The Invisible Menace: Part Two
The carriage, pulled by a thin ghost Uni, stopped in front of the Alms' Neopia Central Neohome. Forgetting everything her mother had said about being polite and being on her best behavior, Brandi raced forward to stand in front of the carriage Uni, blue eyes wide with awe.
"Do you know that you're only the second ghost I've ever met in my entire life? How are you pulling the carriage? I thought ghosts weren't solid. Hey, why do you look so nervous?" Brandi peppered the Uni with questions, reaching out a hand to touch him.
Before the young orange Aisha could get answers to her questions or find out whether her hand would go straight through the Uni or what, a voice gave her pause.
"Greetings, Firebrand," a Royalboy Kyrii said with a stiff nod.
"Oh, uh, hey, Uncle Adam," Brandi said awkwardly, the wind completely out of her sails.
For Brandi, there were two types of family: those she was comfortable with and those she wasn't. Her family was large and varied but thankfully, she was close to most of them. Then, there was family like the Torches, who she definitely wasn't close to. Her uncle helped out his wife, Brandi's Aunt Amorine. The royal Gnorbu smiled warmly at her and she managed a genuine smile in return.
The carriage took off, revealing her four cousins being welcomed by the rest of the Alms. On seeing each other, Nisha and Amorine exchanged warm embraces. The adults proceeded indoors, excluding the eighteen year olds, Amalia and Marc. The seven cousins stood around outside awkwardly for a few moments. It had been more than six months since they had last seen each other and no one seemed to know quite what to say to break the heavy silence.
Angela crossed her arms over her chest and looked coolly at Brandi, fluttering her own wings pointedly. "The last time we met you said you had learned how to fly. Yet, I see no wings. You can't use the excuse that you left them at home this time."
Brandi flicked her ears, agitated by her cousin's tone. They were the same age, in fact, Brandi was a few months older, but Angela always acted stuck-up. Brandi barely refrained from curling her lip. It took a mighty effort for her to remain civil.
"My wings are in my room. I don't wear them unless I'm in the company of another flier. Otherwise, they just get in the way and it's considered rude to flaunt something that others do not have," Brandi said with a pointed smile.
Angela's Cybunny nose twitched and she frowned. She narrowed her pale blue eyes and pursed her lips. Brandi was glad that she had shut her snob of a cousin up.
The faerie Cybunny twitched an ear, tapping one large foot testily and huffed, "Well, what are you waiting for? Lead the way."
Brandi held the door open for Angela, leaving the others behind. She now had one of the most arrogant of the group, her older siblings could certainly handle the others. She led the way to her room reluctantly. She didn't want to share anything with her cousin but she had no choice in the matter. She retrieved her wings and would have headed right back out to prevent Angela from snooping but she was too late.
"What is this?" Angela asked, her hand on top of a large corked beaker.
"Can't you guess? It's my Invisible Paint Brush Fund," Brandi said.
"You want to be painted invisible?"
"No! It's a private joke between my best friend and myself, which I am not inclined to share."
Brandi waited for her cousin to join her, clearly wishing to leave. Angela quirked her thin, pale blue brows but followed after Brandi. The orange Aisha waited until they were once more outside before putting on her Dark Princess Wings. She made sure the straps fit properly and flapped them once, as her Aunt Sweet had taught her. All the while, her cousin's cold blue gaze was fixed on her.
"Are you any good?" Angela asked with a quirked eyebrow and a smirk.
"I was taught by the best," Brandi said proudly.
"Oh yeah? Well, I was born to fly."
Brandi bristled at Angela's smug tone. She'd show her!
"Angela, let's make a deal. We'll each do a flying trick and the other has to do the same trick. For each success, we get a question answered. What do you say?" Brandi said.
"You have yourself a deal, Brandi. I'll go first."
At once, Angela shot into the air, did a back flip, spiraled back down, did a forward flip and then landed. There was a challenge in her pale blue eyes. No problem. Brandi was ready. The Aisha performed the maneuver with ease.
"So, Angela. Tell me all there is to know about ghosts," Brandi said.
"What? That's what you want to know about? Not 'What is it like to live in the Haunted Woods?' or 'What is it like living in a mansion?'...Couldn't you just read a book?" Angela asked, completely incredulous.
"I figured this would be quicker."
"I guess... Let's talk with my older siblings. They'll have valuable input."
Brandi nodded her head. The ten year olds headed towards a large, shady tree in the front yard, a swing hung from a sturdy branch. Their siblings were gathered below the tree.
"You got out your wings, did one measly trick and that's it," Amalia said, pushing lightly as she was sitting on the swing.
"Not quite," Brandi said with a shake of her head.
Angela and Brandi explained why they had come over.
"Ghosts, huh," Amalia said.
The electric Blumaroo was silent for a moment,, sitting on the swing. Then, her silver eyes glowed and she stopped swinging.
"Very well. I'll tell you everything you'd like to know. First, though, tell me what you know," Amalia said.
"OK, that's no problem. I don't know a lot, hence why I'm asking you. Ghosts are Neopets that have died but come back because they have unfinished business, right?" Brandi said, cocking her head.
"Wrong! All wrong. That isn't how ghosts come about at all. They're actually born just like you and I are."
"Really? Then why does everyone say that about ghosts?"
"Oh, that's easy. The ghosts started that rumor so that every pet would respect them."
Amalia continued to tell Brandi all about ghosts, all of it false. Brandi, honest and naïve at ten years old, believed every word. The other Torches, of course, knew that their oldest sister was yanking Brandi's collar. The twins looked dubious but they didn't know that Amalia was lying and stayed silent. So, all of the falsehoods may have continued unchecked, until Brandi said something completely unexpected.
"You know what? I think I'm being haunted by a ghost," Brandi said.
At this, Amalia and Angela burst into mocking laughter. Brandi was shocked by their reaction and her ears drooped.
"You? Haunted by a ghost? You are absolutely ridiculous! You believe anything anyone tells you and say the dumbest things," Amalia chortled, almost falling off of the swing in mirth.
All of Brandi's shock dissipated in a flash of heat. Anger slammed into her, making her body tense. She stood up quickly, blue eyes flashing.
"I am not dumb! There's nothing wrong with trusting others to be as honest with you as you are with them. There's everything wrong with someone who enjoys stringing someone along and then insulting them," Brandi cried, voice tight with emotion.
The orange Aisha, mindful of the close proximity of her sister, turned and ran for the privacy and safety of her flameproof bedroom. The others could only stare after her in silence. Then, Zach turned his dark blue gaze on Amalia, expression one of disgust.
"Don't ever insult my sister, again," Zach said firmly, poking one long thin finger at Amalia's chest.
Amalia rolled her eyes and tossed her hair over one shoulder, "You Alms are all the same, so emotional!"
Then, the electric Blumaroo flounced off towards the house. Angela shot her cousins a condescending look, practically a miniature copy of Amalia, before fluttering after her oldest sister.
"We apologize for their behavior," Ana said as soon as the two had gone.
"They should be apologizing to us," Zach said with a frown.
Marc exchanged a glance with Ana and sighed, "We know."
~ ~ ~
The Torches left, at long, long last. Brandi was sitting on the swing, the weather completely matching her mood. There were frequent small showers and it was cold out, almost cold enough that Brandi could see each puff of breath. The orange Aisha felt dejected. The ten year old had stayed in her room until the visitors had left.
Then, she came outside, weather aside, to brood. It was a rather rare mood for her to be in. It was just... Amalia had completely pulled her in with her ghost stories and then laughed at her! Even now, it made Brandi so mad! The ropes holding the swing began to smolder and she relaxed her grip.
That's when Brandi heard the chattering. She pricked her ears, listening intently. It was the sound of teeth chattering! The by-now familiar smell came to her attention. She had missed it before in the damp.
Did ghosts' teeth chatter? Brandi certainly didn't know. She rose to her feet to look around. As she expected by now, she saw nothing.
"Who are you? What do you want from me?"
There was no answer. Brandi looked at her hands, clenching and unclenching them.
"Please, my cousins laughed at me because of you..."
Only silence and the gentle patter of falling rain, then...
Brandi heard the words distinctly. Her blue eyes widened and she looked up. She waited but heard nothing more. She was determined to catch the ghost! She just had to!
Now, how to do it? If only Brandi's cousins hadn't tricked her! It made her hands burn just thinking about it. She shifted her thinking to catching a ghost. The orange Aisha thought long and hard about what to do.
Then, Brandi had it! They had restocked a goodly supply of hot sauce. Recalling what had happened previously, Brandi made sure the cupboard door was left slightly ajar and then scattered flour on the floor, counter and shelf. She wanted her plan to work the first time. She wasn't sure what she would do if she failed.
Brandi was thankful that her bedroom was closest to the kitchen. She was determined not to sleep that night. She had done so before, for various reasons. Once she had made up her mind, she stuck to it, a trait she got from her father. Trap set, Brandi flopped on her bed, facing the door, all four ears pricked for sound coming from the kitchen.
It was around midnight when Brandi finally heard a faint sound from the kitchen. She grabbed the bag of flour beside her and crept stealthily to the kitchen. She still saw nothing but the tell-tale scent was thick in the kitchen and the cupboard door was now open. There was also a bottle of hot sauce floating in mid-air! There could be no doubt that the ghost had walked straight into Brandi's trap.
Now as the time to act. Brandi tossed the open bag of flour at the floating hot sauce bottle... and was surprised to see the outline of a Scorchio.
Even after coming up with a plan and setting the trap, Brandi could only hope that everything went off without a hitch, though she still had a flicker of doubt... until she saw that her plan had actually worked. She beamed with delight and barely just held in a whoop of delight. Unafraid, eager to finally get straight answers from someone, she approached the Scorchio.
"Hello, Mr. Ghost," Brandi said, keeping her voice low.
The Scorchio blinked his eyes in surprise. Even though Brandi couldn't see any eyes, flour was in the spot where eyes were supposed to be and she recognized the motions of blinking eyes. The hot sauce was lowered to the counter.
"Wait, you think I'm a ghost?" the Scorchio asked.
"Aren't you?" Brandi asked, feeling another flicker of doubt.
"No, I'm not a ghost. I'm invisible."
"Why have you stuck around without telling anyone? It's been freaking us all out."
"I just moved from Moltara and I was lonely. You seemed nice and I wanted to be your friend... I just didn't know how to go about it."
Brandi frowned, letting the information sink in. She ran a hand through her short blue hair, making it spike.
Brandi extended a hand with a warm smile. "My name is Brandi."
Brandi felt a warm hand clasp hers and give a firm shake. "My name is Griffin."
"It's nice to meet you, Griffin. There, now we've been properly introduced. I like making new friends. Just do me a favor and get some clothes so that I can actually see you. It's pretty disorienting to be talking to thin air. I don't want to look like I'm talking to myself."
"OK, I can do something about that."
"Where have you been sleeping, Griffin?"
"Outside. I didn't meant to upset anyone."
"Too late. You have. Though, my family will certainly be relieved to properly meet you. I know I am."
"You want me to meet them now?"
"No! Tomorrow morning is soon enough. Now, it's a quarter after midnight. Its best I call it a successful night and get some sleep."
Brandi saw the flour covered head spikes of the invisible Scorchio bob up and down. She could only imagine that Griffin was nodding his head in agreement. Watching his flour covered feet, she saw him turn to walk away. Brandi ran after him and reached out a hand to, hopefully, touch his shoulder. She felt her hand brush one of his wings but then she found Griffin's shoulder, stopping him in his tracks.
"I'm so glad that we've met and become friends. One last thing. Welcome to Neopia Central, Griffin!"
Brandi hugged Griffin quickly before letting him go. She watched his feet continue walking away, before pausing as he opened the kitchen door that led outside.
"Thank you, Brandi."
Then, the door closed and Brandi went off to bed, frustrations forgotten in the joy of having a new friend.