Fluff and Ribbons
Pink and fluff, that's all it was. Pink, and ridiculous fluff. Why must he endure it year after year? What was the reason? Rorey pulled his claw against his calendar in a thin tear, neatly scratching out the marked day: Valentine's.
The shadow Krawk rolled his eyes as his sister burst unannounced into his room. “Aly, how many times must I remind you to knock?”
She ignored his comment, regarding him with large, pink, dancing eyes. “It's Valentine's Day!” she yelled, quite unnecessarily -- for one thing, he already knew that, and for another, he was much too close to require such volume, not that she was one to realize that on her own.
Well, the faster he appeased her, the sooner she'd leave. “Yes it is, Aly. Maybe you should go out in the hall and celebrate.”
The pink Xweetok nodded, brightening at his suggestion, and utterly missing the sarcasm inflected in his words. “I can decorate it!” she announced shrilly. “Maybe we can even paint it pink!”
“No, we most certainly cannot,” he called after her, but she was long gone, bouncing down the stairs to plead the cause to Jayne, as like as not.
Well, Jayne wouldn't allow it, Rorey was sure. Their older sister, a level-headed striped Uni, was about as likely to let Aly to inflict such a radical change on their Neohome as was Rorey himself. That was one thing the Krawk could be thankful for on such an annoying day as this – at least he wouldn't have to live in a pink house as well.
Sighing, Rorey made his way downstairs.
“Only ribbons,” his sister was saying firmly. “Only decorations that can be removed with tape. This house is not a year-long Valentine's shrine.”
Those restrictions didn't seem to dampen Aly's spirit much. She squeaked with delight, scampering off on all fours to find some scissors and pink papers. “Eat your breakfast first!” called Jayne after her.
His sister fixed him with a sympathetic gaze. “I know you don't like this day,” she said, “but it's not all as bad as you make it. Remember the message – love and cheer. Those aren't negative things, are they?”
“It's not the message that bothers me,” replied Rorey grumpily. “It's the way they go about proclaiming that message! Since when does love and cheer have to be pink?”
“That's just how it is,” Jayne replied, leaving the kitchen to hunt down their overexcited sister. “Have some breakfast before you leave. There should be plenty left – I only gave a couple to our neighbors.”
Rorey glanced down at what waited on the table. It was a plate of warmed tarts, freshly frosted white and pink. Lovely. He ate one anyway – at least it didn't taste pink.
* * * * *
Gathering up his courage to face the mounds of ruffles and frills that marked this oh-so-annoying day, Rorey opened the door and stepped outside.
Rain met him, soaking his face in sheets of wind-lashed droplets. Strange, he thought to himself. It hadn't been raining a few moments before – at least, not that he could hear. The sky itself was a mass of black clouds, rumbling grumpily. Not very much like Valentine's Day so far, he had to admit.
A jogging Bruce almost knocked him over as he ran past. “Hey, watch it!” the Bruce snarled over his shoulder, continuing on his run.
Rorey frowned. “You were the one that ran into me,” he protested, but the pattering rain drowned his words. Not like Valentine's Day at all.
As he sloshed through the streets, the Krawk was surprised at the atmosphere that greeted him. A few Neopets grumbled as they stepped in the street's puddles, dressed in dreary blacks and greys, but the streets were mostly deserted. This was most unlike Neopia Central – usually it was a bustling, busy city, no matter the weather. Where were the crowds of giggling young pets, wearing raincoats of yellow and pink and palest blue? Where were the market vendors, calling out their wares in husky, cheery voices over the rain with a canopy to shelter them? He had expected Central to be extra crowded today, full of sappy love notes and freshly made chocolates and woven doilies of white lace.
One lone street vendor, an aged Skeith, stood on what was usually a teeming street. He had a black umbrella over his head, and his goods were thrown beneath a soggy tarp. “What are you looking at?” he demanded sourly as Rorey approached.
Ignoring the vendor's unfriendly tone, Rorey politely inquired if there were any cards to be bought. “For my sister,” he explained. “She loves this day. Maybe some ribbons, too?” Now that he thought of it, a bit of Valentine's Day cheer wouldn't be wholly misplaced inside his house.
“Who do you think I am?” asked the old Skeith, squinting his eyes to get a better look as Rorey. “Some sort of frilly fool? Do I look like I would sell that sort of garbage here? If you want a Pet Rock, pay up and be done with it. Otherwise, leave me alone.”
“A Pet Rock?” Rorey pressed. What a strange thing to be selling on Valentine's Day.
The Skeith nodded. “You heard me. They are plain and undecorated, none of that ribbon talk. They come in handy – especially for throwin' at those you don't like.” From the way the vendor's fist was clenched, Rorey had a good idea who the next Pet Rock would be aimed at, and had enough sense to leave without a red welt on his head to show for it.
Soaking wet and foul-mooded, Rorey started to make his way back home. Neopia Central had nothing interesting to offer – only dark, empty streets and grouchy residents. At least there would be more of a cheery spirit inside his house.
“Jayne,” he called as he slid, wet, into the doorway, “the strangest thing's been going on--”
“I'll show you something far stranger if you take one more step into the house like that,” snapped his older sister. Her eyes glared at him daggerlike, as if she were thinking that no legs would be better than those attached to wet boots, and was mentally performing the required amputation.
“I was going to take them off,” replied Rorey defensively. Honestly, what was wrong with everybody today? It was supposed to be a cheesy, eye-rolling holiday today, and the reality was certainly nothing of the sort.
At least Aly would be in a better mood. Edging past his sister in his socks, giving the Uni a wide berth all the while, Rorey managed to dart up the stairs. He threw a confused look over his shoulder as he reached the top, and called out, “Aly?”
“What?” The word was spat out as if poisonous, spoken with a venom more vicious than Rorey would have credited his sister as able to possess. Surprised, he turned to face her, and saw the pink Xweetok crouched in the corner, bunching her legs beneath her as if preparing to spring.
He looked around at the walls that she had been so eager to decorate. “What happened, couldn't you find the tape?” he asked. They were utterly devoid of the slightest color – even the decoration that had been in place had been removed, leaving only stark bareness.
Her lip curling in reply, Aly slunk toward him. “Why would I need tape?” she hissed in a voice unlike her own. “To shut your mouth permanently, perhaps?”
Rorey stared at her openly. Whatever had happened to the Aly he knew? True, her bouncy happy perkiness grew irritating at times, but this was a stranger who crouched so bitterly before him. She, and the savage sister that waited for him downstairs...
“Something's wrong,” he said out loud, more to himself than anyone else. He'd been thinking as much all along, but somehow hearing the spoken words lent them power. “Something's wrong,” he repeated, more firmly. “This isn't you. That's not my sister downstairs. This isn't Valentine's Day!”
Aly seemed to grow more vicious and enraged with each word he spoke. She quivered as his voice rose with conviction, and as his last words echoed in the hall she actually lunged at him, clacking her pointed teeth.
Rorey jumped out of the way, but only just. His sister was fast, and although she was small, she was a considerable threat. If any other creature like her had been throwing itself at him, he would have swatted it aside and into the wall. But this was his sister attacking him, and he didn't want to hurt her. So he danced around her growling bites, unwilling to do anything to put an end to the threat, and increasing her chances of finally nipping him by the moment.
Helpless, he took off downstairs. Jayne, encouraged by her sister's wrath, gave a neighing snarl of her own and galloped toward him. She was significantly larger than her sister, and twice as ferocious, and Rorey wasn't sure he could fight her even if he wanted to.
The two chased him through the house, nipping at his heels and breathing hot breath down his neck. “How dare you say something's wrong with us!” demanded Aly, hissing with rage.
“Fall, you insolent creature! Fall, and feel my hooves!”
Panting, Rorey, skidded to the kitchen. It was over – there was no way out. His sisters stood in the doorway, seething, and outside even the rain was pelting the window as if trying to break in. The jogging Bruce ran past, throwing him a glare, and behind him the grouchy vendor was fingering a Pet Rock.
“This is a dream, right?” asked the Krawk aloud, hardly knowing what to do. Desperate, he pinched a clawful of scales. “Ow!” Not a dream, he thought frantically. This is real, this is happening... But how?
He searched around the kitchen, looking for something – anything – that might provide a hint, or at the very least defend him. Nothing seemed out of place, nothing unusual --
-- except the tarts.
There had been several on the plate that morning, Rorey remembered, frosted pink and white. Back then, pink was the least of my worries. Now only one or two remained, and the plate was covered with crumbs.
They've all eaten, he realized with a start. Those two were the neighbors my sister mentioned. I ate some too, but I was the one wishing for this, wasn't I? There was no way for me to change. My world was already stark and bare and empty.
Without warning, both of his sisters threw themselves at him. At the same time a Pet Rock came flying through the window, shattering the glass, and the Bruce and Skeith vendor wriggled through the ruined pane, roaring with anger.
Rorey had only moments to react. He grabbed the tart plate, snapping the remaining fragments deftly with his claws. Aly was the first to reach him, and her snapping jaws met frosting and tart instead of flesh. Jayne was right behind her, and the Krawk dodged her slashing hooves before popping a piece of tart into her surprised mouth. The Bruce and Skeith came at him together, and their angry cries became muffled through the sounds of chewing.
Exhausted and dazed, Rorey stumbled back, pressing himself against the wall. He put the last bit of tart in his mouth, tasting its flaky breading and sweet frosting. If its flavor would have a name, it would be however “pink” might taste. Although perhaps that's not so bad.
The others paused, looking dazed. The jogger was the first to speak. “I thought I... didn't I leave?” he asked, scratching his head.
The Skeith vendor nodded as well. “I could have sworn... what happened?”
“It happens every year,” replied Rorey confidently, allowing their confused gazes to turn to him. “My sister over-sugared the Valentine's tarts again. You might feel a little dizzy now, but you'll be fine in a bit once you digest all that. Good thing Valentine's Day happens only once a year, right?”
The explanation must have been enough for them, for they soon thanked his sister for breakfast and shambled out of the house.
“The... window?” asked Jayne faintly, pointing to the pile of broken glass.
“A branch knocked into it during the night,” explained Rorey easily. “I came down this morning early and moved the branch, but the glass itself will have to be repaired. Maybe we can order some Brightvale colored glass to replace it.”
“Like what?” asked his sister, wiping her eyes with her hooves.
“Pink!” piped up Aly excitedly. She, at least, seemed to have recovered fully. “All shades of pink, right here in the kitchen! Wouldn't it be great, Rorey?”
Jayne looked to him sharply, expecting some sort of sarcastic reply, but Rorey only shrugged his shoulders. “It might be okay,” he admitted. “Now Aly, weren't you going to put up some decorations? I was thinking you might need some help.”
The little Xweetok's face lit into a grin, and she eagerly reached out for him with a paw. As she led him out of the kitchen, already chattering about her ideas, Rorey saw Jayne give him a smile as she began to sweep the mess.