Beneath a Pumpkin Moon: Part Two
Dust to Dustpan looked up at the large, ornate sign, and did his best to sound out the words.
"Well... well... Oh. Welcome to..." Licking the last bit of melted marshmallow from his paw, he tried again. "Me... me... Meepit!" The idea of there being other Meepits in the vicinity cheered him considerably. He briefly wondered if he should finish reading the sign, but the rest of the words were long and complex, and his attention span was dreadfully short. So with a hopeful chortle Dusty plodded past the sign, towards the grim, abandoned Meepit Oaks Sanitorium for the Psychologically Fragile.
Even if he'd finished reading the sign, it's doubtful that Dust to Dustpan would have turned back. Warnings were, after all, for those poor, unfortunate souls that weren't Meepits.
"Whee!" Glop was in his element, sliding along the slimy floor of the Spooky Petpets shop. "I remember this place! Hey guys!" he waved to a group of Slorgs, then skidded to a stop beside them. "How's it going? Long time no see!"
"Maybe we shoulda left him at home, you think?" Grim rolled his ruby eyes, and tried his best not to get Sludgy sludge on his cloak.
"Can you imagine the mess he'd make if he were left alone? This," she waved a wingtip in the Goople's direction, "is Glop on his best behavior." CoalDust carefully made her way to the back of the shop, shuddering as something squelched unpleasantly under her foot. "Hello," she called up to the rather vampiric-looking Cybunny supervising the frolicking Petpets.
"Why, hello my dear!" The Cybunny smiled sweetly before hunching down, absent-mindedly catching a Slymook that had slipped off his cape. "How might I be of service?"
"Wow!" Grim started to step forward but slipped on the slimy floor tiles instead, coming to an abrupt, undignified stop when he smacked into the shopkeeper's side. "Oops!" He offered a bashful grin of his own. "That is — your teeth are so sharp and pointy! Do they come out, too?"
With a good-natured laugh, the Halloween Cybunny helped Grim up. "No, little one. The fangs," he ran his tongue along his elongated canine teeth, "are all mine. You must have had a run in with the Bruce over at Spooky Food!" He patted the slime-smeared Spardel on his head, then reached up to steady a Batterfly that had landed on his shoulder. "So. Can I interest you in another spooky playmate? I'm running a sale on Bloops."
"We're looking for our friend, Dusty. He's a zombie Meepit. Glop," CoalDust wearily pointed over towards the cavorting Goople, "hurt his feelings earlier today, and he ran away from home. Have you seen him?"
"That's a tough one," the shopkeeper admitted. "I've seen ghost Meepits, and glowing Meepits, and even grey Meepits recently. Why, just yesterday I found a wonderful home for a jelly Meepit, and last month I rescued a chocolate Meepit that was about to be eaten by the Esophagor. Really," the Cybunny lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "the old gent needs glasses. Completely mistook the Meepit for a confection from The Crumpetmonger. Pish posh!" He shook his head in remembrance of the incident. "As for a zombie Meepit, I'm sorry, my dear. It's been years since I've had one in my shop. Sorry I couldn't be of more help."
"That's — okay." CoalDust bravely blinked back tears. "It's just..." She sniffled, and accepted the monogrammed handkerchief the shopkeeper handed her. "Thank you." She dried her eyes, and handed the neatly folded handkerchief back. "It's just that Dusty is so little, and the Haunted Woods are so large. He must be terribly frightened; he's afraid of the dark."
"Afraid — of the dark?" The Cybunny's ears perked up, dislodging a climbing Psimouse; luckily, the Petpet's umbrella helped it float safely to the ground. "I've only ever met one Meepit that was afraid of the dark... Is it Dust to Dustpan you're looking for?"
"Aroorooroo, yes!" Grim happily howled. "Yes, yes, yes! You know him? Have you seen him, then?" Enthusiastically, the Spardel jumped into the Cybunny's arms, and licked the startled shopkeeper underneath his chin. "Isn't Dusty sweet? Oooo, cookies are sweet, too! Do you have cookies?"
"Grim!" CoalDust reprimanded her friend sharply, mortified at his behavior. "Please excuse him, someone gave him sugar before dinner." She rubbed her head against the Cybunny's knee in apology whilst gently kneading his cape between her paws. "Have you seen him, though?"
"Not since he was a wee pink Meepit, waiting for a new home, here in my shop." The Cybunny gave Grim a warm hug, then sat the wriggling Spardel back on the ground. "I can tell you, though, that whenever Dusty was feeling unsure or worried, he'd head over to the Game Graveyard to play with the wild Meepits that live there." He ran his hand over CoalDust's back and along her tail, startling a purr from the Mauket. "Try looking for him at the Graveyard. Just make sure not to stray too close to the Esophagor. We've set up a fund to buy him glasses, but folks keep donating pocket lint and used tissues. One of the hazards of working in the Haunted Woods, I suppose..."
"Okay," CoalDust answered, the purr still vibrating in her throat. "Thank you so much! I'm sure we'll find him in the Graveyard. Glop!" she called out towards the Goople, who'd joined the passel of Slorgs in their midnight nap. "Glop, we're going!"
"Get up, Glop! Wakey wakey!" For such a tiny Spardel, Grim had a bark the could wake the dead — or at least the school of Skellies that had been asleep in the wading pool tucked away along the shop's back wall. "Come on, Glop, it's time to go!"
"Wrg?" Glop cracked open his eyes and yawned, his lolling tongue the same shade of green as the Slorgs surrounding him. "Wazzat? It's the middle of the night..."
"Indeed, it is," the Cybunny shopkeeper agreed, carefully picking the Goople up and carrying him to the door. "Which means it's well past time for you to leave." With a fond swat to the Goople's gooey backside, he settled the sleepy Petpet next to his friends waiting impatiently outside. "Now off with you, Glop. I managed to find you a nice home once, but I very much doubt I could repeat the feat!"
"...What?" Glop huffed, rolling his eyes at CoalDust and Grim. "I'm loveable, once you get to know me."
Tucking her wings tightly to her sides, CoalDust started off towards the Game Graveyard at a swift jog. "Before," she shouted behind her shoulder, her golden eyes beckoning like lanterns through the dim gloom of the Woods. "You were loveable before we got to know you."
"Well." Harrumphing, Glop slowly started creeping in the Mauket's wake. "That wasn't a particularly nice thing to say."
"Aww," Grim rushed back to the Goople, then preceded to trot in place next to his friend, unable to stay still. "It's okay, Glop; we're used to you. Like old chewing gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe."
"...I like old chewing gum."
For a sign that had clearly spelled out Meepit, there was a distinct lack of Meepits wandering around the abandoned building. There were plenty of cobwebs, and lots of rickety chairs and tables, and even a few skeletons sprawled about in untidy heaps — but no Meepits. Dust to Dustpan was feeling decidedly put out. And to add insult to injury, the rooms he carefully trudged through were crawling with zombies, but none of them were zombie Meepits.
He was thinking of writing a strongly worded letter of complaint to the managers of the establishment.
Approaching a zombie Aisha that was nibbling on a splintered table leg, Dusty cleared his throat and tugged at the Aisha's tattered pants. "Excuse me?"
"...Brains?" The Aisha set aside his gnawed-upon leg, and looked down at Dusty through clouded, grey eyes. "Mmm, brains...?"
Dusty nodded because, yes, brains were always nice, and yes, he'd love to have some, then shook his head no. "Printing Press?" he asked, pointing down the hall, then twisting his arm so that he was pointing in the opposite direction. "Neovia? Pteri?"
The Meepit's questions had drawn the attention of more zombies, and he was soon surrounded by a ragged crowd of muttering, drooling zombie 'pets. They chattered and moaned, and occasionally dropped bits of themselves on the floor. Then, the horde seemed to come to a consensus.
Dusty followed the other zombies as they staggered out of the Sanitorium. There, on the unkempt lawn, they milled about in confusion, agitatedly looking underneath weathered benches, mossy rocks, and their own decaying feet. "Brains..." they worriedly garbled, to which others would respond, "...Brains." Although one fellow, a particularly thoughtful zombie Scorchio, kept repeating, "Bath salts," which led Dusty to suspect that the poor fellow's nose hadn't reached the proper state of zombified decomposition yet.
With a triumphant cry, the zombie Aisha pulled a scraggly bush out of the ground and raised it over his head, sending clods of dry soil flying about. "Brains!" he told the hushed — and dirt-streaked — mob. Lurching forward, he placed the bedraggled shrub in front of Dusty, then smiled a smile full of yellowed, broken teeth. "Brains," he enunciated slowly, nudging the bush upright as it started to topple over.
The Meepit stared, from the bush, to the zombie 'pets, then back to the bush. He then returned the gruesome smile, and hugged the Aisha around his ankle. "Brains," he agreed, wondering why he hadn't thought of it himself.
With renewed determination, Dusty headed towards the property's entrance and the sign that had misled him. As he was about to step through the twisted gates, he paused. Turning back, he shrugged his shoulders, and politely inquired, "Brains?"
Scratching quizzically at their heads, and pulling out strands of brittle, dead hair, the zombies pointed in every conceivable direction — and a few inconceivable directions as well. All except for the zombie Scorchio, who was anxiously asking his nearest neighbor for breath mints.
Shrugging again, Dusty glanced towards the starry night sky, then followed after the setting pumpkin moon. Having more experience than most, he should have known better than to ask zombies for directions.
To be continued...