A Walk in the Woods
Skeletons of trees hunch over the ragged path, bony fingers raking my fur as I shoot past. Ghastly squawks and screams of the undead hoot all around me, calling my name. I ignore it all, despite the terror within me welling beyond breaking point. I just want to get back home.
A tree branch snags my collar and rips it from my neck. I jerk back and somebody grabs me. I scream, pleading for them to get off me. Pleading for this to all to be a dream.
Let’s step back a moment. You may be wondering what’s going on, but what do you expect when you enter halfway through my story? My name is Moonlightstar686, or Moon for short. Usually I’m not in these sorts of predicaments. I lived a very sheltered life before this. Oh, don’t believe me? Well, time for an explanation.
I used to be a Christmas Zafara, and a very good one at that. In fact, owners and pets from all around nicknamed me ‘Angel’ not just because of my look, but because of the way I acted. I love volunteering at the pound, or picking up litter around the Bazaar. It just all came so naturally to me.
But then my owner Kate saw a faerie Ixi and fell in love. Luckily she isn’t one to abandon her pets. Soon, I was changed to a striped Ixi awaiting to become faerie. I waited patiently, excitedly, until one day Kate came home with a paint brush behind her back and a giant smile on her face.
And that is where my story begins.
“All right, Moon, it’s done. You can come out now.”
I opened my eyes and burst out of the waters of the Rainbow Pool. It was a sunny day in Neopia Central, the clouds cottony and grass shimmering emerald. I tested all of my new faerie features, shaking out my wings and smiling at my long fringe. In a gasp of laughter I took to the sky. Flying! I hadn’t flown for months, since I had been a Christmas Zafara. The feeling of it was marvellous.
But then something confused me when I saw all the faces down below. Kate was the only one that looked proud; everyone else looked shocked. Maybe even a little scared.
I landed heavily and turned to my owner. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Faeries aren’t scary!”
“Well... about that...”
My heart dropped. Kate never liked anything simple, as frustrating as it was. There was always an ‘if’, ‘but’, or ‘maybe’. Why couldn’t my owner just be simple and normal?
“What?” I asked nervously.
She took a mirror out of her bag and held it out so I could see myself. There wasn’t a pretty purple faerie Ixi staring back at me, but a red, black horned little devil instead. The Halloween Ixi’s eyes widened just as mine did, their mouth a perfect ‘O’, and then screamed when I did too. But only one voice sounded out. It was me in that mirror, just me.
“What have you done?” I screamed. “I’m called Angel for a reason! And then you turn me into this? What happened to me becoming faerie?”
She shrugged simply. “I saw a Halloween Ixi and liked that more. You’ll get used to it, Moon, all pets do. You just need a bit of time for it to grow on you.”
This piece of irony stretched well beyond a previous angel becoming a devil. It was the fact that I was now Halloween. I hated Halloween! I was a little Ixi that had a dark secret: I was scared of just about everything under the sun. I was scared of the dark and of petpetpets, of swimming in water too deep and of tall grass. And out of everything I was terrified of, Halloween was on the top of the list. What was worse than a night of strange creatures constantly knocking at your door? Asking for your candy? I didn’t see the point of it; I loathed it.
And now every time I looked in the mirror, I would be scared of myself. Of my little bat wings and forked tail. Of my collar that was black and sinister, a deathly yellow stone winking in the centre. I was my worst nightmare. I couldn’t live an ordinary Neopian life again.
I wanted to cry, to argue with this. But that wouldn’t do much. Halloween brushes were expensive, and now it was gone. If I demanded to be painted differently to rid myself of this horrible look, Kate would have just wasted a lot of neopoints. I should be grateful. Any other pet would be thanking her for such a generous gift. What on earth was wrong with me?
I sighed heavily. Surely I could get through this; I just had to avoid mirrors. Yet another thing to be scared of now. “Thank you, Kate,” I said quietly, the words so difficult to say. “I appreciate it. I really do.”
She smiled proudly, leaned down and hugged me tight. “You’re still an angel, Moon. Don’t you worry about that.”
I didn’t feel like one. I felt like a brat in a devil’s body. That was by no means an angel.
Kate rose and smiled at me. “Now, I need to do some chores. Why don’t we take you home and let you rest?”
I felt slightly disappointed. “I can go if you want.”
She frowned. “I’m going in the Haunted Woods, Moon. I know how much you hate that place.”
The name still struck a fear in my heart, but I lifted my chin and put on a brave face. I didn’t want her making exceptions for my anymore. I had always been the baby of the house, the youngest in years and the one running away for help, or from a slightly unnerving sounding experience. But now I had a new colour, a new grown up colour. I could be an angel and be brave as well. I just needed some practice.
“I’ll go,” I said.
Kate had some food to give to the Esophagor, but promised the trip would be brief. Although I didn’t want to admit it, I was glad of this. The Haunted Woods were as bad as Halloween, in my opinion.
We entered through a wrought iron gate and into the woods, feet scrunching on the leaf litter from trees locked in a permanent winter. I’d never seen them clothed in leaves.
I tried to keep my eyes moving because in this place, if one stared at a single spot for too long, they saw things. Of pets or petpets from long ago, bodies translucent and glowing. Ghosts were all through these woods, granting them their name. Most were harmless, apparently, they just watched you. Comforted by the presences of the living, or yearning for another life. It gave me the creeps, knowing this. Knowing I could be one of them one day.
I was glad Kate kept moving fast, straight to the grumbling monster. I heard his joy when he learnt she had what he wanted. I edged away from them slightly, waiting for my owner near the gates of the Game Graveyard. I just wanted to go home, regretting my choice of coming. Being the baby of the family was a small price to pay if it meant I didn’t have to come here. But as I sat, eyes roaming the sickly looking trees, I saw something. Two big, gleaming golden eyes staring at me from between the tree trunks. In the gloom they seemed to float, and they were coming closer and closer to me. I cautiously stepped back, glancing at Kate to see if she was done, but the Esophagor was still gorging himself on the food she had.
As the golden orbs approached I could make out fangs and dazzling crimson hair, giant ears and wings similar to mine. They were a funny looking creature, dressed up in clothes that looked like they were in fashion one hundred years ago.
“What are you?” I asked quietly. They stepped forward again, I whimpered and pressed myself against the fence surrounding the graveyard.
“Me? Isn’t it obvious? I’m a Halloween Xweetok!” he said, voice bold and pompous. I stared at him a little longer, his sickly grey fur and long brown cloak. I’d never met a Halloween Xweetok before; in fact, I’d hardly met any Halloween pet. I was too scared to.
But although this creature was a little unnerving, I wasn’t scared. Not as scared as I was of the Esophagor when I first met him, or the Brain Tree. I was more curious than anything else.
“Where’s your owner?” I asked.
He chuckled, voice shrill and annoying. “I don’t have an owner. Haven’t had one since I was painted this way and they were silly enough to take me here. Like you, right, Moon?”
Immediately fear raced through my whole body. “How do you know my name?”
“Those of the Haunted Woods know the name of all its kin. You’re one of us, Moon. Come to a place where you can live as a true Halloween pet.”
“But I like having an owner... I like my life just the way it is... except...” I wouldn’t say it. How I hated being painted like this in the first place. Obviously Kate didn’t understand me at all if she decided Halloween was the colour I should be.
The Xweetok smiled, edging up to me. “I know,” he said, voice satin. “I know how you feel. Halloween pets are the least understood of all pets. Stuck in a world where we are either feared, or laughed at. That’s why we’ve come together. Away from owners who don’t understand, away from a world that mocks us. Come, Moon, to our world. Where you are loved despite your appearance. You can be anybody you want to be.”
What if it was possible, to be an angel in a devil’s body? I turned to the Esophagor, expecting to see Kate. But she wasn’t there.
“Are you coming?” the Xweetok asked.
I took a deep breath, and nodded.
The Xweetok called himself Vladimere, and made me follow him further into the Haunted Woods. By now the occasional hoot didn’t make me jump as it did before, nor was I given the chills when my eyes spotted a few ghosts watching me pass. I just smiled at them and kept going.
We trekked past the Stone Dome, and then I realised Vladimere wasn’t kidding when he said all of Halloween kind was here. There was a stone rise, a bonfire burning in the middle, and all around it, growling and howling and cackling, were all sorts of Halloween pets. But as soon as Vladimere and I rose to the top, all of their voices hushed away and only the fire was brave enough to crackle when he spoke.
Illuminated in flame, Vladimere looked like a ghost. His grey fur glowed, golden eyes became fiery. “Friends of all shapes and sizes, it is time to celebrate what it is to be a true Halloween pet. Not what owners think, or other pets in their more glamorous colours! What does the Haunted Woods believe a Halloween pet should be?”
“To be feared!” a Lupe growled.
“To be fear itself!” a Uni retorted, and I certainly believed it, with its flaming feet and hollow red eyes.
“Wrong!” Vladimere cackled, skipping forward and back in some crazy dance. “To be a Halloween pet means to be above fear! Above anxiety! We may cause it to those ignorant of us, but know that out of everything in Neopia, we are above even the most primitive of Neopet emotions!
“How do you know if you are a Halloween pet, truly? Not by fancy paints or costumes. You know you are one when you laugh at fear! Because fear is the air we breathe and the words we speak. We cannot escape it, so we may as well live off it in happiness!”
As Vladimere’s speech continued, his voice raising and becoming more and more excited, I was trembling more and more and slowly backing out of the crowd. Sanity was coming back to me as his words trickled on. I wasn’t supposed to be here. I was an angel, not a Halloween pet. Just dear Moonlightstar686 who was scared of her own shadow. What the heck was I doing here?
I had to find my owner. I took my chance, leaping from the rise and sprinting off into the woods. Behind me, I heard the group cackle, Vladimere’s voice drawling above all the rest as he laughed, fuelled off my fear.
They all began piling off that rock, chasing after me. They’re all laughing, cackling, my fear causing it. I just ran, further and further into the woods, pleading to find Kate to take me back home. Take me from this nightmare.
Then, like a monster leaping out of darkness, my collar snagged from my neck and was swallowed up in darkness. Somebody grabbed me, I whimpered with fear.
So now you have caught up to where I am. Any suggestions of what I should do? I know you must think I am such a silly little Ixi for getting myself into this mess in the first place, but I can assure you, I have learnt my lesson!
I stop whimpering and look up. Through the haze of my tears I see not a haggard Halloween pet, but my owner! Kate looks worried; she has never seen me like this even with my thousand and one fears. “What happened? I lost you, couldn’t find you anywhere. You had me worried sick!”
“I couldn’t find you!” I say. “I looked for you, but you had disappeared.”
“The only time I was out of your sight was when I raced over to the Brain Tree to give him his answer. You were talking to that Halloween Xweetok; I didn’t want to interrupt. Thought you were finally facing your fears.”
Well, haven’t I? What have I done today but talked with monsters, stared at ghosts and wandered (well yes, okay, and ran) all through the Haunted Woods, only worrying when I was being chased? My fears are tackled, I feel stronger. I am not the baby anymore, yet not the monster. I am me, Moonlightstar686, and I can do anything!
I smile widely. “Let’s go home.”
We left my collar in the woods to stay hidden. Give those poor pets a token of my presence. After telling her my story, Kate says she will put advertisements up about them in Neopia Central and the pound, just in case there is a lonely owner out there still searching for their beloved Halloween pet. Those pets had been in the woods too long, especially Vladimere.
We arrive home at last, the stars are out. Draykwurm is at the door and rushes up to us as soon as we are in his sight. He is panting with relief.
“What took you so long? I was getting worried. Scared the Haunted Woods swallowed you up forever.”
I don’t know what comes over me as his words come out. It is like resisting the urge to breathe, the urge to think. I can’t fight it as I see his composure and expression, his wording, everything about him speaks fear. My lips curl up first into a little smirk, then they become a joyous smile. My body shivers with delight although I try to stop. But I can’t; why should I try to avoid it?