The Dirtiest Curse
It was a relaxing evening for Rosielee. The rain had been falling down at a steady pace, dancing merrily on the roof and the ground. Thunder rumbled in the distance like a soft comforting voice and the occasional flash of lightning added colour to the blackened sky. The pink Lenny sat in her favorite chair next to a large picture window. She was holding a new book, but she had paused in her reading as sat listening to the peaceful rain.
A loud noise suddenly erupted and shattered the peace as if it had been made of fragile glass. Rosielee jumped at the sound, the book falling from her grasp and landing quietly upon the carpeted floor. She frowned in the darkened room as she bent to retrieve her book. No doubt it was her neighbor's annoying little Warf again. She had spoken to the yellow Techo next door on multiple occasions about his Petpet, but he would only insist that his little Puddles (a silly name for a silly Petpet) wouldn't do such a thing. She thought that perhaps this might finally be her opportunity to catch Puddles in the act. With this idea in mind she grabbed a nearby umbrella before running out into the rain.
Quickly, she rushed into the alley that ran alongside her house, thinking she wasn't going to see anything more than a small Warf. To her surprise, there was someone lying amongst the scattered cans. She couldn't see many details about this stranger because of a thick, ragged cloak and the darkness of the night, so she approached with caution. "Are you okay?" she asked, as she inched closer.
"Don't touch me!" he suddenly shouted as he jumped to his feet and moved to the far wall as if terrified of her, "For Fyora's sake don't touch me!" Lightning flashed as he spoke revealing he was simply a green Scorchio, although he did look rather dirty in that he was covered in mud, muck, and countless other stains.
"I won't hurt you," she said, trying to sound comforting, "I just wanted to see if you're okay."
He blinked a few times. "I'm not afraid you'll hurt me," he responded in a strangely subdued tone, "but I'm afraid that I might hurt you."
"Hurt me? What are you talking about? You don't seem like a bad Scorchio."
"I'm not bad," he said, "but I am cursed. I don't think it's something that could be passed on to anyone else, but I can't take that chance." Even in the dim light, she saw a single tear escape his eye and trace a glistening trail down his dirty face.
"What kind of curse?" she asked, stepping closer.
"It's a long story," he said as he shook his head, "I'm sure you don't want to stand out all night in the rain to hear it."
"Then let's go inside," she offered, "I'll be careful not to touch you, but you look like you need a chance to get out of this weather and get something hot to eat. Am I right?"
He hesitated for several minutes and she saw that he was looking at her modest home with longing. While Rosielee didn't precisely believe in curses, something certainly had him scared. "It's okay," she added, "Just step inside for a moment. Besides, I want to hear your story and it's too bad to stand out here all night – just like you said." She offered him her most comforting smile and finally he relented.
"Okay," he agreed, "But promise me you'll be careful."
With a slight nod, he allowed her to lead the way, but she couldn't help but notice that he kept his distance. Soon, they were standing inside her neat as a pin kitchen and now it was Rosielee who was hesitant. Although she wanted to help this stranger all that she could, she was a very neat Lenny who hated to have any trace of dirt in her home. She certainly couldn't leave him standing all night, but she was reluctant to allow him to sit on her nice furniture. The Scorchio seemed to understand her problem.
"Don't worry," he said, "I won't get anything dirty. I know how I look, but trust me on this. I won't be tracking any mud or dirt into your home."
Rosielee was simultaneously embarrassed and skeptical, but she tried to hide those feelings as she motioned to a chair near her fireplace. There was a throw over that chair that could easily be washed later if it was necessary. "So, how did you come to be here, uh, Mr..." Her voice trailed off.
For the first time, the Scorchio almost smiled. "Jacob," he said. "My name is Jacob."
"Jacob," she repeated. "I've always liked that name. So, how did you come to be here?"
The near smile melted from his face as he turned to look at the fire. "I suppose it's cliché to say that it's a long story," he said, "but that's the truth in case and the best way to describe it." He hesitated as the light from the roaring fire reflected in his eyes, and Rosielee thought for a minute she saw a tear welling up, but then he blinked.
"What happened?" she gently prompted.
He looked back at her suddenly, almost as if he had forgotten she was there and gave a short, bitter laugh. "I never dreamed things would turn out like this," he stated. "Here I am telling my life story to some stranger. I don't mean that to be offensive or anything, but it just seems so strange." He sighed loudly. "I guess it all started about two years ago, although you might as well call it a lifetime ago. I certainly was a different Scorchio back then. I was in my last year of school when my parents decided to move to The Haunted Woods."
"It's never easy to move," Rosielee offered.
"Yeah," he agreed, "and I didn't make friends easily, but then I met her."
Jacob walked slowly into the lunchroom, his tray in hand, as he scanned the area. Everyone else was already sitting in their groups, and the sounds of their casual conversations and laughter filled the air. Lunch was always the worst. While in class, he could focus on his assignments and just tell himself that no one was really talking to him because it was against the rules, but he didn't have such comfort in here. In the lunchroom, he had to accept that he still didn't have any friends in this school nor did he have anyone to really sit with. He had to accept that he was still an outsider.
As he looked around the room, he saw a pretty Pastel Xweetok that was sitting at one table all alone. He had noticed her before eating by herself, but he had always assumed that she was simply waiting on her friends. Such a pretty, well-dressed girl he thought was bound to be popular, but now she seemed to be a loner just like him. Trying not to appear nervous, he walked over to her table.
"Do you mind if I sit here?" he asked.
She looked up from her tray in surprise, and Jacob felt his heart sink. He thought that she was about to tell him that those empty seats were being saved for her friends. Just as he was about to stammer out an apology, however, she smiled brightly. "I don't mind," she said. "No one's sitting here."
"Thanks," he said as he sat. "I'm Jacob."
She laughed, and her musical laughter somehow made her even more beautiful. "I know," she replied. "We have art class together."
She nodded. "Yeah, but you probably haven't seen me because I sit near the back. Besides, you seem really intense in art class. You must like to draw a lot."
"I like art," he agreed, "but I'm still surprised that I never noticed you."
"I like to keep to myself," she said, and then she held out her paw. "I'm Victoria, by the way."
He took her paw and they shared an exaggerated handshake that left them both laughing. "So how long have you been going to this school?" he asked.
"It seems like forever," Victoria answered. "Why do you ask?"
"I thought maybe you had just moved here like me," Jacob replied.
He desperately thought about how best to word his answer. "Well, I would just think someone as pretty as you would be more popular," he finally managed.
She looked down at her tray as the smile slipped from her face. "Yeah," she mumbled, "I'm working on that."
"I'm sorry," he quickly apologized, "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I shouldn't have said anything. I'm really sorry."
"Don't apologize," she said, looking back up at him with a simple smile. "You didn't hurt my feelings or anything. It does bother me that most everyone around here avoids me, but I'm dealing with it. Besides, you're not avoiding me. In fact, this is the best conversation I've had in a long, long time."
"I think this is the longest I've spoken to anyone since I moved here," Jacob admitted, "that wasn't with a teacher or my parents."
For some reason, this struck them both as being funny and they began to giggle. Their giggling evolved in true laughter, and a few of other students turned and looked at them. Jacob no longer cared, however, for he finally had a friend.
The fire crackled as Jacob paused to take a long drink of the tea that Rosielee had handed to him. "Friends are important," the Lenny said as she looked at the dancing embers.
"That's how I felt," Jacob agreed, "The new school didn't seem so big and lonely now that I had a friend by my side. The only problem was that I was limited in the time I could hang out with Victoria. We only had the one class together and lunch. Sometimes, we would meet up before school started to talk, but we couldn't do that after school. She always had something to do it seemed. Plus, the other students actually started acting worse towards me. At first, they just wouldn't talk to me, but after becoming friends with Victoria, they begin to actively avoid me. I would see them glance at me and then start whispering. Soon, I heard the rumors myself. They were saying that Victoria was a witch – Edna's new apprentice. Since I was hanging out with Victoria, they thought I was a witch or wizard as well. Of course, that was all just some stupid rumor. I wasn't a witch or wizard, and I didn't think Victoria could be either. She was far too sweet to be working with Edna, so I ignored the rumors. Then one day I went to school and I found that everything had changed."
The early morning sun danced off the tiles on the floor as Jacob casually walked down the long hallway. He was tired because he hadn't slept well, but he was trying to not let that be too obvious. All during the night, he had been haunted by some nightmare that had seemed to fade like wisps of smoke in the morning sun. Although he had no memory of what the dream had been about, the fear he had felt still clung to him and gathered around his heart. Trying to push all those thoughts aside, he rounded the corner so that he could meet Victoria at her locker but stopped in his tracks.
He could see Victoria, who looked even more beautiful than usual that morning, but she was surrounded by a horde of other students. She was talking and everyone else was hanging on every word. Jacob frowned for these were some of the most popular students, but Victoria had their undivided attention. Slowly, he approached the group.
"Good morning, Victoria," he greeted.
Everyone turned and looked towards the Scorchio, but only Victoria smiled. The looks on everyone else's faces ranged from shock to annoyance. "Good morning, Jacob," she sang. "And it's such a lovely morning. Are you okay? You look tired."
"I didn't sleep well," he answered.
"That's too bad," she cooed. She started to say something else, but Garland, the school's football star, moved in between them.
"So what were you saying about what the theme of the school dance should be?" the yellow Skeith asked.
Victoria laughed before answering as the other students gathered closer around her and effectively barred Jacob from even seeing her. Their backs were all turned towards him, and he suddenly felt even more alone than he had before. With a heavy heart, he turned and walked to his own locker so he could retrieve the books for his first class.
As usual, he only saw her two more times that day – once in art class and the second time at lunch. Each time, however, she was surrounded by students who seemed to suddenly adore her. She didn't ignore Jacob. In fact, she waved at him at lunch and seemed to prepare to offer him a seat at her table, but it was just far too crowded. Suddenly, there seemed to be no room for him to be her friend. He sat alone at lunch, hearing her beautiful musical laughter, as he wondered what had happened.
The more he thought about it, the more determined he became to solve this little mystery. After school, he decided that he would do something he had never done in the past. He would follow her. Before, she had always had some reason that they couldn't hang out after school and had made it clear that he couldn't walk with her. He had respected this condition, but now he had to talk to her. He had to know the truth. With this plan in mind, he sat through his last few classes without hearing a single word the teachers said.
At the end of the day, he watched from a distance as Victoria said goodbye to all of her new friends and walked out of school. To Jacob's amazement, he saw her head down a winding, shadowy trail that led through the woods, and he realized he had never taken time to consider what path she usually took. It was dark and frightening on that trail, but he kept his eyes on Victoria as he followed. Two or three times he thought about calling out to her, but he decided he wanted to see where she was going. Finally, the path opened up into a barren clearing, and Jacob blinked several times as he realized where he now stood.
Rising up before him like a twisted, demented tree was Edna's tower. He suddenly realized that all the rumors he had heard about Victoria were true. She was working for that witch. Anger rose up within him as he thought about all the times he had dismissed the tales and defended Victoria. No doubt he had looked like a fool. "Hey Victoria!" he shouted.
She spun around, her schoolbooks flying from her arms, and the surprise was evident on her face. "Jacob," she gasped. "What are you doing here?"
"I think the bigger question is what are you doing here," he retorted.
"I can explain," she began.
"Let me guess," he interrupted. "You really are Edna's apprentice and you used some sort of spell to make yourself popular."
The way she dropped her face answered him more than she could have with words. "You don't understand," she cried. "I didn't have any choice about becoming Edna's apprentice. My parents owed her some sort of favor, and I agreed to work with her to pay off their debt."
"But what about this popularity spell?" Jacob asked.
"I was tired of being alone," she admitted.
"You weren't alone," he countered. "You had me. I was your friend."
She nodded. "I know that," she said, "but I had put the spell into place before I met you. There were a lot of ingredients and it took over a month to put together. Besides, you're still my friend. You will always be my friend. Just stay by my side and I'll make you popular too."
"I don't think there's room for me in your new group," he snorted. "You know they aren't you're real friends. Just hang out with me instead."
"The spell is still fragile," she answered. "If I do anything too unusual, it might break. I know that they aren't my real friends, but I just wanted to be popular. Can't you understand?"
He did understand, but his hurt feelings prevented him from making such an admission. "So, the spell is fragile? What would happen if I told everyone the truth?"
The color drained from her face. "You can't do that!" she cried. "Why would you act so dirty?"
"I would do it," he replied, "Besides, you're the one that's playing dirty. How is fair that you've tricked everyone into being your friend?"
Her eyes flashed with anger. "No, you're the one who's dirty," she announced, "and soon everyone will know that!" Green light surrounded her as she spoke strange words in a language he didn't recognize and soon the light surrounded him as well. He felt a strange tingle throughout his body, and he was terrified about what might happen. Then, as suddenly as it had occurred, it was over. He tripped backwards and fell into a mud puddle as she turned to enter quietly into Edna's tower. Their friendship was most definitely over.
As he walked slowly home, guilt began to overtake his heart. In truth, he had understood. It was terrible being alone in a crowd and feeling like you don't belong. Had he had the same chance, he would have no doubt done the same thing. He shouldn't have yelled at his friend, but he had been so terrified of losing her. Now, he had done just that. With his own angry words, he had severed the friendship completely. It was doubtful she'd ever speak to him again.
He barely spoke to his parents when he made it home and hurried upstairs. He was still covered with mud from where he had fallen, so he wanted to wash up before dinner. It was going to be hard enough to explain why he seemed so depressed without all the mud. Running the hottest water that he could stand, he began to wash his arms as he looked at his reflection in the mirror. "You've really done it this time," he mumbled to himself as he lathered the soap on his arms. Sighing loudly, he rinsed off the soap.
The mud remained.
Frowning, he grabbed the soap and created the lather once more. He scrubbed and scrubbed until he feared that he was going to scrub off his own scales. Again, he rinsed off the soap but saw nothing had changed. His arm looked as dirty as ever. Staring down at it, a realization suddenly dawned within his mind. This is what Victoria meant about how everyone would know that he was dirty. "It could be worse," he told his reflection. "It just looks bad. Tomorrow, I'll apologize to Victoria and get her to take this spell off of me. It will be okay." Still trying to convince himself that this was the case, he put on a long sleeve shirt that actually went down over his hands so that his parents wouldn't be able to tell anything was out of the ordinary during dinner. Tonight, he would just have to be careful and tomorrow he would make anything right again. It would all be over tomorrow.
"Victoria never took off the curse," Rosielee realized. "Didn't she accept your apology?"
"I never got a chance to apologize," Jacob answered, "I went to school the next day, but she wasn't there. Afterwards, I got up the courage to visit Edna's tower myself, but she told me that Victoria had gone on some of trip to gather some rare ingredients, but she didn't know when she would be back. I tried begging Edna to help me, but she said that she couldn't and that if I didn't get out of there she would turn me in a Mootix to be her Meowclops' companion. Maybe I should have let her." He suddenly stood up.
"Jacob?" Rosielee saw that he was upset, but was unsure what if anything she should say.
"The curse doesn't sound all that bad," he ranted. "I mean, you would think you'd just have to be careful, but you don't think of all the little spills that happen daily. The least bit of dirt or mud that comes in contact with me, becomes a part of me. I had to quit school of course, and my parents didn't understand. I mean, how do you explain to someone that you're cursed? You wouldn't believe the looks everyone gives me. They think I must be crazy or dangerous. I can see the fear in their eyes as they hold their noses. I don't stink, but they think I must because I look so dirty." He paused as he let out a long slow breath.
"But why would Victoria do such a thing?" asked Rosielee. "I mean, she was your friend."
"I think she just did it in the heat of the moment," Jacob said. "We both said things we didn't mean. Besides, I doubt she realized the full magnitude of the curse. I know that I didn't at first. But that's why I'm traveling across Neopia. I have to find Victoria and tell her I'm sorry. She's the only one that can help me now." He turned towards Rosielee and gave her a feeble smile. "Thanks for listening to me and thanks for the tea. I have to be going now because I can only travel at night. During the day, too many Neopets can see me and I can't stand the judgment in their eyes." Without another word, he turned and walked out of the door, leaving Rosielee sitting alone in the house.
For a few minutes, she couldn't seem to move as she absorbed the story that she had just heard. Finally, the spell appeared to be broken as she jumped to her feet and ran out the same door. "Jacob!" she shouted from her porch, but she saw no one. The darkness had seemingly swallowed the Scorchio.
Depressed, she turned and walked back into her home only to notice some mud on her the tips of her feathers that she had no doubt obtained when she had ran outside earlier. Quietly, she made her way over to the sink to wash as a sudden fear struck her heart. What if she had somehow also been cursed? What if the she had to remain filthy? Her fears proved to be in vain as the mud rinsed away easily, but her mind turned back to poor Jacob.
What would it be like to be cursed to be dirty forever?