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Mystery of the Brightville Vanishing:Part Ten


by josephinefarine

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     Erin was trying very hard not to appear nervous, despite the difficult-to-ignore reality that her plan was unraveling at the seams. Reba stood next to her, and Orlitz was between them, restrained by some rope Erin had found in the carousel’s maintenance panel. They were back on the ferris wheel platform, and the machine spun solemnly behind them. Erin absently followed the rotation of the ride’s gondolas. Once upon a time, this had been her favorite attraction to ride on with her grandfather. They had spent countless afternoons inside these multicolored closed cabins, often to have lunch with a view of the entire park.

     Reba turned to her and asked what they should do next.

     Well, what could they do next? Orlitz had caught Erin red-handed. Iskeen had escaped. The ixi was probably sounding the alarm right now. The Pink acara produced a shaky breath and rubbed her temples: she just needed time to think, but time was running out. She considered her prospects of a future once this night was over.

     Erin had spent her childhood in Brightville, when her grandfather had been her only living relative. They had shared a close bond: Emnor Miranelis had dedicated much of his time showing Erin the secrets of his amusement park. By the time Erin turned ten, she knew Brightville’s layout like the back of her hand. She had unearthed its every hidden alcove and secret passage. She had spent hours playing in the underground tunnels or reading in the shade of the massive oak trees.

     But Emnor left her when she was only eleven, and Erin was sent to a boarding school in Krawk Island. She remained there until she found a position as a local reporter for a small newspaper on the archipelago. It wouldn’t be long before the young acara was hired at the Neopian Times offices on Mystery Island. Away from the home she had known, thoughts of Brightville receded from her mind; memories of its tunnels and its enchanting attractions took on a dream-like gloss, and it seemed as though the park would fade away as a permanent facet of her past. That is, until the news of its imminent demolition reached her.

     That night, when Erin had returned to her lonely apartment, she had remembered a small box in the back of her closet, filled with dusty Brightville mementos. Perhaps she had wanted to reminisce, perhaps she had wanted to mourn—whatever her motivation, Erin had found herself opening the box for the first time since it had been packed. She sat through the night, sometimes chuckling—often crying—at the multitude of photographs, drawings, and figurines that she discovered as if for the first time. When she flipped through the photo album at the bottom of the box, a sealed envelope had slipped out from its pages. It was a letter addressed to her:

     Dearest Erin,

     I fear the time I have left with you is running out, and soon I will leave you. You have grown up with Brightville, and it is true that a great part of my park lives in my heart. I am certain that it lives in your heart as well. That is why I want you to have Brightville when I am gone. You alone know its secrets. You understand its very soul. I believe that Brightville will continue to shine as the jewel of Brightvale with you at the helm.

     Yours forever,

     Emnor Miranelis

     Erin had sat in the darkness of her apartment for a long while. What a twist of dramatic irony it should be that she only discover her rightful inheritance once the park was already doomed. But perhaps she could still save it…

     What followed were several months of careful research as Erin unearthed Brightville’s decline after Emnor’s passing. She discovered that following a line of successors, Sophia Grigsby had eventually taken over and had failed to maintain the park’s attractions. She shared a correspondence with Reba Watt, one of the park’s longest-employed workers. She even attempted to contact Sophia herself to explain her situation, but the owner had been unreceptive. It wasn’t until she was assigned to write an article on Brightville with Orlitz Livia that she had begun to formulate a plan. If she could devise a scheme to stall the demolition, she might have a chance to reclaim the park as well.

     Staging her own kidnapping had been easy enough. Reba only had to lead Lou Elder away from the welcome center on the assumption that the Neopian Times had cancelled the interview. Once she’d slipped into the building, Reba would be waiting for her in the dressing room, holding the trapdoor open. Erin would scream before disappearing into the tunnels. Everything had gone according to plan (except for a clothing rack standing unceremoniously in the way of her trajectory). No matter: clues were planted, Erin was hidden. All the was left was for the Brightvale Guard to begin investigating.

     Only, Erin had not accounted for Orlitz’s skepticism, and she had not accounted for Reba’s vendetta. Letting the gnorbu in on her plan had been a mistake from the start. When they realized that more evidence should be planted to motivate the investigation, Reba had suggested they use Sophia as a scapegoat. Erin had reluctantly agreed: after all, with the owner out of the way, it would be easier to reclaim the park. But the more Orlitz grew suspicious, the more Reba panicked. She had insisted they plant more falsified evidence to maintain that Erin was trapped in the park.

     Their staged event in the lost and found could have been executed without a hitch, but at the very last minute, Reba had insisted they leave a pizza behind to imply Erin had been in the park overnight. Erin had been livid at this spontaneous change of plans, and for good reason: the pizza would alert anyone that evidence had been deliberately planted. And the longer Reba and Erin collaborated, the more the former became volatile and anxious. Erin never intended for Orlitz to be injured in the haunted house, she only hoped the cybunny would discover the planted evidence and her second ransom note. Reba, however, had worried they’d be discovered, and in a burst of panic, had hit the cybunny upside the head. Then, of course, Sophia Grigsby and Nora Sparks had felt compelled to commence their own search of the park, sending Reba into another tirade, this time by directly threatening Sophia.

     All this to say, Erin was very tired and wished this scheme would finally draw to a close.

     “Erin, I’ll ask you again, what is the plan?” Erin blinked and let her gaze rest on Orlitz, who seemed perfectly calm in her bindings.

     “I… I’m not sure,” she said.

     “What do you mean you’re not sure?” Reba growled. There was something dangerous in her tone—Erin stiffened.

     “I mean, what’s left to do? Iskeen is probably on her way back with the Brightvale Guard, so we’d better get out of here before they find us.”

     “And give up everything we’ve worked on? I won’t let you do that.”

     “She’s right you know,” Orlitz muttered from the floor, “you’re finished. You’ve been found out. By now, everyone will know the kidnapping was faked, and demolition will go on as scheduled.”

     Erin exhaled. She hadn’t noticed she was holding her breath. “Let’s stop this now, Reba. We can just explain the entire situation to the guards, and I’m sure they’ll understand. Maybe it’s time we let Brightville go.”

     The gnorbu clenched her jaw. Her eyes fixed themselves on Erin and the acara involuntarily took a step back. “Maybe you’re willing to turn yourself in, but I’ve been waiting for this for too long, and I’m not gonna let some bratty kid stop me. You’re either in it to the end, or you’re out.”

     Erin opened her mouth to speak, but the right words wouldn’t come. Reba glowered at her.

     “Guess you’re out.”

     Before Erin could react, the gnorbu grabbed hold of her arm and dragged her towards the rotating gondolas on the ferris wheel. Erin was thrown into the moving compartment, followed by Orlitz. Reba slammed the gondola’s door shut and fastened its security lock. By the time Erin could find her footing, they had already ascended a quarter of the way to the top.

     “Reba, stop this!” she cried out, but her voice would not reach the ground through the thick glass, and anyways, Reba would not have honored her request. Once the gondola had reached its apex, the ride abruptly came to a halt. The compartment swung violently, suspended in the air. Then, the entire wheel went dark.

     * * * * *

     Iskeen wasn’t exactly sure how she managed it, but she eventually fumbled her way back to the celebration. She knew she was back in the thick of the part because she collided with a cluster of party guests in line for carnival popcorn. She needed to find someone of rank and tell them what had transpired. Instead, someone of rank found her:

     Iskeen felt a tap on her shoulder and spun around. Sophia stood before her, glittery dress and all, and she did not seem as happy to see Iskeen as Iskeen was to see her.

     “You again? I thought I made it clear that I didn’t want you traipsing around my park again—how did you even get in here? Where’s Orlitz?”

     “We found Erin, she was with Reba, but then Reba caught us and I managed to get away,” Iskeen sputtered, “I came back to find you or—or anyone for help!”

     “So, Erin is alright then?”

     “We suspected she faked her kidnapping and we just confirmed it.”

     Sophia’s gaze hardened; she was mulling something over. “Well, I’m glad no one is in danger. If that’s the case, we will wait until this party is over and then we will finish this whole business.”

     Iskeen struggled for words. Orlitz was still out there! Reba had a dangerous streak: who knows what she and Erin could have done to the cybunny to ensure her silence. “But Orlitz is in danger,” she protested.

     “Orlitz is obviously very adaptable. I promise we will find her, as well as Erin and Reba, but we will do so after this celebration. I can’t afford to have it interrupted by—”

     “Oh come on!” Iskeen exclaimed, “we both know you’re just going to find Nora Sparks first chance you get so that both of you can stop Reba and break the story first.” The chomby stiffened.

     “Watch your tone,” she warned. “I think you’ve had enough excitement for one evening. I don’t need you causing a

     scene at my event, and it looks like you don’t even have an invitation with you. Guards!”

     * * * * *

     Orlitz stretched her fingers, willing her circulation to flow back into them once the ropes constricting her wrists had been loosened by Erin. Looking out the gondola, the cybunny could see only a small section of the amusement park aglow with light. Festivities were still taking place. Perhaps there would be fireworks later in the evening. Perhaps being trapped atop a ferris wheel would afford her a nice view of the light show.

     In any event, this current situation was not ideal. The gondola left them wanting: it was furnished with two simple benches on opposite ends, and three out of its four walls were made of glass. Erin was curled onto a bench, opposite Orlitz. If she was frightened, she did not willingly show it. She fidgeted with her hair and gazed absently out of the window.

     “How did you figure it out?”

     “Believe me, I didn’t for a long time,” Orlitz sighed, “At first I thought you were being held hostage in the park, and once I found you in the lost and found with that pizza, I suspected you weren’t being kept inside the park at all. Then I discovered you had a familial connection to Brightville, and my mind jumped to all kinds of conclusions: what was there to gain in kidnapping Brightville’s inheritor?”

     The acara produced a faint, defeated laugh.

     “Erin you have to understand, I was so scared something had happened to you and that I’d never see you again. I felt responsible; this was your first big assignment and I felt I had let you down. I never stopped searching.” Orlitz paused, a smile tickling the corners of her mouth, “and then I tripped over your decoy duffel bag and the puzzle pieces finally fell into place.”

     “That was stupid of me, I’ll admit,” Erin turned to face Orlitz at last. “I’m so, so sorry, Orlitz. Really. I never intended for you to get so invested in looking for me. And I never wanted you to get hurt. Honestly.”

     It was difficult for the cybunny to stay mad. Erin was young, impressionable. On the other hand, her ability to formulate such a heist was a testament to her intelligence. “I have been a reporter for a while now. I’ve learned never to leave a partner behind, and I hope that’s something you learn too, someday.” The cybunny thought back to her sojourn into the haunted house. Her head throbbed in response, a ghost of the blunt trauma she had endured on that infernal ride.

     “I believe you Erin. I believe you never intended for your plan to go this far. I believe Reba had a big part to play in this scheme. But why frame Sophia, of all people?”

     “I—Reba suggested I’d need a scapegoat to pull this off. It made sense at the time. I mean, I was upset that Sophia had given up on Brightville. And the more I thought about it, the more I justified that, may be by framing her, I could overturn her credibility and rescue what my family built.” Erin paused a moment, “I shouldn’t have done that, I realize that now. ”

     “Why couldn’t you just talk to her? Maybe she’d have understood and sympathized with you.”

     “Oh I tried!” Erin said dryly, “I wrote her a few times, but she either didn’t believe me or didn’t want to make amends. Besides, I wouldn’t have been able to afford the park anyways.”

     For the first time, something in Erin’s demeanor changed. She curled into herself and produced a tiny, barely perceptible sob. “I wished I could have saved Brightville. Now I really have nothing left of my family.” Her face crumpled and tears began to roll down her cheeks in earnest. “I don’t want to let Brightville go.”

     Orlitz reached over and placed a reassuring hand on the acara’s shoulder. It was painful to see her like this. If only there was some way they could rescue this dynasty… if only they could return the park to its former glory.

     “Don’t lose hope just yet, Erin,” she offered, “Reba is probably using us to further stall the demolition. So long as we’re missing, nothing’s going to happen to the park.” She desperately wished her words were true, but how long would they have to stay up here?

     Just then, the park-wide loudspeaker system sprung to life. Though Erin and Orlitz were stuck well above Brightville, they could hear the message clearly:

     “Looks like another esteemed guest has been captured within your beloved park. But maybe that’s not enough to convince you to stop with this demolition. Maybe I’ll need to take more guests to make my message heard. It’s no use looking, you’ll never find them. If this demolition goes on as planned, it will be on your conscience, Sophia!”

     * * * * *

     “Yes thank you, I can take it from here. I said thank you.” Iskeen mustered whatever milligram of strength she had left to produce a somewhat-convincing smile for the guards who had escorted—or rather, dragged—her back to the house. “Thank you very much, have a wonderful night!” The ixi made as if she were unlocking the front door until the guards were out of sight. Once they had vanished, she ducked into the backyard and sank into the grass.

     Being escorted out of the park and back to the Livia residence had been a grandiose waste of her time, not least of all because Iskeen did not have a key to the house. She felt like crying: was Orlitz alright? Was she safe? What had Reba done with her?

     “Now’s not the time to cry,” she sniffed. She needed to find Orlitz’s parents—they must still be in the plaza. Then, she had to get back into the park, regardless of Sophia’s request. It was probably too late to find a uni cab, but Iskeen spotted a bike leaning against a tree from the corner of her eye.

     “That’ll do.”

     * * * * *

     Elva and Keon had settled by the fountain, nearly asleep, by the time Iskeen found them. They sat upright when they heard her approaching on the bike.

     Keon gave her a strange look. “Is that my…? Why do you have my b—”

     “Reba caught Orlitz and I was kicked out of the park, I came back here as fast as I could!” Iskeen said, jumping off the bicycle, “we need to get into the tunnels now.”

     Elva gasped. So did Keon. Following behind Iskeen, they hurried to the hidden entrance to the tunnel, but froze when they saw that the bench was now flanked by guards on every side. Sophia must have sounded the alarm.

     “What do we do now?” Elva whispered shakily, “there’s no way they will let us through.”

     “I’m not sure—” Iskeen blinked, “wait! The protestors! They’re already at the Brightville gate, maybe we can get in with their help.”

     Iskeen was correct. As the trio approached the amusement park, they were met with a crowd of furious protestors pushing with increasing force against the closed gates. Members of the Brightvale Guard were trying in vain to settle the masses, but it seemed as though everyone had been extremely agitated by the loudspeaker announcements. Many of the guests inside where gathering on the other side of the gate, trying to leave.

     “It’s you!” Iskeen spun around as a Speckled draik approached her—Lou! “Did you hear what happened? Someone else was kidnapped!”

     “That was Orlitz! She and I found the culprit, we found Erin! I managed to get away but they caught her.” Iskeen dragged the draik aside. Now was not the time for subtlety or niceties: “we have to get back in there and rescue them! Sophia Grigsby won’t listen to reason, she wants the party to go on as though nothing is wrong. But what if Orlitz is hurt?!”

     Meanwhile, Elva and Keon were busy reasoning with the guards behind the gate. They would not budge: if there was a kidnapper among them, no one was permitted to leave the park, but the crowd on either side of the gate was now inexorable: Brightville’s farewell celebration was devolving into a great powder keg.

     “Reba Watt is behind this,” Iskeen cried through the bars, “she won’t leave the park, it means too much to her. You have to believe us!”

     Lou had turned his attention back to the rabble of protestors. He was rallying them. Inside the park, more and more of the prestigious guests were gathering at the gate, yelling to be let out.

     Iskeen had trouble seeing what happened next. She surmised that one way or another, the gates had been pushed open because neopets were pouring out of the park while others were shoving their way in. She followed the wave of protesters through the gates, but lost sight of Orlitz’s parents in the process. For a brief second, she glimpsed a pair of cybunny ears and pushed her way towards them.

     “THE FERRIS WHEEL!” she yelled, hoping that either Keon or Elva could hear her. Then, she set out towards the massive park attraction.

     * * * * *

     Orlitz paced around the tiny gondola, trying to calm her racing heart. They had been trapped in this wheel for nearly two hours now, and she hated small spaces. Erin had grown restless too, and was trying in vain to appear calm. Where were Iskeen and her parents? What if no one came? How much longer could she endure being trapped in a suspended pod?

     Through the window, she noticed a rising commotion near the far side of the park, by the entrance. It was difficult to discern through the forest of trees, but could it be? It looked as though neopians were leaving the park.

     A fresh surge of panic shot up her spine and her heart sank: they were being deserted.

     * * * * *

     Iskeen had difficulty discerning the ferris wheel when she approached it. The clearing, previously aglow in the multicolored lights of the carousel and the wheel, was now pitch black. Miraculously, Elva and Keon had managed to follow Iskeen away from the chaos of the crowds, and miraculously, Elva had had the good sense to bring a flashlight.

     “This is where we found Erin and Reba” Iskeen motioned towards the general outline of the ferris wheel, nearly invisible against the cloudy sky, “we managed to hear a bit of their conversation before we were caught.”

     “So Reba and Erin teamed up?” Keon asked.

     Iskeen thought for a moment. When she and Orlitz had overheard their conversation, Erin seemed to have been calling the shots. However, once they were discovered, she’d detected a slight wariness and uncertainty in the acara.

     “I wonder about that too,” she said. It could be that Erin had grown tired of Reba. Was she afraid of the gnorbu?

     “Where’d they go?” Elva was searching the clearing with her light. Both the carousel and the ferris wheel appeared desolate. In the stillness, Iskeen felt her way towards the wheel’s platform.

     “They were talking right here,” she said, “look around, maybe there’s a clue somewhere.” In the dark, she could make out a podium-like structure on the platform, which she assumed housed the ride’s controls. Iskeen ran her fingers along the controls—perhaps one of these switches would turn on the lights. Her hand bumped against a solid protrusion. “This must be the microphone they used,” she mused.

     “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

     She spun around. In the darkness, it was impossible to see the figure of a gnorbu coming towards her. Iskeen could only cry out as Reba collided into her.

     

To be continued…

 
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Other Episodes


» Mystery of the Brightville Vanishing
» Mystery of the Brightville Vanishing:Part Two
» Mystery of the Brightville Vanishing:Part Three
» Mystery of the Brightville Vanishing:Part Four
» Mystery of the Brightville Vanishing:Part Five
» Mystery of the Brightville Vanishing:Part Six
» Mystery of the Brightville Vanishing:Part Seven
» Mystery of the Brightville Vanishing:Part Eight
» Mystery of the Brightville Vanishing:Part Nine



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