Onions In the Sink
Kara lurked in the Mystery Island jungle, waiting for her owner Mara to come back from shopping. Being a green Wocky, she blended right into the plants around her. Of course, all that fur made her a bit hot and uncomfortable, but she had always lived on the Island, so she was used to it. Besides, she could ignore that easily enough while waiting for her prey. Some of the Kougras on the island had given her hiding and pouncing lessons, and she was eager to try them out.
Soon she heard footsteps coming down the path, and Mara came into sight. As always, she was dressed in overalls and an old sun hat she'd picked up cheap at the trading post. It wasn't fancy, but it worked fine for her job weaving palm fans for the Tiki Tack man. Mara had an amazing eye for bargains, and although they didn't always have the fanciest stuff, they got by all right. Kara crouched lower, her tail swishing a little in anticipation of her final leap. Just as Mara came up to the bush where Kara was lurking, she stopped.
"Kara, what are you doing?"
"Drat! I was going to pounce you!" Kara complained, emerging from the bush.
"Your fur was blending pretty well, but then I saw that pink ruff by your neck and knew it was you. Want me to go up the path and we'll try again?"
Kara laughed. "Doesn't that spoil the whole purpose of it?"
"Well, sorta," Mara said, "but I wouldn't want to disappoint you."
They walked to their hut together and Kara helped her sort out her latest bargains and the palm fronds she'd picked for making fans.
"I got a good deal on some blandfish today, so we can do that for supper," Mara explained. "I also got some bottles of sand cheap, took them to the Cooking Pot, made them into sand sculptures, and got a good profit." With a sly smile she took something else out of her bag. "I bought us flatfruit shakes for desert."
Kara's jaw dropped. "Really? I've always wanted to try one; isn't it too expensive?"
"You know we've been saving for a while," Mara explained. "I know how hot and uncomfortable you are, even if you never complain, so I wanted us to move. Until now we haven't have enough for a house, and I didn't have a job anywhere else."
"Until now?" asked Kara.
"You know those fancy fans I weave when I'm bored? Not the plain palm fans, but crisscross patterns or with twisted strands? A tourist saw one of those today and offered me a job in the Neopian Art Centre. She said I can display them in the Art Gallery, and people will pay a lot of money for fans like that. They'll hang them in their homes as art, can you believe it? I can import palm fronds if I want from Mystery Island, since the price she offered for the fancy fan will pay for shipping enough material for ten fans! She bought all the fancy fans I had hanging around, and told me to ship her more if I couldn't move. But then the second fantastic thing happened. I looked up neohome prices near the Art Centre and most of them were expensive. But there was one house for half the price of the rest, and all the furniture came with it! I couldn't believe it, so I neomailed the realtor. He'll probably send a message back tomorrow. But if that's the real price, we could sell some of our furniture here, and our savings would be enough to buy the whole house."
Kara just stared at Mara. "Wow," she said finally. "We've been working so long, it almost seems wrong to suddenly have everything we've been dreaming of."
But the price was true, the realtor assured Mara, and he even lowered it a little when Mara haggled. In no time at all, they had sold off some of the things they didn't need from their hut. The rest was shipped off to their new home at 23 Winding Wood Drive, Neopia Central. Kara tried saying the new address, and it sounded perfect.
"We're ready," Mara said, then saw Kara looking around at the empty room. She came over and gave her a hug. "Strange, isn't it, to see everything so different? But our new house is wonderful, and don't forget, we'll be together."
"I know," she said, "C'mon, I can't wait to see our new home!"
It was everything they could have hoped for. It was sheltered by the wood around it, and Kara could see several neogardens in the back.
"Do you know why the last owner sold this?" Mara asked the realtor.
"Well, the first owner decided to move out of Neopia and sold all his stuff. As for the most recent owner, I have no idea, they just didn't like it, I guess, maybe they wanted something bigger." He handed Mara the keys. "Enjoy your new home!"
Kara wandered out to the neogardens. One of them had many pretty flowers, and even a little pool. She could see it would be even prettier once someone started taking care of it. Some of the plants looked a bit stunted, but with a little love, they would be as good as new. She wandered into the next garden and suppressed a shudder. This was done over in a Halloweeny style, complete with rotten pumpkins, a Smoking Tree, and a Gnarled Stump. The stump almost seemed alive, and when the wind blew, the dead trees clacked their branches like bones. Someone tapped Kara, and she whirled with claws out to attack. Mara stepped back quickly.
"It's only me, Kara, take it easy. I can see why it would creep you out; this garden is definitely going to be redone."
But they didn't have as much time as they would have liked to change things. Mara had to go to work the next day, and Kara went to neoschool. She didn't make any new friends until halfway through the day, when a fire Lupe cornered her in the hall.
"Hey, you're new aren't you? When'd you move in? Where do you live? Do you have any siblings? Nice to meet you, I'm... well, forget my real name no one calls me that they just all call me Spaz. I don't know why, do you?"
He cocked his head innocently and Kara giggled.
"We just moved in from Mystery Island, we live on Winding Wood Drive, I don't have siblings, I like it here, my name is Kara, and I think I can guess why you have that name."
"Mystery Island, wow, didya like it there? Why did you move here?"
"It was a lot different. It was pretty hot for me; I like here because it's cooler. I had some Kougra friends, but we neomail a lot so I don't miss them too much, and we moved here because my mom found an amazing job and an amazingly cheap home here. Back on the Island we didn't have much, and our neohome was just one room. My mom weaves nifty fancy palm fans, not the plain ones, and they're selling in the Art Centre."
"That's great," Spaz said, "Uh-oh it's almost time for class I have to go bye!"
He shot off down the hall and Kara shook her head in amazement as she watched him zip between other students, who ignored his antics. Obviously they were used to him.
When Kara came home after school, she helped herself to an apple and wandered out to the garden to do her homework. After that she wandered back inside and did some dusting. She was in an upstairs room with fancy Lost Desert pottery when she heard a door downstairs. She bounded down to see her owner setting a box of palm fronds on the table. Mara looked tired but happy.
"Kara, they wanted my fans as fast as I could weave them! I brought some materials home so I can work here if I have time. How was your day at school?"
Kara told her all about Spaz, and Mara laughed. "That's pretty funny. He'll be a good friend. You can invite him over if you want."
Kara looked down at the dustcloth in her paw. "The house needs a little work still..."
"So bring him home, give him a snack, and hand him a mop!"
"Mom, you're silly!"
That night, Kara sat straight up in her bed. Something strange had woken her. The spring night wrapped itself around the house like a warm quilt, and all seemed at peace. She began to doubt herself. Maybe she had dreamed it. Suddenly she stiffened. An unearthly moan resounded through the house. It seemed to come from outside, and Kara fearfully peeked out the window. Nothing moved in the moonlight, and yet she could still hear the sounds of such sorrow and anguish that she found herself running down the hall to Mara's bedroom. Mara was also awake and looking out the window.
"You heard that too?" Kara gasped. "What on earth is it?"
"I don't know," Mara said, frowning. "It's definitely outside, but our doors are securely locked. Maybe that spooky garden is doing it, or that weird stump that I swear looks alive. We can ask someone at the garden shop tomorrow."
Kara and Mara stopped off at the garden shop early the next day and asked the shopkeeper if spooky garden items made noise.
The blumaroo scratched his head. "Well, bluebells make noise when you shake them, but they sound more like little chimes. I can't think of anything else that would make noise.... the spooky speaker plays haunting music, but that's an indoor item and it wouldn't randomly moan. There is a food called Spooky Milk, which floats and wails till you drink it. Did either of you leave a glass of that in the garden?"
"That's not possible," Mara said. "We just moved in."
"Hmmm, can't help you then... sorry."
So Mara went off the Art Centre and Kara walked to school. She saw Spaz and asked him if he wanted to come over and visit.
"Not right now, no. I'm all booked up till next Tuesday, what can I say, I'm a popular guy! But I'd be glad to come over then if that's all right, oh hey whoops, I'm gonna be late if I don't hurry to history, bye!"
Once again he shot off down the hall.
Kara and Mara spent their evenings straightening things up and cleaning the house.
Several days later, Mara called to Kara, "Where did you put the mop?"
Kara popped her head out of the living room. "I haven't used it; it's wherever you put it last."
"I put it in the kitchen and it's not here."
They searched and found it in the room with the pottery.
"How did it get in here? I certainly haven't been using it in here, although this room could use it," Mara said, staring at the expensive pottery covered with cobwebs and dust.
But that wasn't all. The next morning she called Kara into the kitchen. "Kara, would you please tell me when you almost finish something so I can put it on our grocery list? We're totally out of apples and down to the last two slices of bread. It's a bit hard to make lunches when we're running out of things."
Kara sighed. "I took an apple after school yesterday for my snack, but there were two left in the fridge. And I haven't touched the bread."
Mara stared at the Wocky for a moment. "I know you don't lie to me about anything, but this is really weird. I don't remember taking them either."
That wasn't the end of it, either. Things kept getting misplaced, and the spooky night noises didn't stop.
Next Tuesday, when school let out, Kara waited for Spaz to show up. He'd asked what the Kougras on Mystery Island had played with her, and she'd never answered. Now she was waiting behind a bush by the front door. Her backpack lay on the ground in front of it. Spaz zipped out the door and stopped, looked around, then saw her backpack. He trotted over to it, which put him in perfect pouncing range. Kara leaped, all four paws hitting him on his side and bowling him over. He ended up on his back, with Kara on her stomach, her teeth inches from his face. For once, he was a loss for words. She nipped him lightly on the nose and hopped off.
"And that's what I used to play with the Kougras on the island," she said.
"Sheesh." He got up and shook himself off. "I never knew you had that in you; ever thought of battling?"
Kara laughed, and they walked home together. When they came to Winding Wood Drive, Kara started up the path to their front door.
"This is it," she announced, "and just wait till you see the really neat neogardens in back."
But he was frozen at the foot of the path, staring at the house. She sighed and waved her paw in his face.
"Hello? Is something wrong?"
"This is your house?" Spaz asked, sounding like he had a Greeble in his throat.
"You said something about buying it cheap, and no wonder." His shoulders slumped. "Only someone who wasn't from Neopia Central wouldn't know. They keep selling it to Neopians from other places, but no one ever stays in it more than a year."
"It's haunted. Someone used to own it a while ago, but then suddenly they stopped showing up, their pet disappeared and no one ever heard from it again; it never even showed up in the pound, but ever after the house has been haunted, so now there are zillions of theories as to why it might be a ghost and I think my favorite is the one about how the owner and the dark faeries were conspiring, but they needed an expendable neopet..."
Kara tuned out his chatter and thought of the moans, the misplaced or missing items, and other strange happenings.
"Oh," she said, interrupting his story.
Spaz snorted. "Is that all you can say? 'Oh?'"
"Well, we have heard some pretty funny noises. I guess that explains it. But if it really is a ghost, it must not want to hurt us or anything, or it would have done it by now. C'mon, let's go inside."
Spaz reluctantly followed and they worked together on their math homework while sitting at the kitchen table. He left a while before Mara got home, and Kara nearly pounced on Mara as soon as she entered the door.
"Our house is haunted!"
"What? Start from the beginning."
Kara explained everything Spaz had said to her, and Mara sighed. "Right now this is the only house we have, and since this ghost hasn't hurt us, let's just ignore it. Maybe it will get tired of bothering us."
That didn't exactly work. The night noises got louder and Kara started hearing footsteps down the hall. Large, heavy footsteps, probably belonging to some horrific monster. Anything they bought, food or clothing, either vanished or turned up in some odd place. They both said nothing and pretended it all was normal, but Mara looked more and more worried as they found an onion in the bathroom sink, Kara's shoe floating in the bathtub, mud tracked onto the carpet, and palm fronds hanging from the chandelier. But the last straw was when Kara found her math homework on the kitchen counter, soaking in a puddle from the overturned water glass beside it.
"I have had it!" she screamed. "I have absolutely had it! All we want is a house to live in instead of a tiny stifling hut! We just want to have nice things like everyone else. We work hard and we don't hurt anyone, so stop it, do you hear me? Yes, I'm talking to you, stop ruining our lives!"
Mara stared at Kara, who stood there, fur standing on end, and claws digging into the wood floor.
"I know, Mom," she said, "I'm supposed to be patient and take it, but this is crazy."
She whirled and ran upstairs, stood in the middle of the hallway, and shouted the same message. Then for good measure she did it in the garden.
Oddly enough, the next few days were quiet. Kara told Spaz what she had done, and he looked alarmed.
"Ghosts are nothing to play with," he warned her, uncharacteristically serious. "You don't know what it might do next."
But that started Kara thinking. Was it a ghost? Ghosts could make noises, but could they take food and move mops? Why did she hear slow, ominous footsteps in the hallway? Ghosts didn't have feet, did they? She knew some ghost-painted pets, but those were just a different color on the outside. So on Saturday, she approached Mara, who was trying a new design that looked like a sun in the middle.
"These will be popular in Altador, don't you think?" Mara said, holding up the half-finished fan.
"That's amazing. Um, could we go for a walk when you're done?"
"Sure," Mara said, although she looked curiously at Kara.
They left the house and started strolling down the street.
Mara said after a while, "What's up?"
"Maybe it's silly, but I think this way we can keep it from hearing us. What are we going to do? Ignoring it didn't work, and maybe I startled it, since things have been quiet, but that's not a solution. Then I started thinking about how it doesn't act like a ghost. What if it's not? I hear big scary footsteps but ghosts just glide. And what about all the misplaced things, can ghosts move stuff? And even if it is a ghost, can't we try to talk to it, instead of ignoring it, and find out what it wants so maybe it will go away and we can have some peace and quiet and no more of my sneakers floating in the bathtub?"
Mara shrugged. "We can try it. You think this isn't a ghost?"
"No, remember how stuff was misplaced, but the food just vanished? Maybe it's eating it."
"Not totally, we found that onion in the bathroom sink," Mara pointed out.
"Vampires hate garlic; maybe it doesn't like onions?"
They both dissolved into giggles at the thought of an onion-hating ghost.
So the next day, Mara set three places for supper and Kara went upstairs, downstairs, and outside to announce: "I'd like to thank you for being so nice the last few days. Would you like to come to supper? There's an extra place for you and if you don't feel like eating, we'll just leave it overnight, okay?"
No one answered, but the food was gone the next morning, and the house untouched. Kara started talking to their houseguest, asking his/her opinion on things, or telling stories about school.
The next time she heard heavy footsteps down the hall, she darted out of her bed and opened the door. The noise stopped. Nothing moved.
"What, can't you sleep? Did I take your bedroom or something?" She took a step into the hallway.
Mara's door opened at the other end, and her owner looked out. "Kara? Are you all right?"
"Yeah, Mom, I'm just talking to our ghost."
"Oh, good night then."
Mara's door closed but Kara heard something else, like a little snort.
"What? You're surprised she's so calm about it? Why not? You haven't really hurt us. Well, I did get blisters once because I had to wear one wet sneaker to school, but I won't hold that against you." As she talked, Kara walked slowly down the hall toward where the snort had come from. She heard a shuffle in the carpet away from her.
"See! You're not a ghost! Ghosts don't shuffle. Who are you, and why are you hiding?"
Suddenly she ran into something very large, very immovable, and very invisible.
"Yaugh!" she yelped.
It stumbled away from her, and she said, "I'm sorry, you just startled me."
Mara's door opened again. "What happened?"
"Careful Mom, our friend's in the middle of the hallway."
Mara flipped on the light. "Really?"
"Ow." Mara squinted. "Yes. I ran into it and I already said I was sorry. It just startled me; it was kinda big."
Mara looked down the apparently empty hallway. So did Kara. They didn't see anything. Then Kara looked at the carpet. There was a squished down patch partway down the hall.
"Look, about halfway between us, there's a squished patch on the carpet."
Part of it unflattened and then there were two smaller spots.
"See?" Kara said, pointing, "now it's standing up. 'It,' that sounds so stupid. Are you a boy or a girl, anyway?"
A huge sigh ruffled her fur, and a sad voice said, "I'm a boy, and you're right, I'm not a ghost."
Mara took charge. "Tell you what, let's all go downstairs and have some hot cocoa while we talk this over. I'm Mara, as you probably know, and that's Kara. What's your name?"
"It's a hopeless jumble of letters and numbers, but you can call me Ghost, if you want."
Next Monday, Kara stood in the hallway between classes, waiting for Spaz.
"There he is," she said, seemingly to herself.
"Spaz, wait just a second! We need to talk!"
"Hi, Kara, how was your weekend, any progress on the ghost problem, did you have trouble with number four in your science homework? I did, and maybe we can work it out...."
"Wait, wait, wait," Kara said, holding up a paw to stop him. "First, my weekend was fantastic! And we don't have a ghost problem at all. It turns out there is no ghost; the original owner just left, and the neopet - it was a Grarrl, by the way - didn't want to go in the pound. So he used all his owner's neopoints to buy a paintbrush and paint himself invisible, so he kept on living in the same house. Plus he played ghost to scare away anyone who tried to move in, so he could keep staying there and not get caught and dumped in the pound."
"What? That's crazy! How do you know that?"
"Have you met my new brother? His name is Ghost."
"Hi!" came a deep voice out of nowhere five feet above the Lupe's head.
Kara interrupted, "Oops, we'll be late if we don't hurry. Come on over after school. We can talk more."
Kara peeked back and saw him still standing there, stunned. She laughed.
"Hey Kara," Ghost said as a student bounced off him, "how do they do attendance if I'm invisible?"
"Well, they just get used to your voice, I suppose, and you can't walk out of the classroom; you don't tiptoe very well."
"Hey, Grarrls aren't supposed to tiptoe...."
This is my fourth submission to the Neopian Times. Thanks for reading it, and any questions, comments, or criticism are always welcome.