Halloween is for Tricksters
Lev stares at me, waiting for my answer.
"I, I dunno," I stammer to the Sketch Shoyru. "I just don't think that's a good idea. I mean, just because we're too old to go trick or treating anymore doesn't mean we have to go do something we could get in trouble over."
"Why, because being too old to get candy means we're too old to enjoy Halloween?" Lev sneers at me.
"Lev, there are better ways to have fun and enjoy any day. We don't have to go trespassing on some property out in the middle of nowhere to enjoy the spirit of the night! We can... I don't know, be the ones giving the candy out to the youngsters? Helping another generation have fun? We don't have to be immature and break rules."
"Immature?" Lev's eyebrow comes up at me. "Dahlia, you're a Faerie Xweetok, sitting there all super cutesy on your Fyora Print Bed, while you cling to the Green Lutari Plushie you've had since you were little, lecturing me about being immature."
I glare at Lev, half wanting to toss my plushie out of sight at the insult, but clinging closer to it instead in defiance. "You don't have to be a jerk," I practically spit at him with a glare.
"Sorry," he sighs, hanging his head a little. "It's just that I really want to do something fun this year! I hear there might be some neat antique stuff in that house that we can show off, that some megabillionaire used to live there until they disappeared. While all the little kiddies are out grabbing at candy, we could be grabbing at some really cool treasures!"
"That does sound pretty neat, but..."
"But your mom would never let you, of course."
"And you know I can't lie to her, Lev. I don't lie! I just don't! I'm a good kid." Now it's my turn to sigh.
"I know, Dahlia. You're the nicest and most behaved Neopet I've ever known. But if there was ever, ever a time for you to slip, just once, it would HAVE to be tonight!"
Lev pouts at me. I gaze sadly back at him. We're an odd match, that's for sure, but we've been best friends ever since I can remember. He was always crazy and mischievous, and I was always telling him he shouldn't do what he was doing because he'd get in trouble, but somehow we always managed to have fun together.
"I don't even know what I'd tell her," I sigh to the Shoyru as I hug my plushie closer. "I don't lie, you know that, so I don't even know where I'd start!"
"That's why you're friends with me." Lev grins. "I am the absolute professional at making up great stories. Just tell her you're hanging out at my house with some of our friends, eating candy and telling ghost stories all night! She'll believe it, and she won't call to check up on us, because she wouldn't want to scare a room full of us while we're on edge and listening about how old Mr. So-and-so died on just a night like this. It's perfect!"
"But she won't believe me!" I pout. "I've never lied before. I'm sure I'll stammer it or say it awkwardly so that she'll know!"
"You'll do just fine," Lev chuckles to me, putting a hand on my shoulder, "or I've failed you completely."
I laugh a little bit. Just a little bit. If this is going to happen, I have to muster up the courage to do it. Courage? That just doesn't sound right for the situation. I don't think there's anything brave about lying to someone's parents so they can go sneaking around where they shouldn't be on a spooky night, just to have fun.
"Stop thinking, Dahlia. You think too much. You need to let loose and do for once! Do something crazy and exciting, and what a perfect night! Am I right?"
"You're right," I surrender. "I guess..."
"Of course I am. So get down there, tell your mom you're hanging with me, and we'll head back to my house to plan this out and wait for it to get dark. Hey, at least you're not making up a complete story! You will be hanging with me."
Lev's grin isn't entirely convincing, but something in his words is.
"It's just making up a story, right? Part of a story?"
"That's all it is," he confirms. "Have I ever lead you wrong?"
I hesitate a moment to speak, and he cuts back in.
"Of course I haven't! You've never let me. So if I do, oh well, it was just this once, right?"
"Right," I agree, warming up to the plan, "it's just this once. This once can't hurt, and it's only part of a story."
I've got to do it now. If I don't, I'm going to chicken out and decide not to do anything tonight and I'll just ruin the entire thing for both Lev and me. I stand up from my bed, leaving my plushie behind, and pass Lev on the way to the door. He's smiling, but my excitement makes me less wary about this smile than I probably should be. I flutter down about half of the steps on the staircase to find my mom sitting in her chair in the living room, reading a book.
"Mom?" I stay at middle of the staircase, unwilling to move any closer. I feel like if I do try to move, I'll just run away instead. The Pepper Chia looks up from her book and gazes at me, sweet and kind and trusting.
"Um, I'm going to hang out with, uh, with some friends at Lev's tonight. Y-y'know, tell ghost stories and stuff." I gulp and wait. I feel like she can see my face turning all shades of red.
She smiles instead.
"Sure, dear. Have fun, and be careful if you're out late!" She goes back to her book, having completely moved on from my story and back into her own.
I'm shocked, if just a bit. My mind is paralyzed in the moment, but my legs are bolting me up the stairs and into my room where a smirking Lev waits.
"I told you so."
I can hardly respond. I close the door and lean against it, staring blankly into my room. I can feel my breathing and heartbeat slowly return to normal, after having just escalated to the rates of a Beekadoodle.
"You alive in there, Dahlia?"
"Y... yeah, I'm fine. I'm just... wow. That was crazy. I've... I've never done that before, and it was so easy, and it just happened and-"
"Shush," Lev cuts me off. "It's done, we're all set, so now we go to my place to wait. You ready?"
"Completely," I say with a grin. I'm getting really excited, though partially nervous, now that the night is set. Lev and I head down the stairs and out the door. Mom doesn't even glance up from her book as we leave. I feel a bit bad, because she's always so nice and trusting... but it's not like she had a reason not to before. It's just this once, and just this little part of a story.
I try to push the thoughts out of the way, which isn't difficult since Lev is rambling all about his plans. I get caught up quickly in all the daring ideas, and we manage to formulate a plan before we even get to his house. We head into his room and draw out different maneuvers and plans until it gets dark.
Early evening doesn't take long to catch up with us. The streets are soon home to small groups of Pets that are all dressed up, going from house to house to get the biggest load of candy they'll have for another year. I'm gazing out of the window, thinking about nothing, watching rays of golden autumn sink behind the houses, when Lev sets a hand on my shoulder and jolts me out of my reverie. He laughs.
"Hey there, nothing to be scared of; we haven't even crept over to the house yet! You ready to go?"
I nod, and we dress ourselves in the dark clothing we'd decided on. We figure it'd be best for us to be as inconspicuous in the night as possible. Lev hands me a large basket to carry our spoils back in, and we head out the door and down the street in the chilly night air. A path off of the main road takes us through a small grove of trees and to the clearing where the dark and aging house slumps dejectedly.
"Alright, Dahlia, let's go over the plan one last time." Lev crouches in cool, untamed grass. I follow suit, casting glances at the house to our sides. "We try going through the front door first. If we can't get through that way, we split to opposite sides of the house and look for an open window or another door that's unlocked. If one of us finds one, we whistle softly for the other. If we meet up again at the back without having found a way in, we start climbing trees to see if we can get in from another floor.
"If it's a complete fail, we head back to my house, gorge on some extra candy, and then you can go home and tell your mom that it wasn't that much fun, so you decided to come home. Which, you know, technically would be true."
"Yeah, technically," I repeat as I roll my eyes at him. I'm still not too keen on the "technicalities" of the situation, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't excited. This would definitely have to be the craziest thing I've ever done, what with all the sneaking around and the secrecy and the abandoned house. Lev and I rise from our crouching positions and regard the house for a few moments.
"Well," Lev exhales, "let's go."
I walk ahead of Lev, feeling bold and enjoying an awesome adrenaline rush. My wings flutter quickly even though I'm not flying, just because I'm so excited. I walk quickly and firmly an-
It all goes so quickly. My overflowing energy made me swing the basket a little too much, and it swoops right smack dab into Lev's face. Lev is shocked and he stumbles on some gravel and suddenly he's down. He'd be blinking up at the darkening sky right about now if his eyes were open, but instead his hands are covering them as he scowls.
"DAHLIA! You HIT me with the BASKET! Augh, I think I got some basket in the eye..."
"Oh my... Lev... I'm so sorry! I'm..." I stammer and freak out and wave my arms everywhere, not sure what I can do to make any of this better. The truth is, I can't, and I just feel really, really bad.
"Dahlia, stop rambling senselessly. If I could see more than blurry shapes right now, I'd stuff grass in your mouth so you'd stop talking."
"I'm so sorry."
"It's okay... but..."
"But?!" I am completely freaked out and on edge. "But" is definitely not something I want to hear.
"...but I think I stepped and fell wrong on my foot. I've got a bit of Faerie magic and can take care of it in some time, but, Dahlia..."
Lev pauses before saying the one thing I was dreading to hear the most:
"I think you're going to have to go in by yourself."
My vision clouds colorless for a few moments. Once the head rush clears, I stammer a few unintelligible noises before sighing and hanging my head.
"Lev, I can't do this without you. Are you sure you can't walk on it right now?"
"Completely sure. Look, tell you what, if you can't get through the front door, you just come back and sit with me until I can walk on this foot, and we'll go home. If you can get in, just grab the first thing you find and come right back out, same end plan."
"Why can't we just leave now?" Part of me really doesn't want to leave. We got this far, and now I really want to do something. I think Lev knows, and he smiles.
"Come on, your first crazy act, and you're going to leave without something to show for it?"
"You're right," I smile. "I'll be right back." I take a deep breath and turn back to the house, trudging determinedly up the unkempt path. I stand on the small concrete slab serving as a front stoop and take another deep breath before reaching out and touching the doorknob. I turn my wrist.
The doorknob turns.
The door opens.
I step inside.
The door closes behind me.
Dim lighting comes in through the dirty windows, painting the inside of the house a dull bluish-grey. I take another breath and look around, scanning for something I can put into the basket and leave with. I creep slowly up to a small table sitting a few feet away, eyeing what appears to be an old astrolabe. I reach out for it, the tip of my paw just brushing against it.
I'm hurled suddenly into a pitch darkness. All that seems to exist is a place that feels like black clouds rolling around me. My heart races and my mind trips and stumbles over thousands of nonsensical thoughts. A figure appears before me, but I can't make out who or what it is in the cloudy darkness.
"So," it speaks, "yet another Pet chooses to intrude upon my home, looking for some sort of trophy to take back with them. And once again, I catch them. And I suppose you are going to tell me that I shouldn't do something horrible to you, because you're 'a good Pet, and Neopia needs you,' so I should just let you go."
"Hm, silence. Is that an admittance that you are, in fact, a dreadful Pet, just like the rest of them, and that you actually deserve harsh punishment?"
"No!" I cry out. "I'm not bad, I'm really not, I just..."
"I don't care," the figure tells me. Its tone confirms the words. The figure speaks coldly, and I'm afraid to say anything else. "What matters is that you trespassed into my property and were going to steal something from me. I'm a sensible creature, so I suggest to you, as I have every intruder, that you tell me why you are so great and should, therefore, be allowed to leave."
Be allowed to leave? What do they mean? Could they, whatever they are, really keep me here?
As if to answer my silent question, large pillars of solid glass light up all around me, each of them holding what appears to be a Pet frozen in their tracks. None of them look happy.
"Just so you know," the figure says with a smirk, "all of these delightful little things have failed, and miserably, to demonstrate why they are worth my forgiveness. This fellow over here," the figure says as it points to a captured Mutant Ixi, "boasted that he was strong, so I should let him go."
A glimmering mirage appears in the space between the figure and me. The Mutant Ixi stands in an arena, facing what is easily the largest and scariest thing that any Neopet has ever faced.
"Unfortunately for him," the figure continues in a bemused tone, "he couldn't out-muscle my little friend. As for this sweet little darling," says the figure, pointing to a captured Blue Uni, "telling me she was 'smart' seemed to have been a lie."
The mirage changes to show the Blue Uni sobbing and pulling at her hair as she faces an immense chalkboard with all sorts of complex symbols that even the biggest Neopian genius would give up on.
"She just couldn't understand the simple equation," the figure laughs. The mirage disappears, and the figure continues.
"So, I'd recommend that you think awfully hard over what quality makes you such a good little Pet that I should let you go."
I'm panicking. My mind is racing, and for every potential quality I can think of, I can imagine the terrible task this figure would set against me, promising my eternal captivity in this unknown place. I'm quick? Not if I'm racing against an impossibly fast flying machine. I never give up? I see myself running a never-ending path until I fall in exhaustion. I'm confident? Now I'm walking past the most privileged and popular kids in school, looking like I'd had a fight with the garbage dump... and lost.
"OH COME ON," the figure bellows, "it can't take that long to think up the best thing about yourself. You're not very punctual, that's for sure."
I was only trying to figure out the best way to approach this, and the figure's insult makes me angry.
"Maybe not," I yell, "but at least I'm honest, okay? I don't trick people like you do!"
My eyes grow wide as my mind recounts the events of the afternoon and evening. The figure smirks.
It disappears, and a Pepper Chia stands in its place. It's my mom, and she looks very confused. I know it's really her, and not just some illusion. She sees me.
"Dahlia! What... what is this place? How did we get here? I was just sitting and reading my book and suddenly I'm here and... what's going on?"
I sigh deeply. The figure's got me. What a night to pick telling your first lie. I don't know completely how this game works, and I certainly don't want my mom to have to be stuck here because I was dishonest.
"Mom... this is my fault, I'm sorry. When I told you I was going to hang out at Lev's, it was kind of... it was kind of a lie. We really came to this house to sneak in and take something to show off." My cheeks are burning, and small tears dribble clumsily to my chin. "I... Lev couldn't come, I hit him with a basket and then he tripped and his foot and I had to come in alone and I touched the astrolabe and then..."
Now I'm full out sobbing. I can't see my mom's face because my eyes are so blurred with tears. I choke out what's left of the story, as confusing and odd as it is, but she just stands and listens.
"I'm so sorry, Mom! I didn't ever want to lie to you, but I thought doing this would be fun and I knew you'd say no because we're really not supposed to but... I'm so sorry!" I manage to wipe most of the tears from my eyes and look up at my mom. She looks disappointed. That feels the worst.
"Curious." The figure is suddenly present again, though I feel that it'd been watching the whole time. It now stands off to the side of my mom and me.
"Ex... excuse me?" I stammer.
"I said, 'curious,'" the figure deadpans with annoyance in its voice. "I'd figured you would've simply chickened and made up some new lie to cover for your old one. That's how lies usually work, you know. You tell one, and then you have to tell a few more to cover your tracks, and a few more, and suddenly you're wrapped up tighter than a Vernax in a Spyder web."
"This isn't my mom's fault," I hiccup, after having had cried so much, "so let her go. Seal me up in some glass pillar, whatever, but don't make her pay just because I'm a bad daughter."
"Oh shush," the figure flusters. "I didn't ask for some clichéd, valiant speech where some hero saves everyone else at the price of themselves. I'm letting you go, okay? But not because of your dumb little speech. You exceeded my expectations for what you'd do when faced with your little lie. You also didn't choose something too vain to begin with, like 'oh I'm the prettiest pretty princess in Neopia,'" the figure mocks in a high, annoying voice.
"So just get out of my sight."
The figure disappears. The darkness disappears. The columns disappear. Gone, just like that, leaving my mom and I standing in the dark house.
"Mom... I'm sorry."
"I know honey," she says, wrapping me in a hug.
"So... maybe this crazy weird ordeal is punishment enough?" I ask with a feeble grin.
"Nice try," Mom says as she shakes her head, "but you've really got to stop thinking that clichéd ploys are going to get you out of hot water. You'll be on restriction for a bit, but know that I am glad you told me the truth.
We smile a little, I blush. We head out the front door of the old house just in time to see Lev stand up, testing his foot. He turns when he hears the door open, but his eyes get wide when he sees my mom.
"It's okay, Lev. We're not in too much trouble, but man, that was crazy back there."
Lev is confused. I explain the story to him as we walk him home. None of us get to eat any Halloween candy.
I won't be hanging out with Lev for a week, and the same goes for my other friends. I don't think that's too bad of a punishment, but I'm pretty certain that I'll be doing a lot of boring nothing until I'm half crazy.
What I know for sure, though, is that I won't be lying again, at least not for a very long time.
Thanks, Lys, for saying "basket" when I needed something to connect my ideas.