Home Sweet Home
They were so close. Too close for comfort. She could almost feel their hot, sticky breath on her skin. It had been days since her arrival, and she had known no peace. From the very first moment she opened her eyes, heard her name – Sweetheart – she had been under threat. The hunt had begun as soon as she showed her face, and there seemed to be no end in sight. She wanted to weep from fear, and tiredness. She had been running for too long, and could not last much longer.
In the dead of night, Sweetheart broke cover. She ran so fast, it felt like she was flying. Between houses, across fields, in the full brightness of the moon and in the dim shadows between buildings she could truly run. She stretched out her arms and legs, flowing freely across the landscape, thundering through the night like a storm. In the evenings she didn’t need to fear the sun, and so the nights became her lifeline. The only fear she had was Them.
On the third dreaded day of life, They had found her in a dirty cellar in the heart of Neopia Central. They swarmed her, with grabbing hands and open jaws, but she fought back and broke free. She had had to brave the sunlight. It had made her slow, and heavy. She had stumbled from the room in a daze, almost melting in the heat, throwing her body helplessly this way and that with barely any control. That feeling frightened her to her core, being so helpless and caught in their sights. She knew she could outrun them, but they were relentless. When Sweetheart finally rested, collapsing behind that old abandoned barn in the afternoon’s fading light she couldn’t piece together the mad rush of the day. It was like her thoughts had run slowly away from her. It took the chill breeze of night to bring her back to herself completely.
On her fifth day, she had arrived at the border of the Haunted Woods. There, she had felt hope. Perhaps, she thought, this was somewhere They would not follow. She might find safety. She had crept her way through the twisted trees with apprehension. She had no idea what to expect, but had heard tales of foul ghouls and unnatural beasts. What she didn’t expect was stillness. Peace. The trees did not threaten her, they did not grab and bite at her. In fact, the days wandering through the Haunted Woods were some of the best of her short life so far. It was cool amongst the trees, as the harsh heat of the sun could not penetrate them. In this perpetual cool she could walk freely. A ghost or two might glide past her, scowling or booing, but they held no real threat. They couldn’t even touch her. At one memorable point a zombie had stumbled into her path, causing Sweetheart to scream so loudly that leaves around her shook. But the zombie, stumbling forward with only half a jaw, merely shrugged its green shoulders and left her alone.
By the time she started to hear the sounds of other people, she had already begun to think very highly of these Woods. Plans for a little cottage filled her head, a small home, somewhere sweet, where she might hide away from everyone. A kindly visitor or two may knock on her door, but she need not answer. She could live here happily being left very much alone. So, with unguarded optimism she followed the sounds of voices, which turned into voices and lights, which turned into…a Fairground! The lights and colours were beautiful and bright, and Sweetheart felt helplessly drawn to them. Like a Ditrey to a flame she wandered without thinking, winding her way further in amongst the stalls and rides.
“What is this?” She heard a smooth voice say behind her.
Sweetheart squeaked and whirled around, clasping her hands to her mouth. Standing there, examining her closely was a Bruce. His sharp eyes darted around her face, as he fiddled with a bright red bow tie at his throat.
“Something new, I see.” He said to himself, stepping closer to her. His long black cloak was almost brushing her knees. Sweetheart stepped back, carefully.
“What-what do you want? Can I help you?” She quavered. The glow from a lamp behind her was uncomfortably warm on her neck. The Bruce in front of her seemed to be watching how it made her cheek shine.
“Something sweet, my speciality, just what the customer wants.” The Bruce said, grinning.
“I’m not something sweet! I’m a person!” Sweetheart shouted, suddenly sure she was in danger. This foul bat-cloaked Bruce was staring at her hungrily.
“It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve served something that’s still moving!” He cackled gleefully. But his glee was short-lived, as Sweetheart was tall and strong. She didn’t fight back as he descended on her, she simply ran straight into him and plunged into the dark, leaving trampled stalls and startled carnival-goers in her wake. The battered Bruce weakly raised his head out of the mud and muttered, “I’d best stick to Blumaroo Steak”.
Sweetheart was tired, by the time she made it to the outskirts of Faerieland. An idyllic place, so she’d heard. Where everyone was sweet. Perhaps she could live there. Although her soft and sweet disposition had taken a battering. She’d found more sinister characters at the true heart of the Haunted Woods, and had run all the way to the Lost Desert before the immense heat had nearly overwhelmed her. She had taken an abrupt turn and crept instead to the Faeries’ realm. Looking down through the valley it seemed a beautiful, elegant sort of place…a place of the perfect colour. Here, perhaps? Sneaking ever so carefully, wrapping a cloak around her shoulders to hide herself, she walked across the bridge and into the city. It was a busy place, full of jostling and talking people. The tranquillity of the valley did not extend into the city itself, which seemed to shine and sparkle everywhere – a constant thrum of activity reflecting back on her from every surface. Repairs were being made to the grand old towers, and a constant wave of people carting items stormed in to assist. Then Sweetheart saw it, one of Them, casually bringing a toy to a beautiful Faerie. It made her blood run cold. So They were here too. Now that she’d seen the first, more and more were suddenly appearing in the crowds. It would only be a matter of time. With her heart beating in her ears, Sweetheart turned and walked as fast as she could to the grand city gate, hoping desperately not to draw attention to herself. As she passed a shop door, a group of laughing people stepped out, clutching cupcakes, mints, gum and cookies. Everything was colourful and bright, and very sweet. It turned Sweetheart’s stomach, and she quickened her pace.
Away from the city centre, Sweetheart was overcome with weariness. Tears rolled down her face, as she stumbled to a rock, upon which she sat, head in hands. Behind her a waterfall was flowing, sparkling all the colours of the rainbow. It shimmered in the moonlight, and seemed to call out to Sweetheart. Come here, it whispered, frolic with me. But Sweetheart could feel something in the mist around the water that held her firm. It was a magical barrier of some kind, and Sweetheart knew she could not pass it. Still, she felt comfortable sitting close to the happy, pretty water. She decided she would spend the night here in the quiet before she set out to find somewhere safe in the morning.
It had been three days. Even here, one of Them had approached. Sweetheart barely had time to hide before They’d walked right up to the water’s edge. A warm laugh had sounded from behind the waterfall, and somehow, It was able to step through the barrier and into the water. Sweetheart hid again for a long time, so long that she didn’t see It leave. Instead she saw only a beautiful Maraquan Eyrie glide out of the fountain and slide away towards the sea. She watched it go, wondering where it came from.
Sweetheart closed her eyes, and breathed deep. One, two. The now familiar water tinkled happily through her mind. One, two. The grass was fresh with night-time dew. One, two. There was a faint wafting smell of…chocolate? A splash interrupted her thoughts, as a large and muddy rock was hurled into the rainbow fountain. She opened her eyes with a start and looked around, seeing a short and angry Draik had crept up to the fountain while she had let her guard down. But this Draik was not one of Them, it was just a…brown…one. With strange crisscross patterned wings. He smelt lovely.
“You’ve ruined my life!” He was screaming at the waterfall, oblivious of her presence. She wondered for a moment if he was seeing things she couldn’t.
“Everywhere I go, it’s the same old story! ‘Go on,’ they say, ‘just a little taste’! Well I’m sick of it! Turn me back, RIGHT NOW!”
He snarled, hands gripped in fists, as he stared at the water. Sweetheart peered at the surface, just in case something happened. The ripples from his thrown rock were starting to smooth out until the surface was clear once more.
“COME ON! Fix this!” He screamed, grabbing at his chest. A single cherry perched on his head slowly began to creep forward. Just as it looked about to fall, he flung back his head and screamed again to the sky, “I KNOW YOU’RE HERE!”
Sweetheart was so attentively watching the angry Draik that she failed to see the Bori walking up to her. Caught off guard for the second time, she almost jumped off her rock in surprise.
“Sad, isn’t it?” The Bori said, matter-of-factly.
“Oh! Sweetheart replied, “I-I don’t know. What’s sad?” The sounds of the raging Draik continued, as he began hurling more rocks and pebbles into the fountain.
“He can’t accept it. I mean, it’s not like it’s easy, but there’re not a whole lot that can be done.” The Bori said, head tipped to one side. “He just likes to come down here and annoy her now and then. It gets it out of his system.”
“I’m Bellie.” She said, extending a completely purple hand. Sweetheart shook it, noticing that the hand kept shaking long after they’d stopped.
“Well…JellieBellie. I see you’re part of the club.” She said happily, gesturing at Sweetheart’s pink swirled skin.
“What club?” Sweetheart wished she had something better to say. She was distracted by watching how the moonlight seemed to glow through Bellie’s large purple ears.
“Yeah. Chocolattice – that’s him over there – calls us the Other Food Club. I think I know what your problem is. Come on, I know a place to go.” Bellie said, smiling.
“We could always use some more recruits”.
The spaceship was magnificent. It was clean and glossy, every surface perfectly buffed. The colour scheme was soothing – silver and blue – and reminded Sweetheart of sitting by the cool fountain. But here there were no creeping threats of Them. It was perfect harmony. The Chocolate and the Jelly, the Biscuit and the Custard and now the very first Candy were all safe here. There were no invaders that could reach them without a trip through space, and anyone embarking would find they didn’t bother with such unnecessary features as oxygen on this vessel. As had been explained to her when she first boarded the ship - no one could take a moonwalk without a helmet, and with a helmet on, no one could take a bite. So here is where they had made their home, orbiting the planet of Neopia…the home of the Babies. Not just Babies, but Their hungry mouths had chased Sweetheart all the way here, and she could only think of Them as she examined the great cities beneath her.
“Sweet tooths, the lot of them.” Chocolattice said darkly, looking out over the world from the wide windows.
“Yes,” JellieBellie agreed warmly, “but we were all like them at some point. Before we realised what being delicious was really like.”
“Do you think one day they’ll understand?” Sweetheart said, one sticky hand pressed against the toughened glass.
“Perhaps,” Bellie replied, “When they grow up a little.”
The chill from outside emanated in, as the ship glided over to hide in the shadow of Kreludor. Sanctuary at last.
In space, there’s no one to make you scream.