The House of Fear and Dread
There is a house in Neovia that sits on the corner of Fear and Dread. No, really, the two streets were named after a couple of wealthy benefactors who donated a rather large sum of money to the town after the whole mayor debacle a few years previous. The former, a robust Elephante by the name of John Fear, became well known for his discovery of a simple syrup which clears blurred vision. The latter, one Robert Dread, was a Kyrii and a prominent businessman who made his money in the stock market.
Now the two were not only familiar in the area of business, but became rather good friends when their course of commerce crossed paths, and decided to build a house together on a hill overlooking the town of Neovia, in which they planned to rebuild. The house was grand for the present state of the area and many citizens were hopeful the two would bring a small amount of prosperity to a town so ripe with disgrace.
Yet a short time after the pair moved in together, talk spread of a rife between Fear, who was quiet and reserved, and Dread, who was more social and enjoyed basking in the slight bit of fame he was able to achieve with his neighbors.
When one does decline an invitation for the first time, the host is not altogether offended, but once Fear made it clear he was not interested in the social goings-on of the town, the thought to invite him seemed, after a while, like a wasted effort. And so Dread often did make acquaintances with the elite and there were many articles published about his charm and benevolence.
Some do say Fear was quite the jealous type and did not appreciate his hard work shunned to the back burner while Dread took all the credit for their successes. The two were seen in the town square one dreary night arguing most agitatedly and when the news arrived the next morning via word of mouth that Dread had up and left the town of Neovia, many were not surprised.
Though after a while, several citizens began to talk of foul play. They had no durable proof, but Fear began to act most irrationally. He was rarely seen in public save for the occasions he went into town to purchase his groceries, and even then was seen mumbling to himself. Indeed, when any passerby sought to engage him in conversation, he shunned their attempts and was often heard muttering the name of Dread.
There remained quite a few who were fond of and very close to Dread since his arrival, and thought it rather strange he would depart without telling them of his intent to leave. Dread was fond of Neovia and his disappearance raised a scrutiny as to his actual whereabouts.
Eventually, Fear was no longer seen in town and the general consensus was that he might have copied his former business partner and left. Most suspected Fear had done away with Dread, whether by accident or not, on the fateful night of their disagreement. Out of shame, regret, or guilt, the Elephante had left the house where so many memories of his dear friend resided.
The house was labeled a tragic story and kept on the hill and out of reach for several years, though truthfully, most of the citizens were extremely afraid of going near it. They thought it most certainly haunted by the ghost of Dread and even though no one could say for sure they had seen any haunting activity, almost every citizen would tell a story of a frightful run-in with the place, assuring the house remained overlooking the town like an ever present spirit.
After the years, the house began to show its age and as any house is wont to do after so much time in neglect, the once grand mansion that would make even Fyora sigh in admiration became quite dilapidated and worn down. Its shingled exterior weathered and decayed, and the foliage snaked its way up the side of the house. Most of the windows were riddled with holes from children throwing stones, and the rotting foundation began to tilt after several rains.
Not to mention, the perpetual gloom of Neovian weather did nothing to heighten its features; the overcast sky only accentuated its shadows and gave the facade a lifelike appearance, securing that no citizen dare approach. The building began to be referred to as the House of Fear and Dread.
The story of the house was so ingrained in the town's mind, that on an unusually chilly night in April, a Brown Krawk by the name of Alan could be seen walking his Kimbi, initially giving the building a wide berth. However, over the years, the local neopets had been prone to letting their petpets do their business upon the lawn of old Fear and Dread since the inhabitants no longer lived there, and more importantly, so they weren't obliged to pick anything up.
"Come on, Hercules," Alan urged, shuffling from foot to foot in an attempt to keep warm. The pair had lingered around the side of the house not facing town and Alan, from time to time, kept shooting it furtive glances as if expecting to see a dark figure peering from a window.
Quite unexpectedly, a light was switched from within the house, flooding from the window and bathing the Krawk in a square of glowing yellow like a spotlight, causing him to pause as if caught in the act of some mischievous deed. His Kimbi also froze, and the two of them stood quite still, hearts hammering from the startling position. Just as suddenly, the light went out and the house stood as dark as ever, staring gloomily down at them.
Alan slowly backed down the lawn and when he was sure no apparition was crawling from the shadows to reach for him, he tossed his Kimbi over his shoulder and half trotted, half ran back down the hill and to the safety of his home.
Now you might think Alan would waste no time in informing the other inhabitants of the town about this chilly circumstance, but the Krawk was well aware that even the whisper of ghosts could land a perfectly sane neopet in The Meepit Oaks Sanatorium, so Alan concluded the incident was a result of faulty electrical wiring, and went about his business as usual. Though, after that night, Alan never again walked Hercules near the corner of Fear and Dread and advised anyone who would listen to also avoid the area, only adding to the suspicion about the place.
If he had bothered to share the truth about the frightful night, he might have prevented the local younger neopets in town from executing some pent up angst and taking part in a game to see which of them could approach the house the closest without fleeing in terror. To this day, not one had actually dared to enter the dwelling.
That is, until the night of April 17th, when a group of three decided their night of playing board games was lacking in excitement and spontaneity.
One of the trio was a Darigan Scorchio, named Doni. He was a particularly bright mind who also had a deviant heart and it unfortunately caused him to propose to his other two companions that they might partake in a game of Jitters.
Jitters was a play on a neopet's deepest horrors. One would be forced to truthfully name one of their fears, and the others were allowed to dare him to do an act which tested how far he was willing to go to overcome his panic.
Pavo, a shadow Korbat, and his twin sister, Piva, had leaned their heads together mischievously and then announced their dare:
"You, Doni, shall go into the House of Fear and Dread and bring back a token proving you were there," Pavo ordered.
Piva nodded her agreement. "Remember, if you become too scared, you can always yell Jitters!"
Doni puffed his chest as those in defense are likely to do and proclaimed he was no more scared of ghosts than flying meepits. So they traipsed through the city of Neovia and found themselves on the corner of Fear Street and Dread Lane.
The house sat as dark as ever, perched serenely, and (apparently) quite empty on the hill. After glancing back once to obtain a little courage from his friends, Doni approached the same window Alan had seen lit only a couple nights before. Now, however, as the Scorchio wiped a layer of grime away from its surface, he could make out nothing except for the pitch blackness on the other side which seemed never ending.
Luckily (or unluckily), the window was not latched when he attempted to push it up, and after winning a battle against the groaning wood, the window yielded a small hole for him to climb through. Without another backwards glance, for any more than one look towards his friends would hint at cowardice, Doni hoisted himself up and into the house.
Even the worst of eyes are trained to adjust in the dark and Doni had exceptional vision, so that in only a few seconds, the contents of the room began to come into focus. He was standing in a library that would make the Library Faerie swoon. Towering bookshelves reached to a ceiling of twelve feet and snaked their way around a rectangular area larger than Doni's bedroom. He thought about grabbing a book and calling it a night, but now that he stood within the house, he felt a strong desire to explore further. Plus, he knew the longer he stayed, the more anxious Pavo and Piva would be for his return, and he smiled at the idea of prolonging their unease.
Not particularly sure why he felt the need to be covert, Doni tiptoed through the library to the door on the opposite wall which led to a long hallway. He could see a small amount of moonlight coming from the end of the hallway, and came upon a large kitchen, which seemed to have spared no expense in lavishes. From the marbled countertops, to the expertly stained cabinetry, the kitchen was immaculate. Rather... too much so.
For a kitchen supposedly not used in years would show some form of neglect, yet there was not a speck of dust on the tip of Doni's finger as he ran in surreptitiously on the nearest counter. As he approached the small table, he saw a candle, half-burnt, and still showing signs of drying wax. The scorched smell one experiences after first blowing out a flame still lingered in the air.
There also sat a mug on the table near a yellowed sheaf of parchment. Doni reached out a hand in the silence and rested his fingers around the mug's body, feeling warmth. His heart quickened its steady drum for he realized someone, not too long ago had sat at this table. Perhaps they had even heard his not so stealthy entrance and had hastened from the room without bothering to hide their actions. Yet, certainly one did not break into an abandoned house to... have a cup of coffee.
As he stood there reveling in a sudden realization, and a truth which his subconscious refused at first to believe, a muffled footstep met his ears and he turned slowly.
Now everyone is afraid of the dark and things that belong to the dark such as ghosts. Even those who claim to possess no belief in the supernatural will sit in their bed in the midst of night, worrying about shadows in the corner or a creak in the wind. Our mind tries to rationalize that which we cannot explain, yet some small part of our conscious will undoubtedly see a figure within the gloom.
Doni, however, did not see a ghost or an apparition. No, something much worse. He saw the form of an Elephante, which in his heart, knew to be John Fear, though how this Elephante was able to walk was in itself, quite the mystery.
The Scorchio felt the scream, which so adamantly wanted to explode from his mouth, catch in his throat and he could do nothing but attempt to accept the image before him.
For he was staring into a skull, the white bone illuminating the parts where skin should be, and the black sockets unfathomably dark and empty. The rib cage moved slowly around two lungs that expanded with each breadth and Doni was temporarily mesmerized by the rhythmic beating of his heart, pumping squirts of reddish liquid through a maze of vessels and nerves. A layer of translucent membrane stretched taut over this skeleton, giving it a bluish haze around the frame.
When the beast took a step into the room, holding out his arm like a white club to strike, Doni finally tore one foot from the ground and welcomed the extra burst of adrenaline to streak from the kitchen and back down the hallway, through the library. He thought he heard the Elephante shout for him to wait and that he "didn't mean to scare him," but Doni would later swear Fear had threatened his life and declared he was making a Scorchio stew from Doni's remains.
Pavo and Piva were not there when Doni threw himself from the window, but the Scorchio would not have stopped if they were. A shriek of terror, almost a moan, tore from his mouth and unbeknownst to him, carried itself among the wind and into the ears of several citizens down below. He did not look back or pause until he reached his home. By this time, his parents were well aware of his absence and were distraught at his obviously distressed return.
His parents could do nothing to console him and his ramblings about walking skeletons did nothing to appease their concern. Eventually, he fell into a fretful sleep and dreamed about beating hearts and Scorchio stew.
Meanwhile, back at the house on the hill, John Fear sat at the kitchen table, the relit candle throwing just enough light upon the parchment for him to read. If Doni's curiosity had gotten him as far as to view the paper, he would have found that it was a letter, whose contents read as such:
My dear Fear,
After several years in your company, I can assuredly say we have become competent business partners and the very best of friends. However, my current state of happiness lies in a state of uncertainty, for although at appearance, I look to be quite comfortable and satisfied, the reality is rather bleak. The city itself exudes a depression and the grace of its citizens does nothing to hamper this gloom which has grasped itself upon my once happy heart.
Your experimentation keeps you occupied and we have not enjoyed the pleasure of each other's presence in quite some time for I am nearly always in a state of some distress about social gatherings and you are immersed with your experiments. Quite frankly, your research is a little shocking and delves into places I think it best not to delve. I believe this macabre setting has had some effect on your work.
Therefore, I have reached a hasty decision to move where the sun shall be my ultimate medication and revive some of my previous life into this body so full of melancholy. I plan to lay upon the shores of Roo Island and be done with this ghastly and morbid town. I suggest you do the same and urge you to accept my invitation to join me.
Forever your friend and colleague,
Fear read the letter for the umpteenth time, regretting his decision to stay in the town of Neovia and continue with his experimentation that led him to his current state of disfigurement. If he had heeded his friend's warning, he might not have drunk an elixir that caused his body to morph into something so repulsive that he felt the need to hide from the general public and be forced to live out his days in the mask of this wretched house.
Now he dreamed of nothing but the glow of the sun beating upon his back and the companionship which he had so foolishly scorned before. He sipped his cup of coffee which had long since lost its warmth, and began to read the letter again.
Several days after this night, Doni's mother and father sat alone discussing the dramatic turn in the character of their young, for the Scorchio was rather tarnishing the name of their family by raving about John Fear and his apparent deformation, which they knew assuredly to be a figment of his imagination. They concluded they could no longer help him and he was committed to the Meepit Oaks Sanatorium for further evaluation.
This was shocking news to the town of Neovia, but business went on as it usually does. Only half believed that the poor Darigan Scorchio who lived on Hastings Lane was in the Sanatorium, while several others, due to the ramblings of a duo of Korbats, thought him to be a victim of the terrifying house which continues to be the cause of so much distress. Still, no one dares go near.
The house on the corner of Fear and Dread continues to sit on a hill overlooking the town and reminds the citizens of Neovia that fear is always close at hand.