“Akeelyla! Qnaya! It’s that time of the day again!”
I glanced up at Akeelyla. She held up her paw to her mouth and gave me a sharp look for me to keep my mouth shut.
“Or I guess I should say night. Oh well, it’s nearly 11:30 P.M. and you know what that means.”
I opened the cupboard door slightly so I could see the doorway to the kitchen. Akeelyla grabbed my wrist and twisted it painfully to make sure she had my attention. She held a paw up to her mouth more urgently.
“Oh, come on! Is it really that difficult to just go to bed before midnight tonight?”
Xaea walked in the kitchen, continuing her search for both her Neopets. She put her hands on her hips and gave the cupboard where my sister and I were hiding in an exasperated look. She rolled her eyes, walked over and opened it, taking several steps backwards when we tumbled out onto the floor.
“Ow,” Akeelyla moaned, clutching her head. “That hurts, Xaea.”
“Yeah,” I added, stroking the fur on my leg. “What if I had broken my leg or something?”
My owner rolled her eyes again. “That cupboard is only a few inches off the ground. You’d have to really try to get hurt falling from that. I’m surprised you both fit in there, actually.” Xaea glanced inside the empty cupboard. “And Akeelyla, how did you fall on your head exactly? Never mind, you both have to get to bed.”
“I’m not tired,” Akeelyla whined. “If I try to go to bed this early, I won’t get to sleep.”
“Yeah, me too. It’ll make me go to bed even later.”
Xaea sighed and stared at the ceiling. “It seems like we go through this same conversation every time I try to get you two to go to sleep at a halfway reasonable time. ‘I can’t. It won’t work. Please, Xaea; it’ll only make me sleep worse.’ Akeelyla, you’re going to start Neoschool this fall. It’s going to be hard going to bed a few hours after midnight and waking up a little after dawn every single day.”
“Well, aren’t Xweetoks nocturnal or something?” I asked. “That could explain why we can’t go to bed earlier than this.”
“No, Qnaya, I think Xweetoks are crepuscular.”
“Stop using big words,” Akeelyla moaned. “It makes my brain hurt.”
“Why can’t you use simple words that we all know? It’s not too hard.”
“Yeah Qnaya, you don’t know any words over three syllables,” Akeelyla said.
“Hey, I wasn’t the one complaining my brain hurt when Xaea said creepy-pus-lar.”
“Crepuscular,” my owner corrected with a smile. “Creepy-pus-lar? Hey, want to hear a story I heard about while shopping in Neopia Central? It’s pretty good.”
“Uh, sure,” Akeelyla said, standing up. At the time, I was glad Xaea was going to tell us a story. It meant we had to go to bed later.
“Okay, come on, we can go in your room,” Xaea said, leaving the kitchen.
“Tell me again why we have to use candles instead of that lamp?” I sighed.
“Qnaya, it doesn’t work as well if I’m telling the story in bright light. It makes it more dramatic and realistic if I tell you it by candlelight. And anyway, it’s more fun this way; with the small firelight flickering off the furniture, casting odd, distorted shadows on the walls, and adding more depth and darkness to faces,” Xaea said cheerfully. She sat down on Akeelyla’s bed next to Akeelyla under all her blankets, and me, sitting on the edge. Xaea was right. Her face was half in shadows, and it distorted her expression a little. Akeelyla’s face was almost all in darkness, and her green eyes almost looked like there was a hidden light behind them.
“Okay, so there’s this family in the Haunted Woods. There’s a mother, a father, an oldest daughter, a middle son, and a youngest daughter. The youngest daughter goes out for a stroll on a pathway in the Haunted Woods that’s well known as safe to just wander through. She tells her family she’ll return in a few hours, she just wants to escape the small house for a moment and walk through the flowery, green pathway. It’s a very beautiful walk, full of little streams crisscrossing through the forest, and towering old trees, and the most unusual flowers, especially roses. There are many different kinds, all with their own unique shape and colour and bloom. It’s like walking through a brilliant array of colour and life; nothing like the rest of the Haunted Woods. You had to be careful when touching the flowers; some of them were poisonous, and if you sniffed some of them too deeply, they could make you pass out. There were a few stories floating around about some of the flowers’ aromas. Very strange stories, about how once you smelled the flower, the scent stayed in your brain, and somehow messed it up, making you forget everything and everyone you’ve ever met or seen, or start hallucinating so badly you go insane...
“Keeping all this in mind, the little girl enjoyed her walk through the pathway. She smelled some of the safe flowers, and was always careful about where she walked.”
I stared at the flickering fire from the candle. I glanced over at Akeelyla. She was staring at her paws, but I could tell she was listening to Xaea’s every word.
“That evening, her family was worried and confused when she didn’t return. The brother offered to go along the path and find his sister, but his father said it wasn’t necessary, she was going to come back soon, maybe she was just taking longer than usual, that had happened a few times. Nothing to worry about. Her mother stayed up late waiting, but her youngest daughter never returned. The mother fell asleep in her armchair with a book on her lap and worry creasing her face.
“The next morning when the family checked to see if the daughter had returned; the only thing they found that was out of the ordinary was a dead rose lying on their doorstep.”
I shuddered a little at the thought. Searching frantically for a missing family member, and only finding a dead rose.
“The brother went out on the pathway his sister had disappeared on. He came back with tears in his eyes as he told his family that even though he had walked the entire trail, there wasn’t a trace of her anywhere.”
I glanced up at Xaea feeling strangely morose for this imaginary character in her story. She too was gazing at the flickering candlelight. I understood more why she wanted to tell us her story in the dim light. The shadowy corners of Akeelyla's bedroom were terribly indistinct...
“Somehow, they all slept throughout the night. The next morning, it looked like roses had sprung up in every available space in the front yard and been lovingly tended, and then hadn’t seen sunlight or drank any water for several weeks. There were many brilliantly coloured roses and rosebushes, but they were all wilted and dead.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Akeelyla glance up at Xaea with wide fearful eyes. Xaea continued, obviously enjoying the fact that she was scaring her audience. “Confused, the family cut all the roses and threw them all away, not wanting to be stuck with a bunch of decaying plants. The house had the overwhelming aroma of flowers the rest of the day.
“To escape the house’s smell of flowers, the oldest sister checked the neomail box that was about a ten minute walk away for the house. There was exactly one letter with only the address of the house; it didn’t say who it was from. With uncertain paws, she opened the letter, and found only a blank sheet of white paper, nothing else. Thinking the letter must’ve been a mistake, the sister threw it in the trash.
“That night...” Xaea paused for dramatic effect. Akeelyla and I were gazing at Xaea with horror; clinging to her every word as we waited to know what happened next. “Someone knocked on the door. The older sister checked the door hopefully, but no one was there. There was just a rose lying on the doorstep. The rose was pure white and big enough that it weighed as much as three or four average sized roses. Hypnotised by the dazzling white shining beneath the silver of the moon, she picked it up, not noticing the thorns on the stem, dripping with poison.”
I gasped out loud, and then blushed in embarrassment when Akeelyla and Xaea glanced at me.
“G-go on,” I said sheepishly.
“The older sister didn’t die right away, but she put the white rose next to her bed that night because it was so beautiful. The next morning, her mother and father were not only missing one daughter, but now they were missing two. The rose on her bedside table was gone too, as if neither of them had ever been there in the first place.
“The mother and father were scared and worried and tired of just waiting for their daughters to return. They both walked along the trail to find their daughters, despite their son’s pleading for them to stay home. The son waited all day for them to come back. He was scared of his entire family gone missing, and him alone in a house in the Haunted Woods. The rest of the day, the smell of roses seemed more like a reek than a fragrance in the house.
“At night when he was going to try to go to sleep, he happened to glance out the window before going to bed.” Something in Xaea’s tone of voice and choice of words and expression made my paws tremble. She noticed and frowned.
“Do you want me to stop?” she asked, abandoning her storytelling air.
“N-n-no, k-keep going,” Akeelyla said. I nodded feverishly.
“Alright then. As he glanced out of the glass window into the dark night, he saw two pearly white apparitions. He immediately recognised them as his mother and father. He hesitated for a moment, but then darted outside. He tripped over something, and when he looked behind him, he saw a black rose curling up into the sky. It was moving, as if it had a mind of its own. He quickly jumped up and ran toward the dark pathway where he had seen his parents, but now, now the ghostlike beings weren’t there anymore; they were further down the pathway, deeper into the forest.
“He ran after them, but they never got any closer. He had to stray off the trail to try and get to them. They just appeared further and further away. He shouted at them, but they never responded. He didn’t want to believe they weren’t really his parents. He could see their faces clearly enough that it was unmistakeable who they were. But they glided inches above the forest floor, and they were completely white and glowing.
“The brother never came home. No one ever did. Anyone who visits that house now in the Haunted Woods will find nothing but the ruin of the house, a decaying garden of roses, and the overwhelming smell of flowers in the air.”
We all held our breath for a moment as Xaea’s last words drew pictures in our heads.
“Did- did that really happen?” Akeelyla asked after a pause.
Xaea shrugged and smiled. “I dunno, I just overheard someone telling the story to someone else. I don’t know if they had known the family or if they were talking about a book they wanted to write. ‘Anyone who visits that house now in the Haunted Woods will find nothing but the ruin of the house, a decaying garden of roses, and the overwhelming smell of flowers in the air.’ Doesn’t that sentence paint such a vivid scene in your head? A house, broken down and strangled with plants growing on it, looking like no one had even though of it for a while; a garden with roses that wilted and almost seemed upset; and the lingering scent of flowers that smelled like a perfume, but with the knowledge they had torn a family apart, made the sweet smell turn bitter? And the thought of a family of five all gone missing... or worse... Sweet dreams.” Xaea laughed, stood up, and left Akeelyla’s room. I slid off Akeelyla’s bed and went to my room.
I lay in bed for about five minutes before I realised my eyes were still open.
“Qnaya,” a voice whispered. I sat up. Akeelyla walked in. She was clutching her favourite plushies. All fifteen or twenty of them.
“Are you... can you sleep?” she asked.
“Well... I was almost asleep by the time you walked in,” I lied.
“Really?” she asked. At first she looked at me in amazement, then she looked confused, then sceptical, then annoyed. “No, you weren’t.”
“Not really, no.”
“Why did Xaea have to tell us that stupid story?” Akeelyla moaned. “And why right before we go to bed?”
I shrugged. “Well,” I said with a little laugh, “now she knows all she has to do is threaten us with telling us another story to get us to go to bed a little earlier tomorrow.”
“I just can’t help wondering, did that really happen?” Akeelyla mused.
“It probably didn’t.”
“That’s what I keep saying to myself. But it sounded so... so... just so real, you know?”
“Yeah. I don’t know,” I said.
“And if it did happen... well, what do you- why do you think that may have happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“And is everything the same? If it did happen, was everything in that story accurate?”
“Maybe, maybe not.”
“And I wonder who was talking about it, and to who, and why.” Akeelyla narrowed her eyes at my unhelpful answers.
“You could probably ask Xaea.”
“Yeah, but she said she didn’t know who they were.”
“Akeelyla, I’m sorry, I don’t have some magic answer for you,” I snapped. “You should just try and go to sleep.” Akeelyla narrowed her eyes.
She left and I lay back down again. I tried counting Babaas, I’ve heard from somewhere that’s supposed to help, but I reached 800 before thinking it was stupid. I got up.
“Akeelyla?” I asked, walking in her room. She didn’t respond. “Akeelyla? Akee, I know you’re awake.” She sighed and sat up.
“What?” she snapped.
She glared at me for a moment. “Is that all you have to say?”
“No. I- uh- can’t sleep either,” I said.
“Too bad,” she said, smirking.
“What time is it?”
“Don’t you have a clock in your own room?”
“Yeah, but I haven’t checked it in a while, and I’m in your room right now, so it’d be easier just to see the clock in here than go all the way back to my room and see the time.”
“Qnaya, if you can’t sleep, don’t just stand there and waste my time. I’m trying to fall asleep too.”
“Let’s go tell Xaea.”
“Tell her what? That her stupid story scared us so badly we can’t sleep?” she hissed.
“Well... in different wording probably.” My sister glared at me, but then sighed.
We left and stood outside Xaea’s closed door.
“Why is her door closed?”
“I don’t know,” Akeelyla snapped.
“She never closes her door.”
“I know that! Thank you for pointing that out!”
“So... whose going to open it?”
“How about you?”
“But I don’t really want to.”
“You whine too much.”
“No I don’t! I just don’t really want to open her door.”
“Neither do I. You’re just scared, Qnaya.”
“Yeah you are.”
“Then so are you.”
“I’m perfectly fine. Nothing about that even faintly scares me, and especially not this stupid door.”
Xaea’s door creaked open.
We both screamed.
“Hey! Shh, it’s just me,” Xaea said. “Just me.”
“Oh,” I said sheepishly. “Akeelyla probably thought you were some terrible monster, and her screaming made me yell.”
Akeelyla snorted. “Oh sure, Qnaya. If it wasn’t for the fact that you were the one who screamed first.”
“No, I wasn’t!”
“Okay, why are you both still awake?” Xaea asked.
“We- er- can’t really sleep. The stupid Haunted Woods story...”
“Okay, I have a confession to make. I didn’t overhear that story. I made it up while walking home.” Xaea smiled a little. “I’m sorry it scared you both so badly, I didn’t think it was THAT bad...”
“You... Why, Xaea?” Akeelyla demanded. “Why did you scare us half to death?”
“I wanted you to actually go to sleep.”
“And you just made that up out of the blue while walking?”
I just stared at my owner. “Why didn’t you tell us you made it up?”
“The same reason I used candles instead of the normal light. It makes it more mysterious. You don’t know where I heard it from, and so it makes you really wonder who was talking about it and why. And whether or not it had happened.”
“Xaea, you are a jerk,” Akeelyla said. “That is just a mean thing to do.”
“I’m sorry; I didn’t think it was all that scary.”
“You don’t have a very good idea of what is scary and what isn’t then.”
“You know, someday we’ll look back on this and laugh,” Xaea said.
Akeelyla snorted. “Sure. That’ll happen.”
“No really, this’ll make a funny story to tell you in a few years, when you forget it.” I stared blankly. “I’ll be like, ‘Hey, remember that one summer when I told you a scary story to try and get you to go to bed early?’ and then-”
“Xaea, I don’t think that’ll happen,” I said.
“You’ll be like ‘No.’ And then I’m going to tell you it all over again, and I’ll bet anything, you’ll just laugh and laugh and laugh.”
“You also have a very weird sense of humour.”
“I don’t think I’m every going to just laugh about this, Xaea,” I said.
“Yes, you will.”
“No,” Akeelyla said, shaking her head.
“Shouldn’t you be in bed now?”
“Shouldn’t YOU be in bed now?” I countered.
“Fine. Good night,” she sighed, turning around and walking in her bedroom. “I tried saying sorry...”
“You know,” I said to Akeelyla, “it really is kind of ridiculous. It’s just a dumb story.” Akeelyla glared at me again.
“Bye, Qnaya,” she said, turning around and going into her room. I went to my bedroom.
“Luna! What are you doing on my bed?” I demanded, picking up Akeelyla’s Sandan by the tail. She blinked and yawned. “How long were you there for?” She smiled at me. I set her down on the floor. I heard my Gruslen growl from under my bed. “Now I have to make my bed all over again because you messed it up!” Luna smiled again and curled into a ball by my bed. “No, Luna, go to Akeelyla’s room or something.” I really hated her smug smile.
“Wait, don’t go. You can sleep here,” I said, grinning as I sat down on my bed. Luna’s eyes widened. “In fact, I even have a story to tell you before you go to sleep...”