Last Tuesday I found a neon snowman in my back garden. He was a largely broken thing, obviously discarded by his previous owners, having run his course of use – I found his entire right side not to work at all, and his most of his left arm had been ripped off by someone - or something – during his journey to me. But he still functioned roughly, more or less. My blue Tonu face was reflected in the cool white plastic, still relatively unscathed; when I flicked on the switch at his back, I still saw that familiar throb of lights, and heard his cheery Christmas song pounding out softly from his tiny speakers.
There were a lot of these things around during the holidays, and I remembered them smiling at me gently from the white-framed windows of my neighbours’ houses. But it was late April now, and right at the death of Spring, a little snowman lying face-down in my flower patch, beaten by the lash of a ferocious sun, looked very strange to me indeed.
I didn’t have much use for him, and I doubted many others would, either, so I decided to take the neon snowman to the scrap heap, and toss him in with that vast, never-ending pile of trash that stuck up through Neopia’s centre.
I set down the path at the front of my house, and I could feel the night air cold upon the bare skin of my hands. The moon was alight on the red slates of the houses as I passed by. I could hear Spardels howling at the stars some place far away. The air smelt strangely of ketchup, which must have meant Fred had been in the street recently, hawking those greasy burgers in their foam boxes again.
Black, elegant streetlights burned with pale fire, and I was careful to keep within their light, because I knew that dark things dwelled within the shadows, especially in this part of town. More than once, I had been unlucky enough to stumble too far away from the path, and stumble upon something that had shocked or disturbed me. Those images still played hauntingly in my head from time to time; hidden deep in my dreams, in my nightmares.
By ways I made it to the end of the street, where the pavements were lined with great, towering hedges, and the sweet air swayed pleasantly with the smell of cut grass. The concrete walls were lined with the usual red graffiti tags and marker-made messages that probably meant absolutely nothing to anyone other than those they were aimed at, along with the odd dispersed ‘Chet Flash Wuz Here’.
Street signs were everywhere, pointing their tall wooden bodies in every direction conceivable, homing to entice the small blue Tonu at their feet on some unknown journey. But I only had eyes for one: the sign that directed me down the street at my left, and bore the words, ‘scrap yard, three miles’.
I’d frowned, never having realised it was that long. On foot, I’d have a very long journey on my hands. Should I go back? Probably better to; it was getting awfully dark out here in the streets. I could see shades of the northern lights between the pattern of stars in the sky, but all the streetlights had gone out in the wind, and the moon had died behind the clouds.
Still, there was something intangible that drew me there, and every fibre in my body was urging me to again set forth, even if my mind told me resolutely not to. What could that be? Come to think of it, why had I decided to go in the first place? It didn’t make much sense. The snowman in my pocket was just a garish piece of rubbish, a neon toy devised by some Virtupets employed designer to try and earn a pretty penny from the feverish seasonal shoppers.
I took it from my pocket, there, in the middle of the road, and had a good, hard look into its foam eyes. It was battered, bruised, used, and half-wrecked, its neon red and green lights only alive on one side of it. Some spoiled brat had probably plucked it from some shelved box and flung it over my wall. Why couldn’t I just toss it in the bin? Why come all the way out here, in the night, bound for the dump, just to throw it on the heap and watch it rot?
Perhaps I was losing my sanity. The thought had crossed my mind more than once in the past weeks. I’d begun to hear things that weren’t there, see that didn’t really make much logical sense in the real world. Just the other day, I’d been sitting on a bench, in the daylight of the local park, reading a small book of quotes, though I couldn’t remember by whom, or concerning what. In any case, I’d glanced up at the sky for a fleeting moment, and thought I saw something glistering on the top of a fluffy white cloud. I stared, and couldn’t quite comprehend it, for there was something golden there, and fuzzy to my eyes, I couldn’t quite see it right, until the images began to form in my head, and I perceived a city there, shining, in the deep blue.
Foolishly, I felt that I should point this out to everyone else in the park. I raised my finger to the sky, and shouted to grab the attention of all the other pets. And they cast their eyes up too, but obviously did not notice what I noticed, for they just shook their heads and contrived to get far away from me, the insane, babbling blue Tonu in the middle of the park, pointing away at nothing.
Exasperated, I shouted some more, but nothing happened. Nobody noticed. Nobody cared. The golden city in the sky drifted by and out of sight.
Now that I thought of it, there, feeling increasingly afraid for myself in that darkened street, there was definitely something badly wrong, but I’d somehow managed to brush it off my conscience until that moment.
And all this, all these revelations, because I’d found an old Christmas novelty thing in my backyard. All because I hadn’t put in a trash can, and because I was wandering, increasingly lost, along the street.
Dumbly, I let the neon snowman drop from my stiff fingers. It crashed to the pavement viciously, and there it was finally broken once and for all, the plastic panel on its front coming off with the foam eyes and foam nose, and the corroded, unmoving gears inside laid bare to the skies.
I stumbled to a fence, and stared dumbly at the grass beneath my feet, where a million discarded bottles seemed to hide in the thick green. Every time I closed my eyes, I seemed to become even more uncertain of myself, or why I was here. What had happened to me these past eight years, since moving away from the farm? I don’t think I remembered. The city wasn’t my kind of place. Too much noise, too many soulless, miserable blue-collared pets wandering through the streets with a permanent scowl on their face and a tie around their neck.
Perhaps I could move back to my old home, someday, if the opportunity ever arose...
But right now, I still had to find my way home, if I could remember. The grass was wet and cold and unpleasant, so I stepped out of that, and back up onto the pavement, and heard a little bird singing in the trees nearby.
The snowman was still lying, broken, by the pavement. I tried to ignore it, and turned left.
I crashed into somebody.
That somebody was a blue Bruce, cloaked, and scowling.
“Watch where you’re going, Tonu,” he growled, getting to his feet and roughly brushing himself down.
“I’m sorry,” I said, quickly, stretching a hand to help him, but he whipped it away.
In that moment, his cloak moved, and I saw something astonishing emblazoned on the pocket of his coat.
“S-snowman?” I stuttered.
“What?” he snapped, looking at me as if I was a gibbering madman, which I probably was.
“That,” I explained, and pointed.
“Oh, I see!” he replied, realising what I meant. He lowered his voice.
“You haven’t... seen it, have you? It’d be plastic, though, a little tacky Christmas trinket, with neon lights on it.”
I faltered, “Why do you ask?”
“Cursed. We’ve been destroying them for years. A dark magician named Ruiz likes to play a little trick on people. It’s nothing that looks too suspect, probably something most would pick up and put in the bin. But once you touch it, you’re gone.”
I felt my heart sink like a lead balloon. I should have told him everything, explained about the neon snowman, and how I was slowly losing my mind. But I didn’t. Instead, I said something completely different. “Snowmen? Isn’t that a bit... insane?”
”Oh yes. Ruiz went mad many years ago. Not even the other dark magicians will associate with him now. He lives, isolated, on a cloud, in a golden city in the sky. It’s invisible, though, to all but his planned victims. Don’t ask me to explain the logic behind that, but trust me, it’s true. Incidentally, that’s the curse. The affected pet goes mad, loses control of themselves. It’s small things at first, but it gets worse over time.”
“Thank you,” I said, staring into the night. I tried to swallow, but my dry throat hurt. “I haven’t seen it, but I wish you luck. Goodnight.”
The Bruce nodded, and slowly walked on. I don’t think he noticed the broken snowman at the side of the pavement. At least, I hope he didn’t. Perhaps that way, word cannot get out of what happened to me, and I can fade away in peace.
I conclude this story with the last ounces of my sanity. Soon, I will lose control completely of what I am doing, and where I will be. But I have accepted my fate now, and welcome what is to come, by and by.
Just pray you never see that golden city in the sky, or meet the cursed neon snowman, smiling up innocently at you from the grass.