I'm Runner: Part One
“So... whatcha do with a baby?”
Reagan pokes the Shoyru baby’s head with the tip of his tail curiously, cocking his brown Mynci head to the side. He stressed, “baby”, as if both intrigued and disgusted with the neopet that stares innocently back at him.
Madeline frowns and there is another silence while she swats him away. Her usually peaceful features are stressed and her hair is out of place. Reagan frowns back, but only slightly as he still watches the baby, wonderingly. The baby shakes its rattle and sucks at its pacifier at an increasing rate and squeals. I stand with my other two siblings nervously, eyeing the baby, eyeing...
...well, it, really.
It doesn’t have a name as far as we know... and we are all equally confused on why someone would leave a baby Shoyru by itself, even if it was just red.
We slowly look at Madeline, waiting for the inevitable answer to Reagan’s question. She pretends not to notice and pushes back a loose blonde strand and beckons the baby to come to her. Smiling, it does, settling in her arms comfortably and closing its eyes.
“Well,” she says, as soon as the baby has fallen asleep, “we can’t leave her alone. She would’ve been pounded and then... who knows who could’ve gotten her?” Madeline says the last part defensively, glaring back at our questioning stares.
“What about us?” says my sister, a faerie Uni, tossing her mane back. “Are you going to abandon us?!” Her bottom lip starts to tremble and she squints through quick tears at Madeline.
“No one’s getting abandoned, Candy,” says Rasui, pushing his glasses back. He’s a desert Ruki, and he pats the tearful Candy on the back. Then he turns to Madeline and cocks his head gently. “You know it’s true, though, Maddie. Only four pets per family.”
Madeline scowls. “I know.”
“Then what do we do?”
Everyone stares at me, faintly surprised. I don’t talk much.
I bow my head, hiding behind my brown hair and pink Aisha antennae.
“It was just a question...”
Madeline runs her fingers through her hair, staring at the baby in frustration. “We can’t just leave her...” She mumbles this more to herself then anyone else and rocks the baby furiously. It’s a wonder the baby doesn’t wake up.
Suddenly there’s a knock on the door and we all jump, staring at the wooden frame like it’s a poisonous creature.
“I’ll get it,” he says reluctantly, waiting a few seconds for any other volunteers.
“NO!” screams Candy, tackling him to the ground and tossing her mane back. “We’re convicts! We’re against TNT’s rules!”
Yup, that’s Candy, ever the dramatic.
And how can you manage to toss your mane back WHILE tackling somebody?!
Rasui groans under her weight and tries to push her off. He says something that sounds like, “Maffertine! Fell fer shoo shop!” It reminds of some poorly written song, though I suspect he means, “Madeline! Tell her to stop!”
“I’ll do it,” I say quietly, giggling a little.
I open the door to find an impatient looking Grarrl waiting, shifting from foot to foot while he hands me a message. It has a bright red seal, “TNT”, and is written on a rolled up paper. I want to look at the Grarrl questioningly but find he has already gone.
“What is it, Fantasia?”
I cringe, not wanting to answer. A letter from TNT isn’t really what we wanted at the moment.
“A letter!” says Reagan, who has magically popped up next to me, snatching the letter from my hand.
“WE’RE DOOMED!” Candy faints.
Everyone sighs in unison at her display because seriously, we’ve just gotten used to it.
Reagan sniffs the letter, eyes widened to the full.
He hands the letter to Madeline, who breaks the seal carefully. She looks extremely annoyed, though I know that’s her way of showing fear. Reading the letter over, her emotions contrast, going from relief to worry to desperation to anger. We all wait, hushed and frightened.
“It says...” She trails off, looking hopelessly lost at us. I’ve never seen her so... helpless. “It says that one of you has to go... no exceptions. It says I have a week to decide.”
We don’t say anything. We just stare bluntly at her, uncomprehending.
Go? As in... leave the family? Forever and ever and ever?
Our gazes target on to the little red Shoyru who sleeps comfortably in Madeline’s arms, leaving us wondering what we’ve gotten ourselves into.
A week to decide...
I stir the thick cookie batter some more, ignoring the ache in my shoulder it causes from tediously moving the joint again and again. “Because...” My voice is a little strained and I pass the bowl for her to turn. “... there are rules everyone has to follow. And by making everyone following this rule in particular, TNT makes sure that our owners don’t mistreat us.”
Abbie stirs furiously, little red arm at work.
“But Maddie can take care of me! She could take care of a hundred pets!”
I watch her sadly, thinking of what to say. That’s what we called the baby, Abbie, and she’d grown quickly as all neopets do, progressing in the space of days. Today was the fifth and her speech was near fully developed, leaving us to answer whatever questions she cared to ask. This was, evidently, her favorite topic, though she didn’t quite understand it.
I hold her hand gently, guiding it as she stirs more slowly to prevent the massive cookie dough shower she’d been sending my way before. “Well, TNT does what’s best.”
Abbie nods, staring at the creamy mixture. “Okay.”
I smile. She talks to me the most in our family. And I haven’t talked to anyone this much since... ever.
This isn’t right. I wish I can do something.
These vacant thoughts swirl through my head in a desperate circle. But what can I do? And frankly, who would want to adopt a red Shoyru? And even if she happened to be expensively colored... she’s grown too attached. It had become too late to send her off without tears.
“Yea! We’re gonna have super yummy cookies, right, Fantasia?”
I smile, hugging her while she giggles in response.
“Only because you made them.”
She turns around, staring at me with large, naïve eyes, smiling. “You’re the best, Fantasia!”
And I wonder... only one less pet. One less. One less.
She doesn’t deserve to leave. She’s so little... she’s never had, or ever will have, her real, true family.
I’ve already had mine.
We move the cookie dough and I listen to her chatter with a vacant I’m-not-home-try-later expression, nodding in all the right places and offering a short, “Mmm-hmm.” when necessary. Because in my mind, I am formulating a dangerous, terrible, risky, mind boggling, maybe even brave, plan. I won’t let Abbie get pounded for life. I know that Madeline will pick her.
But I won’t let her.
Because I’m running away tonight.
Not because I am cold but because I am afraid. I’ve never been out by myself before. In fact, I’ve never even been out of Neovia, excluding the carnival in the Haunted Woods.
How is the world beyond?
I’d never been out of Neovia before; the tiny adventurer in me squeals quietly.
The suitcase before me clips too loud and suddenly Abbie is awake, staring at me with glowing eyes from across the room. She shares a room with me and I almost cry at the thought that soon it will be all hers.
“What are you doing, Fantasia?”
Frozen, I stare at my suitcase, swallowing pebbles in my throat.
“I am leaving.”
It comes out rasped and my throat is threatening to close. Don’t, I beg silently, for Abbie, don’t let me cry.
My lip tightens and I stand up, brushing my brown hair out of my eyes. I look at her, taking in her image and trying my best to store it as a memory, hoping this won’t be the last time I see her. Slowly, I step over to her, careful not to step on the Neovia style white dress I’m wearing, scooting back my white hat so she can see my face.
“Because sometimes... sometimes big girls have to grow up, and do what’s best.”
She cocks her head. “I don’t get it.” She pauses. “Don’t go, Fantasia, away.”
I kneel down, cupping her face with one pink hand, smiling gently at her like Madeline used to do when I had nightmares. “I’ll be back, Abbie, I promise.”
Waving, I back up slowly, my dress trailing along the floor. She lies back in bed, watching me, smiling, uncertain. Then I turn, rushing out the door much too fast, speeding along the familiar hallway of my house. Someone groans, and I hear a bed creak, the sounds of moving body weight.
“Who’s there?” says the voice drowsily. “Who’s awake?”
I run faster, reaching the front door at the speed of sound.
“Is that you, Fantasia?”
I glimpse Candy up the stairs, her fairy wings tucked daintily. She yawns, stretching her arms.
I don’t answer; I fumble at the doorknob until it opens the door. I feel myself running out, tears suddenly letting loose. I can’t go back... it’s too late...
“Fantasia?” Madeline’s voice. She’s shouting for me in the house.
“Fantasia, where are you?”
Run. Run. Run.
The word becomes a jumble in my head.
Run. Faster. Run. Run. Faster. Run.
The cobbled streets seem hard and cold against my feet, unfamiliar and dark. I can see the reflection of the lights of my house turn on, but that disappears as I turn a corner.
I don’t dare look back.
To be continued...