A Changing World
It was a warm day on Mystery Island, perhaps a little too warm, even. Tala the desert Lupe slurped her neocola and stared out the window at the endless, burning blue sky. On hot days like this, whether her colour had originated from the Lost Desert or not, she preferred to stay indoors, out of the stifling heat and next to the air conditioning with a good book in her paws.
Taladriel, better known as Tala, was a beautiful Lupe. She was tall and slender and very graceful, with deep orange fur tinged with cream and golden eyes, her eyelids permanently adorned in the deep blue eyeshadow which had came as part of the expensive outfit given to her when she had been painted desert, although the rest of the outfit she didn't have, since she was adopted from the pound and her paint brush clothing had been taken from her during her stay. Nevertheless, many agreed she was a beautiful and striking neopet and she was admired by many. When she was out, she often got looks of admiration from other passing pets and their owners. She enjoyed the attention sometimes, but other times she found it embarrassing, being modest and quiet. Sometimes, she found her best companions were her books.
She opened the window a crack to let some air in and returned to her book - her favourite, Lupe Mysteries, a book she treasured and had read at least ten times since she had been given it for Christmas. The spine was cracked and stiff and the pages curling over at the corners but she thought this only added character and treasured the book none the less for it.
"Tala!" came a voice from the hallway, "I'm going out to get something for our dinner! You've been inside all day and it's so nice out, why don't you tag along?"
Tala let out a quiet sigh but then forced a smile and called out, "Okay, Sango. Be right there." She took her bookmark and slipped it between the pages of her book then walked into the hallway to meet Sango, her owner. Sango was a teenage girl who was half wolf. She was ditzy and told the worst jokes, but was a caring owner and loved Tala and her other eleven siblings more than anything else. When Tala walked over to meet her she smiled and stroked her head affectionately.
"Thank goodness you're alive!" she joked. "I was beginning to think that smelly Anubis of yours had eaten you!"
"He's not smelly," Tala said, but smiled as she said it. Suddenly, there was the dull thud of four tiny paws on the carpet and Mort, Tala's Anubis, smelling strongly as ever of cheese and gravy, appeared at her heels. He yapped and ran to the wall, where he tried to snatch his leash from the coat hook, but Tala grabbed it before he could jump high enough and clipped it onto his golden collar.
Sango grinned and brandished a long shopping list.
It was stiflingly hot - far hotter than it had seemed when Tala had only experienced it as she was sitting on a classy sofa, next to the air conditioning and looking out the window. She felt ready to melt.
Sango studied her shopping list then took out a biro pen and sucked it as she walked down the pavement - a bad habit of hers. Occasionally she would suck out all the ink from the pen, turning her tongue and teeth blue. She smiled down at her Lupe.
"Alright!" she began, "We need chocolate milk, Lupe snacks, Xweetok hot chocolate, milk chocolate Unis, mashed potatoes, tchea fruits, ummagines, a teal juppie--"
Tala looked up from dangling a stick for Mort to find a girl of about Sango's age standing next to her. Tala was confused -- she didn't recognise this girl as one of Sango's neofriends. She was holding a faerie Meerca in her arms and a starry Cybunny was hiding behind her legs. The Cybunny smiled shyly at Tala before blushing and retiring to her hiding place again.
"I love your Lupe," the girl said, beaming.
Sango seemed a little confused herself, yet smiled warmly at the girl. "Thank you very much!" she said. "Her name is Taladriel. Tala, would you like to introduce yourself to-"
"I'll give you my starry Cybunny for her."
"She's level 30 now, and her name only has one number in it."
Tala's jaw dropped and her legs turned to jelly. She sat down on the grass slowly, speechless, trying to come to terms with what the girl had just said.
Was she serious? She couldn't be.
But she was.
She looked up at Sango. Sango looked confused. She raked a hand through her hair and stared into space for a moment, just contemplating what the girl had just said to her.
"If you don't like her, I can give you the Meerca. She's unconverted, but she's got an underscore in her name."
"I don't want to trade" was all Sango could say before a lump formed in her throat at the sight of the pets' faces. She covered her mouth with her hand and stared at her shoes. The Cybunny looked terrified. She pulled on her owner's skirt.
"Mummy, you can't-"
"Not now, Shinysparkleprincess9," she said, and bent down to swat her away. The Cybunny leaped backwards. Sango could see her shaking.
"Mummy, you only traded me for your Island Gelert two days ago."
"I like this Lupe more. Now be quiet and let me talk to the nice lady."
"No. I don't want to trade. My pets aren't up for trade," Sango said, firmer this time, but she was cut off.
"The Faerie Meerca has high stats, she's level-"
"I'm not trading, okay?"
"My pets mean more to me than just status symbols," she said quietly, as if she was half saying to herself and half saying it to the girl.
"They're just pets, y'know."
"How would you feel if your parents swapped you for a better child when they got bored of you?"
Tala grinned secretly at Sango, as if to say 'nice comeback!', and Sango looked down at her Lupe and smiled back.
"Look, I'll take good care of her, ok?" the girl snapped. "Why keep her when you can have a better one anyway?"
That was the last straw for Sango, and she grabbed Tala and hugged her close. The girl looked at her as if she was insane.
"Do we have a deal, or do we not?" she said impatiently.
"Haven't you got the message?" Sango said, her voice cracking, "No, we don't have a deal!"
And, keeping a tough grip on the fur on Tala's neck, she turned and ran.
She only stopped running when they reached their neohome again. Tala's neck was aching and her legs felt like they were made of jelly. She still couldn't come to terms with what she had just heard. Remembering the face of that terrified little Cybunny tore her up inside.
Sango collapsed against her door and shoved the key into the lock, turning it with such force that she had to use both hands to pull it out again. She couldn't remember the last time she had seen her owner looking anything less than her usual, chirpy, happy self. But she looked like the world was falling apart around her. She hadn't got the shopping, either.
They stepped inside the house and Tala was greeted by that familiar, comforting smell of fresh bamboo that the entire neohome had been made of. It comforted her a little.
The kitchen looked like a tornado had hit it. Glue and glitter carpeted the tiled floor and a packet of pens lay balancing on the very edge of the table, the coloured pens in all their rainbow colours, most missing their lids, lying all over the table and around the table legs. Streaks of red and yellow and green and pink decorated the dining table and walls. Obviously two little mischief makers had gotten into trouble when Sango had been gone. The two youngest family members, a four year-old yellow Xweetok called Noah and a seven year-old yellow Acara called Bela, were standing in the centre of the room, both gripping a sheet of paper and pulling on their end as hard as they could. One half of the paper was covered in streaks of blue and yellow and the other messily coloured in pink all over and coated in gold and silver glitter.
"You no fair, Bela! I wanna do a dwawing!"
"But you'll just mess it up! You can't even draw!"
All of a sudden, though, the arguing faded and a joyful, little gap-toothed smile crossed the little Acara's face and she dropped her half of the paper and ran to Sango. She clung to her legs and Sango bent down as best she could and ruffled her yellow hair.
"Mummy! You're home! Noah's bein' mean. He ruined my drawing. You gotta punish him now."
Sango laughed, but it was a sad laugh. Her eyes were still clouded with the memory of what she had seen in the town. And those words, those horrible words that would stick in her mind forever -- 'Why keep her when you can have a better one anyway?'
Noah ran to her and clung to her other leg. She laughed and sat on the floor, and the two pets clambered all over her, their fights forgotten, and told her a thousand thrilling stories of what had happened when she had been gone in the last twenty minutes.
Even though Sango was smiling, she wasn't happy. Tala could tell. Her eyes fell on her desert Lupe and Tala could tell the same thing was going through both their minds at that moment.
Trading used to be for items. It used to be for toys and weapons and when you got bored of them you could simply swap them for something you liked better.
But now you traded pets, too.
And when you got bored of a pet, you just swapped them for a better one.
Are pets really just items now?
What happened to people loving their pets?
What is Neopia coming to?