Of Kitchens, Gypsies and Restless Ghosts: Part One
Art by ssjelitegirl
Life was quiet in the Meepit Oaks asylum that night. The doors were locked, the day staff had gone home and the night watch had gathered around the fireplace in the resting room, seeking comfort in each other’s company in the middle of that big grim house. Most of the staff was relatively new in the asylum, considering that the house had been empty for years before the citizens of Neovia returned and life flowed back in that corner of the Haunted Woods. As it was, the Meepit Oaks Sanitorium had always been a highly reputable place as far as caring for the mentally unstable was concerned, so it had been taken in active use again shortly after the events in Neovia. However, it came with its glum past and creepy lore, since nearly everyone knew what had happened in that house, and it was generally accepted that most people didn’t, in fact, know most things that’d happened in that house.
Due to that, the workers of the night shift had all landed in the Sanitorium for the one reason why young, daring, adventurous people agree to accept a potentially dangerous job in the middle of nowhere: it paid well. But the nights in the Haunted Woods, those nights where the full moon shines clearly in the sky, the wind howls in the trees in the courtyard and distant screams are to be heard in the depths of the asylum, put even the most determined minds to test.
“Six hours till morning,” said one of the workers, peering at the grandfather clock that was looming in the other end of the room. The furniture was new, despite looking old – this was Neovia, after all.
“I’ll have to go check on the inmates soon,” said another worker, his voice rather gloomy. “Anyone wanna come along?”
“Scared?” mocked another one.
“Scared? Me? In an asylum in the middle of the night in the Haunted Woods, keeping an eye on violent lunatics? You bet I’m scared.”
Silence reigned. The wind howled in the chimney. Branches rattled against the window.
“Vengeful spirits are roaming tonight,” said the same worker who’d mocked his colleague for being scared. He was, obviously enough, the newest guard. “Better watch out and make sure your heart is pure, ‘cos they can smell your fear and will come after you if they find you insecure...”
“Shut it, will you?” This voice was getting shrill. They weren’t in the mood for ghost stories.
Silence again. The wind was howling in bursts now, quieting down for brief moments to speed up again at once. Someone was wailing in a cell to accompany that.
“What was that?!”
The other guards stared around. “What was what?”
“That sound! Like someone thumped against the wall from the outside!”
“You go look.”
“You go look!”
While the staff argued, nobody noticed a small plump figure slide along by the wall and disappear under the door. It hurried down the hallway, stopping to sniff the air a couple times, and then crawled under another door that led to a storage room. It looked empty at first sight but an accustomed eye would’ve noticed about two dozen similar figures everywhere in the room.
“Well?” one of those figures asked.
“Well, I didn’t find any food,” said the newcomer, “and I wouldn’t give a rotten apple for those guards, a buncha Snowbunnies, the lot of them. They heard me jump down from a table and went nuts with fear.” He gave a quiet snort. “Lunatics inside and lunatics outside, lovely place we’ve ended up in...”
The Meepit Oaks didn’t have petpet inhabitants other than an old zomutt whose main duty was to make sure that the Meepit Oaks didn’t get any other petpet inhabitants. He couldn’t be everywhere at once, though, and that was why this small gang had managed to sneak in to seek shelter for the night. A gang that, as an ironic twist of circumstances, consisted of meepits.
The asylum offered good hiding places, but, as it turned out, not much else. It was impossible to find food, for instance. Heads turned to look at Bloody Mary, the meepit who, for all intents and purposes, filled the role of the leader.
“No food whatsoever?” he asked.
“Well, I found some medication,” said the spy, “but you don’t want us all suffering from homicidal bursts of sanity, and it probably shouldn’t be taken on an empty stomach anyway.”
Bloody Mary sighed and clambered down to the dusty floor. “Didn’t expect it to be easy. Come, brethren, for we shall now venture to seek nourishment for our parched mouths.”
There was some general staring.
“Let’s go find the kitchen,” the meepit said flatly.
“How come we didn’t look for the kitchen the minute we got here?” asked Justice, the unavoidable voice-o-reason and scholar of the group.
“Because we needed to establish our positions and all that,” grumbled the leader. “Move it.”
Asylums are generally creepy at night, a fact that raises night shift salaries and makes expensive therapy even more expensive. Meepits, however, aren’t easily fazed. There are few things that can happen to a meepit; most of the time it’s them that happen to other people.
Lightning struck outside as they trotted down the hall, their shadows outstretched and eerie on the floor.
“Something’s afoot in this place,” said Justice.
The others cast a look at her. “How so?”
“Lightning,” the female said matter-of-factly. “You can count on the Haunted Woods with that. A misunderstood scientist plots his revenge, cue lightning. A child gets lost in the woods and has no hope of ever getting back home, cue lightning. A witch is looking for a special rare ingredient, cue lightning. Very reliable weather.”
“A gang of meepits is sneaking around in an asylum at night, cue lightning?” asked Bob Squeaky, a born cynic.
“Well, yes, that too. Can’t go wrong with lightning. But I still get the feeling that there’s... something else here.”
The lightning, reliable as ever, struck again at that, accompanied by loud laughter behind a nearby door. The meepits stopped, huddling more closely together – not because of fear, but because of common sense.
“Somebody’s there, yessss,” a rather unpleasant voice hissed behind the same door after the rumble of the thunder died away. “Somebody’s moving around behind our cell door late at night, yesss, and who would that be, if we may ask?”
The meepits eyed the pitch-black crack under the cell door, sensing rather than hearing the frantic sniffing coming from the other side, and edged away.
“We’re looking for food,” Bloody Mary hazarded, knowing that the inmate was aware of their presence anyway. “Can you help us?” It was worth a try.
“Food, you’re looking for food,” the voice snickered in the darkness. “We don’t get enough food, yesss. They bring food for me, but not for me, yesss. But I’ll get out, and then I’ll get enough food for me, yesss. But I have to stay put for now, you see? I have to stay put until the ghost leaves, yesssss.”
Lightning struck again helpfully. Bloody Mary looked at Justice who raised an eyebrow and waved her paw around in a clear see-I-told-you manner.
“But where are you?” a high-pitched voice suddenly asked from the cluster of meepits. The gang winced in unison. It’d been amazing enough that Santa had kept quiet until then.
The black crack under the door radiated confusion. “We’re right here, yesss.”
“You’re there,” said Santa, ears perking as she sniffed the darkness, “but where are you? I can only smell one of you.”
Bloody Mary made a number of frantic complicated gestures, most of which meant “Santa, this is not how you talk to the mentally unstable” but Santa, whose mind was usually only halfway present, and generally not in the same present, didn’t even notice.
The cell radiated even more confusion. “We’re here. Right here.”
“I know you are,” Santa said patiently, “but where are you?”
The others dragged her away before the discussion could go on, leaving behind a very quiet cell.
“See, this is why we shouldn’t let Santa in an asylum,” Bloody Mary grumbled against all evidence. “Does anyone smell food?”
“I just smell dirt,” Bob Squeaky said glumly. “And rust. And wet grass.”
Lightning struck again. They’d come to a door that hadn’t been closed properly and was now letting in gusts of cold wind with the occasional dry leaf. The meepits clustered around the small gap to look outside.
The door led to the courtyard where a few leafless trees reached towards the sky like skeletons. The full moon lit half of the garden and a lone figure squatting under one of the trees, apparently poking at the hard ground with a shovel.
The meepits eyed the scene for a moment, then Bloody Mary turned away. “Okay, definitely not the kitchen. Moving on.”
“Don’t you want to go and investigate?” Justice asked.
The meepit gave her a blank look. “Go and investigate a mysterious figure who’s digging around in the middle of the night in an asylum’s garden?”
“Well, that’s what most people would do,” the female said, realizing that this wasn’t much of an argument.
“That’s why I’ve never thought highly of most people,” Bloody Mary said dryly.
“Maybe this person has food?” Santa trilled.
They pondered that, then decided that it was worth a try – apart from Bloody Mary, who said that it wasn’t worth a try, but he got outvoted. So the group snuck across the frozen ground, sticking to the shadows and sniffing the air frantically, gathering as much info on the digger as possible.
They soon realized that it was a gypsy – the distinct smell of many different types of garments, a lot of cheap metal and hints of fire smoke and old wood were enough of a giveaway, and the blue Usul’s flowing robes only confirmed that. She was digging fast despite the nearly frozen ground. The small gang gathered around the hole in the ground, watching her curiously as she worked, occasionally wiping her forehead and muttering something that might have been a mysterious spell or maybe just “bother, why’s it have to be clay?”
During one of those forehead-wiping moments, her glance fell on the couple dozen pairs of beady eyes staring back at her a few feet away. There was a moment of silence.
“Um,” the Usul then said, hoping that this would stir a reaction. “Begone?”
There was no reaction. The meepits had learned that Neopets are easiest to deal with when you sat around staring blankly at them for as long as possible. After enough time, they did anything to make you go away. If you waited long enough, they offered you food. It was, of course, a gamble, because they could also think that you’re easy to catch and sell for millions, but then again, what’re fangs for?
The gypsy tried to poke the shovel at them but it didn’t reach and the group didn’t move. There was another moment of silence.
“Does she have food?” Santa squeaked from the back rows.
“Doesn’t smell like it,” Bloody Mary admitted, standing his ground mainly out of habit rather than hope.
“No, I don’t have food,” the Usul grunted, sitting back. “Now begone!”
The meepits eyed her gloomily and were about to turn away when Santa, who was as curious as she was unable to remember any new information, asked, “What’re you doing?”
“Digging.” The Usul got back to work after shooting a quick nervous glance back at the asylum. All windows were dark on this side of the house.
“Excuse me, what the heck are you doing?”
“I just said...!” The Usul stopped, staring down at the decomposing head that had just poked out of the hole in the ground. It probably belonged to an Aisha, although it was difficult to tell at this point.
“This is my roof you’re digging into,” he said reproachfully. The meepits stared at him. As did the Usul, but she got herself together faster.
“Well, I need a calf bone retrieved from a grave at an asylum at the night of the full moon,” she snapped, “and yours is the only one I could find.”
The zombie eyed her, apparently unable to make anything of that statement. “But I still need my calf bones.”
“You’re dead,” the gypsy said matter-of-factly.
“Undead,” the zombie said, hurt. “That’s practically a synonym of “alive”. Just because I spend my days underground doesn’t mean that I don’t need my bones. It’s hard to stay in one piece as it is.”
“Zombies,” Justice said in her infodump-tone, edging away from the erupting argument, “are created when someone is buried in cursed grounds. You don’t get much more cursed than this asylum here.”
Bloody Mary furrowed a brow. “Isn’t this Neopia’s only asylum?”
“Makes retrieving bones for gypsy spells a lot more complicated than one’d assume at first thought, doesn’t it?”
The meepits, deciding that the probability of finding food was small here, left the two to their argument and retreated between the thick somber walls of the dark asylum.
The cells had... changed in the meantime. They still looked the same with their heavy, rusty doors lining both sides of the hallway, but now there was awareness radiating from the pitch-black gaps under the doors. The inmates knew that something was going on outside.
There was a moment of a wordless duel, in which the inmates and the meepitgang silently evaluated the situation and tried to figure out the best way to deal with it, then Bloody Mary came to a decision and asked in a rather generalized tone, “Kitchen?”
A moment of silence, and then a pleasant-sounding voice said from a couple cells away, “Down the hall and to the right.”
“Thank you,” the meepit said flatly.
They trotted on, from patches of darkness into patches of pale moonlight that shone in from the windows and stretched their shadows into long wavering silhouettes on the opposite wall. Quiet sniffing and a lot of nearly audibly perked ears followed them along the way from underneath cell doors.
The meepits came to a T-junction, skidded around the corner and right at that moment, the door at the end of this short length of the hallway burst open, bathing them in warm yellow light and framing two night guards who’d just stepped out of the kitchen, carrying a tray of sandwiches. They’d been blabbering happily – a night in the asylum or not, everyone feels better when working in a cosy, brightly lit kitchen – but now they both froze on spot, staring in absolute, petrified horror.
“Oh boy, this is the Faerieland Neolodge all over again,” Bloody Mary mumbled, sinking closer to the ground as the hairs stood on end on his back. “Okay, brace to run, split up, bite if caught and if you as much as try to hum funny chase music, I will have your head.”
There was a scream. It went on for what seemed to be an infinitely long time before the gang realized that it was actually two screams sounding as one, and that they came from the two guards. Then the guards recoiled back into the kitchen and the door slammed so hard that the two nearby windows nearly fell out.
“Hah!” Bloody Mary said rather proudly, puffing up a bit.
“They didn’t even leave the tray,” Bob Squeaky complained. “Shouldn’t they always drop the tray when they run?”
“They didn’t even look at us,” Justice said quietly but urgently.
The situation was re-evaluated for a second. It was, as they realized, the kind of situation that warranted turning around slowly to stare behind them in horror, but meepits don’t believe in wasting valuable seconds. They turned around en masse.
A figure was standing in the opposite prong of the T-junction. It was rather short and plump, dressed in what must’ve been a fairly fashionable nurse outfit back in some long gone days but was now mostly a collection of dusty tattered rags. She was a red Acara, but it was an unusually pale, vaguely glowy red. She stood there in silence, radiating light that could barely compete with the moonlight shining in from the windows, and the vacant stare in her eyes didn’t seem to be directed at anything in particular.
“I still think that we’re scarier,” Bloody Mary said with a bit of a pout after they’d stared at the figure for a short while and determined that she wasn’t doing anything other than just standing there.
“Our luck,” Justice said. “Proposing to skedaddle before the guards come out again and really spot us this time.”
This was met with somewhat grumpy approval and they skedaddled, stopping only to turn back for a brief moment to check on the ghastly vision once more. It was gone without a trace, which was reassuring. If you’re going to run into spectral visions in an asylum, it’s good to know that they act exactly as spectral visions are supposed to act.
To be continued...