Oddballs In Neovia
One drizzly, grey afternoon I was walking along the cobblestone path in Neovia. My favorite street lamp, you know the one closest to the graveyard, was burnt out as usual. I loved it, though; it made looking out at all the cracked and weathered headstones so much creepier. Mom doesn’t like it when I spend time here, but in all honesty, it’s the only place in Neopia I feel I fit in.
You see, I’m not a very outgoing blue Cybunny. I would rather adventure around on my own or sit in the solitary atmosphere of my room and read a good book. Most people think I’m weird, but Mom just calls me an oddball. Affectionately, of course. The world of Neovia is creepy and lonely, the perfect place for someone like me.
I continued down the path, past the Neovian Printing Press and over the bridge to the Crumpetmonger. I walked through the door, the little bell above it tinkling at my entrance. The smell of cinnamon and freshly baked goods hit me and I had a sudden sense of complete happiness. The Meerca shopkeeper, Miss Meggie, came waddling out of the kitchen muttering to herself and wiping her hands on her apron. There was flour all down the front of her dress and on her nose.
“What can I do f- Oh hi, Behla!” Her husky voice became noticeably cheerier at the sight of me. “What would you like today? I have a fresh made batch of strudels, some tarts, mini crumpets...”
“Oh, not today, thanks, Meggie. I was just out for a walk and thought I’d stop by to say hello.” I walked along the counter drooling over all the yummy pastries that I saw.
“Are you sure? Grape Strudel, hot out of the oven.”
“No really, I’m fine.” I smiled convincingly. Truthfully, I really did want some of that strudel but I didn’t have many neopoints to spare. Rather than explain my predicament, I simply turned down the delicious offer.
“Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll cut some up into squares and put them by the cash register as a free sample and you can help yourself.” She smiled, revealing a smudge of Dark Red Lipstick on her front teeth and bustled off to the kitchen.
A few minutes later, she returned carrying an assortment of colorful strudels and tarts placed strategically on a large plate. Thanking Miss Meggie, I grabbed a couple morsels and greedily shoved them into my mouth.
“Good as always, Meggie,” I said, accidentally spewing crumbs onto the floor.
For the next thirty minutes, Miss Meggie gossiped and I politely listened and nodded when necessary while somehow consuming the entire plate of pastries. I’d found out that Alabaster Chesterdrawers, the old Nimmo shopkeeper at Chesterdrawers’ Antiques, had hired a new apprentice to help out around the store. He was a shady character, young and mischievous. “Trouble, he is” was how Miss Meggie had put it.
My curiosity got the best of me, as usual, so I thanked Miss Meggie for the treats and assured her I’d be back to visit soon. I scooted out the door and turned left heading towards Chesterdrawers’ Antiques. The blue and grey awning was covered in dust and cobwebs. Some old picture frames and wooden chairs were outside on display.
I entered the store and nearly fell as I tried to avoid knocking over an Antique Full Length Mirror. The little shop looked like a sea of brown and tan treasures. There were antiques covering every surface. Old gas lamps and figurines sat on small tables and dusty old books lay piled on the floor. The lighting was dim and there seemed to be a cloud of dust lingering in the air.
I carefully stepped through the maze of breakables and made my way to the front counter. There was an old bell sitting by the cash register next to an open catalogue for grandfather clocks.
Suddenly, there was a high pitched squeak and a sound of fluttering wings from somewhere above me. I jumped out of my skin and covered my head, bracing myself for impact.
“Lawrence! Get back here!” I lowered my hands and looked towards the back of the store where I saw the owner of the voice hidden in the shadows. A black Batterfly zoomed around squeaking excitedly.
“I’m sorry about that. He’s not quite trained yet.” A young grey colored Lupe stepped out from the shadows, walking towards where I stood at the counter. Lawrence was perched happily on his left shoulder.
“Oh, um, it’s okay.” My voice shook, giving away the fact that I’d been severely startled by the little petpet.
“I’m Sylva, the new apprentice for Mr. Chesterdrawers.” He held out his hand and I shook it, feebly. His fur was tidy and recently combed. He was elegantly dressed in a brown suit, a gold pocket watch chain hung from his vest. I detected a smell of musky cologne. This guy was definitely wealthy and seemed so much older than he appeared. But there was something about his face that seemed so familiar...
“And you are?” He smiled, letting go of my hand and waiting for me to reply.
“Oh, uh, Behla. Well, Behlatrix but call me Behla; everyone does.”
“Hello then, Behla. What can I help you with today?” He made his way around to the other side of the counter and set Lawrence on the mahogany mantle mounted on the wall. “A new book perhaps? Or, should I say, an old book?” He seemed so welcoming I wondered if what Miss Meggie had said was just for the sake of drama.
“Well, yes, as a matter of fact. Any good fiction?” I turned and looked around the room feigning my interest in buying a book.
“No, I’m afraid we don’t. Mr. Chesterdrawers doesn’t usually sell that type of book. He tends to stick to old finds that people bring in from their attics after years of collecting dust. I’m sure you could find something you’d like at the Neovian Printing Press. Nora just got a new shipment in last week.”
I glanced up at the clock that sat proudly on the mantle and noticed it was 11:45 pm. I had to be home fifteen minutes ago.
“Oh great! I’m sorry, but I have to go.” I turned on my heel and made a beeline for the door. Rushing out of the store, I’d barely heard Sylva’s goodbye.
I ran back over the bridge, past the printing press. Nora, a blue Acara with untidy fur, was outside yelling about a scandalous article that everyone should hear about. I didn’t stop running until I’d made it to the gate overlooking the graveyard.
Instead of following the path to the Haunted Woods, I did something I didn’t usually do. I walked through the creaking gate and into the spooky cemetery. Mother would kill me if she knew. And usually I was too frightened of the dark to do more than look at this old place, but something had drawn me in.
I walked up the hill, dead leaves crunching at my every footstep. A wispy fog suddenly surrounded me and it grew quite a bit colder. I’d heard old stories of ghosts being seen up here but never really believed any of it. Some Neovian locals even said that they heard screams late at night. Others said they’d seen white figures slowly gliding over the graves.
I heard a stick snap and quickly turned to look but I couldn’t see anything for it was too dark. The wind blew a bit harder now and I felt this sense of darkness closing in around me. Beginning to panic, I picked up my pace in walking and was soon running. Where was the gate? I was sure I’d come in this way...
That’s when I heard it; a shrill scream that seemed to have been carried by the wind. Leaves were blowing up into the air all around me. I was in full on panic mode now. I heard what sounded like heavy footsteps coming towards me. Slow at first, then faster and faster.
“No, no, no,” I kept saying to myself. What had I gotten into? I was running this way and that looking for the faintest peep of light from Neovia so I could find my way out. But that stupid street lamp was burnt out...
My foot caught on a mound of dirt and I fell forward, hitting my head on a gravestone. I tried to get up but my body felt numb. The light was leaving my eyes... I saw a faint teal colored glow and a hand grabbed my arm. And then all went black.
“Behla? Behlatrix, wake up, sweetie. You’re safe now.” I slowly opened my eyes and saw that I was in my room. Mom was sitting on my bed, a rag in one hand and a glass of water in the other.
“How do you feel?” she asked me, patting my forehead with the cold rag.
“Uh...” My head was throbbing. “Fine, I suppose. What happened?”
“You’re grounded, that’s what happened.” She smiled and set the glass of water on my bedside table.
I sat up slowly and repositioned myself. Mom fluffed up my pillows and I was able to comfortably lean back against them. I took a sip of water and then looked her straight in the face.
“But seriously, what happened?”
“Well,” she sighed. “You were wandering around the graveyard in Neovia. Not smart, young lady.” She gave me a stern look but it quickly diminished as she remembered I’d been hurt. “And young Mr. Sylva here heard you scream and came to your rescue.” She turned and looked behind her.
Sylva came forward. I hadn’t noticed him before, leaning against the bedroom wall. Lawrence was not on his shoulder this time. His clothes looked a bit ragged now and he sported a fresh cut on his left cheek.
“I’m glad to know that you’re alright, Behlatrix. It’s not safe to hang around that graveyard at night.” He seemed genuinely upset that I’d been hurt. Very unlike the young man Miss Meggie had described.
“Mom?” I sat up a bit straighter now. “Could you please leave me and Sylva to talk?”
“Of course. I’ll be just out in the living room if you need me.” She got up and walked out of my room, taking the now empty water glass with her. I looked at Sylva but did not invite him to come closer.
“What happened to your cheek?”
He raised a hand to the cut, apparently unaware of its existence until now. “Oh. Um, tree branch.”
“It was you, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. It was late, so I closed up the store and followed you. A young girl really shouldn’t be out alone that late in those parts of the woods.” He kept shifting his weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other.
“Why didn’t you just call out my name rather than scare me half to death?” I felt my cheeks redden as I realized I was nearly shouting at him.
“No, Behla. It was I who saved you, but it was not I who scared you. That graveyard is haunted. Many, if not all, of those who are laid to rest there walk the grounds at night. I myself... err.” He cut himself short but I didn’t miss a beat.
“What? You yourself what?”
“I’ve said too much. I’m glad that you’re okay. A small bump on the head and a bit shook up but a day’s rest should heal you up just fine. It was lovely to meet you.” He did a sort of bow and turned.
“Sylva!” He stopped and slowly turned back towards me. “I deserve to know the truth.”
He sighed, defeated.
“You must promise not to tell anyone. If Mr. Chesterdrawers found out, he’d fire me straight away.”
“I promise. Now spill.”
“Many years ago I was a knight. The ship I was sailing on crashed off the coast of Mystery Island. I survived a few weeks but eventually gave up hope and died. I don’t really remember the details. You forget much of your life once you’re dead.”
“Dead? But you’re standing here in front of me, aren’t you?” I thought about this impossibility for a moment. Then I remembered some details of the night before. A faint glowing. His face... “Of course! I read about you in my copy of the Neopedia! Sylva, you’re the Ghost Lupe!” I was so proud of myself that I’d figured it out.
“Yes.” He lowered his gaze and looked as if he were about to cry.
“Why are you so sad? You’re alive! Well, not really, but sort of!” I couldn’t believe why he wasn’t happy about this. But then, I thought, the story of the Ghost Lupe dates back hundreds of years. Poor Sylva has been walking about Neopia for an awfully long time.
“A witch doctor on the island found my body and wanted some information out of me. So he sort of... resurrected me. During the day, I can appear as alive as you, but once the clock strikes midnight, I take the figure of a ghost. But once the sun comes up, I can live a normal life again. When I followed you in the woods, it was already past midnight, so I was in my ghost form.”
“Why are you so afraid of people knowing the truth?”
“It’s not normal, Behla. And if people knew then I wouldn’t be able to live a normal life during the day. I’d rather stay out of the public eye. The natives in Mystery Island tell stories about me to scare their children. So I’ve been traveling to find the perfect place to live.”
“And Neovia is the only place you fit in.”
I completely knew how he felt.
The bell tinkled as I walked through the door of the Crumpetmonger. That familiar smell of cinnamon welcomed me like a loving relative.
“Morning, Miss Meggie! What do you have for me today?”
“Good morning, Behla! Cannoli and scones, what’ll you have?”
“The scones, definitely.” I opened up my purse and handed her a few coins. “I’ll take two please.”
“Ahh, one for that Sylva character, eh? You seem to be spending a lot of time with him. You be careful, Behla; he’s shady, he is.”
I laughed at this. For weeks now, people had been telling me to beware of my new best friend.
I smiled, handing Miss Meggie my dues. “No, not shady. Just an oddball like me.”