A Pawkeet in a Phear Tree

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It was the night before the Day of Giving, and over at the Neopian Pound, two creatures were stirring. A Pink Uni moved silently from one cage door to another, placing objects in blue striped pillowcases that were hung from the bars. Near the front door stood Dr Death, the Yellow Techo, tapping his foot impatiently as he waited for the Uni to finish. Within the cells, the Pound inmates slept soundly, oblivious to what was going on outside of their cages.

At last the Uni was done, and she and the Doctor left the Pound, locking the door behind them.

"Oh, how I wish I could give all those poor Pets what they really want for Christmas--a loving home for each and every one of them -- instead of just some second-hand toys." sighed the Uni.

The Techo snorted. "They're lucky to be getting even that. A waste of time, collecting a bunch of junky playthings that will probably break as soon as they try to play with them."

"But it's Christmas, Doctor. And it was all we could afford. Hopefully, if the Neofates are kind, maybe the toys won't break too soon." She shivered. "It's so cold -- maybe I should put another log on the fireplace in there before we go home, so the Pets won't freeze."

"They won't freeze. A Pet has to have an owner before it can be frozen." He laughed harshly at his own joke, though the Uni did not even smile. This made the Techo scowl again. "Fine, don't laugh. Remember, no work tomorrow. I'll see you the day after, when we open back up again and all this Day of Giving nonsense is over with. It can't happen any too soon for me."

"Merry Christmas, Doctor," the Uni called as she headed home towards her waiting family.

The Techo muttered something that sounded like "Bah, humbug," as he trudged off, alone.

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By morning, the fire in the hearth had dwindled down to a smoky pile of ashes within the Pound. The unwanted, abandoned Pets twitched fitfully in their sleep as the indoor temperature dropped. Unconsciously, they tried to burrow deeper into their threadbare blankets for warmth. One poor Yellow Usul uttered a racking sneeze (she had been suffering from Sneezles when her former owner decided she was not worth having anymore) and woke up.

Pale daylight illuminated the windows of the Pound, and the sickly little Usul noticed the dark shape of something hanging from the bars of her cage. Suddenly remembering what Day it was, she sat up and gave a weak but excited cry: "Merry Christmas, everyone!"

All through the long cell block, cries of "Merry Christmas!" and "Happy Day of Giving!" came from the newly-awakened inmates. Small paws reached up to snatch the pillowcases from the bars, and eager eyes looked to see what treasures they contained. Each case held but a single toy, and a shabby one at that. Earlier that month, the Adoption Uni had repeatedly gone to the Money Tree, hoping to snag some toy donations for the Pound Pets. Unfortunately, the NeoPet owners were more concerned about the happiness of their own Pets, and those who did donate gave only used toys that their Pets no longer wanted. Nevertheless, these homeless ones were grateful for anything at all...

A Blue Mynci waved a Plastic Sword in the air, hacking and slashing at imaginary enemies. "Take that, you nasty Lord Darigan!" he cried, giving the bars of his cage a mighty blow. Alas, this proved to be more than the toy weapon could take, and the plastic blade broke.

A young Red Grundo, only a few days old, raced around in tight circles within his cell on his "new" old Super Duper Scooter, shouting with delight--until both of the wheels abruptly fell off.

A Green Elephante pulled a patched Basketball out of his pillowcase. Finding it a bit squashy, he attempted to add some more air to it with his trunk. One breath...two breaths...three...and the ball promptly burst and went flat. The Elephante stared at his ruined gift in shock.

The sick Usul held a battered old Fuzzie Bear in her arms, cuddling and cooing at it, not minding its worn-out appearance--until suddenly its head fell brokenly to one side, and sawdust started pouring out of its neck. The toy collapsed inro a bundle of rags, and the Usul gasped. Her lower jaw trembled, and she began to cry.

All throughout the Pound, her sobs were echoed by the other inmates, for not a single one of them had received a toy without it breaking almost immediately upon being played with. Even though the Adoption Uni had meant well, this was somehow worse than finding no toys at all on Christmas morning. While in other parts of Neopia, NeoPets were waking up to find lots of wonderful presents and candy and a fine breakfast in a warm home surrounded by their families, the unwanted Pets in the Pound knew only pain and misery and bitter, bitter disappointment.

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"Hurry up, Miss Claus! You don't want to make us late for the Christmas Party," BlossomAnn the Yellow Aisha gently admonished her sister.

"Yeah, there's gonna be cookies and cake and turkey and everything. I can hardly wait!" drooled the Green Lupe known as Hollowbelly.

"Not to mention gifts and games and party favors," added Jonah, the Striped Flotsam.

Miss Claus, a fetching little Christmas Bruce, finally emerged from her bedroom, all ready to go. "Don't forget the best part -- singing Christmas carols!" she reminded them. Her Santa Claus outfit which she perpetually wore was clean and fairly glowed with the excitement of the Season. A small bag slung over her shoulder completed the image.

"What's in the bag, Missy?" her brother Jonah asked slyly.

The little Bruce's cheeks grew pink. "Um, well, I just thought I would bring some of the toys I got this morning, to share with our cousins. Not to show off or anything, but..."

BlossomAnn laughed. "Don't worry, I'm sure our cousins will be showing off their new gifts as well. Especially 7 Flames, if I know that smart-aleck Fire Wocky."

The four NeoPets left their home and set off on that frosty morning, heading for their cousins' house. However, they were not halfway there when a glowing light appeared in front of them, and out of the glow stepped a Light Faerie, tall and radiant. "Young NeoPets," she spoke in a voice like sunbeams, "I have a quest for you, should you be willing to accept it."

"But we're on our way to--glmbpf." Hollowbelly started to say before BlossomAnn wrapped one of her ear-stalks around his muzzle. "Yes, Miss Faerie?" she asked politely.

The Light Faerie smiled. "If it's not too much trouble, I really need a Flaming Wuzzle card."

"Why, that's easy! I have one of those at home," exclaimed Miss Claus, bouncing up and down. To her siblings, she added, "You go on ahead, I'll catch up with you. I won't be long."

"Are you sure you'll be all right on your own?" the Yellow Aisha frowned in concern.

The Bruce nodded vigorously. "Please, Sissie -- I'm not a baby anymore. And I've wanted to do a Faerie Quest for, like, forever! Everyone else gets to do them except me."

BlossomAnn sighed, but she was smiling now. "Very well, then. Take care, and don't be late."

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Minutes later, Miss Claus was back at the Neohome, placing the requested Collectable Card into her bag. Humming a little Christmas tune to herself, she re-locked the front door and set off for the local transport booth that would take her directly to Faerieland. "On the first day of Celebrating, the Calendar gave to me...a Pawkeet in a Phear tree..." she sang happily.

En route to the transport booth, she happened to pass by the Neopian Pound. Miss Claus shuddered; a few years ago, she had been a pound inmate herself. How lucky she was to have a family now! "On the second day of Celebrating, the Calendar gave to me... two Turdle PetPets and a Pawkeet in a Phear Tree...On the third day ... of ... of..."

Miss Claus stopped singing, for the sounds of weeping had finally reached her ears. Placing her bag of toys against the wall, she stood on it and was just able to peek in through the Pound window. There were the dreary cells, just as she remembered them, and each cell contained a broken toy and a broken-hearted NeoPet, bawling its eyes out.

Tears sprang to the young Bruce's own eyes. Suddenly, she didn't feel like going to a lovely Christmas party with goodies and gifties and everything. If the door and the windows of the Pound had not all been locked up tight, she would have gladly dumped all the toys in her bag inside for the homeless ones. But even if she had been able to do this, there would not have been enough to go around. Heartsick, she turned away from the sorrowful scene.

As Miss Claus continued her trip to Faerieland, other NeoPets hurried past her, their arms full of presents and food. Some wished her a "Happy Day of Giving!" and were surprised that the little Chistmas Bruce could look so sad on such a glorious occasion -- this Day of all days -- but they were too busy going to their own family get-togethers to ask any questions.

At last she arrived in Faerie City and made her way to the Faerie Quests building. The Light Faerie was waiting for her when she entered. "Ah, you brought me the Flaming Wuzzle card I asked for -- but my dear child, whatever is the matter?" gasped the Faerie when she saw her.

Gulping back her sobs, Miss Claus held out the card and whimpered, "I don't want a reward. I don't want a blessing. I don't wanna fight in the old Battledome anyway..." She then became quite incoherent with crying, while the other Faeries of Earth, Air, Fire and Water who were present gathered round to try and comfort the distraught young Bruce. Nearby, a few Darkness Faeries sniffed disdainfully and turned away, putting their hands over their ears.

Finally, the Faerie Queen, Fyora herself came out to see what the commotion was. By this time Miss Claus had calmed down to the point where she could tearfully explain about what she had seen over at the Pound. The other Faeries all grew very quiet, and a couple of them looked as though they were about to weep as well. But Fyora looked strangely happy.

"Kind little Bruce," she said gently, "did you know that this happens every single year? And every year, a NeoPet with an unselfish heart comes just as you have, and we give that one some very special Magick to bring Christmas to those unfortunate souls within the Pound. I had feared that no one would show up this year, but here you are at last, and it's not too late. Come now, dry your eyes and we will supply you with everything you will need..."

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Over at the Pound, the abandoned NeoPets had crawled back under their tattered blankets, still sobbing miserably. The broken toys had all been put back into their pillowcases, because the Pets could not bear to look at them any longer. The building was ice cold now; the fire had long since gone out, and the sick Usul was not the only one sneezing.

Then, hardly noticable at first, the jingling sound of a bell cut through the constant whimpering and crying. First one NeoPet, then another glanced in the direction of the sound, which was coming from the dead fireplace. Something dropped in the middle of the ashes, sending a few puffs of soot flying through the air. A cheerful, high-pitched voice called out, "Merry Christmas, everybody! Happy Day of Giving!"

Miss Claus, shaking a Jingly Bell in one flipper and carrying an enormous bag that seemed to weigh no more than a feather, stepped out of the hearth. She had flown -- yes, flown -- all the way back from Faerieland, bag and all, thanks to a little magic from Queen Fyora.

Reaching into the sack -- which Fyora had called the Bag of Endless Christmas Wishes -- she took out some Faerie dust and sprinkled it into the air. It sparkled and drifted into the locks on every cage in the Pound, and at once all the doors swung open. The suddenly liberated Pets tumbled out of their cells and crowded around the Christmas Bruce with cries of "Santa Claus!" "It's Santa Claus!" "No, wait -- it's MISSUS Santa Claus!"

"Actually, I'm Miss Claus," she corrected them, giggling. "Goodness me, it's freezing in here!" Turning around, she cast a flipperful of Faerie dust at the cold hearth. At once a fire blazed up merrily, pouring forth a welcome warmth and light that quickly flooded the Pound. "And is that your Christmas tree?" the Bruce cried, pointing to a scraggly old dried up pine stick with a few broken ornaments hanging off of it over by the front door. Another burst of Faerie sparkles later, the Pound inmates were oohing and ahhing over a great, gorgeous blue spruce decked out with popcorn, cranberries, shimmering baubles and twinkling lights.

Despite their excitement, the Pound Pets were very well behaved, and came forward one at a time to receive their gifts. Every Pet got a plushie that looked like them, a NeoPet Cracker and a Chocolate Coated Candy Cane, plus something special and unique to each Pet. Many asked for PetPets--and got them. The sick Usul was given a Magic Cookie that made her well again.

At the very end of the line lurked a Mutant Chia, whom all the other Pets were afraid of because he looked so scary. Miss Claus gave a start when this apparition shuffled up to her, but she reached into the Faerie's bag, wished with all her might -- and pulled out a Magical Christmas Chia Pop. A cheer went up as the Mutant ate it and turned into a jolly Snow Chia.

Games were next: Blind Moehog, a variant of Blindman's Bluff was played, followed by Oranges and Juppies, then several rounds of Hide Santa's Hat, which was like Hide the Slipper only using Miss Claus's stocking cap instead of a slipper. The winners all received prizes out of the Bag of Endless Christmas Wishes, and those who did not win were given party favors.

Then came the Christmas Dinner. A long wooden table filling the cell block with places set for every NeoPet appeared when Miss Claus tossed some more Faerie powder into the air. Great platters of roast turkey and sweet ham with fruit covered the table, along with baskets of warm rolls and bowls of mashed potatoes and peas dripping with melted butter. Cups of piping Hot Borovan and chilled sparkling apple cider were provided to wash down all this lovely food, and a huge Christmas Pudding with ice cream was waiting for dessert.

When they had all eaten as much as they could hold, Miss Claus suggested that they sing Christmas carols. She started by teaching them the Advent Calendar song, also known as "A Pawkeet in a Phear Tree." It was both a song and a game, as there were thirty-one verses and coincidentally, there were thirty NeoPets in the Pound that day. Therefore, each Pet got to make up a verse as the days in the song progressed (since nobody could ever remember all thirty-one verses). Some of the made-up verses were rather silly ("Five Golden Carrots!" "Fifteen Buzzes burping!" "Twenty-six flying dungballs!"), and by the time they got to the end of the song, more Pets were laughing than actually singing it.

After that, they sang "Jingly Bells," "Deck the Ball" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Ixi." Miss Claus noticed that some of the Pets were beginning to yawn, so she led them in one last carol: "Hark, the Herald Aishas Sing," before bidding them farewell. She hated to see them return to their individual cages, but knew it would not do for them to be out and about when the workers returned the next day. They all hugged her goodbye, some with tears in their eyes -- quite different from the tears they had shed that morning when everything was so awful.

"Merry Christmas!" she called out one final time. "I hope you all get adopted soon!" With that, she sprinkled one last bit of Faerie dust on herself, made a final wish, and winked out of sight.

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"Here you are, at last!" exclaimed BlossomAnn when her little Bruce sister finally showed up at their cousins' Neohome that afternoon. "We were all so worried! Where were you?"

"On a Faerie Quest," Miss Claus answered softly. "When I completed it, Queen Fyora had something else for me to do. I'm sorry, I hope I didn't spoil the Christmas party."

"Well, you've missed the Christmas Dinner," the Aisha replied, shaking her head. "We saved you a plate that you can take home and eat later. But you missed all the fun, Miss Claus! You missed the games and getting to see everyone open all their presents. I'm so sorry."

Instead of looking sad, the Bruce's expression was thoughtful. "Did I miss the caroling?"

"No, we were waiting for it to get dark before we did that. It's all that's left of the party."

"That's good enough for me," Miss Claus smiled, giving her sister a big hug.

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Epilogue:

The following day, the Pound reopened as the Adoption Uni and Dr Death, the Abandonment Techo returned to work. Neither one said a word about the big, beautiful Christmas tree, or the fact that the inmates all had wonderful new toys that certainly had not come from the Money Tree. But they both had their secret thoughts on the matter:

Ahh, she did it again, thought the Yellow Techo. I don't know how she does it, but she must have snuck back here on Christmas Day and given these Pets all this stuff. Well, better her than me -- and it sure beats coming back here to a bunch of howling, miserable kids...

That old humbug! the Uni smiled to herself. Pretending to be such a curmudgeon, acting like he doesn't care at all, and then doing all this for the poor Pets every year at Christmas. It just proves that deep down, under that gruff exterior, there beats a heart of purest gold...

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MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!