Makieri's Undead Birthday
August in Neovia was as dismal and foggy as any other month. Although street lamps cast a yellow glow on the cobblestone and brick, the sun refused to emerge from behind the gray clouds. Children played in the streets, but there was a chill in the air.
Rusty the Baby Kougra loved the summer, but August was always difficult for him. The thought of going back to school in a few weeks loomed over his head like a storm cloud, and honestly there wasn’t much to do. His caretaker, Elizabeth had a few games in her closet, but he had grown bored of them after only a few days.
It was the eighteenth. Rusty would remember that forever. As soon as he woke up, he crept downstairs, careful to avoid the steps he new creaked, and walked out the front door, shutting it carefully behind him. It wasn’t that he was trying to sneak out. Of course not. He knew Elizabeth didn’t like him going to the Cafe (too many sweets is bad for a growing boy, she would say), but he would be back before she was even awake. He wasn’t sneaking out. He just wasn’t.
The whole city was asleep, of course. It was five A.M., and stores rarely opened till ten. Rusty, however, knew the girl who worked at the Cafe would already be hard at work, preparing for a day’s worth of serving hungry customers. Johnny’s Cafe was relatively new to Neovia. The girl who worked there was Rusty’s pal, Sentu. She was a pretty Chocolate Cybunny, who knew how to make just about every fast food item on the planet. Maybe that was why Rusty liked her so much.
The morning air was crisp and cool. Fall was on its way, but Rusty pushed that fact out of his mind. When he rounded the bend onto Maple Street, he saw, sure enough, Johnny’s had all its lights on. Cakes, candies, and pastries were displayed in the shop window. Rusty’s mouth watered as he pushed open the door.
"Rusty!" said Sentu, looking up at him from behind the counter, "I’m so glad you’re here. I just had the most amazing idea!"
Something was off today. Rusty could feel it in his bones. You see, Sentu was quite the busybody. Always tinkering with things, fixing things, rushing to serve customers, and above all, keeping the Cafe in tip top shape. But today was different. The pink tiled floor wasn’t waxed, the sign out front kept flickering on and off, and there was no familiar smell of cookies baking in the kitchens in back. Whatever idea Sentu had must have been pretty important for her to pass up the opportunity to do any work.
"What’s the idea?" said Rusty, "Also, side note, do you have any of those frosted sugar cookies with the sprinkles?"
Sentu laughed and handed him one from behind the counter. "I’ll give you this for free today if you hear me out about this."
Rusty took it and gobbled down the whole thing in one bite. He then agreed.
"Alright," said Sentu, "I know you’re not one for ghosts, but-"
Mouth still full, Rusty put up a paw to stop her from finishing that thought. He was brave. He really was. Bravest kid in Neovia. In fact, once he had fought off a whole army of angry Angelpi with a spork. Really, he had. But anything to do with ghosts was where he drew a line. "You said you’d hear me out!" said Sentu, "I bribed you with a cookie!"
"I know," said Rusty, soggy cookie crumbs flying from his mouth onto Sentu’s face, "But you know my thing with ghosts. Can’t stand ‘em. Nope."
"Look," said Sentu, "There’s this really cool house up on the hill just above the city that some people say is haunted. But I promise it isn’t scary. I promise."
Rusty backed away from the counter slowly as Sentu continued, "I just want to take a look around for a few minutes. I’m not gonna go inside or anything. I just want to see what’s up there."
Rusty was half out the door. Then Sentu said something that changed things.
"If you come with me, I’ll give you free frosted sugar cookies every morning for the rest of the month."
Now, Rusty wasn’t one to accept a bribe. Heck, he had everything he wanted - a nice, warm home, a Petpet, even access to a library. But unlimited cookies for a month? He didn’t have that.
"Make it a month and a half," said Rusty, "and maybe I’ll help you out."
"Fine. A month and a half."
"And they have to be the frosted sugar cookies."
"Hey," said Sentu, "I would’ve gone with the chocolate chip, but I can’t stop you if you want the gross ones."
"You’ve got a deal," said Rusty. "Just let me run home to get my gear."
"You know, gear." Then he leaned in and whispered, "To protect me from the ghosts."
"Alright, whatever you need," said Sentu, winking, "but you’ve gotta come with me, or no cookies."
And so Rusty rushed back home, shaking so much he could have sworn his tail would fall off. Ghosts were scary, but he could never pass up an opportunity for free cookies. Maybe he’d take this as an opportunity to show Sentu how brave he was. He was brave. Yeah. Bravest kid in Neovia.
When Rusty got back to the Cafe, he could hardly fit through the door. He was wearing knee pads, shoulder pads, and a colander on his head. He carried a hockey stick in one hand and a spork in the other.
"Okay," he said, "I’m ready."
Sentu looked as though she was trying not to laugh. She knocked on the colander saying "That’s my brave Rusty! Let’s go."
And off they went.
Rusty stuck out his chest as they walked. He feared nothing. Except ghosts. They were a little scary. Come on, Rusty, get it together, he thought.
They wound their way through the city streets, past sleepy homes, past closed shops, until the silhouette of the mansion on the hill came into view. It loomed above the two explorers like a monster ready to strike at any moment. A great wrought iron gate greeted them at the base of the hill. It creaked as Sentu pushed it open. Rusty shivered and shook from under his colander and wondered if maybe he should have worn a hockey mask instead. A path of overgrown stone steps led up to the porch of the house. Wondering if they’d crumble under his step, Rusty stretched out a foot and gingerly tapped one of the steps. He then, crept closer and put the rest of his weight on it. It did not crumble.
Sentu was already far ahead, traversing step after step. He rushed after her, holding the colander to his head and watched the building get closer and closer with every tread he took. As it came into view, he noticed most of the windows were broken, and long vines of ivy grew up the sides, slithering into the cracks in the stone. The lawn hadn’t been cut in years, so dandelions and other weeds were scattered throughout.
The front porch creaked and groaned as Sentu climbed up to the door. Rusty turned to look back on his beautiful city. A thick layer of fog covered the houses and shops, but the street lights shone through it. Oh how he wished he could go back to bed!
"Hey, Sentu," said Rusty, "I thought you said we weren’t going to go inside!"
"Would this be a proper ghost story if we didn’t?" she said smiling.
The only light now was coming from the lantern Sentu carried. Rusty held his hockey stick at the ready as she knocked on the front door. To his surprise, it swung open like the jaws of a hideous beast.
Sentu looked over her shoulder at Rusty and smirked. Then she stepped over the threshold.
The inside of the house was dark and dusty. The Cybunny moved her lantern over the peeling patterned wallpaper on the walls. She began climbing the long staircase that led to the second floor. At the top was a giant paining of what Rusty assumed was the family that had once lived there. Let’s see now. There was a very pretty Royalgirl Lupe, a dashing Royalboy Lupe… and…
The front door swung shut with all its might. The sheer force of it reverberated through the whole building. Rusty’s heart raced. All he wanted now was to go back home. Why had he ever decided to visit Sentu in the first place? He sank to the floor and covered his head with his paws.
"Don’t be such a scaredy-kougra." said Sentu, pulling on his arm. "Come on, let’s book it!"
But before Rusty even got up from the ground, a young, childlike voice filled the room. "Hello! My name is Makieri, but you can call me Mak!"
Rusty was so beyond scared at this point that he couldn’t even feel his body. It was like he was floating. Deciding to use this unbelievable fear to be brave, he got up from the floor and tried to turn in the direction of the voice, but to his dismay, it seemed to be coming from every corner of the room.
"Ah," said the voice, "I’ve been rehearsing those words for years. I’m glad you chose to show up. I don’t normally get visitors. Ever since mama and papa moved away, it’s been very lonely here."
"Who’s there?" demanded Rusty.
"I told you, I’m Makieri, but you can call me Mak," said the voice in what sounded like exasperation.
"Come on," said Sentu, tugging on Rusty’s arm, "Let’s get out of here."
But Rusty was feeling so brave at this point he just kept on yelling.
"Don’t you dare try to hurt us," he said, "If you do, I’ll… I’ll hit you with my hockey stick!"
The voice giggled and said, "You can’t hit me, silly, I’m a ghost. And why would I try to hurt you?"
A blinding blue light filled the whole building. Rusty covered his eyes and waited for it to fade. Once he opened them, he saw him - a light blue Baby Lupe, hovering over the staircase. He wore a top hat and a bowtie. Everything below his head was covered in a white and blue striped sheet.
"What are your names?" said the ghost, "Like I said I don’t normally get guests so I-"
Sentu had already run down the stairs to the door and was pulling on it to get it to open. It did not open. Makieri noticed what she was doing and floated over to her, a worried look on his face.
"What are you doing?" he said, "I was just introducing myself. I didn’t mean to scare you."
"Come on, Rusty!" she screamed, "Help me open this door!"
But Rusty had a different idea.
"I’m Rusty," he said. The ghost turned around to face him and seemed to forget about Sentu all together.
"That’s a nice name," said Makieri, "I’m so glad you’re here. It’s my one-hundred-and-twenty-fourth birthday, and I’ve prepared a huge party!"
Sentu stopped pulling on the doorknob and looked at the ghost, tears running down her face. "Did you say, ‘party?’"
"Yeah!" said Makieri, "It’s a birthday party!"
Rusty walked down the stairs and put his hand on Sentu’s shoulder. Then he said, "Where’s the party?"
"In the ballroom," said Makieri, "Come on, follow me!"
And he turned and floated away.
Rusty then turned to Sentu and said, "I think we should follow him."
"Why??" said Sentu, "So he can kidnap us? I bet there’s a whole family of ghosts in that ballroom waiting to strike."
"No," said Rusty, "I think he just wants a friend."
"That’s what they all say. Then they’re never heard from again."
"Okay. You go home, and I’ll go by myself," said Rusty.
"Why are you suddenly like this?" said Sentu, "Two seconds ago you said you hated ghosts."
Rusty thought for a moment. "I think this one’s not so bad. And you know what? I bet there will be a whole plate full of frosted sugar cookies at that party."
Sentu held her breath, then let it out again. "Okay, Rusty. If you’re absolutely sure it’s safe, I’ll go with you. But you have to promise me that the second anything remotely fishy happens, we’ll make a run for it!"
"I promise," said Rusty.
And they followed the ghost’s glow.
The ballroom must have been beautiful at one time. The windows were large and the room itself was spacious with high ceilings and a giant crystal chandelier. In the center of the ballroom, Makieri had set up a table full of snacks. Candies, cakes, pies, chips, you name it. He hovered over the table and welcomed Rusty and Sentu in. "Here we are! I’ve got a ton of food, so be sure to pig out. Also, there will be some Spyders and Tigermice joining us today. If you’re afraid, don’t be! They’re really friendly."
Rusty and Sentu stood there for a second, not knowing what to do, until Rusty, who was very hungry from a morning’s worth of exploring, decided it was time to eat. He ran to the table and picked up all the food he could, stuffing it into his mouth. Sentu reluctantly joined him.
"I’m glad you like the food," said the ghost, "My dad always told me not to eat sweets. He ran a highly successful toothpaste company, you know. Here, I’ll put on some tunes."
Makieri headed over to the corner of the ballroom where a group of Miamice, Tigermice, and Spyders had congregated. He then tipped his hat and said, "Play any of Neopia’s most popular songs for this fine lady and dashing gentleman."
And suddenly the room was filled with music. The Tigermice and Miamice were squeaking in harmony and the spyders were plucking the strings of their webs like guitars. Rusty recognized the song immediately, as he always liked listening to Neopia’s most popular.
Of course, what would a party be without decorations? Rusty watched as the Spyders swarmed together and began to spin a web over the chandelier. They worked tirelessly until finally it was complete. In big letters, the web spelled out: HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAKIERI.
Rusty laughed. This was the most bizarre party he had ever been to, but, of course, he never usually went to parties, so that wasn’t saying much. But still.
The three kids (and the petpets) danced all morning. Rusty forgot about going home and telling his caretaker where he was, but he sure had fun. As it neared eleven A.M. Rusty grew tired from all the dancing and sat down on the ballroom floor. Makieri floated over to him. "You know why I like parties so much?" said the ghost. "It’s because Mother and Father used to go to them all the time. She’d let me try on father’s top hat before they left, and for just a second, I was a proper gent. And now look at me. I’m having my own parties just like them! If only they could see me now and see just how much of a gentleman I’ve become. You know, I want to be a famous party planner one day. And I want all of Neopia to think of me and say ‘Man, someday I want to be just like him.’"
"Well," said Sentu, "Next time you have a party, I’d like to know about it. Because I want to come."
"Yeah," said Rusty, "And someday when you’re a famous party planner, maybe you can plan one of my birthday parties."
When the party was over, Rusty and Sentu thanked the ghost, and he thanked them too.
"I hope you’ll stop by again and visit," said Makieri. "Maybe come by for my next birthday! It’s August eighteenth. Remember that date!"
"I will," said Rusty.
"I will too," said Sentu.
And that is the story of how Rusty and Sentu made a lifelong friend. And afterlifelong friend too.