Fearsome: A Grarrl's Story - Part Four
Long, mundane days ensued at the new house – which, the newly-named Redfangs learned through listening to what little talk he could hear, was called Furrnacres.
He had become, gradually, a creature of the night. By day he slept, tired out from his nightly rounds, in his shed, or in the sunshine if the weather permitted. But every evening at twilight, Mr. Kartson would come with his pale grim face and release him from his bonds. Then he would be expected to circle the perimeter of the building, looking up at the walls and listening for sounds, rustling in the grass or the scrape of metal on stone, for example, that would give away any intruders. This was his job to do, for his new owners, and though he despised it, he was determined to do it well.
He could not know what a forbidding figure he cut, the huge red shape, dark violet in the night, prowling through the grass with his huge head swaying, his green eyes glowing like lamps. Truth be told, he had not yet begun to fill out with his adult weight, and was still rather lean, but the effect was nonetheless enough to make the occupants of the house shudder and draw the curtains, as they watched him pass from their windows.
He hated the rain. It was bad enough during the daytime, when it seeped through the cracks in the roof, dripped on him, and puddled on the floor, dampening it and making him shift and wriggle with discomfort. But it was worse at night, when he was expected to prowl the grounds, ‘regardless of weather’. Then the merciless drops pelted him and sheeted down upon him, the wind whirling and buffeting him , and he could only make out vague, misty shapes through the curtain of falling water. And it was cold, so cold, so wet... On nights like that no words could describe his relief as the sky began to lighten and he could finally stagger back to his flimsy shelter and collapse, away from the loathsome rain.
And worse, it seemed to be getting colder. Even in the daytime, the air was beginning to be touched with chill, and the trees were turning from green to gold. Redfangs didn’t know what autumn was, but he could tell that the weather had finished with being warm, at least for now. Even the sun seemed to be turning dim and yellow and cold. He wondered if the hot lovely sun that had warmed and dried him on so many afternoons would ever return again.
The months drifted lazily by, and Redfangs was miserable. But he accepted his circumstances as a matter of course, as he was wont to do.
Until one night, when he was stalking unhappily as usual over Furrnacres’ vast lawns. Thankfully, the night was clear, although cold, and his great body shivered at the chill. Never once had he seen hide or hair of the ‘intruders’ he was supposed to be guarding against, but tonight he sensed something different, some subtle change in the mood, almost as if he were being watched. He lifted his head, scenting the air.
Then he saw them, out of the corner of his eye. Two dark shapes glided soundlessly over the top of the wall like shadows and dropped with a soft rustle into the grass at the bottom.
Redfangs made a low noise in his throat. At last, these were supposed to be what he was guarding against, these intruders. He moved to do his job. Swiftly and suddenly, he was upon them. The dark shapes below him seemed to shrink into the grass as the Grarrl towered over them, a huge menacing figure in the pale moonlight. He knew what to do with intruders like this. He must dispatch them now, as he had been told.
And yet he could not do it. After all these months, in his mind there remained still the picture of the beaten Lupe, ears back, tail down, cowering before him. Voices from the past seemed to ring in his ears.
...mean, ugly, stupid Grarrl!... my fearsome fighting Grarrl... my ferocious destroyer... knock ‘im dead, boy! Finish ‘im Cruncher!... no biting out of you... the size of those teeth! What a terrible creature... beast... monster...
He dropped his head. “Get out,” he snarled, trying to sound as low and guttural as he could.
One of the shadows in the grass gazed up at him with dull black eyes. “What?”
“I said get out,” Redfangs repeated urgently. “I won’t hurt you... if you get out, now.”
The shape in the grass laughed mirthlessly. “We knew you’d never attack us, Grarrl. We could see it in your eyes. You’re no killer. I wonder about that man that fancies himself such an expert on Grarrls. Believe you me, Grarrl, if we had chosen, you would have heard nary a sound from us as we... intruded.”
Redfangs shook his great head in bewilderment. “Then... why did you let me see you?”
“Because, Grarrl,” the toneless voice continued, “it is always the Grarrls we come for. We’re here to get you out, Grarrl. We know how miserable the existence of the watch-Grarrl is in this house.”
“I’m... not sure I understand.”
“Ah, Kuro, old fella, ya confusing him.” The second figure in the grass straightened up, lifting its small round head to his red snout, and Fangs thought he saw a pair of extra ears on stalks rise briefly from the top of its head. “We always come for th’ Grarrls. Once every season, as was th’ deal. We have an... agreement wit’ th’ mistress o’ th’ house.”
Redfangs was even more bewildered. The lady of the house in league with these roguish shadow-pets? It seemed impossible to believe, and he was about to question still further when there was a whoosh of wind from behind him and the baby Uni alighted gently on the grass by his side.
“Ah Kuro, Takki, you’re here,” she said, softly but graciously. “Here is your reward, as promised.”
She threw a soft cloth bag onto the ground, and the first of the shadows snatched it up quickly, slinging it over his shoulder.
“Thank ya, Miss Ritzy.” The second shadow bowed low, then beckoned to the Grarrl. “Come on. We’re bustin’ you out.”
“Wait.” Redfangs turned to see the Uni holding out several sheets of paper. “You almost forgot the identification documents.”
Redfangs was still puzzled as he took the papers in one claw. “But... I don’t understand. Why would you do this?”
The baby Uni shrugged nonchalantly. “I get tired of seeing the Grarrls in here. Hoping that if the disappearances become regular my mistress’d take a hint. I’d been looking for a way to get ‘em out forever, and when these two showed up in my room one night I got ‘em to make a deal with me.”
“We are to come in the middle of every season,” the first shadow intoned, “and take the watch-Grarrl. In return we get enough NP and rare items to bring us up quite a bit in rank with the others.”
“My owner always gives me extra,” added Ritzy proudly.
“But... if you could just slip into the house and take these things, wouldn’t it be better without having to smuggle a Grarrl out?”
The second shadow grinned, a white grin that Redfangs could see in the dark. “Y’ do ask so many questions, Grarrl. We like a challenge, especially one that involves rescuin’ a fellow pet. The Aisha Thieves ‘re rogues and bandits to be sure... but we wouldn’ hesitate to help a pet in need. And if we can get some dough on th’ side, who are we to say no? Besides, there’s plenty o’ other houses on this side o’ th’ neighbourhood to hit.”
The first Aisha, Kuro, was sniffing carefully at the grey moss-covered surface of the wall. Finally, he put up a paw to a place on it and pushed.
A large opening, big enough for the Grarrl to exit, appeared in the wall. Fangs gaped at it.
“But... if you had this, all the time, then why did you have to climb over the wall?”
Takki, the second Aisha, flashed another grin at him as he leapt noiselessly up to the top of the wall after his partner. “More fun this way.”
As he moved out through the hole in the wall, Fangs looked back at the Uni sitting on the grass. She waved a pink hoof at him, beaming. “You run along and have a good life, old Grarrl.”
Redfangs found himself smiling right back at her. His first astonishment and incredulity had finally given way, to be replaced by dazzling wonderment and relief. He was finally going to be rid of that awful house and its awful occupants.
“Thank you... and I... I will!”
The two Aishas had dropped onto the grass like black moonlight. Kuro pressed his paw to another place in the wall and the hole closed up again. Fangs turned eagerly towards him.
“So... where do we go now?”
Kuro lifted his gaze to meet the Grarrl’s, eyes emotionless under the mask. “To the Pound.”
“Wh-What? I thought you’d-”
“Oh don’t worry, we know that’s tha first place those people’ll be lookin’ for ya,” Takki assured him hastily. “We’ll just hide ya out in tha woods for a while and then bring ya to tha Pound in about a week or so.”
“Grarrl, believe us, it’s tha best lookout for ya if ya wanna find a good owner who’ll take care of ya. What did ya expect us to do, take ya to th’ Aisha Thieves HQ?” He reached up a sympathetic black-gloved paw to pat the disappointed Grarrl on the knee. “I know it’s hard, fella. But it’s th' best way, trust me. Y’ might’ve lucked out on an owner twice, but maybe third time’s th’ charm, eh? Now, follow us. We’ll get ya there ‘n we’ll come check on ya n’ bring ya food every night till you’re in th’ Pound again. Stay close, n’ move quickly!”
If only he knew, Redfangs thought bitterly, as he followed his two rescuers into the dark street. This was the third time, and it was hardly the charm. All this excitement... and I’m back to where I started from.
Back to where he had started from. Or rather restarted from. Twice. Both times to no great end. The Grarrl sighed deeply, his great head drooping as he sat in his cage, gazing at the floor despondently.
The pink Uni from the desk looked at him with sympathy. “Don’t worry, old fellow. I’m sure you’ll find someone soon.” She winked at him. “Sometimes, when the pets have been in here for too long... I have ways of getting them the good ones. Just you wait. I think I could work something out...”
The Grarrl took no notice of her. He was in too much of a slump to care much. Every one of his homes had expected him to be something he wasn’t, do things he didn’t want to do. He considered his own reflection in his water dish. The red scaly snout full of sharp teeth, the green glowing eyes, his claws... it seemed unlikely that there were people who would see him as anything but a monster. He ached as he thought of the pets on Mystery Island, tussling and playing on the lawn with their owner, thought of Tad’s human hugging and sobbing over the Lupe. Would he ever be able to find a human like that, perhaps some brothers and sisters of his own? It seemed less likely by the day.
Suddenly there were voices and the Uni once more stood beside him. With him was a slight, young human girl, a yellow Gelert at her side. The Gelert was a gangly young adolescent, probably about his own age.
“This is the pet I was telling you about,” the Uni was saying brightly. “He’s been in here twice already before this, you know. Maybe he doesn’t look like much right now, but it’s nothing a good bath and some TLC won’t fix!”
“I don’t know...” the human said hesitantly. “I’m not really sure a Grarrl was what I had in mind when I came looking for a new addition to the family. Something smaller, more docile...”
The Grarrl’s heart sank to new depths as his suspicions were confirmed. Everyone would see him as a terrible beast. He’d never find a place to belong.
“Oh, I assure you, they don’t get much more docile than this one!” the Uni put in hurriedly. “He’s as gentle as an old Babaa. Wouldn’t hurt a Mootix. And he’s really quite a charmer in his own way...”
As she went on, extolling (exaggeratedly, the Grarrl thought) his many virtues, the Gelert had trotted up to the cage and poked her head through the bars.
“Hello,” she barked cheerily. “What’s your name?”
“Dasher,” the human said hastily, starting forward towards the pup, “are you sure that’s quite a good-”
“Shh,” hissed the Uni, blocking her swiftly with an outstretched hoof. “Just watch.”
The Grarrl gazed down at the yellow pointed face with the large brown eyes. He would not have answered, but something in those eyes moved him, something he had never seen directed at him before – honest compassion and interest.
He sighed deeply. Did he even have a name anymore? He wasn’t sure he wanted to be Cruncher, or Redfangs... but he didn’t just want to be The Grarrl, either. “I’m not really sure what my name is, I’m afraid. It keeps changing.”
“Well... I guess people wanted me to be different things. Depending on what they wanted me to be, my name changed.”
The Gelert snorted, half in laughter and half in scorn, and shook her ears. “That’s silly,” she declared. “You should have a name of your own. Everyone should. Right, Shell?”
“Er, well... let’s see.” The human moved towards the cage and checked the tag hanging from the lock. “It says here your name’s WEN145. Not much of a name, I’m afraid... maybe that’s why your owners gave you different ones.”
“Why did you have so many owners?” the Gelert asked.
“Because I couldn’t be what they wanted me to be. So they left me here. They wanted me to... be mean, be cruel. Like Grarrls are supposed to be. But I couldn’t do it.. so they didn’t like me anymore.” Answering this young one was like a cathartic game of sorts. By voicing out his inner turmoil he found he felt much better.
“Well, I like you,” the Gelert declared, her tail waving and a smile pasting itself on her muzzle. She retracted her head from the cage and bounced around her owner like an animated rubber ball. “We can take him home and like him, can’t we, Shell? And not make him do things he doesn’t want to do? Can’t we?”
“Well...” the human still seemed rather uncertain. “I think-”
“Then it’s settled,” said the Uni triumphantly. She skipped quickly off back to her desk to get the key and relevant papers.
“Hey wait!” the human called after her. “I haven’t-”
“Aww, Shell,” pouted the Gelert.
The girl gazed down at her pet, and then looked at the Grarrl. “Ah well.” She smiled a genuine smile. “We haven’t been introduced. My name’s Shell, and this is my Gelert Dasher.” The Gelert wagged her tail again. “And since you don’t have a name... how’s about we call you by the name you were given? Just Wen.”
“Wen.” It was short and simple on his tongue, and so unlike the names he had been given. A gentle sound that conjured up no images of roaring destroyers and fearsome monsters. The name he had been given at birth, by his first owner, he supposed. “I like it.”
“Wen... I’m sorry if I seemed a bit suspicious of you just now. I’m just... not used to the larger, fierce looking pets, I suppose. But if you say you’re not like that, then I believe you. And it’s true what Dash says. We’d never make you do anything if you weren’t comfortable with it. You’ll be able to be as much yourself as you want.”
The newly-christened Wen was intrigued. “Anything I want? Could you... perhaps teach me to cook? I’ve always wanted to make my own food...”
“Well... I’m no great hand at the stove myself. But I’m sure we could find someone who’d teach you.”
Wen smiled, showing all his teeth, and the human stepped back, then smiled sheepishly.
“I guess I’ll just have to get used to you.”
The cage was soon unlocked, the adoption papers signed and Wen was walking down the street with his new family. Small, but it would do.
Dasher examined her new brother with interest. In the light of the sun, he looked much bigger and fiercer than he had in the cage, like the Tyrannian warriors she had seen and heard of in popular plays. Definitely not what Shell was expecting when she came to look for a new pet, she thought wryly. He’ll take some getting used to, all right, but she’ll come round. She always does. The Gelert stepped up her pace, falling into step beside him.
“Where do you live exactly?” Wen was asking her now.
Dasher looked up at him with a grin. “Mystery Island. You’ll probably find it very different from Neopia Central, but I’m sure you’ll get used to it. Not a very big Neohome, either, but we’ll make sure you’re settled in. I hope you’ll like it there.”
A returning smile split the Grarrl’s face, and to the young Gelert he seemed suddenly transformed from a formidable-looking predator to the kindly soul she had seen sitting forlornly in the cage.
“Oh, I think I will.”