Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 113,598,787 Issue: 227 | 10th day of Awakening, Y8
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Offline - Hiding From the Meepits: Part One

by lightninglover34


I stepped off the ferry, alighted on the platform, and turned to leave the station. It was a bitterly cold day in the middle of the worst winter we had seen for a year. Hey, if you caught that, don't go nuts. I haven't had my shot of caffeine yet, so I'm not thinking at optimum. Don't bug me.

     I shivered and pulled the collar of my coat a little higher around my neck, and shoved my hooves in my pockets. For the thousandth time, I wished I had established my business close to home. On Mystery Island, it was a balmy twenty-two degrees; here in Neopia, it was…well, below zero. Being a Uni, cold air simply frizzes my mane. Since I'm a guy, I don't really care a whole lot, but frizz seriously hinders my vision. Understand why I hate the cold? And now it was time to start the long walk to the office. Being the boss, I should be able to call in sick whenever I like. But everyone else does, so it's up to me to show up.

     Snowflakes swirled down from the sky, blotting out the blue expanse stretching above my head. Yes, I always talk like this. It's my job to use details to the extreme, and find them as well. I'm a detective. Mostly small jobs, but every so often something strange crops up.

     I tipped my cap to a passing couple, out for their early morning constitutional. I studied their faces for a split second, as I always do. I find it keeps my forensic skills at a high. His eyes were dull and tired; hers were sharp and snapping. His expression was downcast; hers triumphant, in an angry sort of way. They'd had a fight, and she'd won, I deduced. From the tight lines around her mouth, I could also assume that there had been cross words on either side.

     I found myself at the fogged-over door to my small office on Market Street. _HITHAEGLIR_, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, the placard on the door proclaimed. I fumbled for my keys again, trying to locate the one that unlocked the rusty padlock, and willing my clumsy hooves to grasp the aforesaid item.

     "Stupid keys," I muttered. "When I rule the world, I'll ban these things." I finished playing hide-and-seek with the frozen bits of metal and stuck the right one in the lock. With an almost inaudible click, I was inside my office.

     I threw my jacket and scarf over the coat rack, kicked off my boots, and plopped down in my "rolly spinny" chair that I love ever so much. As usual, it threw me up against the back wall, but who cares? I love it.

     I sipped from a mug of cold coffee, left over from the day before, not even bothering to make weird faces for the benefit of my secretary. Who was late. Again. Not that unusual, really, but still a pain in the posterior. I made a mental note to fire her again. But, as usual, she would walk out, and at the door I would remember some important task she left unfinished, so I would rehire her. Neither of us cared, or at least we pretended not to.

     Anyhow. I sipped from a mug of cold coffee, not even bothering to…ack. You see what happens when my secretary is late? I start to repeat myself, and everything starts to go haywire. Fine. As I downed the unappetizing concoction, I scanned a completed case report - my most recent one. Some kid lost her Warf again. You'd think they'd learn, wouldn't you? Well, I guess not.

     As I sat there, in my cramped office, drinking iced sewage and reading the file, I was startled by the sudden and unannounced arrival of my secretary, Brittni. No one that special, really; just some kid I went to Neoschool with and copied algebra answers off of. She was the smart one. I was too, but she didn't even try. It's true that I'm a total genius; but it's also true that I don't like to evaluate or think unless I absolutely have to.

     Anyway, Brittni burst in and caused me to spill coffee all over my brown hide. I grabbed the case file and tried frantically to mop it up, but then just decided to leave it. After all, Brittni looked panicked, and she was a horrible actress. Meaning that something was up.

     "What in Neopia is wrong?" I demanded.

     Brittni didn't answer. She just stood there, as if she was frozen. I leaned across my desk and reached out to touch her arm, but withdrew as if I'd been bitten. Her skin was hard, and ice-cold…as if she'd been outside for a long, long time.

     I had to know what was going on. I stood up, only vaguely aware of the frigid coffee dripping down my legs. Brushing past the figure of my secretary, I opened the door…and wished I hadn't.

     It was quiet. Too quiet, in fact. On a day such as this, people should be out playing and frolicking in the snow. It had warmed up a bit since I had holed up in my office, so why were the streets empty?

     I ventured out, turning this way and that, trying to catch a glimpse of someone. No one. I peered up and down the interconnecting streets. I even retraced my steps from only a short time before. Nothing. Not even the couple I had gone past. Something was very wrong.

     A flash of rosy pink caught my eye. It was just…well, sitting there in a snowdrift. I approached it, and was shocked to find a Meepit. A rather large one, and dumber-looking than your average specimen.

     I stared it in the eye, and for a moment, a spark of intelligence lit up the dark, vacant eyes. Now, as we all know, Meepits are stupid. Like Spardels. And Orps. And my mother...on the days when I'm grounded. It's been that way for a long time. No one knows just how, but they've always been just about the stupidest creatures you're ever going to find.

     So this was pretty scary. I mean, if Meepits are starting to show smarts, then we've got a problem. They're Spooky petpets, right? On the list, they're smack dab between Green Tentacles and Magarals. The Magaral is a Faerie petpet, so it's pretty obvious that Meepits are NOT. Anyway, if you muddled through all that, you catch my drift. Meepits are Spooky for a reason. They're evil.

     We've got a sticky situation here.

     I started running, leaving the Meepit far behind. My hooves pounded through the empty streets, echoing off the shuttered windows and barred doors. Yes, barred doors. I approached the nearest house and peeked through the crack between the shutters.

     Darkness. Overbearing, stifling, pressing in closer and closer. I could see the faint outline of furniture, but no people. No pets, either. I turned from the window and screeched. The Meepit was sitting on the mailbox, five feet away. I shoved it off, shuddering to think of even touching the thing. A slip of paper flapped on the front door. Ripping it off, I read the spidery handwriting out loud.

     "Offline: Hiding from the Meepits."

     I glanced wildly around; looking for the ball of pink whatever-it-was that had started this. It was gone.

     "There has to be a rational explanation," I thought. "There has to be a reason for all this."

     I flashed back over the last few weeks. Every time I saw a family, there was a Meepit with them. On the Trading Post, the outrageous prices had dropped down by hundreds of thousands of neopoints. Gallery owners were suddenly becoming generous and giving them away, and the creatures were popping up in shops for a pittance.

     Someone was making sure that everyone had a Meepit.

     Terror lent wings to my hooves. Someone was at the bottom of this, and they'd probably be selling Meepits too, right? I headed for the market district and the notice board - you know, the picture between Auctions and the Shop Wizard?

     I dimly recalled what was going past as I ran. The Soup Kitchen - Hubert's Hot Dogs - Uni's Clothing…with a hard thump, I sailed into the notice board. It had been obliterated by the gentle white snowfall, and was blending in with everything else. It looked like there would be a blizzard, and it was only 10 o'clock in the morning!

     I rubbed my long nose, sore from the fresh mishap, and peered at the list, which was nearly worn to damp shreds by the snow. Top of the list…I sucked in my breath slowly. Someone by the name of "Meepits_will_rule" had paid 50,000,000 neopoints - fifty million! - for this ad. It was, very simply, a picture of a Meepit. A caption beneath screamed, "Meepits for Cheap!"

     Well, if they had paid 50 million for this, the staff's system must have been overridden somehow. After all, this was 46 million above the limit! And if, say, 50% of Neopia's active population had seen this, and 50% of those had actually bought one from this location, and every other active owner in Neopia had one from a separate location…I groaned and rubbed the top of my head. Man, I hate doing math in the morning. Especially when I haven't had any decent coffee.

     Well, a lot of people had bought their Meepits from this specific store. But if every active family in Neopia had a Meepit, and Mom was active, too…I scribbled down the address for the shop and darted down the street.

     I galloped for the ferry station. If no one else in Neopia was online, Mom would be in danger too. I had to stop the Meepits from finding my family. I only wished I knew how…

To be continued...

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