Meeting a Monster
Ayakse and Azure were two Acaras that lived deep in the heart of the Haunted Woods. They were not only cousins but best friends as well, sharing everything. Ayakse knew about the time that Azure had won Neopoints on a scratchcard, even though her mother didn't like it when she entered the Deserted Fairground. Azure told her everything. That was why Ayakse felt so bad about keeping this secret.
For years, the two Acaras would walk around after school, buying frightening food items from the local store and catching up with friends to play games in one of the graveyards. They had always been told to stay away from Edna, the Brain Tree, and the Esophagor, which had never been a problem with any of the members of the group. They were all too busy finding amusement with the daily routine. But Ayakse found herself starting to despise all of the constants in her life, regardless of the safety that came with it. For once, just once, she wanted to do something exciting; not so that she could brag about it at school or for any reason other than the fact that she needed to feel like her life was exciting. That was why she told Azure and the others that she had to go straight home that day, and instead found herself wandering aimlessly through the Haunted Woods.
It's amazing, she thought to herself, how someone can look at these things every day but yet never really see them. She entered the pet store very briefly to admire the Slorgs and the Sludgies and the Blorpuli. Ayakse had always wanted a petpet, but her mother thought that they were dirty and so she had never been permitted to get one. It had never really bothered her until now.
Back out in the center of the Woods, she found herself studying people. Everyone walked carefully, as though something were behind them. Neopets flocked to these woods to be rewarded by the Brain Tree and to run about mindlessly, satisfying Edna's every demand. And then there was the Esophagor...
Ayakse remembered reading about him once in school. He had been linked with many mysterious disappearances, though no formal investigations had ever taken place, since even authority feared this being. None of her friends had ever expressed interest in visiting the Esophagor, despite popularity among other the general population of Neopia and other schoolmates alike. Why had she never gone before? Surely he couldn't be that dangerous; people ran errands for him all of the time in exchange for information.
Before any doubts crept into her mind, she ran in front of the Castle of Eliv Thade, a place where she could watch him without being seen. And it was here that she saw, for the first time, this creature that instilled fear into the hearts of so many. He was large and dark, a giant bubbling puddle of matter, and every time he moved the whole ground shook. He gurgled and bellowed and rumbled and howled. Any time someone passed by he would say, in a voice that seemed to be coming from deep within him, "I am hungry! Feed me and I will reward you!" Sometimes they would stop and offer to help, reappearing moments later with the items he had requested, and he would answer their questions. Other times, they would just keep on walking past, and the Esophagor would moan with hunger.
Ayakse reached into her pocket. She had enough Neopoints to buy a few small food items, so she thought that it would be safe to approach this monster. He saw her and declared, "I am hungry! Feed me and I will reward you!"
"Well, what would you like?" she asked kindly.
"A Cheese Ghostkersandwich, a Slime Sundae, and a Skeith Juice Cocktail," he said. He began rumbling and a low moan escaped his throat. "Hurry!"
Ayakse darted off, entering the nearby food shop and buying what he had asked for, not even bothering to haggle with the shopkeeper. She returned to the Esophagor and showed him the things that she had bought for him. He was pleased with her. "Just throw them into my mouth, but hurry," he pleaded. She complied.
"Better?" Ayakse asked.
"For now," he said, his stomach roaring. "What would you like to know?"
"Yes... didn't you feed me to learn knowledge to share with the Brain Tree for one of his quests?"
"No," Ayakse said. "I just thought that you might want some food. I learned about you in school and my textbook said that you were perpetually hungry... is that true?"
"Sadly, yes," the Esophagor said. "All I am is a big sinkhole, a garbage pail, a waste of good space. All I do is consume, but I don't produce anything. If I didn't know all of those things that the Brain Tree needs to know, I would be of no good to anyone whatsoever."
"I'm sure that's not true."
"I can assure you that it is. My life is the same day after day: getting pain so intense that I would do anything for something to eat and having to beg people to buy food for me. I'm a freeloader and a monster..."
Ayakse felt a pang of guilt for thinking that her life was bad when she had it so good compared to someone else. And she knew that what he was saying was partially true, but she couldn't let him feel this way.
"You sound so sad," she said quietly. "Do you really believe all of what you just told me?"
"Yes," the Esophagor said. Another roaring sound came from deep within him and he let out a long, painful cry. Ayakse winced but continued speaking.
"But that's not true. You aren't a freeloader. Sure, people buy you things that you need, but you pay them back with knowledge. If you didn't do that, then they wouldn't be able to complete their task for the Brain Tree. You're helping them."
"They waste their money on me..." he began again.
"It's not a waste."
"Even you... you're so kind to be thinking of me... but I hate to see you spend your money on me, too," he said.
"It was no problem," Ayakse said truthfully. "Can I tell you something?"
"Of course," Esophagor said. "I'm wonderful at keeping secrets."
Ayakse sat down on the ground beside him, not sure how to say what she had been thinking. "Well, I came to visit you partially because I wanted to help, but also because I felt like my life needed more excitement. See... I wake up every single day and go to school with the same people and have the same schedule... then after school I do the same thing every day with the same group of friends and, to be perfectly honest, I felt trapped. I was in this routine that I was doing for other people, not for me, since I didn't want to be doing it. And my life felt pretty bad. But coming to see you made me realize that maybe I don't have it that bad after all. So you did help me."
She hoped that he wouldn't take it the wrong way and think that she had insulted him, but he didn't, which she was very grateful for. "So I did help you?" he asked.
"Yes. Very much so," Ayakse said.
He paused for a moment, thinking of what to say next. "Can I tell YOU something?" he asked.
"I didn't eat any of those people whose friends claimed that I did," he said. "One young Blumaroo did trip and was sucked into me, which I spent weeks feeling awful about, but I never ate anyone. I'm really not a monster, not in that sense anyway. I would never eat someone."
Ayakse smiled. "I'm glad that you told me that." She looked down at her watch. "Well, it's getting pretty late, I should probably be going home for supper."
Esophagor's smile quickly dissolved into a look of pure disappointment and sadness. "Will I ever get to see you again?"
"To be perfectly honest, I wasn't supposed to come visit you in the first place. And I did have to spend half of my allowance to buy food for you. And I think that my friends will be wondering where I go if I bail on them again tomorrow..." She smiled. "But I'll come see you every day after school now, since you proved to me that routines really aren't that bad for me."
The Esophagor smiled. "Goodbye... huh. You never told me your name."
"I'm Ayakse," she said.
"I'm Esophagor," he replied.
She couldn't help but smile. "I know."
"Goodbye, Ayakse. See you tomorrow."
When Azure saw Ayakse she immediately ran up to her and began talking a mile a minute, asking where she had been and what she was up to and if she was okay. When Ayakse shrugged off her questions, Azure began talking about what had happened that day at the Game Graveyard, and Ayakse thought this meant she wouldn't have to answer them. But then Azure said, "Come on, Ayakse, you can tell me what happened! I won't tell anyone. I promise!"
Ayakse considered telling her cousin, but she knew that then Azure would want to come along with her and she'd invite members of their group of friends from school... and Ayakse didn't want that. She wasn't sure that other people would understand this gentle giant like she had. She didn't want them to meet him... not yet.
"Oh... just catching up with an old friend." It didn't even feel like a dishonesty to say this, since she felt like she had known this person for years when she met him. She knew that she would go back the next day. And someday... someday she would introduce him to Azure.
"Well, that's nice and all but we really missed you today. I mean, when I got the high score on the original Chia Bomber game I almost cried, that's how happy I was. Did you know that I got the high score on that game? I did! Well, I mean, not of all time or anything, just of all of our friends. But that's still a pretty big deal, I think. Don't you think so? Well, I think so. I was so pleased with myself."
Just... not anytime soon.