Of Candies and Costumes
Halloween. A night that means something completely different for everyone in Neopia. For some, it is nothing more than an excuse to deceive and make mischief. For others, it is a chance to reap as much candy as possible with a rough six hour time limit. And for some, this night exists only to scare, placing far too much emphasis on the hidden monsters that lie in perpetual shadow, waiting for you to let your guard down.
Maddy crunched dead leaves underfoot as she happily ran into the park. The blue Ixi carried a knapsack full of homework and heaved it on the ground with immense satisfaction as she sat down next to her friend, Haley, an orange Zafara. Haley was busy writing things down in a thick black binder, barely registering Maddy's presence. The Ixi noticed that Haley wrote with a slow, sure hand, unlike her usual hurried scrawl.
It seemed as if a greeting was in order. "Hey. What are you doing?"
"What are you cataloguing?" asked Maddy, amused. Since when did harebrained, messy Haley catalogue things?
The black binder tilted towards her, and Maddy was assaulted by neon colour. There were drawings of candy, and wrappers glued down onto the pages, and each entry had five colour codes. Next to each candy there were studious notes on things like category, rankings, taste, and how many varieties were available.
The amazing thing was that it was so neat. The Zafara was usually so unprofessional and disorganized--it proved immensely that Haley's obsession with candy of all sorts was still as passionate as ever. In fact, Maddy thought, this might even top last year's candy collage, Haley's gigantic art project that had taken the whole first term.
"Wow!" Maddy breathed, running her hand over a wrapper in awe. "How long have you been doing this?"
"Since September." Haley grinned proudly. "You like it?"
"It's great," Maddy said, grabbing the binder and flipping through the precisely labelled drawings.
She was about to say more, but was interrupted by Haley.
"Look! Kevin's here!"
A small green Korbat sprinted through the park, book bag swinging wildly over one shoulder. He deposited it next to Maddy's and sat in his usual spot against a rock, making a triangle between them.
The Friday meetings had gone on for as long as they could remember. Certainly the first time they had done it the oak tree had been younger and smaller, and the grass hadn't been worn away in three distinct spots. But it was an unspoken tradition--no matter what had happened in the week, even if you weren't in school that day, Friday after school meant the Tree. Always.
The three friends chattered on for a while--discussing techniques for delaying homework, what bands were so much better than others, why Katie had walked into class yesterday with an earring the size of Kreludor. Kevin was amazed by Haley's intense catalogue, and they suggested an index based by candy group rather than alphabetically, for those who couldn't quite remember the name and spelling of their favourite candy. The sun, blazing high and warm over the fall day, lowered fractionally.
And eventually, inevitably, the topic melted into tangents of tangents until they reached it: Halloween.
"This is the year, lady and gent," Maddy said. Haley let out a whoop, and Kevin groaned half-heartedly.
"This year, we trick-or-treat in the Haunted Woods." It had been their goal for a few years now. The Haunted Woods, at night, on Halloween. Spooky squared, or maybe even cubed. But they knew that if they were brave and went, they would get a wonderful haul. Haunted Woodsians gave out the best treats--it was common knowledge. But they had always avoided going, deciding instead on exotic locations. But now they were ready.
And so they sat under the tree, planning their route, unaware of the night that lay ahead.
Butterflies in your stomach didn't really do it justice, Maddy thought as she wriggled into the plain brown dress, feeling its coarse texture. It was more like something was in there, agitating your tummy, trying to claw its way out. Spyders in your stomach? she thought, adding a fake scar to her cheek and ruffling her brown hair. She stood in her room on Halloween evening, inspecting herself in the mirror. Very nice. Very gypsy. She slipped into worn sandals and dashed down the steps to the front door, where Kevin was waiting. Maddy's uncle stood next to them, their escort to the Haunted Woods.
Kevin had a large mop, was wearing a strange green robe and a crazy reddish wig. Maddy paused, trying to figure it out, then laughed. "You're that angry Yurble in Altador!"
Kevin grinned, wagging the mop. There was a knock on the door and Kevin stood back to let in Haley, wearing a large black cape and fangs. The three talked for a while, but then the sun began to sink, so the three grabbed their pillowcases and hurried towards the door.
It was about five minutes walk to the Haunted Woods, and they could soon see it. Withered trees reached imploringly towards the moon, who had just barely risen. A vague sound--voices and laughter and screams and forest noises--flew through the trees distorted, just a mass of sound. The three kids charged in, and Maddy's uncle sat under a tree, waiting for them and reading a book.
Maddy opened her eyes wider to take in the spectacle of the Haunted Woods. It looked nothing like the map in her father's study. It wasn't a clearing, really--more a spot where the trees were a bit thinner, landmarks punctuating the writhing canopy of interlaced branches. Haley bravely led the way, pillowcase in hand, as the moon began to rise and the sun left the sky dark except for a glittering layer of stars. They had planned for this meticulously, and their first stop was to be Edna's Tower.
It looked less foreboding than they thought it would be. It was simply a grey tower, straight and tall, with a wide arched doorway that matched the smaller windows. Lights flashed on the higher floors, and they eagerly stepped in--even Kevin, who was biting his nails.
The first floor had, for some reason, been turned into a waiting room. Large, comfy chairs stood next to a rack of random magazines, though the chairs were empty. A large Faerie Grarrl stood at a desk, writing something on her clipboard. She looked up.
"Hi there!" she said, ushering them forward with a claw. "Welcome to the Tower. You see, this year, Edna's decided to put on a haunted house. If you can make it to the top, you'll get some seriously awesome candy. Watch out, though: the tower is full of flying spells and random potions, so don't get hit! Just so you know, any effect the potions have will be gone by tomorrow." She smiled, then muttered quickly and quietly, "By listening to me mutter this and not objecting you waive the right to press charges against Edna, tee-em, or any subsidiary materials or persons."
The three kids nervously stepped through the door, and ducked as a large beam of orange light flew at them. The light hit the door and dissolved it, showing the Grarrl standing there, shocked. Haley grabbed the clipboard from her pink claw and held it in front of them--a sort of vague shield--as they studied the room.
The room had been bewitched to be much larger than possible-it was about the size of a basketball court. Random crates and barrels were being used as partitions and shields and flashing rainbows of light--spells-- flew through the air. It was noiseless, but still felt loud, as if they were hearing the noises all this action should have been making. And there, at the far end of the room--a big flight of stairs leading up. Haley grabbed her friends' wrists. Maddy paled.
"Haley, maybe we should--"
But then the Zafara was running, and then all three of them were running, blindly scurrying about, trying to dodge spells and avoid tripping. They darted through the maze, one toppled crate almost hitting their heads, until the stairs were before them. They started up, but Kevin tripped, and a powdery blue spell raced towards them. Haley wildly flailed the clipboard, catching the spell which burned a large hole in the middle. Kevin gulped.
They sprinted up the steps into a second chaotic floor. Pets were running all over, trying to find the stairs and avoid spells. Puddles of potion littered the floor, and they watched a Ruki slip on it and start growing fur. As a daisy yellow spell ripped toward them, Haley didn't have to tell them to run.
But they got separated. Kevin ended up huddled between two crates, with Haley and Maddy looking for him. A spell shattered one of the crates and he screamed. Luckily, the girls recognized the distinct wail of their favourite scaredy-cat and ran towards him. The shattered crate had revealed the stairs--the opening was low enough to be concealed by it.
Maddy grabbed Kevin and the three raced towards the stairs. As they ducked down to get through, a pink and green spell shot at them with deadly speed and accuracy. Maddy had made it through, but as Haley swung the clipboard, the spell raced through the hole and hit Kevin, who fainted. Haley gently passed him to Maddy and then scrambled onto the stairs.
These were darker, and went higher, leading to the top of the tower. Maddy looked down at Kevin, lying in her arms, and gasped: he was growing fur! Thick gray fur was pushing its way up through the robe, and his eyes seemed to blur and move closer together. She could feel his fingers and toes hardening, and worst of all she could feel him shrinking.
By the time they got to the top of the steps, he was a Meowclops.
Maddy showed him to Haley, who shrugged. "The Grarrl said it would only last until morning."
"You can't be thinking of staying, can you? We have to go!"
Edna noticed them then. She was standing next to a cauldron full of candy, and she was decked out in full Halloween decor.
"You made it!" she cried happily, walking over to them. "But not without casualties," she smirked, pointing at Kevin the Meowclops.
"Can't you change him back?" Maddy implored.
"Nope." Edna smiled. "That, m'dear, would ruin the fun. Now have some candy."
She gave them packs of gum that would last for a month per piece and become whatever flavour you asked it to. Then she ushered them over to a tapestry. It was painfully obvious she was hiding something behind it: who hangs a plain blue rug on the wall? Then she pushed them, and Haley laughed and Maddy screamed and Kevin mewed and they slid down a 'secret' slide. They ended up at the back door of the tower, Haley grinning from ear to ear, and Maddy clutching a squirming Kevin. With no way of changing Kevin back, they decided to head to their next stop: Sophie's shack.
It was getting late now. The moon was high, the stars were twinkling and dark was taking liberties to creep into every nook and cranny. As they walked along the grassy path towards the shack, comparing candy received in Neovia, a painful howl smashed the empty silence of the night, like a sledgehammer taken to the good china. They resolved to hurry.
"C'mon!" Haley moaned when they reached the shack. "Who could be that mean?"
She was pointing to a large wooden sign stuck into the ground with the words NO TRICKERTREETERS written in big red letters.
"Sophie, apparently," Maddy replied, turning to go.
"Pah!" Haley scoffed. "That sign is against trickertreeters, while we, my friend and my mutated cat, happen to be trick-or-treaters." She strode towards the door. "Technical difference, really."
"Haley, don't." But the Zafara had already knocked, and the door was creaking open. And then Sophie stood before them.
"I TOLD YOU, I DON'T WANT NO TRICKER--HEY!"
Haley had darted through the door.
Maddy groaned and she and Sophie followed her in the shack. Maddy tossed Kevin onto the ground next to Sophie's own Meowclops; the two of them stared at each other, confused. Haley was eagerly grabbing dusty bottles from a shelf and emptying them into a cauldron. She kept up a babbling stream of questions no one answered.
"Hey what does this do? And what about this? And this? And this and this and this and--"
"STOP!" Sophie roared, but it was too late. Black smoke began to rise from the cauldron, wisps at first but then a huge torrent. Sophie sighed, grabbed Haley, Maddy, and Kevin, and jumped out the window into cool long grass.
The shack erupted behind them, pieces of wood flying through the forest in all directions as an explosion tore through the night. A smouldering circle was the only evidence of a cauldron, and shattered furniture and ingredients littered the ground like shrapnel.
Sophie looked at them, a calm mask doing very little to disguise unbridled fury, evident in her voice.
"It will take me all night to fix this." She grabbed her staff and tapped both of their pillowcases, which magically became heavier with candy. "Go. Now. Just go. Please."
They didn't need to take a hint.
As they walked along the path back to Neovia, Maddy looked Kevin over. He didn't seem to be hurt, but he was acting much differently. Almost like an actual...
Haley stared at her. "What?"
"This isn't Kevin! This is Sophie's Meowclops!"
"Oh man! What are we going to do?"
Maddy chewed her lip. "We'll... we'll just see how this all plays out."
Back at the swamp, Kevin had figured out what happened. Sophie must have grabbed the wrong Meowclops to give to Maddy and Haley, and the two were going to leave him behind! What was to become of him? Kevin thought Sophie might be just a bit angry when she figured out who her Meowclops was. So when the witch's back was turned, he ran.
Sophie noticed her Meowclops running away, and she was surprised. Generally, that lump of fur was too lazy to move. What was happening? Sophie stepped towards the trees and vanished into the foliage.
Haley and Maddy stood at the edge of the Haunted Woods. It was really late now, the moon high and bright, and Kevin was nowhere to be seen. The Meowclops lay asleep at their feet. Haley tried to pass the time by checking out her candy.
"Wow! Those Neovians know how to make candy! Look at the craftsmanship on this Chocolate Yo-Yo!"
Suddenly, a streak of gray burst from the trees. Kevin practically flew into Maddy's outstretched arms.
"Are you alright?" she asked. A nod from the cat.
"Does Sophie know you're here?" Another nod, which turned out to be unintentionally false.
"We should leave Sophie's cat here," suggested Haley. "It'll find its way back."
Maddy nodded, but before the three could leave, another figure burst from the trees like Kevin, only bigger and angrier and more Sophie-ish.
The witch collided with Maddy and Haley with an inhuman yell as it scrabbled for the Meowclops. Kevin jumped away deftly but landed in their midst of the skirmish. Sophie's Meowclops also got entangled in the fight, and the two cats tried to wiggle themselves free. Suddenly the dust cleared, and Sophie was on her back, panting. Haley snatched up Kevin and they ran, right behind Maddy. They burst through the trees and didn't stop until they were home.
Haley sat in bed, stem of a sucker protruding from her mouth. She mused about the evening's proceedings. The candy was nice, but she could have avoided the drama. Especially when they brought Kevin home.
If it was Kevin.
She smiled blissfully. That could wait till tomorrow.