Notes - As you can probably see, Helga is the focus of this story, but lots of other characters play a big role as well. This is my first Hey Arnold! fan fiction - I recently finished re-watching the series for the first time since I was a kid and found that I enjoyed it so much, I thought it would be fun to write a story. Hope you guys enjoy it!


Prize Surprise

XX

The Pataki household was quiet, except for the faint sound of water running inside the upstairs bathroom. Helga stood sullenly at the bathroom door and rubbed her eyes, still trying to wake up. Big Bob was taking a morning shower. Helga knew she would not be able to shower or brush her teeth if she wanted to get to school on time. Not an unusual occurrence, really – if any of her classmates made a comment about her smelling, she'd just have to respond with a knuckle sandwich. Helga sighed and walked down the stairs.

"Miiiriam!"

A lunch box lay on the kitchen table, open and unpacked. Miriam herself lay sleeping on the kitchen floor. Helga reached the bottom of the stairs and walked into the kitchen, rolling her eyes as she stepped over her mother's prone form. Lunch, lunch – what did she want to eat at school? Opening the refrigerator revealed empty rows upon empty rows. Miriam had forgotten to get groceries again.

Helga knew she could grab the jar of grape jelly sitting in a lonesome corner of the fridge and trade it with Harold for real food during her lunch period, but she decided she would buy a school lunch instead. Helga grabbed her mother's purse from the kitchen counter and rooted around for bills and loose change.

"Miriam, I'm taking your money for lunch."

A faint groan came from the kitchen floor as her mother shifted around in reply. Stepping over Miriam again, Helga pocketed the lunch money and opened the front door.

"Bye mom, bye dad!"

No answer came from the house as Helga shut the front door behind her. The bus was already approaching from down the street, and the sound of shifting gears echoed through the city block. At least Helga would not get in trouble for being late today. As she sat down on her front step and waited for the bus, the mailman passed by on his daily route.

"Hey Helga, what's shakin'?"

"Hi Harvey. School is shaking."

"Maybe some mail can turn that frown upside down, huh?"

Harvey smiled as he fished an envelope out of his mailbag and passed it to Helga, who tried to mask her interest as she grabbed it. Harvey waved goodbye and ambled off down the street as the school bus pulled to a stop in front of Helga's house.

As she stepped onto the bus, Helga stared intently at the envelope, barely noticing her classmates as she made her way down the aisle. The envelope's return address read Caulfield Academy of the Arts. Helga felt a flood of nervous anticipation upon reading the address. She had been waiting to get this particular envelope for weeks. But what was inside?

Helga sat down in an unoccupied seat near the back of the bus and glanced furtively at her classmates. Fortunately, no one seemed to be paying any attention. Most of Helga's attention was soon fixed on a familiar football-shaped head, which bobbed in laughter as it conversed with a column of black hair beside it. Neither of the two boys were paying any attention to her either. The coast was clear; Helga tore the envelope apart and unfolded the letter tucked inside.

Helga Geraldine Pataki -

Congratulations! Your entry in the annual Caulfield Academy of the Arts youth competition, 'Shrine of the Sublime', has won first place. We look forward to hearing you give a presentation of your work at the art show and awards ceremony, where your winning piece will be on display. Please check your submissions pamphlet for more information.

"Yes!"

Helga stood up and pumped her fist triumphantly in the air. Her classmates turned and stared at her in unison. The bus driver himself stared at the back of the bus through the rear view mirror. Helga laughed nervously and sat down back in the seat, but her friend Phoebe was already getting up to see what was going on.

"Hello Helga," said Phoebe as she stood beside Helga's seat. "I noticed that you bypassed my seat when you got on the bus. Is something going on?"

"No, not at all Phoebe! Everything's the same as usual."

"May I sit down?"

"Yeah, sure, whatever floats your boat."

Phoebe slid into the seat beside her friend, taking off her backpack and holding it primly in her lap. "What do you have there?" she asked, pointing to the letter clenched in Helga's hands.

"Oh, this? This is nothing. Just some letter." Helga stuffed the letter inside her pink dress, beside her favorite locket, but she could tell Phoebe wasn't buying it.

Not only that, but Helga felt an urge to brag about her accomplishment. Nothing like the way Olga was always going on about things, of course, but it wasn't often that Helga got a little recognition. There was the spelling bee she almost won, and the poetry contest at school that one time, but this was an even bigger deal than either of those. Helga felt her resolve crumble as she gave another glance around the bus and sidled up closer to Phoebe.

"Okay, look, here's the deal – I sent some artwork into this competition, and I just got a letter back from them. I won first place, Phoebe! How about that, huh?"

A brief flash of jealousy crossed Phoebe's face, but it quickly changed into a smile.

"That's wonderful, Helga. Congratulations!"

Phoebe had to admit that she was not surprised her friend had won an art competition. She had always known that Helga was a very creative person – more creative than herself, Phoebe had to admit.

"What did you make that ended up winning the competition?"

Helga shrugged. "Some sculpture. It's not important. Dr. Bliss gave me the idea a few weeks ago, told me she thought I had a shot at it. She gave me the lowdown on the competition and all that. I guess maybe that crazy shrink had a good idea after all!"

"What did your parents think about it?" asked Phoebe.

"Are you kidding? My parents have no idea I even entered the competition. It's not like they'd care, anyways. Either that or Bob would've tried to tell me what to create for the contest to win first place and ruin all the fun."

Phoebe nodded. "I suppose so."

The bus came to a stop in front of P.S. 118, opening its sliding door as Helga's classmates reluctantly got out of their seats. Helga's heart skipped a beat as she caught a glimpse of cornflower hair and a blue baseball cap in the aisle. When Arnold glanced back at her for a moment, her dreamy smile flashed into a scowl in the blink of an eye. At this point, scowling at Arnold was like a reflex action. Helga didn't even have to think about it. Despite the scowl, however, Helga found herself in a rare good mood.

"Oh, and Phoebe?" she said as her friend walked down the aisle in front of her.

"Yes, Helga?"

"No one else hears about this contest, got it? Keep those lips zipped."

Phoebe adjusted her oval glasses and smiled at Helga as they got off the bus, stepping onto the concrete sidewalk in front of the school.

"Zipping!"

XX

Applause rose up from the audience in a wall of sound. Helga stood on stage, feeling a wave of approval washing over her as she held her million dollar jumbo-sized check. She waved adoringly at her fans. The crowd was going wild. Helga G. Pataki was a star. She was an artiste!

"Thank you, thank you!" Helga blew kisses at the crowd. "I couldn't have done it without the inspiration of Toulouse-Lautrec, Hopper, and so many others! They built the foundation upon which my monument of artistic prowess has risen! But most of all, I couldn't have done it without my muse, my eternal love, my husband - Arnold Pataki!"

Arnold stepped out from the red velvet curtain behind Helga, taking a spot by her side as the two of them waved at the screaming audience. Helga grabbed Arnold by his back and swept him off his feet, leaning over the football-headed boy with puckered lips.

"Oh, Arnold. Gimme some sugar..."

A head of cabbage struck Helga in the side of the head. She dropped Arnold to the ground and looked out over the audience, furious.

"Who threw that?"

"Er, sorry Helga," said Sid.

Helga blinked and stared down at her classmate. She was sitting on top of the jungle gym. A red kickball, which had struck her in the head, was rolling away across the playground in front of her. The adoring audience, Arnold, the deafening thunder of screams and applause - all gone. Helga's daydream floated away with the breeze, replaced by the reality of recess.

"Watch out Sid, she might jump at ya!" Stinky shouted. Stinky, along with several other kickball players, watched Sid nervously as he approached the jungle gym and looked up at Helga.

"You okay?" Sid asked hesitantly. "I guess that was a bad kick, huh?"

Sid kept a few paces away from the jungle gym, just in case Helga decided to leap down at him.

"Yeah, whatever. Just don't do it again, nose boy!"

"Of course Helga, of course -"

The school bell rang out across the playground. Sid breathed a sigh of relief and ran back towards the school doors with his classmates. Helga leaped down from the jungle gym, about to join the rest of the fourth grade class, when she decided it was an opportune moment to pay her respects to the the object of her deepest affection. After the last of her classmates disappeared inside the school, Helga raced behind a nearby dumpster and pulled out her golden locket.

"Oh Arnold, my love," she whispered as she traced her fingers over the locket's photograph. "Object of my deepest, most private pre-teen dreams! How I long to shout my love from the rooftops, through the streets, and tell the world how I feel. You are the rope pulling me from the quicksand of fourth grade life, the beacon guiding me through the dense fog of my girlish emotions. You are the muse that molds my passions to poetry and sculpture.

"Why, without you, Arnold, I never would have won this contest! I never would have had such a beautiful football-shaped shrine to send into the competition! My humble shrine was but an awkward imitation of your magnificant features, but none of the other contest entries stood a chance against it! It was your flaxen locks, your unusually small blue baseball cap, Arnold, that-"

Helga paused and narrowed her eyes. A heavy wheezing sound came from the dumpster behind her. Why did Brainy always have to interrupt her during her most tender moments? Helga threw a fist back without looking – years of practice made her aim precise - and socked Brainy in the face.

"Helga?"

Helga gasped, leaping up from the hiding place where she was crouching. She stuffed the locket back under her dress and stepped out from behind the dumpster. It was her love: Arnold.

Arnold stared at Helga and held his nose due to the adjacent dumpsters. "How come you're always crouched down behind stuff?"

"None of your beeswax, Arnoldo. Now what do you want?"

"You're late to class. Mr. Simmons sent me out here to look for you."

"Fine," said Helga as she dusted herself off. "Alright already, I'm coming!"

Arnold was about to follow Helga back towards the school doors when he heard wheezing coming from the dumpster. He pulled himself up to peer over the dumpster's edge and found Brainy tangled in the trash inside.

"What are you doing in there, Brainy?"

Brainy blinked through his cracked glasses.

"Uh... something."

Arnold extended a hand and helped Brainy clamber his way out of the dumpster. The two of them returned to Mr. Simmons' class as they trailed behind Helga. Arnold always wondered why Helga seemed to disappear around corners and crouch behind objects during lunch and at recess, but he got the feeling that trying to figure it all out would give him a headache.

Helga was definitely a strange girl.

XX

The front door of the Pataki residence burst open as Helga walked inside, flinging her backpack on the floor. Helga had spent most of the day at school thinking about her art contest triumph – in between her daily allotment of Arnold daydreaming, of course – and now she needed to give the Caulfield Academy of the Arts a phone call.

"Hey Olga," her father called from the kitchen.

"It's Helga, dad."

"Right, right, Helga. Take out the trash, will ya?"

"No time, Bob! Maybe later!"

Helga raced past the kitchen and up the stairs, ignoring the indignant noises coming from her father as she went into her bedroom and closed the door behind her. The art contest submission pamphlet was clutched in her hand, as well as the letter she had opened on the bus.

Helga looked at the letter again. She would have to travel to the art show and awards ceremony if she wanted to get her prize – she imagined a trophy, or perhaps a pile of money. That was no problem, however; she would just have to take the bus. Her parents would have no interest in taking her, not to mention that Helga didn't want them involved in the first place.

Helga wasn't entirely sure where the Caulfield Academy was located, but she knew it was outside the city, which was a good thing. She did not want the wrong people seeing her Arnold-shaped sculpture. Helga picked up her phone and dialed the number printed on the bottom of the submissions pamphlet.

"Caulfield Academy of the Arts," announced a wispy-voiced woman who picked up after a few rings.

"Yes, hello. This is Helga G. Pataki. Winner of your art contest, first place."

The voice on the other end of the phone was silent.

"Uh, well," continued Helga, "I was calling to ask about my prize for winning the contest. It doesn't say anything about it on the submissions form."

"The prize?"

"Yeah, you know - the cashola, the big payout. How many greenbacks are we talking about here, lady?"

"A prize? You're expecting a cash prize? Hold on a moment."

Helga listened as the woman on the other end of the line began to talk to someone else. Their conversation was faint, but after a moment, Helga heard several distinct voices burst into laughter. She frowned. What kind of a deal was this? Helga Pataki is a first prize winner, she thought to herself – she should be rolling in dough! Maybe not in the millions, but enough to finance a few months worth of Jolly Olly purchases would be reasonable enough.

"There's no prize, sweetie," said the woman after she finished laughing. "I mean, beyond the awards ceremony."

Helga ground her teeth at the news. The phone's plastic casing creaked ominously as her fist tightened. "Are you kidding me here, lady? You know how much money I spent on postage when I shipped that stupid shrine through air freight?"

"Sorry, nothing I can do."

Helga groaned. Her excitement at winning the art contest was already beginning to dissipate. Still, prize or no prize, at least she was being recognized for something. It was a nice change of pace. She had one last detail to clear up.

"Alright, fine then. What about the awards ceremony? The pamphlet says it's in the Academy of the Arts auditorium next week – am I supposed to bring anything? Prepare a speech or something?"

"Oh, that's not where it's being held."

"That's what it says on the pamphlet," said Helga.

"What competition year is that pamphlet for?"

Helga stared at the papers she was holding. She frowned at the sight of the date printed in a corner.

"Um – five years ago?"

"We've changed a few things since then," the woman said. "Our arts competition has gotten much bigger than it used to be. Children from many school districts compete in it. The academy sets up an art show to display all the entries in the contest, and then an awards ceremony is held at the end of the show, where the top three winners accept a special certificate and give the browsing guests an explanation of their work.

"The art show is a very big deal," the woman continued. "Highly publicized, lots of donors for school arts funding in attendance. Even the mayor will be there this year! We used to hold it at the Academy, but nowadays we host it at the winner's school."

Helga felt her mouth go dry.

"You what?"

"The art show will be at your school. You'll get to show off your little football-shaped sculpture at P.S. 118, sweetie. In fact, the art show will be set up over there tomorrow afternoon. Only one day until all your classmates get to see what you made!"

XX

Arnold twitched, dropping his checkers piece just as he was about to make a move against his grandfather. Phil noticed his grandson's strange tic.

"What is it, short man?"

Arnold paused for a moment. The boarding house was silent, save for the ticking of a wall clock.

"I dunno, Grandpa. Did you hear a girl screaming? Like it was coming from down the block?"

Phil shook his head. "Can't say I did, Arnold. Maybe I'm not the only one who needs to get my ears checked!"

Arnold laughed as his grandfather mussed his hair affectionately. After picking up his checkers piece again and giving the board a quick look, he made a move against his grandfather, who threw his hands into the air after losing three pieces in quick succession. Arnold decided that the scream had probably just been a figment of his imagination.

But if it wasn't, somebody was definitely having a bad day.

XX


Notes - That's it. Hope you guys enjoyed it. Since this my first story for this show, I'm interested in seeing if other fans dig it or not, so please leave a review - I respond to all of them.

Also, I do have the entire story pretty much planned out at this point, so don't worry, it won't be orphaned. Put me on author alert if you want to keep following it - if I had to guess, I'll probably be updating once or twice a week, and it will be maybe 6 or 7 chapters in total. Thanks!