Of Kitchens, Gypsies and Restless Ghosts: Part Two
Art by ssjelitegirl
“So, back to important matters,” said Bloody Mary as they retreated to a niche in the hallway, ready to dart into the safety of a storage room if necessary. “We have located the kitchen but it’s occupied and I’m not going to have us sneak in there to steal food from under their noses like a bunch of lowly Miamice. How long do you reckon they’ll stay in there?”
“Could be all night,” Bob Squeaky said grimly.
“Nobody’s going to stay in the kitchen all night.”
“Why not? I would.”
This made sense. Bloody Mary gave it a moment’s thought.
“Well, Neopets are different,” he said. “They’ll sneak out eventually. They’re funny like that. You can have them sitting in a perfectly safe, brightly lit and well stocked location and eventually they still stick their noses out and go lurking around to see if the coast is clear. Besides, their buddies are still in the common room. They’ll want to huddle together.”
“So we’ll just wait here until they decide to leave the kitchen and then all come back to stay there because it’s brightly lit and well stocked?” Justice asked smartly.
There was a laden pause. Then dozens of beady little eyes turned to look at Bloody Mary in their usual expectant cook-up-a-plan-now look. The leader sighed and spent a moment in contemplation.
“Alright, Justice, you’re the well-read one,” he eventually said. “What exactly was that thing we saw?”
“A ghost, I believe,” said Justice.
Bob Squeaky’s bow wrinkled. “I thought they were bluish and floaty and sort of transparent?”
“A phantom, then,” Justice said impatiently. “A spectral vision. There’s more than one sort of ghost out there. Anyway, I believe it was Lucy.” She cast a less-than-hopeful look around, met blank expectant stares and continued, “She was a nurse here back when Neovia still wasn’t cursed. Was stuck here with her coworkers when the city went down and eventually got locked in one of the cells by the escaped inmates and perished there. I reckon she now roams these grounds, unable to find rest.”
“Well, it’s terribly inconvenient,” Bob Squeaky grumbled. “Why does she have to wander around scaring our asylum guards here just as we want the kitchen to ourselves? Isn’t there some sort of ghost spa and health center she could visit to find some rest?”
“Putting ghosts to rest goes differently,” Justice said tactfully. “We’d need to find a wizard or something.”
The gang of Meepits gave it a moment’s thought, then lined up and headed straight for the courtyard where the Usul gypsy was still having a heated argument with the zombie over the ownership of the calf bone.
“What I’m saying is,” the Usul was saying at that point, “it’s not like you wander around at night anyway, right? You seem like a reasonable bloke, not like all those guys who go around all ‘braaaaaiiiins’ and wear out their calves something terrible.”
“That’s a very stereotypical assumption, that is,” the zombie retorted. “What if I wanted to get out one day and take a stroll around the countryside just because I feel like it? It’s basic rights, I’ll have you know- Yes, what is it?”
“We’ve a ghost situation in there,” Bloody Mary said, staring defiantly at both of them. “Can either of you put it to rest or whatever the standard procedure is?”
The gypsy and the zombie exchanged glances, followed by a certain quick wordless debate that played out solely on grimaces and gestures and could be summed up with “you handle this one, please?” The Usul finally caved in and bit her lip thoughtfully as a look of intensive focus spread over her face.
“Well, there are many ways for banishing a ghost, some easier than others,” she said, “and I don’t really have anything on me but I think that I’ll be able to cook something up if I get to look around- wait, what’s in this for me?”
The meepits looked at one another, then at the zombie.
“No,” the Aisha said resolutely.
“Hey! You! Stand where you are!”
Torchlight snaked over the barren ground and the dumbstruck gypsy spun around, her skirts billowing, as the zombie dove right back into his hole and the meepits, long-standing experts on such situations, disappeared into the bushes. The Usul remained standing defiantly in the middle of the yard as the asylum’s nightguards approached her cautiously.
Deep in the bushes, Bloody Mary snickered. You can’t count on any Neopet’s willingness to help you, and threats only make things worse if you’re dealing with magic users. But you can always count on scared guards sneaking out of the cozy comfort of the kitchen to seek the much cozier comfort of other guards, because strength lies in numbers. You can also always count on them heading back to the kitchen en masse to see about the situation, which is guaranteed to lead them past the doorway to the courtyard, allowing them to hear someone talking outside and seeing strangers in the yard. You just had to pull one string here, another there and let nature take its course.
They watched curiously as the inevitable “who are you and what are you doing here?” question came, and to their satisfaction it turned out that the Usul was good at playing with the cards she’d been dealt.
“I’m a gypsy,” she said haughtily, straightening her back. “My people roamed these lands long before any of you frightened kids ever knew that they exist here, and I’m here because... I heard you got a bit of a ghost problem in your hands and I’m here to offer help. For a price, of course.”
“How did you know that we have a ghost problem?” one of the more genre-savvy guards asked skeptically. The gypsy had to admit that she couldn’t blame him. Planting a problem and showing up immediately afterwards offering to fix it is one of the oldest tricks in the book and the kid would’ve been a fool to miss this one, even if she felt like giving him a good thumping for thinking that she’d pull off such a glaringly obvious ploy. At least in this case, the best answer was readily at hand.
“Everyone knows that,” she said dismissively. “It was all over the Neopian Times. The Tale of Woe, they called it. There was an entire chapter devoted to the poor nurse who held her ground here when the curse struck and perished in one of the cells. I imagine she shows up every time there’s a full moon, am I right?”
The guards, still huddled together but drawing up some courage already, admitted that this had been their first encounter. The gypsy feigned surprise, as feigned as it actually was because she had quite a bit of actual knowledge on the topic. The meepits, feeling that their work here was done, snuck back towards the house through the shrubbery.
“Well, the kitchen should be clear now,” Bloody Mary said happily once they were back between the damp grey walls of the asylum. “The guards will probably be busy hunting the ghost for some time now. Let’s go find the food.”
“Too bad she’s in our way now,” Bob Squeaky said grumpily.
The meepits turned to look at the hallway that led towards the kitchen. The faintly glowing figure of the late nurse stood in a square of moonlight, looking somewhere in their general direction.
“Is she looking at us?” Bloody Mary asked.
“I think so,” said Justice.
“It’s just that I’m pretty sure her eyes are directed straight ahead.”
“No, I think she’s still looking at us,” said Justice. The ghost’s head lowered a little. Bloody Mary scrutinized her with a scowl.
“I dunno, with those empty eyes, she could be looking at anything. Are you sure it’s us?”
The ghost was leaning forward with her entire body now and repeatedly thrust her chin forward.
“Eh, you never know about the mystical ways of the otherworldly,” Joe the Chef said matter-of-factly. “Let’s get a move on.”
They formed a more or less orderly line and marched off along the side of the wall, paying no more attention to the ghost who stood in the middle of the hallway. As they neared her, she raised her hand straight ahead of her, the palm of her hand facing outwards. This caught the meepits’ attention and they craned their necks to look at her again, although they didn’t slow down, thus reminding oddly of a small boatful of tourists riding past a big monument.
“Justice, what’s she doing now?” Santa chirped eagerly.
“I believe this means ‘don’t go any further’,” Justice said, still firmly marching right behind Bloody Mary.
“I don’t know, she’s not even pointing at us,” Bob Squeaky said with a frown. The ghost, realizing that she was making the same mistake the second time, lowered her hand so that her palm was pointing at the meepits. She was also gradually turning on spot now, as the gang was just about level with where she stood, and as much as there was an expression on her semi-transparent glowy face, it was that of creeping embarrassment. The meepits, on the other hand, looked more curious.
“I think she’s doing yoga,” said Bob Squeaky. “A very big thing with the ladies these days, yoga.”
The ghost threw her arms up and disappeared.
“Yep, I think it was yoga,” Bloody Mary agreed.
“No wonder she can’t find any rest,” Joe the Chef said with a scowl. “Wandering around the house at night exercising, that’s gotta wear anyone out.”
“Yoga is very relaxing,” Santa chirped at the back of the row. “I think she’s at least trying.”
“Good for her,” Bloody Mary said cheerfully. “Alright, gentlemen, here we are. Everyone in an orderly fashion, under the door, hop-hop.”
The lights were still on in the now-empty asylum kitchen, although as asylum rooms are wont to do, they mostly served to create a number of scarily wavering shadows. Petpets, however, trust their noses more than their eyes so the meepits ignored the creepy atmosphere completely and split up instead to loot through the piles of food.
“Apples!” a voice chirped excitedly from a farther corner. “They’ve apples here!”
The lights went out all of a sudden. The meepits, who’d already found what they were after, didn’t really mind.
“There’s some bread here, I think it’s fresh,” Joe the Chef’s level-headed voice directed from another corner.
The window flew open, letting in a gust of wind that smelled vaguely of fallen leaves. The meepits found that rather refreshing.
“Ea’ fe fuff faf-“ There was a quiet “ptooi”, then Bloody Mary’s voice picked up again with more coherence, “Eat the stuff that spoils and pick up anything that keeps well. There aren’t many houses nearby so we’ll need to stock up a bit.”
The ghost of Lucy, who’d been standing in the middle of the floor for some time now, was looking rather depressed.
“There’s jerky here,” Bob Squeaky’s voice came from the pantry. “Should we take jerky?”
“Ooh, yes, as much as you can carry.” Meepits are omnivores with a very strong penchant for applevorism but they’d come to appreciate protein-heavy foods on long trips. They’d done this sort of stocking hundreds of times before so the bustling asylum kitchen was now a textbook example of highly coordinated skillful teamwork.
“Bloody Mary, people are coming,” Justice’s authoritative voice bit through the commotion. Highly coordinated teamwork is nothing without a highly coordinated escape system so the final syllables hadn’t even been uttered before the floor was all of a sudden empty save for the forlorn-looking Acara nurse.
“Really, you do this on purpose, don’t you?” Bloody Mary hissed at her right before the door burst open, revealing the impressive-looking figure of the gypsy Usul with her skirts billowing all around her and her hair flapping around her face in the wind that was howling through the open window. The asylum guards were huddled behind her back.
“Ah-hem... Lo, vile spectre, for you are not welcome here,” she began, trying to ignore the frantic whispering near the floor that went something like, ”Aw, you made her sad now.” – “Well, I was right, wasn’t I? She’s been messing up our plans the entire evening.”
“Therefore I command thee, begone from this place-”
”This banishment spell sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it? I mean, not like it’s her fault that this whole evil curse breakout thing happened here.”
“Dunno, she could at least have been a good sport about it.” Bloody Mary was a really rather grudge-prone meepit.
“-and tell thee thusly: the rest which you seek cannot be found in this realm; you must make peace with thy fate and find in thee the strength to move on,” the Usul continued through slightly gritted teeth. The guards were too scared to pay any attention.
”So that’s what soul-banishing is like?” another whisper admired from the bags of flour.
”I could do that. It’s just a fancy way of saying ‘Go away’ with a lot of lisping.”
“Justice, you paying attention? We might need this someday.”
The ghost of Lucy tossed her head back all of a sudden, opened her mouth, and with a long drawn-out echoing wail that didn’t quite seem to come from her mouth, vanished gradually into thin air.
The gypsy, collecting her generous payment, couldn’t help but feel that this banishment, effective though it was, hadn’t really been entirely her doing this time. But then again, she thought, a lot of any magician’s power hangs off their reputation and this little stint had definitely served to improve her reputation in this neck of the woods.
“My people usually put out little bowls of milk to appease the wandering spirits,” she said a bit grudgingly as she was leaving the asylum. “You could try doing that, just to strengthen the protection.”
There’s more than one way to say thank you, after all. Besides, she thought, making her way back towards her camp, her tribe was planning to stay in this area for a couple of weeks and if you’re going to have meepits looting in the area, you’d better make sure that the food storage they loot isn’t your own.
For the following few weeks, the guards dutifully put out bowls of milk in the evenings and every single morning, they were all empty. Every now and then, they found scribbly notes in the kitchen reading “tok a few aples, thx, GHOSTS”, which caused a bit of a comment at first but asylum guards get used to anything. Eventually the notes stopped appearing and it took them another few weeks to realize that the milk bowls were now being cleaned out by Slorgs, followed by even more weeks of trying to get rid of them.