Neopia Central, the heart of Neopia's activity, where richer Neopians whip out extravagant paintbrushes for their pets at the Rainbow Pool, where poorer Neopians linger for a chance of food at the Money Tree. Among the latter, blending in with the crowd, was him.
He was a blue Kacheek, escaped from the pound. Names weren't important to him; as such, he didn't bother putting in the effort to remember his own. Other than missing countless items at the tree, the only incidents he recalled were ones of pleasure with his owner, and it puzzled him greatly why his owner might even have considered abandoning him. If he was in a good mood he might convince himself that perhaps his owner had too many pets and simply hoped he would go to a better home. These thoughts often comforted him in the loneliest of moments. Yet if he had had a bad day, he would curse his owner for being so selfish and unloving. Though often violent, these thoughts did help him relieve his stress and anger at whatever he was focusing on.
The clearest incident he could remember was when he first put a handful of chocolate in his mouth as his owner giggled and asked for his opinion. From then on, as far as he was concerned, chocolate had been his life. Whenever he found some on the floor he would shrill with delight, and proceed to unwrap the silver wrapping tentatively, nibbling it with care as though he were a Cybunny. He found all kinds: chocolates so dark they were like dirt, some so white they were like a jolt of electricity. And still some so poorly-mixed, they crumbled as soon as he put it in his mouth. Yet no matter the kind, to him chocolate was a gift from the gods, and he never failed to utter a short prayer of thanks for any special treat he came across.
Sometimes he asked himself why chocolate was so delicious. Could it be because of its contents? No, many foods could be composed of the same ingredients and still taste worse. Maybe it was because of its shape? Not really, rectangular things seemed as normal to him as any other shape. Then was it because of its colour? Possibly, with the varying shades of brown, chocolate seemed more attractive. Nevertheless, the only answer he could honestly agree to was that when he ate chocolate, everything just felt... well, right.
And then, while taking a break from the Money Tree and scouring the floor for possible treats careless pets might have dropped, he discovered the chocolate factory. His jaw dropped as he took in its picture. It was nothing less than a wonderland – the roof covered in what seemed to be the most luxurious chocolate, surrounded by brilliant windows of every colour, and a cherry-red flag waving enthusiastically on top, establishing a most inviting façade. He wanted to rush in, lay his eyes on all the glowing treasure and feast upon its magnificence; he longed to purchase every block of priceless gold and admire them all day long; he absolutely had to sink his teeth into the sparkling jewels and enter a chocolate-filled paradise. This would solve all his problems, and he would finally live a contented life! He felt dazed just thinking about it, and started excitedly towards the factory with a huge smile plastered across his face. But just as his heart swelled with enthusiasm at the thoughts, his spirits fell abruptly when it hit him that he had not a single neopoint. He felt as though he had been slapped hard. A rain cloud had come over him, filling his soul to the brim with heavy disappointment. There was nothing to it; he was always poor and nothing would allow him to buy what he wanted. A long pause as he stared at the factory weakly. Oh well, better go off before I get tempted, he thought and turned away, in no more spirits to even look at the ground.
The image of the chocolate factory kept lingering in his mind. Chocolate... He tossed to a one side. Cocoa beans... He turned his body again. In his dream, rows and rows of exquisite candy figures were on racks, free for anyone to take if they wanted, and he carefully selected the best out of each row, while the other pets judged merely based on looks and not from experience. He imagined everyone unwrapping their wrappers at the same time and looking at spoilt chocolate, while his was flawless. The next day, despite knowing full well it was a dream, he was quite delirious with happiness. The temptation was overwhelming. His legs sprang up and strode with determination towards the factory; this time he didn't stop himself.
And it didn't disappoint him in the least bit. It was exactly like he imagined: a chamber full of antique gold, free for shoppers to pick to their hearts' content. In fact, while awed at the factory's sheer size, he was surprised that it wasn't packed with enthusiastic Neopians. With all that variety to choose from, it surely must have been anyone's dream. Then it happened: a restock. Quick as a flash, boxes rolled out from a hidden corner into empty shelves and magically unwrapped themselves, revealing their various contents: rainbow sparkles, golden syrup, nutty gumdrops, fudge fountains... His eyes nearly popped, but before he could even catch another glimpse, a large crowd burst in and snatched every possession of the factory. Hidden among the crowd, it was almost like a magic trick: now you see it, now you don't. He got shoved several times chuckling to himself, even scolded for standing in the way, yet being used to dirty looks and criticism, he simply shrugged it off and let it go.
He came every day now, just to gaze at the candy, slowly memorising each one's name. He learnt that while a restock was quite common, only the most experienced (and richest) walked away with the best chocolates, having both luck and focus on their side. Not that he could ever be one of them, of course. He felt sorry for those who went home empty-handed. If he had been a lucky one, he definitely would have donated something to them and left with both parties feeling contented. Maybe he would even make a friend.
With many regular shoppers from dawn to dusk, the shopkeeper didn't notice it at first, but the tattered features of the blue Kacheek's clothes soon distinguished it from the rest. He gradually thought more and more about this visitor who never bought anything, sometimes distracting him from his daily life as the shopkeeper. The Kacheek must have been poor, but then why was he looking so happy just standing there admiring the chocolate? It made no sense.
At first the shopkeeper didn't think it was very important for him to take action. After all, if the Kacheek didn't mind missing out on the candy, that was none of the shopkeeper's business. Yet it seemed selfish of him to let the Kacheek stand alone and leave without any candies to savour. While everyone has a share of my candy and he gets nothing? No way. One day he felt so guilty about this that he barely paid attention to the high profits he was earning. He got up, marched to the production centre with fists clenched and consulted his most highly-trusted worker for a few seconds. Nodding silently, the worker returned to him with a box marked "Top Secret".
Days flew by. The Kacheek would spend more time in the factory itself than at the tree, though the latter actually had a chance of him getting something. This was because he actually discovered a way to keep his stomach full by closing his eyes, shutting out all background noises and deeply inhaling the pure scent of chocolate, as though absorbing it into his mind for a few minutes. It was peaceful and filling, keeping him satisfied even until the last customer had gone.
"Excuse me?" a voice suddenly rang out, interrupting his thoughts.
Feeling sure that this was directed to him, he fluttered his eyes open and saw the chocolate factory shopkeeper himself standing right in front. "Y....Yes?" he stammered, becoming aware that he was the only one left in the factory. He didn't realise his meditation was so lulling!
"I've seen you around many times, and... I felt bad about you not having anything, so I would like you to have this," answered the shopkeeper hesitantly as he handed the box to the surprised Kacheek.
It was a miniature chocolate factory. Right away he could tell it was painstakingly crafted – every window, every door, even the dents on the exterior walls were perfect. From his experience, the shade of brown meant that there was just the right amount of sugar, cream, and cocoa added, all hand mixed extremely well. The flag, which was clearly trying to curve and show its wave in the wind, was the icing on the cake. It was as if he had been transported to the first time he saw the factory, about two months ago. "Oh wow... thank you so much," mustered the teary-eyed Kacheek, too grateful for words. Sensing that the shopkeeper wanted him to sample its taste, he carefully lifted the factory up from the box, broke off a small piece and placed it in his mouth. The shopkeeper took a piece too.
Though it was, of course, his own creation, the shopkeeper was surprised that the chocolate tasted amazing. It flowed to the back of his mind as distinct memories pushed forward – clearly having fun with another pet, playing with him and laughing together. Who could it have been?
As the silky feel of the warm chocolate spread across the Kacheek's tongue, memories drifted back like a melody: images of a picnic with all kinds of food on the mat, his owner enthusiastically reading him a book, his first victory in the Battledome... the sweet sensation never seemed to stop.
The last of the cocoa slowly melted away, and he opened his eyes to find the expectant face of the shopkeeper staring back. Words failed him once again. "It's... it's the best chocolate I've ever tasted," he breathed.
Suddenly it hit him at the same time as it hit the shopkeeper. Both their eyes opened wide and saw, in his friend, meeting each other in the pound, quickly becoming best friends, playing games every day, laughing as they shovelled bar after bar of chocolate into their mouths...
"I didn't know they treated you badly, I'm so sorry!" began the shopkeeper, after their quick sharing session, only to be interrupted by the Kacheek, "I didn't know you were busy, I'm sorry!" They stared at each other and burst out laughing. There was a lot of tears, chocolate and warmth in the factory that night as owner and pet reunited, telling dramatic but true life stories in the light of the moon, sipping hot cocoa all the way.
"Free chocolate! Free chocolate for all!" cried a Kiko with a Chef's hat, doling out bars and bars of hand mixed chocolate for incoming Neopians. By his side sat a blue Kacheek who added, "Step up and claim your free chocolate for the day!" Neopians of all ages, from eight to eighty, queued up for their turn, gratefully receiving this free gift. Under the shade of the Money Tree, it was quite pleasant indeed.
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