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Taking a Chance on Friendship


by tj_wagner

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It was a nice Neohome, Katchen allowed as the cloud Aisha examined the exterior of the building. The white paneling stood out like a flawless cloud drifting across the blue expanse of the sky and the stone base was all hand work. The porch, which wrapped around three sides of the Neohome, was wide and welcoming. A gliding rocker, which was set near the front door, was swaying slightly in the afternoon breeze as if just waiting for someone to sit down and rock away all their worries. Upstairs, through the far window on the left, Katchen saw the pink curtains of her own room. She knew that inside of that room was all soft and pink with plush carpeting that whispered lovingly beneath her paws when she walked. Beside of her canopied bed (also pink) was a beautiful picture of Queen Fyora in her glorious castle in the floating city of Faerieland. Katchen had always felt more comfortable sleeping under the watchful eye of the elegant faerie queen, even though she knew it was only a poster. Yet, the Aisha no longer felt entirely comfortable or safe in her new Neohome, but it wasn't the house itself. It was the location.

     Behind the beautiful Neohome, the Haunted Woods stretched forth like a forlorn monster. The bare branches of the old, black trees were like the monster's hands - all reaching out as if to grab the frightened Aisha and all who dared to step into their domain. Katchen hated living here. She had hated it moment her aunt had announced her plans to move here two weeks ago and she despised it no less now. Everyone who knew her would have realized what a bad fit her and the Haunted Woods really were. After all, she was afraid of just about anything.

     The Aisha who's afraid of everything moves to the Haunted Woods. It sounded like the punch line of a bad joke. Ha ha. Not funny.

     Katchen sighed loudly and shook her head. Her aunt had gotten a great deal on this new Neohome, so there wasn't much that she could do about it. Slowly, she walked back into the house and away from the drab outdoors.

     "Katchen?" her aunt called from the kitchen, "Is that you?" Following the voice, an older Usul stepped into the main hallway, drying her paws on her apron. From the suds upon her arms, it was obvious she had been washing dishes.

     "Yes, Aunt," Katchen replied, softly.

     Her aunt shook her head as she examined the sad-looking Aisha. "What's wrong with you?" she asked, "Every since we moved, you've just been moping about. You know that Neoschool starts next week and here you have wasted almost your entire vacation."

     "I know," Katchen said, unsure of how to put her thoughts into words, "but I guess I'm just tired from the move and all."

     The Usul's face softened as she walked over and kneeled by her niece. "I know you're upset about the move, sweetie," she said, "but this is a great Neohome. Just remember to fill all these rooms with love and happiness, and it will start feeling like home in no time."

     Despite her mood, Katchen smiled slightly. "Okay," she agreed.

     "Now, why don't you go out and play while I get some food on to cook. Why don't you see if you can find some kids to play with? It will be nice to have friends before you start back to Neoschool."

     "But," Katchen began.

     "No buts," her aunt interrupted, "Now go on. I'm sure there are a lot of kids in the neighborhood who would love to be friends with you." She gently guided Katchen out the front door and unto the porch. "The food will be ready in about an hour. Just make sure you come back with a good appetite. I have something special in mind." With those words, her aunt closed the door, leaving Katchen alone outside.

     With another deep sigh, the little Aisha stepped off the porch and slowly began to walk through the neighborhood, trying to ignore the gnarled trees or the scraping of the dying leaves upon the ground. She was walking slowly, her eyes focused mainly on the path ahead, when she came along a group of other Neopets who looked about her age. They were sitting together, huddled in a small circle, and Katchen approached them hesitantly. "Hello," she said, a soft, halting tone.

     The other pets whirled about to face her and regarded her with wary, cautious eyes. A fiery Shoyru, who seemed to be the spokesperson of the group, stepped forward and crossed his arms across his chest. "You're the one who just moved into that large Neohome down the road, aren't you?" he asked, in lieu of a greeting.

     "Yes," she answered, smiling as brightly as she could despite her shyness, "My name is Katchen and I am…"

     The Shoyru held up a paw, which caused her to pause in mid-sentence. "I'm sorry," he said, "but I can't really talk to you."

     "But why?" cried the Aisha, tears prickling at the corners of her eyes.

     "Well, you see, we're a club here," answered the Shoyru proudly, "And one of our rules is that we can only talk with other club members." He turned to others as if for support. "Right, guys?"

     "That's right!" agreed a Korbat.

     "It's the oldest rule in the book!" announced a Hissi.

     "So you see," the Shoyru continued, "It's not that we are trying be rude or anything, but we can't really talk to you unless you're part of the club."

     "Oh, I see," Katchen said, turning away, "I understand." She slowly started to walk away from the group, trying her best not to cry.

     "But there's no need to run off," the Shoyru added, walking up to her. "After all, you could become a part of our club."

     "Really?" Katchen asked hopefully.

     "Sure," the Shoyru said, winking cryptically to the other members of his group, "but you just have to do one little thing first." He leaned closed to Katchen and smiled, a peculiar light dancing in his eyes.

     "What's that?" inquired Katchen.

     "You just have to spend one night in the Neohome of the Wailing Wocky," answered the Shoyru, "then you can be a part of our club."

     "Are you sure that's a good idea?" asked a faerie Meerca quietly.

     "Of course it is," declared the Shoyru, "We all did it. Right?" All of the others, with the exception of the Meerca, readily agreed and seemed excited by the this course of action.

     "Okay," Katchen reluctantly agreed, "but who is the Wailing Wocky?"

     "You mean you haven't heard the legend?" The Shoyru seemed surprised. "Here, we'll show you the house and tell you the story."

     He laid his paw across her shoulder and began to lead her down a narrow, overgrown path. She could hear the rustling of small creatures in the underbrush as thick vines coiled about the trees. Katchen tried to be brave as the Shoyru lead her deeper and deeper into the woods as the rest of his club followed close behind.

     "A long time ago," the Shoyru intoned, "there was a Wocky who lived in these woods who seemed to have everything. She was beautiful and had won the Beauty Contest many times. At one time, her Neohome was the most beautiful in all of Neopia and she had filled it with all of her trophies along with her most prized possessions. Although she was very rich, she had decided not to put any of her neopoints in the Neopian National. Instead, she kept it all in the basement of her Neohome.

     "Then, one day, she was walking through the very woods where we are now when she happened upon the Pant Devil. She didn't actually have that many neopoints on her, but she was very stingy, so she ran away. The Pant Devil followed her all the way back to her Neohome. Once there, he found all of the neopoints and treasures that she had been hoarding over the years and took everything.

     "The Wocky was so upset to find everything taken, that she pulled out her fur in clumps, destroying her beauty. She began to cry loudly, and ran into the woods. Anyway, no one ever saw her again, but sometimes you can hear her crying at night. She moves through these woods, moaning over all she lost. I've even heard her myself."

     "That's so sad," Katchen commented, trying to hide the fact that she had begun to shiver.

     "I know," agreed the Shoyru, "but it's all true. In fact, here's her Neohome."

     To Katchen's surprise, she saw that they were now standing in front of what must have been a beautiful Neomansion at one time. There was a huge sweeping porch with great pillars and a massive oak door. Yet, time had darkened and stained the wood, no doubt painted white at one time, and two of the pillars had fallen down completely. The porch had rotted and swayed like the rolling hills in Neopian Central. The windows were boarded up, except for two upstairs which glared down at the Neopets as hollow, empty eyes. The door hung on a single hinge, so that the doorway stood open like a hungry and eager mouth.

     "All of you spent a night here?" Katchen asked, "Alone?"

     "Of course we did," the Shoyru answered. "Would we lie? Besides, you won't be alone."

     "I won't?" Katchen was half afraid that he would say the Wailing Wocky would keep her company.

     "No," was the response, "There was another guy who wanted to join the club, so he'll probably be out here too tonight. That is, if he don't chicken out. Now, meet us back here at midnight. If you don't show up, then you can't be in the club and then we won't be allowed to talk to you. Okay?"

     Katchen nodded. "Okay," she agreed, "I have to go now. I guess I'll see you at midnight."

     "Don't be late!" the Shoyru called after her as she turned and started to run back to her Neohome. The entire way, all she could imagine was a lovely Wocky running through these woods as the Pant Devil followed close on her heels.

     **********

          Night slipped through the Haunted Woods on the toes of a ballet dancer, sequined in the twinkling stars. So quiet, yet so elegant and quick, it had fallen upon this tiny corner of Neopia with a fluid grace. One minute, Katchen had been sitting at the dinner table with her aunt, trying to eat a piece of her favorite cake that her aunt had baked especially for her, and the next she was lying in bed waiting for her aunt to fall asleep. Under her bed, she had packed a small bag of supplies for the night. Since she wasn't supposed to be alone, she had brought along some chocolates she had bought at the Chocolate Factory and her brand new board game - 'Protectors of the Faerie Crown.' Along with a flashlight, a warm blanket, and a jacket, Katchen hoped that she was ready.

     With a soft sigh, she slipped out of bed and tiptoed out of the Neohome. It was growing steadily later, so she ran through the woods hoping that she would make it to supposedly haunted Neohome in time. Her flashlight did little to combat the gloom, and for a brief, terrifying moment she was sure that she was lost. Then, to her relief, she saw the opening and the dilapidated, old Neohome. The others had already gathered.

     "I was about to think you weren't coming," announced the Shoyru, "but I'm glad you did. Are you ready?"

     Katchen nodded as she tried to catch her breath. "Where is the other guy?" she asked, "You know, the one who is supposed to be doing this too."

     "He's not here, yet," answered the Shoyru, "but don't worry about that. It's almost midnight, so in you go. We'll be back at dawn and, if you're still here, you can be a part of our club."

     "Just don't get carried off by the Wailing Wocky!" teased the Korbat, as they turned to leave.

     Katchen watched them for a moment and then gathered all the courage she could before stepping into the ramshackle former domicile. Inside, it was dusty and all the boards moaned and creaked beneath her weight. The webs of Spyders hung from the ceiling like ruined lace as she searched for a safe place to spend the night. She had finally chosen a spot at the foot of the collapsed stairs, when she suddenly heard a noise.

     It was a brief sound, but Katchen knew for sure what it had been. It was the sound of a board creaking underneath a foot. She grabbed her flashlight and spun the light about the room, looking for the source. "Who's there?" she called, the tremble in her voice destroying her illusion of bravery.

     Just when she was about to convince herself that it had all been her imagination, a figure stepped into the light. With a frightened yelp, Katchen jumped backwards and fell unto the floor, the flashlight rolling from her grasp. The other individual also jumped and tripped over some debris.

     "Ouch!" cried a voice.

     Katchen gathered up her flashlight and shone on the stranger. She didn't think the Wailing Wocky would say, "Ouch." She couldn't help but smile when she noticed that it was a Christmas Zafara lying on the floor. No doubt, this was the other guy who was spending a night here to be able to join the Shoyru's club.

     "Are you okay?" she asked.

     "Yeah," answered the Zafara, "You just scared me."

     "You scared me," Katchen retorted, "I thought you would have been here sooner."

     "I got lost in the woods. It's hard to find your way when it's dark."

     "I know what you mean," she agreed, helping him to his feet. "My name is Katchen, by the way."

     He smiled as he dusted some of the dirt from his white fur. "I'm Curt. I don't think I've seen you around here before."

     "We just moved in," Katchen answered. "My aunt and I. We used to live in Neopian Central, but then we moved. Now we live in that two story white Neohome down near the Braintree. What about you?"

     "I've been here a long time," replied Curt, "My family owns that small, brown Neohome all the way at the end of the path just before you get to the Deserted Fairgrounds." He shivered slightly. "I thought I was going to be lost in the woods forever. It's really scary out here."

     "Yeah," she agreed, "but at least it's not quite as scary when you're not alone. Are you hungry? I have some chocolate or we can play a game."

     "What kind of game?" he asked.

     "I have a new one. It's called 'Protectors of the Faerie Crown.'"

     "I've never played that one. How do you play it?"

     "Well," she began, "we are royal soldiers and our job is to protect Queen Fyora and her crown." Slowly, she explained the rules and the soon the two were playing and laughing until the morning sun lit the horizon ablaze with its light. Dawn had come.

     "I had a lot of fun," Katchen said. "I'm glad you were here."

     "I'm glad you were here too," Curt said. "I haven't had any friends to play with in a long time."

     "Neither have I," Katchen stated, "Here, you can borrow my game and I'll come over later to pick it up. Maybe we can play more then."

     "I hope so!" Curt exclaimed and they both began laughing in the early morning sun.

     Katchen gathered her things, talking to Curt the entire time, as she prepared to step outside and meet the others. Yet, she began to notice that Curt was talking less and less and, when it was time to leave, he was already gone.

     "He must have had to hurry home," Katchen mumbled to herself, "but I'll tell the others he was here." She stepped out on the porch just as the others were making their way into the clearing.

     "Congratulations!" the Shoyru exclaimed. "I didn't think you would actually do it, but you did. Now you can be a part of our club."

     "Thanks," Katchen said, "and Curt spent the night as well. He just left."

     "Curt?" repeated the Shoyru. "Who's that?"

     "You know," she explained, "the other guy who was going to be spending the night here so he could be in the club."

     "The other guy's name is Logan," stated the Shoyru, "and he's in bed with the Sneezles." Then he began to laugh. "You're just trying to scare us, aren't you?"

     Katchen couldn't answer at first. If Curt wasn't the one who was spending the night here to be in the club, then she had no idea who he could have been. Dropping all her belongings, she ran down the road and towards the Deserted Fairgrounds. After all, Curt had said he lived in the small, brown Neohome at the end of the road.

     She found the Neohome with ease, but immediately knew that something was wrong. No one had lived in this Neohome for a very, very long time. It was in even worse shape than the Neohome of the Wailing Wocky. Yet, there on the porch, was her board game that she had lent Curt. On top of the box, there was a piece of paper held down by a small rock. With trembling paws, she picked up the paper and began to read.

     Thanks for playing games with me. I was scared and alone, wandering through the woods all by myself. I had more fun talking and playing with you then I've had in a long time. I'm glad that we can be friends. I look forward to talking with you again.

     Your friend,

     Curt

     She dropped the paper, and it caught and swirled in the wind. Who was this Curt? She just didn't know. A hand touched her shoulder, and she jumped and screamed a little before that she saw it was only the Faerie Meerca that had been with the Shoyru and others.

     "He shouldn't have done that," the Meerca said.

     "Who?" asked Katchen.

     "Scott," replied the Meerca, "He's the Shoyru. He likes to act tough, but I think he went too far this time. It wasn't right to make you spend the night in that old place, especially after telling you that stupid story. There is no Wailing Wocky. He just made that up." She sighed a bit. "My name is Raychelle. You're Katchen, right?"

     "Yeah."

     "Well, as of now, you can consider me your friend," Raychelle announced. She turned and noticed the Neohome that rose before them and pointed. "The story about the Wailing Wocky is just something that Scott made up, but there really is a legend about this old place."

     "What is it?" Katchen inquired.

     "There used to be a family who lived here," Raychelle, "and there was a Zafara about our age. Anyway, one day he just disappeared. They found some of his things in the Haunted Woods, so everything thought he must have just gotten lost, but they never found a trace of him. The family moved away after awhile, but I often wondered about what happened to that Zafara. I wonder if he's still lost out there. I don't think he could be because that had happened many years ago, but still…"

     "It makes you wonder," Katchen said in a soft tone.

     "Is that your game?" Raychelle asked, pointing to the box on the porch, "I've never played that game before. Is it fun?"

     "Yeah," Katchen said, "You want to go back to my Neohome and play it?"

     "Sure!" Raychelle exclaimed.

     As they hurried back to her Neohome, Katchen couldn't help but think about all that had happened. All her life, she had spent so much time and energy being scared, but now that seemed like such a waste. She now had a new friend by her side. And what of Curt? Had she known his story, she would have been too scared to be nice to him. Yet, he seemed more frightened and alone then even she was. Maybe it was good to take a chance, every now and then, especially if it's for a friend.

The End

 
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