “But you just said I was different from everyone else!” ‘Adults can be so confusing!’ she thought.
Her mother thought for a few moments, stopping and staring into space the way Ember sometimes did when she was concentrating.
“You’re special and unique, but you are no better or worse than every other special and unique pet. Do you understand?”
Ember said yes, although really she didn’t understand at all.
Ember did not want to go to neoschool.
This was because of several reasons. She wouldn’t know anyone there, she would never make any friends, especially since she didn’t know what she was or why she was different, and, to make things even worse, she had never been to a neoschool before!
“Do I have to go?” she pleaded, as her mother dressed her in her new school uniform.
“Of course! Everyone has to go to neoschool, to make them smart. Besides, neoschool is fun!” Ember’s mother gave her a reassuring smile as she buttoned up her light blue school shirt. “You’ll make friends in no time!” At this point, Ember, instead of looking happier, looked even more terrified, and began chewing on her lip.
“Oh, Ember!” her mother hugged her. “They won’t be anything like those pets at the party, if that’s what you’re scared of!”
The party had been one of the worst nights of Ember’s life. It was one of her mother’s neofriend’s birthday, and her mother had left her almost immediately after arriving. The only other children there looked very much older, and all stuck together like glue in one big furry mess. Ember never learnt their names, and they never asked hers- in fact, the only question they did ask her was what she was, to which she could only shrug. At this point, nudging and whispering and giggling they all moved away, leaving Ember alone, lost, and unsure of what to do. Those pets had been mean to her, and Ember was sure the neoschool pets would be no different.
Ember did not like her uniform, she decided, on the walk to neoschool. Compared to her everyday clothes, it was ugly and impractical; her jumper was itchy, her skirt too long and her white socks already looked slightly brown. And as for the shoes- well, there was no other word but appalling!
When they reached the school the playground looked as bad as Ember had feared. It was a kaleidoscope of sounds, sights and smells; snatches of conversations, pets rushing around playing it or gossiping in small groups, and the flowers that gave the school its name, which seemed to be growing anywhere and everywhere. Ember’s mother kissed her cheek goodbye, before leaving Ember to explore this strange new place on her own.
Nervously, she began to walk through the playground, clutching her bag to herself self-consciously. Nothing appeared to change, but Ember knew they were all staring at her. How wrong her mother had been! She could never make friends here, in this big confusing place where everyone but her had friends and knew what to do!
Not long after Ember arrived, a stern looking teacher, dressed in a suit, came outside and rang a bell. Suddenly, to Ember’s surprise, the students stopped talking and began to line up and march into the school. Ember followed them inside, before realising she had no idea where to go. All the pets were going in different directions! She must have looked very lost, because a kind looking teacher came up to her.
“Hello!” the teacher greeted Ember. “Are you new?”
“Oh, then you’ll be with me! I’m Miss Petal, your teacher, and we’re in room 12. Follow me!”
Ember followed Miss Petal through a series of stairs, halls, turns and doors. ‘I’ll never find my way out!’ she thought to herself.
Eventually they reached a classroom full of young pets looking as confused and lost as Ember. The only spare seat was near the front, next to a blue Ixi, which Ember gladly took.
“Good morning, class!” Miss Petal said, smiling. She was fairly old, Ember thought, but all adults seemed very old to her. She wore a blue flowery dress, and sadly plain brown shoes. Ember liked shoes very much. “You are all new to the school today, but one day you will be the oldest, ready to leave for big school. I hope you all have a wonderful time here at Poppy Primary.”
The morning’s lessons were spent, thankfully, on informing the newcomers about the school. They were shown maps, informed of the school rules and given their timetables. By the time the bell went, Ember was feeling much more confident.
“Morning break!” announced Miss Petal. “Remember to be back here in half an hour!”
The pets all seemed to know each other, since they immediately began talking in little groups of three or four. Ember’s heart sank. Now she truly was alone.
“Hi!” Ember turned around, surprised. The blue Ixi next to her, along with another little girl who had joined her, had said hi!
“Hi,” she replied, slightly unsure. If they were friends, why were they talking to her?
“Are you new or something?” asked the Ixi, her friend staying quiet in the background. “Because most pets here came from nursery school together.”
“Yeah, I’m new,” answered Ember.
“Great!” The Ixi beamed. “Because we are too!”
Ember noticed most of the other pets had gone outside.
They talked a little longer, about their hobbies, their family, any siblings, before the Ixi asked the dreaded question.
“I hope it’s not rude to ask, but what are you?” she inquired.
“I... I don’t understand what you mean,” stammered Ember, trying to think of an answer.
“Well, like I’m Rachel, and I’m an Ixi,” Rachel explained.
“And I’m Claire, and I’m a Kau.”
“I’m Ember, and I don’t know!” cried Ember, and with that she started sobbing. ‘Now they won’t be my friend, never ever!’ she told herself.
“Oh, don’t cry, please don’t!” Claire rushed forward and gave Ember a hug. “I can’t stand it when people cry!”
“Yeah, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you are, honestly!” Rachel hugged her as well.
Ember dried her eyes and stopped sniffing for a moment.
“Really?” she asked, hopefully.
“Of course, silly!” Rachel exclaimed, before running off out the door. “I’m going to the playground! Last one there’s a smelly banana!”
Ember was felling much more confident as she reached the doors to the playground. Triumphantly, she opened them, and was momentarily dazzled by the bright sunlight.
“I won!” she called to Rachel and Claire, who were panting and puffing behind her.
“I let you win!” called Rachel back. “I could beat you any day!”
Ember suddenly noticed a game going on in the centre of the playground. It appeared to involve passing a ball around in a circle. Occasionally the ball would explode in somebody’s hands, and soak them in water, much to the amusement of the other players.
“That looks fun,” Claire commented to Rachel and Ember. “Do you think we could possibly play?”
“Course,” said Rachel, already almost at the game. “Hey, can we play?” she asked.
“Sure,” answered one pet. She was old, probably about to leave for big school, and very good at the game. Whenever she got the ball, she would do all sorts of tricks with it. “I’m Lucy, and it’s my gormball, so I’m the captain. The rules are easy. Hold the ball for up to five seconds before passing it on. If it explodes, you’re out. Now, make room, everyone!”
The pets shuffled back, and the three friends squeezed into the gap they had made.
The ball started making its way around the circle. The older, better pets did all sorts of clever stunts; hitting it on their heads, or passing it behind their backs, whereas the new players simply held it for a bit before passing it along.
“Watch out!” somebody screamed, suddenly. Ember looked up from her daydreaming to see the gormball flying through the air- somebody’s stunt had gone wrong! She watched, fascinated, as the ball twisted and caught the sunlight in the air, and began to fall, getting larger, and larger.
“Ember! What are you doing?! Move!” yelled Rachel, but it was too late.
Ember was wet.
Ember was very wet indeed. Gormballs, she decided, contained a lot of water.
The crowd seemed to be holding their breath, waiting to see what the proper reaction was.
Ember smiled. She must look awful, she decided, school uniform already ruined, and on the first day as well! But, oh, it had been so funny! Her smile turned into a giggle, which turned into a laugh, and soon the whole playground was in hysterics too. The bell rang much too quickly, and Ember followed Claire and Rachel into their next lesson, English.
Their English teacher, who turned out to be Miss Petal as well, did look at Ember oddly for a second, but it seemed a pet coming in from break soaking was not a particularly unusual event at Poppy Primary.
“Hello again, class.” Miss Petal beamed, handing out some sheets. “This term, we will be studying faeries.”
There were a few murmurs of excitement. They got into pairs, and began doing a sheet on the different types of faeries.
“She looks a little bit like you!” Claire, Ember’s partner, exclaimed when they got to the picture of the fire faerie.
Ember stared at the photo. She certainly had the same sort of face as her, and distinctive orange hair.
“I suppose, a little.” Ember went back to doing her sheet.
“Don’t you see?” Claire almost squealed. “This could be it! The answer to what you are.”
Ember looked puzzled. “What do you.... wait, you’re not suggesting that I could be a....”
“Yes!” Claire shrieked.
Ember thought about it. Could it be possible? She had always thought faeries were rare creatures that lived in Faerieland and could do magic and were very pretty.
“Ember!” barked Miss Petal. “Is there a reason why you are doing nothing but staring into space?”
“I... Miss, do you think I could be a faerie?”
“It’s certainly very possible.” Miss Petal examined Ember’s face. “Yes, very faerie-like.”
“But she doesn’t have wings, Miss!” piped up a student from the back of the class. Miss Petal started to explain how faeries only had tiny wings as children, but Ember was in a world of her own.
She was soaring over the clouds, and flying through the air. For the first time in her life, she knew what she was! Finally, she could truly be her!
She spent the rest of the lesson in a daze. ‘Just wait until I tell Mum about this!’ she kept thinking.
Ember did not like school dinners.
“How can anyone eat this?” she asked Rachel disgustedly.
“Oh, aren’t you eating that?” asked Claire. “Because apparently they don’t let you have thirds.”
Ember blinked in surprise as Claire began to tuck into Ember’s lunch, before she even had a chance to tell her she could.
“I’m going to see if there’s a game of gormball,” she told them, and left for the playground.
There didn’t appear to be a game happening, although Lucy and quite a few others were out there.
‘I’ll ask Lucy why not,’ she decided. She was feeling confident.
As she got closer to Lucy, however, she felt a lot more nervous. Lucy was so old! And she was so little! What would she say? Would Lucy laugh at her?
‘Maybe I shouldn’t,’ she thought, but it was too late. Lucy had already seen her coming and waved at her.
“Hi,” she said when Ember got near her.
“Hi,” Ember replied, a little nervously. “Why is there no game of gormball?”
“Oh, we don’t play at lunchtimes, only at morning break,” Lucy answered her. “But I can show you some tricks, if you like.”
“Really?” Ember asked, excited. “Okay! I’d love to learn! You’re a really good gormball player, you know.”
Lucy smiled. “Can I ask you something?”
“What is it that you are? You don’t look like any neopet I’ve ever seen.”
“I’m a faerie,” answered Ember, proudly. “A fire faerie.”
Ember was a very good gormball player.
She had learnt very quickly, Lucy said, and, not meaning to boast, but she was almost as good as her now!
‘This has to be the best day of my life!’ she decided, skipping into class.
“Is there a reason why you are so happy?” asked her maths teacher, who she recognised as the teacher who had rung the bell that morning.
“Yes, of course!” Ember answered, before sitting down. “Isn’t everyone happy for a reason?”
“Well... yes, I suppose,” the teacher said, and smiled slightly.
Ah, smiling. He hadn’t smiled in so long, he had almost forgotten what it was, or why it was necessary. But now he smiled again, it was just beautiful. Like sunlight on a gloomy day, peeking from behind the clouds. How lucky were the people who could smile so easily! And yet, all it had taken him to smile after so long was a young faerie.
To be continued...