The Adventures of Mo Hog, Private Eye
March 15th started out as an average day for me.
The ides of March are a happy time for most of Neopia, but I was still freezing my bum off, and none too pleased about it either. Business was slow, as usual. Ya see, we detective types don’t get much work around these parts. Terror Mountain is real tame; don’t let the name fool ya. Maybe if I were set up down in the Haunted Woods or Krawk Island, someplace with a lot of disputes going on every day, then I’d see more work. But ever since the Ski Lodge murder mystery way back when, Terror Mountain had been quiet as falling snow. That is, until March 15th.
I was just sitting down in my tiny, closet-sized office with a piping hot cup of borovan when I heard three sharp raps on the door. Through the dim, amber-colored glass pane in my door I could see only the dappled silhouette of my visitor.
“It’s open,” I called, and a shadow Gnorbu sauntered in. She was tall and cool, like a glass of ice water. She looked confident as she approached my desk, but when she got up closer, I noticed that she looked as though she’d been crying. Immediately, she pulled a tissue from the pocket of her woolen trench coat to dab at her eyes, confirming my suspicions. We detective types are real observant, ya see.
“How may I help you, miss?” I asked, leaning back casually in my mahogany chair. I pulled a blank manilla file folder from my top drawer and prepared to take notes. She sniffled loudly, and then spoke.
“I need you to help me find a missing person,” said the Gnorbu with a wavering voice. I almost gasped, except for that we detective types always keep our cool in the face of a shock. Thing is, I had never been called up on account of a missing person before. Maybe a petty theft, pant devil incident, some kid’s angelpuss gone missing. But never something of this... this magnitude.
“Of course, miss,” I said in my most calm, soothing voice. “Of course I can help you with that. I’ll just need some details about this missing personage.”
“Hm? Oh, right. Right. I need you to find my brother.” She gulped. “He’s about my size, maybe a little taller. I’ve been told we have the same eyes, but I really don’t see it. The last time I saw him was, well, yesterday morning. He wasn’t planning a long trip. He was just going to the bakery to get us some bread. And then he just never came back!”
She started to cry again. I gotta admit, although we detective types are usually quite suave under pressure, I am just no good at dealing with a sobbing female. So I simply pressed on with the basic questioning process.
“What’s your brother’s name, miss?” I inquired.
“Gary... Gary Gnorbu.” I almost gasped again when I heard the name, for it’s a name I know by heart. Being a detective, though, I kept my cool - except for a wave of goosebumps that ran down my neck. The perk of being a brown Moehog is that no one can tell when your hairs stand on end. They’re already on end all the time.
“And what’s your name, miss?”
“Genny,” she croaked. “What’s yours?”
“Hog,” I said solemnly, closing the folder on my desk. “Mo Hog, Private Eye.”
We shook hands and I waved Genny off. I told her I’d contact her within a week to report any information I could scrounge up on her brother. Of course, what I didn’t tell her is that while I didn’t know the whereabouts of her brother, I did know the name Gary Gnorbu. And according to the Brain Tree, Gary Gnorbu had been dead for a very, very long time.
It hadn’t been more than a week since I’d last visited the Brain Tree. The trip from Terror Mountain to the Haunted Woods is a real hassle, and I usually avoided taking it often. But the very morning after Genny’s visit, I immediately donned my thick woolen coat and trudged off through the snow, down the slope of the mountain. I passed through the Ice Caves and Happy Valley. I took a ferry to Roo Island, and then to Neopia Central, and from there I made the long walk into the woods.
Not surprisingly, the weathered brown tree was right where I’d left him. He never left his home, a small round clearing in the thickest part of the Haunted Woods. When I found him, it was dusk, and he had already begun to doze in the shadows cast by the other trees.
“Okay, Mr. Brains,” I announced loudly, and knocked on his weathered trunk. The tree’s grotesque pink brain began to pulse and blinked twice, real slowly, but did not speak. Then he closed his eyes.
“Your ruse is up. Your little ship of deception, my friend, has sunk.” I eyed him suspiciously as I spoke. His eyes did not open as he replied in his uniquely deep voice.
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Brainy-poo,” I coaxed. “Who is Gary Gnorbu?”
“We have been over this before, during your last visit.”
I don’t know why I was so inclined to believe Genny, who I’d just met, rather than my own old friend. But I had a hunch, and we detective types always trust our hunches, because they’re usually right. Something in Genny’s teary, obsidian-colored eyes made me trust her, and I wasn’t about to let her down by taking the word of some slimy old tree who lurches around a haunted forest all day and night.
“Ya told me he died a long time ago.”
“That is because he did,” the Tree croaked.
“Then riddle me this, you old zombie trap! Why do I have a client coming to me, asking me to locate him?”
This caused the haggard old tree to finally open his eyes. He stared at me in disbelief. “What did you say?”
“You heard me! Just yesterday it happened. A nice Gnorbu girl came into my office, asking me to find her brother. Said he went missing the day before. He was supposed to be off shopping and he never returned. And she said his name was Gary Gnorbu. So you can stop playing dumb now, ya old tree. What’s really up?”
For a few moments, the Brain Tree remained silent. I could hear my heart beating angrily in my chest, so loud I wondered if my brainiac friend was listening to it, too. Finally he broke the silence.
“I did not lie to you. Gary Gnorbu died several years ago. I knew him well; in fact, we were friends before his death.”
“Brains, c’mon. Are we just gonna go in circles here? I already told you-”
The Tree cut my frustrated outburst short. “Let me finish,” he said calmly. “Of course I was sad when I heard the news that my good friend, Gary Gnorbu had passed away. But for me, the grief was far from average. When Gary died, he did not simply cease to exist. That rarely happens in our world. Nor was he doomed to live in a frozen account, or in the pound. When Gary Gnorbu died, he turned into a zombie.”
I couldn’t have been standing stiller if I were painted relic. As the tree spoke, I was spellbound. Dumbstruck, even.
“How ironic it was,” he continued, “that the character who was once one of my dearest friends now hungers for my brains. We had only one run-in after his transformation, and the results were quite painful for me. Yes, I know that he died many years ago, but to the best of my knowledge, Gary Gnorbu is still roaming Neopia. I could not tell you his whereabouts, though. We do not speak anymore.”
“Holy Kauvara!” I cried incredulously. “Why didn’t ya just tell me that in the first place?” The Brain Tree stood still and silent, letting my frustrated thoughts run wild on their own. He shrugged sleepily.
I hadn’t even thought to inquire the missing pet’s color. What kind of detective was I? Then it occurred to me: Gnorbus can’t even be painted zombie!
“There’s no such thing as a Gnorbu zombie! Now you’re telling me I’m supposed to be looking for a pet color that doesn’t exist?” I choked the words out in a half-scream. Not a real scream, mind you. We detective types know how to keep calm. I must admit I was having a tough time, though.
The Brian Tree opened his vacuous mouth to speak, but he was quickly interrupted by a long, low groan.
I whirled around, and my jaw dropped open. My heart skipped a beat, and my pal’s brain missed a pulsation. Instantly, I knew the name of the tattered figure standing not more than a few feet away from us in the clearing. All of my well-honed detective-typed senses were running on high as he approached, a limping, lurching mass. The smell of rotting flesh filled the air.
“Gary Gnorbu,” whispered the Brain Tree and I simultaneously.
Gary Gnorbu was a zombie Kacheek?
“Nrrraahhh,” said Gary angrily, as he slowly dragged himself towards us. I turned to my side to glance at the Brain Tree, not wanting to keep my back to Gary. My friend looked more terrified than I’d ever seen him. I hope never to see him looking so low again, really. The thing is, see, when a zombie attacks someone like you or me, we can just run away. But the Brain Tree is rooted in the ground, ya know? He’s trapped. He’s a Mootix in a Spyder’s web. He’s as helpless as a Mortog on a lily pad. There was just no way I could leave him like that.
I had to do something, and fast.
“Nrahh, rahh, rabfjdl!” croaked the zombie angrily. “Nrabl rahh, BRAYNZ!”
“Gary!” I cried out.
“Gary, Gary Gnorbu?”
The Kacheek halted in his tracks. He tilted his head and fixated his dark, obsidian-colored eyes on me. In my peripheral vision, I could see the Brain Tree, still quaking nervously. The clearing was filled with the sound of the heavy breathing of two incredibly tense individuals. And, of course, one confused zombie.
“Gary, are you lost?”
“Nrabl rah. Nrrahh. NRAHH BRAYNZ!”
“Gary, let’s be calm now, buddy. You don’t really want brains, do you now?”
“BRAYNZ,” he replied matter-of-factly.
“Maybe you’re thinking of... bread?” I ventured, remembering what Genny had told me the day before. He was just going to the bakery to get some bread. And then he just never came back!
“Breadz?” mumbled the Zombie.
“Now, Gary, my boy, you’re not at the bakery, are you? You’re in the Haunted Woods. You’re very far from home.” I was really turning on the charm now. We detective-types are real good at that. One might even say we’re exceedingly charming.
“Nrrahh,” said Gary. He seemed resigned.
“That’s great!” I cried out, having no idea what Gary was attempting to communicate to me with his muttering. “Say, I have an idea. Hows about I just take you to Neopia Central, hmm? Hows about I just lead you on home. Your sister misses you.”
At this, Gary seemed to perk up, at least, as much as a zombie can. Slowly, tentatively, I took a step towards him. And another. And another. And he didn’t lunge at me, or try to eat my brains. I took him by the paw and began to lead the poor, confused Kacheek out of the Haunted Woods.
As we left the clearing, I turned back to my dear old friend, the Brain Tree. He winked at me, as if to say, “I owe ya one, kid.” Except he doesn’t talk like that, but whatever. Silently, I ventured a wavering smile, and led Gary into the blackness of the Haunted Woods at midnight.
When we reached Neopia Central, the sun was already beginning to rise. I had spent the entirety of the night in the Haunted Woods, and I was bone-tired by the time I knocked on Genny’s bright-blue front door.
She came to the door clasping a cup of steaming Borovan and wearing a white woolen bathrobe with pink pajama pants. When Genny laid eyes on her brother, I’d never seen a happier client. Tears welled in her eyes. I can’t even describe the glowing, satisfied feeling to a non-detective type like yourself. No offense intended, of course, but I mean, when I saw how she was beaming from ear to ear, and I just knew I was in the right occupation. I never should have doubted myself back in the woods!
“Come in!” she beckoned, and my weary hooves forced me to oblige.
We sat around a wooden table in the Gnorbu family’s cozy home, eating faerie cakes (Genny and I) and pulsating brain custard (Gary) while I told her the tale of her brother’s whereabouts. Every few minutes, Gary would chime in with a grunt or gurgle, and Genny would pat him on the shoulder and grin even bigger.
“You saved my little brother. How can I repay you, Mr. Hog?” she asked when my story was through.
“Please, miss, you can call me Mo. And I don’t need anything in return.”
“Yes,” I replied, and stood up quickly from the table. We detective types are polite and gallant, and sometimes we don’t charge. “Now, please excuse me. I’m exhausted, and I need to get back to my office. Thanks be to you both, though, for the job. I’m glad I could help ya.” I shook Genny’s hoof and gave Gary a hug.
I haven’t spoken to Genny Gnorbu and her brother since our final meeting that day. But things never went back to the way they were before March 15th. My little office in Terror Mountain is beginning to warm up, and it sure isn’t quiet anymore. Almost every day I see pets coming in, saying they heard of me from a friend of theirs and they need help locating a missing angelpuss. I’m always busy now, and never bored. My file cabinets runneth over.
Yes, I’ve been working hard. Living the life, as they say. But I was thinking, maybe tomorrow I’ll take the day off. I’ve got some dear old friends I’ve been meaning to visit with. One’s a real smart guy who lives down in the Haunted Woods. And then there’s this real charming family down in Neopia Central. I’m inviting them all over to my chilly home here on the mountaintop. I think they could learn to get along real well.