An Unforgettable Reunion
There was a knock at the door. The two thuds echoed around the boardroom in the Neolodge where the reunion was due to take place. Due to the small number of expected attendees (and the fact that nobody had remembered to book anywhere until the last minute), the boardroom they had managed to hire was the little grotty one in the basement. A circle of plastic chairs was visible thanks to the dim light omitted by the solitary Bare Hanging Bulb, and a table had been set up for refreshments – although it appeared nobody had remembered to give the caterer a call. The table was empty except for a small stack of paper plates.
There was another knock from the other side of the door; the same two heavy blows as before. This was followed swiftly by a deep, impatient cough, and another set of knocks. And then another.
"Guys, come on, this isn't funny now!" A blue Grundo stormed into the room, almost taking the door off its hinges. He stopped dead in his tracks as he looked around the room. "Oh. Well that makes sense, I guess." He looked down at his watch – yes, he was definitely on time; a few minutes early, if anything. He rolled his eyes with a smirk – he'd always been the only one on time. Back in their glory days, the Gormball games always had to be scheduled earlier than they intended to play in order to ensure all players turned up in time.
Zargrold spotted another door on an adjacent wall, grinned mischievously, and crept across to it. It was only a small store cupboard for the cleaner, according to the rusty sign on the door, but it would make an excellent hiding place. He'd be able to wait until the others had arrived, and make his grand entrance later on, just as he'd planned the entire way there. Zargrold spent a lot of time working on his practical jokes, even more now he'd retired from sport, and he prided himself on his ability to make others laugh. He was especially fond of knock-knock jokes, but just saying "knock-knock" didn't have the same effect as actually knocking on a door. There would be seven other people in the room soon, hopefully, and then one of them would surely respond to the knocking by asking "Who's there?" That was the plan, anyway. It would all fall into place, he was sure of it.
Just as Zargrold reached for the door handle, he heard a quiet mewing. His ears pricked up – it was a Kadoatie. He knew that sound anywhere; their mew was distinctive and unique. He'd spent many an hour studying Kadoaties and their habits – volunteering at the Kadoatery had started off as something just to pass the time between Gormball training seasons, but it had become an addiction. He had seven Kadoaties at home and was hoping to get another quite soon. Maybe he could adopt the one in this building – the one he could hear now (only if it didn't have a collar, of course).
He listened again carefully for the mewing, trying to figure out the poor petpet's location. After a few more mews, and after pressing his ear up against the store cupboard door, Zargrold discovered the sound was coming from the other side of the door! He smiled smugly, seeing himself as quite the detective, and went to open it. He pushed the door slowly, not wanting the source of the mewing to dash away, and carefully groped around in the dark for a light chord and, upon finding it, lit up the room. Naturally, the detective had succeeded in his mission – there, sitting on a pile of mops, was a Cloud Kadoatie! Zargrold couldn't believe his luck; he didn't have a Cloud Kadoatie yet – back at home he had Kadoaties painted rainbow, yellow, Christmas, brown, snow, green, and disco, but he didn't have one in cloud yet. But now he would!
He shut the door behind him as he entered the Janitor's store cupboard, picking up the Kadoatie and placing it on his lap, and taking a seat on the mops where his new petpet had been sitting not moments before. At least he would have some company now while he waited for his former teammates. The pile of mops, however, were not sturdy enough to carry Zargrold's weight – they had been stable enough for the weight of a tiny little Kadoatie, but not a former athlete like Zargrold. The racket was tremendous – he was lucky the others weren't here yet, or the crashing would have certainly given away his position. Placing the Kadoatie on a shelf next to some dusters, the Grundo tidied up the mops and instead found a strong box to get comfy on. He looked up at the petpet, and decided he needed a name.
"You shall be called Fluffy!" he announced triumphantly. At this, Fluffy leapt onto Zargrold's lap once more and settled down for a nap. And now all he had to do was wait for the other Gormballers to arrive so he could put his plan into place. He was a genius.
Footsteps. Zargrold froze, a grin spread across his face. This would be everyone else arriving, and then he could perform his latest joke. He was more excited about executing his masterpiece on his fellow sporting pals than he was about seeing them again and having a catch up. There had been rumours about a journalist from the Neopian Times turning up to the meeting and writing a piece about the retired sporting stars for the aftermath of the Annual Gormball Championships – but that was nothing compared to the anticipation of the best knock-knock joke in history! He was such an all-rounder.
On the other side of the store cupboard door, the footsteps from the corridor were getting louder and louder towards the basement-based boardroom. The footsteps were slow and heavy. Zargrold could hear this, and began running through his former teammates in his mind... It didn't sound like Ursula, or Kevin, or Brian, or Thyassa. It couldn't be Ember, or Farvin. No, it wouldn't be any of them. It was Gargarox.
Just as Zargrold had reached this conclusion, the boardroom door flew open with a thud, revealing a rather out of breath Mutant Grundo, carrying a sports bag.
"Ergh!" he grunted. "Who put us in this room? We're not all as athletic as we used to..." He trailed off suddenly, dropping his bag in shock. In his hiding place, Zargrold's heart stopped – he'd never known his fellow Grundo stop talking mid-sentence. Gargarox was known in the team for muttering to himself; he'd never been able to keep his interior monologue inside his own head. It had always been a great source of amusement to the players. Even in the middle of games, he could be heard muttering away. Often, it wasn't even about the game. His most frequent ramblings were on the subject of food. But even mid-game, he would never stop talking without finishing a sentence.
And now he had.
Something was wrong. He didn't sound that out of breath – that couldn't be the reason for the sudden silence. Maybe he knew that Zargrold was hiding... But that was impossible, unless he could now see through doors. Fluffy had fallen asleep on his lap and wasn't making a sound, so surely Gargarox couldn't hear the Kadoatie. And then it hit him.
He'd left the light on. And he had been noticing a breeze at his feet. Zargrold looked down and noticed a rather large gap at the bottom of the door, where surely the light from the store room would be shining into the dingy boardroom where Gargarox now stood in silence. This was bad. He could leap out now and let Gargarox in on the joke (and introduce him to Fluffy). But what if he betrayed his position to the others when they arrived? It wouldn't be on purpose, but if the mutant chef even thought about the joke or the store cupboard, his thoughts would tumble out of his mouth without a second thought – or even a first thought, in this case.
No, he couldn't risk the joke being ruined for everybody. He would just have to stay behind the door and hope that, if he had seen the light, he would think the janitor had left it on by mistake, or that Gargarox hadn't noticed the light and had been silenced by something else. Although, if it was something else... what could it be?
On the other side of the door, and in the boardroom, Gargarox was still transfixed. He had not moved, or even blinked, since he had dropped his bag and stopped talking; unknowingly giving the hiding joker Zargrold a mild panic attack. He stood still, staring intently towards the other side of the room. He could feel his heart thumping loudly inside his chest. This was a disaster – he was not prepared for this. It was his worst nightmare...
Gargarox was still staring at the horror that presented itself before him. Unbeknown to Zargrold, the Mutant Grundo had not been silenced by the light from under the store cupboard door – his hiding place was safe. No, it was something much worse that had stumped the chef.
He was staring at the empty refreshments table. He had been scanning the room for food from the moment he walked in, and, spotting the lonely paper plates, had dropped his bag in shock. There had to be food. Not only was Gargarox a chef in Kreludor when he wasn't playing Gormball, he enjoyed eating food as well as cooking it. To be honest, food had always been a greater passion for him that sport – having his own café was brilliant.
As a Baby Grundo, he had dreamt of owning his own restaurant and creating his own food – he was always one of those cooks that liked to throw all ingredients in the kitchen of the Neohome into a pan and see what happened. He liked to experiment with food, he was never one to follow a recipe. Why would he copy a dish someone else had created when he could create something wonderful of his own?
"Food!" he exclaimed suddenly, snapping back into reality. It would not do that there was no food – he would simply have to sort it out himself.
Hearing Gargarox's voice one again, Zargrold breathed a sigh of relief from the store cupboard – he was still hidden, his position had not been betrayed by the light he had foolishly left on. Of course it was the lack of food that had rendered the fellow Grundo speechless, he should have known. Hearing the slam of a door and the thumps of Gargarox's footsteps heading away from the boardroom, Zargrold took the opportunity to turn the light off. Gargarox might not have noticed the light but surely the others would if they turned up. Now he really would be able to surprise them all.
Fluffy had fallen asleep on Zargrold's lap – it was understandable, he thought, with the light off it made him feel quite sleepy too...
He awoke with a jump, frightening the Kadoatie off his lap with a yelp. There was a crashing around him as boxes, situated on the shelves until a few seconds ago, came tumbling to the floor. He'd obviously given away his position now. He might as well leap out and surprise everybody! There was no time no knock – it'd still be a great joke that he'd been here this whole time. Surely they'd all be there by now? He couldn't hear anything other than the chaos around him, but there was no time. He leapt out of the cupboard...
"TA-DAH!" he yelled triumphantly. The smile vanished from his face in a second. The room was still empty, but a party had definitely taken place. The chairs had been moved, some knocked over. The table that was empty before was now scattered with crumbs and dirtied plates. He looked up at the ceiling of the boardroom to see a number of brightly coloured escaped balloons floating helplessly. The floor was littered in discarded Gormball jerseys and pools of water – they'd had a match! They'd had a reunion match, without him!
Fluffy strolled out of the cupboard and wandered across to the room – avoiding the incriminating puddles – and started scratching at another door. Zargrold looked up; that wasn't the door he came in through. It was another store cupboard; one that was a lot bigger by the looks of the larger, grander door. He'd have been much more comfortable in there.
He heard muffled giggles. And then a crashing sound similar to the one he'd created when he'd woken with such a start. The handle of this other door started turning...
"SURPRISE!" It was his Gormball team! Fluffy darted out of the way to avoid being trampled as everybody poured out of the (now confirmed) larger storeroom. Zargrold stood perfectly still, staring at them in shock.
"We saw you were asleep in the cupboard when we went looking for more chairs!" Ember explained, seeing his confused face. "We thought we'd beat you at your own game! All the food and games are in our cupboard, we set the whole thing up!"
Zargrold smiled – so they hadn't just forgotten about him after all!
"My own game, hey?" he said with a smirk. "My own game is Gormball, and it's game on!"
The team played for hours in the boardroom, stopping briefly to be interviewed by the Neopian Times. Zargrold introduced Fluffy to the group, Gargarox served the food, and everybody had a great time.