Hide and Seek
It was an idyllic day in Neovia. Then again, the standards for an "idyllic day" in Neovia may have been slightly different than the standards elsewhere, as Neovia was a town nestled deep within the Haunted Woods, and so it was rare for the weather to be anything other than cold and overcast. On this particular day, the sky was only somewhat cloudy, and while the sun was not shining, it did not look like the middle of the night... which was what it usually looked like in the Haunted Woods.
The inhabitants of Neovia were taking full advantage of this break from the inclement weather. Children frolicked outside and incredulous shopkeepers remarked to each other that, for once, they could see through the thick haze of fog that always hung over the streets. Overall, the mood in town was lighter than ever, and yet there was one citizen who remained inside.
That citizen was a certain brown Lupe known as Reginald, who was cooped up in his study, rifling through pages of notes strewn around his desk. "I could begin the tome itself with the planned sequence but compose the forest scene presently," the young scholar said eruditely to himself, fixing the papers with a look of frustration. "But perhaps I should write the entire novel in chronological order..." He continued this conversation with himself for another minute or so, muttering unintelligibly under his breath in a way he thought must look very scholarly and intriguing.
"Argh!" he finally exclaimed, throwing his paws in the air. This was decidedly less scholarly and intriguing, though Reginald liked to think it communicated a feeling of deep professorial frustration.
Ever since the immense success of his first book, Tale of Woe: The Untold Story, Reginald's publishers had been pestering him to write another. Finally he'd agreed, and was actually looking forward to continuing his budding career as an author — unfortunately, just when he had started to like the idea of writing a second book, the horror known as "writer's block' reared its metaphorical ugly head.
Every attempt he'd made as of yet to plan the book, let alone start writing it, had ended in utter failure. He was uninspired, unmotivated, and at a total loss for what to do about it. Quite frankly, Reginald was beginning to think he should just notify his publishers that there would be no sequel to The Untold Story, and that he was forsaking his dream of being an author and intended to go into accounting instead.
Things were so much better when he was a carefree young Lupe, playing games with his older brother and not worrying about his family's finances or keeping his many fans happy. (It might seem strange that Reginald was already reminiscing about the past at the tender age of fourteen, but his mother had always said that he was mature for his age.) If only he could go back to those days... if only he could solve this problem by playing hide-and-seek.
Well, he could always hide until his deadline was far in the past and his publishers stopped searching for him, but somehow Reginald didn't think that was really practical.
All witty intellectual jokes aside, it was a shame.
...He really wanted to play hide-and-seek now.
He stared pensively at the papers on his desk; they just sat there, not saying a word, staring smugly back at him. "Finish working on us!" they called to him. "Come on, do it!"
"No! I won't!" he cried out, gathering all of his scholarly strength to fight back against this onslaught of persuasiveness. It was then that Reginald remembered that paper could not speak. He took this entire incident as a sign that he really needed to get out of the house before the walls started singing show tunes.
Obviously it was useless to even try to resist the lure of hide-and-seek, but who could he possibly play with? Hide-and-seek wasn't the kind of game you could play by yourself, and yet, was there anyone else in town who would want to join the game? His parents were busy, his little sister was off being a hermit, and all the other kids in Neovia thought he was a nerd. Sometimes Reginald wondered why everyone else disliked reading and had terrible fashion sense—
And it was at that moment that he had a Brilliant Idea!
Who had he played hide-and-seek with all these years? Who had been the inspiration for his previous novel? (Who had really terrible fashion sense?) Why, his older brother, of course!
Bruno currently lived in a small cottage not far from Edmund and Alice's house. While the deformed Gelert had made it very clear that his family could visit him at any time, he rarely left home himself; the citizens of Neovia, though they were used to Bruno's appearance and quite fond of him, were sometimes uncomfortable with being reminded of that terrible time in the town's history. Bruno's disfigured form still called to mind unpleasant memories of Krawley's curse — fully aware of this, the kindhearted Gelert tried to stay out of everyone's way most of the time.
It had been a while since Reginald had visited his brother — working on his second novel was a time-consuming process that went absolutely nowhere — and he knew that if Bruno wasn't up for playing hide-and-seek, nobody would be. His mind made up, the Lupe got up from his desk, left the study, and set off for Bruno's cottage.
The cottage was small and unassuming, with wide windows and a lovely garden in the front yard. The door was painted sky blue, a bright color not seen very often in the Haunted Woods, and flowers of all different hues grew alongside the path from the front gate to the house and spilled out from baskets beneath the window. Reginald was surprised to see them; flowers didn't grow well in their homeland, and the fact that Bruno could successfully care for this many of them was impressive. Then again, his brother had always been good at taking care of things.
He stepped up to the front door and knocked twice, hoping Bruno was at home (though, to be honest, it was rare for him to leave the house). Sure enough, the door opened, and there stood the large, misshapen Gelert Reginald was so fond of.
"Reggie!" Bruno exclaimed with a smile, pleasantly surprised to see his younger brother. "It's good to see you! What brings you here?"
"Brother Bruno," Reginald said determinedly, "while toiling at my desk today, hard at work upon the novel my publishers have persuaded me to author, I was abruptly overcome with the urge to play hide-and-seek. In an attempt to rid myself of this most unproductive impulse, I have sought you out, for you have always tolerated my inexplicable love for the childish game." He paused. "...Also, you are far less likely to ridicule me than our sister is."
Though Krawley's curse had been lifted from the Neovians a couple of years ago, Reginald was as difficult to understand as ever. Bruno listened to his little brother's rambling explanation with the admirable patience of someone who'd heard many indecipherable rants over the years. "Well," the Gelert said, "I'd be happy to play with you, Reggie — why don't you come inside? I have tea and crumpets in the kitchen..." Reginald's eyes lit up.
There were times when Bruno was just too nice.
After devouring several crumpets and drinking two cups of tea while Bruno watched in shock, the Lupe looked up with a very familiar expression on his face. This expression was a curious combination of excitement, competitiveness, and ridiculous childish glee. "Thank you for your hospitality, Brother," he said. "Now, let's play hide-and-seek."
Bruno never would have guessed there were so many places to hide in his tiny cottage. Every cupboard he checked, every piece of furniture he peeked behind or looked under — Reginald was nowhere to be found. In all honesty, though, this wasn't exactly surprising.
Even before the curse had descended upon Neovia, Reggie had been disturbingly good at hide-and-seek. When they used to play in the old abandoned mansion on one edge of the town, it would sometimes take Bruno hours to find his brother wedged atop a closet shelf or beneath the staircase down to the dank, shadowy cellar. More than once, all of their friends tired of the game and went home, leaving the Gelert to search the whole of the dusty old house by himself.
The slightest noise reached his ears. Barely perceptible, it sounded like someone had just shifted positions in the other room. Creeping into the sitting room and taking care not to let Reginald hear him, Bruno began to investigate all the possible hiding spots in the room for the second time.
His little Lupe brother wasn't behind any of the chairs, nor was he below them. A quick check around the windows confirmed he was not hiding in the curtains, either. Puzzled, Bruno scanned the room again, wondering what he could have missed — the sound had most definitely come from this room — and then his eyes lit upon the fireplace.
Of course, he thought to himself, how could I not have guessed?
Sneaking closer to the fireplace, Bruno waited for a few moments until the right time presented itself. Then, sticking his head forward and staring up into the chimney, he called, "I've found you, Reggie!"
There was a squeak of surprise from above; Bruno realized just in the nick of time what was about to happen, and pulled his head back out of the fireplace right as Reginald tumbled down from the chimney. The Lupe's fur and clothes were coated with soot, and he sneezed twice before looking up sheepishly. "Well, you always do find me eventually," he admitted. "On the brighter side, this game has inspired me — I have decided to begin my novel-in-progress with a scene in which the main characters, as children, play hide-and-seek!"
"That's great, Reg, but Mother will have a fit when she sees the state you're in," Bruno said with a chuckle, shaking his head and helping his brother out of the fireplace.
"Why don't you accompany me home and explain the circumstances?" Reginald suggested lightly.
Bruno frowned, a look of anxiety crossing his features. "Oh, no, I really shouldn't... I'd just cause trouble for our parents," he sighed. Edmund and Alice had made it clear long ago that Bruno was their son no matter how grotesque he looked, but the blue Gelert still worried that he would reflect badly on the family's reputation. That was the reason why he lived alone in this cottage, even though his parents had insisted he was welcome to stay with them and Reginald.
"Don't be ridiculous," the brown Lupe said, still brushing soot off of his fancy suit. "They'd love to have you for dinner, you know, and so would I."
The sheer bluntness of this statement seemed to render Bruno temporarily speechless. Secretly thrilled at the prospect of seeing his family again, and not wanting to disappoint Reggie, he finally yielded. "Well, all right," he agreed, ruffling Reginald's hair affectionately, "I'll come over for dinner." The Lupe wrinkled his nose at having his hair ruffled for the first time in years, but let it slide just this once, because it was just what older brothers did.
And as they walked back home to the family's mansion, sunlight peeked out from behind the clouds in the sky over the Haunted Woods.
And so ends this lovely (if a little strange) story of brotherly bonding. Thanks for reading, everyone! ^_^