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To Succeed is to Fail: Chapter One


by rielcz

--------

      Fear me not.

      Who am I, exactly?

      I am the one whose purpose it is to convey the story unto you.

      I apologize for my curt and somewhat lackluster introduction, though it's about all I can say regarding my current demeanor.

      Alright, fine. Your confused and peculiar faces have convinced me to continue my self-exposition.

      While my name, at the moment, lacks any significance or importance -- and perhaps it never will -- by the end of this tale your imagination will thrive on my alias, whatever alias slowly presents itself over the duration of this account. My image will dance throughout your memory indefinitely; nary a thought will your mind portray in which I fail to be present.

      Well, so long as you choose to finish my retelling of this entire tale. Though I plead you take caution whilst doing so. Any number of themes focused on throughout this story could have significant negative impacts on your mind -- let me and my constant presence, as the teller of the tale, be an example -- prompting distractions, night terrors, general nervousness, perhaps even death...

      Though let’s hope, for your sake, that the lattermost point is hyperbole on my part.

      It is.

      Probably.

      Regardless...

      Now you know all you need to know about me in preparation for me conveying the story unto you.

      Well, I shall write here one last thing. Let me state a line taken from one of my favorite poems -- a reference so tastefully obscure, almost esoteric to a magical extreme -- especially as, when provided here out of context, it fits the overall circumstance absolutely perfectly.

      "To succeed is to fail."

      As a matter of fact, it suits the tale so absolutely I believe I wish to name the narrative as such.

      So I present to you a story years in the making, created with much research and time on my part, weaved together with such care and precision that the most ornate tapestry would be ashamed to be present at this story's recitation.

      A tale of deception and desolation, magic and mystery, zeal and... zombies.

      Sure, let's end on that note.

***

      Part the First -- It Happened on Halloween

      Judy arrived at the wooden door to her Neohome, silently cursing the fact it was Halloween. She adored the season as much as anyone else, really; some of her happiest childhood memories involved going around to people's homes, banging on doors, and yelling a delighted "Trick-or-Treat!" to whomever would answer her knocks.

      Now a young woman with the job of tending to graves in the Game Graveyard, she preferred staying in on the holiday, choosing to distribute small packaged pieces of chocolate rather than receive them.

      So, why was she cursing?

      In the rush of her work -- resurrecting a new grave and ensuring it to the quality (or lack thereof) of the other stones -- she forgot to buy Halloween candy, prompting frowns from the children who came to her door and by extension causing sadness in her.

      Judy entered her home and sat down at her kitchen table. Immediately, the doorbell rang.

      Opening the door, the Acara gave some of the candy she had recently purchased to the pair of ghosts that awaited her there.

      But then one of the youngsters held up a letter. "Miss," the lad began, "is this letter yours?"

      Glancing at it, she removed it from the bedsheet covering the... Pteri's -- he looked like a Pteri -- arm and, awkwardly fumbling with it, went to read the address.

      No address, nor return address, was present on the piece of mail. "Why did you think it was mine?" she asked him.

      "It was blowing listlessly throughout your yard," he replied. "I picked it up and... well, brought it to you." He smiled, unseen through the sheet covering him.

      Judy smiled as well. "You're a considerate lad, I'll give you that." Running back into her home, she picked up a few more pieces of candy to give them. They thanked her and were on their way.

      Back inside her house, she set the letter down on her table. Children came and went, and she delighted in their satisfaction.

      After around half an hour without a doorbell ring, Judy found herself gazing lazily at the unopened letter. Curiosity got the better of her, and slowly her paw reached for the envelope...

      Seconds later, it was torn open; Judy's deep blue eyes scanned the black ink scrawled upon it. She read its contents to herself;

      TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN,

      Congratulations on finding this letter! Consider this your ticket to greater things, to a whole new and magical world outside your current affairs.

      You, mysterious finder of this message, are cordially invited to a Halloween dance at the old mansion southeast of the woods.

      Please bring this invitation along and attend! Halloween night, 8:00pm.

      Thanks,

      ~Mr. Xantum

      Judy put the letter down. "Neat!" she said to herself. Everyone knew the old mansion referred to in the letter, unlived in for decades before she was even born; while once her favorite of many common childhood play places, rumors regarding ghosts and the like -- probably set forth by anxious parents, especially after one of Judy's former playmates injured himself here -- soon started circulating about the house, and its popularity waned. It was soon cited as CONDEMNED by its owners.

      Some Neopian must have purchased the house and gotten renovations done.

      It would be neat to go back there after so many years.

      Judy checked the clock in her kitchen -- it was 7:30. She'd have to leave now if there was any hope of making it on time.

      Hastily she put her remaining candy into a dish and drew up a sign that read, "Take some! And BEWARE!", setting the system on her steps. Grabbing a few other essentials and dressing up fancily, the Acara dashed in the direction of the mansion and the party.

***

      She arrived about fifteen minutes later, estimating the time to be about two minutes to eight.

      Opening the doors to the grand home, she practically gaped at what she saw.

      The whole house was decorated with marvelous novelties, bringing back great memories of her childhood. She walked further into the room, gazing at the marvelous new attractions that befell her sight. The stairs had been fixed, the furniture reupholstered, the Neopets scattered here and there...

      Slowly falling apart...

      "Wait," she said to no one in particular as it dawned on her.

      The entire room was filled with zombies.

      Here, an Aisha's ear was broken off; there, a Krawk's eye was completely yellow. However, not every member's skin was gray and peeling -- there were the few that looked like they had died fairly recently and had little decay -- but all members in the room looked quite undead.

      Maybe the rumors of this place being haunted weren't entirely untrue; even legends have some truthful root, after all.

      Not that the Acara wanted to validate any legends anytime soon.

      Ever so slowly, Judy backed away from the crowd, not wanting to be here anymore.

      No one ever gets quite what they wish for.

      As the Acara started to turn around, a figure unintentionally blocked her exit.

      "Excuse me, sir, but I really have to--"

      "I'm very sorry, fair young ma'am," the individual said in a rounded and exotic accent. Judy couldn't help but feel impressed, charmed by this member of the living dead. It was almost a paradox, for her. "I was just admiring your beauty."

      "Er, hello," she replied, somewhat entranced by this mysterious individual. "What's your name?"

      "I'm Humongous," the zombie Aisha replied casually, the words slipping gracefully, yet carefree, off his lips. "Jakie Humongous."

      "Interesting," she responded back, possessed; she really did not know what to say. "I'm, er, Judy," she hesitantly returned.

      "That's a glorious name," he delighted in saying. "How many weeks have you been deceased?"

      "Er... actually, I'm... not exactly dead yet."

      "Ah, pretty and truthful," he replied, smiling broadly.

      "Wait, you know I'm... alive?" And then the Acara added, "I guess so are you, but I'm alive yet not a member of the... living dead." She smiled awkwardly.

      "Young lady, I can see it in your eyes," the Aisha said.

      And then she realized that his eyes were different than hers. They contained no pupils, only a strange reflection of light.

      "And what beautiful eyes they are," he continued.

      And then the magical atmosphere surrounding the Acara cracked and shattered as she slowly realized that the other zombies in the room were crowding around her, encircling her and her newfound companion.

      Slowly, a Bruce stepped forward. At the sight of this, Jakie gave Judy a pat on the shoulder and slipped into the crowd, leaving Judy and the character alone in the center of the zombie horde.

      "OUTSIDER!" the Bruce shouted at her loudly.

      Such an emotional jumble of fear, anger, and embarrassment was suddenly cast upon the poor Acara; Judy feared she might die, or at the very least faint.

      "Welcome to the party," the decaying stranger announced to her in a voice so deep and sharp it sent tingles up her spine. "Is it true you lie amongst the living?"

      "Er..." this was not a question one is asked every day "...yes?" she answered, still a tad frightened. "My name is Judy."

      "And my name is Fredrick Xantum," he replied. "I am the host of this annual zombie fest."

      "You're the host of this thing?" Judy said as her eyes went wide. "Why does this exist? Why was that mysterious invitation drafted, leading me here? How does this whole 'zombie fest' involve me?"

      He laughed, slightly, at the inquiry. "You," the Bruce said after a dramatic pause, suspense thick in his voice, "are going to help us return to the realm of the living..."

      To be continued…

 
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