“P-p-please, Gladys! I’m asking you for a small raise,
nothing more! Just a few measly Neopoints, I swear!”
Gladys, a mutant Blumaroo, abruptly stopped
walking and turned to face the pleading Lenny. She looked down on him through
square-framed glasses and sniffed irritably.
“Terry, you know very well that librarians
are not paid a boundless sum, and have known that from the moment you applied
for the job. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to find another way to earn Neopoints.”
She turned and continued a brisk stride towards
the sci-fi section of Neopia Central’s library. Terry whimpered and clasped
and unclasped his crimson wing tips. He followed her footsteps, making funny
yelping noising and wringing his wings.
“It’s Owner’s three year anniversary of coming
to Neopia next week, and my third birthday. We always have a huge affair on
milestones, with cakes, friends, and, and…” his beak quivered, “and presents.”
The mutant Blumaroo sighed and looked back at
him again. “I apologize, Terry, but I cannot give you a raise. I can, however,
advance your paycheck for next week. That’s one thousand two hundred Neopoints.
You could always buy your Owner a Haunted scratchcard.”
Terry’s eyes brightened and the traces of a
smile curved his beak. “Yes, yes, splendid idea, Gladys… Simply splendid.”
Terry’s confidence had suffered terribly during the journey between Neopia
Central and the Deserted Fairground. He had been so frightened he’s dropped
the map given to him by a very happy-go-lucky travel agent Quiggle, who had
jovially told him that the Haunted Woods was just an “overrated walk in the
park.” Unfortunately, Terry’s hopes of green foliage and tame wild Cybunnies
were dashed to pieces while looking down on the looming darkness from atop the
back of an Eyrie-cab.
While striding tentatively along a forest-enveloped
path towards the “village” of the Haunted Woods, and feeling the cold star of
bloodthirsty WereLupes prickling his neck, Terry deciphered that this was quite
a different experience from walking his Pet Warf Murry around the Market Place.
“False advertising…” muttered Terry. “A stroll
in the park, my foot!” he stamped a taloned foot on the forest floor to accentuate
So now he walked though the not-so-Deserted
Fairground, jumping at every howl or moan, scrambling through the decay towards
Sidney’s Scratchcard stand.
As he neared, Terry could see the silhouette
of the misshapen Nimmo against the wooden hut. The Lenny shuddered and miserably
plodded towards Sidney, who flashed him a maniacal grin and clasped his bony
“Ah,” he mumbled delightedly, “a vissssitor
hasss arrived.” He propelled his bent legs up to Terry. “Welcome to my haunted
Sssscratchcardsss ssstand,” he hissed. “I am Sssidney.”
“Right,” replied Terry shakily. “I… I want to
buy a present for my Owner.” Sidney nodded eagerly.
Terry dug in his light, brown jacket pocket,
and retrieved his Neopoints. “Could I buy a Scratchcard?”
“I don’t know. Can you?” Terry’s beak twitched;
this wasn’t his favourite place to have word games.
“Right. Sorry. May I have a Scratchcard?”
“Sure,” said Sidney with a toothy smirk. “If
you can get it.”
“What?” asked Terry, a puzzled frown playing
about his beak. “Get it? What do you--” Sidney brought a finger to his lips
and ushered Terry behind the shack and down a narrow dirt path. “Where are we--”
The Nimmo just shook his head and kept walking.
Terry glanced upwards at the bulbous, exuberantly
bright orange top of the Brain Tree. It pulsed rhythmically, and a deep, hollow
sound emanated from it in long beats. The tree itself was not yet visible, as
the thick brush let through no light or view of whatever may have been on the
other side. Terry shuddered and shoved this thought from his mind.
After what seemed an eternity, Sidney pulled
back a large branch. Terry was momentarily shocked, as the Nimmo looked as if
he wouldn’t be able to lift a third of that weight. Then he was stunned for
a slightly longer time, as he stared numbly at the menacing trunk of the Brain
Tree it — or is it “him?”—self.
Sidney sighed despairingly as he pulled Terry
through the gap in the trees. He let the branch whip back with a loud snap!
and gazed at the uppermost branches of the Brain Tree.
“Do you know why I brought you here, Lenny?”
he asked, the insane glint in his eyes dulled and melancholy. Terry shook his
head. “You ssssee there?” He pointed to where he’d been staring. The crimson
Lenny disinclined his head and wrinkled his brow. “My preciousss ssscratchcardssss
blew away in the wind. They landed,” he shook his head sadly, “up there.” Terry
saw a flicker of gold reflecting the moonlight as the tree bubbled and rolled.
“Oh. That’s a pity. Well, I’d better be going
now.” He flipped around and made to step through the bushes, but a long, sinewy
arm barred his way.
“No, no. I couldn’t let you do that.”
Terry swallowed hard, his knees wobbling precariously.
“And why do I have to do this?” he sputtered,
voice a fair bit higher than usual. He glanced down at Sidney, eyes wide with
“Becausssse I ssssaid sssssso,” responded Sidney,
looking casually down at his gritty nails. “Now hurry up. The ssscratchcardsss
aren’t going to resssscue themsssselvesss!” Terry whimpered.
He continued to ever so slowly grope his way
up the tree. A low, hollow voice shivered its way up the trunk.
“WHOOOO DAAAAARES TO CLIMB THE MIGHTY BRAAAAIN
TREE?!” The monotonous sound made the trunk shudder violently, and the words
echoed back threateningly.
“J-just a Lenny trying to-to help…” stammered
Terry, digging his talons into the side of the tree for dear life. The Brain
“AND YOU DAAAARE TO HURT ME WITH YOUR MEASLY
NEOPIAN CLAWS?! HOW DARE YOU??” A long branch creaked towards Terry and
entwined itself around his stick-thin legs. It drew him up in front of the bloodthirsty
crimson eyes. “You made a bad choice, little one, trying to get to the top of
the most intelligent tree in Neopia.” The gaping black hole opened by a slight
bit more, and suddenly, Terry was engulfed in darkness. “An eternity you’ll
spend as my prisoner, foolish Pet!” boomed the walls.
Terry stared into the blinding negritude. He
heard a high-pitched cackle from outside the depths of the Brain Tree: “Ssssstupid
I let slip a squeal as the book was slammed shut. Father patted my head, and
“Don’t worry,” Father assured us, “nothing
like that will ever happen to you, as long as you never venture into the Haunted
Woods with your guard down… Unless…” he shook his head. “Not tonight. Come now,
time for bed.”
And for the second night in a row, Brother
and I plodded up the winding staircase to collapse into our beds — checking
under them first, of course — and spent a very uneventful night staring at the
The End… Unless…