A Night in the Haunted Woods: Part Two
You look around the coffee shop. Everything is so clean and shiny and gleaming! Surely this place must have just been built, like maybe five minutes ago. Everything looks so nice - except for Arbatros. Wearing a rumpled wizard-style hat and faded traveler's clothes, he looks at you expectantly. You look behind you and notice that Melody and Barnabus are not nearby. Turning back to Arbatros, you watch as a little clod of dirt rolls out from under his collar, down his back, and breaks apart against the white tile floor. "I'm waiting. You may not want coffee, but I do,” he says, moving an empty coffee cup in a saucer so it clinks.
You manage to blurt out "But I don't work here-" before his eyes, gazing at your eyes, seem to pierce your soul and freeze your mouth. Dutifully, you hurry to get behind the counter; today, you DO work here.
Opening cabinets, you find the pots and coffee and filters, and start brewing a pot. In the back room you see new boxes with fresh doughnuts and pastries, and put some in displays for the customers. No, customer. No, customers!
It's almost like a bus dropped off its passengers, as about a dozen more Neopians of all types push through the door and sit at tables and at the counter. They all look at you, expecting your service (and soon!). You start up more coffee, deliver the first cup to Arbatros, and then move through the shop, taking orders for drinks and eats.
The light outside grows brighter and then begins to dim as the hours go by. Customers come and go, leaving small piles of Neopoints as their payment. You clean tables, trying to keep the place looking as nice as you found it. Finally, everyone has left, all except Arbatros. He still sits there, his first cup of coffee now cold in the cup. Strangely, he looks satisfied with your long day of working! He puts some Neopoints on the counter, and then turns in his seat to face the door. Suddenly in a flash, he has changed into Rayne Wonder! Sitting on her seat at the counter, her hand points down, and you see that forgotten clod of dirt that fell. But now it changes, and grows into a large mushroom!
She says, "Sprinkle some of the coffee grounds on this mushroom. It will become blackened." With that, she hops to the floor, pushes through the door, and strides off into the dark.
You hurry to get some grounds and bring them over, and sprinkle the wet slimy grounds onto the top of the mushroom. The mushroom darkens, and seems to absorb the coffee, and then the top pops off the stem and leans against it.
Amazed, you pick up the now blackened mushroom and add it to your magic bag of items.
But now what? You stand outside the brightly-lit coffee shop, wondering what to do. Just leave it, wide open with a day's Neopoints sitting in a drawer? But you don't have to wait long, as the coffee shop fades away, and the battered tent fades into view.
Your muscles ache, and you smell the coffee scent on your clothes. This wasn't all a dream, you are sure of that!
You look in the magic bag and view the items. The six items are all there, and you hear a faint hum, and see a dim shimmering around them. Suddenly uneasy, you snap the bag shut again, a little afraid to be carrying it. Where is Rayne, you wonder? You look around and notice that the deserted fairgrounds are lit with an eerie green glow. The glow is brighter at one end of the fairgrounds, strongly lighting up the lower trunk of a tree. Cautiously, you creep over to see what is there. It's Rayne!
Gathering courage, you walk faster and faster towards the green-glow tree and Rayne. You are breathing hard when you reach her, and hold out the bag to her. "I found them, everything you asked for, with your help. And others' help too!" you add, noticing Barnabus and Melody off to the side, and waving them over to join you and Rayne.
Rayne nods to the approaching pair, and asks, "So you 'found' all the items?" She takes and opens the bag and looks inside, and nods approvingly.
One by one, Rayne takes the items and places them on the green-lit ground. They seem to start shaking, more and more as the next one is placed down, all in a row. After she places the last one down, she says "Now!" With a thunderclap, the six items change into a wand, which jumps into Rayne's outstretched hand.
Rayne turns to the group. "Thank you, all of you, for your help. Now I can show you the way out of the Haunted Woods! And uncloud your memory, as I promised. But I can also offer you a different path. You can escape the Haunted Woods to a simpler time, a time before the woods were haunted." Rayne turns her wand, and raises it, and as a curtain rising, a different fairgrounds is revealed. "You can escape to the past, when, as you can see, the fairgrounds were a place of joy." The group of three look in wonder as groups of Neopets wander happily from booth to booth and ride to ride, grinning, laughing, and talking excitedly.
You look in amazement; you had no clue that the fairgrounds were once so loved! But, how long ago was this? Could you live in the past, abandoning all your friends and family? You glance down, preparing to thank Rayne, but say that all you want is the path to leave the Haunted Woods.
As you take your breath to begin, Barnabus staggers forward and sobs a single heartbreaking sorrowful sob. You and Melody both reach out to help support him. "What is it - What's wrong?" both of you hurry to say.
Barnabus drops to his knees. "I saw myself in that place! I was happy then. But not long after...everything changed." Barnabus pauses, then continues. "My parents and I were in the Fairgrounds the whole day! It was so fun. We had things to eat, we played games and rode rides, and watched acrobats and circus performers, too! And then someone gave us tickets to go to the museum." Barnabus looks around. "We all went to the museum, and I ran ahead. I ran in and looked at some of the Tyrannian, Maraquan, and Terror Mountain exhibits, and then I hid behind a large Shenkuu vase and waited. I was watching and waiting, ready to jump out and scare my parents when they came around the corner!”
He takes a breath and continues. “At first I crouched down, ready to pounce, just like a leaping Acara. But they didn't show up! I waited and waited, but they never came around the corner! After what seemed like a long time, I came out from behind the vase and started to look for them. I searched the whole museum, and outside too! I asked lots of Neopians, but no one knew anything. It got dark, and they were still nowhere that I could see! What could I do? I found our cart that we had come to the fairgrounds in. So I knew they hadn't left! I slept in the cart that night. I looked for them the next day, and the next, but didn't find them. I was able to get a job in the circus tent, so that I could stay at the Fairgrounds and keep searching for them. Weeks and months and then years went by. In time I became the leader of the rings at the circus. I finally stopped looking for them, but I never stopped wondering what happened." Barnabus looks at you. "I want to ask for your help, but I don't even dare to. But, would you? Would you help me, back in this time, find out what happened?" He looks down, then looks up with a glimmer of hope.
You look at Melody. For a second you think she might start to cry, but then her eyes turn steely. She nods at you. "We'll help you Barnabus. We'll help you fix this!" you say with a determined voice.
The trio looks at Rayne. Rayne turns the wand so the bottom of it points at the three, and then moves the bottom of the wand towards the bright happy Fairgrounds, and the three don't slide, but glide over the ground and enter the scene. You turn back, but the Haunted Woods looks much brighter now, and thinner and younger too, with some trees just mere saplings. You and Melody look at Barnabus, and help him rise to his feet.
You, Barnabus and Melody walk into the fairgrounds. "This is exactly as it was when I came here with my parents" Barnabus says.
Melody says "I don't know, but I think it would be a very bad thing to run into your younger self, Barnabus. It could change our lives." She has a sad look on her face, knowing that Barnabus wants to find out what happened, and fix it too.
Also with a look of sorrow on your face, you say "She's right, you might vanish or worse, Barnabus. Who could even guess??? Let's keep a safe distance, and be very careful."
As Barnabus, Melody and you make your way towards the museum tent, you spot Fantor! She runs into the circus tent. Melody asks "Is Fantor behind the disappearance of your parents? Let's follow your parents, Barnabus." The three take a short cut through the fairground and arrive at the circus tent.
You see a young Zafara holding a purple balloon. "Tickets please!" calls the Zafara.
The trio looks at each other. "We have to sneak in there, but how?" you ask urgently.
Melody says "Our clothes don't look like tourist clothes..."
Barnabus says "I've got it! Lost and Found!" He leads the group up behind the Lost and Found trunk, and opens it. Thr three look in the trunk, and choose and quickly put on a polka dot dress, a pair of extra large overalls, a jacket, and a pair of sunglasses. You see Barnabus' parents heading into a tent where a sign says Museum. "No, the museum is over there!" points Barnabus. He starts to walk over to tell them, but you put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. All of a sudden you spot Fantor. She follows Barnabus' parents, and puts a closed sign on the tent. You hear violin music again.
Melody whispers "It's not me this time." Hurrying to peek in the back of the tent, you see Fantor playing a violin, and Barnabus' parents in a sleep state.
The music stops. "That will hold you." Fantor says, "Your son will never find you." Your group ducks behind a large crate. Fantor leaves the tent.
Melody whispers "I think I can heal them." Speaking normally, she says "Barnabus, go wait outside the slushie booth and keep watch. We will meet you there." Barnabus takes another long look at his parents, and takes a step to go over to them, but then shakes his head and hurries out of the tent.
Melody picks up the violin and starts playing. "Come to me, my darling, let me heal your worries, we don't judge here. In the circus of dreams you can find anything." Melody looks at Barnabus' parents.
You inform her "They're waking up, keep singing!"
She continues, "La la la la la la, Let me be your guide to who you are on the inside. Let your light shine."
You both realize that the parents are awake now. "Thank you so much!" they gush. "What happened to us?"
You say, "Something evil." You look at Melody.
She adds, "Someone put you to sleep, but we don't know why. Go and find your son! He's in the museum." She looks at you, and you nod.
You say, "And, this tent isn't it! The museum entry is the next tent over. This tent was a trick." They hurry off, and you and Melody join Barnabus by the side of the slushie booth.
The three of you watch as young Barnabus and his parents, all holding hands and smiling, come out of the museum area. They hurry out of the fairgrounds. Your group follows them and see them get in their cart and leave.
Your group arrives back at the fake museum tent just in time to see a red flash from inside along with a scream of "NO!" from the tent. Then your group sees Fantor, looking angry, walking out of the tent. Her face softens, but she still looks displeased, as she walks to her right.
Barnabus asks "Why did Fantor try to keep my parents from me???"
You look at him. "You know Fantor?"
Barnabus replies, "Yes, Fantor is connected somehow with the owner of the circus. Sometimes I wonder if Fantor is the owner. She is often nearby, even with the circus in such disrepair. In the future, I mean."
Melody chimes in. "I've seen her too! I think she was the boss of that skeleton that had trapped me."
The trio thinks about the new information. You say what the others are beginning to realize. "Did Fantor - did she - take your parents so you would work for the circus?!?"
The three look at each other as they think about it. The others wait for Barnabus to speak. "I - I suppose that might be it! Did Fantor choose me specially somehow? I can't imagine how Fantor might have known that I would do well at the job."
Melody points. "Uh oh, now Fantor is following another couple and their kid."
You ask, "Is she gonna - "
Melody nods. "I think so! What can we do? If we wake those parents, she'll just find someone else...."
You add, "And maybe start looking for us, too, the ones messing things up for her. How can we stop her?"
Barnabus reaches out and touches the two on their arms. "Me. I'll take care of this."
You ask, "What do you mean? What will you do?"
Barnabus says "I'm already the best man for the job. I've been the circus master for years and years. I can be Fantor's circus leader."
Melody looks shocked. "But you would go back to her? She enslaved you, didn't she?"
Barnabus says "No, it really wasn't that bad, the job that is. What really hurt was not knowing where my parents were, and not having them." He pauses, then continues. "I don't mind the job at all. It's actually rather fun. And it'll probably be a lot more fun in this time, when the circus is so much nicer and is still popular. And - the most important thing is that Fantor doesn't do to someone else what she did to me. This will be a great way to avoid her evil deed!"
You and Melody look at each other, and back at Barnabus, and then you both nod in agreement and acceptance.
Barnabus hurries over and catches up to Fantor. He introduces himself and asks if Fantor knows of a job for an experienced circus master. Fantor smiles and welcomes Barnabus, and they walk into the circus, leaving unbothered the second family Fantor had been trailing.
You and Melody look at each other and smile. The magically powerful Fantor is appeased. Barnabus is comfortable in his job and proud of his actions, and young Barnabus is free to grow and become whatever he would become. Maybe young Barnabus will even come to the circus sometime and work for - as it turns out - himself!
You are happy that Barnabus is happy. But you are not only happy. You feel - you are not sure why, but you feel proud that he is happy, too. You shake your head; it must be this long night in the Haunted Woods that is playing with your emotions.
Melody looks at you strangely. "Are you feeling alright?" she asks, gently touching your arm.
You look at her and smile. "Just a little tired, I guess. Maybe it is from walking around with a 'clouded memory', whatever that means." You look at Melody. "What are your plans? Now that you are free from that skeleton?"
Melody thinks, looking a little lost. "Why, I hadn't even thought about it! I - I don't remember how I was captured. Or when."
You say "Let's find Rayne and ask her. Maybe she can fix this for both of us!" She nods, and you both turn to walk back into the young, not yet haunted woods to look for her.
A red thread appears on the ground leading behind a tree, where a larger red glow beckons to you. You both hurry over and find Rayne sitting behind the tree. She stands up to greet you. "You have returned! And without Barnabus, I see," she says with a wink.
Melody speaks up first. "Yes, he volunteered to work for the circus, so that Fantor wouldn't capture another family."
Rayne asks, "And what do you think about that choice, Melody?" Her eyes gleam, as if she had a secret knowledge of all this.
Melody looks at you and back at Rayne and says, "Well, I think it was a really brave thing for him to do. We saved young Barnabus, but now our Barnabus is saving another family from what happened to him, early in his life. I feel - proud of him! It's just such a great thing that he is doing. It makes me feel really special, just to know him, I guess."
Fayne raises her hands in a gentle "stop" motion. "It is time to uncloud your memories. Yes, both of your memories were clouded." Surprised, you and Melody look at each other, and then back at Rayne. Taking her wand, she turns it in two circles and then holds it out at them. "Now it begins. You will start to remember. Are your lives coming back to you?" she asks.
You say "Yes, yes - Barnabus! Barnabus is my son!!!"
With a shocked face you look at Melody. She reaches out a hand to you and says, "Our son. We were the parents who were frozen in time!"
Now hugging Melody, both with tears in your eyes, you listen as Rayne continues. "Yes, Fantor put you both to sleep, to steal your son from you to learn and work at the circus. She changed your facial features so that Barnabus wouldn't know you again, even if he did find you."
Happy to now be reunited with Melody, you beg, "But why didn't you tell us all this earlier?"
Rayne says, "For many reasons. First, would you have believed me???" You think about the experiences you have had, especially seeing for yourself that Fantor had frozen in sleep Barnabus' parents, that is, us!, and the odd sense of pride you felt watching Barnabus save others from the same fate. You and Melody share a look; Rayne is right.
Rayne adds, "If you had believed me that Barnabus is your son, would that have changed his mind about his selfless act? Would it have changed your minds about letting him do it?" Knowing their answer, Rayne continues, "And if you had known earlier, you might have tried to defeat Fantor in battle, or trap her, or punish her, or even worse. Trust me, any attempt against her would fail terribly." Again, the you both consider and agree with Rayne's words.
Looking at you, Rayne goes on. "Tonight's wild adventures began when you woke up from Fantor's sleep spell. Wanting to put you under control again, Fantor pretended to help, but actually the red thread was leading you right back into the circus tent, where poor Melody, under the skeleton's control, would have put you right back to sleep! But when she saw you, you were carrying my magic bag, a bag of power." Melody thinks back, and realizes, she did notice that bag.
You speak up. "So, what now? Where do we go, what do we do?" You look at Melody, who looks confused, too.
Rayne replies, "Do whatever you would like to! Barnabus' parents of this time have taken him back home. Don't intrude there - no one would even believe you! But you could do anything else." She pauses and then continues. "I suggest, though, that you find work here, at the circus."
Melody blurts "HERE?!?"
Rayne explains, "Here, you could be near your son, and catch up on some of life's enjoyments that Fantor's evil robbed from you. I feel you should not tell Barnabus that you are really his parents. Just be friends for a while. In time, you can tell him the truth."
You and Melody look at each other for a long time, deciding. And agreeing with Rayne's ideas. Melody smiles and says, "Rayne, you are as wise as King Hagan!"
Rayne grins. "Who's to say I'm not King Hagan?!?" Seeing your shocked looks, she lets you off the hook. "Okay, okay, I'm not King Hagan. But thank you."
You and Melody thank Rayne over and over, before you walk hand in hand to the big circus tent, to see about finding some jobs. That is, jobs working for the new circus master!
To be continued…