A Mutant Vacation
Mystery Island’s Hotel Lane was a whole line of hotels, inns, and taverns with an unobstructed view of the seashore and punctuated at several intervals by palm trees and flowering shrubs. And at the end of this lane was a large, quaint, cottage painted in shades of peach and white, with a sign made from bamboo and seashells proclaiming it to be “Seaside Cottage”. Both the cottage and the sign looked like they had seen better days, with some shells either broken or completely gone, but they did not turn away the mutant Bruce who was staring at the front door.
He glanced down the lane at the other hotels before staring at the small piece of paper which had “Seaside Cottage” written on it, along with its address.
Clyde pushed open the door and stepped into the reception hall, which was bare except for the reception desk adorned with a green wreath, a wooden table and chairs, fading beige walls, and what looked like a Snot Garland – and was probably definitely a Snot Garland – hanging over the window. An elderly Kacheek looked up from where she was reading a magazine at her desk, and after a moment of hesitation, her face lit up at the sight of the lone visitor.
“Why, hello there!” she said. “Welcome to the Seaside Cottage.” Then she looked up at the staircase, which, for some reason, was decked out in silver and gold garlands that would not have been out of place in Terror Mountain in the Month of Giving. She called out, “Volen! Come down, we have a guest!”
Several thundering footsteps later, a purple Elephante descended the stairs, nearly tripping on the last few steps. Clyde was about to reach out to steady the Elephante, but he didn’t need to.
“Hi, I’m Volen, owner and manager of the Seaside Cottage.” Volen extended an arm to indicate their surroundings. “Please, let Mom give you a key to your room, then you can join us for lunch in the mess hall.” With another sweeping gesture, Volen pointed to the steps that led down to a few tables and chairs in front of what seemed to be a cramped kitchen. Finally, he thrust his hand for Clyde to shake, stiffening as Clyde took it.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Volen. And…”
“Call me Tallulah,” the elderly Kacheek piped up, selecting a key from the corkboard behind her. “We’re so happy to have you…”
“Mister Clyde.” Tallulah offered the key to the mutant Bruce. It had an old wooden keychain with the number 201 carved into it. “Volen, be a dear and take his luggage up to his bedroom on the second floor.”
“Oh, no, if it’s just the second floor – “
But Clyde didn’t get the chance to finish; the purple Elephante immediately took his valise and walked up the stairs.
“Right this way, Mister Clyde!”
“Just ‘Clyde’ is fine,” the mutant Bruce said as he waddled after Volen. As they reached the second floor, Clyde couldn’t help but look around at the peeling wallpaper, the stained carpets, and the five doors down the corridor. But their stop was just next to the staircase – room 201. As Clyde unlocked his door, Volen was quick to place the valise inside.
“I’ll ask the chef to cook some lunch for you,” said Volen, clasping his hands together and smiling brightly. “It should be ready in half an hour. Enough time for you to settle in!”
After the Elephante left, Clyde surveyed his room. While it had a nice view of the seaside, the bedsheets were off-white, and there was a musty smell suggesting that the room had not been used or aired out in some time. He approached the table and saw a very fine patina of dust.
Not to mention, once Volen had taken his leave, silence had fallen not only in Clyde’s room but also, he figured, on the entire second floor. When the mutant Bruce stuck his head out his door, he couldn’t hear or see anyone else, apart from the muffled voices of Tallulah and Volen below.
He glanced again at the sheet of paper he had been given.
* * *
“I’m so sorry,” the blue Chia said in a tone that suggested he was not at all sorry, “but that reservation was for Lady Reena, who came all the way from Altador to stay with us.” He pointed to an Usuki Usul who was fanning herself as a yellow Techo concierge wheeled her luggage toward the lift.
Clyde frowned. “My name was on it. Clyde Corvus Rifton. I made the reservation three weeks ago.”
“I don’t know if you’ve heard of her, but Lady Reena writes a weekly hospitality column in the Neopian Times.” The Chia looked up at Clyde, who was at least a head taller, and turned up his nose. “Don’t worry. I’ll ask my receptionist to give you the address of…hmm, Seaside Cottage. Is that it?” He stood on his tiptoes to wave at the slender Darigan Lupe at the desk. “They should have accommodations for someone like you.”
“But my reservation was for your hotel!”
“You came here for a vacation, right, Mister Rifton? I’m sure you can have it elsewhere while you’re here on Mystery Island. Perhaps next time we’ll have a room for you.”
Clyde had a feeling there wouldn’t be a next time.
* * *
When Clyde reached the bottom of the stairs, a warm aroma wafting from the mess hall greeted him, and he followed it to Volen and Tallulah’s table. They were being served by a portly island Gnorbu who was ladling some stew with shrimp into bowls, and they waved him over.
“Shrimp in coconut milk,” the Gnorbu said, when the mutant Bruce stared into the pot. “With ginger, chilli peppers, onion and garlic. It’s our house speciality…I hope you like it.”
Clyde sat down while she poured him a glass of fruit punch. His eyes lit up at the first spoonful. “Delicious! The shrimps and coconut are so fresh…” Then he looked around at the empty tables and the silent reception hall, and he frowned thoughtfully. “Are we the only ones here?”
Tallulah smiled ruefully. “Yes, we are.”
“That explains why it was so quiet upstairs,” Clyde answered awkwardly.
The elderly Kacheek gestured to the Gnorbu. “Alana, please, eat with us.”
“Oh, auntie, I still have to do the dishes…”
“I’m sure the dishes can wait,” said Volen. “You must be hungry. Anyway, business hasn’t been great this summer. All the tourists stay at the other hotels and inns on Hotel Lane, but not here.” The purple Elephante sighed as he chewed on some green beans. “I was thinking of finally closing down when you showed up. I’m so glad you chose to stay with us for a more rustic vacation.”
The Bruce deflated. “About that…I actually had a reservation at the Chiaton. Until they gave it to someone else and told me to come here.”
“Why?” asked Volen, as Alana ladled some shrimps into her bowl.
“They gave it to Lady Reena, the hotel critic.” Clyde snorted. “But the way they looked at me…I wondered if they didn’t want a mutant anywhere in their hotel.” He managed a smile. “All of you were much nicer to me, giving me a room and all.”
“Did you like our Snot Garland decorations?” Tallulah piped up. “Don’t mutant Neopets like that sort of thing?”
At first, Clyde gaped at the Seaside Cottage staff. Then he laughed softly. “Not all mutants.”
“We’re a bit…tight on cash,” Volen explained. “That’s why we could only afford Snot Garlands and other Advent Calendar decorations. It kinda looks like we started decorating for the Day of Giving and then stopped halfway through.”
“Why not use driftwood and seashells?” the Bruce offered. “And palm fronds? They should be easy to pick up around the beach. And I saw the bedsheets – “
“I couldn’t get the stains out, no matter how hard I tried!” Alana wailed. “I’m so sorry, Volen!”
The Elephante waved his hands. “No, no, that’s all right…”
“I know ways to scrub out those stains and the stains in the carpets,” Clyde interrupted. “All we need are a few items from your pantry. I have an old cleaning recipe handed down from my grandfather, Corvus Rifton. He knew a lot of things about running an inn.”
“Your grandfather was an innkeeper?” Tallulah raised her eyebrows.
“He and my father taught me everything I know.” Clyde gazed out at the seashore wistfully, his spoon in his flipper. “Everything I needed to know to run their inn. Corvus’ Roost.”
Volen’s eyes widened, and he leaned forward. “Where is it?”
“In Nevermore, a small village in Neovia. Old Corvus set it up years ago…for all the mutant Neopets who couldn’t find a place to stay.” The mutant Bruce frowned, rubbing his large back. “He accepted anyone, and everyone, and wanted me and my father to keep it going. Corvus was a mutant Lenny, by the way.”
Tallulah, Volen and Alana fell silent for a while, until the elderly Kacheek said, “Your grandfather was a good Lenny.”
“He was,” Clyde agreed, “and I think he would want me to help you out.”
* * *
The afternoon sun shone brightly over a beach sprinkled with beachgoers of all shapes and sizes playing in the water, building sandcastles, or lying under umbrellas and on blankets wherever they could fit. Near the line where the sand met grass, Volen and Clyde gathered various pieces of driftwood and empty seashells.
“Mister Clyde, we can’t thank you enough…”
“Just ‘Clyde’, Volen.” Clyde grinned – a somewhat menacing expression for a mutant Bruce that gave the Elephante some pause. “From one innkeeper to another.”
Volen cleared his throat and smiled back. “You didn’t have to help us with all this. You came to Mystery Island for a vacation, didn’t you? You could be out there, enjoying yourself and not thinking about running any inn.” He thrust an arm toward the crowd of tourists. “And…ah, honestly, we were a little…intimidated when you showed up. I’m sorry, Clyde. We don’t get a lot of tourists, let alone a lot of mutant tourists. But I want to do what Corvus Rifton did and open our little cottage for everyone.”
“That’s all the thanks I need.” The Bruce looked up from where he was contemplating some shiny pebbles. “You run Seaside Cottage with your mom and your cousin, right?”
Clyde nodded. “I would do everything to keep Corvus’ Roost from closing, and I want to do the same for Seaside Cottage. Besides, I can take all the beach strolls I want looking for stuff you can use for the decoration and to fix up your sign, and I can help you shop for new supplies and equipment. It’s the least I could do…for letting me stay with you.”
“Oh…well, it’s no big deal.” Volen mopped his forehead with a handkerchief after letting his bag of seashore detritus lean against a palm tree. “I knew the Chiaton was full of the snooty upper brass, but I didn’t think they’d go so far to turn you away for who? Lady Reena?” He shook his head in disdain. “Her column is just as pretentious as all of them. Not worth reading.”
“And not just because she never featured your inn?” Clyde couldn’t help but ask, raising an eyebrow.
Volen snorted. “Heh, maybe with your help, she’ll finally notice us.”
“It doesn’t matter if she still doesn’t. Others will once we’ve fixed up the Seaside Cottage.”
“Some vacation this turned out to be for you, Clyde.”
Clyde shrugged. “I guess you could say my vacation mutated into something else.”