Castles, Kidnappings, and Really Bad Gourmet Food: Part One
“Hithaeglir, hurry up! The restaurant won’t hold our reservations forever, you know!”
I rolled my eyes. She was clearly overreacting at the slight delay. I straightened my tie and, grabbing my jacket off the back of my desk chair, I yanked it on and dashed out the door to my waiting caregiver.
My mother seemed rather peeved at the fact that I was late. Come on, it was only fifteen minutes that I had spent deciding on my tie! Problems like that don’t just solve themselves. It had been between the deep blue one, which went very well but clashed with my dark green jacket; or the one with the palm trees which was very festive and sort of matched the jacket, but clashed with my grey hide. But I had finally come to a decision, and we were on our way. We still had ten minutes to be at the restaurant. So what was her problem? Aside from the fact that we live on Mystery Island, and our dinner was in the Haunted Woods, that is.
A new establishment was opening tonight in the deserted Fairground. Very few people knew about it, and you could only get in if you had a reservation, booked several months before. Which we had gotten around quite easily, through no actions of our own.
Mom found a letter in her inbox the other day. Greetings, _Hithaeglir_ - As you may be aware, the Cuisine Castle, the very latest in gourmet dining, is opening in the Haunted Woods this Friday. I would be most delighted if you would attend the Grande Opening. For you see, a budding restaurateur such as myself caters to public icons. You, as I am sure you know, are one of those figures, and your opinion and review is greatly desired. Your reservation is for precisely 7:00 p.m. NST, for you and one guest of your choice. Please be punctual. I will be eagerly awaiting your response. I remain yours truly, Maurecia Lintenzo, owner of Cuisine Castle.
After some in-depth sleuthing (which means I read the note), I had come to the conclusion that Maurecia wanted me there as a public icon, to draw the attention of the media. I have, after all, solved several cases, including my most recent one which actually saved the whole of Neopia from Meepits. Yes, you read correctly. I’m a detective. A private eye. Naturally, I have become quite famous and therefore, I would be an excellent name to have in a review, shouting the praises of the Cuisine Castle. A gourmet restaurant was just the addition Neopia needed. Yeah, I know, I just translated Maurecia’s blither into more babble. The point was, I was actually going to a restaurant that didn’t serve kid’s meals. How grown-up was that?
We managed to make it to the ferry in time for the last round of the hour. Mom claimed the backseat for the two of us, and I pressed my face against the glass window to peer out at the rapidly shrinking island. I leave home all the time, but this time felt sort of... strange. I had an uneasy suspicion that something was going to happen.
I sat back in my seat and closed my eyes. I was overreacting, that’s all. The Haunted Woods was a place to put fear in any neopet – but not I! I would be brave. I had to be, since Mom would probably start freaking out if the wind blew a tree branch the wrong way. One of us had to stay sane!
I opened my eyes and glanced over at my mother. She was hopping up and down in her seat, muttering under her breath, “Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait...” I rolled my eyes. “Mom, we’re almost there. You’ll get to see what the food’s like soon enough.”
She kept hopping up and down. I understood now. “Oh. Well, you’ll get to see the inside of the bathroom soon enough.” Shaking my head, I beheld the girl who was supposed to be the parent. Honestly, sometimes I felt as if I was the grownup one.
With a crunch, the ferry ground into place a little ways away from the Deserted Fairground. Mom and I got out, and I shuddered as I gazed upon the towering building in the distance, sheltered by the trees.
As we got closer, I could see it was made of a dark grey stone, and modeled in the form of a castle, similar to the Meridellian design – only in this case, it was more menacing and terrifying. A gargoyle perched over the door, peering over the edge, as if the guardian of the establishment. Banners flapped in the wind, etched with strange designs I had never seen before.
Mom threw herself through the glass-and-oak revolving doors and vanished from sight. I followed more hesitantly; I’ve always been somewhat wary of new places, especially creepy old castles, with ghosts and ghouls and scary organ music and tattered old curtains... Slowly pushing on the door in front of me, I soon found myself in the dining room.
Soft violin music floated on the air. Paintings and dark draperies hung around the room, calling attention away from the stone walls. The windows looked out into the pines, as the tree branches flailed uselessly against the glass. But what drew my attention was the seating. The tables were of a dark wood, and each was covered with a red cloth. A deep red... like blood.
A dainty paw stopped me as I started to walk forwards. “Excuse me, sir, you must wait to be seated. There is presently a four-hour wait, unless you have a previous reservation.”
This didn’t make much sense to me. I could see that there were only a handful of people, and tables enough for three times that number. But seeing as I had a reservation, I wasn’t going to make a fuss. Still staring at the paw stretched out in front of me, I cleared my throat, ready to make my case. Looking up, however, I started with surprise. The maitre’d was a slender ghost Draik. “I’ve reserved a table for two, under Hithaeglir?” I couldn’t help but phrase it as a question. Ghosts give me the creeps; I didn’t want to risk sounding forward or aggressive.
“Right this way, sir.” The maitre’d glided forward soundlessly, weaving through empty tables as the soft clinks of water glasses and silverware reached my ears. A couple of people chanced a look at me curiously, likely wondering how I had gotten a reservation.
The Draik gracefully pulled a seat out for me; quite a feat, since I had always heard ghosts couldn’t touch stuff without going right through it. I sat down and the chair immediately shot forward, pinning me between the back of my chair and the edge of the table. As soon as the maitre’d vanished from sight, I edged the chair backwards a bit and started breathing again.
“What will sir be desiring this evening as an appetizer?” A tall, ghostly white and unusually slender Grarrl had appeared from nowhere. I grabbed the menu in front of me and stared blankly at the list of before-dinner treats. If you asked me, they were all meals by themselves.
“Uh... I guess I’ll just have a salad.”
“Uh... a regular salad?” I mean, how many kinds of salad were there? It’s not like it was a difficult order or anything.
“Very good, sir. A garden salad with what kind of dressing, if any?”
I was pretty sure this guy was mentally challenged. A regular salad, with regular dressing. Not that hard! “Surprise me.”
He inclined his head and glided away. I took a sip from my water glass to clear my head. I’m just not cut out for frequent gourmet dinners.
Mom still hadn’t emerged from the bathroom. I tapped my hoof idly against the tabletop, wishing she would hurry up already. Taking a peek at the other diners, I felt a twinge of discomfort – I was way underdressed. Maybe the tie with the palm trees had been a bad idea. But there was only so much one could do without the aid of pants!
Fifteen minutes later, I got my salad. Mom still hadn’t shown and I was getting hungry. The little tomatoes were artfully arranged, the thin slices of cucumber were almost transparent in their delicacy, and I hadn’t gotten any salad dressing. I assumed most gourmet people were too good for dressing. But I had told him to surprise me.
I stared at the forks lined up at the edge of my plate. The row of spoons on the other side seemed equally long. What was I supposed to use? And I never had used a fork before. You try holding one without any opposable thumbs! Oh, well. A Uni has to do what a Uni has to do.
I sighed heavily and lowered my head to the plate. Fie and folly with etiquette. A short time later, the plate was clean and my appetite was slightly sated.
But Mom was still gone. And no one, no matter how bad they have to go, takes half an hour to use the bathroom.
Something was wrong.
To be continued...