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Sharing the Load: Part One


by 77thbigby

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      Helen laughed as Nova scampered after his toy rope. He tossed it high and shook it, growling playfully. The black Kimbi hurried back to his owner, eyes shining. She grabbed one end and they had a tug-o-war. Having fun, the shadow Gelert was surprised when her Petpet suddenly stopped, antennae twitching.

      Nova whined and then Helen twitched her own long ears as she heard hoof beats coming nearer. She stood and looked down the road as Bea, her older brother’s blue Whinny, charged towards them. Bea came to an abrupt halt and snorted anxiously. It was clear that something was wrong. Bea never left Galen’s side.

      Bea led Helen and Nova about a mile away to where Galen was stumbling along. Quickly, the shadow Gelert moved to her brother’s side, supporting him as he walked. The silver Kau’s green eyes were dull with exhaustion. It was a long, slow walk home. When they did get home, Helen helped Galen to his bedroom, where he flopped and went straight to sleep.

      Helen sat at the kitchen table, thinking. Her brother worked hard to support them but she had never seen him as worn out before. He had a difficult time saying no and it had finally caught up with him. He hadn’t even eaten dinner!

      Sensing his owner’s mood, Nova whined. Helen smoothed the frown lines from her face and managed a weak smile as she looked down at her Petpet.

      “No reason to worry myself sick. It’s late and we should go to bed ourselves. Everything will be better in the morning, you’ll see,” Helen reassured Nova.

      Except everything was not better in the morning.

      Helen woke up to a silent house. She and her brother were early risers but no matter how she tried, she never could wake up before he did. The siblings had always been close. No matter how busy their day was, they made a point of eating breakfast together. So, Helen knew that a quiet house with no scent of breakfast cooking was not a good sign.

      The shadow Gelert slipped out of bed and down the hall to her brother’s bedroom. She creaked open the door and heard her brother snoring loudly before she saw him sprawled in his bed. Shocked at the sight, Helen could only stare dumbly at Galen for a moment. Then, she shut the door with a faint click and went back to her bedroom. As she got ready for the day, she thought about what to do.

      Helen knew the reason that Galen worked so hard was that he struggled to support them. She had offered to get a job so that they could both earn Neopoints but her brother had refused. They rarely fought over anything and Helen didn’t bring up the subject a second time. Galen wasn’t sick, just tired. One day of missed work wouldn’t hurt them too badly.

      The Gelert did not want to think of what would happen if her brother could not work a second day in a row. With her worries assuaged for the moment, she made a quick breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs and apple juice. She cleaned up the kitchen and headed for the living room. What Galen needed was peace and quiet so he could rest up. Helen was determined to make that happen.

      So, the shadow Gelert suppressed a growl as the doorbell rang. Swiftly, Helen rose to answer the door. She was fully prepared to give a piece of her mind to whoever was at the door. Her righteous anger evaporated, however, when she saw a skinny Halloween Gnorbu with an easy smile on his face standing before her.

      “Hey, you must be Helen. Galen told me all about you. My name is Chai. Is your brother here? We’re supposed to be working together today,” the Gnorbu said.

      “Chai? Like the tea?” Helen said the first thing that popped into her head.

      “Yes, like the tea.”

      Helen nodded, green eyes studying the Gnorbu. She didn’t notice the sudden awkward silence until Chai waved his hand in front of her face. She snapped to attention, feeling stupid for her mental lapse.

      “Galen. Is he here?” Chai tried again.

      “My brother is unavailable at the moment,’ Helen said firmly, a little too firmly as Chai seemed taken aback at her tone.

      “He’s always been a stand-up guy, Galen. I really needed his help today.”

      Helen softened as she heard the obvious admiration in Chai’s voice. She loved her brother dearly and her tail wagged to know that someone else recognized what a great Neopet he was. Then, a wave of eagerness hit her as she sensed an opportunity.

      “You know, Chai, while Galen can’t help you today, I’m available,” Helen offered, starting slowly before ending in a rush as if afraid the Gnorbu would refuse before she finished.

      It was Chai’s turn to fall silent and study Helen for a moment. He looked hesitant for a moment, then shrugged his shoulders as if making up his mind.

      The Gnorbu nodded his head. “I do need the help. I’d appreciated it, if you’re willing.”

      “Great!”

      Helen shut the door behind her, Nova at her side. They fell into step with Chai.

      “So, what’s the job anyway?” Helen asked.

      “It’s outside the village a ways. We have to take a cab to get there. We’re going to be doing some landscaping,” Chai said.

      It didn’t take long to get a cab. It was a quick, pleasant ride out and all too soon they found themselves in front of a large Neohome.

      “Some landscaping?” Helen asked, taking in the rather expansive grounds.

      Chai grinned and shrugged. “Had you refused, I would have been stuck doing the work alone.”

      “Still, you should have been honest. This isn’t even close to some. This place is huge!”

      “That means the sooner we get started, the sooner we finish. First, we need to get the mowing out of the way. You take the front and I’ll take the back. We’ll meet in the middle.”

      They mowed the expansive lawns and moved on to tree trimming. This they did together and, thankfully, there was only one tall tree that needed work. Chai held the ladder while Helen climbed up with the pruning shears.

      “Chai, you should know that I’ve never done this before,” Helen said.

      “You’re learning something new, then,” Chai said.

      Helen gave an experimental squeeze to the shears and didn’t even bite into the branch she had chosen. Not wanting to give up so easily, she exerted more pressure. Feeling the branch give a little, she put her entire weight against the shear handles, hoping that this would help.

      It didn’t.

      Growling and panting, growing warm with exertion, she realized that the shears were good and stuck in the tree branch and she was not strong enough to unstick them. She looked down but couldn’t see Chai from where she was.

      “Chai, could we switch places? I’m not making any headway up here,” Helen called down.

      “Sure thing, Helen,” Chai called back.

      The shadow Gelert left the shears and climbed down from branch to branch until she could see the ground once more. Then, she lowered herself down from the branch nearest the ground. The Halloween Gnorbu took her place, climbing up the ladder.

      “Yeah, you definitely weren’t doing this right. You shouldn’t have even tried cutting this one,” Chai called down, laughter in his voice.

      “I told you I didn’t know what I was doing!” Helen called back up, unable to stop herself from smiling; Chai was too good-natured to be frustrated with.

      As the Gnorbu dropped down the properly pruned branches, the Gelert gathered them up into a neat pile. Chai climbed back down and they moved on to the next task.

      “First, we pull the weeds. Then, we add new soil and fertilizer. We finish with planting the flowers,” Chai explained.

      The pair weeded the patch of ground. Then, they had to haul sacks of soil and fertilizer to the spot. Chai could handle two bags, one on each shoulder. Helen could barely manage one, struggling with the weight. She hefted it in her arms, making her knees shake before trying it on her shoulder like Chai and found that just a bit better.

      Between them, they hauled six bags.

      “These are Aurora Lilys, Cineraria and Kau Slips,” Chai explained as they began to plant.

      “These remind me of my brother,” Helen said.

      “Which? The Aurora Lilys?”

      The shadow Gelert laughed at the Halloween Gnorbu’s joke. This, at least, was pleasant work. Well, mostly pleasant.

      “If only we didn’t have to work with fertilizer,” Helen said, wrinkling her nose.

      “Well, we’re done now, at any rate,” Chai said, rising to his feet.

      The shadow Gelert also rose to her feet and winced in pain. Her entire body ached! She couldn’t wait to get back home so she could relax. She was thankful that Chai didn’t comment on her obvious discomfort. Once more, they took a cab back to the village.

      “Thank you for all of your help, Helen. It was a pleasure working with you,” Chai said as Helen exited the cab.

      “Yes, it was a pleasure working with you too, Chai. Let’s do it again, sometime,” Helen offered with a genuine smile.

      Chai really was easy to get along with. She could see why Galen and he had become friends. She entered her house, just in time for lunch. To her pleasant surprise, she saw Galen had woken up. It was rather alarming to note that his eyes were still blank with exhaustion but at least he was awake.

      Helen served chicken soup, pleased to see Galen eat his share. Helen was relieved that Galen, normally so observant, missed her own pain. As soon as the silver Kau finished his lunch, he trudged back to his bedroom. She heaved a great sigh as she washed the dishes. She couldn’t wait to sit down!

      Then, the doorbell rang.

      Helen groaned as she went to open the door. A gold Grarrl faced her. He blinked in surprise as he looked at her, clearly not expecting to see her standing there.

      “I’m looking for Galen. I have a job for him,” the gold Grarrl said.

      “Galen is my brother. He is currently unavailable but I am able to work in his stead,” Helen said.

      “You? You don’t look like you’ve worked a day in your life! Are you certain you have what it takes?”

      “Yes, I am.”

      “Very well. Please come with me.”

      The gold Grarrl had his own wagon and explained as they went. Helen had hoped for something easy but no, it would not be easy.

      “My fence was broken down and someone broke into my barn. Everything has now been repaired but my stock has strayed. I need to gather them all and return them to the pasture,” the gold Grarrl explained.

      “How many and what am I looking for?” Helen asked.

      “Ten Babaas, three Drackonacks, four Hoovles and four Zebies. So that’s twenty-one Petpets in all.”

      “Twenty-one Petpets!”

      Helen was tired just listening to the list. They arrived at the Grarrl’s farm and the Gelert got out of the wagon. She saw a group of Wibreth pecking around a neat coop.

      “At least I can rule those out,” Helen said to Nova, who had come along to help.

      They moved past the barn and the pasture to the open ground beyond. Crops of corn and marrows were growing.

      “No wayward Petpets in sight.”

      The Gelert flicked her long ears, hoping to hear something. To her great surprise, she did. It was a sharp clack and then a thud. She had never heard anything like it before. Having nothing else to go on, she headed towards the sound.

      Helen and Nova rounded a cornfield to find the four missing Hoovles butting heads. They had paired off and the clatter of hooves along with the impact of their horns were the clack and thud she had heard. She had found some of the Petpets! Now how to get them to the pasture? She had to get their attention first.

      Helen stepped in between one pair as Nova stepped in between the other. She yelped as she felt the horns of the green Hoovle did into the back of her knees. Nova was fast enough to dodge his pair. They now had the Hoovles’ attention. All four were prepared to tackle the shadow Gelert and black Kimbi.

      “Run, Nova, run!” Helen yelled as they tried to escape.

      Nova barked as they ran, the pounding hooves all the encouragement they needed to keep going. They made it to the pasture and the Hoovles followed them in. Helen and Nova quickly got back over the fence but the Hoovles stayed safely confined. Helen collapsed on the grass, getting her breath back. Then she grinned at Nova.

      “Well, four down. Seventeen to go,” Helen said, rising to her feet.

      They walked around the cornfield once more and found themselves in a meadow. The four Zebies were munching contentedly on the grass and flowers. Helen was able to carry the first two she reached. They sniffed her curiously and one nibbled her blonde hair experimentally. She quickly discouraged the yellow Zebie and he bleated a mild complaint.

      What about the blue and red Zebies?

      Nova seemed to have it covered. He had grabbed up some especially tasty looking flowers and the two Zebies followed the black Kimbi. He enticed the along and soon all four Zebies were put into the pasture with the Hoovles. Helen felt pleased that they had managed so well thus far. Though, they weren’t even close to done.

      To be continued…

 
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