How do you solve a problem like Neovia?: Part One
Hubrid Nox shuffled the official papers in front of him, and glanced up at the other figures surrounding the large moonlit table. He cleared his throat deeply.
“Thank you all for coming,” he said gently, a forced smile spreading across his face.
There was a general murmur of greeting from the other four figures. Mayor Thumburt coughed loudly.
“Just what is all this about?” he asked the others.
“You didn’t get the agenda?” Hubrid asked innocently.
“Agenda?” the Mayor of Neovia asked. “What is this? All I got was a zombie shuffling up to the town hall and demanding I come and meet you all.”
“Ah, then the messenger got there, good. One of his legs was going dreadfully rotten; I feared he wouldn’t make it,” Hubrid said confidently.
“Teg No Twih Ti!” Eliv Thade shouted from across the table.
There was a brief silence.
“What?” Edna asked eventually.
“He said ‘Get on with it’,” Balthazar growled.
“Oh, do you really have to, Eliv?” Hubrid asked. “Anagrams are all well and good in your mansion, but here?”
“Tsi a awy fo file,” Eliv muttered.
“It’s a way of life,” Balthazar interpreted.
Hubrid focused a heavy stare on Eliv.
“Oh, all right,” Eliv submitted under the glare, “but you tell anyone and I’ll have your heads.”
“Would someone please explain what is going on?” Thumburt asked.
“Oh yes. Well, you see, in the thirty or so years since Neovia was cursed, the Haunted Woods have moved on somewhat,” Hubrid told him.
“Moved on to what?” Thumburt asked.
“Well, not so much moved on, as perfected our trade,” Edna explained.
“You see, we are the Haunted Woods Tourism Board,” Hubrid said importantly.
“The what?” the Mayor asked.
“The Haunted Woods Tourism Board,” Hubrid repeated, handing an official document to Thumburt. “It is our job to ensure that the woods remain spooky, gory, etc.”
“You see, a large section of the Neopian public now visit the woods, and it’s our job to see that they are suitably frightened by the entire experience,” Eliv said wisely.
“Sssorry I’m late,” a voice from the shadows apologised.
Sidney loomed out of the darkness and took the final empty seat.
“Good, you didn’t miss much; we are just explaining the situation to the Mayor,” Hubrid informed the newcomer.
“So let me get this straight, while we were sleeping, the Haunted Woods became a tourist attraction? We’ve sold out?” the Mayor asked.
“Whoever said we’ve sold out?” Hubrid asked hotly. “We’ve just embraced a new kind of evil. It’s called consumerism.”
Thumburt muttered something under his breath.
“That’s partly why we let the carnies move in. Their ability to con innocent people out of their Neopoints is truly admirable,” Hubrid told him.
“What has all this got to do with Neovia?” Thumburt asked.
“Well, you see, while you were under the influence of the Spirit of Slumber, Neovia was great,” Hubrid informed him. “The run down buildings and ghosts wandering around the place were truly a sight to run away from. When you came back and mutated, I must say we were all dreadfully impressed. But then you returned to your normal forms, and therein is the problem.”
“Since you returned to normal, Neovia has been... normal,” Balthazar growled.
“I mean, admittedly, you still have Bruno running about the place, but he’s hardly enough scare for an entire town. We were even prepared to accept that having a Petpetpet as a Mayor is a faintly scary idea... but then we heard that Sophie reversed the spell she cast on you,” Hubrid said.
“Are you saying Neovia isn’t scary enough?” Thumburt asked.
A grin spread across Hubrid’s face.
“I’m glad you see our point. We have prepared several plans for urban frightening for you to look over,” he said happily.
Hubrid handed over five dossiers containing more paperwork; Thumburt looked them over.
“We can begin as sssoon asss you give the word,” Sidney told him.
“Now wait just a minute. My citizens like Neovia as it is; we want it to be normal,” Thumburt complained.
“We simply can’t have that,” Edna cackled. “It would give the entire wood a bad name.”
“You see,” Hubrid said diplomatically, “at the moment Neovia sells things, not even particularly spooky things. I also hear Sophie is handing out rewards to people who helped you get rid of Mr. Krawley, and they are not even cursed!”
“Well, I can’t help you there,” the Mayor said scathingly. “My people like the peace and tranquillity. We are not about to invite vampires in!”
He slammed the dossiers down on the table, the one suggesting Neovia as Count Von Roo’s summer home on top.
“I urge you to reconsider,” Hubrid said menacingly.
The air of politeness that had surrounded the table evaporated as Hubrid fixed Thumburt with a look of such evil that lesser people would have melted on the spot.
“Neovia is my town; you have no jurisdiction,” Thumburt growled.
“Indeed we don’t, so have it your way,” Hubrid said lightly, cogs turning fiercely in his mind.
“Good day to you,” Thumburt shouted, turning on his heels and stomping off into the darkness.
“I could go after him,” Balthazar offered while sharpening his claws.
“No, not today,” Hubrid said while grinning. “He must come over to our way of thinking under his own steam. I propose that we deploy the zombies.”
“How many of them are you going to send?” Edna asked.
“Every single one,” Hubrid replied with a maddened smile.
Mayor Thumburt woke silently the next day in the safety of his own bedroom. Life as the Mayor of Neovia, he had to admit, wasn’t all that bad. Things in Neovia more or less governed themselves. The only real problem had been driving the ghost Meepits out of town soon after they had returned. They had the oddest dance Thumburt had ever seen.
Mayor Thumburt was soon to learn just how tough life as Mayor could really be.
There was a sharp knock on the door.
“Mr. Mayor, you need to come and see this,” the voice of Reginald said from the other side.
Reginald, Sophie’s intelligent brother, had been a large help since the revival of Neovia. He had turned into Thumburt’s unofficial assistant. The Mayor dressed himself hurriedly and opened the door.
“What is it, young Reginald?” he asked.
“There is a commotion at the edge of town, sir,” Reginald replied.
“What is it?” Thumburt demanded.
“I think you had better see for yourself, sir,” Reginald said guiltily.
Reginald led Thumburt up the hill that led out of town to the rest of the woods. There was a large crowd of people standing just inside the boundary wall, staring out into the graveyard. Reginald and Thumburt pushed to the front to get a better look.
“What in the world?” Thumburt asked in disbelief.
As far as the eye could see in both directions, there was a line of zombies. As Thumburt looked around he saw that the line extended all around the town, forming a tight circle. The zombies had linked arms, and were swaying as they groaned.
“Some townsfolk tried to get out this morning sir,” Reginald told the Mayor. “They didn’t return. I think people are unable to come in from the outside as well.”
“Trapped, by zombies...” Thumburt said to himself.
“What I don’t understand is why they don’t attack,” Reginald said.
“They are not here to attack us, only to keep us imprisoned,” Thumburt said sagely.
“But... why?” Reginald asked.
“Because we are not spooky enough for the woods,” the Mayor told him.
“I don’t understand,” Reginald replied.
“Where is Bruno?” Thumburt asked, ignoring Reginald’s comment.
“He was visiting Sophie last night when the circle appeared, he hasn’t returned,” Reginald told him.
“He’s probably being waylaid by Balthazar,” Thumburt considered.
There was a cackle from the air above the zombies. Hubrid Nox was floating there waiting.
“Consider this punishment,” Hubrid called.
“We will not give into you!” Thumburt shouted.
He turned to Reginald.
“Make sure everyone stays away from the zombies, and goes about their normal lives. If we hold out long enough, we shall win,” Thumburt ordered.
Reginald nodded and started dispersing the crowd as Thumburt marched off towards the town hall.
Mayor Thumburt sat behind his desk with his head in his hands. It was the third day of their forced quarantine. The first day had been fine; people had got on with their business as if the zombies were just a minor inconvenience. It had been on the second day when problems started to arise. People had started to realise that if they were trapped in Neovia, all they had to eat came from the Crumpet Monger. That was all well and fine on the first day, but then it dawned on the townsfolk that there were only so many pastries she could make before she ran out of ingredients. The prospect of starving to death didn’t sit well with them.
Then there were the groans. The zombies groaned all day and all night; no one had slept a wink.
Then there was Hubrid. He hadn’t moved from his perch in the air, and just floated there silently. Thumburt couldn’t prove it, but he was sure he was staring at the town hall, waiting for the Mayor to crack. Thumburt had to admit, the people would soon grow restless, and look for a scapegoat; they did with Bruno during the business with Mr. Krawley, after all. This time the scapegoat would be Thumburt, and he couldn’t let that happen.
“Reginald,” he called.
The young Lupe came running.
“Go up to the hill and tell Hubrid Nox he has won. We will submit to the Haunted Woods Tourist Board,” Thumburt ordered.
“Are you sure about this, sir?” Reginald asked.
“Ask yourself, will the people hate me more if they are trapped here forever, or have to put up with the odd banshee floating about the place?” Thumburt replied.
Reginald nodded solemnly, and trudged off to the line of zombies. A few minutes later, the maddened laughter of Hubrid Nox filled the air all over Neovia.
To be continued...