To Succeed is to Fail: Chapter Five
Fear me not.
Are you yet tired of hearing these three words recited?
Well, I can assure you I am not tired of saying them.
FEAR ME NOT FEAR ME NOT FEAR ME NOT!
Are you yet overjoyed?
I can also assure you Judy is currently not happy. Her quest to locate the beast behind the tree has suddenly been overtaken with the task of running from an unknown assailant.
She fears the individual.
Just as anyone who says to you, "Fear me not," will likely cause you to fear them.
It's not a normal thing one says or hears.
I am not normal.
This entire tale is not normal.
Oh, but is life ever normal? Is there a set and standard from which we derive our experiences?
Is sanity an illusion, merely a measurement of one's societal conformity?
I'm inclined to answer definitely. However... "Normality," to some degree, is a subjective viewpoint, an artificial bar, a contrived and created comparison whose sole purpose is to quell the minds of the otherwise insane.
Alas... it's these very (ab)normalities the otherwise insane possess which define society's perception of normal, which therefore -- as members of this so-called "society" -- define ourselves.
To deviate slightly from the previous line of thought... To paraphrase a quote: "Dr. Sloth by any other name would be just as evil." Call him Fyora, if you wish: sure, stories about Fyora radiate kindness; but to the being who has never seen her -- rather, having encountered only "Sloth by any other name" -- the stories he would tell would invariably differ from those otherwise. The inverse is also true: should Fyora adopt the pseudonym "Sloth," each action she performs -- to the "normal" audience -- would have a bad connotation.
A change in name and/or viewpoint can lead to a totally new and/or established character; such a character would challenge the "normal" convention, causing anyone influenced by said character to possess a contrasting set of "normal" viewpoints to what the mainstream find "normal" and, thus, a totally different view of otherwise established "normality".
See where I'm going?
In short... "normality" is a non-existent concept. Something intangible, unexplorable...
Dare I say, like myself?
And, as such, my lack of normalcy must have, by now, rubbed off on you, dear listener.
I am not normal.
You are not normal.
This entire tale is not normal.
Regardless, I can assure you that Judy, her assailant, and the beast behind the tree are feeling rather... outside the realm of normality, at present.
And, unless you make deals with zombies on a daily basis, your imagination, plunged in this tale, renders you in a position outside your view of the norm as well. ***
Part the Fifth -- The Quest Continues
Ms. Phonic had been following the Acara for a short while now; with sudden anxiety, the witch realized Judy realized she was being followed.
Melisma quickened her pace.
She had to get to the beast before the ignorant Judy. Not to destroy the Quiggle or anything -- no, that would be too easy. And not effective; currently, the girl was of use to her and she had to let the Acara believe herself to be in power.
Phonic just needed to get to the beast first. Crucial information must be passed. A shortcut was coming up on the side path; the witch followed its curve.
She deviated from Judy's path, hoping the fork would not ultimately compromise the witch's plans...
Meanwhile, the Acara began to relax; her anxiety cooled.
Whatever presence she felt beside her no longer seemed to bother; she attributed the entire incident to hurried paranoia.
Quickly, she walked along the path that led toward the Brain Tree.
Making sure not let the tree see her -- attempting to find "who died and when" would be of no use to her here -- she sneaked toward the back.
Judy almost screamed at what she saw.
Sitting in front of her, on one of the large, tangled roots of the magnificent wood, was the most hideously deformed monster she had ever laid eyes upon.
"You..." Judy began, not quite knowing where she wanted to take the conversation.
"I was told someone else would come," the Quiggle -- based on Hoshi's story, she assumed it was a Quiggle -- remarked. His skin was puffy, his lips cracked, his outer body covered in fur, and his stomach totally bloated and peeling.
It was not a pretty sight.
"So, It's said you know the location of a super secret 'zombification ray'?"
The elderly Quiggle attempted laughter; it sounded rather hoarse and depressing, and turned into a throaty cough toward its taper. "Know where it is? I once worked on it! I was once a crazy Scorchio's apprentice, but he was just far too unstable. I threatened to quit, and he shot me with this really strange looking ray gun, turning me into the disfigured individual before you." He began to cry.
Judy wasn't quite sure what to do. Putting on one of Hoshi's rubber gloves, she decided to pat him on the back. "There, there," she said softly. "It's OK."
"Thank you," he responded, stifling sniffles and sobs. "Regardless," he continued, "the area was once known as 'X027-AC'; it's probably changed since then. It was many years ago I worked there... but the duration I worked was long enough for me to memorize the old segment number." He smiled slightly. "I just wish that Scorchio had never turned me into a freak -- I hear he built some kind of random-firing lab ray since then; now, he annoys thousands of Neopians a day."
"Yes," Judy replied, letting the fact they were the same Neopet sink in. "It's quite a popular attraction, really," she finished absently.
"Hmm," the Beast sighed. "So, yeah. That's all I know. Oh," he piped in, perking slightly, "I've recently been informed -- by the one who told me you were coming -- to tell you, and I quote, 'In order to get to the ray, you must find a key. Go find Mr. McSweeny at Haunted Weaponry and talk to him about it. It concerns the floorboards.'"
Judy's anxiety began to return, as did thoughts of her possibly imagined pursuer. "Wait..." Someone knew about her quest? Someone knew about it with such depth this individual knew her next move, knew what she should do, knew what the entire endeavor was about? She shuddered. "Who was this Neopet who told you?"
"I don't know," he responded. "She looked to be some kind of witch--"
"Witch?" Judy interrupted. Maybe it was the witch that cast the spell in the first place. This was all getting much too surreal.
"Thanks," she finished before debating whether or not to head to the Haunted Weaponry shop. Judy repeated the name "McSweeny" in her head several times... she swore it sounded somewhat familiar.
In the end, she decided to head over there. Judy walked down the path leading away from the Brain Tree and toward the Deserted Fairground.
She arrived at the Haunted Weaponry stall soon afterward, with no strange occurrences of witches of which to speak.
Judy was content with this.
She entered the gaping mouth of the mountainous structure, and immediately delighted in whom she recognized. ***
It is not often a random acquaintanceship between yourself and another falls together so perfectly you find your current situation not possible without them; it is as though you and they are, for all intensive purposes, linked throughout the universe like a single constant.
Some would call such a relationship fate; others would relate it to the advanced universal sciences.
Regardless of what you choose to believe, Judy has just had one of these such occurrences.
It's strange how her entire quest can be somewhat relatable to Mr. McSweeny.
For her, it's entirely too irregular -- entirely too fateful? -- to just run into this particular fellow after so many years. It's absolutely elating, endearing, even; yet completely abnormal.
But, as we know, normality is non-existent. ***
"Hector McSweeny?" she practically exclaimed, eyes wide and mouth agape.
"Judy?" The Lupe was quite happy, and confused, to suddenly see his former playmate turn up completely out of the blue. "Er, yeah. I stock shelves here now. What have you been up to lately?"
"Well, I work at the Game Graveyard now," she replied, still shocked as to see little Hector all grown. He was now burly, and muscular, and... well, certainly not the same kid who wailed about a "stupid floor" for months after the whole nail incident. "Currently, however," the Acara continued, "I'm on a quest to help a bunch of zombies free themselves from some wretched curse." She grinned with self-satisfaction; the smile gradually waned as she realized how foolish the sentence sounded.
Hector laughed. "Seriously? What are you really up to?"
"I'm not kidding," she said, mock annoyance in her voice.
Hector started slightly. He recognized her tone, remembering it from when they were kids. It meant she meant what she said.
"You might be wondering what I'm doing here."
"Er, yeah," he said, still a mite shocked. "I never took you to be much of a battler."
"Yes," Judy responded. She thought about the Old Battledome's grave and how she'd laid that to rest, once a time ago... "Anyway," she continued, "about the zombie quest--"
"Do you need weapons or anything?" Hector asked her.
"Not exactly," she replied, a droll expression on her face. "I've recently been informed you have some kind of key. From the floorboards..."
The Lupe's eyes widened. "How did you know I found a key? I didn't tell anyone what it actually was I pulled from under the floorboards in Great Grandpa's old mansion; I always just said it was valuable -- you know, something shiny -- and let people believe it was some stray NP or something. I tried every one of my great grandparents' locked possessions, but it opened nothing." He paused and his eyes narrowed. "Why do you need it?"
Judy gulped nervously. "Well... I guess it turns out you're part of this quest as well."
Hector frowned. "Why does this concern me? Why did I get the key?"
"Er, luck of the draw," Judy suggested with a shrug, repeating the words Fredrick said to her earlier in the evening.
Hector sighed and stared past his former playmate. "Well, you helped me and bandaged me all those years ago after I found the thing. The least I can do is give you what I found."
Judy grinned. "So you still have it?"
"It's at home, buried in other novelties from my journeys."
"Sure. I've loads of old Haunted Woods maps."
Judy grinned wider. "By any chance, might you have one with directions to..." she tried remembering, "'X027-AC'?"
"Oh wow," he remarked with a sheepish grin, "an old segment number. Yeah, I've a few of those. Do you want me to go home and search for and fetch everything?"
"If you would be so kind," she said merrily, playing up feminine charm.
Smiling with increasing confidence, he nodded. "Consider this all payback for you helping me out of the floorboards all those years ago." He paused. "I still don't know why that nail stuck up."
"Probably happened over time," Judy said.
"Maybe." Hector grinned semi-sarcastically. "Don't hurt yourself on anything; I'll be right back." ***
Consider this an intermission from the play; a commercial to separate acts; an interlude between sections.
This passage saves time.
I will tell you now, in much fewer words than if the text between then and now was written out in its entirety, that Hector returned safely, key and map in hand, to the Haunted Weaponry shop.
He and Judy caught up a bit, chatting for a short while, before the Acara went on her way toward X027-AC.
She arrived safely, only twice believing, each in a fleeting instant, something was following her.
There, you are all caught up; enjoy the rest of the show. ***
Judy stood outside the house Hoshi had talked about. "Here goes everything," she breathed as she tried the door. It was locked. She pounded on the door with half her maximum force. It gave away easily.
Everything was covered in dust, and everything had an odd sort of... brokenness about it. It all looked as though it had been shredded in a giant wood chipper, and all the pieces found and glued back together.
And then everything was delightfully covered in a sprinkle of dust.
The Acara felt the urge to shout hello, but she knew it would be of no use. No one was here... she knew.
It sure looked like no one had been here for twenty or more years.
She found the staircase, and promptly walked down it. Entering a small room, she gaped and marveled in its presence...
The zombification ray.
She had done it! Carefully maneuvering herself atop the machine and toward what she assumed the control panel, she noted everything was locked under a metal box.
The Acara realized what to do instantly. Slowly, she withdrew Hector's key and navigated it toward the lock...
When Judy was suddenly attacked.
"Don't do it!" the unknown assailant yelled at her from on top of her.
"And why not?" she inquired, looking up at whomever it was. And then she gasped. "You," she uttered angrily, her eyes narrowing into slits, as she saw the witch staring back.
"Yes," the witch replied, struggling to keep Judy down. "And you should not do it because you..." she paused for dramatic effect and tension, "...are helping the enemy..."
To be continued…