The Adventures of Jake the Explorer!: Part Four
The Haunted Woods
"Feeeeeeed Meeeeeeee..." I heard the gluttonous Esophagor moan in the distance, as the misshapen tower of Edna the Witch loomed tall before my eyes.
Yes, I, Jake the Explorer, was in the Haunted Woods, on my way to see King Hagan of Brightvale. I wasn't too bothered by my spooky surroundings, even if I WASN'T too busy thinking why I was being summoned by the Wise King.
There had to be a reason why King Hagan wished to see me. But what could it be? Did he want me to investigate something? My specialty is Mystery Island, not Brightvale or Meridell.
Hmmm... what could it be then... ?
"Looking for something?" a woman's voice asked.
I jumped when a mysterious Aisha sorceress of sorts appeared in front of me.
"Bouncing Blumaroos!" I cried. Finding my composure, I replied, "Uh, yes. Answers."
"I, as well," the Aisha said.
"The answers aren't here, though," I said.
"Mine are..." The Aisha peered into the cloudy sky above.
I cocked my head. "Hm? Well, I'm on my way to Brightvale."
The Aisha nodded. "Have a safe trip, then. The Haunted Woods hold many secrets and many more mysteries." A ball of blue, electric light materialized in her hands. "I being one of them."
I readied myself for the sorceress to strike me, but she vanished, and I never saw her again.
Back on my way, I passed the local graveyard. Ghost Neopets wandered among the tress and headstones. A blue Wocky, with a nasty scar across his face, was battling Hubrid Nox. However, the oddest thing was what was written on the tombstones: Faerie Caves, Deckswabber, Usuki Frenzy, Techo Says...
Was there meaning to such madness?
Probably, but I didn't have time to dwell on it.
"Neovia has to be around here somewhere..." I said out loud in frustration.
I was, I'm ashamed to say, lost. At one point, some miles back, I got turned around. Now nothing looked familiar. Just trees, trees, and more trees. Oh! That tree has moss on it, that's different.
I looked around some more. Hm? Was that the top of a roof? I ran towards it, hoping to see a small town to go with it.
"A mansion? Why out here?" It was in pretty bad shape, though.
I heard screaming, and then a small figure rammed into me.
"Oof!" we both uttered.
"I-I'm so sorry, sir." It was a young girl who spoke. And when I looked down I could clearly see what was under the red, hooded cloak she wore, and I thought: Not another Usul!
"What are you doing in these woods?" I asked.
"Having adventures," the Usul answered cheerfully. "I just came from Eliv Thade's castle." She gestured towards the mansion. "I couldn't guess one of his anagrams so he chased me out... Wanna came back with me? Maybe you could figure a couple out."
"Why would I want to do that? What's your name, anyway?"
"Gilly!" the Usul said enthusiastically.
"Well, hi, Gilly, I'm Jake. I need to get going, though, so - "
"Hey, hey! I want to show you something." Gilly began to tug me in another direction.
"What? Why? Where are you taking me? I'm a very busy explorer, don't you know."
I shook my head.
"Then you're going to love exploring this place, trust me," Gilly insisted.
I suddenly lost control of the situation. Though I could have struggled easily out of Gilly's grip, I chose to stay with the little Usul; she could surely tell me the way to Neovia. And once there, Brightvale would be a hop and a skip away.
"There!" Gilly proclaimed, pointing dramatically at a dilapidated house. "Neopets around here call it the 'Haunted House~' But really, what ISN'T haunted in the Haunted Woods?"
"Probably not much."
"EXACTLY! Let's go in."
"HUH?" I stared at her. "Gilly - " I kneeled down and looked her in the eyes - "you seem like a very nice girl, but a bit too trusting. We just met, and now you want me to accompany you into a scary, haunted house?"
"Why not? I'm a good judge of character. I met a big brute of a Gelert once, and he was the nicest guy you could ever be friends with. His sister was a bit of a crab... but, we still get along just fine.
"I can tell you're a nice Kougra, Mr. Jake.
"So let's go in!"
"You're not scared of what might be inside?" I asked.
"Nah! I've fought zombies one-on-one. And believe me, nothing is more horrifying than zombies fresh from the soil."
"You've... fought... zombies? That definitely sounds disturbing." Who WAS this Gilly?
I shrugged then. "Why not? Let's go exploring.
"You know, you still haven't told me why you wish ME to come with you. Why not go yourself?"
Gilly looked up at me, with her big, shiny eyes and replied, "It could be scary in there."
"I've tried to get in several times," Gilly was telling me as we approached the front door of the Haunted House. "Yet I'd hear noises, and gusts of air would push me out. It got so annoying I just quit trying. But I bet a big, strong Kougra like you can take on whatever may be inside. Right?"
If I can handle headhunters..."Of course. Piece of cake." I reached for the doorknob.
"No!" Gilly cried.
"You can't just WALK in, it's rude. The spirits of the house don't like it. You're supposed to knock, see?"
Nobody answered, however, being an abandoned house. Gilly then pushed the door open. "We can go in now," she told me.
It was dark inside, except for the occasional flashes of lightning coming from outside. What this illuminated was cobwebs, Spyders, cracks in the wall, peeling paint, mold, and a couple of UGLY Korbat pictures.
"Pleasant place, huh?" Gilly sarcastically said. "Let's try upstairs."
The floor creaked as we walked further into the house. I tried not to look at the portraits anymore; their eyes followed my every move.
We finally came to a flight of stairs. Looking up, I thought they seemed to lead into empty darkness. As Gilly was about to step foot on the first step, I put an arm out.
"Don't," I told her. "They aren't safe."
"Hey, aren't I here to protect you? Hm? Let's just explore the rooms on this floor, 'kay?"
"All right..." Gilly said glumly. She swung her lantern into another hallway, revealing more haunted portraits.
"A family of Korbats lived here, once," I said. "What could have happened to them?"
Gilly shrugged. "One of those paintings in the front hall looked a lot like, brr~ Dr. Sloth." She laughed. "Maybe HE got to them: a member in the family gone bad."
She shouldn't joke about such things in a place like this.
"Whoa! Check THIS room out," Gilly said.
The darn little Usul was going everywhere, with full abandonment. I was going bonkers trying to keep up with her. If I didn't have such a caring heart, I would have left her to be swallowed up by the haunted house.
"Wait for me now and then," I said.
The room Gilly ran into was elegantly furnished. It was a kind of den, where the man of the house would come to relax, read by the fireplace, and maybe play Kacheekers.
Gilly sat in the big armchair. Dust soon covered her from head to tip of fluffy tail.
"Hm, none of the other rooms are so nicely done," I observed.
Gilly reached for a goblet on a round coffee table. She sniffed it. "Bleh," she uttered in disgust, "rotten Juppie Juice."
There were plenty of objects to examine, but something of more interest, hanging up over the mantel, caught my attention.
"Is that... ? Why, yes, YES, it is. That's an original painting by Danube Tyme." I reached up and took the painting down: it was a scene where a noble Uni strolled through a jungle of mushroom plants.
"Who's Danube Tyme?" Gilly asked.
"He was a great artist, but some hundred years ago he vanished mysteriously. This painting is probably worth a fortune!"
"And here it is, in this dusty old house, never to be laid eyes on except for by the brave. Let's take it!"
I stared at the Usul. TAKE it? But... wouldn't that be stealing?
Wait, what am I thinking? Steal it from whom? A GHOST? Jake, you're being ridiculous, you take artifacts from their original homes all the time.
"You could sell if for lots of neopoints," Gilly told me.
"I usually do not sell the artifacts I find," I said. "I give them to local museums."
"Oh. How boring. You should keep them."
"Some I do... Well! All right, let's take this painting out of this depressing house."
Suddenly the place became menacing. The walls started to close in, the floor shook, the furniture growled, and the door - the one exit out of here - grew fangs.
"Jake? Hey Mr. Jake! What's wrong with you?" came Gilly's voice.
I shook my head. "What just... ?" I blinked; the house was just as dark and gloomy as before, but nothing more than usual.
I had to get out of here. Something... or someONE was messing with my head. That's never happened to me before - and I've been to a lot scarier places.
"Come on, Gilly, we're getting out of here."
"Okay." She hopped down off of the sofa chair. "Say, are you going to share the worth of that painting with me?"
"How can I if I don't sell it?" I asked her.
Gilly thought a moment. Then, "Free tickets for a year to whatever museum you give the painting to."
I laughed. "You'd want to see it that often?"
"It will help to keep the memory of this time with you alive." She smiled sweetly up at me.
Was there a wicked grin under all that cuteness?
We couldn't find the front door again, so Gilly suggested going out the back way. There were some freaky things set up in the backyard, however. Like a Werelupe's circus cage, and there was a pool that glowed strangely. We steered clear of those and stumbled through bushes and trees, into a well-beaten path.
"That was adventurous," Gilly remarked.
"Yes..." I looked up to see a cloudy night sky. "Hm, we were in there for quite a while; it has gotten pretty dark. Gilly, could you take me to Neovia now? I could rest there until tomorrow. Gilly?"
The Usul was uncharacteristically quiet.
"Um, well, you see - I-I'm horrible with directions, and, uh, I get lost easily, and - "
SIGH. "So you have NO idea where we are? The Haunted House is just through those trees. Don't tell me you don't know how to get home from here?"
"Home? I don't really HAVE a HOME. I'm a kind of wanderer. I spend most of my time in Eliv Thade's."
"You've GOT to be kidding me. You're just a KID."
At that Gilly puffed herself up, trying to appear as tall as she could. "I may be little, and I may be young, but I can take care of myself, Mr. Jake."
I sighed once more. "Fine, fine. What do we do now?"
"Build a fire," Gilly said.
"And sleep... where? Under the stars? In the Haunted Woods?"
"We'll be okay. Come on, this spot over here looks good."
I resigned to follow Gilly. (Might as well be lost together.) But as we got farther from the old, abandoned house, I felt the painting tug me back. I shook my head at this idea; it must have been the wind pushing on me. Yeah, that was it.
A campfire was made, and I brought fresh food out from my backpack. Earlier I had brought a new batch of Islandberries - the import price was outrageous!
"Yummy! Those berries are GOOD!" Gilly said, popping a bunch in her mouth.
"Well, thank you, I rather like them myself. Unlike another Usul I know..." I muttered the last bit, thinking of Hannah the Brave.
Just as we were about to lie down for the night, I thought I saw an odd glow coming from Danube Tyme's masterpiece, shortly after that the world around me wavered and swayed, and suddenly the fire was snuffed out.
"Hey!" cried Gilly. "What just happened!?"
"I haven't a clue." I stared at the spot where the painting was - it was too dark to see it. "We'll have to sleep without a fire; besides, it's not good to leave a fire ignored."
Gilly grumbled but had to agree.
The rest of the night was undisturbed. Morning, on the other hand... ?
My eyes snapped open. "Wha-wha-wha-what!? What is it? I will protect you, Gilly." I waved my dagger around. Problem was, my eyes were still full of sleep, and I was having a hard time focusing them.
"I don't need to be protected at the moment, Mr. Jake," came Gilly's voice. "Come check this out; it's the painting."
"Th-th-the painting!? What's wrong with it?" I ran over to the Usul. "HUH? I don't see anything wrong with it..."
"The UNI, look at the Uni gentleman. He's moved position," Gilly told me. "He was over here yesterday, by the Dark Faerie Mushroom; now he's next to a LIGHT Faerie Mushroom."
"Huh? Are you SURE? He looks like he's in the same spot to me."
"No, no," Gilly said, "he's moved about two inches."
I grabbed the painting. "Gilly, you're seeing things. The Uni is in the exact same spot that I remember, and I know more about Danube Tyme's art than you."
"I tell you, he's MOVED. Your eyes are going bad; they probably can't see that well in semi-darkness."
"What? Hey, little missy, I may be older than you, about twenty years older, but my eyes are sharper. YOUR eyes can't see in the dark."
"Hmph! Fine, don't believe me." She probably stuck her tongue out at me when I turned my back to her.
After waking myself up with a splash of murky Haunted Woods water, I sat down to have breakfast.
"Do you eat anything besides ISLANDBERRIES?" Gilly asked me.
"Yeah, when I'm not out exploring. Thing is, I'm always out exploring. I love Islandberries, though, so I don't mind."
"Voidberries are good," Gilly said, "and Starberries; Loveberries, too."
"I rather like Skullberries."
My ears perked up.
"Huh, Mr. Jake? I thought you liked ISLANDberries," Gilly said. "Make up your mind."
"I... didn't say that," I told the girl.
"But then... who did?" Gilly glanced around, eyes wide.
The voice of the speaker sounded sophisticated. My gaze fell on the Uni in the painting.
No, no, what am I thinking? I must be insane to think a Neopet in a picture could actually TALK. Someone was about, playing games, and if that were the case, then it was about time Gilly and I found our way out of here.
"Do you think it came from the Haunted House?"
"Don't be ridiculous," I said. "We're getting out of here."
"Hm, this road looks familiar," Gilly said, two hours later. "Yes, yes, this goes to the Gypsies' camp, and Neovia is just around the corner. Let's go, Mr. Jake!"
"Just a minute, I don't want to go into a Gypsy Camp with this painting in full view."
"Why not? The Gypsies are friendly. They wouldn't steal your painting."
Ah, Gilly; she's so trusting.
I began to wrap Danube Tyme's masterpiece in some cloth. That's when I noticed: the Uni gentleman was standing in the left corner - when he HAD been in the RIGHT corner.
"What the... !?" I almost dropped the painting.
"What is it?" Gilly asked. "Haa... he moved position AGAIN! This painting... it's haunted!!"
I shook my head. It couldn't be. It just couldn't be. I mean, HOW could it be?
A strange wind began to twirl around us. I felt myself being sucked into the painting.
"Hey! Let go of me!" Gilly cried, screaming at invisible hands - pulling, PULLING her into the canvas.
"Gilly!" I grabbed her hand. But the force was too strong. Soon, Gilly was gone and I along with her...
"Ow~ Sheesh." Rubbing my sore head, I got up and looked around. I was surrounded by a rainbow of mushrooms - from the lovely to the revolting; spotted to striped; small to big; and skinny to fat. High above me was a blue sky filled with white, puffy clouds.
"Okay, um, where are we?" Gilly asked, standing beside me. "We're definitely not in the Haunted Woods; there is no where in that gloomy forest that's THIS bright."
"I think... we're in the painting," I said, not believing it myself.
"The PAINTING? But HOW?"
"I'm not sure how, but this setting is exactly the same as what Danube Tyme painted."
"Okay. So where's the Uni gentleman?"
Hm, Gilly had a point. Where WAS he?
"And how do we get out of here, if we really ARE in a painting?" Gilly asked.
"I don't know, but if we can find the Uni... He might be the one behind this. Or perhaps he's also trapped in here."
"Oh yeah, that would be helpful," Gilly remarked sarcastically.
I ignored her. "He should be around here somewhere..."
We walked down the path set into the wood of shrooms. For the longest time nothing changed, the path went on with no end, and the scenery was the same variety of mushrooms: an Earth Faerie Mushroom, for example, was set at the same length as the last, and also eight feet from the next Grey Faerie Mushroom. I felt like I was in a hallway to where I could never reach the door at the end.
"Hey Jake! Mr. Jake, look!" Gilly pulled on my jacket. "It's HIM! The Uni!"
The gentleman - in a snazzy blue suit - was seated by a fallen Wocky statue covered in moss and more toadstools. He had a truly mournful expression on his face as he sighed heavily.
“Um... excuse me?” I spoke up, wary of how the Uni would react.
The gentleman jumped up, startled. “Wh-wh-wh-what are y-y-you doing here? HOW are you two here?”
“We’d like to know that ourselves,” Gilly said. “Who are YOU?”
The Uni sighed again. “Who am I? I’ve half forgotten. Once, I cannot possibility imagine WHEN, I was known as Danube Tyme.”
Gilly looked up at me, shocked as well, even though she had just recently learned about the painter.
“So I see you have heard of me. Heh, for anyone to remember me? Remarkable.”
“But-but-but-but! WHY are you HERE!? How!?” I blurted.
“A spell, that is what it was,” Sir Danube told us. “You see, this environment that we are in is my masterpiece. I had given the painting to an associate of mine. I regretted it immediately. It was the best of my work and I wished for it back. He would not give it back, even when I offered a great sum of coins for its return. One day I decided to just take it back. The gentleman caught me and in his rage he said if I loved my painting so much then maybe I should become a part of it. With a flurry of hand movements and words I was swept into my very own masterpiece.
“I am not sure how long ago that was. I have been searching for a way out ever since.
“However, I cannot think for the life of me how you two came to be here.”
I could think of a possible answer.
“We took the painting from the house it was hung in - over a fireplace,” I said. “Your associate has been dead a long time, but apparently his stubborn spirit still lingers - “
“And he didn’t like us taking HIS painting, right?” Gilly said.
“So does this mean we’re stuck in here forever?” the little Usul moaned.
“I never give up, for if I did, I wouldn’t be Jake the Explorer.”
“I wish you luck, then,” Sir Danube said to me, “for I have looked and found no way out.”
“I’ll find a way,” I said.
“And I’ll help!” Gilly said.
“Come on then,” I told her.
Danube Tyme went back to sitting on the fallen statue. I shook my head, disappointed in him.
“Where do we look?” Gilly asked.
“In our heads,” I said. The Usul cocked her own. “The way out isn’t one we can see with the eyes, but with our mind. This is a spell that has trapped us - and a wicked spirit - so it’s our brains that will help us through this.”
Gilly went to thinking. She looked very comical at the act.
I didn’t know, myself, what spell could draw someone into a painting. But maybe I didn’t need to know a way to BREAK the spell, just a way AROUND it. A loophole, so to speak.
I gazed back at the master painter.
“Kind of weird that there’s a statue here when there’s none in the actual painting, huh?” Gilly said, seeing where I was looking.
It never even occurred to me!
“Gilly, you’re amazing!” I said.
“I am?” Though surprised, she sounded pleased.
“That statue is a key item here,” I said. “It could be the very thing that’s keeping us here.”
“Do we break it then?”
“No. First we need to examine it and ask Mr. Tyme what he knows about its presence.”
Sir Danube glanced up as we approached him. “Hmm?”
“What do you know about that statue you’re sitting on?” I asked.
The Uni stood up. “Ah, well, I have never thought about it, truthfully. One day, as I wandered, I came across it, lying flat on the ground, just like this.”
I began to rip the mushrooms off and Gilly scraped at the moss.
“What... what are you doing, may I ask?” Sir Danube asked.
“Not sure at the moment, look for anything suspicious,” I told him.
Sir Danube shrugged but complied.
“How suspicious does it need to be?” Gilly asked, pointing to a skull-headed Korbat necklace.
A Wocky wearing a Korbat-inspired amulet? How unusual.
“My adversary was a Korbat,” Sir Danube said. He reached out to touch the necklace, only to be flown backwards.
Gasp! “Are you all right, Mr. Tyme!?” I rushed over to the Uni.
“I guess so... Ouch... ” groaned the artist. Gilly helped him up while I went to examine the amulet. “Thank you, my dear.” He soon joined me by the statue.
I cautiously touched the talisman. Gilly did as well. Neither of us were zapped.
“Ah-ha! I think you’ve been sitting on your ticket out of here all this while, Mr. Tyme,” I said.
“Of course... ” moaned Sir Danube.
“So?” Gilly said, when all I did was stare at the necklace. “We found the answer; let’s get out of here.”
“We found the key, yes, but not the lock,” I told her. “How is the necklace keeping us here? Is it also the statue, too? Will the statue disappear if the amulet is taken off? Is that what we want? Or is it something that we don’t?”
“Yes, the two are probably connected,” Danube said.
“Help me right it,” I said.
I took one side with Gilly, Danube Tyme took the other, and the statue was pulled and pushed to its original standing position - if it EVER HAD stood, that is. The side that had been lying in the dirt was a muddle of, what looked like, paint. There was no details, while the side exposed was carved perfection.
“Mr. Tyme?” I said.
“Please, call me Danube. And yes?”
“Do you remember painting this?” I asked.
“Huh? No, I KNOW I never painted something like this,” he answered me.
“And I never saw it in the painting of the Mushroom Forest. How curious.”
“What are you thinking, Mr. Jake?” Gilly asked.
“Danube, did you EVER think of painting something similar to this statue?” I said.
“Hm, well... Actually, yes, I HAVE. I was going to feature it in a picture of some ancient ruins. Now THAT is CURIOUS.”
Gilly looked from me to the Uni. “Oh! I get it! In Mr. Tyme’s mind he painted this Wocky statue, something that he wanted to before he was trapped here. And if he can do that - ”
“He can paint - with his mind - a way out of here. A door, say, Danube?”
The Uni gentleman was taken aback with pure shock. “Do you mean to say... that the means to escape this limbo... is as simple as THAT? We do not need the amulet?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think so. The necklace is like a symbol of the spell; if we could figure a way to use it, then yes, we could probably break the spell and be free.”
“But why bother with that when there’s a better way, right?” Gilly asked.
“Yep. So how ‘bout it, Danube? This door would have to be more thought through, however. Not like this statue, where only the visible has detail. Also, you have to think of what would lie behind and BEYOND the door. It can’t be just black space. Can you envision the Haunted Woods?”
“The REAL Haunted Woods, not just a painting of it,” Gilly said.
Danube nodded. “I shall try. I knew of a quaint town when I was living there: Neovia. Is it still there?”
I turned to Gilly. We both grinned.
“That would be perfect!” Gilly said
Danube Tyme closed his eyes. A mysterious wind picked up and then suddenly there was an ancient stone arch - a magnificent door of solid oak set under it. The artist looked at me, smiling. “For the first time in a hundred years I have a good feeling about this,” he told me.
But before I could get to the door, Gilly was already opening it.
Neovia, the bustling town of Now, was right beyond the archway!
“It’s Neovia, Jake! It’s Neovia! We’re free!” The Usul happily ran through the door.
I took Danube’s arm and we both exited the world of the Mushroom Forest painting and entered the real world.
The door closed behind us then and vanished.
Danube didn’t know what to do with himself. He was like a baby experiencing the outside for the first time.
“My good sir... my good sir, this is... this is incredible!” The Uni grabbed my paw and shook it continuously. “Thank you! Thank you! And you, too, my dear,” he said to Gilly.
“You’re welcome, Mr. Tyme! Hey, let’s all go to the Crumpetmonger and get some pastries to celebrate!”
Danube laughed. “I would love to! Do they still have those vanilla cream puffs?”
I looked back into the Woods, thinking of Sir Danube’s painting - it was still somewhere out there, and probably still enchanted. It needed to be brought back to the Haunted House.
No sooner had I thought this that a gypsy Elephante came walking down the path to Neovia, holding the Mushroom Forest painting.
“Hello, travelers,” the gypsy greeted us. “Did any of you, by chance, drop this?”
“Yes,” I said. “Thank you for returning it.”
The Elephante wouldn’t let it go, however. “I SHOULD be rewarded,” he eyed us.
The three of us exchanged looks.
“What would you like, Mister?” Gilly asked timidly.
The gypsy’s serious face broke into a smile. “A story. This painting has a good tale, I can feel it. You tell me its story, and the painting will be yours.”
“Ha! Deal, my good sir!” Danube slapped the Elephante’s back. “We were just headed for lunch; you can join us.”
“THAT, indeed, sounds good to me,” the Elephante accepted.
And so the story of the Mushroom Forest painting was told again, Gilly and I adding our own bits and pieces, and afterwards the painting was hung back in the den of the Haunted House: never to be seen again. And that’s how it should be.
Saying my farewells to Gilly and Sir Danube, I left Neovia the next day, and by the afternoon I had left the Haunted Woods.
“Ah, Brightvale!” I cried with joy. The gloomy Woods were behind me and the brilliant kingdom was before me.
To be continued...
Check back next week for another exciting installment of The Adventures of Jake the Explorer!