Voyage of the Haunted Canoe
This story features some old friends, now all grown up. For their adventures as young pets, read the rest of my “Voyage of” short stories.
Water swished gently against the hull of their little canoe. In daylight, the canoe glinted a deep red, but in the dark it seemed more like dried blood. Greebles peeped and Flightning Bugs buzzed out of sight on the riverbanks. The scene seemed peaceful enough, but not all the occupants of the canoe were so sure.
“I still don’t really like this,” Shale hissed. The White Grundo gripped her paddle much tighter than she really needed. Even if her fingers weren’t white already, no one would be able to see her white knuckles through the slim-fitting gloves she wore.
Her campmate, Lia, piped up behind her. “Neither am I—but mostly because I’m definitely the lightest out of all of us, which means I should be up front.” The Yellow Usul huffed. “Our weight load is unbalanced and it’s slowing us down.”
“Quit it!” the third pet said, a Starry Cybunny. “I am fluffy. I barely weigh more than you. Besides, you can’t do this.” She turned and flashed a beam of light from the star on her forehead. Shale and Lia both squeaked and flailed their paws, trying to cover their eyes. Shale nearly dropped her paddle in her surprise.
“Ouch! Bo!” Lia said. “Cease and desist, that’s far too bright!”
Bo turned back to her position at the very front of the canoe, where she used her forehead flashlight to scope out the water ahead of them. “That’s what I thought. Now quit whining!” The Cybunny squinted. Ahead, wisps of white mist had begun to gather over the water, and the canoe headed right for it. “Looks like some fog is rolling in, girls…”
“Oh no,” Shale said. “That sounds horribly unsafe. Girls,” the White Grundo said firmly. “I think we should quit while we’re ahead and go back to our bunkhouse.”
Lia completely ignored her bunkmate’s tone. “The small risks imposed by fog are far outweighed by the supposed rewards we’ve been promised if we can complete this voyage.”
Coiling billows of white fog rolled in around the canoe. River water sloshed against the sides, and it seemed that every sound became magnified in the damp cool of the mist. Bo’s star light reflected back on the would-be sailors, casting a halo around all of them. Bo sighed and turned off her star—no sense in wasting energy when the fog was too thick to see ahead.
“What are you doing?!” Shale squealed. “We’re going to hit a rock or something!”
“Keep it slow and we’ll be fine,” Bo said. “I’ll be able to see almost better without blinding myself with my own head.”
“We’ve paddled this section of river before,” Lia added. She fluffed out her bushy tail to keep the damp off her. “The river is deep and slow here.”
“This reward,” Shale muttered. “Had better be worth it.” She scowled in the misty darkness, and her deep eyeshadow gave her a rather dour effect.
“All the advanced campers do this,” Bo reminded the Grundo. “They go out on their mission one night, and bam! Some of them get painted, some of them get their dream vacation, or go to training on Mystery Island…all their dreams come true, basically.”
“Will it get us a family?” Lia’s voice sounded small. Maybe an effect of the fog.
All three girls fell silent.
All three were campers at Camp G, a big camp for orphaned pets to live and stay while they awaited a family to adopt them. Most of the pets who ran Camp G had been orphans, themselves, before being taken in by their owner, Quizzer. Now all the adopted siblings had banded together to run a summer camp—okay, actually an all-year-camp, because abandoned pets were always pouring in. Cruel owners didn’t care during what season they abandoned their pets.
Camp G was fun—the camp director didn’t even use the plain title “director.” When he signed officially documents he literally put his title as “Tep, Director of Funzies, Camp G.” He was cool, and his Plushie exterior made him nice to hug. All the campers learned to swim, boat, even dive if they wanted it, not to mention all the camping trips they’d take with the adventure coordinator, Xilau. None of the girls had thought they’d ever know how to tie as many knots as they knew now.
Lia’s favorite activity was computer class, one of their few indoor classes. Their professor, Luke, a way cool Dimensional Gelert, showed them all the latest and greatest from Virtupets Space Station. The camp’s computers had an entire library of books contained inside them, and the Yellow Usul had said more than once that she wished she could be a Robot pet so she could plug her brain directly into the computer systems.
Shale had been collaborating between their practical arts class, and their chemistry class, trying to come up with a colorfast makeup line that wouldn’t smear on clothing or when it got wet. She didn’t tell her friends, but her eyeliner had been a particular success—she could cry her heart out and her eyeliner would still look prim and perfect. She tested it. Accidentally. Several times a week. But she had no need to worry Lia and Bo. The only person she trusted with her secrets was Naleapy, one of the brothers who headed up the camp. He was blind, so it’s not like he could see whether her makeup had smeared, anyway.
As for Bo, swimming was always the way to go. The Starry Cybunny excelled at all the water sports the camp offered. She had definitely snapped the most underwater petpet photos of anyone in the entire camp. She’d even earned the title of Waterfall Jumper…though she wasn’t supposed to. She’d given out a few heart attacks to the camp staff when they realized what she did. She was still proud of that moment.
The three girls had spent years cultivating their camper skills. But after all those years…they were beginning to wonder if anyone would ever come for them. Camp G was exciting, was home, but it wasn’t the home they wanted. Not the home they wanted forever, anyway.
They were known now as “senior campers,” campers who had been at Camp G for…a very long time. Shale was pretty sure she was there because of her species—no one liked Grundos, she knew that, even if she hated the fact. Lia speculated that her strangely long name, an amalgamation of random words, had held her back. And Bo? Well, Bo’s original owner had apparently forgotten to make another loop on the B at the start of her name, relegating to a lowercase “b.”
So Xilau and Tep had issued the three senior campers a challenge. Paddle up the river in the dead of night to the overhanging willow tree and meet the biggest challenge of their camping career. The rewards? Unimaginable. The fun? Immeasurable.
Shale’s head whipped around, her stalk-like ears rotating this way and that. “Did you hear that?!” she wheezed.
“Seriously?” Bo said. “You’re afraid of a twig breaking?”
“Well,” Lia said reasonably. “She probably isn’t. The real question is: what broke that twig?”
The middle of the night. All the other campers were fast asleep downriver, and even if they were awake, they wouldn’t be this far upstream.
“Oh, uhh, probably just a wild petpet,” Bo said quickly. “Don’t freak out on us, Shale.”
“I’m not freaking out,” Shale hissed under her breath. “It’s just pretty creepy to be out here in the total dead of night when suddenly—”
A deep moan emanated through the fog. All three girls squeaked and jerked around in the canoe, looking for the source. Their boat wobbled dangerously.
Lia’s breaths were quick and shallow, and she clutched her furry ruff with her free paw, still bravely gripping her paddle. “I’m sure there’s a rational explanation!” she said. “Wind in the trees! Probably!”
Shale shuddered, holding her paddle upright like a club, ready to take a swing at anything that materialized out of the fog. “Lia…there’s no wind.”
The three girls gulped.
“Y-you guys should keep paddling,” Bo said. She cleared her throat and continued on less quaveringly. “Uh, because we’re starting to drift back downstream in the current. And stuff.”
An eerie glow surrounded the boat, lighting up the fog.
“I thought you turned your star off,” Shale said.
Lia’s tremoring paw stretched out to point at the fog ahead of the canoe. “Sh-she did. Tha-that’s not Bo!”
All three girls turned to see what the Yellow Usul pointed to. A sickly green skull, larger by far than the entire canoe the girls huddled in, hovered behind them in the fog. The glowing light from the skull cast ghastly shadows around the three campers. And with the current of the river, they were drifting inexorably towards it.
Lia and Shale scrambled to paddle the canoe once again, and Bo seized a third paddle they’d laid on the floor earlier when it wasn’t needed. The campers paddled desperately, and their canoe began to pull away from the glowing skull. It moaned again, and this time they could discern words.
“Youuu…have entered here…unbidden…you shall pay the ultimate price!”
Thunk. The canoe shuddered.
“We hit something!” Shale shrieked.
“No,” Bo panted. “Something hit us.”
The water around the canoe swirled and rippled as something slithered back under the surface.
“What is it?!” Lia screamed.
“Keep paddling!” Bo ordered. “We have to make it to the willow! The director and the others can help us!”
“It’s coming back!” Lia shouted. Ripples on the water revealed the dark shape once again, barreling at the side of their canoe.
“If it hits us,” Bo said. “We’ll capsize!”
Shale stood up in the center of the canoe, directly in the path of the rippling water-thing.
“Sit down or we’ll flip over anyway,” Lia said urgently.
“No!” Shale said. “We’re so close! I won’t go down like this!” The White Grundo lifted her arms above her head, wielding her wooden paddle, and brought it down hard on top of the creature in the water. It spluttered and squirmed and disappeared under the water again.
Bo and Lia stared at their friend. Shale had never showed much courage, but this showed a new side to her.
The skull behind them suddenly vanished. More twigs snapped on the banks. Was whatever haunted them finally leaving?
“Xilau!” said a voice from the banks of the river. “Aw Fyora, yeah, they got Xilau good.”
The three campers stared into the fog. They knew that voice. Shale’s lip quivered. “Camp director Tep?” she called.
The fog began to clear. It faded away and revealed “Director of Funzies” Tep standing on the shore, beside an old fog-making machine. The Plushie Gelert looked a bit sheepish, his ears pinned back guiltily and a weak grin on his muzzle.
“Er, yeah. Could you maybe fish my brother out of the water there? He might have a concussion.”
Bo flicked on her forehead star and shone it down on the water. Another Gelert floated there--the dark brown of his Desert fur had disguised him in the night. He groaned and waved a paw weakly at them.
“Heya girls…no hard feelings, right?”
Bo offered him the handle of her paddle, and he grasped it and hauled himself up to the side of the canoe, where he draped his front paws over the side to keep himself afloat.
“I don’t get it,” Lia said. “You mean this was you guys? How did you…the skull!” The Usul whipped her head around to look for the floating apparition, but it had vanished.
“You can go ahead and blame me for that!” said another voice from the opposite bank. Luke came trotting out from the bushes. The Dimensional Gelert looked pretty pleased with himself. “I just displayed projections on the fog like a natural screen!”
Bo reached out to cuff Xilau’s nearest ear to express her displeasure. “And was that Luke or Xilau making those horrible noises?”
“Actually,” said a fourth Gelert, who emerged from further down the river. The only reason they could see him so far off in the darkness was his White coat. Naleapy, the blind instructor. “The others couldn’t see you once they started the fog,” the albino Gelert explained. “So it fell to me to alert them as to the proper time to start the real scaring. I gave the signal by making those terrible moaning sounds.” Though he was blind, Naleapy used his ears and nose to sense things that no one else could—even in the middle of the night in a dense fog. The campers hadn’t stood a chance against the elite team.
Shale’s huge eyes welled up with tears. She was about to put her colorfast eyeliner to the test once again. “You guys,” she admonished. “Are so! Mean!” The Grundo burst into tears of relief now that the adrenaline had worn off.
Hastily reaching out to pat her friend’s back, Lia glared at the four Gelert brothers. “This is your fault! I don’t see why you felt the need to do such a thing!”
Tep held up a paw to ward off her verbal attacks. “Hey! Hey! Before you get all righteous about it…look where you are!”
The girls turned, and Bo amplified her forehead star to see the bank just above them. A towering willow tree stooped over the embankment, trailing its slender branches into the ebbing water. They had made it to their destination in the fog—and never even realized it.
“This means,” Naleapy said, a soft smile hovering on his muzzle. “That you have earned your reward.”
With Xilau swimming alongside them, the canoe riders paddled to shore and clambered onto the bank beneath the sweeping tendrils of the willow tree. Three carved wooden boxes sat amongst the gnarled tree roots, and each had one of the camper’s names burned into the lid.
“They’re beautiful,” Shade said, wiping her eyes. She glanced at her glove. Her makeup hadn’t smeared on the fabric of her gloves! Success.
Bo snorted, but despite this display of nonchalance, her voice sounded happy. “How’d you even know we’d make it here?”
“Well,” said Xilau, hauling himself out of the water, his fur dripping. “We believe in you.” He shook himself vigorously, showering the girls and his brothers with cold water. Everyone made disgusted noises and Tep said some unpleasant things in Jhudora’s name that could never be repeated in front of the young campers.
“Though I didn’t really expect that kinda reaction outta you, Shale,” the Desert Gelert added with a crooked grin. “My noggin is still ringing.”
Shale returned the instructor’s grin, but hers was more sheepish. “I’m sorry about that…” But Xilau waved her off.
Lia smoothed the water droplets out of her ruff and approached the boxes. “May we open them?”
Luke picked up the box marked “Lia” and held it out to her. His Dimensional coloring glowed slightly in the dark, illuminating the wood grain of the box. “This is my gift to you, Lia,” he said. “We’re kindred spirits, you know? We both thirst after knowledge and understanding. I’m so proud to see you come this far.”
The yellow Usul took the box in her paws and took a deep breath. “Thank you,” she said. “I’m really…I’m really proud you’re proud of me,” she stammered. To save herself further embarrassment, she lifted the lid of the box. The contents sent a glow out onto her face, and her eyes widened. Inside the box, in a bed of soft velvet, lay a Dimensional Paint Brush.
“I know you’ve always wanted to be a Robot,” Luke said. “But I’m afraid there’s no brush for that. But let me tell you, being Dimensional is basically the best thing ever—you can actually enter the computer conduits, and it’s like you become a part of the information highway!”
Lia sat down on the nearest tree root, her eyes fixed on her new paint brush. Speechless.
“Bo,” Xilau said, picking up the Cybunny’s box. “This is for you. You take to water like a Koi, and your affinity for all things aquatic is totally rad.”
Bo took the box from the adventure coordinator and opened the lid. The paint brush inside looked like a swirling whitewater rapid. The Starry Cybunny gasped. “A Water Paint Brush? I can actually BE water?!”
Xilau grinned and jutted out one of his ears in a thumbs-up gesture.
“We come last to Shale, but certainly not least,” Naleapy said. The White Gelert laid his paw on Shale’s box as though he could actually see it. “Even though you often think of yourself as the least, you are far from it. Please accept this gift from us, a reflection of your inner beauty and your drive for outer beauty to match it.”
Shale swallowed and took the box from her favorite staff member. She pushed the lid up and gasped, then clapped her hand over her mouth. Tears formed in her eyes.
“What?” Bo said, leaning over to see. “What’d you get?”
A red velvet pillow lay inside the box, displaying an elegant Royal Paint Brush.
Lia squealed. “That’s perfect for you, Shale!”
The White Grundo burst into tears again and threw one arm around Naleapy’s neck, clutching her box to her chest with her other hand. “Thank you-hoo-hoo!” she sobbed.
“Thank you all,” Lia added, looking around at the four Gelert brothers. “We are unable to express exactly how much this means to us.”
Tep, camp director of funzies, smiled back at the Usul. “You three have definitely earned it. You’re the best campers. With these paint brushes, we also want to offer you something new.”
The three girls looked at him, even Shale, who sniffled and turned to look at the Plushie Gelert. “These paint brushes aren’t for getting a family,” Tep said. “They’re a reflection of who you are. And we’ve all talked…and we think you’re old enough, and smart enough, and brave enough, and bold enough, to decide what you should do with your own lives.”
Bo scrunched up her nose, confused. “What does that mean?”
“It means,” Luke said. “That we think you’re old enough to make your own way in the world.” He reached out a shining paw and laid it on Lia’s head. “I’ve talked with my contacts on Virtupets Space Station, and they’d be eager to hire someone with your skills and smarts.”
Lia sprang straight up into the air in surprise and joy. “You really mean that?!” she exclaimed. “Virtupets?!?”
“I’ve met with the buddies I used to sail with from Krawk Island,” Xilau added, giving Bo a grin. “And they totally want to bring you aboard on their next trip out for sunken treasure.”
Bo’s jaw dropped open. “You’re kidding?” she said. “Seriously? Treasure hunting?”
“You may remember that I am originally from Altador,” Naleapy said. He patted Shale’s back while she clung to him still. “And Altador actually has a growing fashion industry. I’ve sent out some letters and they’re ready to take you in on the ground floor to design a makeup line this season.”
Shale didn’t answer—she couldn’t. She just started alternately squealing in delight and sobbing at the overwhelming emotions cascading in on her.
“Now you’ve done it,” Bo said, but she smiled. “Shale’s falling to pieces.”
“When can we go?” Lia asked eagerly.
“We’ve scheduled your travels for tomorrow afternoon,” Tep said. “So get ready to pack up your stuff! Your first stop is to the Rainbow Pool so you can use your paint brushes, from there you’ll head out to your destinations.”
“But remember,” Naleapy said. “Just because you’re leaving, does not mean the gates of Camp G are closed to you.”
Luke nodded in agreement. “You can always come back. Camp G is your home, after all. We’re your family.”
The three girls looked at each other at the word “family.” They’d spent so long being discontent and wondering why no one would adopt them, that they hadn’t stopped to consider the pets around them who loved them and had taught them so much. Shale wiped her eyes.
“Does this make us sisters?” she asked, smiling at Lia and Bo.
“You betcha!” Xilau said. “And I think we’re all your weird uncles.”
Luke sideglanced at his Desert brother and muttered to Lia, “Some of us weirder than the others…”
“I heard that!” Naleapy said. But he always heard everything.
Bo slammed her box lid shut over her Water Paint Brush. “We’re wasting time!” she exclaimed. She grabbed Lia’s arm with her free paw. “Back to camp on the double, sisses!”
The four brothers and three sisters laughed. They were on to the next big adventure.
The adventures of Bo, Lia, and Shale may continue with you! They are all based on real pets from Camp G Adoptions, which Quizzer runs with some of her friends and real-life siblings. As of this publication, all three are still up for adoption.