Mother's Balloon: Part Eight
A Beekadoodle fluttered past the house, chirping a merry morning melody. The bedroom window was opened wide, and the curtains swayed in the incoming autumn breeze. Daylight flooded the off-white room, and reflected off the walls, enveloping the Draik in a blanket that was soft and warm. Joyful sounds of laughter were carried in on the wind, but it was the wafting smell of a chocolate cake baking slowly in an oven that awakened Reyela's senses, and alerted her of the fact that the day had started without her.
"How long have I been sleeping?" she wondered aloud when she saw Bettina and Hannah were not in their beds. They could not have been watching the sunrise, as the sun was already high over Neopia.
"They must all be doing their chores already." she decided. "My goodness! I'm really not cut out for country life!"
When she heard the sounds of laughter again, she recalled that there would be no chores today. Only games, and singing, and dancing in celebration of the birthday of the Worthington family's youngest daughter. It was to be a good day, and Reyela was glad that she was to be part of it. But she was not part of it — Not yet. Everybody was outside, and she was still in her pajamas!
She turned around to find her blue dress, perfectly clean and free of grass stains, laying on the floor beside her. She quickly put it on, and scrambled to find the ribbon she had taken out of her hair the night before. When she found it, she tied back her chestnut locks in a sloppy bow, the sloppiest she had ever made, and hurried to join the Worthingtons, who from the sounds of it were at the back of the house.
"Don't start without me!" Reyela hollered before she was even through the backdoor.
She darted out into the middle of the yard, and stopped dead in her tracks when she realized she could no longer hear the laughter.
"Hey! Hey! Where's everyone gone?" The anxiety in the Draik's voice pierced through the now silent morning like a dagger, as she frantically searched for the missing Worthingtons. "Have they all run off without me?"
Suddenly Reyela caught a glimpse of something moving in the bushes beside her. The thing had blue fur, and a string of fair hair hanging over one eye.
"Hannah, is that you in there?"
Something in the bush started to giggle, but it wasn't Hannah who was giggling.
"Shh! Be quiet!" Hannah ordered in a loud whisper, which was hardly quieter than her regular talking voice.
But the giggling continued, and it got louder and stronger until its owner could not possibly contain it any longer. A biscuit Usul fell out of the bush, and landed on her hands and knees in the grass in front of Reyela.
"Hannah must have looked so funny!" she crowed. "All you could see was her eyes, right? So it looked like the bush had eyes!"
"...Eyes?" The scarlet Draik was absolutely bewildered. "Can someone tell me... What in Fyora's name is going on here?"
Bettina's eyes opened wide, and she jumped back into the bush.
"Come on, Reyela!" she hissed, and both girls waved at her to come forward.
"You want me to come in there?"
But it was already too late. The predator had zeroed in on its prey, and was now coming in for the kill.
"One, two, three on Reyela! One, two, three on Hannah and Bettina! Everybody out!"
"Aw, Pa!" Bettina screamed as her father pulled her out of her hiding spot, and lifted her high into the air. "I can't believe you found us! I thought we were gonna win for sure!"
"He wouldn't have found us if you hadn't been laughing." Hannah groused.
"Aw, yes he would've! He would have seen the bush's eyes!"
"Which one of us is it next then?"
Reyela blinked. "What? Why me?"
"Whoever's caught first has to be it in the next round. That's how we play hide-and-go-seek." Hannah explained.
Hide-and-go-seek! So there was an explanation for the disturbing phenomenon she had just witnessed.
"But I wasn't even playing! Of course your father found me first, I wasn't even in hiding!"
"I'm afraid she's right, girls." Mr. Worthington acknowledged. "If she didn't know she was supposed to hide, we can't force her to be it, now can we? It is a bloomin' shame though."
"A bloomin' shame?" Reyela repeated. "Why would it be a shame if I wasn't it? You have five other people who could do the job."
"Well you see, miss Reyela, in our family everyone loves to play hide-and-go-seek, but I don't think there's anyone who loves it as much as my wife does. Of course, that's on the account of the fact that she hardly ever loses. She's such a good hider, no one's ever been able to find her. Except for that one time on Medis' fourth birthday, and we only found her then because Hannah was crying in her arms and gave away her position."
"Silly Pa," Hannah chortled. "You know we've found Ma since then. I found her on my last birthday, and Bettina was with me, right Bettina?"
"Right," the Usul concurred. "But we've only found her a few other times besides then. Maybe Reyela will bring us better luck? She might have new ideas about where to look for her."
"My thoughts exactly," Mr. Worthington conveyed. "And we know she's a good finder, because of all the places in Brightvale she could have found when she was lost, she just happened to come upon our farm. But if she doesn't want to be it, she doesn't have to be. After all, she didn't even know we were playing. Like she said, of course I found her first, she wasn't even in hiding."
"All right, I'll be it." Reyela gave in. "But I can't say how well I'll do. I'm not making any promises."
And so the new round began, and everyone save Mrs. Worthington ran off to find new hiding spots. Reyela was told to count to a hundred and fifty, and when she inquired as to why she was to count to such a ridiculously high number, she was told by Caleb and Medis simultaneously that it was a 'big, big farm'. The rules were that they could hide anywhere except for the house. This included the barn, the stable, the mallard pond and all the fields and orchards — Quite an overwhelming vicinity for a girl who had never played hide-and-go-seek to have to search.
"Goodness gracious, where do I even begin?"
She decided she would start at the Mallard pond, which was due east from the old cherry tree they had chosen to be their home base.
"If nothing else I'll be able to get a visit in with Charlie and her lovely children."
When Reyela arrived, her first thought was that she and the Mallards were alone at the pond.
"I don't suppose any of you dears have seen any Worthingtons around here, have you? I have seven of them to find. Actually, I wouldn't imagine Colton would be hiding by himself. He is just a baby, you know, so most likely he'll be hiding with one of his brothers or sisters. There!" she chuckled. "It's as if I have one less person on my to-find list. Maybe this will be easier than I thought! Oh, would you listen to me, talking to petpets as if I expect them to answer. You must think me crazy! Or maybe you do not, as Medis talks to you quite the same way, and I know you don't think any less of him for doing so. Why, he's just like one of the family, isn't he Charlie?"
There was a disturbance in the water, and tiny bubbles began to form atop its glass-like surface. Suddenly the glass was shattered, and a biscuit Kougra sprang out of the pond like a Jack springing out of its box. Medis coughed, and chocked, and sucked in the air through his teeth.
"Medis, what in Neopia?" Reyela ran to the Kougra's side. "What were you doing in there? Did you fall in? Are you quite all right? Answer me, please!"
The Kougra could not speak, so he shrugged his shoulders once, twice, however many times it took for Reyela to realize he was unable to do anything but cough. When he finally did catch his breath and was able to speak, he supplied his friend with a most unsatisfying explanation of what he had been doing.
"I was hiding."
"Yeah, I really thought I had my Ma beat this time. Dang it anyways, I am the lousiest planner! I should have known that you were gonna stop and talk to Charlie and the kids. I held my breath as long as I could. A second more and I would have suffocated."
The red Draik shook her head. "You're daft, aren't you? You may have saved yourself from suffocation, but it's so cold out here you're liable to catch neomonia! You're soaked to the bone, you stupid boy!"
"Thanks there, Reyela." Medis sneezed. "I would have never figured that out on my own."
"Ugh!" Reyela fumed, throwing her arms up in the air. "Promise me you'll go home and change your clothes right now! You can't get sick, Medis, that's the last thing your family needs."
"Yeah, I know." He pulled himself up off the ground, and turned toward the house so that the Draik couldn't see his smile. "I'll get changed, and then I'll come back and help you look. Where do you think you're gonna be?"
Reyela thought for a moment. "Is it the apple orchard that is closer to here, or the strawberry field?"
"The apple orchard's closest."
"That's what I thought. Will I see you there then?"
"Count on that."
"Thanks Medis." She nodded. "Now, go! Go, dry off!"
The Kougra took off like a whip, and Reyela sighed heavily.
"He's a little too much like a Mallard, isn't he Charlie? He even thinks he can swim in the fall like a mallard, without even catching a cold." A funny thought came over her. "He probably has a layer of down under his fur or something."
She stayed at the pond for a few minutes longer, and after saying goodbye to each Mallard chick and their mother, she started toward the apple orchard which, if she remembered correctly, was only a hop, skip and a jump across the stream.
"Such a shame it is that I'm not still wearing Hannah's clothes." she grieved. "All of a sudden this dress has become extremely uncomfortable to play in. Perhaps when I find Hannah I should ask if she has anything else I can wear."
It was a fortuitous coincidence that Reyela found Hannah as soon as she entered the apple orchard. The Kougra was high up in a tree that had already lost a lot of its leaves, and from the angle Reyela was on she could see her blue fur perfectly through the orange and red.
"Three, two, one on Hannah!" the scarlet Draik shouted excitedly.
Poor Hannah was so alarmed that she lost her footing on the branch she was perched on, and somersaulted backwards out of the tree.
"Oh no!" Reyela ran to the Kougra, and offered her her arm to get up. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to make you fall! Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." Remarkably, Hannah started to laugh. "It's one, two, three by the way. Not three, two, one. You count up, not down."
"Why do you have to count when you find someone, anyway? I can understand before the game, but after does not make any sense at all."
The younger girl considered this, and then she nodded her head. "You've got a point there..."
In a quick, whirling motion, Hannah turned to see her brother coming over the hill, wearing the same red shirt and blue overalls he had been wearing the day before.
"What's wrong with you, Hannah?" the Kougra's face was lit up with amusement. "Feeling jumpy today, are we?"
"Oh, you leave her alone." Reyela scolded him. "She just fell out of a tree."
"She didn't." Medis said in disbelief. "Hannah, what has Ma told you about hiding in trees?"
"That there are enough good hiding places on the ground that I shouldn't have to." she replied readily.
"But you're just gonna keep on doing it, aren't you?"
Apparently the tree trunk thought that this was very funny, as right after Hannah said it it burst into a giggle fit. How odd it was, Reyela thought, that this tree trunk had the exact same laugh as the bush with the blue fur and eyeballs.
"Bettina, I know you're in there! Come out, I've found you!"
Sure enough, the biscuit Usul came crawling out of the little nook in the bottom of the tree.
Hannah rolled her eyes. "You know, I'm starting to think you like getting caught. You could have stayed in there, and she wouldn't have found you. No one else can fit in there but you. But you had to start laughing."
"I couldn't help it!" Bettina cried. "You're always making me laugh, Hannah!"
"Only four more people left to seek! And it's more like three, because Colton will be hiding with someone, correct? Oh my, this game is going better than I thought!"
The scarlet Draik and her three new teammates continued their search through the rest of the orchards. There was no more laughter from the tree trunks, no more faces peeking through the leaves. There was no one hiding in among the rows and rows of fruit trees, so the four seekers decided to move on. They capered through the pumpkin patch, which was too flat and open to be used as a hiding spot, but which they needed to pass through to reach the whinny stable. The stable had two stalls, and a small equipment room, and was full of nooks and crannies that were perfect for small neopets to hide in. The problem was, Colton was the only small neopet still left to find on their list, the others being Mr. and Mrs. Worthington, and Caleb, who was fifteen and quite tall.
"I doubt anyone'll be in there," Medis admit as they approached the squat building. "But we're here now. Might as well look anyway."
It came as a surprise to all of them when they found that the equipment room door was wide open.
"Someone must be in there." Reyela deduced. "Why would they leave the door open, though? They must have known it would give them away. Unless they think I'm stu--"
"They don't think you're stupid, Reyela." Medis cut her off before she could finish the word.
"We won't know who's in there unless we go in!" Bettina shrilled, and scampered through the door.
The others shortly followed, and they began to search the narrow strip of a room. It didn't take long at all for one of them to stumble upon Colton, hiding behind a saddle rack.
"One, two, three on Colton!"
"Hey, Medis, I found him first!" hollered Hannah.
"No, I saw him first! I'm the lowest to the ground! I could see him peeking underneath the bar!" Bettina squeaked.
No one was quite sure which of them had spotted the baby first. All Reyela knew was that it hadn't been her, and she wished it had been so that she could have been part of the familial argument as well.
"It doesn't really matter who found him first." proclaimed Medis, putting a sudden end to their bickering. "What matters is, why did Caleb leave Colton here by himself? He knows better than that."
"How do you know it was Caleb who left him?" Reyela looked at the Kougra as though she thought he was psychic.
"Ma and Pa wouldn't do a thing like that, though I didn't think Caleb would either. He's gotta be around here somewhere..."
"Hey!" Hannah stood in the doorway flailing her arms about, signalling for her teammates to look outside."I found a place we haven't checked yet."
The place she was referring to, they soon realized, was an enormous steel cart used for transporting vegetables, from the fields in which they were grown, to the storeroom where they would be kept until taken to market. This particular cart had been loaded with pumpkins, but there was obviously no one hiding in among the giant fruits.
"There's no one there." Medis stared blankly. "You can see that as plain as day."
"There's no one on top," Reyela agreed. "But how about underneath? There must be a foot of space between the cart and the ground. Come on everyone, let's look."
They were about to crawl underneath for a peek, when a brushing, rustling sound met their ears.
"Something's moving." Medis breathed. "Let's rattle the cart. Come on everybody, we'll shake 'em right out!"
Medis and Hannah took hold of one side, and Reyela and Bettina grabbed the other side, and together they rattled the old steel wagon until Caleb was positive an earthquake was occurring.
"What's the big idea?" the Yurble bawled when he emerged from what he thought was the perfect hiding spot to find his brothers and his sisters all waiting for him.
"It was Medis' idea!" Reyela beamed. "But Hannah was the one who suggested we look here, and it took all of us to shake you out!" She giggled. "We make quite an impressive team, don't we?"
With all five children having been found, only the hiding spots of Mr. and Mrs. Worthington were yet to be discovered. This Reyela knew would be the most difficult part of the game. She had been told that the Mrs. was practically unbeatable, and she could only assume Mr. Worthington, with over forty years of hide-and-go-seek experience would be almost as good.
It was no wonder the Worthingtons never got tired of the same silly game, birthday after birthday. Their farm was so full of superb hiding places that probably no one had ever hidden in the same place twice.
"How many hiding spots do you think there are on your property, Medis?" Reyela inquired of the Kougra as they continued on their search. "Do you think there are hundreds? Or maybe one thousand?"
The biscuit Kougra gave a hearty laugh. "Probably."
Not many of these places were located in the various fruit and vegetable fields. Like the pumpkin patch, most of them were much too open to provide shelter for an adult-sized hider. The corn field was an exception to this. An adult could easily conceal themselves in the maze of towering stalks. The corn field was such a labyrinth that it was possible for a neopet of any age to get lost. Reyela and the Worthington children took extra care to mark their trail, and stay together as they investigated the befuddling crop.
"Everybody stop walking!" Bettina yelled at one point, when they were about three quarters of the way through the field.
"Wha--What is it, Bettina?" Hannah stuttered, her countenance a look of pure dread.
"We've left someone behind, kids, we've got to go back! Everybody turn around, please! We have to go this way!"
"What the heck are you talking about?" Caleb looked at the Usul as if she had three ears. "We didn't leave anyone behind. Everybody's right here."
Bettina ran and stood in front of her unnoticing oldest brother. She took a step back, and began to swing her arms in the typical manner of a restless little child. But Caleb knew what his youngest sister was trying to show...
To be continued…