An Apple a Day
Playing cards are rotten for building. I was sitting at my desk, calmly building a house of cards, when one little knock on the door was enough to make the whole thing come tumbling down. It wasn't even a loud knock, just a gentle tap with a slightly clumsy hoof. Sure, it was enough to break my concentration, and that was the problem, but I still blame the cards. They're much better for solitaire. Buy some building blocks if you have other ideas.
But you probably want to know why someone was tapping at my office door, don't you? Of course you do. No interest in the finer things in life, just want the interesting stories. All right.
It was autumn, and I hadn't had a case in months. Gambling money was getting hard to come by, nonetheless food. But hope appeared the minute that Moehog tapped on my door, turned the knob and stuck her brown head in my office.
She was kind: she didn't say a word about the mess of cards covering my desk. "Could I come in? I, er, think you might be able to help me." Her big eyes were frightened as she asked her question, and I noticed a nervous twitch in one of her hooves.
"Sure," I said, "come on in, take a seat. What's the trouble?"
She went to a big, cushy red chair that I kept in front of my desk, crossing her legs as she sat. Her hoof bobbed as she spoke, her manner halting and nervous. "Maybe nothing," she said. "I mean, I think something's going on, but I could just be crazy." She bit her lip; her tusks weaved through the air as she shook her head. This was one rattled Moehog.
"Just tell me the whole story," I said. And she did.
Apparently, our Moehog friend was prancing along the streets of Neovia, as one does, when she was struck by the sudden appearance of an apple bobbing stand. Strange, she thought, I've never noticed an apple bobbing stand on this street before, and I walk this path every day of my life. Curious, she approached the green, dingy-looking Gnorbu who ran the stall.
"Hello," she said, nervously raising a hoof in greeting.
The Gnorbu doffed his hat with a debonair smile. "Bart's the name," he said, "Apple-Bobbing Bart. And what might your name be, little miss?"
"Silisi," the Moehog replied quietly, inching closer to the mysterious man.
"Silisi," he said, "a pretty name for a pretty girl. You wouldn't happen to be looking for a bob in the apple barrel, would you Silisi?"
"You mean you don't just sell apples, you have people—"
"Dive under the water and fish up a splendid prize on their own. It's a brilliant sense of accomplishment, you'll see!" He dunked her head in the water, taking a few neopoints from her pocket in the process.
She came up sputtering and empty-mouthed mere seconds later. She pushed an errant, sopping curl from her face and gazed blearily into the water. "I thought I saw someone's dentures in there," she muttered to herself, "dentures."
"It's one of the wonderful prizes, you understand!"
"I... I'm never coming back this way. Thank you, sir." She straightened her soaked bonnet and turned around.
"Wait, Miss! Wait!"
Despite her rising dread and lingering hesitation, Silisi turned about and stood to hear Bart's parting words.
"Terribly sorry you didn't enjoy your bob, but I think I could make it up to you. Here," he said, holding out a small basket of his own, special apples, "take these home, no strings attached."
"Th- thank you," Silisi said, baffled, as she reached out for the basket and hung it around her arm. "Very kind of you."
"Indeed," the Gnorbu congratulated himself. "Hope to see you again sometime."
The Moehog toddled home with her prize, and while all appeared well, she had a lingering feeling that she might have heard a rambunctiously sinister laugh just as she reached her door.
"You thought you heard a laugh," I asked brusquely, interrupting the Moehog's speech.
"Yes," Silisi replied, defensively crossing her arms.
"Well, who laughed then?" I prodded.
"I don't know!" she replied, "maybe it was Bart following me, maybe it was whoever did the mischief later!"
"More mischief? You're not just here to complain about forced apple-bobbing?" I said, leaning back jauntily and crossing my arms.
"No," the Moehog said, frustrated, "I'm not. Shall I continue?"
"Go ahead," I said, shrugging and reclining.
Evidently she'd gone inside without a care, set the basket of apples on her kitchen counter, and went on to have a completely normal evening. She went to bed, and had a perfectly lovely night. Then she woke up in the morning, went to her kitchen, and found a horror beyond the pale.
"My kitchen!" she moaned when she saw the mess, her hooves to her face in horror, "What's happened to my beautiful kitchen!" She scampered to the center of her kitchen floor, where the offending party was lying. It was, in fact, a single dehydrated apple. It stood there, its skin red and glaring, as she wept.
Eventually, she picked it up, tossed it in the bin, and continued merrily on with her day.
Then she came to the kitchen the next day, only to find the scene repeated. This time, the dried-out apple had a sagging, now-overly-large blue sweater wrapped around its wrinkled, red form. A Customised Apple had fallen victim to the mess-producing monster.
The third day seemed to show remnants of some sort of battle when Silisi came into her kitchen. A Spy Apple, its sunglasses crinkled and a chunk bitten from its side, lay lengthwise on the floor with another dehydrated apple mere footsteps from its mangled form.
"And then I came to you," she finished.
"You came to me, Detective Taffy, one of the most renowned Xweetok investigators in Neopia... because you can't keep your kitchen clean?"
"Well," responded the Moehog, "yes. It's very distressing, you see."
"Okay," I said, slamming a paw on my desk as I stood. "If you're paying, I'm investigating." I raced around the room, grabbing doodads and tiddlywinks with intense efficiency. Soon I had everything I needed crammed into my bag. "If you're ready," I said, "we can head to the scene."
Silisi rummaged in her bag. "Actually," she said timidly, "there is one last thing I thought you might like to see." She pulled a plastic bag from her purse. It contained an ordinary apple with one neat slice taken out of a side.
"What is that?" Taffy asked.
"It's the Spy Apple I found on my floor. At first, I picked it up, threw away its accessories, cut off the mangled bits, and thought I might have it for a snack... but then I realized you might be able to discover something by looking at the remains."
I grabbed the bag urgently and squinted at the apple, only to be disappointed. "Not anymore, I can't. Eat your apple; we're heading to your house."
"Nice place," I said as we arrived. She kept the place spotless, really spotless. I'm not sure dust had ever seen the place, and I doubted I was one of a large number of past houseguests. No way she could keep it that clean with company about.
"Thanks," Silisi replied nervously, "but I have to know. Now that we're here, how do you plan on figuring out what's going on?"
"That's the easy part," I said smugly. "You see, that's where being a ghost comes in handy." I concentrated a bit, and caused my translucent green skin to fade almost to transparency. In a dark room, it makes me nearly invisible. I scurried through the room to demonstrate, reappearing behind my employer after a bit of theatrics. Then I told her the plan: "I'll just be going invisible, hiding in shadows, and watching what happens. Simple as pie."
Silisi nodded. "And I...?"
"Go about your business as normal. That's very important. Just pretend I'm not here at all." I plopped down my bag and faded into transparency as I began to get ready. "We'll get to the bottom of this, wait and see."
Silisi seemed a little bothered while I set up all my traps and equipment. It was important they be scattered about, so that I could do my work where and when I needed to, but she didn't seem to like seeing sharpened sticks, chains, and metal traps floating about her house. Still, in the end she slipped into her gaudy pink nightgown and went to sleep as usual. I'll wager she even slept better knowing I was there, on the lookout.
I was alert as can be (really, my eyelids only fluttered a few times), crouched in the darkest corner of the kitchen, effectively invisible, waiting for the dastardly culprit to appear. Right when I'd just about given up and started to doze off, I heard a thud. And then a thuddity thud, and after that, a thwack, ber-clushity.
My prey had arrived, and I drew myself to strict attention. My neck craned forward eagerly as I sniffed the air, noticing the faint scent of apple juice and fruit pulp. Squinting into the darkness, I saw a small, vaguely round shape hopping about on the kitchen floor. It was flaring a cape theatrically about as it stalked, sinisterly, across the room.
"That's the problem, all right," I muttered to myself, in a thoughtless moment. This was, you could say, a mistake. Instantly, the culprit in the center of the room shot a viscous glance at me, baring its vampiric teeth at the invisible source of noise. Then it shot across the room at breakneck (or, perhaps, biteneck) speed, hurling itself towards the basket of apples on the counter. The basket was overturned, sending dozens of apples rolling into pans, onto the floor, and into fragile porcelain and glass dishes. The clattering crashes and blaring bangs were legendary.
At this point I gave up on the whole invisible-detective bit and raced after my prey, fully visible. I looked left and right, up and down as I ran, trying not to lose sight of the viscously fast apple as I sought out the appropriate gear for the job. I soon found what I was looking for: a carefully-sharpened wooden stake.
I grabbed the stake with an agile paw as I leapt into my final lunge toward the vampiric scourge. When I grasped the apple in my left paw, the lights flicked on. A momentary distraction, but not enough to dissuade me from my purpose. Shrieking with primal power, I plunged my stake into the center of the Vampire Apple, causing a giant explosion of juice, pulp, and bits of fruit across the walls and floors of the room.
Incidentally, it also sprayed on Silisi, who happened to be standing in the freshly opened door, her hoof still on the light switch.
"You—you—" Silisi stood, stunned and stuttering, staring at her broken dishes and ludicrously messy, apple-strewn kitchen. "What have you done?! Get out!"
"I solved your problem!" I shouted. "The Vampire Apple is destroyed!"
"I don't care!" Silisi shouted back. "Get out of my house!" She pushed me out with her sticky hooves, muttering and squealing with anxiety as she did the job. Unperturbed, I informed the hysterical Moehog that I'd be back for my things, and I'd expect payment when I came.
When she slammed the door behind me, I only had one thing to say: "I guess she doesn't like apple sauce."
And that's the whole story. I went back for my gear, of course. She'd dumped it on her porch, still sticky with apple bits. Never did pay me, and you can believe I tried.
Now, you're probably wondering about that Apple-Bobbing Bart character, and whether he was actually involved. My guess is a resounding yes, but you know what? I don't work if no one's paying, and no one's paying. That Gnorbu can do all he likes – I don't mind. Maybe someday one of his customers will pay me to clean up his messes. And then I'll do the job. Until then, I have a tower of blocks to build.