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Neopedia : The Beast that Lurks Behind the Tree

Who knows what evil lurks within these Haunted Woods? Read scary stories, embark on chilling quests, and beware the beast that lurks behind the tree...

"The beast that lurks behind the tree?" Samantha asked aloud, closing the pamphlet. The Neopian Travel Centre had pamphlets advertising all the different places to visit; most looked like amazing places, but it was the one for the Haunted Woods that really caught her eye.

Samantha was an adventurer, both by spirit and occupation. She had traveled all over Neopia - climbed to the peak of Terror Mountain, traversed the dense jungles of Mystery Island, and explored the forgotten tombs of the Lost Desert. She had also been to the Haunted Woods before, but she had never heard anyone mention a beast behind the Brain Tree... and pets visited it all the time. Stuffing the pamphlet into her jacket pocket, she walked up to the counter. "One ticket to the Haunted Woods, please."

* * * * *

The path lined with dead, bare trees opened up to reveal the bustling Haunted Woods. Edna was busy shouting out orders, while the Esophagor was demanding to be fed. Things hadn't changed much since her last visit. She noticed that the Deserted Fairgrounds had been roped off; evidently, there had been some sort of accident a while back involving some young pets. Eventually she made her way to the Brain Tree, where it was demanding information as usual. She stepped up to it.

"WOCKY," it boomed, "I seek information! Tell me when and where Chester Kacheek died and I shall reward you!"

Samantha simply shook her head. "It is I that seeks knowledge FROM you." Startled, the Brain Tree eyed the brave pet before him.

"What knowledge do you seek?" it asked. Pets walking by paused. This was certainly out of the ordinary.

"Where and what is 'the beast that lurks behind the tree?'" asked Samantha. The Brain Tree grew quiet.

"I have no knowledge of what you speak of." This was totally out of the ordinary. The Brain Tree always boasted about knowing everything, and even if it didn't know, it would certainly never admit it.

The Wocky wasn't fooled. "You know what I speak of... I seek the creature."

Then you are a FOOL!" the Brain Tree screamed in rage, waving its ancient branches violently. The other pets, horrified, scattered. Samantha ducked behind a rock, just in time. The branches smashed through the upper part of the rock with ease. Brave, but far from foolish, Samantha crept off. This would certainly make things more difficult. She couldn't very well explore behind the tree if this was how it was going to react towards her.

That evening, sitting on an old log, it occurred to her. While somewhat limber, the Brain Tree was STILL a tree... and it didn't have eyes on the back of its trunk (she hoped). Throwing her backpack over her shoulder, Samantha quietly crept closer to the grove of trees directly behind the Brain Tree. However, she found it wouldn't be quite so easy as she had planned.

The trees were twisted, rotting wood of gray and black, but so close together that Samantha could barely fit a paw between any of them. She peered into the largest crevice she could find. Only dark shadows of other decrepit trees greeted her eyes. She removed a small flashlight from her pouch and shone it in, moving slowly from side to side. The light didn't penetrate very far, still only dark shado... - she jerked her hand back. Had something moved?!? Or could it have been a combination of the shadows and her own imagination playing tricks on her?

There has to be a way in, she thought. Slowly walking around towards the front of the grove, but making sure to keep a safe distance from the Brain Tree, she pulled out a pair of binoculars, and peered through them. Samantha set them down smiling... that was it! Directly behind the Brain Tree was a small gap in the trees... that was the entrance!

However, now she faced the dilemma of getting past the tree. Her concerned face turned into a grin as her eyes slid over a sign reading "Neopian Masks". A few minutes later, wearing what she hoped was a passable disguise, the Wocky strode up to the Brain Tree and attempted to walk behind it. A large branch came down from its boughs to block her path. "You may not pass," boomed a voice that left no room for argument. Thwarted once again, Samantha retreated to her seat on the old log.

The sky grew darker than pitch as the night wore on. Samantha jerked her head up; she had been nodding off. Peering through the darkness of the now deserted woods (no wise pet stayed after nightfall) she noticed that the Brain Tree had been doing the same as her. Quiet as a Miamouse, Samantha silently crept towards the dozing tree. She'd have to climb over some of its roots to get by. She hoped the tree wasn't sensitive enough to feel her paws pad over them. She carefully squeezed through the tight crevice.

Safely behind the tree she glanced back, then risked a little light from her flashlight. Phew. It didn't have eyes on the back of its trunk... it did, however, have a number of great gouges and scratches. It was as if something large had raked its claws across the ancient wood a number of times. Who, or what, would be foolish enough to attack the Brain Tree? she wondered. Its display of strength this afternoon had been rather impressive.

Briefly, Samantha wondered if she was the foolish one, searching for any creature unwise (or violent enough) to attack the Brain Tree. Trying to regain her composure and positive state of mind, but not fully succeeding, she slowly forged on, flashlight guiding her way.

The trees seemed to make a living wall on either side of her as she walked down the dirt path. Samantha's foot kicked something on the ground... a bone. She tried to convince herself that it was only a piece of petrified wood... but in her heart, she knew it wasn't. More appeared as she traveled down the path, scattered near the roots of trees. There still seemed to be a clean path between them, as if the path was often walked. An unfamiliar chill ran up her spine, yet she continued.

She soon entered a circular clearing. In the middle, there were three stones seeming like they'd been placed too precisely to be natural. More bones were scattered beyond them, but none entered the triangle that the three stones formed. Samantha breathed a sigh of relief. Although the area was indeed creepy, she had traveled the width of the grove from front to end. There was nothing in here. Still, she was a bit disappointed that her efforts hadn't paid off. She kicked at the ground, accidentally dislodging one of the stones. Looking over her shoulder towards the entrance, Samantha hoped that the Brain Tree was still asleep. She'd hate to be caught by one of its thrashing branches when it discovered she had snuck by it. Returning her gaze to the clearing, she noticed the stone was back in place.

Instinct gripped her heart, and she felt as if her blood had turned to ice. Samantha had to get out of here... NOW. She started backing away from the triangle of stones. Was it her imagination, or was the ground between them getting darker? She backed away faster, her wide eyes too frightened to tear away.

From the darkness of the triangle, something began to emerge. Hulking, dark and twisted... the shape was indescribable. The Wocky and the Beast from Behind the Tree began to run. One for their life, the other...

Samantha ran as she had never run before. She could feel the cold presence of death behind her. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw it was getting closer. The creature's huge bounds threw dirt and bones clattering against the trees, as its large, powerful claws dug into the earth.

Ahead, the Wocky could make out the faint outline of the Brain Tree against the starlight. Would she make it though? She could feel the icy hand of death slowly gripping her neck from behind. In a final, desperate leap, she shot through the crevice between the Brain Tree and the grove. The Tree lurched at the impact of the beast, and dark, wicked black claws raked her clothing as she tumbled to the ground. Wheeling around, Samantha saw the Brain Tree smash at the grasping arm that had followed her through the crevice. Seeing the tree grimace in pain, she heard the sound of claws raking against wood. That's where those scars came from...

The growling eventually subsided, and she felt that the presence was gone. The Brain Tree however, still drooped a bit. Feeling guilty, she approached the ancient tree. It had been trying to protect her, protect them all from what lurked in that grove. "Uh... Mr. Brain Tree, sir?" Samantha asked, eyes downcast, rubbing her arm with one hand. "I-I'm sorry. If I hadn't gone in there, it wouldn't have attacked you like that. Forgive me for causing you pain."

"No, child," the Brain Tree said sadly shaking its head, "it is my pain to bear." Samantha opened her mouth, about to ask why, but thought twice and decided against it. She doubted that the Brain Tree would answer anyway. After all...

everyone has their secrets.