“Go to the market and come straight back. And don’t separate from your brother.”
These were the instructions given by Elissa to Libby, her Poogle. They seemed simple enough to Libby. She had no reason to suspect that following them would be even slightly difficult. Even though this was her first time to the market without her owner, Libby was prepared. Though planning for a simple market trip might seem unnecessary to an outsider, to Libby it was crucial.
“And remember, if anything, I repeat, anything, goes wrong, you will never be able to go to the market without my supervision again.”
These words echoed in the Poogle’s mind, and she dedicated herself to the task with firm resolve. She had planned out everything she needed to buy and where she should buy it. She had scheduled the afternoon with precision the Brain Tree would be proud of. She had even drawn out a map of the path from her house to the market, just in case she and her younger brother managed to get lost. In Libby’s mind, there was nothing that was left unplanned; therefore, nothing could go wrong.
Libby had not planned for her brother.
Seven hours had passed since Elissa had given Libby her final reminders. Now, Libby was wandering through the Haunted Woods, three hours after Elissa expected her home. Her now useless map was crumpled in her pocket. Her clothing was torn, her shoes were damp, her feet were sore and her brother was...
Chester the Usuki Usul was prancing through the dark and dreary forest, singing loudly about some long forgotten hero who had once slain an evil monster while traveling through the forest. He, like his sister, had torn clothing, damp shoes, and sore feet. He did not care.
Libby was in no mood for song.
“Stop. Now.” The Poogle lacked her brother’s enthusiasm.
“Discard thy glum spirits, Libby! We are on an adventure! I shall be like the brave Aradus, who traversed woods like these. He too, was quite lost. He too, was quite hungry. He too, was quite tired. But did he complain? Never! Would you like to hear his tale of glory?”
Libby said no. Chester continued anyway.
“Aradus, most courageous of Kacheeks, kept traveling without complaint and stumbled upon a decrepit house in the middle of the forest. A coward might have avoided such a dismal dwelling, but not Aradus. He marched in the door and defeated the monster lurking inside. Think of what adventure we might find!”
“I am thinking of what 'adventure' we might find,” Libby grumbled. “That’s the problem.”
Everything was going so well just a few hours ago. Libby brought her brother to the market, she bought everything on her list, and she was ready to return home three and a half minutes ahead of schedule. However, things rarely went as planned with Chester.
The Poogle and the Usul were going along the prescribed route when something seemingly minor changed everything. A small and badly worn wooden sign was posted by the side of the main road. Faded black letters were scrawled across it: D-E-T-O-U-R. It guarded a narrow path. Chester stopped and stared at the sign. His eyes widened with the endless possibilities of those six letters.
“Come on, Chester. It’s just a sign.” Libby continued down the road. Chester did not.
“What do you suppose it leads to?” Chester inquired hopefully.
“Probably a dead end, or a creepy house in the middle of the woods.”
Libby regretted those words the instant they passed her lips.
“Well, what are you waiting for, dear sister? There are adventures to be had!” Chester sprinted off down the ominous path.
Libby stood a moment in shock, then quickly considered her possibilities.
“Go to the market and come straight back. And don’t separate from your brother”
If only Elissa had known it would be impossible to do both. Libby finally decided that abandoning her brother in the middle of the woods would net her a far greater punishment than simply being late would. Libby ran after her brother.
“Who knows,” she thought. “Maybe this isn’t too bad. Maybe we will get home early.”
That was four hours ago. Libby had long ago figured out that this path was no shortcut. In fact it seemed to be an endless tour through the scariest portions of the Haunted Woods. Libby had also long seen the foolishness of bringing her younger brother to the market with her. Chester had a history of doing stupid things in the name of adventure. He had even once brought a sword to school to “protect fair maidens from foul monsters”. Elissa had wisely punished him by repainting him green, ridding him of his musketeer persona temporarily.
“Why oh why did she paint you back,” Libby mumbled. Being dressed up in a strange costume seemed to fuel Chester’s desire to be heroic.
Chester chose to ignore her comment. Libby trudged along, knowing she would be grounded eternally if she ever got home and thinking that things couldn’t possibly get any worse.
The path took a sharp turn and suddenly the two stood in a spooky grove. And in the center of this grove was a house. An old house. A decrepit house.
A house that made Chester’s heart skip a beat.
“Oh no. Don’t even think about it.”
Chester was not thinking about it. Chester never really thought about things like this. He just did them. He was all ready walking towards the house.
Libby caught up with him and grabbed him by the shoulder. “Oh no you don’t. We’ve been wandering in these creepy woods; we don’t need to get trapped in a creepy house as well.”
The Usul was so excited he could scarcely speak. “It... it is just like the house described in the tale of Aradus the brave.”
“Which is why we ought to avoid it.”
“But sister, we are lost. It is late. Do you not think we should spend the night here?”
Libby would have none of it. “Chester, don’t even try to pretend that you want to stay in this house to get any sort of rest. You want to find some terrible monster in there to slay. Well, guess what, I’ve followed you down this creepy path for hours, and I’m not going in there. We need to go back through your little 'detour' to the main road. That way at least we would get home before sunrise.”
“Why, do you fear a monster? I shall slay him, and be a hero worthy of dozens of ballads!”
“What do you plan to slay him with, your pencils?”
“No sister, I am a hero. I am always prepared for situations such as this. Take comfort in the fact that I am well equipped to fight even the greatest monster.”
Libby’s eyes fell on her younger brother’s bag, which lay peacefully at his side. She couldn’t think of what could give him such confidence until she remembered...
“You didn’t bring a sword, did you? You did. You brought a sword.”
“I... Nay, I brought no sword. Elissa confiscated it after the... incident at school. But fear not, I am well equipped.” And with that he ran into the house.
“Chester, don’t make me run after you!”
But it was too late. Chester had already disappeared into the darkness behind the dilapidated doorway. Libby reviewed her options, and once again followed her brother.
Chester was patiently waiting for her inside.
“Oh, see the wonder of this manor!” In his hand was a lit candelabra that illuminated the front room. The wallpaper was peeling. The stairs were ominous. Even the old wooden furniture looked menacing,
“Chester, we need to leave.”
“Nonsense, dear sister! Come, let us see where we shall spend this night.”
He calmly walked up the stairs. Libby reluctantly followed. The stairs let into a long hallway. The door to the first room on the left was open. Maybe it was just the floral wallpaper, but to Libby this room was inviting in comparison to the rest of the house. Two neatly made beds sat in the middle of the room.
“Okay, perfect. Why don’t we sleep here then.”
As usual, Chester did not listen. He slowly continued down the hallway and stopped in front of a door. This door was not only shut, but also bound closed by several chains held with a padlock. Whoever owned the house obviously wanted no one to enter the room.
“Or perhaps he wanted to ensure that whatever is in there does not escape,” Chester mumbled.
Libby knew that Chester would listen to nothing she said, so instead she simply grabbed him and dragged him back to the bedroom. She shut the door.
“If you want to spend the night at this dismal house, fine. But we’re spending it in here. We are not going to wander through the halls all night. They seem so forbidding.”
“But Libby, where is your sense of adventure?”
“It set with the sun. I’m your older sister, so as long as Elissa is not here, I am in charge. I am telling you to go to bed. Good night.”
Chester shrugged. By now even he was tired. They each hopped into a bed, a quickly fell asleep.
They were awoken by the sound of a clock striking twelve.
“What was that?”
“Just the clock, Chester. Go back to sleep.”
“No, the other noise- listen!”
Libby paused for a moment but heard nothing.
“It’s just your imagination. Go back to sleep.”
For a couple minutes there was silence, and then Libby heard the grim sound of a faint howl.
“See, it’s not in my mind! And you said I was hearing things.”
Libby’s face grew pale with terror.
“It doesn’t matter. As long as the noise isn’t in this room, we are safe.” She didn’t really believe her own words.
As if to answer, suddenly the candelabra lit itself. Both brother and sister could see the rocking chair moving, though no one was near.
They wordlessly jumped out of their beds and through the door. Libby quickly shut it behind them.
“We need,” she panted, “to get out. A cold spooky forest is better than a haunted house.”
At that moment a door farther down the hallway creaked open, as if to beckon them inside. Chester walked towards it in a trance-like state.
“Are you mad?”
“It obviously wants us to enter that room, Libby.”
“Which is why we should definitely not go in.”
But even Libby was driven by a strange curiosity through the open door.
The room was full of bookshelves, filled with books that might have even been older than the house. Everything was covered with a thick coat of dust.
A book fell open onto the floor.
His sister screamed and backed away towards the door, but Chester ignored his better instincts and crept towards the open book. He reached for it and dusted off the cover.
“It’s a history of the Haunted Woods,” he said to his sister, who was much more interested in getting out of the woods than learning their history. Chester then looked at the pages that the strange novel had fallen open to.
“Look, Libby, it’s a picture of this house!”
The Poogle reluctantly walked to her brother, and saw that he was quite correct. There was a picture of the house, and next to it a length paragraph describing the story behind the old walls.
“According to this, the house was abandoned when the owners mysteriously disappeared.”
At first Libby was frightened, but then she realized a discrepancy.
“If this house was already abandoned when the book was written, then who brought the book to the house?”
“Maybe the new owner. It states at the end that currently a hermit resides in the house.”
“Currently? Chester, when was this book published?”
Chester flipped to the cover again.
“A century ago,” he replied, “but since the hermit doesn’t live in this house anymore, who does?”
At that moment the strange howl echoed through the halls.
Chester ran from the room and down the hall.
“Where are you going?” Libby cried.
“The noise!” Chester stopped in front of the door bound with chains. “It’s coming from this room.”
Libby slowly walked to where her brother stood.
“Sister, we must find a way to open the door!”
“That is possibly the worst thing we could in this situation.”
Chester’s eyes glowed with the excitement of adventure. “Do you not see? The monster must have locked someone away in there. We must save her.”
“Or maybe it’s the monster that is locked up.”
Chester looked down at the dirty floor. “I had not thought of that,” he said.
“Of course you hadn’t thought of that. You never think of what is dangerous, only of what is 'adventurous'. We need to get out of this house, and soon.”
Before Chester had a chance to consider this advice, another door in the hall flew open. He paused for a moment, and ambled down the hallway.
“Not again,” Libby mumbled. “There is no way this can end well.”
By the time Libby made her way into the most recent of the series of rooms, her brother was staring at an old wooden box lying on a shelf. It opened before her eyes.
“This is just getting too weird.”
Chester moved towards the box and looked inside. An old silver key shone in the light of the candle, which had lit itself. He reached for it and darted back out the door.
“Where are you going?” But by the time she had asked the question, he had answered it. He stood in front of the chained door, and tried to fit the key into the lock.
“You’re going to open the door, which is padlocked, even though someone clearly wanted to keep people out of it.”
Libby was too shocked to even stop him. The key fit perfectly into the lock, and the chains fell off. He gathered his courage and opened the door.
“Hello?” he said nervously. Realizing that he did not sound much like a hero, Chester changed his tone. “If thou art a monster, come forth and fight! If thou art a maiden, call and thou shalt be saved.”
“What? Art thou a coward who doth not want to face brave sir Chester?”
Libby thought it was not a good idea to call a potential monster a coward, for they might then feel inclined to prove otherwise. She was right.
A pair of glowing red eyes appeared in the darkness.
Chester did not even have a chance to see the monster when he was grabbed by his sister and, once again, dragged into the bedroom. She quickly shut the door, but the monster kept pounding against it.
“He’s going to break down the door! Quick, Chester, get out your weapon, whatever it may be, and fight him off.”
Chester shook off his fear. Pride glimmered in his eyes, and courage hardened his face. This was the moment he had been waiting for. Now he could show what a hero he was. The door throbbed from the battering of the beast.
It broke down. Panic ran through Libby’s heart. She looked towards Chester. He calmly reached into his bag, and pulled out-
Both looked at the spud in shock. A day earlier, Elissa had seen Chester’s new weapon- a Ummagine Bomb from the Battledome- in his bag, and gently replaced it with a heavy potato.
They ran out the door. All they needed to do was make it to the front door, and they would be free. Down the hallway, to the stairs...
Libby turned around to see the monster overtake her younger brother. Gone was the ballad describing brave Aradus. Gone was his fancy speech. Gone was his heroic courage. All that was left was a scared Usul screaming pitifully.
But despite all of the crying, Libby noted that the monster didn’t seem to be hurting her brother at all. It looked much smaller than she had thought it was, and it wasn’t even attacking him. No, it was... licking him?
Dawn had broken hours ago, and Libby and Chester had finally found their way back to the main path. Following merrily behind them was a ghost Warf, who had been lonely for decades when his old owners left him when they moved out of the woods. He had been locked up by the hermit because he howled so often.
Chester still seemed nervous around the merry “monster”, but Libby adored him, even though he had scared them so badly.
“Libby, I am sorry I led us astray.”
“It doesn’t matter, Chester. At least we’re going home now. Just don’t do it again.”
“But Libby, surely you know Elissa will punish us. Remember, she specifically said that if you did not come straight home, you would never be allowed to go to the market alone again.”
“So what? Do you really think that after all this I want to go anywhere alone again? Now let's go home.”