Mother's Balloon: Part Four
Featuring Snorkel Slop and Green Apples, a Petpet that Does Have Eyes Somewhere, the Grand Tour, and A Bit of History
The walk to the barn from the Worthington's house was quite a long one, down a winding dirt path, over hills and past the corn field. For as long as the journey was, it could never be long enough for the scarlet Draik who knew that her worst nightmare was waiting for her at the end of the road.
"Tell me Medis, are your snorkels the dirty kind that like to wallow in the mud? Or the nice, or rather, clean kind that can be kept inside a home like a Kadoatie or a Dogelfox?"
The Kougra tried not to smile at the concerned look on the red Draik's face. "As a matter of fact, the indoor snorkels are the same kind of petpet as the outdoor Snorkels. Some people like to keep them inside as house pets, but the truth of it is that most Snorkels would rather be kept outside, in a pen during the daytime, and in a barn to sleep at night."
"Do all outdoor Snorkels like to roll in mud, then?"
"All Snorkels love the mud, miss Reyela, even the indoor ones." He made quotation marks with his fingers when he said the word 'indoor'. "Why are you so curious about whether they roll in mud, anyway? I'm not turning you into a Snorkel, I'm just taking you to see them."
Before Reyela could answer, they had arrived at the large burgundy building.
"Short walk." she murmured.
"Maybe for you. You know, I always thought city kids would do a lot less walking than country kids. You sure are proving me wrong."
"I don't live in the city, just near it." she lied. "Now, where are the snorkels? Are they around here?"
"Their pen's at the side." He pointed to a small fenced-in enclosure. "I need to get their slop outta the storeroom. You can go around and see them, if you'd like."
The red Draik shook her head, and followed the Kougra into the barn. The storeroom was completely dark when they stepped inside, but a delightful sweet smell greeted Reyela's nose.
"It smells wonderful in here!" she said in utter disbelief. "It cannot be Snorkel slop I smell!"
"It ain't Snorkel slop." Medis turned on the light, illuminating rows and rows of wooden crates, filled with apples, carrots, husks of corn and every other fruit and vegetable one would expect to see at an autumn harvest.
Reyela goggled. "Where did all these come from?"
"We grew them." the Kougra beamed. "We do it every year. Then Pa takes them to the market to be sold."
"They look delicious." Reyela breathed, examining a bushel of glistening green apples.
"Do you like green apples?" Medis asked when he noticed the fascinated expression she wore.
"I don't know." Reyela admit. "I've never tasted a green one before. They don't sell them at the store near my house."
"Sure they do." he said plainly.
"No they don't! I'm quite sure I would know what there is around my house better than you would!"
He shrugged, and Reyela was beginning to notice that he did that a lot. "All I know is that the Worthington farm sells all colours of apples to almost every grocery store in Brightvale City, and surrounding areas. You must have seen them before. Maybe you thought they were limes or something."
"I'm not stupid!" Reyela flared. "I know the difference between a green apple and a lime, and if you think for one minute that I don't..."
Reyela let her sentence trail off. She had said the wrong thing again. Of course the general store near her house didn't sell the Worthington's green apples. He said they sold them in Brightvale City, but she didn't live anywhere near Brightvale City. But she had told Medis that she did...
"Here you go." Medis picked up an apple from the pile and handed it to her.
"Why are you giving me this? I thought your father was taking them to market."
"One apple won't make a difference. Besides, I'm sure Pa would rather they go to someone who will appreciate them than to someone who gets to eat them all the time." He winked. "The slop's in this bin. Come on, let's go!"
Snorkel slop turned out to be exactly what it sounded like, and exactly what Reyela feared. A slimy mixture of something that resembled left-over food, or could have resembled left-over food if it hadn't been ground into almost a liquid, brown in colour and thick and lumpy in texture. The mixture was appalling, and even more appalling was the noise the Kougra made to call the Snorkels to eat.
"What in Neopia are you doing?" Reyela grimaced as if she were in pain. "I have never heard a sound so horrible! Never in my entire life!"
"Guess you've never been to a farm then." he answered curtly, between his screeching. "This is how you call Snorkels."
"That's not how I would call them!" Reyela shouted over the noise.
This caught Medis' attention. "Okay, well, how would you do it then?"
"Well," she considered for a moment. "I'm not sure I particularly know."
"Aw, come on, anything has got to sound better than what I was just doing. Just try."
Reyela took a deep breath. "Here, Snorkel, Snorkel, Snorkel!" she called softly. Then she repeated it three more times, and on the third try a whole litter of baby snorkels came running out of the barn, followed by a giant Snorkel that could have only been the babies' mother.
"Would you look at that." Medis watched in awe as nine baby Snorkels and their mother lined up to be fed. "That call would never have worked for me. They must like you, Reyela."
Reyela did not agree. "They don't like me. No petpet likes me. The ones at my house always avoid me. My father says perhaps it is just the way it's meant to be."
"That can't be true."
The scarlet Draik gave no reply. She cupped her face with her hands, and leaned on the wooden fence, watching the little Snorkels fight for a place in front of the slop trough, and noticing, in spite of what she had previously thought, that they were actually quite adorable. They watched in silence for a moment, until an idea came to Medis Worthington.
"I know a petpet that will like you, Reyela."
"No you don't."
"What do you mean I don't?"
"You can't!" Reyela hissed. "No petpet wants anything to do with me. It's my aura. They don't like me, none of them do."
"Do you know every petpet in Neopia?" the Kougra challenged.
"No, but the ones I have known--"
"Jimmy is different from any other petpet you've ever seen." Medis cut her off. "He'll like you, and I bet you'll like him too."
He started to walk away, and after a moment, Reyela chased after him. She didn't know what had come over her, why she was running to meet a petpet who was only going to ignore her, if it didn't scratch or bite her. She hoped that whatever this Jimmy was, he wasn't a very large petpet. Large petpets had large claws, and strong jaws that could bite down hard on their prey with their sharp teeth. Large petpets also had long legs, and huge feet that could send someone into oblivion with one powerful kick...
"What kind of petpet is your Jimmy?"
The Kougra had the most mischievous look on his face. "I'm not gonna tell you."
"What do you mean you're not going to tell me?Why ever would you want to keep the type of petpet you have a secret? Unless it was something bad..."
"It's just more fun this way." he chuckled. "It's a surprise. Close your eyes."
"I didn't know it was possible for anyone to like surprises as much as you do." she mumbled, and begrudgingly covered her eyes.
Reyela heard the sound of a door opening, and Medis told her she could open her eyes. She moved her hands away from her face to see a mop of hair with ears standing placidly in his stall.
"Does he have eyes?" was the first thing the Draik thought to say when she came face to face with the shag-covered creature.
Medis was grinning from ear to ear. "He does somewhere!" he laughed. "They're just underneath all this hair. We've all tried to cut it, but it grows back faster than anything you've ever seen. I don't know how he gets around without bumping into things. He's always managed though."
Reyela watched as the Kougra scratched the creature's fluffy ear. Jimmy tipped his head to one side, and then the other, and Reyela imagined his eyes were closing underneath his thick mop of reddish hair.
"Jimmy is a Vacana, from Tyrrania." Medis told her. "He's super soft. Feel his ear."
She felt his ear, and it was soft. Softer than the ribbon in her hair that was almost silk, softer than anything she had ever felt before. And Jimmy didn't move when she pet him. He didn't even flinch.
Reyela was delighted. "He does like me, Medis, he does! You were right! Oh, what a nice boy he is. He's not shying away, or anything!"
"See?" said Medis. "Petpets are easy to make friends with. As long as you give them a chance, they'll give you one."
They stayed with Jimmy for a long time, brushing his hair with petpet combs, and scratching his velvet ears. When darkness began to fall over the farm, Medis suggested they go back to his house. They were greeted at the door by a biscuit Usul, and her yellow Usul china doll.
"You talk first, Liza." Bettina whispered in the doll's ear. She cleared her throat, and began to speak in a higher voice. "Did you have a nice time slopping the Snorkels, Miss Reyela? Are you ready to do the tour of our house now?"
"What ever are you doing, Bettina?" Reyela gave the young child a curious glance. "Do you often use more than one voice when you speak, or do you only do it on special occasions?"
Medis elbowed her in the side. "It's her doll talking, not her." he said through clenched teeth.
"Oh! Quite an imagination this one has! Good evening, Liza is it? I do hope you and your mother were not waiting too long for Medis and I to return."
"Ma is in the kitchen cooking." said the high little voice in reply. "Me and my sister have been here waiting for a long time, isn't that right, sister Bettina?" Bettina cleared her throat again, and continued to speak in her own voice. "Mm-hm, it's been an awful long time."
"The doll is her sister?" the Draik whispered to the Kougra, now more confused than ever.
"Bettina likes to pretend Liza is her baby sister, since she hasn't got a baby sister in real life." Medis explained.
"Yes I do have a baby sister, Medis!" Bettina cried. "Liza is my baby sister, in real life and not pretend! Ma and Hannah know that, and even Colton knows, but you and Caleb think I'm making it up!"
"No, no Betty, you know we're just kidding you. Come on, let's give Miss Reyela the grand tour."
"Who are Hannah and Colton, Medis?" wondered Reyela, as she followed the biscuit neopets up the stairs.
"They're our other sister and brother." said Medis. "Don't hold on too tight to that railing, it's coming loose."
The Draik snapped her hand back as if she had just touched something poisonous. "I wouldn't like the railing to come off in my hand." she simpered. "Medis, you have five children in your family? And they all live here, in this house?"
"Yup. Me and Caleb share this room on the left,"
"And me and Liza and Hannah share the one on this side." finished Bettina.
"And where does Colton sleep?" inquired Reyela.
"Colton sleeps in the cradle in Ma and Pa's room. Once he's too big for that he'll sleep in me and my brother's room."
Reyela stepped into Medis and Caleb's room, and immediately felt claustrophobic, sandwiched between the two beds and the dresser that was piled with baskets containing the boys' other belongings.
"Where would you put a bed for Colton in this room?" asked the Draik. "There is barely enough room for you two in here. You would have to move the dresser, but then there would be nowhere to put your clothes, and you would have to climb on Colton's bed to get to your own beds, which could be extremely frustrating if one of you had to get up in the middle of the night..."
"Pa said Caleb and Medis would have to get bunker beds!" Bettina said excitedly. "I wish me and Hannah could have them too. I would wanna sleep on the top!"
"You're lucky you're no bigger than a pea, Bettina." Medis teased. "I'm sure not looking forward to Colton growing out of his cradle. These ceilings aren't high enough for bunk beds. Whoever sleeps on the top will only have a few inches of breathing space between the mattress and the stucco. But," He shrugged, good-naturedly. "What can we do, eh? It's more important that our baby brother has somewhere to lay his head than that I have lots of room to myself, right?"
"Right." Reyela agreed, wondering if she would have the same outlook on the situation if she were in Medis' shoes.
"Medis, can we show our houseguest me and Hannah and Liza's room now?" The little Usul pulled on the Kougra's hand, trying to lead him out of the room.
"Sure, honey. You lead the way for Miss Reyela."
The girls' bedroom was the same as the boys' room, except that the dresser was replaced by a wardrobe, and beside the bed on the right side of the room was a wooden crate like the ones storing vegetables in the barn.
"That's Liza's bed." said Bettina, before Reyela could ask, pointing out the wool blanket her mother had knit just for the doll.
Mr. and Mrs. Worthington's room was the biggest of the three upstairs rooms, and it seemed to double as a storage room for the large family with the tiny house. Children's toys were strewn about the floor, and toppling towers of cardboard boxes leaned against the wall. In the centre of the room beside Colton's cradle, was a rickety old chair that looked like it had once belonged to a kitchen set, and sitting on the chair was a tray of silverware that had certainly seen better days.
"Your family has nowhere else to put these things." Reyela observed out loud.
"Well, we could put them in the living room," said Medis. "But there's not a whole lot of room in there either, what with the two couches and the chair. We've all got to have our own place to sit, of course."
"Medis, Bettina, it's time for supper!" Mrs. Worthington called from the bottom of the staircase.
"Coming Ma!" Medis shouted down.
"Why didn't she call my name?" asked Reyela.
"Medis, can you please bring the extra chair down from upstairs? We'll need seven chairs around the table for the next couple nights."
Reyela smiled a most satisfied smile. "That's better."
She supposed she would never know why she was so happy to be dining with a family of farmers during the last few hours of her tenth birthday. It made no sense whatsoever. These people were not the kind of people she wanted to be with on her special day, and the food they were serving her was not the kind of food she would have chosen on any occasion, special or otherwise. So why did she feel so blissful when Caleb pulled her chair in closer to the table where his family sat? Why did she feel special when shy Hannah tried to speak to her, and why did she burst out laughing when baby Colton missed his mouth, and accidentally spilled his soup in her hair? Why in the name of Hagan, king of Brightvale was she talking to Bettina's china doll? The Worthingtons were obviously messing with her mind. Or had her mind been messed up from the beginning, and now it was converting to the way it was always meant to be? Could such a miracle happen in a shack on a farm, far out in the Brightvale countryside?
"Mr. Worthington?" Reyela asked that night, as she and Medis and Medis' father sat talking on the back porch before bed. "Why did you purchase such a small house for you and your wife and five children? You can't possibly be comfortable living here. There's barely enough room for you to walk without bumping into one another."
"Well, Miss Reyela," the brown Kougra said with a yawn. "I didn't really choose for us to live in this house. I inherited it from my Pa when he died. He built this house for him and my Ma, I guess about fifty years ago. When I was born, I hear it got a little more cramped, but we always got along just fine. I never dreamed I'd be living here with five kids and a wife, but I gotta say it's much better than living in a two-room hut with a leaky roof."
The Draik's brown eyes grew three times their usual size. "You don't mean that you actually..."
Even if she had never seen the Kougra before, she would have instantly recognized him as Medis' father by the way he shrugged his shoulders when he said, "Turns out I wasn't born with the same house building skills my Pa had. I couldn't afford to buy an already made home either though. Nope, I was too busy feeding my two little boys."
"Reyela was puzzled. Two boys?" she questioned.
"Only me and Caleb were born at the time." Medis clarified. "Caleb is fifteen now, so he was five, and I was one when we moved in here."
"Uh-huh," Mr. Worthington continued. "And it's a good thing we got this house when we did. I wouldn't have been able to live with myself knowing my kids had to grow up in the shack of the place I built for them. Whenever I start to think of how good it would be to live in a big house, with separate bedrooms for all my kids, and a proper basement to store all the stuff we don't use every day, I just try to remember the old hut we used to live in, and I realize how lucky we are to have this beautiful home right here."
"That sounds ridiculous," the red Draik mused. "Yes, it indeed sounds perfectly ridiculous to say you are lucky to have a house like this. But it isn't ridiculous, is it?"
All at once, a smile spread across Reyela's face, as if something she did not understand before was becoming perfectly clear to her now. "This house must be a castle to you and your wife, and your children. Why, you must be grateful for it! Every day you must be grateful for it, for if it weren't for it you would be living in your old two-room hut! That is, if the hut would still be standing by this time. You did say it had a leaky roof, didn't you? If that is what you said, the roof would probably have fallen in by now, and you would be completely without a home! Oh, and that would be terrible for you and your family! Why, you certainly couldn't live like that!"
The brown Kougra and his son wanted desperately to laugh at the Draik's sudden burst of enthusiasm, but out of fear of sounding impolite the two Kougras kept their mouths shut, and simply nodded in agreement. Medis nodded especially hard in an attempt to control his delight. He had not seen this side of Reyela before, and now that he had, he never wanted her to stop showing it.
"Well," Mr. Worthington got up from his chair. "I reckon it's time we all go to bed. You can wear a pair of Hannah's pajamas if you'd like, Reyela. They'll probably be a bit small on you, but they'll be more comfortable to sleep in than a dress, I'm sure."
"Thank you very much, Mr. Worthington." Reyela curtsied. "I would be truly grateful. Oh yes, I'd be grateful!"
Just then, an evening breeze blew over the farm, and gently tousled the red Draik's chestnut hair. Then a soft tinkling song was played, and it startled Reyela in a way she had never been startled before.
"What's wrong, Reyela?" Medis inquired when he noticed the unusual look on her face. "That sound is the wind chimes in the front yard. I guess maybe you don't have them where you come from."
"We do." she told the Kougra. "I have a pair at my house. I was just thinking, those sound very much like my mother's. Not quite the same, though. My mother's sound more echoey, where yours have a fuller sound to them."
"Was your mother travelling to Brightvale City with you and your daddy?" Medis asked earnestly.
"My mother is no longer with us." Reyela confessed. "She went away, a little over two years ago."
"I couldn't imagine..." Medis started to say, but changed it to a simple, "I'm sorry."
Reyela nodded, and started making her way towards the door. Mr. Worthington was already inside, so Medis doused the lantern and went in as well.
"Are you gonna sleep in our room tonight, Reyela?" a quiet voice called seemingly from out of nowhere.
"Who said that?"
"I did." A fair-haired blue Kougra laid on the floor at the top of the stairs, peeking down at the Draik through the bars of the railing.
"Oh, hello Hannah. I'm pleased to see you're not a ghost!" Reyela giggled. "Your mother said I could sleep with you and Bettina tonight. I do hope that's all right?"
The timid girl seemed to have no objections. She dangled a pair of pale yellow cotton pants with tiny pink polka dots, and a matching short-sleeved shirt through the railing for Reyela to take.
"Those are Hannah's summer pajamas." A nightgown-clad biscuit Usul appeared behind the Kougra. "Hannah thinks you might be cold in them, so she found you two extra blankets. You can pick which one you want, or you can have both."
Hannah shot her little sister an annoyed look. "I was going to tell her that."
"I bet you weren't!" Bettina protested. "You didn't look like you were going to say nothing!"
"Well maybe you weren't looking at the right time."
"I was to!"
"What're you girls yelling about now?" Caleb stepped out of his room to see what the racket was about.
"Hannah is mad at me because I told Reyela something she said she was gonna tell her, but I didn't know that she was gonna say that, so she shouldn't be mad!" Bettina screamed.
"But she asked Reyela all the questions I said I wanted to ask her when we were eating supper!"
"Only because you said you were afraid to talk to Reyela, and I wasn't!"
The blue Kougra turned bright red. "I didn't say that! Caleb, make her stop saying I said things I didn't say!"
"That will be enough, girls." Mrs. Worthington came out of her bedroom, carrying Colton the brown baby Yurble in her arms. "It's way past both of your bedtimes, Caleb's and Medis' too. You can all talk to your new friend tomorrow, but right now it's time for bed."
"Yes!" Bettina clasped her hands together.
"Oh no, Betty, that does not mean you can stay up talking all night long."
"How 'bout only some of the night? I have so much things to tell Reyela about! And Liza does too. I probably won't be able to get a word in edgewise, Liza has so much she wants to say..."
"I'm sure Reyela is very tired. You and Liza can talk to her tomorrow."
"I am a little tired, actually." Reyela held back a yawn. "It's been a very long day for me, and I think I would like to get some sleep now."
Little Bettina was already rubbing her eyes. "Goodnight Reyela. Goodnight Ma and Pa, and Caleb and Medis, and Hannah and Colton."
Picking up the pajamas she had been lent, Reyela followed the two girls into their bedroom, and pulled the door shut behind her. In a second the door flung open again.
"Um, Mrs. Worthington?" the red Draik blushed. "Where do I put these pajamas on?"
She got changed down the hall in the family's only bathroom, and within a few minutes she was cozy on a cot on the floor between Hannah's and Bettina's beds.
While Reyela had her eyes closed, Bettina crept over to her cot and tucked her china Usul doll under her arm.
"Liza wants to sleep with you tonight." the biscuit Usul whispered.
Reyela smiled. She had never slept away from home before, and she was sure that having a doll to sleep with would make her feel more secure in this strange land she had been brought to. Not that she did not feel secure among the Worthingtons. There was something about the family that made her feel safe, as if she were still at home with her father. And her mother.
They even called me their friend, Mother! Isn't that ridiculously wonderful?
The scarlet Draik's thoughts went out to someone she knew would never get them, as she drifted off into a dream-filled sleep.
To Be Continued…