That Haunted Darkling, Delphine
All along the wide Neopian streets are blocks upon blocks of bright and enchanting homes that are constantly overflowing with goodhearted laughter. Along with the greeting of the sun's rays upon the cheerful Neopian town comes a daily chorus of "good mornings!" and the soft bustle of neopets beginning their work day. Children head to school, skipping, trotting, or flying along, passing beautiful lawns with gnomes dotting the landscapes, along with the occasional chocolate bridge and cloud garden swing. It's a peaceful life: to live in a neighborhood with such beauty and where all the neighbors are on a first name basis. On one particular street, however, a black mark once stained the picturesque look. Winding Wood Drive had always been renowned for its classic beauty – many affluent and influential neopets reside on that street.
No one knows from where Delphine originated, or what exactly had prompted her to settle down in Neopia Central. Many rumors circulated, but none dared to actually find out the truth: that would mean approaching the wicked Zafara herself! She was monstrously tall, challenging even the tallest Lenny in height. Her fur was a wicked purple, deep and foreboding. Her sinister smile was often followed by a cackling laugh that would turn the blood of even the bravest neopets to ice. Or at least that's how she was described – very few actually met with the opportunity of witnessing the reclusive Zafara. But I, oh yes I was one of those few.
My goal, as it pertains to this depiction, is to clear up any misconceived notions about the unfortunate darkling, Delphine. She did indeed have darkness in her heart, but with utmost certainty I am able to proclaim that it harbored no malice within. She was a haunted creature, but she wished no ill will upon another. I did not know her well – in fact my encounter with her was quite brief. There is much I don't know. But what I do know is that she is, in her own twisted way, a very kind neopet who deserves to have the truth told for once.
I was in grade school when my family moved to Neopia central. I knew no one upon arrival, but have always been a rather sociable Cybunny and quickly found some companions on my block. It was summertime and so, as children, we had too much free time on our paws. We constantly were getting into trouble and causing a ruckus, but it was always mild and harmless. My father was actually proud about it: he considered these pranks we were causing to be a sign of creative ingenuity. Whenever he would declare that opinion, my mother would roll her eyes, pat my head, and send me on my way.
It was a few weeks after our arrival that my new friends announced to me that in order to be considered a true part of the group, I had to first pass a test. I quickly assented; to show hesitation would only convince them to make the test harder. They smiled and whispered amongst themselves for a minute, before nodding and coming to face me. The eldest of the group, a rambunctious Lupe of large stature, stepped forth and spoke slowly, for dramatic effect I supposed. "Do you see the dark house down the street? That is the home of Delphine, a cruel and terrible witch. You must go inside and steal one of her books of sorcery!" The others were nodding encouragingly, but I could see uncertainty and fear in their eyes. I accepted, though I knew it was a bad idea as I could feel a pit of dread well up in me.
When we got to that end of the street, the group stayed hidden across the street. They refused to get any closer. I took this moment to get my first real look at the place. I could hardly believe anyone would choose to decorate their house in such a macabre style. A bat thing gnome was the first object my eyes fell upon. It was surrounded by a small grove of black roses and sat under the shade of a bent tree, on the other side of which was a corrupted pond. A flower bed of dreary lilies and drabby roses sat beneath the window sill, and a mutant chimney was beside that. The walkway was dotted with skeletal bushes, and at the very front of the lawn sat a slimy tree.
"Don't worry," the Lupe whispered. "She is only awake at night. She'll be asleep right now. Just don't take too long." I nodded, and with that last warning still ringing in my ears, hopped quickly across the street and up to a side window. It wasn't locked. I suppose the feared have nothing to fear. I silently climbed through and found myself in an eerily dark dining room. I paused and strained my ears, listening for any signs of life. Hearing nothing I summoned up the courage to make my way to the doorway, pushing down that feeling of dread that was incessantly trying to make me abandon the test. I peered through and saw the living room just across the hallway. A thought flashed through my mind suddenly that I could actually do this! Just two feet to the entrance, grab a book, and hop back through the window. It seemed easy enough.
As I entered the living room, I heard a rustle. I froze in mid step as I realized a pair of eyes was staring at me from above a chair. For a brief moment neither of us moved... and then a blood curdling scream escaped from my lips. I never knew I could expel such a powerful sound from my lungs. I turned to run back to the dining room and in my hurry I tripped over my own feet and plunged downwards, hitting the floor with a loud thud. In a mix of overwhelming fear and pain I blacked out.
When I came to I was lying in the chair that the witch had been staring at me from. I moved to sit up and felt something on my arm. As I looked down I was surprised to see it had been carefully bandaged up. A lamp had been turned on, though it did little to dispel the eeriness of the house. I sat still to combat the lightheadedness that usually comes with fainting. The Zafara entered carrying a cup of steaming cocoa, and set it down in front of me. I had little idea of what I should do. So far, she had come across as quite the opposite of a cruel sorceress. She smiled shyly and pointed to my arm.
"How does it feel?" She had a soft voice that did not match her hulking size.
"It hurts a little. Thanks for the bandage, er...."
"Delphine," she quickly responded. "A family name. And yours?"
"Oh, I'm Chase," I suddenly felt extremely ashamed and knew I owed her some sort of explanation. "My family and I just moved here from Meridell. My new friends, well, they were giving me an initiation of sorts. I was to steal a book from you... a book of sorcery."
"A book of sorcery? Why would I even have one?" She sounded genuinely surprised, and my embarrassment continued to grow.
"They told me you're a witch," I explained, expecting her to grow angry at such an accusation. Instead, she burst out laughing. Not the cruel laugh I had been told about, though it still set me on edge. She shook her head and shrugged her shoulders.
"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. What with all the lawn ornaments and such. And I supposed my appearance doesn't help much. No, I'm not a witch, young one. I'm just a little strange," She chuckled to herself. "Always have been, probably always will be. I was always teased for it, but it's who I am. Why should I change? I have always embraced my oddities! I love what I love, I am who I am. I find beauty in the darkness, in the unloved, and in the deranged. Unfortunately I have yet to find neopets who accept that in me. I know I stand out here, but what am I to do? I cannot banish what I love from me. No, I choose to surround myself with it and celebrate it!"
I felt any lingering fears I had dissipate. She spoke such genuine truth and passion as I had never known before. Yes she was dark and fearsome and a little monstrous: all that was true. But she was also wonderful! I did not understand her view of beauty, but neither did I question it. It was hers, it was her truth, and of that she was passionate. Oh to so fully embrace yourself, and accept those differences, for which you were hated, feared even! I envied her and admired her already.
"You know," I began slowly. "There is a rumor of a place in the woods, beyond those that border our city, where the trees are haunted and the dark and castaway creatures reside. My father claims it to be nothing more than just a myth. But in my father's shop in Meridell once, I heard from a traveler that such a place truly exists. He had been there briefly, he claimed, and was so distraught with the dreariness of it he could never make himself return." Delphine's eyes were wide with fascination and wonder as she listened to me, and she opened her mouth to speak but it was at that moment a shout sounded from outside.
I had forgotten completely about the group of kids that had been waiting expectantly for me outside. As I had been chatting with Delphine, quite the ruckus was forming outside, under the darkening evening sky. I learned later that upon hearing the scream I let forth at the sight of Delphine, the kids, fearing the worst, ran to their respective homes and explained to their parents that I was in the clutches of the "witch" down the street. The kids were so distraught the parents instantly sprang to action, assembling outside the haunted looking house. It took very little to convince them something drastic had to be done, as their imaginations had already done most of the work.
Delphine and I stared, horrified, out the window at the screaming mob. Without a word, she abruptly turned and walked away. I turned to watch as she stood in front of her bookcase, withdrew a book, and came to set it in my paws. Her lips were pursed and she trembled slightly. "I hope those Haunted Woods you spoke of exist. Maybe I'll find some peace amongst the wicked." And with that I watched as she receded down the dark hallway. I clutched the book close and went out the front door to confront the mob, thinking my appearance would calm them down.
How wrong I was. As I hopped down the walkway, angry shouting began once they realized I had been hurt, seeing my bandaged arm. They began rushing the house, as I tried to call desperately out that all was alright. My voice was drowned in the madness of the crowd though, and I was pushed aside as they burst through the front door. I stared aghast at the events unfolding before me. I wanted to help Delphine, but was powerless against the mob. I was about to charge forth, to stop the madness, when I felt arms enfold around me. My mother swooped me up and my father's protective frame enclosed around us, ushering us towards home. As they carried me away I stared at the scene in front of Delphine's house, unbelieving of what my eyes told me.
In the days that followed I learned that she had eluded any capture. The mob chased her deep into the woods that bordered our city, but the chase was abandoned before any were able to reach her. No one knows to where she ran. Her house was boarded up – she never returned. And none know of her whereabouts to this day. In the years that have passed she has been on my mind from time to time, the truth she spoke has resonated with me heavily. But never have I worried for her.
It was several weeks following the drastic events of that summer evening when I received a package. Figuring it was from an old friend in Meridell my father left it on my bed for me. When I got home that night, I went to my room and discovered it waiting. I don't know how I knew it was from her before I opened it – it had no sender name – but a sudden flood of relief swept over me as I approached it. I tore it open and withdrew a newspaper entitled Haunted Woods Reader and scribbled at the top were the words "Made it!" Smiling, I carefully folded the paper and went over to my bookcase, sliding it in beside a newly acquired book: Witchcraft Spells.