There is No Such Thing as Fearless
It was a beautiful day in the Haunted Woods. The wrought iron fence with its alternating wrought iron torches and pitchforks lined one side of the dirt track. The fence led to a gate with the emblem of a torch with two pitchforks crossed above it. Past the gate, the landscape was as far from the rest of the Haunted Woods as one could get. The visitor was unimpressed.
The mansion at the end of the long driveway was definitely haunted, the visitor could tell. A knock on the door was shortly answered with the door creaking open slowly. The visitor flicked his large round ears forward with interest. He crossed the threshold and took in the grand staircase, long hallway and closed doors that immediately presented themselves.
“How may I help you?” A ghost Bruce materialized and spoke in deep, ringing tones.
The visitor didn’t flinch. “I’m here to see Duke and Duchess Torch.”
“Who may I say is calling?”
The ghost Bruce dissipated and the blue Kougra waited patiently. A faerie Cybunny zoomed past and then zoomed back. She studied the stranger with a sour look on her face. The Kougra smiled at her. Her nose twitched and she stepped back as an electric Blumaroo entered.
The electric Blumaroo was not as forthcoming with her expression. Fearless Finnigan didn’t even shift under their scrutiny. A moment later, a royal Kyrii and royal Gnorbu entered.
“Welcome to Torch Manor,” the royal Kyrii said with a gracious smile.
“Thank you, sir,” Fearless Finnigan said.
“How may we help you?” the royal Gnorbu asked.
“Well, as the highest ranking denizens of the Woods, I was wondering if you knew of any haunted places that I could write about.”
“We do, actually. There is a haunted house just down the lane. Agneza doesn’t mind visitors,” Duke Torch said.
“Fantastic! If it’s just down the lane, I should reach it without too much difficulty.”
“It would be best for one of us to accompany you. Agneza has been a longtime family friend and things should go more smoothly that way.”
“Fine, if that’ll help.”
“I’ll accompany him, Father.”
To everyone’s surprise, it was Ana that had spoken up. The blue Bori was the most reserved of her siblings. For her to have offered was almost unheard of.
“Thank you for offering, Ana,” Duchess Torch said.
Ana walked forward, Adonis, her Quilin walking in front of her. Gabr, the ghost Bruce, opened the door for his young mistress as she exited with Fearless Finnigan. Thinking of his new subject, the blue Kougra was silent as the pair of them walked. This was just fine with Ana. At least until they were well past the Torch grounds.
“I am a prodigious fan of your books, Fearless Finnigan,” Ana said.
“Really? I love meeting fans! Tell me what you love most,” Fearless Finnigan said eagerly.
“Having been born and raised in the Haunted Woods, my values have always been different from that of the average Neopian. You seem to have the same values. It’s rather unfortunate that not many other Neopians share them with us.”
Fearless Finnigan had never received such thoughtful praise before. He was extremely moved by Ana’s words.
“Thank you, Ana. I completely agree with you. Every writer hopes that their words inspire someone,” the blue Kougra said.
Nothing more was said as the haunted house where Agneza resided came into view. Fearless Finnigan dashed eagerly forward and pushed up on his toes as he waited for Ana to join him. Glowing red eyes stared out of the windows on either side of the front door. Both the Bori and Kougra smiled. Agneza opened the door wide with her usual welcome smile, a gaggle of ghosts crowding around her.
Fearless Finnigan’s tail bristled, his eyes widened and he turned and dashed away as quick as his legs could take him. Agneza, Ana Adonis and the ghosts were left standing speechless. Fearless Finnigan’s hat lay on the ground, fallen from his head in his haste.
“What was that all about?” Agneza finally managed.
Ana could only shake her head in bewilderment.
Marc was sitting on Ana’s favorite swing, sketching the familiar garden when he saw ‘Abbas escorting Fearless Finnigan down the drive. The Kougra’s eyes were wide and unfocused. He was babbling senselessly and he was in complete disarray. Highly alarmed, Marc went to meet the Quigukiboy Quiggle and blue Kougra. The three of them stood just feet from the porch.
“What’s happened? Where’s Ana?” Marc asked.
“I don’t know. I caught him dashing up the lane. He’s been babbling about something since I did,” ‘Abbas said.
“You left my sister out there alone!”
The rainbow Ogrin dashed off in search of his sister. ‘Abbas escorted Fearless Finnigan inside where Duke and Duchess Torch turned to look at them in alarm.
“What’s happened? Where’s Ana?” Duke Torch demanded.
“Marc has gone to look for Ana. I came upon Fearless Finnigan just this way,” ‘Abbas explained.
The royal Kyrii’s expression hardened. The Torch line was known for their fierce tempers and, while he rarely showed it, the current Duke Torch was no exception.
“I will get answers from this Fearless Finnigan. Byron, if you please,” Duke Torch said, his icy tone softening as he directed ‘Abbas’ royal Caprior.
Byron did as he was bid, understanding what the duke wanted of him. The Caprior rammed into the blue Kougra from behind, hitting him hard. With a yelp, Fearless Finnigan returned to his senses. He quailed under Duke Torch’s gaze.
“Where is my daughter?” Duke Torch demanded, enunciating each word.
“I left her with the alien. I barely made it out of there alive,” Fearless Finnigan said with a shudder.
“You mean Agneza?” Duchess Torch asked, not expecting an answer.
The Torches and ‘Abbas all relaxed. Ana was safe. Though there were still questions that needed answers.
“Thank Fyora that my daughter is safe. If she had been in danger, you would have joined the ghosts for having left her. What were you thinking?” Duke Torch said.
“That the alien was going to kidnap me and do who knew what sort of experiments on me!” Fearless Finnigan exclaimed, eyes wide.
“Fearless, indeed! That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Aliens are the only things I’m afraid of, sir.”
“There is no such thing as fearless.”
“That’s what Agneza said.”
Ana and Marc had returned. The blue Bori looked steadily at Finnigan. The blue Kougra could not meet her gaze.
“I do not understand where your fear comes from. Fear is an irrational emotion. ‘Pets become fearful of completely harmless things: the dark, Spyders, heights. They allow themselves to be inhibited by their fear. They miss out on so much because of their fear,” Ana said.
“Finnigan, have you never tried to overcome your fear of aliens?” Duchess Torch asked.
“Yes, of course! I’ve tried everything,” Finnigan said.
“There’s only one defence against aliens,” Duke Torch said.
“Well, I haven’t tried that one.”
“No, not many know that zombies protect against aliens. You’re fortunate to be in the Haunted Woods. We’re practically crawling with them.”
“You’re right! I have zombies on my side then that alien won’t be able to do a thing!”
“’Abbas, please bring me the nearest zombie you can find.”
“Yes, sir,” the Quigukiboy Quiggle said, leaving in the next instant.
The Torches and Finnigan waited in silent for the next few moments. The blue Kougra considered beginning a conversation but no one else was interested. The moments ticked slowly by. Finnigan shifted restlessly. How difficult was it to find a zombie in the Haunted Woods anyway?
Finally, the Quiggle returned with a zombie Bori in tow. Apparently not a stranger to the Torches, who greeted him warmly.
“How. Is. Brutus,” Ana said slowly and carefully, looking straight into the black emptiness of the zombie’s eyes.
The zombie’s mouth was stitched closed but the very corners of his mouth turned up and he slowly rose one hand, giving a thumbs up sign.
Ana smiled and stepped back.
Duke Torch penned off a quick missive, rolled it up, sealed it and handed it to ‘Abbas. “Please give this to Agneza.”
With a swift nod, ‘Abbas was gone. Then, Duke Torch turned to the zombie Bori and his zombie Spardel.
“Heebie. G.B. Stay. With. Finn,” Duke Torch said, speaking just as his daughter had, waving one hand over Finnigan’s head for a few long moments.
Believing that the zombie understood, Duke Torch stepped back. He pinned Finnigan with his hard brown gaze.
“Unless you somehow redeem yourself, don’t come back. You are not welcome at Torch Manor,” the royal Kyrii said.
The blue Kougra’s large ears drooped and he nodded his head in acceptance of the duke’s command. He left Torch Manor, heading back to the haunted house down the lane, Heebie and G.B. matching his stride. Once more, Finnigan found himself on the front porch of the haunted house. He looked over at his zombie shields, took a deep breath and knocked on the door. It creaked open.
No alien in sight.
“Zombies work!” Finnigan exclaimed, cracking a broad grin.
A deep menacing growl met the blue Kougra as he stepped inside. He looked around eagerly but no one was in sight. All of the doors were closed. Eagerly, he began to explore. As he began to head upstairs, a shrill scream tore through the air.
Finnigan clattered up the stairs but there was still no sight of anyone. As he stepped into the first upstairs room, there was a notable chill in the air. He finished up, disappointed that he had seen no ghosts. Before, with Ana, there had been at least a dozen, a mixed group of ‘pets and Petpets. Now, they had made their presence known but not actually shown themselves.
As Finnigan shut the front door behind him, he heard a triumphant cackle ring out. He sighed and began to walk away. Heebie looked back at the house. Ghosts floated at every window and lined the porch. A ghost Ruki waggled one antenna and winked at Heebie.
The zombie smiled and turned forward once more. The ghosts were loyal to Agneza. They had taken the alien in and had lived with her for a quarter of a century. Without Agneza to act as hostess, the ghosts refused to show themselves to anyone. So, the strange blue Kougra left with nothing to show for himself.
That was just the way the ghosts wanted it.