Vandebart Biggsby's Bedtime Story
"You there! You seem like a sharp young fellow!" Vandebart Biggsby called out to the crowd wandering the Haunted Faire. "Try your luck at apple bobbing! I'll give you double the prizes if you're successful."
A yellow Skeith, looking as witless as he did round, stopped and smirked at the elderly Gnorbu.
"Too easy. Don't make me laugh, old man!" The Skeith mocked. His smug demeanor shattered with a wimpy yelp as a small, dizzy Korbat who was following close behind bumped into his tail. "EEP!" he howled, unable to contain his fright. "W-watch where you're going, Sofia!"
"I'm sorry, that was an accident, honest," Sofia whined. "Can't we go home, Onion? This place is scary."
"The Faire's too spooky for you two, eh?" laughed Biggsby as he leaned on his cane.
"N-no! I'm no chicken!" Onion called out in his best tough voice. The Skeith puffed up his chest, marched up to Biggsby's water-filled barrel, and peered at the floating apples within. "You said double the prizes, old man?"
"That's right," the Gnorbu answered cheerfully. "And you can call me Bart." The Gnorbu winked at Onion and placed a worn step stool at the foot of the tall barrel.
"This'll be a piece of cake. You better get those prizes ready," Onion said. The young Skeith stepped up on the stool, closed his eyes, and opened his large mouth.
"Aww, hurry up. This place is really creeping me out," the small Korbat whined again.
"Stop being such a girl!" Onion yelled at his small friend. With that, the Skeith dunked his head into the barrel. The splash made some apples leap out the water and fall to the ground. Onion emerged wet and gasping for air with no apple in his mouth.
"Whoa there!" Bart laughed heartily at the soaking-wet young Skeith. Sofia snickered at her friend as quietly as she could. "Well, I suppose there's always tomorrow. Would you like to try bobbing for apples, little one?" the Gnorbu asked Sofia as he replaced the fallen apples in the barrel. Sofia only giggled and shook her head.
The howl of a Werelupe somewhere in the Haunted Woods made her fall silent. The crowd bustling through the Faire just moments before was dissipating quickly. Most of the Faire's vendors were closing up shop. The Faire was eerie enough to give Hannah the Brave the creeps, but Onion wasn't about to let on that he was anything but unamused.
"My, my. Seems the ghouls in this forest don't like too many visitors," said Bart.
"This game is rigged. You're trying to scare us off and keep your prizes all to yourself, but I'm not scared at all! I'll tell you what. If you can scare me, you can keep your prizes," Onion provoked, "If not, I get the prizes we agreed on." The Gnorbu laughed heartily at the plump Skeith's audacity.
"I suppose I still have extra goodies to give out. I don't think too many more will be passing through here for the rest of the night," Bart replied. "It's a deal."
"Oh, Onion, you've really done it this time," said Sofia as she nibbled nervously at her fingernails. She turned to Bart, who was smiling kindly. "Just don't tell him a scary story. He hates scary stories."
"No, I don't, Sofia!" Onion yelled at the cowering Korbat. "Go ahead and give me your best scary story." The Skeith puffed out his chest, folded his arms, and plopped down the stepping stool with an aloof expression. Sofia frowned and sat close to her friend. Bart set his cane aside and leaned against the tall water barrel nearby.
"The only scary story I know is one that my uh ... brother, yes, my brother used to tell me before bedtime," Bart said shakily. "Long ago in a haunted wood just like this one ..." The Gnorbu stopped and scanned the area for danger he could not see. The Faire was now completely deserted and a fog began to roll in. "Why don't we go inside my tent, it's much safer in there," said Bart. Neither of the young pets objected and went quickly inside. A single candle burned within the tent, casting strange shadows on its fabric walls. A small mountain of various gift bags and treats were piled opposite the entrance. The Gnorbu entered with his cane and set it aside once more as he joined Sofia and Onion on the moist dirt floor.
"Where was I ... Ah, it happened in a haunted wood just like this one. An old farmer lived alone on his apple orchard. Day after day he would go into his orchard and fawn over his beautiful apple trees. When they were ripe, he would pick the apples and make delicious foods like apple pie and apple cobbler. He would make tasty apple sauce and apple muffins ..." Bart laughed as he noticed Onion licking his lips hungrily. "Here, you can have a little something on the house."
Bart reached over to his prize stash and from it pulled an untarnished apple. He tossed it over to Onion who was eying the many apple-flavored candies in the pile longingly. Without protest, the Skeith consumed the shiny fruit in three large bites. Bart smiled warmly and continued with his story.
"The farmer came to love his apples so much that he wouldn't allow neighbors to pick from his trees anymore," Bart continued. "He even stopped selling them to the local market. He became so greedy that soon, he had no friends. He only had the apples at which he would gaze every night before he went to sleep. He watched them shine in the moonlight and his greed grew as large as his harvest. But one night, he saw a beautiful, spectral Uni floating among his beloved trees..."
"Was she a g-ghost?" Onion whispered, his voice full of fear. Just as the words left his tongue, a strong wind whipped through the Haunted Faire making the tent's door flaps fly open. Sofia and Onion huddled together hoping the gust would not extinguish the candle's flame and leave them in darkness. The flame flickered violently, but came to full life once more. The young pets sighed with relief. Seemingly used to such odd events in the Haunted Woods, Bart continued with his story.
"Yes, she was a ghost, but the farmer was not scared of her. In fact, he was angry that anyone, even a ghost, dared to enter his orchard. He marched out into the darkness but he did not see the Uni. He wandered so far into the orchard trying to find her, he nearly lost his way. Suddenly, the ghost appeared. Furious, the farmer demanded that she leave immediately. But the ghost only said, 'I will depart once you give me that which is most valuable to you.'
"The farmer thought for a moment, took his hat off of his head, and gave it to the ghost. He would not even consider giving the trespassing Uni a single one of his thousands of lovely apples. He said, 'I only have one hat to block the sun from my eyes as I harvest my apples, therefore it is most valuable to me.' The ghost took the hat and disappeared," said Bart. His voice was a low whisper and Sofia and Onion leaned in close, hanging on the Gnorbu's every word.
"He tricked her!" Sofia said.
"He tried to at least. The next night, the farmer looked out into his orchard and saw the ghost again. Once more he rushed out into the night. The Uni appeared with his tattered hat on the ground before her. The farmer said, 'You promised to leave once I gave you something! You broke your promise!' The ghost only stared at him, her eyes glowing a dangerous red.
"Suddenly, a violent wind whipped through the apple orchard and the farmer's precious apples began to drop to the ground. The ghost disappeared but the hat remained anchored to the ground by some supernatural force. He heard the Uni's haunting voice echo in his ears. 'Your greed and trickery has earned you a curse, scoundrel. That hat is now as valuable as your life! Lose it, and you might lose your head!' screamed the ghost. The terrified farmer ran back to his home, forgetting the hat in the middle of the orchard," Bart whispered.
"Oh no..." Sofia whispered. "Didn't he hear what that Uni said!"
"He sure did, but he was so terrified, the hat completely slipped his mind. All he could think about was the fate of his beloved apples. He hid in his house until daylight and emerged only when he could muster the courage to look at his apple trees... or at least, what was left of them," Bart continued. "Sleepless and distressed, the farmer could no longer stand not knowing the fate of his orchard. He cried tears of joy when he found all his fruits intact, unbruised and still hanging from their branches. He thought it must have been a nightmare. He was so elated he ran through the rows of trees hooting and hollering.
"A haunting sight made him stop dead in his tracks. His hat hung on the branch of a tree right in front of him. A feeling of dread made his stomach turn, but he simply laughed it off. He plucked an apple from one of the trees nearby and soon as he bit into its skin, he knew something was horribly wrong. The fruit was rotten to the core. The farmer dropped the fruit and watched as his precious apples began dropping from the trees again, rotten and vermin-eaten. The leaves of the trees were the next to go. He stared in horror the leaves turned brown fluttered to the ground. His orchard died completely right before his eyes," Bart said. Soft footsteps outside the tent made the Gnorbu go quiet and listen. Sofia and Onion gasped, their hearts pounding.
"No worries, little ones. That must be the other vendors heading home," Bart assured them. "Maybe we should do the same."
"No! Finish the story!" the young pets said in unison, still clinging to one another.
"Heh, all right. Well, with only dead trees remaining in his orchard, the farmer knelt down in anguish and cursed the ghost for taking away his beloved apples. Suddenly, the daylight diminished and a dark cloud hung in the sky above. Lightning struck, thunder rolled, and rain beat upon him. Filled with a terror, the farmer took his hat and as many apples as he could carry, and fled his farm forever," Bart whispered. "And uh... no one would ever know what became of him."
"That wasn't s-scary!" Onion called out timidly.
"You were scared! You held my hand so tightly it hurts," Sofia whined. Bart laughed at the two and adjusted his own hat slightly. He fought the urge to look at the pile of treasured apple prizes he was to give away before the end of the Faire.
"Maybe I'll tell you two another scary story if you come back to visit Apple Bobbing Bart's. Oh..." The Gnorbu stood and made his way over to his small mountain of goodies. "Here you go," he said. Bart gave a giftbag to each pet and smiled. "Tell your friends!"
"Last one home gets caught by a ghost Uni!" yelled Sofia as she flapped her wings furiously and began to fly home.
"D-don't say that, Sofia!" Onion called to his small friend and tried his best to follow close behind.
The Gnorbu watched over the pets as they ran home. He gripped his cane tightly and strained his eyes against the darkness in fear of a danger he could not see. Hoping all was well, Bart turned to his tent. A pair of red eyes blinked in the fog just beyond the water-filled barrel. The sight made the Gnorbu stumble back and nearly fall.
With his heart pounding in his ears, Bart dashed inside of his tent and held the door flaps closed. The sound of Uni hooves beating on the dirt ground outside filled Bart's ears. The steps became louder and louder until they finally stopped at the entrance of the tent.
Bart was consumed with dread and did not dare to look outside. Another night of sleep lost to terror, the Gnorbu would lie awake until morning and wait for more visitors to arrive at the Haunted Faire.