Noise in the Night
Author's Note: For previous stories featuring Pansy and Sappy, refer to issues 258, 317, and 512.
Pansy the red Usul awoke with a start. It was dark in her room, despite the streak of moonlight that slashed across her carpet. It was the dead time of the night, the time her brother Sappy always referenced in his campfire stories. Pansy yanked her covers up to her shoulders like a shield as she sat up. A draft wafted across her back, and a shiver went down her spine, for she hadn't awoken to mere darkness. She had awoken to a noise.
It was the faintest, most insidious sort of noise. The type that slunk into your sleep as slyly as a Bartamus, that popped your dreams like balloons, waking you so instantaneously it gave you deja vu. Were you awake, or were you still dreaming? Pansy swallowed as she scanned her room, her paws cold and her cheeks hot. It was almost worse if she were still asleep, because anything could happen in your dreams.
But Pansy had never been one to back away from fear. It was true, she might skitter and jitter and squeak and squeal, but she would move forward, ostensibly becoming braver with each step. It was what she did now, sliding her paws out of bed, an inch at a time, cringing each time she hit cooler sheets. Somehow, at last, she got off her bed, her blankets twisted all about her now. She clung to them tightly, holding them over her nose, taking deep whiffs of stale, detergent-scented air. Then she heard the noise again.
It was a soft squealing, like the sound of a weak floorboard, or the moan of a ghoul. Pansy's eyes went straight for her bedroom door. It was cracked open, the shaft of light across her carpet nicking the door's edge all the way from floor to ceiling. The hallway beyond was pitch black. Pansy normally kept her door open in case she had a nightmare and needed to call for Sappy or Owner, or in case she woke groggy and needed to stumble to the bathroom. But tonight it was an egregious error. The longer Pansy stared at the black void of the hallway, the more the fur on the back of her neck began to stand on end.
"H-hello?" she said, her voice sounding young and high even for an Usul.
There was no reply. Pansy shifted her blanket around, pulling it about her like a cape. She clung to it with one paw, and balled her free paw into a fist. She tiptoed toward her door, but had only taken a few steps when the noise happened again.
This time it was shorter and clipped, more like a squeak than a groan. It was, Pansy admitted, still rather like a floorboard or a ghoul, but if it was a ghoul, it was a pretty pitiful one, and not one she should be scared of. On the other hand, if it was a floorboard, that would indicate the presence of an intruder in the house. Pansy weighed the options and found neither one particularly comforting. She clamped her lips together and stepped quietly for the doorway, squinting as she entered the band of moonlight.
Pansy opened the door into the hallway and the darkness was sudden. She widened her eyes, trying to see down the hallway, but all she could see was a faint glow coming from the bottom of the stairs from the night light in the living room. Aside from that, there was only darkness. Pansy felt for the stair rail and clung to it tightly, abandoning her comforter in the process. It would be a terrible thing to trip and fall straight into the hands of a ghoul.
Pansy made her way down the stairs carefully, ears at the ready. The sound had come from the first floor, she was sure of it. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she stopped. There it was again, a prolonged squeal that sent chills down her spine. Pansy widened her eyes against the dark, peering about, trying to see where the sound had come from. Even her delicate ears couldn't triangulate its location; it sounded almost like it had come from all around her. Perhaps, Pansy thought, it's just a Barbat using echolocation to find its way home. But Pansy was sure it was not a Barbat.
At last, Pansy pried her paws free from the handrail. The more she thought about it, the more she was sure the sound was at least coming from in front of her, and not behind. In fact, she thought it was coming from the front of the house, and not the inside at all. That was something. Solid information she could hold on to. Pansy regretted not bringing something else solid with her, possibly to bash the interloper on the head, just in case, but it was too late now. The Usul swiveled her ears about, searching for one last squeak. She needed to hear it again to be sure she was right. Just one more time; that was all it would take.
As if on cue, there came another squeak, high and short and desperate, and along with the squeak came another noise. A growl. It was so soft and low Pansy wasn't surprised she hadn't heart it before. This time, Pansy could tell where the sounds were coming from. They were just past the front door. Pansy pressed her lips together as she tiptoed over to the door, paws beginning to tremble, her heart leaping about in her chest. Despite being scared spitless, she found it patently unfair that she had been woken up in the middle of the night by a trespasser who hadn't even had the decency to actually invade the house. It was rude beyond belief. But trespassers probably don't have much common decency, so it's hardly surprising, Pansy reasoned to herself.
Pansy reached the front door. She stopped stock still on the doormat and licked her lips, putting her paw out to the doorknob. It was cold under her short layer of fur, despite the fact that it was summer and the house never properly cooled down. Pansy gripped the doorknob, took a deep breath, and opened the door.
What greeted her took her aback more than even she had been expecting.
"Oh, faeries and foes!" Pansy clapped her hands over her mouth even as she said it. No matter how on edge she was, she had no desire to wake up Sappy, her blue Bori brother, or Owner. In front of her cowered a Meepit, its back scraping the rough brick that paneled the front stoop's enclave. Its eyes were wide, even for a Meepit, and a soft shrilling squeal came from between its chittering teeth. Just off the stoop, about a meter and a half away, crouched a very angry looking Doglefox. Pansy hurried out the front door, swinging her arms in front of her in a sweeping motion. "Shoo! You great bully, you scared us all half to death. Goodness gracious, it's the middle of the night. Do you have no shame?"
The Doglefox didn't reply, though it crouched low and growled at Pansy, its eyes narrowing viciously. It took a calculated step back, then another, then fled down the front walk and out between the front hedges and into the street. Pansy let her paws drop to her sides. She was shaking. She could feel the shivers climb up her paws and into her chest, and she decided right then and there that she had had enough fright for one night and needed a soothing cup of chamomile tea, stat. She turned about to face the Meepit. Its eyes were still wide, but didn't Meepits always look like that?, and it seemed to be edging toward the front door, which Pansy had left open.
"There there," Pansy cooed. "I suppose you want some tea, too, don't you?" The Meepit made no reply, but instead turned and slipped through the crack in the door and into the house. Pansy took this as a resounding "yes" to her proposition, so she followed the Meepit inside, and shut the door firmly behind her. She would have to put the kettle on.
~ * ~
When Sappy the blue Bori woke up the next morning, he could feel a change in the air. There was some indefinable something that was different, and it set his stomach on edge. He rolled out of bed, and instead of his usual routine of remaking the covers, journalling his dreams of the night before, and choosing a matching bow tie and sweater vest, he left his room straight away and headed downstairs to the kitchen to make himself some scrambled eggs on toast. It was the sort of breakfast that always managed to ground him, even if the world seemed to be coming to an end. With a sister like Pansy, this seemed to be approximately once a week (twice a week, during the month before Usukicon).
When Sappy reached the kitchen, he stopped. Pansy sat in her normal chair, paging through the latest issue of the Neopian Times, and there, in his chair—his chair—sat a Meepit.
"Pansy," Sappy said hesitantly, raising one claw. "What exactly is in my seat?"
"Last night I adopted a Meepit," Pansy replied, her face still buried in the newspaper. "His name is Gurgle, because of the way he drinks his chamomile. I hope you don't mind that he's in your seat. I couldn't very well let him sit in Owner's chair, or on the table. Can you imagine? It would never work."
"No," Sappy said. "No, I suppose... not." He trailed off. The Meepit was staring at him with the grimmest look he had ever seen a petpet muster. Sappy squeezed past the table and into the kitchen, the Meepit's gaze boring into his back the whole way. The Bori sighed as he turned the corner into the kitchen. It would figure that his kid sister would pick the creepiest petpet ever. It wasn't just the eyes. Perhaps it was the mild tremble to the paws, or the jumpy way it had stamped its foot as he entered the dining room. Sappy pondered this as he started up the stove and stuck a skillet on it. There was something about that petpet...
Sappy shook the feeling off. He would use a different seat, he would eat his toast and eggs, and all would be very well indeed. After all, there was a new Neopian Times out.
Then from the dining room came a noise. A noise that sent a chill down Sappy's spine and made the fur on his arms prickle with fear. It was a squeak, almost a squeal, like a tiny siren, keening on and on. The the longer it went, the louder it became until Pansy's voice cut through the din.
"No, you may not have another piece of jam toast, Gurgle." Pansy's voice was quite stern. "I think that three is quite enough."