It happened after they moved house.
Of course, Alice didn’t notice it at first – she had too much on her mind, such as where the new Bamboo Chairs would go, where should Crystal’s bed be, and all things like that.
It happened so subtly and silently.
Alice was a newbie to Neopia. Crystal had been adopted from the pound as Alice couldn’t be bothered to make one.
Alice fed Crystal, tried to play with her, and tucked her into bed every night.
But there was no love between the two.
Alice was out all day, trying to earn more Neopoints and win more trophies, while Crystal kept to her room.
The house was situated on Mystery Island. It stood near the sea, and was rather old and ancient. Alice had bought it as she liked the view of the sea and its rustic charm.
They had only lived there for a month, and every day Crystal explored the house. There was so much to see in houses like those – old doors to rooms, secret attics, cellars and the like.
It was on one of these trips that Crystal found the playroom.
She had been exploring again but her mind wasn’t on it. She had been thinking about her owner. Her owner had created her and walked away. All she could remember about her owner was that she was a young girl with long mahogany hair and pale – what was the color again? Oh, yes, silver eyes.
Crystal didn’t see where she was going. She was walking absent-mindedly, when suddenly she found herself at a door.
The door was made of rosewood, outlined with a shimmery silver. Crystal stared at it for a moment. She opened the door quickly and slipped inside.
There was a small window and sunlight streamed through it. Desks and chairs were piled up on one side next to a wooden cupboard. Crystal smelled the crisp oak smell and reveled in it.
Silently she shut the door.
“Crystal! Dinner!” Alice called.
There was no answer.
Alice sighed. Where could Crystal be? Lately she had been so distant. Crystal was very silent – a result of her past – but she had seemed to be drifting away...
Crystal had wandered the streets of Neopia for a year after being abandoned by her owner. When Alice had found her in the pound, she didn’t speak at all, and was mostly silent.
Alice searched for Crystal. Then she heard the voices.
Crystal was humming to herself as she stepped out of the room. Alice glared at her.
“Where have you been?”
Crystal didn’t respond. Alice sighed and headed down the stairs. “Dinnertime.”
Crystal started to follow, but she paused and turned back. “I’ll be back,” she promised.
“Who were you talking to just now?” Alice asked as they ate their dinner.
Crystal ‘mmmed’ in reply and continued chewing.
Alice gave up and ate the meal in stony silence.
When they had finished, Alice watched as Crystal flitted swiftly up the stairs and disappeared into the same room. Alice sighed and shook her head before going to bed.
The next day, it was raining.
Crystal – a faerie Uni – had shut herself in the room. When she came out, Alice had never seen her looking so happy or delighted.
“How was your day?” Alice asked.
“Brilliant! I made a new friend, and they taught me a lovely game!” Crystal beamed at her.
“Oh, really?” Alice replied cautiously. “What’s the game?”
“Neopian Cards!” Crystal’s face was lit up. “It’s really fun.”
“That’s sounds interesting.” Alice nodded.
“It is.” Crystal yawned. “I’m tired.”
That night, when Alice tucked Crystal in, Crystal beamed her sunny, wide-toothed smile at her. “Goodnight, Alice!” she chirped.
Alice smiled. “Goodnight, Crystal.”
Once outside, Alice thought for a while. Clearly, Crystal had felt lonely and decided to create imaginary friends of her own. But how could she have learnt how to play Neopian Cards? There weren’t many books in the house...
As the weeks passed by, Alice noticed a definite change in Crystal. The once silent and moody Uni had become bubbly and cheerful. She spoke in an older tongue and played lots of new games. Crystal became more animated and talkative. She told Alice so much about her friends that her ‘friends’ were beginning to seem real to Alice.
There were seven ‘friends’, Crystal had said. All of them were female. Apparently, they varied in species – Peophin, Xweetok, Uni and etc. At first, Crystal said, they were too shy to show themselves to her, but now they were very willing to reveal themselves and play with her. Alice wasn’t sure whether her story was true or not. The line between imagination and reality had become very blurred.
Sometimes, when Alice was in the room, she heard a slight rustle, or felt the faint outline of someone brushing beside her. She would often hear tiny, secret whispers in the room before she came in, but the whispers would stop and all was silent.
It had been three months.
As Alice hurried to the Neopian Bazaar to get more food, she bumped into her neighbor.
“Hi, Holly!” Alice chirped.
Holly smiled at Alice. Holly had pale blond hair and vivid green eyes. “You look tired, Alice,” Holly noted.
Alice frowned. “It’s Crystal.”
“What about Crystal?” Holly asked, curious.
Alice bit her lip. “Ummm.... It’s just that she’s been creating imaginary ‘friends’. It kind of freaks me out,” she confessed.
“Really?” Holly’s eyes were wide with surprise. “How is she affected?”
“Fine.” Alice tried to sound enthusiastic. “She talks a lot more and is more cheerful.”
“Then what is there to worry about?” Holly snorted.
Alice hesitated. “Her ‘friends’ are becoming real to me.”
“Real?” Holly exclaimed.
“Yes.” Alice sighed. “Sometimes I hear little whispers. I don’t know what’s happening.”
Holly looked thoughtful. “Why don’t I come over and see how Crystal is?” she suggested. Alice nodded.
The next day, Holly visited them. After talking to Crystal, Holly spoke to Alice.
“I think that those ‘friends’ of her are real after all,” Holly said.
“What?” Alice asked, shocked.
“You see, seven Neopets perished in a fire in that very room. Perhaps, they have come to befriend Crystal as she is very lonely.”
Alice was startled. “I don’t believe in ghosts!” she protested.
“Believe it or not.” Holly shrugged. “I gather she can see the spiritual world better than us.”
“Is it harmful?”
“No, these friends are like angels. However, Crystal is developing an unusual ability to see supernatural things. It’s not healthy. Some of these things are harmful.”
“What should I do?”
“Send Crystal to school. If she interacts with other Neopets, she’ll lose that unusual ability.”
Alice nodded. “Thank you, Holly!” she called as Holly hurried away.
“Crystal, honey, would you like to go to school?” Alice asked gently.
It was nighttime and Crystal was in bed. “No.” She shook her head.
“But Crystal, school is fun! You’ll get to make friends!” Alice smiled.
“But I already have friends,” Crystal whined.
Alice paused. “You should have friends that are like you.”
“Can my friends come with me to school?” Crystal’s eyes were big and hopeful.
Alice shook her head. “No, honey. They’ll feel foolish as they are so big.”
“I understand.” Crystal buried her head in the pillow. “Night.”
Alice stroked her gently. A tear dripped from Crystal’s eye. Alice learned from her Neopet that you don’t have to be awake to cry.
A week later, Crystal started school. Alice watched her go before going into the playroom.
She could feel the light touch of tiny paws on her skin. She closed her eyes. There were little, secret giggles all around her.
“Neopets!” she whispered. “I’m only a lonely girl. You’ll watch over Crystal, won’t you?”
Alice felt something caress her. She spun around, opening her eyes, but the time had not come for her to see yet. She saw only the dappled, faint sunlight and the wooden furniture. And she saw too, for the first time, the flash of a fur, glinting in the sun.