Mystery of the Brightville Vanishing
In the soft light of the autumn sun trickling in through the port windows, some passengers aboard the SS Delfin were enjoying their breakfast. Having set sail from Mystery Island two days ago, the vessel was en route for Brightvale, and would reach its destination in just a few hours. Well, it was early: most voyagers were asleep in their cabins. A few, though, had already packed their suitcases and were seated at the simple tables scattered throughout the ship’s sparsely decorated cafeteria. Some passengers had elected to stand out on the deck to enjoy the misty breeze.
Perched to one end of the railing on the deck stood a Cloud Cybunny, one foot precariously placed in between two steel balusters. Her long trench coat rippled in the coastal wind and her hazel eyes were fixed on the horizon. She did not seem to mind the spray of the ocean, and she smiled in spite of the mist. An Island Ixi, whose dark hair was not faring so well in this wind, approached her holding two cups of coffee. She carefully placed one cup on the railing in front of the Cybunny, and took a sip from her own.
“Look!” motioned the Cybunny, gesturing at the fog on the horizon, “that’s Brightvale.” The ixi squinted at the hazy shape. It seemed as though the more the ship neared its destination, the cloudier it became.
“It’s not much to look at, on account of the fog,” continued the Cybunny, “but, oh Iskeen! You’re going to love it!”
“It’s certainly a change from the humidity,” replied the other, breathing in the salty air, “nothing quite like some temperate climate to distract from the tropics.”
“There you are!” a third voice exclaimed. The two turned at the sight of a Pink acara emerging from the cafeteria. She was bundled up in a black windbreaker, part of her face hidden behind its collar. She had tucked her tight brown curls into a loose bun, and, though nearly a foot shorter than Orlitz, her heeled boots made up the difference. She joined them at the railing and produced two warm waffles, which her friends accepted with great delight.
“Are you ready for today, Orlitz?” asked the acara, her back leaning against the railing, “it’s going to be a big day for us.” The Cybunny smiled in between mouthfuls of waffle.
“It’s just another day on the grind, Erin.”
Orlitz Livia and Erin Baker: reporters for the Neopian Times. Though both worked from Mystery Island, they had been assigned to conduct a special coverage in Brightvale, and Iskeen, Orlitz’s best friend and housemate, had been more than happy to tag along. Erin, a novice journalist, was visibly excited: this would be her first major reporting assignment. Her blue eyes twinkled as she looked out towards the distant coast.
“Will your parents be meeting us at the pier?” asked Erin. Orlitz’s family originated from Brightvale, and had excitedly agreed to accommodate the Cybunny and her friends on their visit. Her parents, Keon and Elva, had mentioned in their correspondence that they would be waiting at the docks. It was a short walk to Orlitz’s childhood home. Though they would not be staying for longer than a week, it was a weight off everyone’s mind not to have to worry about Neolodge arrangements: Brightvale’s tourist accommodations were certainly not the cheapest on the market. Besides, Orlitz and Erin had determined that they would be spending most of their visit away from leisure, conducting interviews and taking photographs for their exclusive scoop: the Brightville Amusement Park.
The amusement park was at the heart of Brightvale, and held some of the oldest park attractions in the kingdom. Perceived as a Brightvalian treasure and the Jewel of Brightvale, the park certainly showed its age. Many of its structures dated back to 60 years ago. Given the worn infrastructure and a loss in tourist revenue in the last few years, Brightville was unfortunately due to be demolished in three days—this coming Wednesday—to make room for newer tourist attractions. And, as both reporters originated from Brightvale, Orlitz and Erin had been asked to follow this story closely. The pair already had one interview scheduled for this morning.
The group walked along the deck, towards the bow. The mass of clouds at the horizon had steadily grown bigger, until soon the sun was completely obscured in a thick veil of fog. Orlitz felt at home in that fog, and a sensation of nostalgia washed over her. Since having moved to Mystery Island two years ago, the Cybunny had not returned to her homeland. The island might be a tropical paradise, but oh! how had she missed this coastal fog, the gloomy days, and the evergreen forests. She had been raised on the seaside perimeter of Brightvale, right outside the castle’s eastern barrier. It was there that she had spent most of her childhood playing atop pebble beaches and hiking through coastal forests. Of course, the Cybunny had completed most of her schooling within the capital, near the palace, but this had not prevented her from seeking out the coastal charm of eastern Brightvale whenever she could.
“I’m excited to revisit Brightville before it closes for good,” Erin piped up, leaning over the railing at the very front of the bow, “it’s sad they weren’t able to save the park.”
Orlitz agreed. The amusement park was a popular destination for families and young neopets—or at least it had been. The last time she had visited the park with her parents, she had only just begun neoschool. She must have been ten or eleven.
“I wonder if they’d let us ride any of the rides, for old-time’s sake,” she mused.
“By the way, what’s there to do in Brightvale?” asked Iskeen, wiping strands of hair from her eyes. The Ixi had grown tired of the wind, and had forced her hair into a messy ponytail. This maneuver did not, however, prevent the ends of her hair from hitting her in the face.
Iskeen had accompanied the Cybunny on the countless cover ups and mysteries she had uncovered as a journalist, but the Ixi preferred a different sort of excitement. Being the only Mystery Island native of the group, the time she spent away from her waitressing job was time spent surfing, swimming, boating, and hiking.
“I’m sure you could surf, but the water is a little colder than on the island,” Orlitz offered.
“Did you know that you can go hang gliding off the Brightvale cliffs? They have tours that take you flying over the evergreen forests,” added Erin with a grin. This certainly piqued the Ixi's interest. They carried on in this manner, sharing memories from Brightvale and suggesting ideas for Iskeen, until the SS Delfin reached the Brightvalian docks.
* * * * *
The fish market was already bustling with activity. A distant bell tower chimed nine o’clock, and the water of the Brightvalian docks reflected the pale sky. The morning air was crisp, and fog still lingered above the waterline as ships floated lazily alongside the harbor. On the other side of the boardwalk, fish vendors, just returned from the sea, were setting up shop: the morning routine had begun. Amidst the fishermen and the tourists, a pair of Cybunnies sat on a bench overlooking the marina. One, Silver, was bundled up in a trenchcoat, her wavy hair blowing in the gentle breeze. Next to her, a Pink Cybunny read a newspaper. At the sight of an approaching passenger ship, the two stood up and hurried to Pier 7, where the vessel was headed.
Passengers began swarming out of the ship as soon as the gangway had been secured. The two Cybunnies excitedly examined the newcomers. Many wore shorts and sandals, unbeknownst to the cold that awaited them. Others already had their cameras at the ready, snapping photos of the docks and of the fish market. There! The Silver neopet gestured animatedly at the tall, Cloud Cybunny disembarking the ship. Beside her was a Pink acara, and following them was a very cold-looking Island ixi.
“Orlitz!” the Cybunnies called, waving. Spotting the two, the Cloud neopet hurried down the ramp to greet them.
“Mom, dad!” she replied, running into their open arms. Laughing, the family hugged amidst the bustling crowd.
“How have you been?” the Silver Cybunny asked, brushing blue hair out of her daughter’s eyes.
“Elva and I have so many questions to ask you! What’s it like, living on Mystery Island?”
Orlitz grinned, “it’s incredible, I’ve met so many wonderful people, and working for the Times is, without a doubt, the most exciting career I could have picked!” She introduced her parents to her friends, who, until now, had awkwardly stood by as the family was reunited. Both shook hands with Elva and Keon, instantly put at ease by their warm welcomes.
“Will you be heading out to Brightville as soon as you’re unpacked?” asked Elva, “we’d love for you all to stay for breakfast.”
Orlitz assured her mother that they had already eaten breakfast. “Erin and I should get to the park as soon as possible so we’re not late for our first interview,” she reasoned, before quickly promising that they would be back in time for lunch.
The Cloud Cybunny smiled to herself. Though mundane interviews were not her favorite part of the job, she was happy to be back in Brightvale. Having lived here until she was nineteen, the kingdom was filled with memories of her childhood. Even the very path they walked on reminded her of countless trips to the sea with her family and petpet. Right on queue, Sparta, an undersized Gruslen, popped his head out from her bag. The Cybunny chuckled. She was happy to be home.
Eventually, they arrived on a street lined with small houses. Each facade was a different color, but the roofs were uniform, composed of crimson tiles. Rectangular gardens flanked each house, with pebble paths snaking up towards multi colored front doors. The neighborhood was altogether charming. Set against the overcast sky, the multitude of colors—and especially the greenery—appeared all the more vibrant. However, what made the houses of Brightvale (and this street in particular) so remarkable, were the frames of stained glass adorning each house. From within, these windows let in streams of filtered light, creating vivid patterns of every color on the walls. At night, when the lights were on, they shimmered and allowed warm, caleidoscope-like hues to shine in the street.
Orlitz’s house was nestled in between two red-tinted homes, ann off-white structure partially hidden behind a truly astounding amount of greenery. Tall evergreens had been planted around its perimeter, casting the house in perpetual shade. They protected the house from the sun and rain, but the occasional breeze blowing through their needles produced an ominous whistling. Windchimes hung in the branches. The front yard was cut in half by a cobblestone walkway leading towards a ruby-colored front door, with either side of the path flanked by manicured bushes. A small brook, hidden in the foliage, gurgled in between the trees. The group maneuvered through the garden and into the house.
The Cybunny’s heart quickened as she recognized the familiar foyer. Its warmth beckoned to her, and she hurried inside. They entered the central room, its tall walls adorned with panes of golden stained glass, casting the entire space in pleasant shades of yellow— a permanent summer, of sorts. The interior was just as green as the front yard, with plants of every shape and size hanging from the banister, blossoming in the corners, and decorating the tables. Elva and Keon led their guests through the house, and each subsequent room they entered—the kitchen, the bathroom, the study—was colored in similar palettes of yellow and green.
Finally, they approached Orlitz’s own childhood bedroom, where Iskeen and Erin would be sleeping. Keon offered the pull out couch in the family room, but the three girls had preferred to stay together. Besides, Orlitz’s room had always been spacious enough to accommodate extravagant childhood sleepovers. The Cybunny dropped her bag and dove into her bed and her friends did likewise.
“It’s so good to be back,” she sighed, breathing in the fresh scent of clean sheets. Above her, the ceiling was angled with the roof. A small rose window, its stained glass a similar assortment of yellows as in the living room, bathed the entire space in soft colors.
The relaxation was short-lived: the time for Erin and Orlitz’s first interview was fast approaching. The reporters hailed a Uni cab and set out for Brightville.
* * * * *
At half past nine, the cab pulled up to the park. Orlitz let out a soft gasp: vestiges of Brightville’s former glory remained, just how she remembered them from her childhood. She could see towering tree structures entwined amidst roller coasters and walkways twisted in between and up through the tree trunks. The park was cast in the eternal shadows of enormous oak trees, with only small rays of sunlight shining through the leaves. She could make out a river bending around the trees and under stone bridges. Flowers and shrubs dotted the path to each attraction. Above the canopy, one could even see the dome of an enormous ferris wheel. Orlitz felt as though she had arrived in Faerieland.
Still, the perpetual silence felt ominous. When Orlitz had last visited, the park had been crowded with neopians, music blasting from the speakers and the sound of laughter filling the air. Now, it was quiet. No rumbling coasters hurtling through the trees. No carousels chiming merrily amidst the flowers. No screaming guests. The shadows cast by the trees felt sinister.
Following Erin, the two disembarked from the cab and walked towards the arched welcome sign. It was a massive wooden panel towering high above the two visitors, leaves and flowers etched into the grain. Underneath the frame stood a stout Shadow Chomby in an equally dark suit.
“Hi, you must be Erin and Orlitz!” she greeted them cheerfully, despite the evident fatigue and frigidity in her eyes. She handed them two visitor badges. “I’m Sophia Grigsby, the owner of this park,” she paused a moment, observing Erin.
“Well, not for much longer.” Orlitz noted that Sophia was nowhere on their roster of interviews to be had, and made a mental note to meet with her later. Erin asked where she would be destined to conduct interviews, and the Chomby tensely ushered them to the park’s welcome center. Orlitz sensed that Sophia was struggling with the park’s termination, but said nothing.
“Find me if you two have any more questions,” Sophia told them stiffly as they approached a small wooden bungalow. Orlitz saw her cast one final, troubled look at Erin before leaving.
The shack’s windows were lined with vines that stretched up to the roof. Most of the structure was raised a few feet by stilts, but a section of the building had been constructed at ground-level. An uneven staircase led to the front entrance. The whole affair appeared secluded, in a charming way.
“Well, looks like this is where we’ll be conducting the interviews,” Erin said, eyeing the wooden welcome center. She leafed through the pages of her green journal, covered in delicate cursive notes. “We have an interview with ah… Lou Elder here right about now, I’m sure he’s inside already. He’s the individual protesting the park’s demolition, so this should be interesting.” The reporter walked up the steps and disappeared through the door.
Just as Orlitz set out to follow her in, a bone-chilling scream from within the center split the air, followed by a loud crash. The cybunny stiffened and rushed up the stairs. She burst into the room.
“Erin?” she called, frantically looking around, “Erin?”
But Erin had vanished, and Lou was nowhere to be seen.
To be continued…