Beneath a Pumpkin Moon: Part One
The moon rose high above the Haunted Woods, as orange and welcoming as a Jolly Pumpkin. Underneath the bare, ragged branches of a dead tree, a zombie Meepit stared up at the moon. He reached towards it, but no matter how far he stretched, or how much he yearned, the moon remained stubbornly just beyond his grasp. Sniffling, he lowered his paw, and rubbed a salty tear from his cheek.
In the distance he saw a fire burning, with flames as orange as the moon above. Having nowhere better to go, he shuffled towards it, soft muttering accompanying each slow step.
"Where ever could he be?"
CoalDust the Halloween Mauket swished her tail, and peered underneath the Green Antique Couch. There was plenty of dust beneath the ornate piece of furniture, and even a few dust bunnies, but not the particular dust bunny-in-training she was looking for. Sighing, she got up from her crouch, and went to inspect the Apple Lantern Chair across the room.
"What'cha lookin' for?"
"I'm looking for Dust to Dustpan," CoalDust replied, rubbing gently against the side of the curious Halloween Spardel curled up in the Petpet bed next to the chair. "I haven't seen him since this morning, and now it's night — and you know how much he's afraid of the dark. Have you seen him, Grim?"
"Um. Uhn. Oh!" The Grim Spectre of Lint licked the tip of his nose, and wriggled inside his dark, black cloak. "He was in the front yard right before lunch, playing with Glop! Glop might know where he is!" Panting, the Spardel squirmed to his feet and took off at an ungainly trot, his tongue lolling haphazardly and occasionally slapping against the wooden floor with a wet, squelching sound. "Come on, CoalDust, let's ask Glop!"
Glop the Goople was resting inside his water dish in the kitchen; he'd taken to staying there after his unfortunate experience with being mopped up, mistaken for spilt Pumpkin Bread batter. It had been a harrowing experience that he still had occasional nightmares over. Rousing from his nap, Glop cracked open one eerily green eye as the two other Petpets neared.
"'Ello," he burbled, raising himself a bit from the dish to see them better. "Is it dinner time already?"
Grim blinked, and drooled a bit on the floor. "Oh, dinner! Is it time for nummies, CoalDust? Issit?"
"No, it's not time for dinner." The Mauket twitched, from the tip of her dark nose to the tip of her dark tail. "Focus, please! Glop... Have you seen Dust to Dustpan? It's getting late, and I can't find him anywhere."
"Dusty?" Glop slumped down in his bowl, and muttered quietly to himself until CoalDust asked him to speak up. "Not — not that it's my fault, mind you," the Goople's voice quavered, "but, earlier today, I might have hurt his feelings while we were playing. Maybe."
Her golden eyes narrowed to thin, gleaming slits, CoalDust lifted the edge of Glop's dish, sloshing him to the tiled floor. "Hurt his feelings, how?"
"I may have, erm..." Glop edged away from his friends, and closer to the kitchen door in case he needed to make a quick exit. "That is... I told him that if he had half a brain, he might stand a better chance at winning a game of Hide n' Seek. It's not my fault!" the Goople defended himself, his bright orange color paling from stress. "He wasn't even trying to hide!"
"Ooooo," Grim howled mournfully. "That was a mean thing to say. Why would you say something so mean?"
"You!" CoalDust stalked towards Glop angrily. "You told a zombie Meepit he needed brains? What were you thinking?" She hurriedly licked at her paw in an attempt to calm down. "No, it's obvious you weren't thinking..." Her paw was clean, but she continued with her grooming routine. "Dusty must have run away from home. But he's so young... Where would he go? The Haunted Woods are so large — and he's such a little Meepit."
Grim scratched behind his ear, sure sign that he was deep in thought. "If he's looking for brains, maybe he went to the Spooky Food cart over at the Deserted Fairgrounds. You know how much he enjoys Squishy Brain Wraps." Drool splattered in hot drops across the tiled floor as his tongue went into overdrive. "I like Squishy Brain Wraps! We should go look for Squishy Brain Wraps! Erm... That is... We should go look for Dusty!"
"We should." CoalDust stared dubiously at her friends, then sighed, tucking her wings in close to her body for comfort. "Well, come on then. We'll check out Spooky Food, but," she swatted softly at Grim in mild warning, "we're not buying anything from the shop. If Dusty's not there... Well... We'll think of somewhere else to search, that's all. Surely someone will have noticed a young Meepit out on his own."
"I think that's a splendid idea." Glop nodded, and jiggled, and tried to unobtrusively slink out of the kitchen to the living room beyond. "I'll just stay here at home then, in case he comes back, hmm?"
"No." Picking Glop up by what would have been the scruff of his neck — had he a scruff, or even a neck — CoalDust tossed the Goople out the back door. "You're coming with us. After all, you owe Dusty an apology."
"But the Fairgrounds are scary!" Seeing the wicked glint in CoalDust's golden eyes, Glop gave a fatalistic groan and began crawling towards the garden gate. "Fine. Be that way. But if Edna tries to use me in one of her potions, I'm coming back to haunt you."
"You do that," CoalDust said unsympathetically. "I do believe that's what Ghost Petpet Paint Brushes are for."
So CoalDust, Glop, and the Grim Spectre of Lint left the safe confines of their yard, and journeyed out to face the unknown dangers of the Haunted Woods.
Dust to Dustpan sat somewhat awkwardly on a stool positioned next to the cheerily burning fire, holding his Marshmallows On A Stick close to the flickering flames.
"...Brains?" he asked wistfully.
"Nope. Sorry, child." The red Elephante looked splendid in his gypsy garb, his mustaches waxed into fine crescents and his goatee wickedly pointed. "Mostly, it's just marshmallows around here. And stories. You wouldn't be in need of a story, would you? I happen to have a surplus; I could let you have one for a steal."
"...Steal?" Dusty blew softly against a toasted marshmallows, then popped one into his mouth, smearing both his face and his paws with the warm, sugary goo. "No. Need brains," he tried explaining around his mouthful of marshmallow. "Important."
"Hmm." The Elephante tapped his fingers thoughtfully against the tree stump he was seated upon. "Well, as I said, brains aren't exactly our forte. Dancing? No problem. Thieving? Well, we might be able to direct you to a guy who knows a guy who... Well, it doesn't matter, does it?" He twisted the end of one mustache, then nodded decisively. "If it's brains you're needing, youngling, then I suggest you head towards Neovia. The Pteri that runs the Neovian Printing Press is the smartest lady I know. For brains or books or a bit of sophisticated conversation — that's the place to start."
"Thank you." Sliding from the stool, Dusty trudged in the direction the Elephante pointed out to him, leaving sticky, marshmallow-lined footprints in his wake. The brilliant pumpkin moon was now directly overhead, illuminating his path towards Neovia. He was glad for its company, and its ability to chase away the dark forest shadows.
The Halloween Bruce at Spooky Food stared down at the two Petpets curiously. "Vello!" he greeted them, beckoning them closer. "Vhat can I do vor you... Vlah!" Giving a small, choking cough, the Bruce spat out his false vampire fangs. "Bah, I don't know why I bother with the things; it's like talking through a mouthful of pebbles. Now then," he smiled kindly, leaning down, "what can I do for you?"
"Squishy Brain Wraps!" Grim yelped, then yelped louder when CoalDust batted the back of his head. "Er... That is..."
"Has a zombie Meepit been in?" CoalDust jumped nimbly to the top of the display case, so she could talk to the shopkeeper at eye level. "About this high when he's standing," she lifted her paw a few inches above her head, then lowered her paw until it was level with her golden collar, "or this tall when he's slouching, or moping, or when he's accidentally stepped on his wrappings. He's truly the dearest thing. His name's Dust to Dustpan, but mostly he answers to Dusty. Have you seen him?"
"A zombie Meepit?" The Bruce crossed his arms, and looked off into the distance. "Can't say as I've seen one. Meepits? Sure, they're a dime a dozen here at the Fair; regular little pests they are, always begging for juice. But one painted zombie...? That's a puzzle."
"Foo," Grim whimpered, while gazing longingly at the scrumptious-looking spooky foods tucked safely away in the display case. His moist nose left wet smears along the glass from his over-eager sniffing. "I'm outta ideas. Where else could Dusty go to get brains?"
"He's after brains? I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise, what with him being a zombie..." The Bruce blinked, then gave an impish wink while handing the slobbering Spardel a broken Bat Cookie. "Dropped it on the floor earlier," he explained to CoalDust, noting her disapproval. "Not like I could sell it. Heh. Anyways... If the little feller's off on his own, he might've joined up with some of the local Meepits. Have you tried looking for him over at Spooky Petpets? I hear that's where those hoodlums tend to hang out."
"Spooky Petpets? I hadn't thought of trying there." CoalDust jumped down from the counter with a brief flutter of her wings, then head-butted her Spardel friend in the side. "Grim, I can't believe you ate that cookie! You've spoilt your appetite for dinner, I'm sure. Well, we thank you for your time," she gave a graceful curtsy to the Bruce, "and if by some chance you see Dusty, could you tell him we're looking for him?"
"Sure thing, little Miss." With another wink, the shopkeeper slipped CoalDust a couple of White Chocolate Ghosts. "For after dinner," he whispered in her ear. "I sure hope you're able to find your friend."
Blushing, CoalDust accepted the treats. "Thank you, again," she said, then turned to leave.
"Whew!" Wheezing, Glop oozed his way into the shop before collapsing into a puddle, trying to catch his breath. "Gosh, you guys move fast. It's not so easy to get around, when you haven't any legs. So, did you find Dusty?"
"Nope! C'mon, slowpoke; hurry hurry!" Grim bounced over the Goople, then hopped over him a few more time for fun. "Gotta go, gotta run!"
"...But... But I just got here!" Glop whined. "Can't we take a little break? Maybe a short nap?"
"You heard Grim," CoalDust said, stealthily swallowing her mouthful of white chocolate. "We need to find Dusty before it gets any later, and you still need to apologize."
"Well, drat." With a suction-y noise, Glop pried himself from the floor. "Could we at least get me a pull along wagon? It's not like I can walk wherever it is we're off to."
To be continued...