Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 182,804,412 Issue: 417 | 6th day of Storing, Y11
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Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire


by aizar

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It was raining, the water making rivulets down the windows as thunder boomed in the distance.

     Boom. Boom-crash!

     Thunk, thunk, thunk!

     Thunder doesn't go thunk, thunk, thunk, thought Ramlo. Someone must be knocking on the door.

     The blue Gelert rolled off his bed and shook out his fur as if the rain was on the inside of the house as well as on the outside. He ran over to the mirror to check he hadn't drooled on himself while snoozing.

     Thunk, thunk, thunk.

     "Just a minute!" yelled Ramlo. He found a bit of drool at the left corner of his mouth and wiped it away with a paw. The hair on the top of his head was messed from sleeping on it funny, so he took the time to smooth it down with a bit of spit.

     THUNK, THUNK, THUNK.

     "I said, just a minute!"

     The hair was being particularly stubborn, and Kevaar resorted to turning on the faucet to wet a comb.

     THUD!

     THUD!

     THUD!

     That was good enough. "Coming!" The Gelert hopped over to the door and opened it. Just outside was a soaked and rather angry Eyrie.

     "Oh! Zek! I'm sorry, why don't you come in?"

     The Eyrie ground its beak in irritation, pushing into the room. He snatched a towel from a nearby rack and rubbed his feathers dry. Ramlo pondered helping smooth the feathers on the top of his friend's head with his patented faucet-wetted comb, but decided Zek was already sopping enough.

     "Zek! It's so good to see you! Why didn't you come to my party last week? I missed you."

     Zek glared pointedly at Ramlo, pushing past the enthusiastic Gelert to settle on the couch. "That is why I am here," he said quietly, sternly.

     "Huh? But the party's over, Zek. You're too late. I'm really sorry, but you missed it."

     "I'm not that stupid!" snapped Zek, and Ramlo sat back on his haunches in surprise.

     Zek was always a little grumpy--Ramlo blamed the Darigan coloring--but even this outburst was a little extreme. Ramlo's wispy ears flattened down onto his neck, and he crept up next to the Eyrie with apologetic eyes.

     "What's the matter? Did I do something wrong?"

     Zek glared at him, and Ramlo decided he must have.

     "I'm sorry, whatever it was. You're my best friend, I would never--"

     "I'll believe THAT when I see it," snarled Zek. He got back to his feet, pacing around the room with his claws out. Ramlo knew he must have really blown it if Zek's claws were out.

     "What do you mean?" Ramlo tried to keep his voice steady, and not squeak.

     "Silverweed spoke with me yesterday. He explained what was really going on."

     Silverweed. Ramlo bit down on his lip to keep from baring his teeth. Ever since the white Ixi had moved into the neighborhood, everyone had been on edge. Odd things kept happening, like lawn ornaments being stolen, statues defaced, garbage being tossed carelessly onto people's yards. The funny thing was, no one could figure out who was doing these things--Silverweed was as nice a Neopet as you could ever ask for. He was polite, always helpful, always ready to lend a hand.

     Ramlo had even respected him and treated him as a friend... until he came across Silverweed talking to one of his neighbors, telling her outright lies about the bag of garbage someone had malevolently thrown into her yard. Silverweed claimed Ramlo had been behind it.

     Ramlo thought this was outrageously unfair (not to mention untrue!), especially when he had noticed the scent of Silverweed in and about the neighbor's yard on the night of the crime. He tried telling this to his neighbor, but being a Skeith, she didn't believe him. Skeiths didn't have the best sense of smell, and seeing was believing.

     Ramlo took deep breaths, hoping his ruff wasn't going up and giving his anger away to Zek. "What did he tell you?" he asked as calmly as he could manage.

     "Do you remember that pink lenny statue I had out on my front lawn? You should. Silverweed he said he saw you carrying it off."

     "But--"

     "Look, I know you like to play pranks, but don't you think this is going a bit far? First the garbage incident, then Tum-Tum's missing shoes, and now my lawn lenny!"

     Ramlo opened and shut his mouth. He hadn't done it! Silverweed was framing him! "Zek, there's something you should know about Silverweed. He was the one that--"

     "Don't give me that!" said Zek with an angry clack of his beak. "I know you don't like him, but accusing him is a really childish way of getting back at him! Why don't you start acting mature for once?"

     "But--"

     Zek took a deep breath to calm his ruffled feathers. "Look. I'm sorry it had to turn out this way. You used to be a really good friend. But now... I'm sorry. This is the end. I can't trust you anymore, Ramlo."

     "That's not true!"

     Zek shook his head and headed for the door. Ramlo tried stammering an apology, an explanation--anything--but Zek ignored him.

     The Eyrie turned back on the doorstep. "I'm sorry, Ramlo. I really am. But I do not associate with liars."And he shut the door in Ramlo's face.

     Ramlo just stared with his mouth hanging wide. How could he? How could he believe that wretched Ixi's lies? Ramlo hadn't stolen anything; he would never even think of it! Zek should know that!

     Ramlo growled until he felt his anger cloud his eyes red. He barked himself hoarse at the door, yipping any insult that crossed his mind. Of course Zek couldn't hear him, having gone home, but it still felt good.

     While he was stopping to catch his breath, the enormity of the situation hit him. His friend, his very best friend, thought he was a liar. And his neighbors hated him. Everyone hated him.

     The Gelert felt a howl of despair climbing up his throat, and he pointed his nose to the ceiling and let it all out.

     *****

     Every time Ramlo walked outside, his neighbors would stop to stare. Then they would turn to each other and whisper, and with his Gelert hearing, Ramlo could pick up on what they were saying.

     "Liar."

     "Arrogant dung-sniffer."

     "He won't even own up to his crimes now that we've caught him."

     Ramlo wanted to turn on them then and there and scream out at how wrong and blind they were, but he knew that would only make things worse. He turned and ran the other way, and bumped into the person he wanted to see the least. Silverweed.

     "Hello, Ramlo," said the Ixi, brushing himself off after the collision. "You should be more careful. You could have broken a leg careening down the street like that."

     Ramlo sputtered in anger. Here was the liar himself. He felt a dozen insults creeping up his throat, but Silverweed was quicker.

     "Look at that! You cut yourself. I told you to be careful... here, give me your paw. I'll put a band-aid on it."

     Ramlo's anger was swept away by shock. Why was the Ixi helping him, after all he had done to pit the other Neopets against him?

     Gentle as you please, the Ixi opened a band-aid package and smoothed the band-aid onto the Gelert's wrist. Ramlo couldn't believe his eyes. The Ixi was evil! He had no good in him whatsoever! Why was he helping him?

     "It still looks a little sore. Tell you what! Come around to my house this evening and I'll give you some salve. Faeries made it, you know. Illusen came to see me herself."

     Ramlo didn't know what to do. If even Illusen liked Silverweed, maybe he was wrong about the Ixi after all? He'd better ask. Maybe it was just a big misunderstanding. "Silverweed, that day my neighbor found trash all over her yard, I smelled your scent all over the place too." Don't sound so accusatory, thought Ramlo. That's why Zek now hates you, for falsely accusing people. "You--you didn't see the person doing it, did you?"

     Silverweed tut-tutted. "Not at the scene of the crime, no." The Ixi smiled, sickly sweet, and gave Ramlo a knowing wink. Ramlo's sympathy for him vanished. "You smelled me there because I was helping to clean up the mess."

     Yeah, I bet you were, thought Ramlo. He glared at the Ixi until he hoped Silverweed would crack and fess up, but the Ixi didn't.

     "I had best be going," Silverweed said. "My little petpet Mary is sick, you see, and she can't stand not having me around. Gets really tiresome, sometimes, but she's my friend. I could never leave her." The Ixi smiled that sick smile again and waved, then turned to walk away.

     Liar. He smelled so much of liar. How could the others not see it? It was so unfair.

     *****

     While Zek had said quite plainly he never wanted to see him again, Ramlo figured he had meant AFTER the Eyrie's fire brigade tryout.

     There were no water faeries in the vicinity of their neighborhood, so the Neopets had put together a fire brigade to put out house fires. Zek had admired them forever for their bravery and selflessness, so he was really excited now that he might have the chance to sign up with the legendary group.

     There was a line of eager Neopets outside the fire brigade station, all chattering about the upcoming tryout and if they thought they'd pass. Ramlo trotted down the line, feeling too happy to give a second thought to the accusing glances the others gave him.

     On seeing Zek, he bounded up to his friend, dancing from paw to paw like excited Gelerts do and wagging his tail. "Didja go yet? Didja pass the test?"

     Zek frowned at him and turned his back. Ramlo's glee flew out of him, and his ears drooped. "You're not still angry about--"

     "Yes," growled Zek. He didn't have time to say much more because he was next in line, and one of the fire brigade officials was checking him over for signs of a disability that would keep him from being an effective fire fighter. Ramlo wagged his tail a little when the Usul said Zek was cleared to take the trial, but Zek still bluntly ignored him.

     As Zek walked down to the obstacle course, the Usul rounded on Ramlo disapprovingly. "I know you want to be part of the fire brigade, but you have to wait in line like everyone else!"

     "What? No, I-I was just watching." Ramlo's ears drooped further until they dragged the ground. He turned to find a more secluded place to watch Zek's tryout. He cheered and jumped for joy every time Zek cleared an obstacle in the obstacle course, but the Eyrie never once looked at him.

     The tryout ended, and Zek had passed with flying colors.

     "You're going to be a fire fighter!" Ramlo cheered and bounded over to his friend, thinking maybe the Eyrie would be less recalcitrant after passing the tryout.

     Silverweed was standing there next to Zek. At Ramlo's joyful call, he turned to look at the Gelert disgustedly. "You know," he said in a disdainful voice, "it's really petty to flatter someone just to get their attention."

     Ramlo slid to a stop as if he had hit a wall. "But I... I really mean it. You did good, Zek."

     Zek snapped his beak. "Thank you, but no thank you. Go take your lies someplace else."

     Silverweed was staring at Ramlo with slitted eyes, and the Gelert could swear he was enjoying the exchange. How he wished he could tear out that Ixi's fur! But Zek was watching. Biting back a wail of anger and grief, Ramlo turned on his heels and fled.

     *****

     As autumn set in, Ramlo became more miserable. He hardly dared to go out of the house without some Neopet cornering him and "throwing the book" at him.

     As the rain fell less and less, the amount of house fires grew, as well. Zek was kept busy for most of the day, running from fire to fire to drag out the trapped and put out the flames. Ramlo had to try hard to catch himself before "flattering" his friend anymore. The Eyrie was quickly becoming a valuable and respect part of the fire brigade.

     The day dawned especially dry and hot. Zek will be very busy today, thought Ramlo. It's perfect weather for house fires. Maybe I should tell that Skeith to replace her leaky stove. It might start a blaze.

     Ramlo dragged himself to his feet. He was sure his neighbor would not appreciate his helpful advice, even if it saved her life in the future. He pushed open the front door with his paw, staring at the sidewalk and dragging his paws as he walked over to his neighbor's house.

     Something smelled wrong. Immediately Ramlo's head and ears came up, and what he saw was horrifying.

     He was too late. The stove HAD caught on fire, and one whole side of the house was burning. Ramlo gasped and began barking the alarm, running full-speed at the burning building. Could his neighbor still be in there, trapped?

     Other Neopets took up the cry, and a Pteri whisked off to alert the fire brigade. Just as Ramlo cleared the fence into his neighbor's yard, the Skeith came bolting around the other corner of the house.

     "My goodness! Oh no! How did that--did the stove--my goodness!" She flew about screaming until Ramlo thought she would faint from excitement.

     Somewhere a siren from the fire brigade switched on and grew louder and louder as fire fighters came down the street. At their head was Zek, and despite their estrangement, Ramlo couldn't help feel a flash of pride and awe at seeing his friend in his shiny gold and red fire fighter uniform.

     Zek slid to a stop next to the Skeith, batting his wings to stay in balance. "Citizen, is anyone in that building?"

     "No, no, I'm okay, and I live alone. All I have is my warf, Daisy. OHMIGOSH! DAISY! Daisy's trapped in there!"

     "I'm on it," said Zek and ran up to the house. He kicked down the door with a smart hit from his paw and ran in.

     "No, Zek, wait!" shouted Ramlo and sprung forward after him. Someone grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

     "Are you crazy?" It was Silverweed. "Don't try playing the hero! You're no fire fighter and you're just being stupid!" The Ixi pulled Ramlo out into the street, even as members of the fire brigade swarmed past them, hooking up hoses and aiming the stream of water at the burning house.

     "Don't play the martyr act!" Silverweed was shouting, his composure lost. "You're no fire fighter and you're just being an arrogant little--"

     That's it. Ramlo turned on Silverweed and punched him in the nose. He was about to leap on him to give him the thorough beating he deserved when there was an awful screech, and a wave of heat billowed out, felt even by those on the street. Ramlo turned to stare at the house, aghast. Half of the roof had come down, and Zek was still in there.

     "Zek!"

     There was a frantic barking, and Zek appeared in one of the lower windows with a small warf under one arm. He punched his fireman's hatchet through the window, handing the frightened warf to a fire fighter on the other side. Ramlo ran over.

     "Can you fit?" the other fire fighter was shouting to Zek. "Quick! The rest of the roof is about to come down!"

     Zek folded his wings and tried squirming his way through the window, his uniform ripping on the broken glass. "I... I can't."

     "Just hold your position. We'll send someone through the--Hey! Citizen! What are you doing here? Get back onto the street, where it's safe!"

     Ramlo ignored the fire fighter, running around to the other side of the house to an exceptionally big window. The heat was something amazing, rolling on him in oppressive waves as the fire continued to roar. The Gelert swore he could feel his fur singing down to his skin.

     My friend's in there, thought Ramlo. He took a deep breath, putting his head down like a charging Kau and jumped through the window. He squeezed his eyes shut at the shattering glass and the sudden billow of smoke coming from the other side.

     Besides the smoke and heat, this room showed no signs of fire damage. Ramlo crouched to the floor where the smoke wasn't so thick and peered around him. Which way to the front window? Was it through that door over there? He had been here before, back when his neighbor still liked him, but everything looked different in the orange light.

     It had to be that door. Ramlo put his paw on the knob but immediately recoiled, the metal super-heated from the blaze. He looked around him, spotted a bulky chair, then picked it up and flung it with all his might at the door.

     The door wasn't locked, and sprang open at the impact. Ramlo wiggled through, and came face to face with Zek.

     "What are you doing in here?" exclaimed the Eyrie in surprise.

     "No time! Roof! Coming down!" Ramlo coughed against the smoke swirling in his nostrils. Zek took off his face mask and fitted to the Gelert's head.

     "Quickly," he said. "You came in through the back? The blaze is on the north side of the house, so it should still be clear." Ramlo couldn't believe how calm the Eyrie was. But then, Zek had been trained specifically for this kind of situation. Ramlo followed the Eyrie into the room he had just come from.

     "Um, Zek? What's that creaking noise?"

     The Eyrie turned to shout at the Gelert to hurry it up, but at the screeching, grinding sound suddenly coming in all directions, his eyes got real wide and he seized Ramlo's arm.

     "That's the roof! Get out, now!"

     "You first!" Ramlo shouted back, pushing the Eyrie at the window.

     The next few moments were ones of confusion as the roof slipped its moorings and the house caved in completely. Ramlo tasted smoke, ashes, and thought his tail caught on fire. He barrel-rolled to the right, where there was daylight. His back fell on cool grass, and he spent the next few minutes frantically rolling back and forth to put out the flames.

     Once the burning sensation had receded, the Gelert got to his feet and looked around in panic for his friend. Zek had rolled clear too, though not without getting burned in the process. He favored one paw and his back was patchy from singed off feathers.

     The fire brigade came running around the side of the house, grabbing both Neopets and dragging them safely out into the street. Trusting his fellows had it under control, Zek sat up and began licking his burnt paw. Eventually he turned to Ramlo with surprised eyes.

     "What were you thinking? You're not a trained fire fighter. You shouldn't have gone anywhere near the building."

     Ramlo looked back at the house. A little flicker of giddy relief swept over him as he saw the extent of the damage. He had been in there a few seconds ago. If he had been less lucky, he'd been crushed under those smoldering beams.

     He turned to Zek sheepishly. "I saw you run in, and then the roof fell and I thought you were trapped. I didn't want to abandon you--"

     As Zek's adrenalin rush began to calm down, he seemed to remember who Ramlo was and that they weren't friends. "Well, thanks. But you've already abandoned me. And the rest of the neighborhood. One brave deed doesn't make up for--"

     "I never abandoned you," protested Ramlo. He had no strength to shout even though he wanted to so badly, and despite the filter over his nose, he felt queasy from smoke inhalation. "It was you who abandoned me. You trusted Silverweed, and now he's over there by the hydrant across the street in case he gets his pretty white fur smudged with ashes." Ramlo pointed with a paw, then turned to glare back up at Zek. "He never cared for you. He wouldn't his risk his hoof polish for you. And I did. Risked my life, I mean."

     Zek was quiet for a very long time. He stared Ramlo straight in the eyes, and the Gelert stared stubbornly back.

     "You're right," the Eyrie said softly. "You were always right. I'm sorry."

     Ramlo's anger melted away like cotton candy. His ears went up and his tail slowly wagged. "It's-it's okay. I'm not angry, not really. People believe stupid things sometimes, right? I wouldn't be much of a friend if I didn't forgive you... for being so DUMB!"

     Despite himself, Zek smiled. He pushed himself up, wincing as he put weight on his burned paw. "It was all Silverweed, wasn't it? The thefts, the garbage? You know, he always seemed too... syrupy to me. Too nice. Holier-than-thou."

     Ramlo growled. Zek smiled gently and patted his friend's shoulder with his good paw.

     "It's okay. I see he was the dung-sniffer now, not you; you were right to be angry." He looked over to Silverweed, who was complaining about the smoke in such a way he had a sympathetic group of Neopets surrounding him trying to make him more comfortable. "...but what are we going to do about him? He'll keep trying to slander you."

     Images of throwing the Ixi into a lake, tossing him off a cliff, sticking him into the burning house to watch him burn up, all ran through Ramlo's mind.

     And suddenly, unexplainably, he felt sorry for him, too. Silverweed wasn't all bluff; that's why so many people had believed him--even Ramlo had believed him for a while, before the Ixi had tried to frame him. He WAS sensitive to other people, but he was too proud and afraid of rejection to admit his errors, or let his friends be friends without always leading them along with a carrot and a hot iron. If only he learned he didn't have to be so afraid...

     "We'll leave him alone," said Ramlo firmly. "He's digging his own grave with every lie he concocts. The others will find out about it... eventually. We don't have to be involved."

     Zek smiled more broadly and clapped the Gelert's shoulder. "So what do you say we get a cold drink of water and then go shopping for a new lawn lenny? We could even get that disco colored one you liked so much."

     Ramlo sprang to his feet, tail whipping like ribbon as it wagged. Zek's smile was like a beam of sunlight, and everything felt right again. Almost. "So we're friends again?"

     "Yes," said Zek, and walked to where Neopets were giving the tired fire fighters glasses of water.

     As Ramlo walked past Silverweed, he couldn't help but put his tail in the air, point his nose up arrogantly, and strut past as if he were king of the world. He heard some of the other Neopets muttering about his arrogance, but then his heart rose as the Skeith of the burning house flew over to them. "Don't you talk bad about him! He saved my warf!"

     Ramlo grinned and waved at his neighbor, who waved cheerfully back. Then Ramlo had to turn to make sure not to step on Zek's tail. The Eyrie wouldn't like that.

     So what if Silverweed was a dung-sniffer? So what if half of the village still believed him? Ramlo had his best friend back, an ally, and that was good enough for him.

The End

 
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