Home Is Where The Heart Beats Quick
The Haunted Woods is the kind of place you grow up hearing stories about.
Elders pass down tales of ghosts and friends who never returned to wide eyed children who in turn butcher it a hundred different ways whispered among friends. When he was younger, it was ingrained in him that lying was the coward’s way out, but evidently that didn’t extend to adults who didn’t want you wandering off in the dark.
Their warnings never did much in the end. Even now, he often spies on giggling kids dancing around the entrance to the woods. They poke one foot in, shrieking with laughter and immediately falling back as if The Ghost Lupe himself was going to carry them away if they spent a second more in what could barely even be considered Haunted Woods property.
Bets of who can go in farthest often follow him as he retreats back into his home, echoing deep into the woods in a way that is uniquely special to the Haunted Woods.
He never sees them past the entrance so it’s safe to say no one’s winning any of those bets. It’s better off that way, he thinks. The last thing they need is confused, frightened children lost in the woods.
There’s not a lot that he remembers of before. It’s all a blur of stares and whispering and too much sunshine. He wasn’t born here but he often wishes he were, to have more years of feeling like he’s right where he belongs.
There's a lot that goes unsaid in those stories you hear growing up.
They tell of the darkness, eternal and sometimes blinding in the most secluded areas. The chill that soaks into even the thickest fur. The noises that can be heard at all times of day and night, an echo coming from seemingly every direction no matter how far away you are from the hustle and bustle of the fairgrounds.
He’s heard the horror and loneliness and utter despair of the woods worded in every way you can think of.
It’s never once mentioned just how comforting it can all be.
As a mutant, he doesn’t have the highest opinion of the sun. To be honest, it’s his least favorite thing of all about the rest of Neopia. In the beginning, he enjoyed the way it highlighted the blue of his fur, making it sparkle like the treasures peddled in the streets of the the fairgrounds.
He doesn’t think himself distasteful to look at. Different, but handsome all the same. He’s never been delicate but it felt nice to be illuminated like something priceless.
Much of that joy is gone now, mild aggravation and the overwhelming need to groom in the shadiest corner left in its place.
There’s safety in darkness. A calm that he can’t find in a sunny day. He’s heard other pets call the woods claustrophobic but there’s nothing quite like the embrace of the trees surrounding you, like the walls of a house that separate you from the outside. Protective.
The chill is soothing. Excitement rings truer in crisp air, like the onset of Fall.
It baffles him how anyone could harbor ill feelings towards a place where the leaves on the ground always crunch satisfyingly beneath your feet, year round as if trapped in that special moment.
As for the noises, he admits he’d steered clear of the fairgrounds in his first months here. No matter how much his person assured him that the fairgrounds was home to a handful of charming characters, the abundance of noise and activity kept him away.
Chaos is not how he operates. He likes all his cards in front of him, a detailed plan and two backup plans ready to go. Things are not always so in the Haunted Woods, more so in the fairgrounds where the game is rigged and his cards are worthless.
He’s adapted these days, making his own cards when necessary. Lying may be for cowards but he’s the most clever coward in the room.
His person was not wrong about the inhabitants of the fairground either, each shadier and more colorful than the next. The stories didn’t do them justice. He recalls tales of loss, haggard pets swindling innocent tourists of their savings.
The dramatics of the stories is undeniable, painting the fairground residents as villains.
In the stories, they’d always seemed so lifeless. Ghosts and monsters who only served to steal and cheat. Experience has proven quite differently. Their eyes sparkle like his fur in the sun and he thinks it’s just as good.
They do lie and they do cheat. He won’t disguise that from what it is. The fair games are rigged. Their treasures are overpriced, some even worthless at face value. But if he’s learned anything in his years here, it’s that nothing can be taken at face value.
Everything in the woods is deep and complex. Assumptions only serve to be proved wrong by anyone with enough sense to care.
You can never truly experience somewhere as a tourist. There are always going to be parts of the woods an outsider will never experience no matter how open their mind is. Partially, he thinks that’s a shame. For the most part, he cherishes that there are some things he can keep to himself.
A hundred times he’s seen the outrage of players at the Coconut Shy booth as their balls ricochet off, coconut sitting firmly in place. Less often, the scowl of Leeroy as they manage to knock one off.
They’ll never know the impressed look and begrudged congratulations offered by the man when a local wins. He’ll never forget the blown away laugh offered so freely the time one of his brothers had managed to make the coconut explode.
He’s not happier to have lost but there’s something less hostile in his frown.
In many losses and substantial wins, the Quiggle still offers a half crooked grin in acknowledgement when Jax or his brothers pass through. For ghosts and ghouls and monsters, they make quite a community.
He’s always been strange; he knows that. What he hadn’t known for years and years is that there were others similarly strange, more yet strange in ways all their own. Normal comes in numbers. In the woods, they are all normal. Strange is the standard. The relief that comes with that realization is unexplainable.
The Haunted Woods has not always been his home but it undeniably is now, no matter how far he travels from it or how long he’s gone. There’s been a part of him deeply rooted there since the day he first step foot in the woods, nervous and unsure.
It welcomed him the way nowhere else has before.
If nothing else, he remembers the stories of his youth.
He remembers terrified pets battling through the woods, escaping by the skin of their teeth. The relief of returning home. The pity you were suppose to feel for the ones who never made it out. The ones still there to this day, undoubtedly morphed into something grotesque by the evil aura of the woods.
He thinks perhaps those storytellers never truly knew the concept of ‘home’.