Baby Adventures - Not for the Adult at Heart
It was nearly sundown and TenderHorn, the baby Tonu, had foolishly made the mistake of wandering into the Haunted Woods. At first, he hadn’t thought it was a big deal, it had seemed like a great shortcut but now he was having regrets. The branches overhead were so thick and tangled that they cut off his view of the sky. He couldn’t tell if it were late afternoon or dusk and the heavy silence that hung over the woods didn’t help to orientate him any better. The path had at first been easily discernable and he hadn’t had a problem following its course. Now, however, it was overgrown with dead weeds and thick tree roots so that he had no idea if he was even still on the path.
The silence was shattered by the wild cry of some bird unseen in the branches above. He gave a strangled cry of fear then bolted into the underbrush, desperate to find cover. His thunderous progression through the dried out bushes and weeds made him sure that something was after him. Unable to control his panic, he ran and ran, until exhausted he collapsed beneath a gnarled tree where he lay gasping for breath.
He was only a baby; he shouldn’t have been out on his own, but his sister, Thinkerbell, had been busy and everyone else had been out of the house, and he’d really wanted to see to go to Coltzan’s Shrine. It had been a worthless trip, as he’d only had his hands glow blue for a few moments, but he had fun while he was there. He wasn’t having fun now. A whimper escaped him; he couldn’t help it. All he wanted was his mommy and to be home, safe and snug in his room where he belonged.
The sun had now clearly started its descent, for a quiet darkness was slowly filling the woods. The bird that had startled him so badly had not made any more sounds, though perhaps, he was far enough away that he wouldn’t have even heard it if it had cried out. He was now hopelessly lost and totally on his own.
As his breathing calmed down a bit, he heard what sounded like faint music. He strained his ears and realized that sure enough, he was hearing music. It sounded like carnival music beckoning to him out of the dark. Getting up, he began to limp towards the sound, still thoroughly exhausted from his wild run through the forest.
The music got louder and he began to catch glimpses of glittering lights through the trees. His heart leapt; at last, salvation and he bolted towards the illumination. Suddenly, he skidded to a stop. Before him stood a massive rod iron gated entrance to what looked like a carnival but the carnival didn’t look right. The music was discordant as if whatever played the tune had been long broken and it was the only sound. There wasn’t the chatter of fair goers or the shrill cries of people on rides. There was just the eerie music playing and nothing else.
Feeling like a puppyblew who had been kicked a few times too many, he slunk forward with his head down and his tail tucked between his legs. It was against his better judgment to venture forward, but he could see the shadows of what he hoped were neopets moving around. Perhaps they’d be willing to help him, or a horrible thought drifted behind that, eat him.
He passed a small yellow building when a voice hissed, making him jump, “Want to come inside? Try your hand at a Deserted Fairground Scratchcard?”
TenderHorn looked up to see a creepy Nimmo in patched up clothing hunched over and leering at him. Quickly, he shook his head, taking a few steps backwards. The Nimmo laughed and shrugged his shoulders, then hobbled back into the building. There was a low throaty chuckle behind him and he whirled around in horror.
A blue Scorchio in a black cape and holding a terribly wicked looking axe stood beside a cave that looked more like an esophagor head with a yawning mouth, eyes and an axe buried in its skull. The mouth and eyes flickered with a fire burning in their depths and TenderHorn again took a few startled steps back.
“Are you lost?” the Scorchio chortled as he eyed him up and down with calculating yellow eyes.
He tried to respond but his tongue seemed thick and swollen, so he merely shook his head and took another step back.
The Scorchio took a step towards him. “Really? You seem lost. Perhaps I can help you. Simply come in my shop and I’ll do my best to help you out.” The Scorchio grinned, revealing a row of maliciously sharp teeth, and gestured toward the flickering mouth of the cave.
TenderHorn looked over his shoulder at the uninviting entrance and shook his head violently. Before the Scorchio could try to further entice him into whatever trap he had laid, he turned around and bolted for the entrance.
His escape was deterred, though, when the hunchback Nimmo stepped out of his little building and right into his path. TenderHorn gave a cry and veered sharply to his right, panic blinding him to any sense of logic. Suddenly, from the shadows of a tent, someone threw their arms around him, arresting his flight in midstep. Thrashing violently, he was dragged into the canvassed darkness of the tent, screaming at the top of his lungs the entire time.
“Where’s Tender?” Silent asked as she set down the groceries that her and CoralDancer had just picked up from the market.
Torinaar looked up from his homework, looked around, then responded, “I don’t know; I was at school today and when I came home, he was gone. I thought he was with you. You should ask Thinker. She might know.”
Silent left Coral to take care of putting up the groceries and walked up to Thinkerbell’s room. She was sitting by her window, painting her nails, and talking to the neighboring pink Aisha.
“Yeah, I totally think pink is your color. Of course, you aren’t as lucky as me, any color looks good with my complexion but…”
Silent cleared her throat, interrupting the clearly deep conversation. Thinker looked startled, then smiled and asked, “What’s up, Mom?”
“Where’s your little brother? When I left this morning, you were supposed to watch him.” Silent wasn’t worried yet, but from the puzzled expression on Thinker’s face, she knew that she should start very soon.
Thinker added the last bit of nail polish to her paw, then sat up. “Oh yeah, I remember him saying something about wanting to go to Coltzan’s Shrine. I told him I was busy, so I’m pretty sure he’s like playing around the house somewhere.”
“You’re pretty sure?”
Silent’s patience was being tested by her oldest, especially when the response she received was, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure, but he hasn’t bugged me in a while.” The look she gave the disco Wocky was enough to convince the two girls that it was time to part ways. The Aisha waved and then took off, leaving Thinker to handle Silent and the missing baby on her own. Both of them looked through the whole house, but TenderHorn was nowhere to be found. At this point, Silent engaged the other members of their family to look, but it was clear after a few minutes that TenderHorn was gone.
“You said he wanted to go to Coltzan’s Shrine?” Silent asked and Thinker nodded her head glumly. She was staring at her feet, blinking real hard to keep her tears at bay. With Tender being missing, she knew that not only was he probably lost somewhere or perhaps worse, but she was also in big trouble. He’d been her responsibility and now he had to go and mess things up by getting himself lost.
“Well, I guess that’s where we need to begin, then.” Silent sighed and looked at her multi-species family. Trying to fight back her rising panic, she locked up the house behind them and they made their way to the Lost Desert, making sure to steer wide of the Haunted Woods. When they arrived, Coltzan’s Shrine wasn’t very busy, but a small Eyrie that hung out regularly was still there.
“Have you by chance seen a baby Tonu come through? He would have been on his own.” Silent prayed that the Eyrie had seen her precious little baby, and perhaps could even direct them to where he had headed to.
The Eyrie thought about it then nodded. “Yeah, but he left hours ago. He was all excited that he’d come out here on his own, though he was really disappointed when nothing happened, but that’s Coltzan for you. Sometimes he blesses you and other times, you’re just ignored.”
“Did you, like, by any chance, see which way he headed?” Thinker inquired, her voice trembling with hope.
The Eyrie pointed in the direction of their home then added, “He seemed in a big hurry, if that helps you any.” It didn’t, but Silent thanked him for his help and they headed back towards their home. As they began the outward swing around the Haunted Woods, a thought suddenly occurred to her.
“You don’t think he’d take a shortcut through the woods, do you?” she asked Torinaar.
There was silence and then Thinker broke it. “Yeah, I bet he would. He’s not real smart like that. I bet he’s totally lost in the forest and that’s why he hasn’t come home.”
Silent glared at her then turned the beam of her flashlight at the twisted trunks of the Haunted Woods. Heaving a heavy sigh, she announced, “Well then, I guess we’d better search the Haunted Woods.”
“Are you serious?” Thinker cried out. “There’s like scary things in there and monsters that would get us. You don’t really want us to go in there, do you?” The look Silent gave her quieted any further protest she had and they crept cautiously forward, aware the forest was no place to go at night but having no choice but to do so.
The forest was a mass of shadows and unidentified lumps. The flashlights barely penetrated the inky black and Silent’s heart sank. How were they supposed to find a small, terrified baby Tonu who was probably cowering somewhere that their voices wouldn’t carry?
“TenderHorn,” she belted, straining to hear the whimpers of her baby but there were only the chilling sounds of the Haunted Woods.
Thinkerbell was slinking about, desperately calling for their little brother; she was now feeling incredibly guilty. It was all her fault that TenderHorn had wandered away on his own. If she hadn’t been so busy paying attention to herself, she could have taken Tender to see Coltzan’s Shrine. Then they would be back at home, enjoying dinner rather than getting lost in the woods.
As if Silent sensed what she was thinking, she called out, “I hate to do this, but we can’t go further into the woods or we’re going to be lost too. We’ve got to notify the Neopets Team that TenderHorn is lost and maybe, just maybe, they’ll be able to help us out. Oh faeries be awed, I hope that Tender’s okay. If anything happened to that little boy, I don’t know what I would do.” Silent’s face nearly crumpled into tears and CoralDancer rushed to her side, rubbing her shoulders in an effort to comfort her.
“It’s okay; Tender’s little, but he’s full of spunk and I’m sure he will pull through this just fine,” she reassured Silent, but her face read otherwise. They were all afraid that the worst had happened to the Tonu. He was cute but he wasn’t known for getting out of trouble on his own. No, he was known for getting into trouble without any effort.
“Hey Mom, maybe he’s at home, waiting for us and wondering where we went off to. Come on, it’s going to be okay.” Torinaar carefully guided her back in the direction that they had come.
Thinkerbell stood for a few minutes, shining her flashlight into the woods and calling out Tender’s name once more. For a moment, she thought that she heard the haunted sound of carnival music singing through the trees, then the wind moaned and the sound was lost.
When they got home, everyone went to their separate bedrooms, but neither Thinker nor Silent was sleeping that night. Silent paced back and forth across her room’s light blue carpet, wringing her hands together and praying that Tender would come running through the door. What if he were lying dead somewhere or what if some dark faerie were torturing him with magic? It was more than she could bear and she finally allowed herself to cry.
Meanwhile, Thinker was in her room, lying in her bed and staring at the wall. Never before had she been bothered by any of her actions. She was after all, Thinkerbell, but for once in her life, she felt horrible about something. She couldn’t help but blame herself for his disappearance. What if they never found him? What if the last words that she had spoken to him had been that she was busy? She didn’t know how she would live with herself, and when she did fall asleep, it was desperately praying that her baby brother was found.
TenderHorn sat in a chair, shivering with his tail tucked behind him. The carnival music was still playing and made him want to scream for it to shut up, but he just sat there, whimpering and fighting tears.
The Aisha called over her shoulder as one of her customers shot at the targets on the shelf, “Sorry, I scared you so bad, little one, but you were running in a blind panic and I knew that you wouldn’t hear me if I tried talking to you. We’re not a bad lot, but everyone’s so afraid of the Haunted Woods that they don’t even question whether we’re good or bad. I just want to help you out; I’m guessing you’re lost. Do you want to try again or do you accept that you just can’t hit the broad side of a barn?” The Acara hissed at her and practically tossed the cork gun on the counter. Though she had her back to him, TenderHorn could tell from the position of her shoulders that she was laughing at the neopet while she counted the collected neopoints.
“Yeah, I am lost. I was just trying to get home and thought I’d take a shortcut. The forest didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time, but it’s much scarier than I knew. The path doesn’t stay a path and there’s things in there that sound like they’re going to eat me.” She looked over her shoulder at his comment and smiled. Then he added, “Is there any way to win that game?”
The look she gave at that question made him want to press the issue but she began, “I’d love to take you home, but as you see, I’ve got a very busy business to run here and I can’t leave it or I lose money. I’ve called the Neopets Team and they’re going to help you back to your home. You’ve just got to chill out for a while and enjoy the show. Would you like to try your hand at getting some faboo prizes? If you hit it, it goes home with you,” she called out to a couple of neopets strolling casually by her tent. The Quiggle giggled and batted her eyes at the Nimmo holding her hand but he shook his head. He probably smelled a scam and wisely was passing.
“Bummer,” she swore, “the couple are usually easier to convince to play. Something about wanting to win a prize for their date, oh well. Oh look, there’s the Neopets Team, and not a moment too soon.”
“Do you want me gone that bad?” Tender asked, feeling wounded by her excitement over getting rid of him.
The Aisha quickly squatted beside him so that he could look into her blue eyes. “No, but I’m easily distracted and you’re such a great little Tonu to talk to that I’m missing out on business. If it were only up to enjoying your company, you’d be stuck here forever, but I can’t do that and there’s so much more to worry about. You take care, Tender, and remember, we’re not bad people, but it’s probably a wise idea to take your known path home in the future.”
Tender grinned at her then rose to meet the Neopets Team. Though he was glad to be going home, he was sad to be leaving his new friend, and he waved at her before following the two uniformed figures into the dark.
Silent was still pacing back and forth but she had quit crying a while ago. When the doorbell rang, she ran to the door so fast that she practically flew. She flung the door open and cried out. Not even waiting for an explanation, she threw her arms around Tender and hugged him as if she were trying to squeeze the life out of him.
“Mom, Mom, stop. I can’t breathe.” Tender pawed at her and she laughed, wiping tears out of her eyes.
“I’m sorry, I just thought I may never see you again. I was sure that you were gone forever. Don’t ever do that again, ever,” she scolded him, then hugged him again. At that second hug, she remembered the Neopets Team and rose, smiled and announced, “I really appreciate you guys finding him. We knew he was in the Haunted Woods, but we couldn’t search for him without getting lost ourselves.”
The two attendants smiled knowingly then one replied, “It happens; we’re just glad we were able to help. Next time, young man, wait for someone to take you out. You’re too little to be wandering on your own.” They nodded their farewells then almost seemed to melt into the night. Silent smothered Tender in more hugs and kisses, then hurried him to the others’ rooms and woke them all up. Thinkerbell was beyond thrilled and made sure that she sat down next to Tender when they all sat at the kitchen table. Once everyone was comfortable, they urged Tender to share his story and he was more than willing to oblige them.
Later, Thinkerbell snuck into Tender’s room and shook him awake. “I’m sorry that I was too busy for you. Remind me of this next time and we’ll go out.” The little Tonu smiled at her and reached up to smooth her disco fur down.
“Don’t worry, Thinker, I won’t be leaving on my own again. I’m sorry that I’m such a pain in the neck. I don’t try to be, but I know I am.” He burrowed into his pillow and she felt so guilty.
“No, you’re not a pain in the neck; you’re just my little brother. Hey, tomorrow, let’s go to Coltzan’s Shrine, okay?” Tender nodded his head excitedly and Thinker ruffled his mane on his head. With that, she kissed him goodnight then went back to her room. She had learned an important lesson; her brother was more important than the petty things in life and she was going to appreciate that from now on.