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Weisbauch Reports: An Unfair Fairground


by arbenheist

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Halloween is here again, and, as any discerning Neopian will inform you, the Deserted Fairground is the place to be this time of the year. Encompassing the full extent of the Halloween spirit, with carnival games, sweet, spooky treats that would make the Tooth Faerie weep and delightfully unnerving clown costumes left, right and centre, it's no surprise that Halloween sees visitors flocking here in their masses. However, for every handful of merry fairground-goers there'll always be at least one complaining of rigged games and dishonest entrepreneurs, a problem that has long gone uninvestigated. That's why this Halloween, this reporter decided to soak up the wonderful Halloween atmosphere of the Deserted Fairground – and put the fairness of three of its most popular games to the test.

Despite being called the Deserted Fairground, it is really quite busy tonight – the patrons have been working their fingers to the bone to prepare the place for the influx of visitors around this time of year, with black-and-orange garlands strewn up over each wooden stall, each striped tent and each shoddily-constructed hut, and, over the noise of the crowds, I hear the strains of a wheezy organ grinding slowly. Grinning pumpkins litter the area, their eyes flickering with a vivid, yellow glow, and, just beyond the horizon past Castle Nox, a brilliant firework display is taking place. There is a boom in the distance and, squinting into the sudden explosion of iridescent light, I see the shape of a Meepit form in the sky, every detail – right down to the unnerving stare – rendered in a haunting likeness. Let it be said that, if anywhere on Neopia knows how to celebrate Halloween, it's the Haunted Woods.

But the lights and the noises are distracting me from my real purpose, and, withdrawing my quill and parchment, I prepare to document my experiences at the Deserted Fairground and, more importantly, the allegedly near-unwinnable games. I wonder where I should go first, peering at each of the decorated stalls, until my attention is seized by a hiss, a wink and an innocent little wave from a purple-haired Aisha. I approach cautiously, wary of the tricks these peddlers will pull in order to ensnare you in a money-grabbing trap, but this Aisha seems to read my mind and tosses her hair back carelessly, giggling all the while.

"You can trust Lyanka, honey," she assures me, placing a loaded cork gun firmly into my hand in exchange for a few neopoints. "Look at this face – would I lie to you? Just aim for one of the prizes and fire away – and best of luck."

Before me stands a towering wall of colourful prizes. At a glance they look tantalising – boxes of candies, packets of fruit-flavoured gummies and cans of Achyfi, all stacked high on these creaky, wooden shelves. A well-presented box of chocolate flavoured gum drops catches my eye, looking elegant with a shiny golden bow, so I raise my cork gun, closing one eye like the amateur marksman I am. It is a tense moment as I slowly squeeze the trigger, but I am confident I have a lock on. I fire. The cork flies out. And then, contrary to all my expectations, it twists off wildly to the left. Lyanka appears to be stifling a giggle, and so I, refusing to be beaten, reload and take aim once again. Bang! – the cork pops out, corkscrewing magnificently before landing on the floor, having failed to knock down any of the prizes. Lyanka gives a condescending sigh of sympathy – "Third time's the charm!", she quips, and I look at her warily – as I go in for the third and final shot. My eyes screwed shut, I fire blindly and, to my surprise, I hear something fall to the ground. I've won!

"What did I win?" I try to hide the eagerness in my voice, but I'm secretly quite pleased with my little victory over an obviously crooked fairground game. Lyanka stoops down to pick up the box that lies face down on the floor, handing it to be ceremoniously with a mischievous grin and another lopsided, exaggerated wink.

"Prawn Delight!" she cries.

She's not even kidding. I hold in my hand a box of Prawn Delight – frankly, I don't even need to taste it to conclude it's disgusting, because the stale, fishy smell rises from the cracks in the cardboard and attacks my senses. Lyanka appears to be taking great joy in my revulsion – "I can't even give this to trick or treaters," I think disdainfully – and, as I storm off, she sardonically wishes me a happy Halloween. I toss the box into the nearest bin and petulantly write on my parchment, next to the Cork Gun heading, in block capitals, "RIGGED."

Still, the nature of my business means I must keep moving, and it's on to my next game. Amidst seasonal cascades of orange and black, a prominent stand highlighted by stripes of red and green catches my eye, and, my interest now captured, I wander over, trying to feign nonchalance. But Lupes have a famed sense of smell, and the one running this stand – the Bagatelle, as a hand-painted, splintered sign declares – can smell this customer from a mile off. He looks shifty, his back leaning upon a wooden post, a twisted grin painted across his devious features, a small, indiscernible object being flipped up and down by his stubby hand. He nods at me – I want to say it was a polite gesture, but it was really quite unsettling – and I nod back, tentatively offering a word of greeting.

"Pleased to meet you, stranger," he says gruffly. "The name's Harker, and this here's my Bagatelle. Slip me two-hundred-and-fifty neopoints and you can have a go. Watch the Mootix – if he lands in one of these here higher slots, you'll win yourself something neat. You in?"

"Does Professor Milton Clodbottle realise Mootixes are being used this way?" I ask as I pass him my money. He ignores my question, or, rather, he chooses not to give me a verbal answer, simply glaring in an entirely unimpressed fashion as he sloppily throws the poor little petpetpet over his shoulder. My ears are not sensitive enough to hear it, but I am sure the Mootix's mouth is open, and it is screaming as it falls. He bounces off the tiny iron rods and falls miserably down into the lowest slot. No prize for me, unfortunately, and Harker curtly tells me so. But something about the game doesn't quite seem right, and, as I shift my head to one side, scrutinising the setup of this Bagatelle, it suddenly occurs to me.

"Wait –" the indignity in my voice rings out clear, and Harker rolls his eyes – "This Bagatelle is lopsided. Look, I'm serious – it slants to the left!"

"No, no, no," Harker exclaims with a throaty laugh, "Not at all! Look here, my stand isn't lopsided. You are. You're standing lopsided. You must have one leg shorter than the other, kiddo."

I open my mouth to argue back, but choose to hold my tongue (not least because Harker is quite a rough-looking fellow, but also because the only retort I can think of involves the insult "bad-atelle", which I realise is incredibly, incredibly poor). Either way, it's not even worth trying to state my case, and I haughtily turn on my heel to go. Don't be fooled, readers, I most certainly do not have disproportionate legs. Aside from being guilty of cruelty to Mootixes, Harker the Lupe is also guilty of fleecing me of my money with an unfair game. Harker's mocking, coarse chuckling can still be heard as I walk away, and I feel a small vein in my head throb from the stress and anger. Perhaps more furiously than necessary, I scribble across my parchment just one word next to the Bagatelle section – "RIGGED."

Needing to let off a little steam, I am glad to find the third and final game I will be testing this Halloween is the world-famous Coconut Shy – after all, there's nothing quite like smashing an innocent coconut to release some tension. There is a small crowd of costumed Neopians gathered around the shy as I approach, but they soon traipse off after failing to knock anything down. The warty, creepy Quiggle in charge of the attraction is humming to himself distractedly, some odd little ditty about bunches of coconuts or something along those lines, so I clear my throat to make my presence known. He looks up and meets my gaze – which, when seized by his bulging, yellowed eyes, probably displays a mild and somewhat insulting level of fear – and shuffles over to me, pulling his grubby, candy-striped trousers even higher up his waste and slamming a reddish-brown ball down in front of me, trying to close his sale by offering me a semi-toothless, entirely nauseating grin.

"You wanna play the Coconut Shy?" he asks me breathily, his voice all at the back of his throat. "Just pay old Leeroy a hundred neopoints a throw, and we'll see how you do. Interested?"

I say yes, for the sake of my article, and pick up a ball, rubbing it vigorously against my waistcoat in a vain effort to clean it somewhat of the grease that seems to exude from Leeroy's person. His eyes glint with a hint of mischief as I take aim, aligning the ball in my hand with a plump, hairy coconut that sits atop a cup on a long, thin pole – it looks ready to fall with just the right throw, and so, biting my lower lip with concentration, I launch the ball through the air. I hit the coconut dead on, right in the middle, but, to my dismay, it only wobbles slightly, my ball flopping uselessly to the ground, having failed to win me anything of substantive value.

"The coconut barely moved!" cackles Leeroy. Evidently I have not learned anything from my misfortune at the Deserted Fairground thus far, and, slamming another handful of neopoints into the Quiggle's slippery palm, I hurl yet another ball, this time more brashly. No luck for me, though – a wobble, a shake, but, remarkably, it stays standing, tall and proud. Leeroy giggles again, but, as my ball rolls off to the side of the tent, the clang of something hitting metal reaches my ears, and immediately Leeroy's face becomes blank. I dive to the right to catch a peek of this mystery item, glimpsing, for a split second, the dull reflection of what appears to be a rusted pot, some sort of semi-transparent ooze spilling from the rim, which Leeroy is quick to hide, briskly stepping in front of the offending item.

"Is that – is that glue?" I demand, somewhat lost for words.

"No!" Leeroy is quick to dismiss any notion of cheating. "It's, er, what is it... it's coconut polish. Yeah, that'll do. You know, coconuts need polishing, keeps 'em bright and pretty, keeps the customers floating in to old Leeroy... you wouldn't know, you don't know anything about coconuts, right?"

"I know enough to know a coconut doesn't need to be polished!" comes my curt response, but Leeroy, having given up trying to fumble his way through his mysterious pot with words and farfetched claims, abruptly shoves me away from the Coconut Shy and draws the curtains of the marquee. Through the cracks I see one bulbous eye peek at me for a split second before retreating amidst rustling and swishing, the sound of his heavy, impatient breathing still entirely audible. I give up – Leeroy isn't cooperating, so I turn to go, marking just one word on my parchment next to his name:

"RIGGED".

And that is all. Having finally finished investigating the fairness of this ironically named fairground, I am finished for the evening, and I am disappointed to report the Deserted Fairground is well and truly rigged. Down an irritatingly high number of neopoints, my hands still reeking of Prawn Delight and covered in the fine coat of dirt encompassing each unwashed game ball, I conclude that this – surrounding myself with the ceaseless patter of hordes of obsequious carnies and their near-unwinnable games of chance – is not the most ideal way to spend my Halloween. Next year, I tell myself, I'll skip the Deserted Fairground, however well-decorated and atmospheric it may initially appear, and just stick with trick-or-treating in Neovia, or the grandiose fireworks display in the Haunted Woods. Quite frankly, if I never see Lyanka, Harker or Leeroy again, it'll still be too soon.

Have a happier Halloween than me, everyone.

 
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