A Night of Terror
It was late when I started home. But I had been gone for so long. Home had been all I had thought about for last ten miles. If I thought about it hard enough, I could feel my bed around me. I could smell the gardenias that Sam washed my sheets in. And if I strained my ears enough, I could almost hear my owner, Brenda, walking down the hall to tuck me in for the night. I wanted to be home already.
As I trucked down the road towards the Haunted Woods, I thought about where I had been and all that I had seen. I loved traveling. I enjoyed visiting places I had never been and going back to places I had been to before. I loved the thrill of excitement that you get right before you leave. The adrenaline coursing through you as you take your first steps out the door. I always fancied myself an explorer, even though I wasn’t normally allowed outside my backyard.
I had been gone two months this time. I received a neomail just before May Day from my cousin Lily. She had come down with a bad case of sneezles and asked my sister Sam and me to come visit. It hadn’t taken this long to get to Terror Mountain, surely. But it seemed as if I would see my birthday come and go before I got back. Maybe it was because I was alone on the trip home. Sam had been called back early. She had training to go through before the Altador Cup started. Sam is a renowned healer in our neck of the Woods. The Altador Cup Committee had honored her by asking if she would be present at the matches this year. I missed her terribly. She would have made the journey home much more pleasant.
Lily had recovered well, though slowly. Too many trips to the Snowager. I made a few visits to him myself; just to see what all the hullabaloo was about. It’s not something I believe I will try again in the near future. Once Lily had gotten well, we spent about a month cavorting around Terror Mountain. It was a destination on my long list of destinations to visit. I don’t see how Lily does it, living there year round. Even during High Summer it is still cold enough to freeze my tail off!
We had a lot fun, though. I especially enjoyed the Summer Faire. Summer with a Christmas theme; something one should see at least once in his life. We played Rink Runner and Snow Wars every day. I got pretty good at Snow Wars, even managing a trophy for my look up! Lily introduced me to a few of the locals up there. I made friends with Taelia, the Snow Faerie. We only have witches where I’m from, so it was nice to meet such a shining creature.
Finally, though, it was time for me to go. I bade Lily farewell, shouldered my pack and headed down the mountain. I was a little sad to leave, but was more than happy to be getting back to warmer climates. I stopped briefly in Neopia Central to pick up presents for Tassi and Sam. I never knew how heavy books could be! Thank goodness Sam’s stamps didn’t weigh much. I moved on quickly through the streets of the Bazaar, pausing briefly to pick up a hot dog from Hubert. I longed to curl up under the great branches of the Money Tree and take a nap, but I had miles to go before I reached The Haunted Woods. Onwards and upwards! Or rather, downwards, since I was traveling south.
I nearly ran all the way to the Haunted Woods. I was almost to the tree line when a huge storm blew in from the east. I had heard tales of the terrible storms that could sweep through the Islands, destroying ships and waylaying travelers. I had not believed the stories then. I was so lost. I took refuge in a mountain cave that had to be leagues out of my way. The cave had been dark and full of cobwebs. I ventured outside the cave mouth to gather firewood. If I couldn’t be on my way, I would at least have light and warmth.
Everything was so wet from the rain. I couldn’t get a fire started. I gave it one last effort then curled into a little ball and closed my eyes. I was cold, wet, and hungry. I was even more afraid of what lay in the back of the cave. I couldn’t see the end of it. I hoped desperately that there were no beasties lurking in the depths. I did not want to be someone’s supper. I shivered through my cloak and tried to ignore the rumblings of my tummy.
I must have dozed off. When I opened my eyes again, the storm had passed, but it was full dark outside the cave. I stretched, trying to loosen the stiffness in my limbs, and began gathering my things. I couldn’t remember in which direction I had run during the storm. I looked up to a now clear sky and searched the heavens for the Sasha constellation. Tassi had told me long ago to always look for her in the sky. I could hear his voice in my head. “Her ears always point north. If you ever lose your way, just look for her. She will guide you home.” I strained my eyes upwards. After several long moments I located it. I took a deep breath, turned around, and headed south down the mountainside. I was very glad there was a full moon tonight. After some time, I felt my feet hit softer ground.
I stood still and attempted to regain my bearings. I knew that if I kept the mountains to my right, I would head in the right direction. But it would take me, eventually, past Eliv Thade’s castle. Now, I’m a brave little Neopet, or at least, I like to think I am. But Eliv Thade scares the grackle bugs out of me! I am sure, being a ghost and all, he’s more than a little benign, but still I wonder. It would be best if I could avoid his castle altogether. I started walking; maybe I would pass by unnoticed. I had never been out in the Woods after dark and it made me very nervous. I had been reared, after all, on tales of what happened to young neopets who ventured into the Wood after nightfall.
As I was walking along, I began hearing small scratching noises all around me. I peered to each side, but could discern nothing. Suddenly, I had the feeling that something, or someone, was watching me. A cold shiver began between my shoulder blades. I heard, a bump? There was something close behind me. Was it footsteps? I couldn’t quite tell. My fear began overtaking all sense of rationality. I couldn’t think straight. In my terror, I ran blindly down the path in front of me. It twisted and turned and took me farther in to the Wood than I ever had been. I passed eerie shapes and glowing eyes to both sides of me. I didn’t stop to think. I just ran and ran.
Finally I could see a small clearing coming up. There was a dim light cast by the moon above. Maybe, if I could just reach it, I would safe... for the moment. As I skidded into the middle of the glade, I stopped, panting, and looked around. Nothing seemed familiar to me. I looked to my left and could see no more than a few feet into the darkness. I wished desperately I had thought to bring a flashlight or a torch, something to make that darkness recede, even a little. I took several great gulps of air. My heart was drumming and I could hear my pulse in my ears. I wanted to calm down, to regain my sense of direction. But I couldn’t figure out where I was. I was almost positive I had never ever been here before. I was so lost. And I was very scared.
There were small sounds around me. I could hear the moaches jumping through the undergrowth and I could hear hoots of an albat from a nearby tree. I sat down at the base of one of those ancient trees. After a time my breathing calmed and I began to think. This deep in the Wood, I couldn’t see the sky, no light penetrated, and I could not see the reflection of any light any where. I thought of many things while I sat under that tree. I wished for many things while I sat there.
Just then, the breeze ruffled the leaves above my head. I thought I could hear faint singing on the wind. I stood slowly and turned around, trying to locate the noise. There! I heard it again. I had never heard anything like it before. Chills crept down my spine as I slowly crept around the roots of the old gnarled tree and peered around the trunk. Faintly, or maybe I was imagining it, in the distance, I could see a misty greenish light through the trunks.
I crept, as quietly as I could, through the underbrush. I worked my way toward the singing, hoping I wouldn’t be noticed before I could decide if it were friend or foe. It took an age to get close enough, maybe no more than a handful of minutes. In that time, I saw my short life flicker across my vision. I desperately wished this would not be the end of me. I had so many things I wanted to do in my life. I had wrongs to right; I needed to get the wadjet out of Sam’s closet, the blumbugs from Tassi’s flour. The list was endless. I would never have the opportunity. How long would it take them to miss me? To wonder what had happened? Would they ever find my body or the singing monster simply eat me, leaving nothing? These were not pleasant thoughts. They were doing nothing for my courage. Finally, I got close enough that even in the shadows I could see the vague outline of a house. This deep in the Wood?
I had managed to avoid Thade, to come to an end here. The irony struck me as I crouched in the leaves, paces from a window. There was great evil on the other side of the glass. I knew it in my heart. I had come to the end of all my journeys. I whispered words of farewell to my siblings, knowing they would never know. I took two steps forward when suddenly the singing changed to an evil hiss, followed by many curses. I saw a shadow move across the window. I trembled with fear. I tiptoed up to the window, grabbed ahold of the sill and peered over.
I heard a gasp come from inside as I ducked back down. Inside the house I heard doors slamming and feet running. I was frozen. I couldn’t move! This was it!
My feet would not cooperate. I stooped below that window and waited for my fate. I would not have to wait long. A shadowy creature burst from the darkness, grabbed me by the arm and hauled me to my feet. All I could see in that faint glowing light were two large blue eyes. My monster had the most beautiful and yet, strangely familiar eyes. For the life of me, I could not remember where I knew those eyes.
The creature wrapped its arms around me and squeezed. This thing was hugging me? I heard laughter. It thought this was funny? Like a ton of bricks, it hit me! I knew exactly who this was, and now, where I standing. I shook myself loose and screamed, “Sam, you scared me to death!”
My sister was bent double from laughter, tears streaming from her eyes. “Y-y-y-yo-you should have seen the look on your face, Amarynsa!” she managed between breaths. My sister, rolling in the grass, was in stitches.
I sat down, in my own backyard, and willed my heart to slow. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, in my own backyard, with my sister not three feet away from me. I gasped for air to fill my lungs and tried to remember which way I had come. I didn’t realize that the path I had been on would lead me here. I was most grateful it had, though.
I followed Sam into the house and sat down at the kitchen table. I was exhausted. I was exhausted, shaky, and relieved. Sam, through giggles, put a plate of cookies, and glass of juppie juice within reach. I snatched a cookie, gratefully, and munched in silence.
“What were you doing behind the house, Amarynsa?” Sam asked. I began slowly relating the events of this night of terror. We managed to eat the whole plate of cookies long before I was finished with the tale.
After I had had my fill of talk and sweets, I lumbered down the hallway to my room. This was the culmination of all my dreams, home, home and bed! I pulled back the covers and eased myself into exquisite softness. It had been a long day, and an even longer night. Before I drifted off, I could hear the sounds of my brother, Tassi’s laughter. I hoped Sam was enjoying her story. I thought to myself; I had learned my lesson. I would never ever set foot in the Haunted Woods after dark again. A neopet took his life in his hands after the sun set. At least I avoided Eliv Thade. For that I could also be grateful. Soon it became too hard to concentrate on anything but the sounds of scritches outside my window. The last thought I remember, before sleep engulfed me completely, was “home at last.”