Somewhere to Belong
A small Sandan peeked around the corner of the Neopian Fresh Foods in Neopia Central. She cringed away as some owners with their Neopets walked out, talking and laughing loudly. She stared longingly.
A blue Kyrii dropped a few Neopoints. "Shoot," he muttered. He bent down to pick them up, but then his owner called for him to hurry up, so he ran forward. The Sandan crept forward and picked up the coins. Seven Neopoints were added to the little bag she always kept tied securely to her back. She now had 231 in all. The Sandan had collected them when she found a Neopoint or two, and over a few months, they added up.
The Sandan hid in a shadow the Food Shop created. It was around sunset, so the shadows were long, and there were fewer Neopians walking around than in the afternoon. She curled up in a ball and shivered.
She wasn't exactly like other Sandans, belonging to a Neopet who took care of her. She didn't have an owner, so she wandered around Neopia Central, hoping a kind, thoughtful Neopet would see her and keep her. Some had come close, but rich owners had wrinkled their noses, and told their pets no. The Sandan didn't starve because of the Money Tree; she would quickly pounce on any type of food that would drop down from its branches before anyone else could, or at least, she would try. Some nights she went to sleep hungry because of swifter Neopets.
"Come on, Akeelyla, hurry up!"
"Oh, come on, it's not that late."
"It's almost 8:00."
"Once it gets dark, the Eyries aren't going to fly us anywhere."
"I thought they flew 24 hours a day."
"No. Where did you hear that from?"
"No one, I just thought that--"
"Well, they don't." The Sandan crept out from the shadows to see who was talking. A green Xweetok was trailing behind a girl with dark hair.
"How would you know?" the green Xweetok, who must be Akeelyla, asked, kicking a rock with her paw.
"Once when I was here a while ago, at like, midnight, when I called for an Eyrie, one didn't come."
"Xaea, what were you doing here at midnight?" Akeelyla asked with the beginning of a smile crossing her face.
Xaea blushed. "I- well, okay. Someone told me that the Food Shop was giving away Gummy Fish for free that day at midnight only," the girl admitted sheepishly. "But the shopkeeper told me he wasn't..."
"Are you really that gullible, Xaea?" Akeelyla laughed.
"Come on, let's just buy our dinner and leave, okay?" The girl and the Xweetok walked in the store. The Sandan watched the door swing shut. She wished she were with the girl and her Neopet, something about them seemed friendly and open. The Sandan could understand Neopians' speech, even though she couldn't speak it. A few minutes later, they walked out; Xaea was fingering a Checkered Carrot, and Akeelyla was walking by her side, continuing an argument they must've been having inside.
"Xaea, carrots aren't supposed to be checkered."
"Oh, it's fine. The label said they taste like radishes."
"It's a carrot."
Akeelyla sighed. "As far as I know, carrots aren't supposed to taste like radishes, or have black and white checker patterns on them." The Sandan's lip twitched upward slightly.
"Well, there's nothing wrong with eating something different every once in a while."
"Like yesterday, when you mixed the Plain Omelette and Ptolymelon?" Akeelyla shuddered. "Eggs and Lost Desert fruit do not go together."
"I thought it tasted fine."
"Yeah, but who says your sense of taste is accurate? You could eat something poisonous and think there's nothing wrong with it until you passed out."
"Just because one time I accidentally drank a month-old--"
"It was a year old at the least--" Akeelyla interrupted. "It was most likely two years old."
"--can of Neocola doesn't mean anything."
"You picked it up off the ground!" Akeelyla said, disgusted. The green Xweetok glanced around suddenly. "What was that? Xaea, did you hear that?" The Sandan clamped her paws over her mouth. She hadn't realised that she'd giggled out loud.
"Yeah, I think I heard something." Xaea frowned and glanced around. She fingered a strand of her hair. "Hey, what's that? Is it a... Neopet?" The Sandan crawled away quickly.
"I can't tell," Akeelyla grumbled. "It's too dark out here."
"The sun's not even down yet," Xaea said, rolling her eyes. "Anyway, can't you see? Don't Xweetoks have, like, really good sight?"
"Of course we do," Akeelyla sniffed. "But no one can see anything when the sun's going down and someone's hiding in the shadows." Akeelyla spoke softly in the direction where the Petpet had once been. "Hello? Who are you?" But she spoke to no one but the air. The Sandan had left. ***
Why had she left? The Sandan was pacing in the woods, flicking her filthy blue and white tail back and forth each time she turned. She wanted to live in a home; she wanted to be with a Neopet and... the Sandan frowned as she searched for the right word. Belong. She wanted somewhere to belong, and not spend her days wandering around Neopia Central.
Images of the Xweetok and the girl filled her mind. The only two Neopians who had ever seemed to care about her. They didn't exactly look like they cared, a negative voice said in the back of her mind, they just wanted a closer look at someone hiding in the shadows of a food shop.
But all the same, the Sandan wanted a home ***
She lay, trying to sleep, with her eyes wide open. The Sandan had untied the sack to lay on her back so she could look at the stars. The moon was full and bathed everything in silver light. The Sandan tried counting the stars, but lost count around fifty. She then simply gazed and found pictures of things. A carrot, a radish, a Xweetok, a girl with long hair...
The Sandan shook her head to get her mind off things. She closed her eyes and tried not to think about anything in particular...***
"Xaea, I can't sleep."
"Keep trying, you will eventually," Xaea groaned. She sat up in bed groggily and stared at the Xweetok.
"But really, I can't sleep. It's one in the morning and I'm wide awake," Akeelyla whined. "It's too dark."
"I'll get you a nightlight the next time I go into Neopia Central," Xaea muttered. She fell back asleep. Akeelyla sighed and wandered back into her bedroom. She positioned herself so she could see out her window and gazed at the same sky a lonely Sandan was staring at. ***
The golden sunrise awoke the Sandan. She blinked and stared at the dawn sky. Colors drawn as if by an artist's hand streaked the east end of the world. Burning crimson, eccentric orange, intense yellow, fading delicately to a blue radiance, and sweeping away the moon and winking stars.
The Sandan loved watching sunrises and sunsets, but usually she like watching sunrises better. They meant the beginning of a new day, when anything could happen. Sunsets meant the end, and that her wish hadn't been fulfilled that day and she would have to spend another night alone.
But both had pretty colours, both were beautiful.
All day, her mind was occupied with thoughts of the girl and her Xweetok. She now felt that if they walked by and knew that she was a Petpet who wanted a home and loving family, they would keep her.
The Sandan waited all day in the shadows of the Food Shop, with a hope so desperate it seemed pathetic, and when it was noon and the two hadn't showed up yet, the Sandan was frustrated and upset.
The Sandan yawned and scratched her tail absentmindedly; she was tired from being unable to sleep the night before and waking up so early that day. She curled up in a ball and closed her eyes to the world.
Or at least, she tried.
"Hey, what's that!"
"I dunno, maybe it's a mutant! We should tell someone about it." The Sandan opened her eyes, annoyed. Can't Neopets just mind their own business?
"It looks so dirty, we should give it a bath," the first voice said. The Sandan squinted her eyes and looked up, which was hard since both Neopets were standing right in front of the noonday sun. He was a yellow Grarrl, grinning wickedly.
"A bath? Where? The only water around here is the Rainbow Pool, and you know we can't go in there," an island Kougra said with an almost permanently confused look on his face.
"Well," the Grarrl began, the grin growing bigger. "There's plenty of mud in the woods."
"But... but..." the Kougra frowned as he tried to wrap his head around what his friend was saying. "Mud doesn't make you clean, does it?"
The Grarrl sighed. He was obviously used to having to explain things to the island Kougra. "No, but even mud will make that thing look cleaner." The Sandan looked down at her fur, mildly offended. Her fur wasn't that dirty. Sure, maybe you could barely see the blue underneath the mud and dirt, let alone the white, but still...
"All right," the island Kougra sniggered. "There's this huge mud pit in the woods over there, I got stuck in it once. We can wash that thing over there."
That thing, the Sandan thought, annoyed. They were acting like she wasn't even sentient.
"Hehe, yeah," sniggered the yellow Grarrl.
The yellow Grarrl gingerly picked her up, as if her filthy fur were contagious, and lugged her over to the woods. The Sandan fought and bit his hands, but the Grarrl simply covered her mouth and clamped it shut. She clawed him, but he didn't seem to notice because his skin was so thick.
"Here we are," the Kougra smirked. He gestured toward a pit in the ground full of mud, about a quarter the size of the Food Shop. "Let's chuck it in."
The yellow Grarrl tossed the Sandan directly in the centre. The Sandan screamed the moment his paw left her mouth, but her cry only lasted for a second; she was swallowed up in the wet dirt. The two Neopets chortled when they saw her scramble around to keep her nose above the surface.
The Kougra and the Grarrl twisted around to see who had spoken. Just before the Sandan sank below the surface, she saw a familiar green Xweetok. But then, the Sandan's head was completely enveloped in mud.
She could still hear; she wasn't too far below the surface, but the Sandan hoped Akeelyla would help her fast. She wouldn't last long.
"What are you doing?" Akeelyla's voice was angry.
"What's it to you?" the Kougra snapped.
"Well, seeing somebody drowned makes me a bit mad," Akeelyla said.
"We're not drowning it," the Grarrl insisted. "We're giving it a bath. It's not my fault if you're too dimwitted to tell the difference."
"Who are you calling dimwitted, dimwit? Well, you're drowning it right now," Akeelyla said. There was a pause in which the Kougra and the Grarrl must've been looking at the mud pit, because she continued in a voice like how a teacher losing her patience would talk to little kids, "Drowning is when you can't breathe."
"Ah," the Kougra said reassuringly, "I'm sure it can breathe just fine." Akeelyla must have shoved him into the mud, because the Sandan heard a bellow, and there was a Kougra in the mud next to her. She used his head to jump on in order to get her nose in the air, and it was a sweet relief to have oxygen again.
"Hey," Akeelyla said gently. She smiled at the Sandan. "You're okay now." The Sandan barked in agreement. The Grarrl must have run away, because the Sandan didn't see him anywhere, and the Kougra was gasping in the mud pit.
"Hey, can you maybe help me?" the Kougra pleaded. Akeelyla turned and faced him.
"Sorry," she said, hiding a grin. "I can't reach you."
"But all you have to do is take a few steps forward," he whined.
Akeelyla smirked. "Nah." The Sandan stared at her admiringly. Akeelyla looked at her with pity. "Now what are we going to do with you?" she muttered, mostly to herself.
Since the Sandan couldn't talk, she hugged Akeelyla's front leg fiercely. "Don't you have a home?" The Sandan let go and shook her head sadly. Akeelyla frowned pityingly. Then her eyes brightened.
"You can stay with me," Akeelyla said, smiling warmly. "I'm sure Xaea won't mind."