"Ph-Phalor!" The whimper from the small Cybunny caused her friend to turn around and roll her eyes at her.
"Well, hurry it up, slow poke! I swear, Shai. How I ended up being friends with a scaredy-kad like you, I'll never know." The much braver Lupe padded on ahead, Shailayna running to keep up.
"Saren says we shouldn't be playing around down here. And you know what they say about..." The Cybunny swallowed hard, frowning as a shadowy figure crossed the street in front of them. "Phalor," she murmured, taking a couple steps backwards.
"Oh no, you don't, Scaredy-Shai!" Phalor hissed, turning and catching Shailayna's white ear with her teeth. The chubby Cybunny squeaked, closing her eyes and trying to fight the urge to piddle herself.
"Look, there's nothing even down there! You're just crazy—"
"Now don't you start calling me crazy, you snooping little monsters!"
A voice behind the pair boomed, the already harsh voice splitting the night time silence in half. Shailayna and Phalor looked to each other for a split second before running for their lives.
"I'M TRYING, I'M TRYING!"
But the youngsters had nowhere to run. The street was a dead end, and the voice was following them down into the ally.
Phalor nuzzled her neck into Shailayna's purple fluff, closing her eyes tight. Shailayna's ears twitched with each approaching footstep. She could smell the odd mixture of stale tea, dust, and dull cologne that reminded her of her great-grandfather. Phalor opened an eye just a crack, instantly regretting it.
The mad old Buzz was glowering down at the pair of them, his jaw just inches from Shailayna's nose.
"Now, which two do we have here. I can hardly even see you, then you hide from me. Disrespectful little urchins, the both of you. Do you have any idea what the hour is? Where should you two be? Walk an old man back to his house, now that you've gone and gotten me lost."
Phalor bit her lip, nudging Shailayna. The poor girl was shaking like a leaf.
"W-we don't know where you live!" the young Lupe lied. Everybody knew where Looney Lockewood lived. He lived just outside of town, his dismantled mansion was falling apart. It was once a great, stately place, but it fell as the Lockewood family fell. Rumor had it, there was a curse.
"You lying little Lupe, yes, you do. You were on your way over there to poke around!" The old man jutted a bony claw at her. Shailayna's lip quivered.
"H-how did you kn-kn-know?" she asked, burying her face behind Phalor when the Buzz looked back towards her.
"You brats come running by my house every night. You think I don't realize my manor has a story about it. Listen here, you nosey little ladies. I'll tell you the story as we walk. Then maybe you'll think twice about poking about my property."
The babies looked at each other, Shailayna frowning and shaking her head at Phalor.
"W-we really have to be getting home, Phal," Shai mumbled. The nervous Cybunny wanted nothing to do with this. But Phalor interest was peaked. Nothing in the small town between the Haunted Woods and the Lost Desert was nearly as interesting as the Lockewood Manor.
"We can't just let poor Looney-- Er, poor Mr. Lockewood walk home alone, Shailayna. Where are your manners?" She smiled and bumped her friend with her hind quarters. Shailayna squeaked, biting her lip. She reluctantly started following the old Buzz and the young Lupe.
The town was completely still. It was late for the residents of a quite village to be awake. Sarendipia, Shailayna's big sister and the one in charge of the house, was away on business for Queen Nabile. If Saren knew Shailayna and Phalor were out this late, walking Looney Lockewood back to his decaying manor, she would have a fit.
"Now," Lockewood started, nearly blind eyes incapable of making anything out but foggy shapes, "You two cubs know that there is a lot of bad hubbub about my family and my home in this town, right?" The old man didn't wait for a response. "You see, my family came here before I was around. My father was a medicine man from the Lost Desert, and my mother was... Well, she was a witch in the Haunted Woods."
The two little ones slowed their pace a bit, Phalor's jaw dropping wide and Shailayna's stomach dropping down into her toes.
"A witch?" Phalor repeated, blinking wildly at the old man.
"Yes, yes, a witch. But the name didn't have all the negative thoughts around it back then. Girls from the Haunted Woods would make cures and potions and peddle them about the world. That's how my parents met. They settled down here, working as a team to create the best soaps, brews, cures, remedies, and just about anything else you would need to fix you up."
Shailayna smiled. "They sound like good people! Is that how they got the big house?"
Old man Lockewood nodded. "Business was booming. Then, of course, the family started growing. I was the third child of six. I had such fun with my brothers and sisters, and all the others kids loved to be around the house."
The Buzz's face lit up, remembering his childhood in the small town. They were out of the shopping district now, walking along the dimly lit path to the isolated Lockewood Manor.
"So, what happened? Is there really a curse?" Phalor blurted, her curiosity getting the best of her.
"Phalor!" Shailayna hissed, swatting at her friend's head and just barely getting her ear.
Mr. Lockewood stopped his wings, lowering himself to the ground. Without the movement, everything was suddenly much quieter and much more eerie. Shailayna instantly stepped closer to Phalor. Mr. Lockewood started walking, hobbling along with his cane.
"It started happening when I was about eight, I'd guess. I'm an old man now. I can't remember numbers like that any longer," He sighed and glanced over to make sure the two small shapes were still guiding him home. "It was my parents' latest creation. It was supposed to slow the aging process. Naturally, all the old folks around the area hopped on that like it was their last chance. But after a few months, they started changing. Their eyes would glaze over, their skin lost it's luster, and eventually, they stopped acting like people."
"ZOMBIES!" Phalor shouted, causing poor Shailayna to nearly jump out of her fluff. "Your parents MADE zombies?"
Lockewood sighed heavily, turning on his heals and using his cane to trip Phalor. "Quiet, you, and let me tell my story."
Phalor somersaulted over, lowering her head in an apology. "Sorry, Mister Lockewood," she mumbled.
"Yes. They were zombies, alright. My parents had accidentally turned the town's loved ones into the undead. So, my parents had no choice but--"
Shailayna screeched. They were close enough to the house to see inside windows at this point. There was something moving in the house. A lot of things, actually.
"Quiet, you! You'll wake them all up! I told you, they were all elderly when they were changed! They need their sleep!" Lockewood grumbled, turning to face the two youngsters.
"You mean you keep them in your house?" Phalor gasped, now completely lost.
Shailayna fretted, looking from window to window at the faces gathering at the window.
"Well, yes, of course. Somebody has to look after them. They need to be entertained, fed, talked to..." Lockewood shooed some of the zombies from the window. They were at the gates at this point.
"So," Shailayna started shyly, her ears hung low, "it's almost like... a nursing home?"
Mr. Lockewood looked at her, one eyebrow raised quizzically. He pondered this for a minute, then began howling with laughter.
"Yes! Oh, yes, my dear girl! A nursing home for the town's zombied relatives! Oh-hoh-hoh-hoh!" He continued to laugh as the two youngsters watched the zombies in the windows. None of them looked dangerous at all. A tad frightening, yes, but they all looked too old to be harmful.
Mr. Lockewood wiped a tear from his eye with one of his claws, slowly calming back down.
"I told you two kids. You won't want to be snooping around here anymore. They're just a bunch of old Neopians. They eat too much jelly, like kiddies too much, and smell a bit funky. Now you two go on and beat it. And I don't want to catch you out at this hour again, or I'll tell yer sister!"