Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 176,895,792 Issue: 423 | 18th day of Celebrating, Y11
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Yuletide Witches: Part One


by herdygerdy

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The Christmas Yurble hummed a merry tune under his breath as he read the parchment in his hand. It was a list of names, and this would be the second time he had checked it that night.

      He frowned slightly as he located a name that shouldn’t have been on it.

      “Oh no, he’s been very naughty,” the Yurble muttered to himself, striking though the name as he continued to hum. “Ah, but she’s been very good this year.”

      A sweet cough interrupted his work.

      “Excuse me, Spirit?” a little Candychan in a workman’s apron asked from near the fire.

      The Yurble glanced up from his list and smiled broadly.

      “Ah, Chestnut, I didn’t hear you come in,” he said merrily.

      “The last batch of presents is just being finished, sir,” the Candychan explained. “We’re ready for your inspection, and then we’ll begin loading.”

      “Good, good, I’ll be along presently. Make sure the Raindorfs are prepared,” the Yurble replied.

      The Candychan nodded and rushed off through the door that led to the factory. The noises of the machinery churning out toys could be heard briefly before the door closed.

      The Yurble returned to his list and took a sip of some hot cocoa, but a knock at the other door interrupted him. It was the door that led outside, into the frozen northern wastes.

      “Who could that be at this late hour?” the Yurble asked himself as he sat the mug and the list down on a coffee table.

      He straightened out his red uniform before opening the door. A chilly breeze blew in, carrying with it a few snowflakes.

      A small Halloween Shoyru stood in the doorway, beaming politely at the Yurble. Around his feet was a small puddle of melted snow, as if his body heat was somehow higher than usual. The Yurble couldn’t be sure, but the Halloween costume also seemed a little different. The pitchfork seemed a little sharper... there didn’t seem to be any visible seams in the fabric of his clothes...

      “Can I help?” the Yurble asked kindly.

      “Trick or treat?” the Shoyru asked.

      The Yurble stood in silence for a moment.

      “Sorry?” he asked eventually.

      “Trick or treat?” the little Shoyru repeated.

      “I think you must have the wrong house,” the Yurble explained. “We don’t celebrate Halloween here.”

      The Yurble closed the door firmly. He felt guilty about doing so; it was the season of generosity after all... but there were rules. The Spirit of Giving stayed well away from Halloween.

      No sooner had the Yurble turned his back than there was another knock.

      “Listen,” the Yurble said as he thrust open the door, “There’s no trick or treating...”

      The Yurble trailed off. Where the little Shoyru had been standing, there was now a massive blue Skeith holding a club.

      “Trick!” the Skeith proclaimed as he brought his weapon down firmly over the Yurble’s head.

      The Christmas creature slumped forwards.

      “Good work,” the Halloween Shoyru said as he peeked out from behind the Skeith. “There will be Candychans in the factory that need dealing with; I’ll finish up with him and then we can get started.”

      The Skeith nodded and lumbered over to the factory door as the puny Shoyru used all his strength to drag the unconscious Yurble back inside.

      With one last mischievous look at the frozen ice fields outside, the Shoyru closed the door firmly.

     ***

      ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a Miamouse...

      Stanley Argyle was tucked safely into his warm bed, dozing in an out of consciousness. He’d had an early night, under the thinking that the sooner he went to bed; the sooner Christmas morning would arrive.

      But sleep had not come easily to Stanley. The green Elephante tossed and turned, unable to settle comfortably.

      At last, Stanley gave up the ghost, and got out of bed. He hoped that perhaps a glass of water would help him relax.

      As he took care to creep across the floorboards silently as not to disturb the children in the other room, Stanley made his way to the kitchen downstairs.

      He stood at the window in the kitchen gazing out into the street for some time. It had snowed in Neovia, and the streets were covered in a thick blanket of white. All the lights seemed to be off, everyone was asleep. It was peaceful, almost magical.

      Something caught his eye in the night sky. It was something moving very fast. He saw a streak of red dart across the sky.

      Stanley’s heart fluttered as his eyes made the connection to his memories. The Spirit of Giving was making his rounds, delivering presents to all of Neopia.

      Stanley downed his water as quickly as he could, and turned to make his way back upstairs. It wasn’t allowed to be awake when the Spirit of Giving visited. It was tradition... or something like that.

      A noise on the wind outside made Stanley pause in his footsteps. It was a laugh, but not the jolly ho-ho-ho that the Elephante had expected to hear. It was a cackle, maddened and high pitched.

      At once, Stanley dashed back to the window. The object in the sky was closer now, descending down towards Neovia. It was a sleigh, but not one Stanley had ever imagined he would see.

      It was pulled by nine Zomutts, magically running through the night air. The lead one had a nose that glowed green in the moonlight, lighting the path. Atop the sleigh was a tiny Halloween Shoyru, nestled among sacks bulging with presents.

      “Now Slasher! Now Gouger! Now Howler and Lasher!” the Shoyru shouted as he held the reigns. “On Putrid! On Mauler! On Biter and Basher! To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall! Now fly away, fly away, fly away all!”

      The sleigh zoomed overhead, and Stanley heard a faint impact on his roof as the vehicle touched down.

      He rushed at once to his front room, where the Christmas tree lay in wait. Down the chimney came a great commotion and the Halloween Shoyru exploded into the front room in a cloud of soot.

      He coughed slightly, before setting himself straight. Then, he held his pitchfork high in the air – but Stanley noted it was not an ordinary pitchfork. Tinsel had been wrapped around it, and it seemed magically charged.

      Stanley’s suspicions were proved correct when the room began to respond to the pitchfork’s call, distorting and changing before his eyes. The stockings above the fire turned grey and worn, flies and maggots overflowing from within. The Christmas tree wilted and withered, the pine needles falling to the floor.

      Then, another figure emerged from the fireplace. It was a large blue Skeith, hauling a sack. He carefully deposited a few presents from within the sack underneath the remains of the Christmas tree. The presents were wrapped in black paper, and didn’t look remotely festive.

      The duo stood back to admire their handiwork, and noticed Stanley standing dumbfounded in the doorway.

      “A very Merry Halloween,” the Shoyru wished the Elephante with a giggle, before darting up the chimney.

      The blue Skeith followed dumbly in his wake, and a moment later there was a sound as the sleigh lifted off from the rooftops.

      Stanley wasn’t quite sure if he was dreaming or not. He walked over to the wisp of a Christmas tree and knelt down by the nearest present. Carefully, he unwrapped it.

      Inside was a small cardboard box that Stanley opened after some hesitation. Four beady red eyes stared up at him from the darkness of the box, blinking innocently. Stanley barely had time to recoil in horror before the Spyder leapt out and scuttled off across the floor.

      Stanley shuffled backwards, his eyes darting between the various parts of the room that had been corrupted. Whoever that Neopet had been, he had changed Christmas somehow. Things were wrong... it was almost like... Halloween.

      Stanley scrambled to his feet and ran for the front door. He ripped it open, hoping that the fresh air might cure his madness, but instead he threw himself against the door frame.

      The holly wreath that had once adorned his front door was gone. Hanging in its place was a very morbid looking skull. Recovering from the shock, the Elephante glanced up and down the street. The doors of the other houses seemed similarly affected.

      Stanley took a long winter coat from a peg by the door, and jammed a woollen hat firmly over his head, before setting out into the snow.

      Stanley passed rows upon rows of Neovian houses. As he peeked through the windows, he saw the scene of horror repeated in front rooms everywhere. Snowmen that the children of the town built during the day had pumpkins in place of their heads.

      Stanley became increasingly panicked; not a single house in the town seemed untouched. Everyone was asleep, was he the only one who had discovered the strange creature that had stolen Christmas?

      Stanley stopped at the gate that marked the end of Neovia, and the beginning of the Haunted Woods.

      What was it that the Shoyru had said? Merry Halloween? But that had been weeks ago...

      Stanley at once set off at a run into the woods. He had to find someone who knew about magic, who knew about Halloween. He knew just the person.

      He was going to find Sophie the swamp witch.

To be continued...

 
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