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A Story of Spooks and Courage


by saqo

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If you had asked me just a week ago, I would not have said my favourite season was Halloween. In fact, I may have just run away from you or covered my face with my hands, in fear!

     You see, my whole life I have been so very scared of everything... well, scary. I avoided The Haunted Woods. I never carved a pumpkin. I slept with a lamp on most nights. I even crossed the street to avoid Halloween Neopets when I saw them coming.

     But one day, about a week ago, I had an experience that I will never forget. And it changed my view of Halloween.

     ---

     "Not again," I huffed, picking up some oranges from the ground. My heavy shopping bag had split after I left Neopia Central, leaving me chasing after the fruit I had purchased. Sure, Halloween was coming, but oranges were the closest I would get to anything looking even remotely like pumpkins!

     I looked up and cowered slightly. Cardboard witches and ghosts hung in storefront windows. Glowing plastic jack-o-lantern lights were strung between lamp posts. Fake cobwebs stretched between and along doorways.

     Why did people enjoy this season? It was so scary!

     I gathered my bags together and made my way for Kiko Lake, where my Neohome stood. My comfortable, peaceful, non-spooky Neohome.

     But the thing is, this night was much darker than usual. As I walked my usual path, clouds snaked their way across the sky and covered the moon. Suddenly, I found myself at a crossroads that I didn’t remember being there before. I squinted into the darkness. One side of the crossroads looked more familiar, but a pure darkness stretched over it. I hadn’t remembered Kiko Lake ever looking quite so dark before. On the other side, bare tree branches reached ominously over the pathway, but a soft glow could be seen over the horizon.

     That must be the way to go, I decided, to keep in the light.

     I hugged my parcels close to my chest, and made my way toward the lit area, expecting to see the peaceful land of Kiko Lake and hear the water lapping at the lake’s edges as I approached.

     Instead, I began to hear what sounded like carnival music playing, low and just barely audible. The wind whistled through the trees, and my feet crunched over dry leaves littering the forest pathway. A row of buildings finally came into view. I realized, then, that the light had been from a glowing storefront. In… The Haunted Woods.

     I stopped in my path, not sure how to proceed. Did I dare try to make my way back along the winding pathway? Perhaps I was more lost than I originally thought. Surely it would be best to make my way through The Haunted Woods to come out at the side that bordered Kiko Lake?

     Determined, I pushed onward as the whirling sound from the wind through the bare, creeping trees continued above and around me. The building-lined street was quiet, almost fully dark, except for one building with gently glowing windows down about fifty feet and to my right. I set my sights on there. Surely, I could get some directions from someone inside.

     As I walked, the wind picked up and started to howl even louder. Dead leaves swirled around my feet, and I had to hug my bags tighter as I pushed my way to the windows. I reached, with much effort, toward the door handle of the shop and pushed my way inside. Due to the change in air flow, I almost felt like I had been pulled inside as the door opened. Or at least, I hoped it was due to the airflow…

     I stopped then, and pushed my fur out of my eyes, huffing a bit, and taking in my surroundings. The shop was quiet and empty of Neopets, but the walls were lined with colourful bottles lit only by several lamps placed around the large, square room. Smoke rose lazily from a cauldron in the corner opposite from where I stood. The room smelt of cinnamon, pumpkin, and something I could not quite place that came from the boiling liquid. Licorice, perhaps?

     Suddenly, I jumped as another Neopet entered from a dark doorway to my left.

     “Oh, dear, I’m sorry!” The Halloween Usul said, scuttling across the room to put a lid on the cauldron and turn off the heat. “I didn’t expect to have any more guests this evening. You see, a storm is coming, and tomorrow is Halloween, so most Haunted Woods inhabitants are hunkering down to prepare for the day’s festivities.”

     “Tomorrow…” I said, trailing off. Had Halloween approached so fast? Trying to ignore the holiday, I suppose I had not realized it was so close. I shuddered gently.

     “Ah…” The Usul said, grinning slightly at my reaction. “You are not a fan of Halloween?”

     Keeping in mind where I was, and the fact that the Neopet across from me was indeed painted Halloween, I said gently: “Well, you see, it’s not so much that I am not a fan. But, I am a little spooked by everything about Halloween… I’m scared of many things outside of my peaceful, welcoming Neohome. But Halloween I suppose is the scariest of all.”

     “I see!” The Usul said, reaching for the cauldron again. “I might be able to help.”

     “Sorry?” I asked, confused.

     “I’m an apothecary. The best in The Haunted Woods, some Neopets say. I can help you cure Sneezles, get your fur the cleanest it’s been, and help you feel confident enough to enter the Pet Spotlight… but I can also help you cure your greatest fears.”

     I narrowed my eyes. Coming from Kiko Lake, where my life was connected to things I could see and feel, like nature, water, and sunlight, I didn’t know what to make of this Usul’s claims.

     However, the shopkeeper grabbed a ceramic glass, weathered from time, and dished out a small amount of the bubbling concoction with a ladle. The smell of liquorice and cinnamon hit my nose. “I’m not sure—”

     “You can trust me,” the Usul said, grinning. “You see, many Neopets have a view of those of us in The Haunted Woods as scary, untrustworthy, or sneaky, but we are an honest and loyal lot. My shop has been here since the land was founded, and we pride ourselves on helping Neopets. To try to change views of The Haunted Woods, and just to support Neopia,” the Usul finished.

     The shopkeeper took a few steps toward me and with tiny red paws, reached out to pass me the glass.

     I took it. The glass was heavy, and the liquid inside was smooth, dark, and shiny, like liquid stars. I glanced up again. If this could cure my fears, perhaps it was worth it to take a chance. As I took another moment to consider, the lamps in the shop seemed to cast an even warmer and comforting glow over my fur. Feeling calm and serene, I raised the glass to my mouth and drank the liquid. It was light and smooth.

     The Usul smiled, watching me closely. I looked down, as a warm, sparkling glow spread from my feet up to my paws, and through my face and hair. I shook myself, blinking my eyes a few times.

     “Do you feel different?” The Usul asked.

     I took a moment and then looked out the window. Suddenly, the reaching, crawling, bare tree branches did not instil fear in my heart. The jack-o-lantern outside the door of the shop across the street did not cause me to cower. I felt calm, confident, at peace, and even curious.

     “I feel wonderful,” I said, surprising myself, and handing the glass back to the Usul.

     “That’s the magic of my potion!” The Usul said, ushering me outside the door. “The storm will not scare you now, and neither will Halloween. The rest of your life is waiting for you. Go and enjoy!”

     ---

     That was just about a week ago. I spent Halloween trick-or-treating if you can believe it! I dressed as a Dark Faerie and had fun with Neopet friends, attending a party, bobbing for apples, and telling ghost stories from the Neopia of old. The darkness did not scare me. Halloween decorations did not cause me to cower away. Ghost stories became fun, not something to cause me nightmares. Because of the Usul’s help, my view on The Haunted Woods changed, and on Halloween!

     Now, I have courage. I look at Halloween and the spooky season differently now, and I can’t wait for next year to experience it all again!

     The End.

 
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