The Gift of Giving
It was late one evening when I was walking home from my store. I skipped my usual path, which was the shortest possible route, and instead settled for the scenic route through some of the less traversed areas of Neopia Central. The evening air was cool, if slightly nippy, and I drew my scarf closer to keep warm. Around me, pets were heading home, owners were finishing up some of their final tasks for the day before catching up on the Boards or doing whatever else it was that they did. As for me, I had an obligation to my owner, Annie.
The day's sales had been nothing if not good. The heavy bag of neopoints weighed down my backpack, clinking against each other as I continued to walk. The long, deserted stretch of road settled before me, winding past the Wishing Well. I resisted the urge to flip a coin inside and wish for a Fire and Ice Blade (that was never going to happen), and continued to walk past it. Annie had charged me with emptying the till and bringing it straight home, and I was nothing if not responsible. Okay, so maybe I was slightly irresponsible after that incident with the renegade Kadoaties, but that's a mere technicality, I assure you. My record is flawless aside from that.
So here I was, walking home, enjoying the quiet evening, when BAM! The next thing I knew I was flat on my back and wheezing from the sudden attack. It didn't take me long to get right back up though, and I was on my feet in an instant. My keen eyes spotted a flash to my left, and I pounced instantly, pinning down whatever it was that had run me over.
"Let me go!" the creature yelled, but my grip was firm. I stared down at it, and my eyes widened in shock. I realized with a growing horror that this was not a Neopet, or some other mysterious denizen of the night.
This was one of those pesky Money Tree ghosts.
In his hand, he held a small bag of Neopoints, no doubt snatched from my own stash. I didn't bother trying to comprehend how he'd done that, dismissing it as unimportant given the current situation. Nobody in the history of Neopia had ever caught one of these things in their own act, red-handed, at least as far as I knew. I narrowed my eyes down at the indignant ghost, who by now was struggling to be set free.
"Give me my Neopoints back," I growled, attempting to sound as menacing as possible.
"That depends, kid. You gonna let me go first?" the ghost replied, trying once again to throw me off. I shook my head.
"Give it back. I've got all night, buddy. You aren't going anywhere." I actually didn't have all night. If I didn't get home within the next hour, Annie would be furious and I'd be looking at a grounding that would possibly last a lifetime. But at that point, it was a minor detail. I wasn't interested so much in getting the Neopoints back, to be fully honest. I was far more curious about this ghost. Who did he and his friends think they were, stealing the Neopoints of good, hardworking pets and owners?
"Okay, fine," the ghost relented, tossing me the bag. I caught it and stowed it away in my backpack. "Can I go now?" he asked, almost sounding bored, and slightly disappointed that his heist hadn't gone exactly as planned.
"Not so fast," I said, but I loosened my grip on him anyways. "I need you to answer some questions for me first." The ghost raised an eyebrow. "I don't trust you enough to release you, so you're going to stay put."
"Fine," the ghost said, rolling his eyes. "What do you want to know?"
"Why were you stealing from me?" I asked simply.
He laughed mockingly back at me. "You're honestly asking that question? I was stealing so that I could donate some of it. Duh," he sneered. "You weren't going to do it all on your own now, were you?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked. "I donate plenty of things." I honestly did. I was the one in charge of clearing out the things we no longer needed, and making sure that they were either donated or discarded depending on my mood. Usually donated. I didn't consider myself a stingy pet in any sense of the word, unlike what this ghost was insinuating.
"Sure. Old stuff. Stuff that you no longer need. Rotten, dirty, falling apart items and toys that nobody cares about anymore. That's donating, isn't it, to you rich pets?" he asked, his tone becoming more and more insulting as he continued. "Old Cardboard Boxes, and rotten shoes. That's the kind of stuff you donate. Let me tell you right now, that's not donating. You might as well be giving away nothing."
"Of course it's donating! It goes to the Money Tree, doesn't it?" I asked. By now, my curiosity was piqued, and I got off the ghost. Surprisingly, he didn't run away. He merely stood up and brushed himself off. "Whoever wants it can take it, can't they?"
"Yes, but have you ever considered the fact that Old Rotten Left Shoes aren't exactly helpful to the average Neopian?" the ghost asked. "Or those books that every Neopet this side of Neopia has read. Sure, some times you donate Neopoints, but let's face it, kid. Even the Balthazar has a bigger heart than you do."
Now that really stung.
"Listen here, you little thief," I growled. The ghost simply looked at me, unafraid, and I felt myself deflate for a minute. I didn't have a plan, but something needed to be said. "I have a big heart, okay? Sure, I may not donate stuff to the Money Tree, but at least I don't steal from others."
"Have you ever considered for a second why my buddies and I steal? We don't do it because we're trying to be mean. We do it as a public service, to try and remind you that not everyone is as fortunate as you are. You and your big bank accounts and paint brushes. You have no idea, do you, about how hard it is just to get by sometimes? Don't tell me you don't remember the days when even you didn't have as much as you do now." The ghost folded his arms. "That's what I thought."
As much as I hated to admit it, my mind did flash back to those times when things had been difficult. When my siblings and I hadn't always had the best food or the latest things. All those times Annie had decided to save her Neopoints rather than spend them right away, not because she had been mean, but because she really cared.
I looked away from the ghost who was now wearing a smug expression on his face. "So what's your point?" I asked, scowling. "That doesn't justify stealing. Besides, don't you steal from poor pets too?"
"That's not the point, kid," the ghost said, his voice gentler now. "The point is to make you understand and to evoke some compassion. To make you realize that it's not about stealing, or even about Neopoints. It's about the act of giving because it's a nice thing to do. Don't tell me that you don't feel good, or happy, whenever you made someone else happy. Now, imagine that someone else being a little pet somewhere who doesn't have much, but dreams big anyways and works hard to achieve them. How would you feel if that pet showed up at the Money Tree every day only to find old rotten junk lying around, because no one has it in their hearts to give?"
"But--but don't some pets only do that?" I remembered what Annie had been ranting about the other day. Pets and owners who didn't want to work, they just wanted free passes to everything. "Some only want to take what others give them and not earn for themselves."
"Then you teach those ones a lesson." He grinned evilly and waved an empty bag. "But the others, not so much. And it's not even about the poor ones. Just giving to others makes you feel good, and that's important."
"So... you're not evil," I concluded, peering at the ghost to make sure he wouldn't lunge at me or anything.
He waved an arm passively. "Nah," he said. "M'name's Larry actually. What's yours?"
"Lab," I said. "Well, it's Missy_Labrat, but I like to be called just Lab."
"Alright then, Lab," Larry said, nodding solemnly. "I have to get going. I'm kind of wasting my time actually. Maybe I'll see you around?"
"Yeah, maybe," I said, and grinned. "Bye." He waved back at me as he bounded off into the trees. Only then did I realize that I was once again missing a hundred Neopoints. Somehow, I didn't really mind that much.
In fact, I doubled back that day to pay a visit to the Money Tree. I took a good look at the pets that crowded around it, waiting for someone to give something, and made my decision. Reaching into my backpack, I pulled out a thousand Neopoints and found the closest pet I could find. "Here," I said, shoving it at her. She was a yellow Kacheek, who looked tired, but her face brightened at the gesture. Whooping loudly, she gave me a hug before running off to find her owner and show her what she'd gotten.
And as I walked home, I realized that the ghost was right. Seeing the smile on the face of that pet made me realize that seeing others happy made me happy too. So I walked home, handed my Neopoints to Annie, and resolved to be nicer from that day forward.
The best part? I didn't even get grounded.
A/N: Second entry! WHOO. :D