Of Advents and Calendars: Part One
Also by sweetie_purple16
"Is that the last of today's Neopets?" a voice called, and Daniel confirmed it wearily.
"Yes, every single one of them... Sage, tell me, what are tomorrow's gifts?"
A Camouflage Acara came into the room slowly, holding a huge package. "Daniel, you know we aren't allowed to know that. We just have to open up the package early in the morning and we give out whatever's in the package." She paused, shifting the package's weight from one hand to the other. "Why do you ask?"
Daniel sighed, playing with his Pirate Kougra tail. "People weren't exactly thrilled with the gifts today..."
"I don't blame them," came a little voice from the doorway Sage had come through, and both pets turned their heads to see the third part of their crew, a Baby Draik. "I mean, a Snot Ladder and a Snot Holiday Tree?"
"I know, Kylie, but..." Daniel sighed again.
"But what?" Kylie pushed.
"But we're on a limited budget!" Daniel replied wearily.
"What happened to our funds?" Kylie asked.
Daniel laughed bitterly. "We've been running this for how many years? The Faeries aren't giving us a boost!"
Sage nodded. "We write each year but they just send us the same letter back each time. The automatic one. 'Thank you for writing, we wish you the best, blah blah blah'..."
A Silver Lupe and Silver Shoyru were some of the last to retrieve their presents. They giggled at the snot-covered decorations, joking about all the funny things they could do with them.
"... What about, sending them to someone we hate?" laughed the Shoyru. "Or our owners?"
"We don't hate our owners, you silly Mallard, Koy!" snapped the Lupe playfully.
"I know, but their expressions would be priceless! I can see their faces now, can't you, Fluffy?"
"No, and I don't want to!" Fluffy elbowed her friend, who laughed:
"They should've provided gloves!"
"I'll be lucky if this doesn't slime up the Safety Deposit Box." Fluffy nodded cheerfully. "They should give more funny presents, like these!"
Daniel sat motionless in front of the boxes, longing to turn around and look at the clock but forcing himself not to. It was almost midnight, and at midnight the Neopets would start parading in, demanding their items so they could be the first to sell them and, hopefully, make some profit.
"As if," Daniel muttered to himself, leaning back against the counter. "Everyone gets the same things day after day. It's a wonder they aren't completely worthless by now..." He rubbed a paw across one of the boxes--the heaviest one. That one always contained neopoints, he knew it. He never actually knew how many neopoints, because all he did was grab one of each gift and a handful of neopoints and give it to one of the many pets standing in front of the counter, yelling that they wanted their items and they wanted them now.
Just then the clock sounded twelve times. Brrrring... brrring... brrring... brrring... brring... brrring... brrring... brrrring... brrrring... brrring... brrring... brring. And almost at the same moment, knuckles rapped on the door, which flew open, bringing a wave of chatter into the small hut.
"Where's my present?"
"There better not be more snot stuff today!"
"Is there a good stash of neopoints? I barely got any yesterday!"
Daniel sighed, getting to his feet and pulling open the boxes. "Line, please!" he shouted, but nobody bothered. He thrust his hands and tail into the boxes and then into the greedy hands, wings, and paws of other Neopets. They frowned at the Fir Cookies and Shining Star Tree Toppers they received, over half of the pets gobbling up the cookies on the spot and tossing the Tree Topper onto the floor.
"There's a garbage can, you know..." Daniel muttered, but he was ignored.
"JUNK!" a Snow Bori yelled. "Give us something that's actually profitable! Pro-fit-a-ble! Pro-fit-a-ble!" he chanted, and immediately the other pets joined in. "Pro-fit-a-ble! Pro-fit-a-ble!"
"I don't make these things! I just hand them out!" Daniel tried to explain, but nobody heard him over their chanting. A groggy Sage entered the room, asking,
"What the heck is going on?"
Daniel groaned. "Don't ask... I can’t even think this early."
"You want me to take over? You can run the shift from three to six A.M."
Daniel nodded gratefully and slipped into the back room as Sage tried to stop the mad chanting unsuccessfully. Kylie rolled over, hands covering her ears. She opened her eyes, which she'd squeezed tightly shut. "Why are they chanting? This is ridiculous!"
"I couldn't agree more." Daniel nodded, already weary from the two minutes he'd been handing out gifts. "They act like they're doing us a favor, coming here and demanding items and neopoints, and then they start screaming about getting them!"
"Is Sage taking your shift?" asked Kylie, and Daniel nodded again.
"Yes, and yours starts at nine, so you better try to get some rest."
Kylie rolled her eyes. "Yeah, right," she muttered, then turned onto her stomach and put a pillow on her head."Someday..." whispered Daniel to himself. "Someday we'll leave this place and go to a better life. A life where we won't have to survive off omelette or sleep on torn blankets with beat-up pillows or get stuck playing with Tiki Tack Keyrings and Blue Ixi Plushies. Someday. At least, I hope so."
The Acara walked into the back room just as the clock struck three A.M., looking over her shoulder as she went. There were never many pets coming in between three and six--the early birds had already come and the late sleepers weren't up yet. Speaking of late sleepers (sort of), Daniel and Kylie had somehow managed to fall asleep.
"FINALLY!!" Sage threw up her hands in disgust, using a loud tone in order to wake her coworkers. "Not one ‘Thank you!’. I've had ENOUGH!"
"Huh?" Daniel asked groggily. "Is it my shift?"
"Yes!" Sage snapped fiercely, annoyed.
Daniel and Kylie shrank back.
Sage sighed. "I'm taking tomorrow off," she said wearily.
"It's only the fourth!" Kylie protested.
Daniel swatted a paw in Kylie's direction. "Can you blame her? Some Neopets are just so RUDE! Besides, you can take the fifth off, if need be." He sighed as he lifted himself up due to a couple of short raps on the door.
Kylie nodded in agreement reluctantly. "I can't argue with that logic."
"One day can make all the difference," Sage sighed, attempting to be optimistic but failing badly. "One day..."
"We've run out of neopoints!" shouted Daniel, and Kylie ambled up to him.
"Do we still have enough of the other gifts?"
"Yes, but the neopoints are gone. Look, I'll work your shift as well as mine if you go get some money. I don't care how you get it as long as you don't steal it or anything, alright? Go play arcade games, that will work."
"Okay, Daniel, but if I get back in time I'll work my shift," Kylie called as she opened the door, nearly getting trampled by a Darigan Skeith that came in right at that moment.
"Don't worry about it. Just go!" Daniel shouted, and the Draik took off, running as fast as her stubby legs would let her. Unfortunately, she had the choice of being either graceful or fast, and she'd chosen the latter, so she tripped over a pile of snow and landed flat on her face.
"You okay?" a voice asked, and Kylie lifted her head and stared into the eyes of a small Silver Lupe.
"Y-y-yeah..." Kylie muttered. "Sorry."
"No prob." The Lupe chuckled. "What's the rush?"
"We've... nothing." Kylie wiped the snow off herself.
"No, tell me!" the Lupe insisted. "I can help!"
"We don't have Neopoints for the Advent Calendar!" Kylie burst out, and started to sob loudly.
"You don't? Oh!" The Lupe bit her lip, realization that this was Kylie from the Advent Calendar flooding her face, and said, "Koy has about 5,000 neopoints on hand; take that."
"No-no," Kylie said. "We can't..."
"No, you must!" The Lupe turned and shouted, "Koy! KOY!"
"What's going on?" A Silver Shoyru jogged into view and the Lupe indicated Kylie.
"She's working with the Advent Calendar. It seems they're out of neopoints."
"Oh, yes! I remember you from last night!" the Shoyru said enthusiastically to Kylie, pulling out a Plain Wooden Bowl filled to the brim with shiny gold coins. "Here... take these as a gift to you. I mean... I know how pets act about free stuff." Koy half-smiled.
"Thank you..." Kylie stood up and wrapped her small body around both Silver pets in turn. "If you come down to the Advent Calendar today, I'll make sure you both get two of each item..." As soon as the words were out of her mouth she regretted them. Why would anyone want things that were selling in shops for one neopoint apiece?
"That would be great!" the Lupe said, grinning from ear to ear.
"Yeah!" the Shoyru agreed as they made their way back to the Advent Calendar.
Kylie nodded. These pets really made her day. "I can't thank you enough!"
They had traveled the short distance back by now, and Daniel stuck his head out the doorway. "Why're you back so early?" he asked Kylie, shivering because he didn't have a coat.
Koy held out the neopoints.
"They are donating this," Kylie explained. "We're THAT desperate, Daniel!" Kylie began to sob again, her tears turning to ice in the bitter, cold wind.
"Shh, Kylie, shh." Daniel held his coworker, thanking Koy and Fluffy through his expression and motioning to them that they could come in. "Look, Kylie, why don't you take... um..."
"I'm Koy, she's Fluffy," mouthed Koy, and Daniel went on,
"Why don't you take Koy and Fluffy to the back room? Sage's trying to get a fire going... you could probably help her with that."
Kylie smiled weakly, blowing out a thin stream of fire at the ceiling. But she frowned as Fluffy and Koy followed her into the back room, wondering if the place really was in such bad shape that they needed donations.
Koy and Fluffy, oblivious to Kylie's thoughts, were awed by the huge igloo.
"This must be bigger than Mika's place!" exclaimed Koy.
"It is," Kylie replied as Sage came into view. "Hey, Sage!"
"Who's this?" Sage grunted.
"She's not in the best mood," Kylie explained.
"I'm not!" Sage snapped harshly.
"Now, now," Koy said softly and smiled and waved Fluffy, who was still exploring the giant igloo, over.
"Hello, er..." Fluffy said brightly, blushing because she did not know the Acara's name.
"Sage," Sage said, grinning, deciding she liked this pair. "Welcome to the igloo!"
"Thanks..." Koy smiled. "Hey, what's in all these?" He nodded towards the huge boxes stacked halfway to the ceiling.
"Future gifts," Sage replied. "As you can see, they all have dates on them..." She waved towards a stack of boxes marked '18th' in huge printing.
"Do you know what they are?" Fluffy asked, awed.
Sage shook her head. "Nope, not until the day we open 'em. Sometimes that's good. Sometimes, like yesterday, it's not."
"What happened yesterday? I thought the gifts were funny!" Koy was wide-eyed.
"They don't share the same sense of humor, unfortunately," Sage spat.
Fluffy sighed. "What happened? Greedy Neopians. Tsk, tsk..."
"They were complaining a storm!" Kylie answered angrily. "We had to clean up the snot from our entrance!"
"Oh dear!" Koy muttered. "Can we do anything to help?"
"You've helped enough..." Sage trailed off. "But..."
“But what?” Fluffy cocked her head and blinked.
Sage sighed for the umpteenth time. “Nothing. I’m sorry... I guess I just get worn out from the Advent Calendar—more specifically, the greedy Neopets. We all do... ” She looked up at Kylie.
“Who supplies you with these, anyway?” Fluffy indicated the boxes. “You could ask them for a boost.”
“I wish.” Daniel’s voice startled all of the pets. “We’ve tried that more times than I’d like to think about. Oh, and it’s your shift, Kylie.” With a nod, the little Baby Draik toddled into the front room.
Kylie sighed. She wished that her friend would stop being proud! Anyone could see they needed dire assistance.
Her wishes vanished as she moaned at the pets approaching the Advent Calendar. One Scorchio in particular looked enraged.
"I'LL HAVE THE ADVENT CALENDAR CLOSED DOWN!" he spat, his unruliness easy to see. "I DONT BELIEVE IT! THESE AREN’T PRIZES! YOU MIGHT AS WELL BE GIVING OUT DUNG!"
Daniel’s head snapped up and he tackled the Scorchio in one swift movement. “YOU’LL PAY FOR YELLING AT KYLIE!”
Koy restrained him. "Whoaaa! Calm down, Daniel!" Koy said soothingly as Fluffy approached the deranged Neopet.
"I apologize that you were unsatisfied, sir,” she said coolly, “but this is not the answer! Come back tomorrow, if you wish." With that, Fluffy turned and ushered Kylie, who was crying, into the back of the igloo.
"Stupid customers!" sobbed Kylie. "I hate them!" She flung herself into Sage's arms.
"Hate is a strong word," the Acara replied faintly.
"Not strong enough." Fluffy frowned at the floor, avoiding eye contact with anyone else. "Pets these days! They're getting free things, and that isn't enough for them! No, they have to go complaining and whining about it!"
Daniel looked out the window, saying nothing.
Sage patted Kylie absentmindedly as she watched Daniel. Her brow furrowed. She was worried about Daniel. Daniel was great, and protective but... his anger wasn’t for toying. Sage bit her lip, trying to come up with a solution.
Kylie blew her nose on a blanket on the couch—one from Sage and Daniel’s first year. Goose bumps appeared on Daniel’s skin, and he turned around to face them, smiled wistfully... and walked out.
"Wait!" Sage called, eyes wide with shock. Tears started to form in her eyes as she ran out to chase Daniel. "Don’t leave!"
Kylie, Koy, and Fluffy stood, watching Sage and Daniel running off in the distance, concerned. The Kougra could feel all the pairs of eyes staring at him, watching him, but he ignored them. He couldn’t take it anymore. The rowdy pets, the boxes that arrived too late, the staying up until three in the morning to hand out items, just... no.
He hadn’t realized Sage was chasing him, so it came as a shock to him when she caught him, flipped him onto his back into the snow.
“Why are you doing this?” she whispered, her actions fierce but her voice trembling.
He pulled himself up, and she offered no resistance. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m sick of it all.”
“But... remember? Back when we first started in 2000... we promised each other we’d never quit... ”
“Well, back then there were only two of us—you and me.” Daniel’s voice was gruff. “Now you have Kylie to help you out.”
“But Daniel... please come back.”
“No, okay? Just no.” The look in his eyes made up for the lack of sympathy in his words, and as he walked off, Sage let a tear run down her cheek.
“He’ll be back,” she whispered, her words more convincing than her voice. “I know he will... at least, I hope so.”
Sage walked slowly back to the igloo. Koy tried to approach Sage but Kylie stopped her.
"No," Kylie whispered and let Sage reach her room in the igloo, throwing aside anything that was in her way, damaging ladders and ripping plushies.
Kylie watched in despair as Sage roared and smashed the ice window. Koy bit his lip, resisting the urge to tear Sage away from the window. At that moment there came a sharp rap on the door.
"I'll get it," Kylie said quietly, and stumbled over to open the door. A Yellow Gelert stood there. She looked so nice and forgiving that Kylie had the guts to blurt out, "I'm sorry... we're out of stock for the day," and hang her head sheepishly. It wasn't a total lie--the neopoints were all gone again--but Kylie didn't know where the rest of the day's stock was, and she was too short to go digging around for it--plus Sage was in no mood to.
Sage took her anger out on the window. They didn't understand!! Daniel was like a part of her, if he was separated, she would always be in a mood of despair.
"... we're out of stock for the day..." Sage heard Kylie say. Sage sighed. Kylie lied too often. Daniel never did. She peered out the window to see Daniel as only a tiny speck, shivering as he walked up Terror Mountain.
Koy patted Sage gently as she whipped around to glare at him.
"He'll be back, I promise," Koy said softly.
Sage shook her head. "No, he wouldn't be; it would take a miracle," she sighed as she began to dig for the rest of today's Advent Calendar stock.
"Here, let me help you!" Koy offered. "You know, Fluffy and I would love to work here. If you insist on payment, we don't mind waiting... ”
Sage smiled. "That'd be really nice, but I don't know, we may never pay you... ”
"It'd be fine," Fluffy reassured her. "Both of us... we're pretty well-off." As soon as she'd said it, she regretted it; Koy flinched as Sage's face twisted slightly with pain. The Lupe looked down at her feet and mumbled something.
"We wouldn't mind helping. Really," Koy continued, pretending not to have heard Fluffy. "We've got lots of free time this month - and you seem a bit... overworked." He wasn't exactly sure which word to use, and hoped he hadn't used the wrong one. Only when he felt Kylie's small arms hug him gently did some of the tension drop from his face.
Sage attempted to smile and nod, but her eyes filled up with tears and she turned away. She mustered up the strength to smile and replied, "Thanks, I really appreciate it.”
Koy and Fluffy smiled at each other, and then at Kylie. Fluffy gently pried Kylie off of Koy, as she asked Koy to go to the arcade and earn some Neopoints. As Koy ran off, Fluffy, who was still holding Kylie, walked towards Sage to help out with the searching.
Sage suddenly cried out. "Daniel," she bawled, "no matter where you are... please, just promise me that... you'll come back.
Daniel shivered as he slowly trudged through the snow. A snowball brushed his left ear, but he ignored it, barely even turning around to shoot the Mynci who'd thrown it a dirty look. He heard pets laughing as they slipped and slid on the ice rink or sculpted snow with their paws...
The Pirate Kougra was jealous. These pets had loving owners and warm neohomes, as well as simple comforts like nice toys and enough to eat. These pets were happy.
When he had almost reached the Ice Caves, he turned back to look at the Advent Calendar building. He had spent so many years there and done so much... the place held so many memories. Maybe he should go back?...
"Dan-iel... !" Kylie's desperate voice rang out through the snow. "Daniel, please..."
Fully aware that he had not been seen, Daniel's paws balled into fists. Go back there? Ha! Back at the Advent Calendar, he was always being yelled at, either by Sage or customers. It wasn't worth it. He had a chance to start a new life now.
"I'm never going back!" he screamed to no one in particular, then turned and began to run.
Kylie's eyes overflowed with tears when she heard Daniel's scream. She didn't understand. Daniel had always loved it here. Always. That couldn't have been all an act, could it?
Sage trudged through clusters of boxes absentmindedly, following Fluffy who was examining all the boxes, checking for dates.
"AHA!" Fluffy cried.
"What?" Sage asked blearily. She turned to look, it was a box... but it was labelled 'Daniel's Favourite Memories'. The instant she saw that she tore it open, tears welling in her eyes.
"My gosh," she whispered, her voice barely audible. "I... I didn't know... I thought we threw those 'memory boxes' out... or gave the stuff in ‘em to the Money Tree... ”
Fluffy leaned over Sage’s shoulder and looked into the box. She couldn't identify a lot of the things in it - it looked like a bunch of broken toys stuck together - but she saw what looked like a stack of paper, and picked it up.
"What's this?" she murmured, leafing through it. "It looks like a calendar," she answered herself, "but it's only got Decembers..."
This was true. The calendar had about thirty years' worth of Decembers in it, starting with the year 2000 and going up from there. Scrawled across some of the days were comments. 20th day of Celebrating, Y8: Faeries didn't send gifts, December 20, 2006, announced. Very crabby pets almost broke down store. Fluffy shuffled through the pages again, her eyes resting on December 13, 2003. 13th day of Celebrating, Y5: 13 is very unlucky. Had Rods of Supernova to give away, but Pant Devil stole all. Gave away only 5 NP per pet. Lots of complaints.
Fluffy had seen enough. She shut the calendar and let her eyes glaze over.
"Daniel..." Kylie whimpered. "Why? Just tell me why? It's a hard life, I know, but what made you leave? Was it that Snow Bori? Was it Sage?
“...Was it me?"
Kylie whimpered at the prospect of her being the reason of Daniel's absence. Did she do something wrong? She slowly walked back to the storage room, footsteps heavy. She saw Fluffy and Sage holding a stack of papers, wearing masks of despair on their faces. What's wrong? she wondered, as she rushed toward them. She peered into the box and took out a picture frame. It was Sage and Daniel, and... her. They had bags of Neopoints around them, tons of boxes and they had new furniture. It was Year Four, Kylie’s first year there, and the Advent Calendar had only been running for two years; they were ecstatic, but those days were gone now. She sighed softly as she put the picture frame back.
"GUYS! GUYS!! URGENT NEWS!" Koy burst in the igloo door - if you could call it that - waving the bags of Neopoints he'd earned from the arcade. "URGENT!!"
"What?" "What?" "What is it?" Fluffy, Kylie, and Sage's heads shot up at Koy's urgent tone. The Shoyru dropped his bags frantically and kicked them to one side so they wouldn't block the door.
"I... I passed through the Ice Caves coming back here!" Koy's voice was something between a pant and a shout. "And there was this... (pant, pant)... huge coil of snow, I mean, it was like a worm... and you're not gonna BELIEVE this, but... (pant)...
“He had Daniel!!" Koy screamed.
To be continued...