The Travelling Newspaper
“Come one, come all, to hear Grandmother Crackle’s reminiscences!” A large ghostly Lupe hollered across the fairground, which was far from deserted, despite its name. The few young Neopets in the crowd huddled behind their families playing Coconut Shy in shaking fright at the wondrous horrors surrounding them. Zombies and ghosts wandered the grounds at will. The Lupe saw me standing apart from my family and beckoned to me. I said a quick word to my owner and ran over.
He was standing outside of a tent that had a sign reading “Enter to hear tales of Weewoos, Chet Flash, Doctor Sloth, and many other astonishing things! Admission free of charge!” I looked around. There was no one there but myself.
The ghost Lupe motioned for me to enter. I pulled aside the curtain that served as a door. I gasped at what I saw.
Piles and piles of newspapers stood stacked up to the ceiling of an enormous office that was certainly too small to fit in the tent I had entered. White Weewoos were cooing all around the room, and a mysterious figure was spray-painting ‘Chet Flash wuz here’ on one of the walls. An old Faerie Kau was presiding over the chaos, for some reason holding a flaming coconut that was screaming something unintelligible.
Neopets moved around the room, organizing and adding papers to the stacks of newspapers. I pulled out a map to find out where exactly I was, but before I could deduce what the deuce I was doing here, the old Kau shouted.
“Halt!” Her voice was just as old and withery as she was. She looked at me meaningfully, and I glumly walked over.
“Young Lupe, I see you have come a long way to be here. What is your name and what do you wish from us?”
“M-my name is Bartholomew, ma’am. And, please, where on Neopia am I?”
She looked at me over a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles, and I saw a very wise pair of lavender eyes. “Ah, Bartholomew. May I call you Bart?”
I gave her a look that might pass for either annoyed or terrified. “My owner calls me Bat, actually.” My voice didn’t quiver quite as much that time when I spoke to her.
“All right then, Bat. To answer your question, I’m not quite sure where you are right now. I’ll have to know where you came from first.”
I followed her gaze behind me, and gasped. The tent flap through which I had entered had been replaced by a fancy revolving door. I could see the entrance into the Royal Neopian Hotel through the glass.
She chuckled, and I glared at her, my terror replaced with outrage. She held up her hooves in peace, smiling and rolling her eyes.
A bright red Kacheek patted me on the head as he walked by, wearing a vest that had the word ‘WRITER’ emblazoned on it in capital letters. “Go ahead and start talking, kid. You’ll be fine.”
I looked from the red Kacheek, now walking away to yell at a grey Shoyru with a hat that had the word ‘EDITOR’ on it in large white letters, to the old Faerie Kau, who was now waiting patiently in her large wooden chair that was much like a throne.
I took a deep breath. “All right, ma’am, I was just walking around the Deserted Fairground with my family, which isn’t actually deserted as its name implies and I was going to play Coconut Shy but this crazy ghost Lupe was all ‘you should come and hear Grandmother Crackle’s reminiscences, whatever those are, and now I’m here and I don’t want to be here because I want to be home!”
She sighed, and there was real sorrow in her eyes. “Dear me, it was him again. I’m sorry, dearie, but that entrance is closed for maintenance. You can’t go home.”
“Then how did I get through it in the first place?” I shouted.
“Him. The ghost Lupe. He really told you to come through?” Her voice was urgent.
I gave her a questioning look. She returned a frightened one, and, wheezing and puffing, heaved herself out of her throne, hobbling over to the door. As she tapped the frame of the revolving door, it slowly transfigured into a tent flap, different than the one I had come through. She yelled something through the star-covered piece of fabric, and a starry Kau popped her head out. They had a few minutes discussion, which was about me from what I could gather. The old Kau tapped the frame again when they were finished, and the tent flap resolved into what looked like the doorway into a large, well-lit cave. She came back and sank into her chair, the fibers creaking.
She launched into an explanation before I could ask any questions. “That was my sister, Kauvara. She says that that Lupe cursed the doorway. You really can’t leave, now. Before it was just a matter of getting you home, but now if you leave, this entire building will catch fire.”
I looked up at her, shocked. “How long does this spell last?”
She sighed again. “I’d better give you the tour, dear. Doesn’t look like you’ll be leaving anytime soon.”
“Can I speak to my owner?”
“I can get someone to take her a message. And by the way, my name’s Angela Alegna. My last name is my first name backwards, if you didn’t notice. My owner had a sense of humor.”
And then: “Welcome to the Neopian Times.”
It was several years later. Many of the Neopian Times’ authors had become familiar with me, and I was affectionately referred to as ‘Batty’. It’s not like I was ever alone in the huge office that had become my home, but I was, in a way. I was separated from my family and friends, whom I couldn’t even reveal my location to for fear of setting the building on fire. Any time I even mentioned home, it set papers smoldering. So I wrote letters to satisfy my craving for the people and pets I had left behind, and every night as I fell asleep on a pile of warm, freshly printed papers, I cried a little less.
The travelling building had fast become my home in many ways, although in other ways it was so far from being a home that it was almost humorous. I learned to love the magical doorway, bringing new pets and new life every time it changed to a different location. I learned to love the sweet cooing of the White Weewoos, like a lulling, soft pulse behind the clacking noise of typewriters, keyboards, and the printing press. I even learned to love the smell of new ink, brought in daily from a port in Krawk Island, one of my favorite doors because of the salty sea air and wind which blew through it.
I had read everything there was to read. Each week I devoured the flux of new submissions hungrily, always searching for information that could break my curse or to cure the inevitable case of occasional boredom. I read about everything from Azzles to Zafaras. Soon the authors started bringing me extra tidbits- quotes, interesting words, narratives, even actual news articles. I often forgot to eat, reading through mealtimes.
I suppose it was a combination of reading far too much, living in a cursed newspaper office, and attempting to live off of office food rations that made me begin to literally eat words.
Not the paper they were written on, no, nor the ink they were printed in. The words themselves, each a unique flavor. Then it was stories, and then comics, and fairly soon I had eaten the entire Neopedia.
Food became something I couldn’t stomach, and even the sight of a Chia couldn’t make me hungry. Some of the editors were worried about me, but Angela simply laughed it off. “He’s learning, and growing fat off of the knowledge! What’s wrong with that?”
My life was full, if lonely, so it was no wonder that I was surprised the day Kauvara burst through the door, now a starry tent flap.
“I’ve found it! I’ve found the counter-curse!”
Angela looked up from an article she was reading. “Hmm?”
Kauvara clapped her hooves together enthusiastically. “Okay, more of a counter-curse potion, but whatever. The point is that I can cure Batty’s curse now!”
Angela dropped her article. I looked up, confused about how I was supposed to feel.
Angela cleared her throat. “All right, Kauvara, let’s hear it.”
Kauvara did a little dance. “This is my greatest work! My magnum opus! I have recursed the most unfixable curse ever cast!”
Before Angela could say anything, I jumped in. “No thanks.”
They both stared at me, then simultaneously said “What?”
Kauvara started, “We could fix you. You could go home. To your family.”
Angela opened and closed her mouth wordlessly a few times before speaking. “It’s what you wanted, isn’t it? A home with a soft bed, a kind owner, your siblings, heck, even food that passes for edible?”
“I thought it was. It really used to be. But now I’m not sure.”
Of course, we argued. They tried to convince me I was crazy, that this wasn’t my home, that I needed to see my family. I never told them that my owner disowned me when she thought I ran away, or that my entire family had moved to the Virtupets Space Station. Finally, I convinced them that this was my home. My family was here, my life, and most importantly, my words and stories.
Is it so strange to discover belonging in a place like this? I suppose you could think that. I’ve been here ever since, living on words and stories. I’ve learned about people, their sorrows and their joy, their lives. This newspaper is the place I belong.
Several authors are gathered together, as well as various pets. One stands out from the rest, a small yellow Lupe who has been hoisted upon the shoulders of several editors. On his face is utter happiness. They carry him to stand beneath two signs.
The larger one reads “Happy Five-Hundredth Issue!”
The one beneath it reads “Happy Tenth Birthday Batty!”