Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 193,961,411 Issue: 727 | 8th day of Eating, Y18
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The Ghosts of Roo Island: Part One


by phoenix_through_fire

--------

      I had been visiting my aunt in hospital for three days, before the red Kougra had grabbed me by the arm, and pulled me towards her to whisper: “Illanari, there's a ghost in here."

      Except she said it with more panic in her voice than that, obviously. I don't think that's the kind of thing you say without a bit of urgency. Has anyone been pleased to see a ghost, other than other ghosts? I'm not sure. Maybe Edna, maybe she needs their ectoplasm or whatever its called.

      But this exceedingly average Kougra - I don't mean that as an insult, by the way, she just really is unremarkable - was not the kind of pet to be cheerful about seeing the undead.

      At first, I wondered if it was the medicine they were giving her, before I remembered that she was only in hospital to get the cast taken off her broken leg. They had only kept her in for the physiotherapy, since she'd been on a crutch for a while, and apparently the muscle deteriorates quicker than you'd think in a species like Kougras.

      So, it was definitely not medicine-related hallucinations…which meant that it was either a massive hoax, or my aunt was somehow seeing ghosts, things that definitely, most certainly, did not exist outside of the Haunted Woods.

      "What do you mean, there's a 'ghost'?" I asked her, concerned she might be losing her mind.

      She huffed, and repeated herself. I shook my head, and tried to hold back a snort of derision. After lots of practice, I was very good at snorting derisively - I could rival Unis - but I didn't want to offend my poor aunt.

      "There aren't any ghosts outside of the Haunted Woods, Aunt Keefa," I told her, and gently unclasped her paw from my arm. I was a bit scared of those monster Kougra claws, if I was honest, digging into my own soft Kougra wood. My Woodland bark scarred easily, and I didn’t need any more marks on me.

      "No - no, this didn't look like a Haunted Wood ghost," she said, and shook her head vehemently.

      Oh Fyora. Ghosts that didn't look like ghosts, all that I needed. It suddenly dawned on me why she'd invited me here in the first place.

      "Did you bring me here to --" I hesitated. If there is one thing you should never do, it's ask a leading question. "Why did you bring me here?"

      Here, being the nicest hospital that money could buy, thanks to my aunt hitting it big in Grarrl Keno some years back. It was on Roo Island, a kind of hideaway from the real world, and totally isolated. It was where she and my mother had grown up, and she’d moved back some years ago.

      It had taken me three Eyrie taxis and a boat to get to the darn place. And the boat ride had to be haggled with Krawk Islanders, who are not known for making good bargains. I had received the letter of summons about a week back.

      Okay, maybe 'summons' is a bit strong a word. I had received some scrawled letter on the back of a Roo Island postcard that told me that my aunt was dying to seeing me while she recovered, and could I bring lots of interesting books to elevate the boredom she was dealing with. Both were done to the best of my abilities, really, and I came with 6 books, including the enchanting Ixi Glade by Cuthgelert Merritime.

      "Oh, but Nari, don't look so affronted!" she suddenly cried, causing a nurse in the hallway to look through the doorway suspiciously. My aunt always did have a penchant for the dramatic. "Who else could I trust with such a difficult and possibly sticky task?"

      I grumbled. Admittedly, there had been the time I’d banished ghosts at our family friend’s house. Marty had been ever so grateful, insisting that he would bake me a cake next time I came to visit. And the next time I did, I found his dining table groaning under the weight of maybe twenty kilos of cupcakes and icing. I had fallen asleep on his sofa for about two hours after scoffing a good portion of it - just to be polite, you know?

      But Marty had lived not far from Eliv Thade’s castle, and that guy was always attracted ghosts. It was about all the strange Kacheek could attract.

      And, to be fair, I had always had an interest in ghosts as a child. I had begged my mother, Keefa’s sister, to take me to the Game Graveyard many a time, equipped with a wrapping paper tube and an imitation of Cylara’s Phaser that I’d gotten for Christmas. I think the tube was meant to be for trapping the ghosts, but sadly, I hadn’t thought about the fact a tube, traditionally, has two holes, and every ghost I miraculously lured in, escaped through the other end. I was a bright child, alright.

      “Keefa, I have no idea what to do about getting rid of ghosts,” I said. “You should’ve asked Uncle Brian, a big imposing Grarrl like that would’ve been sure to scare them out.”

      Keefa gave a short bark of a laugh.

      “Brian? Pfft, he’s scared of every little Buzzer that finds its way into the back garden, and every time he hears something in our Neohome, he gets me to go and investigate,” she said, laughing her way through it. There was definite affection in her words. “No, Brian isn’t good for things that go bump in the night.”

      “And what, exactly, makes you think I am?”

      “Well, I know what you did for Marty, so I thought you were the best pet for the job,” she said, her paw finding mine. She squeezed tightly. “Oh, won’t you just check it out for me?”

      I grumbled again. I might have even gone as far as whinging. But I knew I was always going to give in when she gave me those Puppyblew eyes.

      “Okay, I guess,” I said with a sigh. “Will I be allowed in after hours?”

      Keefa laughed. “No, deary, these nurses have me under lock and key. But I’ll leave my window unlatched and you can wriggle in at around midnight. That’s when the nurses change shifts, so they’ll definitely not be anyone around then.”

      I raised an eyebrow. “And how exactly am I meant to just wriggle through the window on the third floor?”

      “Why, Nari, did you not bring a ladder with you? No? Well, then you better find one and be snappy about it!”

      Typical Aunt Keefa. You give an inch, she takes a mile.

***

      I spent the rest of the day traipsing around Roo Island asking everyone and their petpet for a ladder. No dice.

      Finally, I made my way up to some friendly - well, sort of anyway - pets who working on building a new Neohome. I lent against the “NO UNAUTHORISED PERSONNEL BEYOND THIS POINT” sign, and gave my best, dazzling, Beauty Contest-ready smile.

      “Hey, what are you guys building?”

      A Kacheek with a hardhat on looked up from the bricks he was stacking and eyed me critically.

      “What’s it to you?” he asked. A few of his equally pleasant co-workers turned and practically snarled at me, but I figure that was their way of saying hello.

      “I just heard the building job market was looking good for Roo Island at the moment —“

      “Oh yeah,” a spotted Skeith piped up. “It’s all those rich Neopian Centrals who have decided to build a holiday home out here. Making this a ghost town during winter, when they’ve all moved to the Lost Desert, but what can you do?”

      “Really?” I said, making sure to put extra astonishment in to my face. I was just short of swooning from faux shock. “And they’ve got you working out here in the Month of Swimming heat, on a house that some snob is only going to be living in for a couple of months of the year?”

      “I know, what a load of dung, hey!” a Uni said from the back, obviously enjoying the interest. “You know how long our lunch breaks are, on top of that?”

      “No, and I couldn’t possibly guess!”

      “Twenty minutes!” the Uni said. “It’s outrageous, that’s hardly enough time to scoff a sandwich!”

      I struggled not to raise an eyebrow, but contented myself with wondering how small the bites the Uni must be taking for it take longer than twenty minutes to eat a sandwich. Or perhaps it was just that he liked really, really big sandwiches. I’m quite sure I could eat the whole Giant Omelette in twenty minutes, if that pesky Lupe who guards it wouldn’t get in the way.

      “That is outrageous,” I said, nay, positively exclaimed. “When you’re putting a roof over their heads, no less! You think they’d have more respect, wouldn’t you?”

      All three of them, the Kacheek, Skeith and Uni, started to nod their heads vigorously. I’m sure it was the hardest work they’d done all day.

      “You know, I’m looking to build a Neohome soon,” I said. I looked up at the Neohome. “But it won’t be until the Month of Gathering, when the weather has cooled down some - I’m not a monster who would make my builders spend time in the burning sun!”

      “Good on ya, too,” the Kacheek said, clearly having warmed to me. Good.

      “I was thinking, it’d be nice to settle down in a place like this, and the thought of someone only spending a few months on such a lovely Island is absolutely shocking.”

      “So you do agree,” the Skeith said. “You should tell that to King Roo. And maybe hire us hard working chaps for your Neohome.”

      “Why of course - now I’ve seen what fantastic work you’re doing on this place? I know I’d never get such quality work out of anyone else! Do any of you have a business card?”

      The Kacheek, who I could only presume was running the joint, pulled a white piece of card out of his pocket. The card was a little bent, the corners worn like it’d be in his pocket for some time, but I stepped forward and took it gracefully.

      “Joel Building Limited?” I said, looking back up at them. “So which one of you is Joel?”

      “I’m Bogart, the Skeith is Leo, and he’s Waugh,” said the Kacheek. “Joel ain’t none of us, that’s the management, who aren’t around today."

      “Well, now, the management aren’t around?” Thank goodness. I would have struggled with any management who didn’t take kindly to very slightly bending rules. I curled my tail into my hands, and made my big, innocent 'I’m just a young Kougra, I don’t know what I’m doing' face. “You know, I’ve gotten myself into some awful trouble as late, and I know such hard working, industrious individuals such as yourself might be able to help me out.”

      Bogart raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah, and what trouble is that?”

      I was doing everything in my power to stop myself from batting my eyelids. I felt like that would push the act over the edge.

      “Well, I was helping my poor, defenceless aunt out on the island - that’s why I’m here after all,” I said, keeping my voice sugary sweet. “And wouldn’t you know, she had a bad fall and ended up in hospital with a broken leg. It was awful!”

      “Oh, you poor thing,” Leo, the Skeith, said. He was softening, meaning it was time to strike.

      “I know, I was distraught over the whole thing, spent days crying hoping she’d be okay,” I said, furrowing my brow. “But then she asked me to do something - and when my lovely aunt, laid up in bed like, asks me something, I’m too good a niece to say no!”

      “That is a good niece,” the Kacheek said. He was coming round too, it seemed. “Where did you come from to look after her?”

      “All the way from Mystery Island, and I had to take two different boats because the first one ripped me off! I had no idea those pirates could be so horrible, but there’s me, naive, thinking there were good people left in the world…”

      I knew when to trail off. It’s quite the art, let me tell you. There were a couple of beats, but then Leo picked up the loose thread of conversation.

      “A little thing like you, thinking a thing like that! Of course there are good people,” he said. “Look at you, you’ve been admiring our handy work, and you’re going to build your house when it’s best for the workers. That’s nice! We’re nice, too, aren’t we boys?”

      The Uni nodded enthusiastically, while Bogart mumbled something. Obviously not as soft as I thought, that Kacheek, but I hoped that with majority rule, I’d win out.

      “Oh, that’s so good to hear, especially in a distressing time like this,” I said. “But you say I’m nice, but I can’t even do this favour my aunt asked!”

      “And what favour was that?” Waugh, the Uni, asked.

      “Some shingles went and fell off her roof this week, this week of all weeks! And you know where they fell off?” Beat. “Right over her bed! And now it seems some Jermites have eaten through the installation, and there’s a hole right where her head is. Now, instead of resting, there’s always leaves flying in, all the bugs the summer brings, and next week there’s meant to be rain!”

      “Do you need us to help you re-shingle it?” Waugh said, his head nodding wildly at my story, so I knew he was caught up in it. Too far, though, possibly.

      “Hey now, I feel sorry for you and all,” Bogart said, not-so-subtly giving his Uni colleague a kick. “But we ain’t gonna do work for free.”

      “Oh, I couldn’t possibly ask that anyway,” I said. “But it’s okay - my father taught me to re-shingle a roof, since he was a builder too. That’s how I knew I could trust you not to advantage of the situation. But I spent all last night in her shed, and do you know what the funniest thing was?”

      They frowned, and shook their heads.

      “She just doesn’t have a ladder, and how am I meant to get up on that roof without a tall and stable looking ladder, like the one you’ve got over there?”

      Ten minutes later, I walked out of there, ladder under my arm, and waving cheerfully to my new found friends. The Kacheek didn’t look quite as pleased as the other two, but that didn’t matter now. They’d get their ladder back in the morning. If I remembered, anyway.

      For now, it was time to get some ghost busting equipment - whatever that might entail - and wait for midnight.

      To be continued…

 
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