Mother's Balloon: Part Nine
>Featuring Party Games, Hot Air Balloons and the Rain
"You dropped Liza somewhere?" Caleb derived from his sister's unusually empty arms.
"I didn't drop her," Bettina clarified. "She must have run off. I think I saw her go this way." she pointed behind them, and started marching back in the direction they came.
Caleb rolled his eyes, and Hannah shook her head. Medis naturally shrugged his shoulders, and Reyela commented that it seemed to her as if Bettina had dropped her doll on purpose.
When they finally came upon the china Usul doll, she was sitting propped up between two stalks, with an ear of corn in her lap that was just her size.
"Liza!" the biscuit Usul gasped. "What have I told you about running off by yourself? You're much too young for that, little missy!"
Reyela looked from Kougra, to Kougra, to Yurble hoping for an explanation of the oddness that was unfolding before her eyes. She was provided with nothing of the sort, until the party began to move again and she got to speak to Medis.
"She did leave her doll back there on purpose, didn't she?"
"Of course she did." Medis smirked.
"Well, why did she? Did she do it for attention, or to prove to us that Liza is a real person, who can wander away from the group to go find something to eat?"
"I reckon a bit of both." He stopped suddenly, and looked at Reyela and laughed. "Don't you remember what it's like being a five-year-old girl, Reyela?"
Reyela stared long and hard, as if she were trying to delve deep into the very core of her oldest memories. "I do remember," she decided in conclusion. "But I don't recall I was ever as strange as Bettina."
"I'm sure you were." Medis gave her a playful shove. "All five-year-olds are. It's an unwritten rule."
It was impossible to know whether they had searched the entire corn field. One stalk of corn looked like another, and no one could tell where they had been, or where they had not. The barn was the only place they hadn't checked. They could only hope Mr. and Mrs. Worthington were there, or else they would have to go back to the corn field and begin their exploration all over again.
"I say we split into teams to look for Ma and Pa." Caleb proposed once they were all inside the storeroom.
"Reyela should decide that." stated Medis. "She was the first it, and therefore she's the leader of this party."
The red Draik gave the Kougra an unstable look. "We can do that." she simpered. "It will be much quicker that way."
They split into teams of two, each team looking in a different area of the barn. Caleb and Bettina went to the Babaa stalls, Hannah took Colton and went to the snorkel pen. Medis and Reyela used the game as an excuse to go visit Jimmy. They could only stay for a brief moment though, as the others knew it would take no longer than that for two people to search a Vacana stall.
"Where's the harm in taking a small break to visit your favourite petpet? I don't see how your family could possibly object to it, Medis."
"You obviously haven't known my family long enough yet." Medis chuckled. "To them hide-and-go-seek is more than just a game. It's a discipline."
"A discipline? You mean a punishment? For whom, the birthday person? I know that Bettina is strange, but she doesn't deserve punishing!"
"I don't mean it's a punishment, I mean it's a thing where we... Ah, forget it."
They all met back in the storeroom about a quarter of an hour later, each heart heavier than the next that no one had found Mr. or Mrs. Worthington.
"I thought for sure Pa would be in the snorkel pen." Bettina whined, brushing the dirt off the knees of her overalls.
"I thought he would be too," Hannah snickered. "Wait, why did you think he would be there?"
"I thought Ma might have been in with the Babaas." Caleb sighed, sitting down on an overturned barrel. "I remember one time she hid right on top of one of them, and pulled their blanket over top of her. She knew that Babaa was so dang fluffy no one would ever find her there. I thought maybe she might have done something like that again."
"You'd better not tell Ma you thought that," Medis advised. "She'd be upset if she knew one of her kids thought she'd hide in the same place twice."
"I didn't think she'd do exactly the same thing, I just thought--"
"I know where Ma could be!" Hannah spouted in a burst of excitement. "Pa could be there too, and it's a place nobody's thought to check yet!"
"Where?" Bettina looked up at the Kougra with pleading eyes.
The hayloft was located directly above the storeroom — A silly place for a hayloft, really, as it wasn't at all close to any of the petpets. Why it had been built there was a mystery to all... A slight miscalculation in Grandpa Worthington's building plans was all anyone could figure. These days the hay was kept closer to where it was needed, in the corridor dividing the many different aisles of stalls. The hayloft was rarely accessed now, except by Hannah when the young girl felt the need to be alone. For this reason the empty room above the storeroom was the ideal hiding place for anything that needed to be hidden. Unless, of course, somebody thought to look in the forsaken room.
"We can't go up there! There's..." Bettina paused. "Something dangerous up there."
"I bet a ghost is up there, right Betty?" Caleb teased. "I told Pa we should still be using that loft for something, and I was right! A spirit has upped and moved right in, and now the loft ain't ours anymore!"
"It's not a ghost!" Bettina said frantically. "It's a Reptillior! A terrible poisonous Reptillior who will bite you if you go up there!"
"A reptillior?" Reyela echoed, upon her face a look of pure dread.
"What are you talking about, Bettina, you're gonna scare our guest. There are no Reptilliors in the hayloft."
"I saw one yesterday!" the Usul insisted. "I'm pretty sure that's what it was. It was long and skinny, and it made a sound like, hiss." the little girl did her best Reptillior impression. "At least that's what I think it sounded like... Mm-hm."
"Caleb, what if she's right?" Hannah shuttered. "We do have them on our property. What if one got in the barn somehow?"
"The Repilliors are way out in the woods." Caleb asserted, sounding a little uncertain himself. "As long as we don't bother them, they don't bother us. That's the way it's always been."
"Just 'cause that's how it's always been does not mean it couldn't have changed!" Hannah wailed. "What if there really is one in the hayloft? If Ma and Pa are up there they could have been bitten already!"
A hush fell over all the children as the panic slowly started to settle in. Caleb paced as he tried to formulate a plan of action. Hannah told Colton everything would be all right, and Colton smiled and giggled, as if he thought this was all great fun. Medis approached the bottom of the rickety hayloft stairs, and Caleb yelled at him to come away as if the stairs themselves were bloodthirsty monsters.
Reyela stood back and watched the confusion from afar, wishing with all her heart that there was something she could do to help. If she were a smart girl, she would be able to formulate a rescue plan, using items that were already in the storeroom. The red Draik scanned her surroundings. There were mostly empty wooden crates -- small ones, large ones, and humongous ones that were twice the size of her own body. Over one of these particularly giant crates was a thin sheet of plastic, a tarp of some sort that had presumably been placed there to protect whatever it was the crate contained. Reyela was just wondering what exactly its contents were, when the tarp was thrown off the crate, and Mr. Worthington stepped out.
"What's this I hear about a Reptillior in the hayloft?"
The Worthington children swarmed their father, gathering around him in a tight circle.
"Were you in there that entire time?" Hannah gasped.
"You were listening to us!" Caleb realized. "Why didn't you come out?"
"We were worried you were in the hayloft." Medis told him. "Bettina thinks she saw a Reptillior in there yesterday."
The brown Kougra made a sour face. "If she saw it yesterday, why is she just telling us now?"
"Um..." Bettina quavered . "I didn't want anyone to be scared. But I'm sure it's in there, I saw it."
"Are you sure it was a Reptillior that you saw, and not something else? Maybe there's another reason why we shouldn't go in the hayloft?"
"Oh," Caleb nodded, suddenly aware of what was going on. "Maybe Liza knows what's up there, Bettina?"
"I'll ask her." The little girl whispered something in the doll's ear, and the Usul doll nodded her china head. "Yes, Liza knows what it is. She thinks we should all look outside for Ma, and not go in there."
Without another word, Mr. Worthington turned around and headed for the exit of the storeroom.
"Where are you going Pa?" Hannah very quietly called after him.
"We're going to look outside for Ma. Come on, then."
"But Mr. Worthington!" Reyela protested. "What happens if Mrs. Worthington is up there? Shouldn't someone at least look and see?"
"Nobody ever goes in the hayloft, Miss Reyela." said the farmer with total confidence. "There's nothing worth seeking up there. Not even during hide-and-go-seek."
And so they all trudged out into the cool autumn air, happy to have found Mr. Worthington, but greatly saddened that Mrs. Worthington had not been in the barn. The only thing left for them to do was to re-search the places they had already looked. It would only take a few minutes if they each searched separate areas. But it was the family's reigning hide-and-go-seek champion they were trying to find, and it was implausible that any one of them would be able to do it alone.
"This is gonna take all day."
"It can't take all day, Medis!" Bettina cried. "There's so much more birthday stuff we have to do! Maybe we should just give up?"
"It's your birthday, honey." Mr. Worthington reminded her. "You just tell us what you wanna do."
"If we give up, how will Mrs. Worthington know we're not looking for her anymore? Will she stay in hiding until she realizes? That doesn't sound like it would be pleasant for her."
"We all have a sort of understanding that if you haven't been found after a really long time, chances are there's no one looking for ya. When the hider realizes the seekers have given up, they go back to home base, and when they're finally discovered they're crowned champion of hide-and-go-seek. Get it?"
The scarlet Draik seemed to reflect upon what she had just heard. "Does the winner actually get a crown?"
The children giggled, and Mr. Worthington tried to suppress his amusement. "No, the winner doesn't actually get a crown. We don't have any crowns on this farm, just fruit and vegetables and petpets."
"Don't judge me," Reyela frowned, at a biscuit Kougra in particular. "It could have been made of plastic, or paper even. I didn't know. You said if a hider thinks the seekers have given up, they usually return to home base, correct? Should we check home base now?"
As directly as that, they began to move as one body to the cherry tree at the centre of the farm. Caleb and Hannah with Colton walked alongside their father at the front of the group, and Medis, Bettina and Reyela trailed behind, picking up the rear.
"Aren't you excited to call one, two, three on Ma, Medis?" Bettina chirped, whilst she pranced like a baby Whinny around the two older neopets.
"There'll be no one, two, three-in' on Ma today, I'm afraid." Medis said almost somberly. "If you make it to home base without it seeing you, you're home free, remember? If Ma's at the cherry tree, she's already won."
"And we've already lost." Bettina snivelled. "I thought we were gonna win this time. We had a new teammate and everything."
"I'm sorry." Reyela bowed her head in remorse. "I said I would help you, and I failed. I'm a terrible it."
"You're not a terrible it." Medis assured her. "You found everyone else. Sort'a. Besides, it doesn't matter, really. It's only a silly game."
"It's not a silly game, it's a discipline!" Reyela vociferated. "And now I deserve to be disciplined. I'm ever so sorry I let you down."
"We all let us down, Reyela, not just you!" Bettina solaced her. "We're falling behind! Last one to the cherry tree is mouldy potato!"
Medis and Bettina ran to catch up with the group, but Reyela maintained her plodding pace. Hide-and-go-seek may have been a mere game, but it would have meant the world to Medis and his siblings if they could have found their mother, the greatest of all players. She couldn't help but feel it had been her fault, even though she had warned them that she had never found anyone in her life. If only she could have been the great seeker they needed. It was a strange feeling, but at the moment she would have done anything to help them win the game, and give Bettina the most wonderful birthday a five-year-old could ever have.
"What's the matter Reyela?" she heard Medis call from up ahead.
As the Kougra spoke, a second sound greeted Reyela's ears. The sound was soft, but discernibly real. As faint as an echo, and as hallow as air, but this time Reyela was sure she was hearing the song of her mother's wind chimes.
She spun around to see where the sound was coming from. There were no wind chimes in sight, and obviously no porches where they could hang from. The only building around was the barn, which was now shrunk into the distance. She squinted. From afar, she could see something did look unusual about the lofty, red structure. At the western wing of the building where the roof sloped way down, was a single splash of blue against the dark crimson shingles.
"I must be seeing things." She rubbed her eyes, as if she thought something was blurring her vision.
The harder she focused, the clearer the blue speck became to her. And when it waved, Reyela beamed, and her brown eyes lit up like a child seeing daylight for the first time in their life. She also waved, first at Mrs. Worthington, and then to the others behind her.
"Medis! Bettina, Hannah, Caleb, Colton, Mr. Worthington! I've found her! I've found her! Look!"
They all jumped for joy, and raced toward the barn.
"You're incredible, Reyela!" Medis whooped, before joining his brothers and sisters.
They watched as the Yurble slid down from the rooftop, and landed gracefully in her husband's arms. It reminded Reyela of a pinwheel when he swung her around, and the children danced around them in a gleeful jubilee. She remembered back to yesterday when Medis had said that his parents were kids. At the time she had thought he was crazy for making such a ridiculous claim. But now, watching Mr. and Mrs. Worthington dance, she could see that childhood had nothing to do with a person's age. If the rest of Neopia could only see that, then perhaps the world would not be such a difficult place to live in.
The revelry brought Reyela mixed feelings of gladness and sorrow. The Worthington children were so happy to be reunited with their mother, even though all that had separated them was a game of hide-and-go-seek. She imagined what it would be like to be reunited with her mother, and have her family rejoice like the Worthingtons did.
"What now, Ma?" Bettina asked, her face buried in her mother's legs.
"Now we go home and have some lunch." said Mrs. Worthington.
"How nice! Do you get to have a special birthday lunch, as well as breakfast and supper?" inquired Reyela.
"Lunch was supposed to be for breakfast." Bettina answered with a giggle.
"What she means is, you slept so late, Reyela, that we had to start the games without you. We knew you wouldn't wanna miss out on the waffles though, so we said we would wait 'til you woke up, and have breakfast for lunch." Mr. Worthington interpreted.
"You're all too kind to me! You should have eaten when you all got up. You didn't have to wait for the lazy Slorg you're so generously housing to get out of bed."
"I wouldn't house no Slorg!" the Kougra laughed. "Not if I had any say in the matter, anyway! And they're definitely not lazy. They can eat more in one day than a family of seven can in a week, the little varmints. Come on now everyone, let's go get some food to eat!"
The waffles had to be cooked, and while they were cooking a Cheat! tournament was held at the kitchen table. Reyela had never played Cheat! before, but she caught on awfully fast.
"You cannot have five fives, Hannah, there are only four fives in the deck. You must be cheating."
"Yeah." Hannah begrudgingly added the pile to her hand. "Are you sure you've never played this game before, Reyela? "
"I'm sure. I never knew cheating could be such fun! Ooh look, I have three beautiful queens."
"Queens! Let me see!" Bettina went to look over the red Draik's shoulder.
"You can't do that right now, Bettina, it's against the rules." Caleb reproved her.
"It wasn't really me who wanted to see them, it was Liza. They're her favourite cards..."
"I apologize, Liza and Bettina, but you can't see the queens right now." Reyela smiled as she placed a queen, a seven and a nine on the pile.
Before long the waffles were ready, baked to perfection and topped with warm fruit and whipped cream. Caleb, Bettina and Reyela cleared the table, Medis got the plates, and Hannah grabbed the forks and knives. Mr. and Mrs. Worthington served, and soon they were all sitting down to enjoy Bettina's favourite breakfast food, for lunch.
"This is the greatest day ever, isn't it Colton?" The birthday girl turned to her baby brother in the highchair beside her.
The brown baby Yurble was slumped in his seat, head hanging, blinking his eyes which were struggling to stay open. It was actually an hour past lunchtime, about the time the baby would usually have been taking his afternoon nap.
"I'll just put him to bed." said Mrs. Worthington, lifting the sleepy child out of his seat.
"Aw Ma, does he have to have a nap now?" Bettina cried. "He'll miss all the fun."
"He's gonna sleep through it no matter what," the mother Yurble replied. "He might as well be comfortable in bed."
The tiny Yurble seemed to agree with his mother, as he put up hardly any fuss as she carried him away to his crib.
"I don't know what Colton thinks, Bettina, but I for one agree that this is a completely wonderful day! I've never been to a birthday celebration before, and I must say, they're really quite fascinating. You even get to choose whatever food you want for breakfast, or rather, lunch and supper!" Reyela took a blueberry off her waffle, and popped it into her mouth. "You are very lucky." she chewed thoughtfully. "I wish I could do that on my birthday."
She stopped chewing when she realized they were all staring at her, as if she had said something absurd and unusual.
"Does your father not do anything for your birthday?" Caleb was the first to ask.
The Draik swallowed. "He usually gets me a present of some sort, like a colouring book or a new dress. Actually, my mother was the one who would buy me the dresses. I haven't had a new dress in a while. That reminds me Hannah, could I borrow some more of your clothes today? This dress is not the easiest thing for playing games in. It's seriously quite uncomfortable..."
"Doesn't your daddy play games with you on your birthday? Or invite your friends over to play games with you?" was Hannah's extraneous reply.
"My father is too busy to play with me, and there aren't many children in the area for me to play with," She put careful emphasis on the word 'many', so as not to spoil her secret.
"So what you're saying is, you don't get to do anything special on your birthday at all?"
"Okay kids, that's enough." Mr. Worthington stepped in. "Every family is different. Reyela's father was taking her to Brightvale City for her birthday, did you all forget? That's a special treat if I've ever heard'a one, wouldn't you say Medis?"
"Yes Pa." The biscuit Kougra gave a quick nod in Reyela's direction.
"Anyway, you'd better eat up before your waffles get cold."
"I'm already done, Pa!" Bettina blurted, showing her father her empty plate.
"'At'a girl. Everybody be like Bettina and finish your lunch! We've got loads more games to play after this!"
Indeed they did have more games to play, and they continued as soon as they had all finished eating. They played a short round of ring toss, but as Caleb was the only one who could even get near the pole, they tired of it very quickly and decided to move on to something easier. Bettina wanted to play tag, which was not the ideal game to be playing on a full stomach. As no one was overly keen on the idea of running after such a hefty lunch, musical chairs was suggested as a slower-paced alternative. One by one, all six kitchen chairs were dragged through the house, out the narrow front door and onto the front lawn, where they were set up in a circle as the game called for.
The Worthingtons didn't have a radio, so Mr. Worthington brought out his harmonica, and played a jaunty medley of country tunes as the others rollicked around the circle of seats. When the music stopped, everyone scrambled to sit down, and when the music started again one person was removed from the game, and one chair was taken away from the circle. This pattern continued until only two players remained to fight over a single chair, that would serve as a thrown for the king or queen of musical chairs.
The harmonica played faster as Medis and Hannah begirded their prize. Mrs. Worthington, Caleb, Bettina and Reyela clapped to the energetic beat, and when the music came to a most unanticipated stop, they gasped.
Hannah had slung herself over the back of the chair, and was hanging like a discarded coat with her nose against the worn-out cushion, and her arms dangling on either side.
"Hannah?" Medis prodded his younger sister in concern.
Hannah rolled sideways off the wobbly piece of furniture, and, miraculously, she landed on her feet. She met her family's worried gazes with a reassuring smile.
"I won!" she stated proudly, and nobody could disagree.
"You turn birthday party games into extreme sports, Hannah!" Reyela shrieked, in reference to the tree incident during hide-and-go-seek.
While the blue Kougra laughed, her eyes wandered toward her mother as if to signal to Reyela not to tell. Little did Hannah know that she had given the Draik an idea for their next game.
"Do you ever play charades at your birthday parties?"
"No," Hannah replied. "That's one game nobody ever thinks to play."
"Is that the one where you act something out using only your body, and you're not allowed to talk at all?" piped in Bettina. "It sounds fun! We should play it! Are you good at it, Reyela?"
"Yes, I suppose I'm good at it. I used to play it with my mother all the time. We didn't play it the proper way — You're supposed to have teams of players, but it was only ever her and I. It was always great fun though! I haven't played in ages."
"Doesn't your daddy play it with you?" the little Usul asked in earnest.
"I told you, my father doesn't have time to play with me." Reyela reminded, almost aggressively. "He doesn't work from home like your parents do. He works in an oil field several miles from our house, and he's hardly ever at home."
"But what about when he is at home? What does he do then?"
"I don't know." The words came out before even Reyela herself was aware of the unsettling truth. "We sort of just do our own thing. I don't know why. That's just how it has always been."
"That's weird." Bettina replied starkly. "Are we gonna play now?"
"Yes." The red Draik collected herself. "If you have any paper you could spare, we could use it to make cards. And we'll need two bowls we can put them in, and we must divide ourselves into two separate teams."
Charades turned out to be more amusing than any of them could have imagined. Creative, and hilarious, Reyela and the Worthingtons spent the next hour and a quarter acting out anything from 'book' to 'hay' to 'brother'. Once Reyela drew a card from the bowl that contained the word 'balloon'. She held on with both hands to an imaginary string, and buckled and swayed as if she was blowing in the wind. No one could guess what she was portraying.
Eventually charades turned into the game 'statues', and when everyone became stiff from standing perfectly still, statues was turned into freeze-tag. They played under the sun until it was hidden from view by the clouds that rolled in from over the pine trees.
When the first thunder clapped, Mr. Worthington recalled that he had received a shipment of hay that morning, and he and Caleb rushed to bring it inside before it rained. Colton awoke from his nap and started to wail, and when Mrs. Worthington heard him crying, she ran to pick him up, like a good mother should. Medis, Hannah, Bettina and Reyela asked if they could stay out until it started to rain. They laid on their backs in the overgrown grass, and watched the clear sky turn to grey.
"Looks like we're in for one heck of a storm." Medis whistled in amazement at the clouds that just kept on coming. "Every other day we get rained on, it seems."
"That's the only thing I don't like about autumn," Hannah groaned. "I really hate rain."
"You know we need rain to survive, Hannah, not only as living creatures, but as farmers. Where would we be if all our crops dried up 'cause of no rain?"
"Back in the hut our family lived in before I was born." she answered readily, indicating that this wasn't the first time that she had received this lecture from her brother.
"I like rain." Bettina said smilingly. "I like to jump in mud puddles. Will you two jump in mud puddles with me tomorrow?"
"It's a school day tomorrow." Medis refreshed her memory. "The puddles will probably be dry by the time Hannah and I are home."
"Will you jump in mud puddles with me tomorrow, Reyela? We can do it in the morning before they all dry up. It'll be fun!"
"Oh." Reyela felt a heavy weight upon her heart. It was as if the sky had fallen on top of her, and the dark clouds had swallowed her up and enveloped her in dampness.
"I'm leaving tonight, Bettina." the red Draik spoke so softly that she wondered if anyone had heard her. When nobody answered, she knew that they had, for their absolute silence spoke louder than words.
After a while, Bettina did speak. She said nothing about Reyela. She simply sighed, looked up to the sky once more, and commented that she wondered what it would be like to see a cloud up close.
"It would be the most incredible thing, I'm sure." Reyela told her, in an attempt to brighten her spirits. "You might think it seems very intimidating at first, but as you get closer you would realize that there's nothing to fear. Most Neopians think that clouds are only air, and they have no texture to them at all in real life. But I bet you, Bettina, that if you were to get close enough to one, you would find that they are actually as soft as they look, and if you stuck out your tongue to taste them they would taste as sweet as honey — or even chocolate birthday cake."
The biscuit Usul laughed and clapped her hands. "That sounds wonderful, Reyela!"
"Tell us more!" Hannah urged. "What would it be like to be see the sky up close?"
"It would be blue!" Reyela shouted. "So blue that you would feel like if you looked at it for too long, you'd go blind. But you would want to keep looking at it, because it would be the purest colour you had ever seen, and you couldn't bear to look away!"
The children cheered.
"Reyela, you're a poet!" Hannah breathlessly exclaimed.
"Describe what it would be like to taste a murky cloud, like the ones up there right now!" requested Medis. "Do you think they would taste sweet like the normal clouds, or would they taste bitter 'cause they're full of rain?"
"Well..." Reyela paused. "That I really cannot say. I-I don't know anyone who's ever tasted a storm cloud."
Medis guffawed. "Are you saying you do know somebody who's tasted a regular cloud?"
"Certainly not!" Reyela snapped. "Well, maybe my father has, I don't know! He can fly much higher than I can! But he probably can't go that high. I don't think any neopet could. Why, you would practically need one of those spaceships the grundos build to get there, or even a... a big balloon!"
The biscuit Kougra laughed again. "A big balloon!"
"Yes, you've... you've seen those balloons in pictures before.." she faltered. "The great big ones, with the baskets that you can sit in. I saw them in a picture book from Altador once..."
"Hot air balloons!" Medis discerned. "I've always wanted to ride in one of those!"
"Me too!" chimed in Bettina.
"Since I decided it would be fun."
"I don't think it would be so fun." muttered Hannah. "I think it would be scary being so high in the sky with nothing but a basket holding you up."
"At least you would have the basket to hold you up!" Reyela grinned.
"Wouldn't you be scared to do that, Reyela?"
The first fork of lightning flashed across the leaden sky, and as if on cue the rain began to fall. They all screamed in surprise, and leaped up from the grass. The downpour was sharp and sudden, and the cold raindrops exhilarated the children and made them move ever faster as they raced to the front door.
"Last one inside has to stay out in a hot air balloon!" threatened Bettina.
Amazingly, all four of them made it through the scanty crack that was the front door at the same time.
To be continued…