"Oh, this week is going to be so much fun!" Elmtore said excitedly to her little brother Kay, who was sitting on the bench across her. "This year we could visit the Esophagor, you know. Uncle Noyrico wouldn't notice this time." The wagon made a squeaky sound when they encountered a small hole in the road. Every year Elmtore and her two brothers, Kay and Elijah, would visit their uncle who lived in an old mansion in Neovia. But this year their uncle decided to reorganize his entire house, so they had to stay in a vacation house in a small village, just a twenty-minute walk away from Neovia.
"Oh, look!" Kay said, excitedly pointing at a Haunted Woods vacation brochure. "Our vacation house has a pool!" Laughter was coming from the front side of the wagon, where their older brother Elijah was sitting, to guide the riding Uni.
"A pool? Do you have any idea how chilly it can be, so close to the Haunted Woods? I wouldn't even think of swimming in there," Elijah said.
"Well, maybe you won't, but I sure will!" Elmtore said. "Besides, I read in the Neopian Times weather forecast that it will be very hot and humid the coming week!"
Because of the bad quality of the road it took them a whole day until they were finally in the village of destination. When they arrived, they thanked and paid the Uni and walked to the small tourist agency, where they agreed to meet with the caretaker of the vacation house. The tourist agency was a small wooden building, located in the main road of the village, next to a couple of other shops. In the window of the building were a couple of yellowed cardboard standees that advertised trips to Mystery Island and Terror Mountain, but it looked like the agency didn't receive customers very often. The caretaker of the vacation house was an old Quiggle lady. She wore flashy red lipstick and a flowery dress that looked like it dated far back. She smelled heavily of granny perfume and apricot pie, with a hint of mothballs.
The vacation house was a fifteen-minute walk away from the village. Because it was already starting to get dark, they couldn't really see much of the surroundings. The place was a bit isolated from the rest of the village by a small forest. Most of the trees looked old and tired. The house itself was small and wooden. It had a small bathroom and a bigger room with a cooking spot, three wooden beds, a small dining table and some yellowed pictures on the wall.
"Make yourselves at home, children!" the caretaker said. "Your uncle asked me to tell you about his delay. It seems that he's got a bit of trouble back home so he will visit you in two days. He left some money and food on the dining table. The shops in the village will have everything you need. Enjoy your stay!"
"Can we see the pool, madam?" Kay asked.
"Oh, no, my dear boy. It's too late for that now. You can see it tomorrow by daylight," the caretaker said sweetly and left.
That night the young Neopets slept restlessly. They weren't used to the high-pitched sounds of the Batterflies living in the forest surrounding the house. Kay couldn't sleep because he was too excited and kept thinking about the swimming pool.
The following morning they were all awakened by the warm sunlight shining through the windows. The little vacation house heated up quickly and it was soon too hot to stay in bed.
"Good morning," Elijah yawned. "Let's see what we got for breakfast."
Elmtore sat right up in bed holding her plushie. "I slept horribly," she said. "Those Batterflies made so much noise!"
"Don't worry, we'll get adjusted to it in no time," Elijah said, while handing her a plate of Ghost Pancakes with marmalade. "The only thing I'm worried about is the heat. I'm afraid our food will spoil in no time if it doesn't cool down a bit," he said.
BAM! The sound of a cabin trunk collapsing startled Elmtore and Elijah. It seemed like Kay had found his way to the travel luggage and was obsessively looking for his swimwear, knocking over most of the cabin trunks.
"Hey, take it easy! Don't you want some breakfast first?" Elijah said to Kay.
"No time! I'm going to see the pool and take a swim!" Kay exclaimed excitedly.
It didn't take very long until Kay was back in the house again, looking a bit disappointed.
"Ew, the pool is super gross. I'm not going to swim in there," he said with a pouty face.
"Really? What a bummer, I was hoping to go swimming this week," Elmtore said.
"Wait a minute, try not to jump to conclusions," Elijah said. "Let me see that pool first."
The swimming pool was located a couple of yards away from the garden. The whole area was covered in trees and tall grass. Contrary to the vacation house, the pool was quite big. Unfortunately, it looked like the caretaker had taken care of everything else except for that. The wood of the small springboard was beginning to rot and the white paint was peeling. Most of the tiles had cracks in them and the ladder was rusty. There was something that seemed to be the remains of a parasol and some chairs next to the facility. The water was no better. On the bottom of the pool lay debris and there were Wormoeba and Skidgets crawling around. The water had a weird green colour, probably because of the algae inhabiting the area.
"Ew, this place looks eerie," Elmtore said.
"I told you so," Kay said. "It's so gross. That's probably why the caretaker didn't want us to see it when she was still around." Kay was visibly very upset about the whole thing.
Elijah sighed. "Well, I guess no swimming for you guys. Even though I was almost starting to feel like swimming myself, with the heat and all."
"This is dreadful," Elmtore exclaimed. "We should really go speak to the caretaker tomorrow!"
The rest of the day they entertained themselves with the games and books they brought with them from home. The garden was quite nice to sit in. You couldn't even see the pool from there because of all the bushes and trees hiding it.
Elmtore was sitting at the garden table, making a drawing of her Symol Petpet, whilst Elijah was reading one of his books next to her. Kay played fetch with Elijah's Manjeer Petpet Bog. The Manjeer was quite excited and would make wild movements. Kay threw his ball and it rolled under the garden table. The Petpet quickly ran after it and bumped into the garden table, causing a glass of lemonade to spill all over Elijah's book.
"Hey! Go play somewhere else!" Elijah shouted, trying to clean up the mess Bog made. Kay moved a couple of yards away from the garden table and threw the ball for the Manjeer. He was surprised at the speed of the ball, which quickly disappeared into the bushes. The Petpet ran after it, also disappearing into the bushes. After a couple of minutes it hadn't come back yet.
"Bog? Come on big boy! Come back now! Bog?" Kay shouted. But Bog didn't come back.
"He'll come back, don't worry," Elijah said, without looking up from his cleaned up book.
But Kay was a bit worried. "Bog?" he shouted discouraged, but there was no answer from the Manjeer.
Kay decided to go search for the Petpet. He got on his knees and made his way through the bushes. Then all of a sudden, there was a splashy sound.
"Oh no," Kay thought, "It sounds like someone fell into the pool. I hope nothing happened to Bog!"
When Kay arrived at the pool he didn't see Bog at first. The water looked strangely undisturbed. But after a few seconds the water started to show some movement and something that looked like the Petpet's head got out of the water, gasping for air. The Manjeer looked like it was struggling a lot, letting out high-pitched howls and flailing its legs. Kay picked up a large stick from the ground and held it in front of Bog's head.
"Come on, Bog! Bite on it so I can pull you out of the water!"
At first it looked like the Manjeer didn't really know what it had to do, but then it firmly gripped the stick with its teeth. Kay pulled the surprisingly heavy Petpet out of the water using all his strength.
"Oh my, never do that again. You scared me! Let's go back to the house," Kay said to Bog, panting. But the Manjeer didn't move. Instead it was just sitting on the ground, shivering from head to tail, whining quietly.
"Oh you're probably still in shock," Kay said, and he picked up the Petpet and walked back to the vacation house.
"What happened to him?" Elijah said as he saw Kay approaching with Bog in his arms.
"He fell into the pool," Kay explained.
"Eww, gross!" Elmtore said. "You'll probably have to wash him a couple of times until his fur is clean of that pool filth."
The next day Elijah's Petpet was still acting like it was in shock.
"We should really go back to the village and show the people at the travel agency what the pool did to your Petpet," Elmtore said to Elijah. The three young Neopets were sitting at the small dining table, having their breakfast.
"Yes, I think you're right. This is no way of treating guests. Uncle paid rent for the swimming pool too, after all," Elijah replied.
"We should also go buy some new food when we're there. This breakfast was the last bit, I think," Kay added. They decided to walk back to the village as soon as they had finished their food.
When they arrived in the village, it seemed emptier and quieter than two days before. The little town square was empty and most shops looked like they were either closed or out of business.
"This is weird," Kay said. "Where is everyone? Surely there must be some shops that are open today?" His brother and sister nodded in agreement. It wasn't a Sunday after all.
"Let's go to the tourist agency first, maybe they can tell us more about the shopping hours here," Elmtore suggested. So the three Neopets began searching for the tourist agency.
Weirdly enough, no matter how hard they looked; they couldn't find the small wooden house with its yellowed cardboard standees. Instead they found a small wooden house that looked exactly like the tourist agency, only empty. Cobwebs and dust had replaced the cardboard standees and there was filth on the shop window.
"I could have sworn that the tourist agency was here," Elmtore said.
"I think you're right, but it looks like they're closed," Elijah sighed.
"Helloooo!?" Kay banged on the glass window with his fists. "Is anyone in here? We have some complaints about our pool!" But there was no response. The young Neopets sighed, and just when they were about to leave, the door made a cracking sound.
"It sounds like the door just opened," Elijah whispered and he put his hand on the doorknob. The door made a loud cracking sound and swung open.
The three slowly entered the small tourist agency building.
"Hello? Is there anyone in here?" Elmtore asked. "We have come to see the caretaker, we would like to talk to her." But again, there was no response. The tourist agency office looked like it had been abandoned a long time ago. The desk and chairs were covered in white cloth and there was a thick layer of dust on everything.
"How is this even possible," Kay whispered, "It looks like this building hasn't been used in ages but it was up and running only two days ago!"
"Look!" Elmtore pointed at the dusty floor, "I think someone has been here recently, don't you think those look like footprints?" There were indeed traces on the dusty floor that seemed to be the footprints of some kind of Neopet.
"I think they lead to the back of the office, let's check it out, maybe there's someone here," Elijah suggested. The footprints lead the Neopets to a wooden door that was located in the back of the office. The door revealed another office with two large filing cabinets, a desk and two chairs. In contrary to the previous room, none of the furniture was covered in white cloth.
"Look!" Elmtore exclaimed, "One of the filing cabinets isn't locked!" The Cybunny couldn't contain her excitement.
"Wait, Elmtore, stop it! You really shouldn't stick your nose in other people's business," Elijah said. But it was too late. Elmtore had already opened one of the drawers and began looking trough the files.
"Hey guys, I think I found the file about our vacation house!" Elmtore exclaimed.
"Let me see that," Elijah said and he took the file out of Elmtore's hands. The file looked just like any other ordinary administration file a tourist agency would keep. It had a picture of the vacation house and details about the facilities and finances. "It's the vacation house alright, but I don't think this will help us any further," Elijah said, annoyed. "I think we're wasting our time here."
"Hey, what's this?" Kay kneeled and picked something up from the floor. "I think it fell out of the file when you opened it." He was holding something that looked like a very old-timey photograph of a Quiggle boy.
"Eh, that old picture looks eerie. The little boy creeps me out," Elmtore said.
"Me too," Elijah said, "What was it doing in that file anyway?" Elijah took the picture and put it back in the file. "There, let's just put this back and return to the vacation house. Uncle Noyrico will come and pick us up today so maybe we should just leave this all alone." His brother and sister agreed and they got back to the vacation house as fast as they could.
Back at the vacation house it seemed like the temperature had gone up even more.
"Oh man, this is unbearable. I wish Uncle Noyrico would come soon, I can't wait to feel the chilly Neovian air again," Elijah said whilst using a travel brochure as a hand fan.
"We should stay in the shadow and read a book or something until uncle comes," Elmtore suggested.
The day had passed and it was getting dark outside, but there was still no sign of their Uncle Noyrico. The Neopets decided to eat some leftovers and candy for dinner, because they ran out of other food.
"Maybe the traffic is bad and uncle will arrive tomorrow?" Kay said.
"I sure hope so. I'm getting so sick of this place and eating leftover Ghost Meepmallows," Elmtore complained.
That night Kay woke up from a weird noise. At first he thought it was Elijah or Elmtore, talking in their sleep. But the noise seemed to come from outside the house. Maybe Batterflies in the garden? When Kay listened more carefully, the weird noise became a string of words. Was there someone outside? Kay got out of bed and tiptoed to the window. But when he pushed away the curtains, he couldn't see anyone.
Then the noise sounded again. For a moment Kay thought it sounded like a whisper.
"Maybe it's Uncle Noyrico and he's waiting for us outside. Let's have a look just to be sure," Kay thought. He grabbed a flashlight out of Elijah's traveling bag and walked towards the door. Without waking up his siblings, Kay silently opened the door and walked into the garden.
It was a bit chilly outside, but Kay didn't feel uncomfortable in his pyjamas. It was a bit misty, so he couldn't see the end of the garden. Then he heard the noise again. The whisper sounded clearer now. For a moment Kay thought it sounded like the voice of a young boy.
"Could you help me? Please? I lost my ball!" Kay felt a little bit uneasy. There was someone in the garden looking for their ball, in the middle of the night. How weird.
"H-Hello? W-Who are you?" Kay said. But the voice didn't answer. "I must have imagined that voice, there clearly is no-one here," Kay thought. But just when he decided to go back inside, he heard a rustling sound coming from the bushes. "Stupid Batterflies", Kay thought and he turned around to walk back to the door.
Then another rustle sounded. Kay was startled by the sound and quickly turned his head. In front of him was standing a little Quiggle boy. He was a bit pale, and sure, his clothes looked like they dated back another era, but that was probably what little boys looked like around here.
"I'm sorry, but are you the one who is looking for his lost ball?" Kay asked the Quiggle boy. He didn't get an answer. Instead the little boy just nodded slowly and pointed his finger in the direction of the bushes.
"You think you lost it in the bushes?" Kay asked. "Maybe I can help you find it with my flashlight." He shined his flashlight on the bushes, pushing them aside to look for the ball.
After a couple of minutes, Kay still hadn't found the ball. "I'm sorry, little boy, but I can't seem to find your ball anywhere in these bushes," he said to the Quiggle boy. Again, the little boy did not answer him. He just stared at him and pointed his finger in the distance. Kay shined his flashlight in the direction the boy was pointing. There was the pool.
"Are you sure you've lost your ball there?" Kay asked. The little boy nodded in silence. Kay sighed and walked towards the pool. He shined his flashlight on the water. There it was, in the middle of the pool floated a bright red ball. Weirdly enough, the water looked clearer than it did during the day, but that could have been the moonlight.
"I think I found it," Kay said, and he grabbed a stick from the ground. He got on his knees and tried to reach out for the ball with his stick, while he held the flashlight in his other hand. He almost got to the ball, but then he felt a little push in his back. Because both his hands were full, Kay couldn't hold onto the pool edge and lost his balance. With a loud splash he fell into the pool water, which quickly got its filthy green colour back.
"Help! Help me!" Kay shouted at the Quiggle boy, who was standing by the edge of the pool. The boy just grinned at him and then walked away. Kay quickly swam to the edge of the pool, disgusted of the filthy water. But when he tried to get out, something cold gripped his ankle and pulled him down.
"What was that?" Kay thought, and panicked a little. He tried to get out again, but now the cold thing pulled him down even harder. Kay's fingers slipped off the pool edge and his head went under water. When he managed to get his head above water he cried out for help, hoping that his brother and sister would hear him.
Back in the vacation house, Elijah and Elmtore were sleeping. Elmtore was tossing and turning in her bed. It appeared she had a bad nightmare. Suddenly she opened her eyes, her pyjamas felt sweaty. She looked at the bed on the right side of hers, where Elijah was sleeping. Then she looked at the bed on the left side of hers, where Kay should be sleeping. She was very shocked to see it was empty. She quickly jumped out of bed and ran to her sleeping brother.
"Elijah! Elijah! Kay is gone!" Elmtore shouted. Elijah mumbled something and rolled over in his bed. "Come on now! He's really gone! We got to find him!" she shouted again. Elijah slowly opened his eyes.
"What's going on, Elmtore? Do you have any idea what time it is?" he said with a sleepy voice.
"I don't care what time it is," Elmtore said. "Our brother is missing and we have to find him." Elijah jumped out of bed.
"What? Why didn't you tell me sooner!" he shouted and ran to the door.
"Hey look, one of the flashlights is missing! Kay must have taken it!" Elmtore said whilst rummaging through Elijah's traveling bag. She pulled out another flashlight and ran towards the door.
When Elmtore and Elijah got outside, there was no sign of Kay. They shouted his name in hopes of an answer, but it was no help. They searched the bushes and tall grass, but Kay was nowhere to be found. Just when they were about to give up, they heard a splashing sound.
"Wait, what was that?" Elmtore asked, a bit frightened.
"It sounded like water, we should check out the pool," Elijah suggested. The two Neopets walked towards the old pool. A thick fog was hanging above the water, so they couldn't see much. Then they heard the splashing sound again.
"Kay, are you there?" Elijah shouted. The splashing sound got louder. Slowly the fog started to clear and the contours of a Neopet became visible.
"He's in the water! Quick! It seems like he's drowning!" Elmtore cried. Elijah grabbed a thick branch from the ground and held it in front of Kay.
"Come on! Grab the branch! I'll pull you out of the water!" Elijah shouted. Kay grabbed the branch with both hands, but Elijah wasn't able to pull him out of the water. "He's too heavy! It feels like something is pulling him back!" Elijah exclaimed. Elmtore quickly grabbed Elijah's end of the branch and helped him pull.
"Okay, one, two, three... PULL!" The two Neopets pulled as hard as they could. A loud gasp sounded and Kay landed on the edge of the pool, with his left foot still dangling above the water.
"Ew, what is that?" Elmtore pointed at Kay's foot. A green slimy hand was coming out of the water, grabbing for Kay's ankle. Kay quickly put his foot on the ground, causing the slimy hand to miss it by just a second. A weird muffled scream sounded when the hand got back under water.
"Wow, that was crazy," Elmtore said, visibly in shock. "Are you okay, Kay?"
Her brother nodded. "Just a little wet, is all."
When the three Neopets walked back to the vacation house, the day had already started.
"I can't wait to get out of here," Elijah said. "I hope Uncle Noyrico will arrive soon, he won't believe what happened."
Their uncle arrived short after. He found it a bit weird that his niece and nephews wanted to leave immediately. It was a rather nice vacation house, was it not? He immediately excused himself for being so late. There had been a lot of trouble on the road.
During their journey to Neovia the young Neopets decided to tell their uncle about all the weird things they had experienced the past days.
The riding Uni, who couldn't help but accidentally overhear some of the conversation, suddenly said: "Wait, you mean that old vacation house uphill? The one with the pool? Folk used to say that it was owned by this family from town. They had a little son, a peculiar kid. They ended up locking him away in the asylum. He kept insisting that the pool was inhabited by a monster. But I wouldn't believe that kind of talk; folk around here have their way with making things up, you know."