The Misadventures of Mattie
The echoing halls of the Neopian Central Orphanage called to her, but Mattie was stuck in her room.
Specifically, she was grounded. No video games, no Virtu-computer console, no playing outside. Four days of missed homework sat in a pile on her desk as a sour reminder of her foolish misdeeds. She sat in the window of her room, staring outside into the midday scene below. Happy neopets frolicked in a field: kicking balls, throwing sticks, and building replicas of Neopia's greatest architectural structures. It was a typical spring day.
But the poor Ixi was banned from participating due to her slacking schoolwork.
She didn't even like going outside that much. But anywhere was better than a room without video games. Her fingers ached for the buttons of her game controller. She swore she could still see the imprint of the A Button in her thumb. She longed for the electronic music that blared from small speakers of her console at all hours of the day and night. It was a soothing lullaby to her brilliant mind, and without its consistency, she was going stir-crazy! If she was not able to play a game soon, she would never be able to challenge AAA.
She hadn't meant to miss four days of homework. She just didn't feel like doing it. She kept finding excuses to skip out on it. First, she had to finish the latest Daily Dare challenge from AAA's little sister, Abby. Once she managed that, she had to eat dinner. After dinner, she really did need to clean the buttons on her game controller and headset. And one more Daily Dare practice round could not hurt. But by that time, it was so late that she couldn't possibly concentrate to do any homework. Then again, she didn't need to concentrate very hard to beat just one more round of Meerca Chase...
And the pattern continued to repeat itself until she was on the verge of the Meepit Juice Break High Score Table, and her Neoschool teachers were very unhappy.
She sighed, pushing her pencil across the table and rubbing her eyes. It had been three hours, twenty-nine minutes, sixteen seconds since she had her controller confiscated. Three hours, twenty-three minutes, forty-one seconds since her door was locked for the afternoon. Two hours, twelve minutes, nineteen seconds until someone would come to let her out for dinner.
It was going to be a long afternoon.
Her fingers ached for something to do.
She glanced briefly at the homework. The top page was an entire page of practice with the Neopian Stock Exchange. It wasn't hard work; just boring, mundane, no challenge at all. She wanted strategy. Monotony was not Mattie's forte.
First problem: 1000 shares of KSON at 16 neopoints dropped 5%. She did not even have to think the full way through the problem. Mattie learned the percentages of the Neopian Stock Exchange before she had lost all her baby teeth. The problems were so mind-numbingly dull that she could not concentrate on them for more than a minute. Writing out the entire process of solving each equation was agonizingly boring.
She wanted something more interesting to do with her time. She would have greatly preferred a sheet of differential equations. While also mind-numbingly simple, they at least spoke in a language she used often. With her extensive knowledge in computer science, an equation like that would be welcome. It could open up the windows to a breakthrough in a program.
Her hooves itched for a keyboard. They gripped the chewed wooden pencil on her desk instead.
She wrote down the answers to the Stock Market problems. She skipped the steps to reach each answer. In the margins of her paper, she began to scrawl in computer script. By the time she had finished, her homework held the key to a program that randomized the seating assignment in the classroom every other Tuesday.
She set the paper aside and reached for her next page of homework. Mystery Island Cooking Pot Recipes. Oh no!
She slapped the stack of papers to the ground, frustrated at her misfortune. She felt like she was caged in a technologically-deprived prison. The most high-tech piece of equipment in the room was a basic solar-powered calculator that had no settings other than "On" and "Off." She snatched up the Cooking Pot Recipe homework page and folded it into a paper airplane, scrawling a message on the wing.
"Need salvation. Stuck in Room C-5. Homework Help! - Mattie"
She opened her window and flung it as hard as she could, watching it sail across the field until the wind caught it and pushed it past Mattie's view. She groaned and slumped down against the wall, prepared to wait another painfully mundane hour for the glorious bells of dinner to signal her thirty-minute release before being put back in her digitally-deprived dungeon.
A knock at the door made her jump, slamming her head against the wall accidentally. She growled softly, rubbing her head and horns. A piece of crumpled paper was pushed under her door.
She crossed the room and picked it up, bursting into laughter when her mind registered what she was seeing. It was the Cooking Pot Recipe homework that she had thrown out the window. Under her message, someone had written, "Got you covered. You owe me. Work hard! - J."
On the front, the person had drawn a replica of Typing Terror. The Cooking Pot fill-in-the-blanks were drawn into Clockwork Grundos, and the end of the page showed an evil looking Boss Battle with several snarling Clockwork Grundos in a pile.
Mattie grinned, sitting down against the door. She could hear the other person sitting down in the hallway on the other side of the door.
"So," Mattie asked loudly enough for the other person to hear, "do you think you can come up with a few more of these? I'm four days behind and totally grounded until all my homework is complete."
"Depends," replied the voice. "Got any Neodrops?"
Mattie had a serious problem.
There was a thief on the loose at the Neopian Orphanage. And he was targeting Mattie's room!
Long after the homework incident had finished, Mattie noticed that her door would be slightly open when she came back from classes. Upon inspection, she noticed that her stash of candy had become seriously depleted in the wake of the break-ins.
Mattie felt the need to investigate this heinous crime. It was, after all, her allowance that bought the now-stolen treats.
She quickly devised a trap to set for the candy-stealer so that she could catch the culprit. Using a few ink pens and a can of keyboard duster, she rigged up an ink system so that anyone who opened her candy drawer was instantly blasted with a shower of blue ink.
Confident that this brilliant trap would be enough to keep her candy stash safe, she left for class humming the Meepit Juice Break theme song.
Seven grueling hours and two quizzes later, Mattie rushed back to her room to see if the trap had worked. The door was slightly ajar, just like usual. She began to feel nearly giddy as she flung the candy drawer open...
...only to be met with a spray of blue ink aimed directly at her bewildered face.
Two hours later, a very unamused and blue-tinted Mattie furiously scrubbed at the ink blotches on her horns. Several neopets made silly comments about her cobalt complexion at dinner, earning her the nickname "Pant Devil" for the night.
A better plan to capture this thief was necessary.
The next morning, the determined Ixi decided to feign illness and stay in bed all day. That way, she would notice for sure when someone snuck into her room. She settled into bed with her favorite book, twisting over and pretending to fall asleep every time a teacher or one of the nurse's aides came to check in on her. One annoying aide insisted on watching her for a few minutes, patting her forehead to check for fever, tucking the sheets around her shoulders, and staying far too long in her room. Before she knew it, she had fallen asleep while waiting for Nurse Aide Eyriebell to leave.
She dreamed that Hanso and Nabile teamed up with her to catch Dr. Sloth in the act of stealing her candies. The dream ended with Dr. Sloth fueling a rocket ship with NeoCola to launch the candy contraband to Kreludor.
Utterly confused and slightly disoriented, Mattie woke up to discover that her door was slightly open and the drawer containing her few remaining bags of candy was wide open. One of the candy bags had vanished.
That night, the neopets of the Neopian Orphanage swore they heard a screech that would beat the Esophagor's, hands-down.
As soon as the sun rose the next morning, Mattie devised a new strategy to capture the candy-nabbing crook. She would pretend to go to class, and then slip out in the middle to check on her candy stash. If a class was particularly chaotic, she would spend the entire class hiding under her bed to wait for the evildoer to come around.
The plan worked perfectly for her first class. The teacher, Ms. McGelert, was busy sorting through paperwork, and her classmates were all focused on their busywork assignments. She asked for a restroom slip and ran back to her room, diligently keeping guard on her candy stash. When the bell for her second class sounded, she slid into the very back of the room as usual. She tried to slip out when the teacher wasn't looking, but was soon escorted back to her seat and given an extra sheet of homework for her attempt.
The afternoon flew by, and Mattie took every opportunity she could to slide under her bed and wait for the guilty party to raid the candy drawer. The bell began to sound for her final class of the day, but Mattie was absolutely certain that the chocolate-thieving neopet would show up any minute. She decided that she wouldn't really be missed in sixth period...
She lay on her belly, peeking from underneath her bed. The clock on the desk tick-tocked noisily, reminding the Ixi how boring it was to wait for someone who may or may not show up. She had just begun to daydream about Princess Amira when the door to her room slowly creaked open.
She held her breath, narrowing her eyes at the black boots that clunked across the floor. Just as the assailant reached down to open the drawer, Mattie's hand shot out from under the bed and wrapped around the neopet's ankle.
Both neopets let out a yelp as the thief tumbled to the ground, dragging Mattie out from her hiding place. They lay dazed in a pile on the floor for a moment before Mattie leapt to her feet.
"You! Who are you?" she growled, pointing her hoof in what she hoped was a menacing fashion.
The other neopet sat up, tucking a delicate strand of spiky red hair behind his ear. He arched an eyebrow, leaning against the wall nonchalantly.
"Your pal," he said. "I told you that you owed me."
Mattie's hand fell to her side. She stared at the young Zafara, momentarily dumbfounded. "So, you're J?"
"Jaesie, actually." The Zafara smirked. "Do you mind? I need to get back to study hall."
"Let me get this straight." Mattie crossed her arms. "Your name is Jaesie. You're the crook that's been stealing my candy. You're skipping class to steal my stuff. And you've been stealing my candy because you drew some cool pictures on my homework? Have I missed anything?"
"Yeah." Jaesie yawned lazily, standing up and grabbing a pouch of Neodrops from Mattie's desk. "I don't steal all your candy. I leave your chocolate. Chocolate is gross."
"But I like my candy!" Mattie raised her voice a little. "I spent good money on that candy!"
"And it's good candy, too." Jaesie grinned, popping a Neodrop into his mouth.
"I can't believe you!" Mattie yelled. "How do you explain to your teacher that you're skipping their class to come steal chocolate from some poor defenseless girl?"
"I tell her I have to return a library book," he laughed. "Though, it usually doesn't take this long. Guess I'll have to tell her I had to check out a new one but they didn't have it."
"...You're unbelievable," Mattie sighed. "Fine. Steal all my candy. I don't care. I'm not buying any more when it's gone."
"Sure you will." Jaesie shrugged. "You'll want me to come back."
"And why exactly would I want you to come back?" Mattie glared.
"Because I keep your life interesting." Jaesie winked, turning toward the door. "You can't wait to see what happens next!"
As Mattie watched the boy leave, she couldn't help but laugh. Jaesie was right. The Zafara's casual appearance in her life really had kept her entertained for several days. She waited a few minutes before following the boy into the hall.
"Hey," she called to the Zafara's back. "Next time you steal my candy, do it after class. I challenge you to a Game Master Challenge. Winner buys the loser ten bags of candy!"