Difficulties: Part Two
The pound is a cold, dark place.
Jessica took me there, and I was turned over to the scary-looking Techo. The pink Uni who stood behind the Adoptions desk gave me a sympathetic look. The Techo led me away, and I took one last look behind me before the metal door was slammed shut. Jessica had already left, without saying a single word to me. That hurt.
Before we had left the house, I had taped my note on the inside of Kate’s door. Annie didn’t know how to read, but I knew Kate would read it out loud to her. For “breakfast”, Jessica had given me some sandy grapes. I was glad I’d never have to eat food made out of sand again. On our way out the door, I stashed the grapes under the front steps.
We had to walk halfway across the Lost Desert, through the Haunted Woods (I am never, ever going back to that scary place again!), past Kiko Lake, and into Neopia Central. It took us almost four and a half hours, and by the time we got to the pound at five-thirty that morning, I was exhausted.
“Right this way,” the Techo said, a sly smile spreading across his face. He led me down a long hallway full of metal bars and cages. Then he stopped at one, unlocked the door, and held it wide open for me. “This will be your new home until you’re adopted. If you’re adopted, that is.” He pointed inside a dark cage and let out a cackling, cruel laugh. “Welcome to your new ‘home sweet home’.”
I stepped inside, shivering. I wasn’t very cold; my thick fur took care of that. I was shaking from sheer terror. How could I live in here? The door slammed shut behind me, and I jumped, startled. The darkness crept in from the walls, making me feel small.
Then a voice sliced through the air. It was a sweet, kind voice, but frightened at the same time. “Who’s there?”
I quickly whirled around and saw a red Peophin curled up in the corner. “Me,” I whispered.
I swallowed. How did my throat get so dry? “Lela.”
“I’m Leilani,” the Peophin answered, spelling her name out for me. She was very outgoing, and warmed up to me instantly. “Our names are kind of similar. It’s almost like mine’s the longer version of yours.”
I managed a smile and sat down next to Leilani. I could tell we were going to become fast friends. “Have you been in the pound long?” I asked.
Leilani nodded. “This is my third week,” she said. “And let me tell you, it’s awful in here. Especially if you’re used to living in fancier conditions. I’d do anything to get out and go back to Mystery Island.”
“You lived on Mystery Island?” I asked, my eyes wide. “Have you ever been to Maraqua?” I knew Maraqua was really close to Mystery Island. I’d seen it on a map before.
“Yes, but only once. My brother and I swam there for a few days. We went underwater fishing every day, and my owner even paid for us to eat at the Kelp restaurant once, which is really fancy and expensive.”
“That sounds amazing. Was it lovely there?” My voice sounded dreamy. I couldn’t help myself.
“Oh, yes. I’d love to go back someday and start my own shell shop. If you know good places to look, there are shells everywhere...” Leilani told me lots of things about Maraqua that I hadn’t heard before. We sat there, and I shared my dream with her about becoming a Flotsam and moving there.
“You know, I think you’d make a nice royal Flotsam,” Leilani said after I finished explaining. “I can totally imagine it.”
“Really?” I had never thought of becoming painted royal. I had never even seen a royal pet before, except in books with pictures. I knew they were beautiful and usually very rich as well.
“Yeah, really.” Leilani let out a large yawn. “Even your name fits. It’s very pretty, and not that common. I bet they’d call you Princess Lela. Or maybe even Queen Lela.”
I blushed and looked down. Princess Lela... Could I really be considered a queen if I was painted royal? I can just imagine Jessica’s face if she saw me as a royal Flotsam – and a princess, no less! I’m sure she’d want me back, just so she could show me off to all her friends. “Look at Lela, my royal Flotsam. Isn’t she beautiful?” She would probably begin bragging lies after a while. “I painted her myself!” and “Oh yeah, it took me months to save up enough neopoints for the paint brush. Anything my little Lela wants, she gets! She’s my favorite pet, of course. I just love to spoil her so.” But I wouldn’t go back. Not for anything. I’d invite my sisters to come see me, and they could stay on Mystery Island, where they could swim with me in the ocean and admire my expensive clothes...
A voice cut through my thoughts. “I’m really glad you’re here, Lela. I mean, I’m not glad you got abandoned and all...” Leilani paused, searching for the right words. “Anyway, I’m glad you’re here. You’re a really nice pet, and I didn’t think I could make it through the pound alone.”
I smiled at my new friend and gave her a hug. “I’m glad you’re here too. Maybe we’ll even make it out together.” That’s when I remembered. “Oh! I forgot. I snuck in something. If we can manage to get some light, we’ll be able to read it.” I reached into the thick fur around my neck and pulled out my favorite book, Maraquan Faerie Tales.
* * *
“Good morning, my little darlings! Are you ready for breakfast?” A feathery voice woke me up around eight in the morning. I had only been asleep for about an hour or so, and at first I thought the voice was Jessica’s. It was hard to believe that only three hours ago, she had left me in the pound.
I opened my eyes slowly. It was still dark in our cage, but the door was open, letting in some light. The pink Uni from the Adoptions desk stood under the doorway, gracefully balancing a tray in one hoof.
“Hello, dear,” she said, walking inside and standing next to me. “My name is Rose. You must be Lela.” She handed me a carton of fresh Kau Kau Farm Milk, then one to Leilani. She also gave us each a small green apple and a warm bacon omelette. The kind Uni gave Leilani a bucket of warm water, which the Peophin gratefully dumped over herself. It must feel awful for a water pet to be so dry all the time, I realized.
I wasn’t expecting this type of food. I had imagined some grotesque substance that was barely edible, let alone filling. “Thank you,” I murmured, staring at her in wonder.
“You’re welcome,” Rose said, giving me a smile. “Enjoy your breakfast. Lunch is at noon.” She closed the door gently behind her, not slamming it like that rude Techo had done.
“This food is better than what I ate at home,” I marveled.
As we sat down to eat, Leilani filled me in on the pound’s daily meals. “Whenever Rose feeds us, she always makes sure to give us healthy food. Usually it tastes really good, too.” She paused to take a crunchy bite out of her apple. “Whenever that Techo feeds us, he gives us gross stuff. Yesterday was his day – they switch off – and for dinner we had hot worm hot dogs that weren’t even hot. They were practically frozen, yet he said he had slaved over keeping them warm for us. Then he did his evil cackle.” She shivered in disgust. “I can rarely eat anything he gives us. Usually I just go hungry on those days.”
“Yuck,” I groaned. “Does that mean he’ll serve us tomorrow?”
Leilani nodded. A shiver ran up my spine.
The rest of the day was uneventful. Leilani told me that was how most days went. Rose fed us some tasty, healthy food for lunch and dinner, and we appreciated it immensely. She also brought Leilani a bucket of water each time, and the Peophin was able to sit in a puddle for a while before it dried up.
To be honest, I wasn’t missing the Lost Desert at all. Of course, I missed my sisters. I also missed the books I had at home. Other than that, I didn’t really mind being in the pound.
Until the next morning.
At eight on the dot, the door swung open. The Techo handed us each a large bucket of sludge and a carton of spoiled milk to share. For lunch we had hairy rock burgers, and dinner consisted of edible purple socks (which were supposed to be grape-flavored, but they tasted more like purple glue) and warm water, which wasn’t refreshing at all, but better than this morning’s milk. There was no refreshing water bucket for Leilani.
After a week in the pound, I told Leilani my feelings. “I don’t think I can take this much longer,” I told her. “I’m tired of hardly being glanced at when the people come through looking for new pets.”
“Me too,” Leilani replied. “They’re only looking for painted or limited edition pets. They just like the pretty ones.”
I nodded. This was going to be a hard life. How could I face so many rejections after being abandoned and left alone?
Yesterday, I thought I had found a new home. A tall boy with dark, curly hair had come in, and he was asking me questions. I thought he was different than all the other humans that had come in – not caring about colors...
And then the Techo delivered a baby Usul to the cage next door. Immediately, the boy ran over and snatched her up before any else saw her, then raced to Rose’s desk without another word to me.
What happened? I wondered, heartbroken. I thought he liked me, even though I was plain, and that he didn’t care about being painted. I guess I was wrong.
For the rest of the day, I had scrunched myself in a corner, trying not to be seen. Leilani felt terrible for me, and I felt bad for making her feel that way.
I can’t stand this any longer. I have to find a way out of here!
To be continued...