We Are the Waiting
The dirt crunched under his feet with every step he took as he sauntered down the deserted boulevard. He was the only soul in existence, as far as he could tell, as it seemed as if the entire city around him became vacant in an instant. No matter where Aesunil looked, every building was emptied and every street corner was abandoned. Every place where another Neopet could be was void of any signs of life. He was the last one remaining in this town, a town that seemed lackluster compared to its former glory. And how he wished that it could just disappear from before his very eyes.
Aesunil gazed up at the moon, bright and stark against the midnight sky, as a chill wind picked up, sending a shiver down his spine. He drew his coat tighter around his body. Although he was a Zafara, his bright blue fur was not enough to keep his body warm during the freezing night. Steadily, despite shivering slightly, he continued marching on, examining his environment to see what had become of his city.
What had happened here, he wondered, as he gazed upon the remnants of a once bustling town. The shops that displayed various goods in their windows now lay ruined, the glass shattered and the wares absent. He paused in front of the bakery, a shop once stuffed with cake, pies, and other baked confections. Now, it was shattered, defeated. The windows were busted in, the displays were destroyed, the floors were scratched, and the cash register was empty and tossed onto its side.
Aesunil remembered a different day, when the bakery line would stretch around the block. It was quite popular, as he recalled, and various Neopets queued for a cookie or a piece of cake. He reminisced about being taken to the bakery as a child to get his favorite cookie, a Chocolate Chip Zafara Cookie. It usually came as a reward for accompanying his mother on a daylong shopping trip. All the hours spent visiting various stores paid off the moment he popped the cookie into his mouth. Indeed, he had fond memories of sitting in the town square next to his mom and watching the bustle of city life unfold around him.
Of course, that was years ago. Now, this city life appeared dead and gone to him as he made his way to the square now. He found the bench where he would sit all those years ago, and saw the streetlamps around were busted, allowing the darkness to envelop all. The square was in the same sort of disarray as the rest of the city, beaten down and broken, much like the other shops he had passed. He couldn’t help but realize how this city had come to look like how he had felt about it the past few months.
Aesunil loved his city, he really did. This was his home, the place where he had grown up. He recalled playing in the fields nearby his childhood home, and saving his allowance to purchase plushies from the toy shop. He remembered longing for the post-shopping sweets and staying up late despite his mom’s best efforts to get him to sleep. All of this held a certain kind of magic for him when he was growing up, a rose-colored recollection that felt painfully nostalgic for him. In a way, remembering the town and the way it made him feel gave him a sense of comfort. But lingering in these thoughts for too long filled him with an odd, painful sensation. He realized that this was because he knew that his time there had passed.
All the days that Aesunil spent within the city limits enjoying the life seemed like a distant memory to where he was now. He had really done all he could to enjoy his time there. Even walking through the city had lost the appeal that it once held. As much as he willed to convince himself that he still loved where he was, he understood deep down that it was perhaps time to move on with his life. As this realization had begun to set in, the more the city seemed to decay around him.
But yet, the idea of leaving sent Aesunil’s heart racing. As much as he felt he had outgrown his hometown, it is all he had known his entire life. Could he really find the strength within himself to depart into unknown territory? He had always heard there was much more outside of his small, isolated city. He could explore Neopia and find his own little corner of the world to settle down in. He always liked the bustle of his city, so Neopia Central was always an option. Terror Mountain existed if he ever fancied time in the snow, or he could settle down near the ocean should he choose to live on Mystery Island.
All the possibilities ran through his mind, appearing one-by-one as if they were in a neatly arranged sequence. What he chose to do from here on was his choice, and the freedom available to him allowed him full access to a future of his choosing. However, that freedom was the very thing filling him with fear. Choosing from the limitless possibilities was overwhelming, and his head went spinning each time he considered leaving his city. Often, it frustrated him to the point of pushing the whole idea of leaving into the back of his mind. But then he found himself in the same position that he began in, upset and stagnant in this deserted city. Life would go on around it, but it seemed that his was fixated, stuck in the same place.
The shops remained busy as always, the square as crowed with each passing day. Yet slowly he started to feel more removed, more foreign in an environment that had once felt so lively and new to him. This town had decayed in his mind, losing its appeal and its shine. The attraction of being here had worn off, and nothing could be done to redeem it. As he knew it, in reality, this town was vibrant and whole. And yet in this moment, his mind only saw it as fractured and destroyed. As he stood there in the cold night air, gazing upon the abandoned ruins of this city, he wished that he could just watch this city disappear before his eyes. He would then be rid of it, once and for all.
And seemingly, as if his will had forced reality, he witnessed a spark pierce the dense blanket of the night, sending the buildings around him ablaze. Slowly, bright warm flames began to engulf all the structures in the square. The fires rose to magnificent heights, roaring and cackling, almost deafening in the silence of the night. The light they illuminated was thrown across the square, blinding his eyes with their brilliance.
Yet, he didn’t recoil, or feel afraid, as he thought he should when faced with such flames. Instead, he sat transfixed, mesmerized, as he watched the fires burn against the night sky, slowly eating away at the town that he had so fallen out of love with. The buildings began to crumble under the intensity of the flames, with magnified crashes resounding in the still of night as weakened structures fell into the flames.
Aesunil stared intently watching the buildings slowly collapse into the raging flames. Soon, the dilapidated structures were nothing more than smoky ash, and with the magnificent flames gone, the soot and the smoke blended with the again darkened skies. It was gone, he realized, and he would never see it again. Yet the sight of his once beloved city burning in front of him filled him not with fear or desperation, but comfort. Now there was no turning back, no regrets for him to have for his decision. He could truly leave. Maybe he was just waiting for an excuse, or even (as he consider it) permission to go, but now he had nothing holding him back.
He stood there staring at the smoldering ruins for what could have been seconds, minutes, hours, or even days. Aesunil knew not, as all he was concerned with was seeing what was left of his city one last time. If this was the final time he would see it, he wanted to drink in every emotion in this moment. So he stood there as time passed, until he felt he was prepared to move on. With one final glance at his hometown in ashes, he willed himself to turn his back to it. Taking a deep breath of the chilly night air, he turned his head upwards and saw the starry skies piercing the midnight sky. He closed his eyes to the light, and for the first time in what felt like years, he felt relief.
Steadily, his eyes reopened, but he found himself gazing not at a sky dotted with brilliant stars, but instead at curtains pierced with morning sunlight. Aesunil glanced around and saw that he was in his room, having awoken from a deep slumber in his bed. It seemed the vision he had of his hometown burning was only a dream. Of course, the real city was secure and vibrant, bustling like always in the small town square. But Aesunil knew that the dream wasn’t a simple collection of thoughts and cognitions. It was a sign, a glaring, bold invitation that told him it was time to go.
As Aesunil gazed up to his blank, white ceiling, all the possibilities of where he could go ran through his head once more. He could choose the busy streets of Neopia Central, the snowy hills of Terror Mountain, or the sandy beaches of Mystery Island. He could choose something else entirely. It didn’t matter what he chose, though. This time, as each possibility ran through his mind, he didn’t feel frustrated, overwhelmed, or upset. This time, he was ready to process his thoughts and decide what to do. This time, he was ready to move on.