The Pianist's Quandary: Part One
He awoke with a start, cold sweat running down his face
and wetting his blue fur. The light of Kreludor, shining brightly in the dark
sky, fell in through his windows and draped his room with an eerie grey light.
In the distance, he could hear a piano playing. Its song was solemn and without
cheer. Everything that Faerieland was believed not to be. It pulled at his heart,
causing a single tear to roll from his eyes and blend with the cold sweat that
already covered his fur. Reluctantly, the blue Wocky slumped back in bed and closed
his eyes, forcing the droning sonata to leave his mind so he could return to his
The first night in a new Neohome was always the
In the morning, when he dragged himself out of
bed and away from the restlessness of his dreams, he delighted himself with
a mug of Neopia's finest brewed tea and a fresh Faerie cupcake, carefully pulling
off the wing-shaped, sugary treat from the top of the cupcake and dropping it
into his mug for just the right amount of sweetness for his morning tea.
Leaving the steaming cup behind, he walked to
his door, opened it, and pulled inside the day's issue of the Neopian Times.
He flipped through the newspaper, reading the headlines and allowing himself
the treat of enjoying a few comics while he finished his breakfast before putting
down the paper and preparing for work.
A short time later, he was entering the Faerieland
Employment Agency and walking to a decrepit machine that hung on the wall. It
was attached to an old, towering clock that stood in the lobby and filled it
with loud bells every hour, on the hour. He scanned through a list of names
held in a file beside the machine until he found a card that read "MacKhoury,
Nevan" and pulled out his job ticket. Feeding it into the machine, he pulled
a lever and waited as the old gears turned, a loud, grinding noise echoing through
the Agency's lobby, until the piece of paper was able to be pulled from the
machine, a small date and number pressed into the stiff card.
Though the machine, which some called a "time
clock," was loud and bulky, it made the task of signing in each day much simpler
for regulars to the Agency and saved on the cost of quills and ink or the more-expensive
The day before, he had come to the Faerieland
Employment Agency to get acquainted with it and apply for a position. They were
so desperately in need of help that he had been hired on the spot and instantly
given his job ticket and identification card.
Now taking his stamped ticket across the lobby,
walking around a few Neopets who were simply admiring the building for its superb
architectural qualities, Nevan walked up to the front desk where a pink Shoyru
greeted him with a bright smile.
"What would you like to do today, Mr. MacKhoury?"
she asked the blue Wocky as she sifted through a pile of paperwork on her desk.
"What have you got for me to choose from?" he
answered with an excited grin.
"Well," the Shoyru said, scanning through her
piles of papers once more, "There's a Jetsam by the name of Jerard who needs
two-dozen toothbrushes and half-a-dozen tubes of toothpaste (I think he might
be a dentist), and then there's also a Cybunny who needs Slorgs removed form
her garden; it's the tenth one this week. So, which will it be?"
Nevan thought for a moment, considering the possibilities.
"I've never been fond of dentists," he said finally, "so I'll go Slorg-hunting
today." The Shoyru smiled, dipping a quill into a well of ink, writing something
upon yet another note-sized piece of paper, then copying her note to have a
copy to file, and then handed the piece of paper to Nevan.
"She wants her garden Slorg-free within fifty-seven
minutes and requests that you do not wear the color red. It seems to aggravate
these particular Slorgs, but, considering how you're wearing brown, it should
not be a problem. Her address is 17895 Meri Acres, Meridell, and she has provided
fare for round-trip service of Uni Taxi." The pink Shoyru paused in her quick-winded
speech and handed a small pouch of coins to Nevan. "That is all; have fun and
have a nice day." As she waved farewell to her departing employee, she sighed
and leaned back in her chair. The protocol at the Agency was an oral job description
lasting no more than one minute. Just now, she had consumed fifty-three seconds.
That night, Nevan returned home covered in slime
and exhaustion. By "the tenth one this week," the receptionist hadn't meant
that it had been the tenth Slorg in the Cybunny's garden that week, but that
it was the tenth garden attacked by the slime-covered, exceedingly disgusting
Slorgs that were apparently trying to conquer Meridell, a swarm that was likely
the direct byproduct of a series of storms that Meridell had recently experienced.
Nevan grabbed a quick shower and changed into
his nightclothes, relieved and relaxed as he crawled into bed. He rolled over
a few times until he got comfortable and closed his eyes. He started humming,
unconsciously singing along with the piano as he fell asleep.
In the morning, Nevan awoke and went to work,
tackling yet another Slorg-infested garden (on his trip home, after picking
up his payment from the receptionist at the Employment Agency, he considered
finding a new job, or at least changing his reputation that said he actually
enjoyed getting slimed over doing paperwork). When he finally got home, exhausted
and slimy once again, he washed up and ate a plain omelette for dinner.
That night, as he lay silently in his bed, he
heard the piano playing once again. Its melody was haunting and solemn as usual.
It seemed particularly loud on this very night, the image of Kreludor hovering
somewhere over the other side of Neopia where it could not be seen, and could
therefore shed no light upon the cloudy city of Faerieland.
Instead of merely ignoring the music, as he did
on previous nights, Nevan slid out of bed, grabbing his coat and wrapping it
around him as he left his bedroom. He could still clearly hear the piano playing
in his living room, and even in his kitchen and bathroom.
He walked to his front door, unlocking it and
turning the knob, and stepped outside. The cold night air was somehow soothing
to his fur and the sky was lit by thousands and thousands of tiny stars. Somewhere,
in the sky, the Space Faerie was flying, watching over all of them during the
Nevan walked down the street, his slippers keeping
his feet warm as he walked past each house, drawn towards the piano's music.
The music was solemn, yet so beautiful, the melody undeniably the greatest one
that he had ever heard in his lifetime. He closed his eyes, imagining a great
ball room with hundreds of party-goers dancing to the music, their movements
slow and languid, ever encompassing the somber tune.
When he opened his eyes, though, he only saw
the cold, dimly lit streets of Faerieland.
Nevan made it about a block-and-a-half down the
street before he finally stopped. He turned to his right, staring at an old,
abandoned house. No one had lived there, the rumors had said, for over a hundred
years. And yet, inside, someone was playing the piano...
He walked up the steps that led to the house's
door and knocked loudly, the knock echoing down the street in the darkness of
this moonless night in Faerieland.
Tentatively, Nevan grabbed the doorknob, the
metal cold beneath his paw, and turned it. The door came open. The air that
he smelled from inside was musty and old; inside, the house was so dark that
the Shadow Usul itself would have been terrified by its darkness.
But the piano was definitely, unmistakably coming
from inside this house.
Nevan took a deep breath and stepped into the
house, leaving footprints in the thick dust on the floor as he walked over it.
The dust, he decided after a moment, was so thick that it crunched like snow
in winter or in Happy Valley, Terror Mountain year-round. He walked through
the dark house, little amounts of light falling in through the massive windows.
Everything was dusty and covered in old, large, ancient-looking cobwebs.
The Wocky stepped into another dusty, cobweb-filled
hall and walked through it. The piano playing had gotten so much louder, and
he could hear it so much more clearly, that he knew it had to have been coming
from the next room. He walked up to the door, listening to the song behind it.
He felt the doorknob in his hand as he opened the door and entered.
Nevan gasped at what he saw, the pianist stopping
mid-note and spinning around to face him. Horror crossed her face as she stared
awe-struck at Nevan. The two Neopets shared a moment of silent wonder at the
sight that befell them both.
"Are you dead?" Nevan asked quietly, unable to
keep the words from passing by his lips.
The Neopet stared at him and blinked, but then
she said, "I think I am dead; I mean, how else does one become a ghost?" She
was, indeed, a ghost, a ghost Xweetok. She blinked again, waiting for her guest
to say something. She continued when he did not. "Do you like my piano playing?
I practice every night; I do not think I would be able to play in the daylight."
Nevan nodded, snapping himself out of his daze.
"I," he said slowly, not quite sure what to say. On the one hand, her playing
was beautiful. But on the other, it was so dark... and lonely. "I," he said
again, "really like your playing..." Nevan took a step forward, quietly asking,
"What happened, I mean, how did you die?"
"Well," she replied, "I do not know." She heaved
a long, sullen sigh. "You see, quite a long time ago, I was playing my piano
one morning. But then... I heard screaming from outside, but my father told
me not to worry about it, to continue playing my piano as I always did. Then...
there were these loud sounds, like explosions. My father told me to wait for
him, that he would only be a moment. But... he was not just a moment. I got
worried and went to the door. I opened it slowly... and peeked outside. I have
no idea what I saw that day... the next thing I knew, I was here, playing my
There was silence.
Finally, the Xweetok turned back to her piano
and whispered quietly, "I guess, simply, I died that day. But truthfully, I
have never known what happened... " She shrugged painfully. "When I saw that
I was a ghost, I just lingered here and continued to play my piano. Are not
ghosts supposed to haunt abandoned houses, or did I mess that part up?"
"No," Nevan said, shaking his head. "I suppose
ghosts are supposed to haunt abandoned houses." He took a step closer to the
Xweetok, tilting his head to see her better in the dim light. It was of no avail,
however, for at that very moment, clouds had covered the blank Neopian sky and
veiled them from the light of both Kreludor and the stars.
"Oh, good," she sighed. "Am I doing it all right?
I have never haunted anything before..."
Nevan shrugged. "I suppose you're doing it alright;
I mean, I think ghosts are supposed to be scary, but a nice ghost is a welcome
change, I suppose." He paused, considering something. "Is it... is it possible
that... that you aren't really dead, but just painted?"
Her eyes were wide, "I never thought about that.
But," she looked away, "what happens if I am really dead... how could we ever
find out for sure?" Her voice trailed off...
"I know," Nevan exclaimed, "you can see if you
can walk through walls--if you can, you're a ghost and you're dead, but if you
can't, you're alive and not a ghost."
"But I am a ghost," she said, "and even if I
am just painted and truthfully alive, I will still be a ghost." She sighed,
changing the subject to something more natural and less confusing. "My name
is Ellamara, what might yours be?"
"Oh, I'm Nevan," he answered, surprised that
they had forgotten to introduce themselves sooner. "Nevan MacKhoury."
"Nevan," Ellamara asked quietly, "do you think
you could find out if I am dead or alive?"
To be continued...