A Bright Moon, Some Rolling Hills, And Infinity
The sky was dark, but distant stars twinkled alongside a full and bright Kreludor moon, giving a pretty sight for two blithe Neopets to gaze at while they lay side by side among rolling grassy hills. They claimed these benevolent hills as their own as they often came to them to gaze at stars, watch a sunrise, or to pick flowers. Somewhere deep in their hearts, however, they knew the hills belonged to no one except possibly to the magnificent moon that hung above.
The more slender of the two, a Kacheek, passed a hand through her long, silvery-blue hair, and sneaked a peak at her soft-hued Zafara companion next to her. His eyes closed, his delicate pink arms tucked behind his head, she found a faint smile sat on his lips. She slowly blinked her long eyelashes, pondering whether or not to speak and interrupt his trance.
“Benjacus,” she started finally, “what are you thinking about right now?”
Benjacus opened his eyes lazily and turned his head to look into her pale blue eyes. “I was thinking about that one time a couple weeks ago when you drank that Paint Milkshake thinking it was a normal one.”
“You were not!” She replied with a light slap on his shoulder. “Your face was too serene for that. And you should feel guilty for that, by the way!”
Benjacus smirked and rolled to look back at the sky again. The infinite space seemed almost to gaze back at them, knowingly.
“I don’t quite know what I was thinking, to be honest.” He said after a pause.
“Well you had to be thinking of something. People don’t just lay out in the middle of the night looking at stars and have a smile like that on their face without it meaning anything.”
Benjacus turned back to her, her eyes meeting his deeper blue eyes. She could tell he was being pensive, as he usually was when they spent their nights like this. Benjacus wouldn’t always share his thoughts with her, but she always loved when he did.
“Do you think we have control over our lives?” He asked. She wasn’t expecting something so intricate. “Or is there something out there that dictates our fate?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know, Benjacus. What brings this up?”
“I don’t know, Hayl, it’s just when I look at all the stars up there and the big bright moon, it just gets me thinking.”
“But what exactly gets you thinking?” She questioned, she was not making the connection.
“We’re so little and tiny compared to everything in the world, I just don’t see how we have the right to be in control of ourselves. Are we good enough for that?”
Hayl thought about this for a moment. This is one of those thoughts that Benjacus would more than likely keep to himself on nights like these. His mind always fascinated her.
“I think we are.” She responded quietly. Benjacus looked back up at the sky.
“I knew you would think that.” He said with a smile. “I just wonder about these things sometimes, you know?”
Hayl nodded her head and turned her gaze back into the sky, thoughts of infinity and destiny spinning and dancing in her mind.* * * * * * *
Weeks had passed since that night on the hill. The two friends had sat in the same exact spot a couple times more, but never again did Benjacus share his thoughts from that evening, and so they slipped from Hayl’s memory. The duo found themselves sitting outdoors at a restaurant, mindlessly munching away at fruit and crackers. Clouds lazily rolled through the sky while the sun shone brightly.
Benjacus had been playing with some grapes on his plate long enough for Hayl to notice it. She had pinned her hair up loosely in an up do, and her white face reflected the light.
“You know,” she started, “people usually say not to play with your food.”
Benjacus picked up the grape and ate it. “You honestly think I care about something like that?” He responded with a grin. Hayl knew he didn’t.
“Why do you think so many people say that?” She asked while she began playing with a grape. “What’s the harm in enjoying your food in more ways than one?”
Benjacus thought for a moment.
“I think it’s just some way to condition us from a young age.”
“Oh no, is this another conspiracy theory of yours?”
“No, no, I just think it, in a way, teaches us that we’re supposed to follow certain rules and norms that others set up. We’re told playing with our food is impolite or wrong, but never really given a reason why.”
Hayl popped her grape in her mouth. She wondered if Benjacus had thought about this topic before. She wouldn’t be surprised if he had.
“Benjacus, you’re such a thinker.” She said while throwing a grape at him. He tossed one back at her with a smile on his face.
“I know, but someone’s got to think around here.” Hayl threw another grape at him. They locked eyes for a moment, before Benjacus turned his attention back to the grapes.
“What was on your mind earlier?” Hayl prodded. Benjacus was not usually one to play with food.
“I was thinking of ways to turn this plate of grapes into the next masterpiece and get rich.” He replied with his eyes now on the street next to them. He watched as other Neopians passed by, each with their own life and problems, and various views on playing with food.
Hayl shook her head, smiling. She expected an answer as such. “C’mon, Benjacus, tell me what’s really up!”
At last, he looked her in the eyes. “Ok, well, have you heard about King Skarl asking for volunteers to head to the Haunted Woods and check things out?”
Hayl’s eyebrows descended. “No, I haven’t. What do you mean check things out?”
“Really, you haven’t heard about this? You know the Haunted Woods is always a creepy place crawling with evil stuff, but lately there’s just been an excess of problems arising there. So King Skarl has been asking for volunteers to go out and calm things down.”
“Ok, I get that. Why would he need volunteers, doesn’t have his own soldiers to send?”
“He does, but he doesn’t want to waste all his manpower over there when these things are typically just rumors that he’s being cautious about.”
“That sounds a little ridiculous to me.”
“You can’t be too careful sometimes, Hayl.”
She sat back in her chair, and passed a hand through a stray strand of hair, twirling it around her finger. She took a deep breath.
“How does this apply to you?” She already knew the answer.
He chewed lightly on his lip before answering.
“I’m volunteering to go.”
Hayl didn’t say anything for a moment. She was running through numerous reasons that she knew Benjacus would spew back at her when she asked why. She also knew that changing his mind was out of the question.
“What led to this?” She asked, taking her eyes off Benjacus.
He crossed his arms. “I don’t really know. A sense of adventure? Change of scenery? I just kind of feel led to do it.”
“Benjacus,” Hayl said while twisting the strand of hair faster around her finger, “I’m scared. I don’t want you to go.”
“I know, Hayl, and I totally understand. But you know I can’t just sit here not knowing what else is out there in Neopia. There’s so much out there, Hayl, that we have no clue about. I have to go and experience it.”
Benjacus had been Hayl’s best friend for as long as she could remember. Nearly all of her fondest memories included him. The first she had her heart broken, he was there to comfort her. The one time they got into trouble in the Deep Catacombs when they had accidentally broken someone’s statue. When Benjacus had lost his petpet and could not stop crying. Hayl cherished all of these memories, but she would trade all of them and the world to make sure Benjacus came back safely.
“I’m not going to stop you, Benjacus. This sounds like something you really want to do. As your best friend, I respect that. But I’m going to miss you so much. I can’t think of a time at all when we were separated. “
Hayl flinched when Benjacus threw a grape at her. “I’ll be fine, Hayl! You sound so worried. Like I said, this is just King Skarl being cautious, so it’s more than likely no big deal, I’ll be back in a few weeks tops!”
Hayl nodded. She wasn’t sure if she agreed or not.* * * * * * *
Hayl found herself sitting in the soft grass that belonged to the rolling hills that she once considered her own. Benjacus had been gone for a number of weeks. He found out later after he registered that the expedition was to last anywhere from one to four months, depending on the situation in the Haunted Woods. Her worries had been somewhat calmed after receiving a few letters from Benjacus. She read about all the sights he had seen, all the new Neopets he had met. He was learning and experiencing so much and she wished she could have been with him through it all. One of her favorite things about Benjacus was how he responded to new things.
She held the most recent letter that Benjacus had sent in her hand now. She received it the night before, but wanted to wait to open it until she had the chance to go to their favorite hills. The sun was beginning to set and soon Kreludor and its star companions would be out and Hayl would watch them twinkle in the night sky as her thoughts kept her busy. Spending nights like this was a treat for Hayl, even if Benjacus was not there to accompany her.
She untied the string that bound the letter, and unrolled a single sheet of paper. Benjacus’ letters typically were a couple of pages long, but she figured he must have been extra busy discovering a new petpet, and hadn’t had time to write as much as usual. She began reading it, and her grip on the page became tighter.
After she finished reading the letter, she folded it neatly back together, and lay down on her back. Hayl’s eyes pointed in the direction of the sky, but she saw nothing. The stars began to burst through the darkness, and the moon took its place high in the sky. The space above was cloudless and cold. The hills no longer invited Hayl to a place of sweetness and tranquility.
“I feel like I’m in a dream.” She whispered feebly to herself. No, this was not a dream. She was in a nightmare.* * * * * * *
Hayl had learned to live without Benjacus in the time to come. Ever since she had read the letter that was sent to her by Benjacus’ squad leader explaining that he had gone missing during an exploratory mission in the Haunted Woods, Hayl had not quite felt like herself anymore, but she had adjusted. She clung to the idea of Benjacus voluntarily leaving the squad in order to fully make the most of his time in the Haunted Woods and learn everything he could, and that he was totally safe and sound. She couldn’t help but feel a little pain that he would leave her behind like this, but she would rather have this little spark of hope.
The day after reading the letter, Hayl went and got her hair cut. Her long, thick locks of blue were now trimmed and neat. She wore a necklace around her neck with a pastel pink gem attached. Her heart felt heavier in her chest, but she carried on as if Benjacus personally told her not to worry about him anymore.
It really hurt losing her best friend. She did not fully know the circumstances, but the fact of the matter was that he was no longer with her every day. She had not traveled to the hills in weeks. She did not have moments of grape tossing fun, or quiet moments where she shared her thoughts with someone else.
One particular night, Hayl felt something inside of her telling her to go back to the rolling hills with soft grass, where the moon seemed to shine brighter and fuller than usual, and stars twinkled happily in the sky. Her fingers tingled with the feeling of remembrance and her toes yearned for something in the grass that was no longer there. She found the usual spot that felt belonged to her years and years ago.
Hayl lay down in the grass like she had so many times before, and looks up at the sky. It was so big and welcoming. She thought back to the night when she read the letter and how the sky had felt like a stranger. She felt so small underneath the sky. Did she really matter? Did Benjacus?
Did Benjacus have any say in what happened? Should she have tried to change his mind? So many questions swirled around in her pretty white head, answers to which she would more than likely never find. However, she could think about them and turn them over and over in her head until she came up with something she believed in. That’s what Benjacus would have done, it’s what he always did.
She knew that comparatively, this was a small matter in the grand scheme of Neopia. She thought back to a night even further in her memories when Benjacus asked her if the individual was good enough to have control over their own fate. Who was she to decide whether or not that was the case?
Hayl knew very well that she could blame this all on fate, and that nothing could have been done to change the outcome. But how powerless that made her feel. She picked a nearby flower and held it close to her face. It was even smaller than she was. It would never know anything other than the field of grass it grew in. She couldn’t help but feel that it still made the choice to grow there.
The glimmering white Kacheek smiled. In her heart, she knew that Benjacus was safe and sound. He was probably telling all the monsters of the Haunted Woods of a bright and cheerful moon thousands of miles away. At that moment, a delicate flower in her hand, the powerful moon above her, and the rolling hills surrounding her, Hayl made the choice to believe that her and Benjacus would one day see each other again.