Yuletide Witches: Part Five
’Twas the night before Christmas (loosely), when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a Miamouse...
Susan Argyle stirred in her sleep, the little green Elephante gently returning to consciousness. She groggily glanced over at her brother, Brian, in the other bed. He was still snoring calmly. Susan glanced at once to the window, where she saw movement. In the sky a little way off, she thought she could see a sleigh, arcing across the sky and coming closer to the house. It was pulled by nine Meowclops, the lead one casting a spooky yellow light across the houses as it went. Susan couldn’t be sure, but it looked like there were lots of different people onboard the sleigh. There was a Zafara, a Moehog, an Ixi... and what looked like her father.
Still half asleep, Susan assumed she was dreaming and lay back down. It wasn’t long before sleep had reclaimed her, causing her to completely miss the soft impact as the sleigh touched down on her roof.
Down in the living room, five creatures most definitely began stirring as they fell down the chimney, kicking up a great deal of soot. Stanley rushed out from the fireplace with a small bag of presents which he began to deposit under the withered old tree that the Halloween Shoyru had ruined. The three witches meanwhile were busy undoing the Shoyru’s magic.
The Christmas tree exploded into a new life of colours and sparkles, while the skull on the door turned back into a holly wreath. Chestnut the Candychan ran along the mantelpiece dropping treats into the now maggot-free stockings that hung there.
Within moments, the room looked decidedly festive.
Chestnut jumped down to the floor by the fireplace and began rifling through the bag of presents. He emerged a few seconds later with a long list of parchment.
“We’re almost half way through now, and still plenty of time to spare!” he said happily. “Now... where are we? Aha! Argyle... Stanley, Susan and Brian!”
The Candychan crossed out the names on the list and began looking for their next destination.
“Argyle?” Stanley gasped, turning to take in the room.
In his haste, he hadn’t paid attention, and it looked no different to any of the other hundreds of houses they had visited. But yes... it was his house.
“Can I go and check on the children?” he asked, glancing up the stairs.
“We’re on a tight schedule,” Chestnut said dismissively. “They’ll still be here come morning, don’t you worry.”
The little creature bounced up the chimney using his magic.
Stanley felt his eyes drawn to the presents he had deposited around the tree. One in particular caught his attention; it was addressed to him.
“Don’t you even think about it,” Morguss said firmly, grabbing him by the arm. “It’s against the rules to open presents before Christmas.”
With another magical bounce, they disappeared up the chimney, followed closely by Sophie and Edna.
The rest of the night, or morning, went according to plan, aside from their brief trip to Faerieland during which all three Witches reused to get off the sleigh.
Shenkuu was the last on the list, and the sun had still not risen when Chestnut crossed through the final name on the list.
“Very little coal to give out this year,” he remarked. “I thought there’d be more.”
“We’re finished then?” Stanley asked. “Christmas is saved?”
“It should be enough to stop him from disappearing completely, but the presents we gave out aren’t infused with his magic... it won’t be the same; people will know,” the Candychan admitted.
“The important thing is that we bought ourselves some time,” Edna said as she climbed back onboard the sleigh.
“Time for what?” Stanley asked as he followed.
“It won’t be fixed until we retake what was stolen from him,” Morguss answered, staring down at the peacefully sleeping Spirit of Giving.
“We have to find the Shoyru?” Stanley guessed.
“Exactly,” Sophie replied, grabbing the reigns and lifting them up into the sky.
“You know where he is?” Chestnut asked.
“We have a fairly good idea...” Edna mumbled.
An uneasy silence filled the sleigh as it soared on through the skies, back towards the Haunted Woods.
“We haven’t been entirely honest with you,” Sophie confessed. “The reason why I followed you to Neovia in the first place, Stanley, was because you mentioned a Halloween Shoyru.”
“It’s a spirit, like the Spirit of Giving,” Morguss supplied. “Only... this Spirit is in charge of a different time of year. There’s balance, we tried to explain... if there’s a Spirit of Giving, then there needs to be a Spirit of... Scaring.”
“The Spirit of Scaring?” Stanley scoffed. “I’ve never heard of him.”
“Of course you haven’t,” Edna snapped. “What’s scary about things you know? The unknown, that’s what frightens people. He’s the manifestation of all the evil that happens on Halloween, and now he’s trying to take Christmas as well.”
“But why?” Chestnut asked. “He knows the rules! If he does this, he’ll stop existing as well!”
“Would that matter?” Morguss asked solemnly. “He’s a creature of evil and mischief. He’s just doing what he was created to do.”
“This Spirit of Scaring... you know where he lives?” Stanley asked.
“In a way,” Edna told him. “He lives in another mini-universe, a piece of Neopia that isn’t really there – like the Spirit of Giving’s valley. The way to access it is exactly the same; you go to the very heart of the season, the place that embodies Halloween the most.”
The mountains were passing under them at speed. Ahead, the Haunted Woods stretched out, still sleeping in the pre-dawn twilight. One part of the woods caught Stanley’s eye.
“The Deserted Fairground,” he voiced ominously.
The fairground was of course deserted all year round, yet there was something about Christmas that made it seem even emptier.
The light dusting of snow had driven all of the usual carnival folk into early beds... or graves in the cases of some. The inviting, if somewhat creepy lights that lit up the various stalls were off, and even the usual squeaky gate seemed to make a strained, lazy noise as the Witches entered the grounds.
“We’re here, now what?” Stanley asked.
“Not quite, it’s further in,” Morguss said, pointing to the other side of the carnival.
Stanley followed the direction of her finger. It was without question the spookiest part of the area. The old abandoned roller coaster, with rotten wooden tracks, and adorned with images of unpleasant looking Chia Clowns.
The worst part of it all was the tunnel, and Stanley got the sinking feeling that they were heading exactly for it. A giant clown face, easily the size of a house, sat like a waiting monster. The track disappeared into the mouth of the silent beast. It was a horrible image; Stanley had always understood why so many Neopets ran from the place in fear.
“We’re going inside, aren’t we?” Stanley groaned as they marched ever closer.
Sophie nodded quietly, before stopping near the track.
“We can use one of the carts,” she told the others. “It might help us get back out faster.”
The four Neopets and Chestnut the Candychan clambered into one of the disused carts. Stanley gave it a push before he hopped in that set it rolling along the first part of the track. Edna quickly cast a spell on the wheels which kept them in motion.
“You’ve done this before?” Stanley asked.
“Never,” Edna replied plainly.
“Let’s get started, the sooner we get this over the better,” Sophie suggested, clearing her throat.
The cart rattled steadily along the track, snaking along the various twists. The giant clown tunnel loomed ever closer to them, smiling evilly.
Just before they entered the tunnel, the witches began their chanting. It was a quicker, angrier tongue that they used, but Stanley had the sneaking suspicion that the words were not required at all.
Then, the blackness of the tunnel enveloped them completely, and Stanley couldn’t see further than his own nose. The whispering of the witches continued around him, and in his lap Stanley could hear the Spirit of Giving snoring gently.
Ahead in the darkness a red glowing mist seemed to be forming, the beginnings of a portal like the one Stanley had observed in the Ice Caves. The smoke dissipated, making the darkness return for a moment, before they passed through the portal. There was the strange feeling of pins and needles again, and the cart turned a corner in the tunnel abruptly before emerging back out into the early morning air.
Only, they were not in the Deserted Fairground anymore.
The track ahead of them disappeared into thickly packed trees that swayed and creaked in an invisible wind. Stanley thought for a moment that the shadows in the bark perhaps looked like evil faces, but he quickly dismissed the idea. The sky above them was cloudy and stained red as if there was a fire raging somewhere, out of sight.
“This is the lair of the Spirit of Scaring,” Sophie announced. “He’ll play on your worst fears; don’t let him.”
The cart proceeded through the web of trees. Creatures of darkness with evil red eyes seemed to follow them, keeping their distance but still being a menacing presence between the trees. Up ahead, the track seemed to stop outside an opening in a rock formation.
“This is his home,” Sophie explained as the cart came to a stop.
“A cave?” Stanley questioned.
He’d been expecting a foreboding castle with lightning striking at the spires, not a dismal little cave.
Stanley understood why as soon as he climbed out of the cart and stared into the cave mouth.
It was darkness, the unknown. Horrible things lurk in caves, everyone knew that. An evil castle was one way to instil fear, but this spoke to an entirely different level of Stanley’s brain. It was the primal part, the part that feared the darkness for the animals that could be waiting within it.
Stanley at last understood the power that the Spirit of Scaring must have been able to wield. He may have had the appearance of a childish Halloween Shoyru, but he could cause terror in the very seats of their souls.
“Let’s go,” Edna said confidently, leading them into the dark.
To be continued...