Turning Pages: Part Two
Sir Alberts hustled along, pointing to every room along the way. Occasionally, he fiddled with his monocle, especially since it seemed to enjoy sliding down his round face when he spoke.
“Now this, good Neopians, is an example of a typewriter. Such a machine is quite advanced if I do say so myself!” He nodded to himself in agreement, gently waving the group towards the contraption.
A collective of sounds echoed about the room. Such a chorus of ‘ahs’ could only be compared to the pure delight of watching a rocket blast off to Kreludor for the very first time. A few of them even brushed their hands over the machine, taking note of its polished surface and pristine metal keys.
“As you can see here, the Neopian Times staff keeps all of our equipment in top condition. The worker Weewoos have an impeccable record of cleanliness, timeliness, and overall, a certain worldliness that has greatly assisted our ascent to the Neopian public. We are, after all, the voice of Neopia! And what good would a voice be if it were not aware of its audience?” Many of the Neopians murmured in agreement except for Stephanie’s mother, who anxiously glanced about the room.
They left the large, warehouse-like room, interviewed a dapper young Shoyru about his experience at the press, and entered into a brightly lit narrow hallway. Along every square inch of floor lay blue carpeting lined with a golden quill design. On both walls were pictures of smiling Neopian Times staff. Most of them had a white Weewoo—now the Times’ official mascot—perched atop their shoulder. Some Weewoos wore postal outfits, while others held quills. Nevertheless, one thing was for certain: they all looked highly content.
As the group walked past one of the one of many rooms, Sir Alberts brought up one finger to his mouth, instantly hushing the group.
“If you would, please turn your attention to this room,” he said in a hoarse whisper, letting the cane hover above the ground. “Here we have a highly delicate operation: editing and selection for the Neopian Times. I too was once an editor in my prime.”
A few of the Neopians took note of Sir Albert’s sudden silence. His mouth twisted to the side, revealing two buckteeth. His large, beady eye stared deeply into the room.
Within a few seconds of stifling quiet, a loud cough came from the tour group.
“Oh dear, it looks as if I have traveled down memory lane.” Murmuring, he clenched onto his cane tightly.
“They work very hard, I assure you. Well then,” the cane made a single, almost silent tap against the ground. “The Fountain Room is a most splendid sight, as I’m sure you’ll agree. Cascades of water flow from the wings of—”
“Excuse me, Sir Alberts?”
The group turned towards the Krawk, who now found herself clutching tightly to her suede red purse. A single tear dropped onto her white blouse, leaving a small mark.
“Why, good gracious! What could be the matter?” The Meepit stood on his tippy toes and held the Krawk’s claw. “Have I not provided an acceptable service, lady…?”
“… Genevieve. You can call me Genevieve—after I receive an apology for your earlier comment, that is.”
For the first time, the Meepit squirmed. “Well, I do apologize. Realize I had been frustrated before.”
“Thank you for that, at least.” The Mother’s tone became frantic and she swayed from side to side. “Anyway, Stephanie is a lovely girl, but she has a bit of a, shall we call it, curiosity streak. I’m starting to worry that may have gotten her in trouble again. She was supposed to just be going to the bathroom, but I’m afraid she might have wandered off.”
Sir Alberts tilted his head to the side. “Oh dear, that would not be good at all.”
Genevieve gripped his paw so tightly that Sir Alberts dropped his cane. “D-do let go, good lady,” he strained. “You’re c-crushing my paw.”
She apologized, freeing the Meepit from her grip before bringing her left paw up to catch another tear. He stumbled back and landed rear-first on the ground; the top hat tumbled a few feet away. A Vandagyre wearing oddly out-of-season Christmas robes bent over to help him up.
Proceeding to brush himself off, the Meepit brought up a paw to his mouth. If he had nails, they would be the subject of nervous biting.
“R-right, then,” Sir Alberts said, “Everyone, we are going on a search party to find the missing, mischievous girl.”
“Yes, that one.”
A few of the tour members grumbled at the thought of wasting their precious time finding her.
“I spent good Neopoints on these tickets!” shouted a voice from the back.
Sir Alberts bowed his head in recognition. “I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, but I assure you that the tour will continue as planned after we find Stephanie. Actually,” he flagged down a smock-wearing intern. “Haibara, would you be willing to bring these good Neopians about the building? We have somewhat of a crisis at hand.”
“Another one?” The Eventide Draik looked distressed. “Oh. I shouldn’t have said that. You’re giving me that don’t-say-those-things look again. Um… sure! I got it. So, NT benefactors, you ready for a tour? I can tell you all about the chemistry behind the ink, and even the reactions that make phosphofructokinase part of your daily life! Oh, and I can’t forget the many scientists who created the—“
“Make haste, dear intern,” he motioned to the crowd.
“Oh, right. University habits and all. Sorry, Sir Alberts.”
With that, the group split, with most of the benefactors heading with the young intern.
Sir Alberts turned to the shaking Krawk. “We must not let her wander around this place alone! Who knows what trouble…” he trailed off, proceeding to rub his tiny chin meticulously. “What trouble she might find herself in…”
Thus, they set off, unaware of the calamity that was about to be set in motion.*****
Stephanie walked slowly over to the marked shelf, stopping just a foot away from it. She glanced back at the door, biting her lip. The Cybunny shook her head and focused once more on the shelf.
Before making her way to the ‘dangerous’ section, wanting to save that section for last, she skimmed a plethora of old, dusty newspapers from the archives. One had a feature on Krawks, aptly named “Krawks!”
‘Will the creativity ever cease?’ she wondered in amusement, rolling her eyes. A page or so in, there was a picture of a youthful eventide Krawk whose perfectly manicured teeth glistened almost as much as their designer sequined dress. A wave of guilt blanketed across the Cybunny’s consciousness, paralyzing her with a sort of nagging numbness that only subsided once the paper lay dormant on the shelves once more. It probably was not the right shelf; they all almost looked alike, after all. She took out a few other scattered newspapers, read some comics, and shoved the media back in what appeared to be the right place.
I wonder if Mom noticed that I’ve been gone? Before such emotions could overwhelm her, the Cybunny mentally scolded herself. Of course she didn’t notice, Stephanie. Don’t be silly! I bet she’s having a great time without me.
She stood up from a single wooden chair where she had been reading and straightened her t-shirt again.
Just one more, then I’ll walk back, she decided, looking in towards the restricted section. Oddly enough, only one book lay in the center of the shelf. An iron chain wrapped around the book, and a silver lock bound the pages together.
“Pfft, how could something like this be dangerous? It’s just a boring old book!” she wondered aloud. “I bet it contains Albert’s deepest, darkest secrets or it wouldn’t be in here.”
Stephanie turned her back on the shelf and glanced back around the room, then up to the ceiling to look for cameras.
Along the book’s leather binding were the embroidered words, Monsters: Night of Despair.
A book with a cheesy title. Is this, like, old shame or something?
Stephanie stood back up on her tiptoes and reached into the back of the shelf, grabbing it. As she pulled it towards her, a layer of dust fell onto her face, shortly blinding her. Upon touching the book, she heard a clicking sound. Or she thought she did, anyway.
“Blech!” she coughed, wiping her eyes with the back of her paw. “Stupid old book!”
This had better be worth it. Tossing the book onto the small round table in the center of the room, she coughed again. The footstool present a tripping hazard. Unsurprisingly, she landed face first on the book.
Ow. Darn it. Well, I might as well see what this thing is all about, right? I can’t go back to the official tour without finishing my own.
Picking up the book, she brushed over the smooth surface. “See for yourself what journeys await you,” it said on the back. Just as she was about to scoff, more words appeared. This time, they were in bright pink ink. “That is, if you aren’t too scared to take a peek…”
“Wait… did that book just talk to me? And more importantly, did it just call me a chicken?” She rubbed at her eyes. “Maybe I’ll just read the first passage and then put it down, just to prove I’m not a coward. Or crazy. There’s probably some sort of explanation as to why it leaves messages and stuff…”
Stephanie started to pry the leather binding open, but found it impossible to budge. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a key hanging from a nail on the wall. Grabbing it was no easy task. After four jumps, she managed to get it off the nail and clattering to the floor.
The key was a perfect fit.
Cracking open the book, it seemed almost new, never read. The first line, like the back of the book before it, seemed to appear before her.
“This story takes place in a secret library somewhere in the depths of Neopian Central. There was once a curious blue Cybunny who—” She stopped reading. Suddenly, Stephanie felt a strange sensation in her stomach. “What the—” She pulled her legs up into the chair and wrapped her arms around her stomach, clenching her paws and grinding her teeth.
“Ow, ow, ow!” Stephanie whimpered, trying to stand up and leave the room, but it seemed to be spinning. “Maybe… maybe this is a dangerous book.”
The shelves seemed to be moving further and further away. All of the text, once almost too small to read, seemed to be growing.
“Oh Fyora, what is happening to me?” she exclaimed, staring at her paws in fear. They were fading away! Papers flew in all directions as books fell from the shelves to the floor.
All of the sudden she heard a loud BANG and Stephanie disappeared.
The only thing left on the table was the small red book, all of the dust previously affixed to it gone. Unlike before, it had acquired a glimmering shine as if someone had attached a sheet of glass to its cover. Monsters: Night of Despair slammed shut before opening once more. As if controlled, it crept open to page one. A few words began to form on the page.
“Where… where am I?”
Despite all of the noise, not a sound was audible except for the sweet, muffled singing of a Weewoo who had just returned to his perch. It continued to hum a melody that reverberated throughout the rotunda, echoing just enough to clash.
To be continued…