Haunted Woods Hero: Part Five
Varicose scaled the slippery grey cobblestone stone steps of Hubrid Nox Castle, each one half his size in thickness, as lightning clapped overhead. As he looked back, he could see the entire Haunted Fairground laid out before him like raised map.
He stared up at the bronze knockers and gulped, reluctant to bang them and alert whoever was inside that he had finally arrived. Even the mootix ball shivered, sending a vibrating sensation down Varicose's already trembling arms.
He reached up, with his free arm, and banged on the knockers three times before cowering back before the pointed oak door. Silence followed, then light footsteps came closer, followed by a quiet hiss likened to a busted Neocola can.
Sssidney opened the door and stared down at him with a wicked smile, causing Varicose to take a few steps backward. He said, "I wassss wondering when you would come. We've been waiting."
"Please, Sssidney," Varicose said, with pleading and quivering eyes that quickly watered, "I don’t want any trouble. I just want Hugo back so we can go home."
"Of Courssse..." Sssidney hissed, gesturing his arm behind him, "he's right insssside..."
"Really?" Varicose said, widening his glistening red eyes, "You'll let him go?"
"Ccccertainly," Sssidney said, "Come in."
Varicose eased his way past Sidney into the round entry hall, faced only with a winding staircase going in both directions and two glowing doors. Hugo was nowhere to be found. "Where is he?" Varicose asked, looking up at Sssidney, who clasped his hands in delight.
"Where, indeed," Sssidney said, "He's waiting for you. Right behind one of those two doors."
Varicose gulped again. He said, "I don't suppose you'll tell me which."
"Where'sss the fun in that?" Ssssidney said, "Just choossse one door, and only one. If Hugo isss in there, you are both free to go. Understood?"
Varicose darted his eyes between the two doors, the right glowing a noxious green and the other, radiating a fine yellow like the sun. The mootix scurried out and down his arm, then darted for the left door.
Ssssidey snatched him up, then dangled him in front of Varicose's face. "Ah ah ah," he said, hissing, "No peeking allowed."
"Give him back," Varicose said.
"After," Sssidney replied, frowning, "you find him. I cannot abide....cheating."
There was no way for Varicose to know which door his friend was waiting behind. It was all based on pure luck. Worried that Ssssidney may accuse him of cheating and change their terms, since his Mootix first headed for the left door, Varicose eyed the green one.
"That one," he said, gulping dryly, "The g-green one."
"Isss that your choiccce?" Ssssidney asked.
Varicose didn't answer at first, and simply stared. This was alright with Ssssidney, since he wasn't in too much of a hurry. Varicose raised his chin and sighed, "What are you going to do? If it's not him?"
"Huh," Ssssidney said, "I guess I hadn't thought of that part yet. Perhapssss after you lose, it'll come to me. I doubt it would end favorably for you, though. Now, I will ask one more time. Isss this your door?"
"It is," Varicose said, freezing his glare on it. He expected it to open on that command, but it neither moved by itself nor did Ssssidney take a step towards it. A minute passed in silence before he spoke again, "What's the matter? Was I wrong?"
"I don't know," Ssssidney says, "Perhapsss you should go find out."
Varicose sighed, then gulped again. He walked up to the door, nearly blinded by the green light equivalent to a dozen Glowing-painted Neopets, and pulled on the vertical steel latch. It was stuck, as if it were locked. "I can't open the door," Varicose wailed back to Sssidney. He pounced up and down, trying to see past the open spaces in the woodwork above him, but he was too small and the glow was far too bright.
"That'ssss unfortunate," Ssssidney said.
Varicose looked back at him, curling his brows, "Ssssidney! What do I do?!"
"What can you do?" He said, shurring with a smile, "It's locked."
"Do you have a key?"
"Why didn't you tell me?!" Varicose said, letting bitter tears stream down his cheeks as they wet his yellow fabric.
"You never asked," Ssssidney said, raising a crooked finger at him.
Varicose looked up at the door, sinking his somber face further as they seconds went by, then he plopped on the ground before it. "OUCH!" Varicose said, jumping back up. Something sharp stung him in the leg! He reached down and pulled out the mysterious key, the same one Eliv Thade gave him earlier that day...or was it night? You could never tell with the Haunted Woods.
"Ssssay!" Ssssidney said, "Wherever did you get that?"
Varicose didn't answer him, or smile in triumph. He wasn't even sure this key led to Hubrid's door, not until he could try it. He reached up and dipped the key into the keyhole, all the while squinting his eyes completely shut. He grimaced, then squirmed, until he heard a resounding click come from the lock. It worked! The door cracked, letting a hint of cool air from that room breeze onto his pleased face.
Varicose, much to Ssssidney's surprise, took about a dozen steps back. With all his might, Varicose charged at the door, shouting with a wild battle cry as he rammed it open. Then, amidst the green glow, he disappeared from Ssssidney's view.
"Vari-Vari..." Sssidney said, unsure of this unexpected turn of events, "Where did you go?!!"
Only silence answered him as he crept towards the door. He peeked in, half bent over with folded hands, as he barely made out the edges of Poogle silhouettes. Finally, Varicose and Hugo emerged, wearing victorious smiles as they glanced at each other.
Varicose gave him a tight hug. "Oh, I missed you! You wouldn't believe it! I went all over the Haunted Woods looking for you and-" Varicose paused, then looked up at Sssidney as he dropped his glorious sharp-toothed grin, "I wouldn't have gone through any of this if it wasn't for you. You took my friend, then you made me worried sick and leap through hoops and bounds to find him. Why?! Why did you take him from me?"
Hugo touched his shoulder, hoping to calm him down.
Ssssidney wrung him hands and chuckled nervously. "I guessss since I ran out of Sssscratchcards, I've had nothing to do. I've been so lonely...ssso I thought it wassss time for a new game."
Varicose shook his head, then whimpered. "This wasn't a game, and it wasn't fun. Not for us," he said, "Can’t you do something else, that doesn't scare other Neopets? I mean, less than you need to when you're in the Haunted Woods."
Hugo gently pulled Varicose back. "It's okay," Hugo said.
"No, it isn't," Varicose said, "Look what he did!"
Hugo gave him a gentle smile and looked up at Ssssidney, who continued wringing his thin sticky hands. Hugo nudged his head into the direction of the Glowing Wagon, still filled with NC Mall Capsules. Hugo said, "You know what might be fun? You can go trade those in for whatever you like, then you'll have plenty to do around here. Everyone's doing that in Neopia these days, even us on occasion."
"You're," Ssssidney said, "giving them...to me?"
Hugo nodded, grinning widely. "Certainly," Hugo said, "After all, we can always get more. But, only if you agree to never do this to another Neopet again."
"Alright," Sssidney said, bending down to hug Hugo, "I asssure you...I won't ever do it again."
"May we go?" Varicose said, looking back and forth between Sssindey and Hugo, "This place makes me feel...squeamish."
Hugo giggled, then bumped his shoulder with amusement. "Of course," Hugo said, "Let's get out of there."
Varicose gave Hugo a wayward glance. "I wanted to ask," Varicose said, "How did you do that? He took you away and locked you in there, yet you have emerged so...upbeat. Then you gave away all that stuff. It just doesn't make any sense to me."
"It wasn't so bad," Hugo said, lowering his head as he kicked the dust outside, "When you really look at it, all he made me do was walk around with him. I listened to stories about how his Ssscratchcards started, the friends he made on the way, and how they eventually disappeared, leaving him alone to wander the Haunted Woods night after night. I felt so sorry for him, you know?"
"Yes, even after the incident at Nox Castle," Hugo said, "and he didn't lock me in there."
Varicose stopped. He said, widening his eyes, "What?!"
"He didn't!" We were walking around and I got really curious, because that glow smelled like fresh Neggs. It wasn't even locked at the time! While he was turned around, getting a feel for this place, I walked inside. By the time I was in, all I saw was an empty room filled with green smoke and the next thing I knew, the door slammed on me and locked itself. He didn't have a key, so instead he assured me that he knew you weren't far behind, and talked to me while we waited for you to arrive."
"But I asked him," he said, "What would he do if I chose the wrong door?"
Hugo raised his eyes, then furrowed his brows. "What did he say?"
"He...he didn't know. I don’t think we'll ever find out what would've happened if I made the wrong choice."
"Well, he did say he was playing a game, even for a bad one," Hugo said, "I think he was just desperate to keep the thrill of it going."
"Imagine if you didn't have that key you saved me with? We should at least be glad for that," Hugo said, "Where'd you get it, anyway?"
Varicose nudged Hugo's shoulder as they walked toward past the eerily silent and destitute Carnival of Terror, "You might say it came from a new friend," he said.
"Friend?" Hugo smiled, "Does this mean you're gonna come back to see him?"
"Well, something like that," Varicose said, "I used to be so afraid of this place, but now, it's not so bad."
"See? Told ya," Hugo said, "Didn't I tell you?"
"Yeah, yeah," Varicose said, laughing into the night, "Don't rub it in. Do you smell cream pie?"
"Yeah," Hugo said, "That's odd."
The snaps and cracks of branches broke the quiet, building up from a worn down tent, causing Varicose and Hugo to freeze in their steps. An icy chill ran down their spines as they dropped their mouths and looked back.
To be continued…