Outside the thick, milky window, I can see the real world stretched out like the most fabulous piece of artwork every created. It’s a cool autumn night, and everything seems so peaceful with only a single breeze drifting through to persuade the last of the brightly colored leaves to drop from their branches. I can’t see the stars or even the moon through a thick blanket of clouds which are illuminated by errant charges of electricity. The main part of the storm had passed, but those clouds still rumble and threaten the night. Yet, I long for all of this because this is the real world.
And I’m no longer a member.
In frustration, I pound my nearly invisible paws against the ancient panes, but they make little sound as I’m fading from reality. My voice rings out loudly in my ears as I scream, but I don’t even know if it’s carried beyond these walls. In frustration, I lean my forehead against the glass, barely feeling its coolness, as my mind retraces the steps that led me to this predicament.
In disbelief, I turned towards my mother, my fork stopping in its ascension to my mouth. The peas I had been eating fell from the prongs and bounced back onto my plate, almost as if they were happily celebrating their freedom, but I barely noticed. My eyes were fixated upon Mom, hoping that this was all just some sort of joke or that I had misunderstood her words. Yet, I knew the truth. One look upon her Starry Zafara face spoke volumes as I felt the color drain from reality. She continued talking, and I heard something about a promotion, but I barely listened. Her voice sounded faint and far away as if we were millions of miles apart.
Slowly, I turned my watery eyes towards my younger brother, Har, wondering how he was taking the news. I think a part of me was hoping he would be upset so I could comfort him, perhaps comforting myself as well in the process, but that wasn’t the case. He was sitting there quietly; eating his dinner as his left paw absently toyed with a yellow bouncy ball. Ever since a coach at school had said that he could throw a ball better than anyone he had seen, Har had constantly practiced throwing. At first, Mom had objected when he had carried a ball to the table, but now she had conceded to allow him to carry it around – as long as he didn’t throw it in the house. I had to wonder if the Green Poogle had even heard a word Mom said, but she didn’t seem too worried if we were listening. Her voice was still there, still talking jubilantly, as she discussed the details of the move.
The next few days went by so quickly – it was as if a whole lifetime was shoved together in a single week. I smiled for Mom and tried to share in her excitement, but inside I felt sick. Saying goodbye to my friends and my neohome was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. In that moment, I think I was the saddest pink Cybunny to ever breathe in Neopia.
Finally, we saw our new neohome, and even I had to admit it was impressive. The exterior was white boards, with a stone foundation and a large chimney. It was so neat, yet much larger than I was accustomed. In fact, my old room could have practically fit inside the closet of my new room, which I decorated to perfection. The neighborhood was nice too, and I quickly made a new friend – a Plushie Poogle named Kallie. Despite everything, I was happy and everything seemed perfect.
Well, make that almost everything.
The only problem I had was with the old neohome directly across from mine. It was built in the exact same fashion and architectural design so that it could have been my home’s twin – at least its evil twin. It was run-down and seemed to be so much older, despite the fact it was built almost exactly the same. The wide porch was splintered and sagging, as if it was a crooked, wooden smile. The supports were leaning at crazy angles, and you just expected them to give way any moment, and all of the windows except one were boarded up with grey, rotten wood. The middle upstairs window, the one that looked towards my bedroom, was left uncovered. The glass in that window was thick, and looked like as single eye, milky with cataracts, staring out into the world. While I told myself it was silly, I couldn’t help but feel a chill dance up my spine whenever I felt caught in the gaze of that ‘eye.’ To be honest, I tried to avoid looking at the house whenever I could.
One day, Kallie was over at my house and we were sitting in my room. She had come over to help me with homework, but the truth was we were laughing and talking more than we were working. It was a cool day, the sun shining weakly in the pale sky, but we were happy. After a while, Kallie got up and walked over to the window to stretch her legs, and she noticed the old, abandoned neohome.
“I’ve always hated that place,” she said suddenly, turning towards me. “I don’t even like looking at it.”
“What?” I gasped. It felt so strange to have someone say the very thing I had been thinking for so long.
“I feel like it’s looking at me sometimes,” she continued, walking back over and sitting down beside me. “Have you heard the story that surrounds that old house?”
I shook my head and leaned forward slightly, eager to hear what she had to say.
“Well, it happened a really long time ago,” Kallie began. “From what I heard there was a yellow Aisha who lived there. She was really rich - I mean like ultimate riches sort of rich, but kind of weird. She didn’t trust the National Neopian, so she kept all of her neopoints in her house. Supposedly, she bought up a bunch of really fancy stuff so she wouldn’t just have neopoints stashed everywhere. In fact, I’ve heard that the inside is really amazing.”
“Wow,” I said, truly interested in the story.
“As she got older, she got even weirder,” Kallie continued. “She started looking for someone to watch over her house and her stuff, like some sort of live-in guard. There were ads in the Neopian Times and everything, but no one would take the job. I don’t know how long that supposedly went on, but then she just disappeared one day.”
“Disappeared?” I asked. “What do you mean?”
“I mean she just vanished,” answered Kallie. “She didn’t go out much, but she usually checked her neomail daily. However, one day she just didn’t appear. No one really noticed at first, but after a week or so people finally realized they hadn’t seen her for awhile. Everyone waited for several weeks, but finally someone went in the house, but they couldn’t find a sign of her. She had simply vanished off the face of Neopia.
It turns out she didn’t have any family or anything, so eventually the city claimed the house, but no one really liked going in there. It’s hard to explain, but there was just something strange about it. The house was sold, as is, to a family who only lived there for like three days. It was sold several more times, but the longest anyone ever lived there was a week. Finally, the house was condemned, but no one ever got around to tearing it down. Even then, sometimes people would just disappear, and everyone looks at that old place. There’s just something creepy about it.” She shrugged. “Do you have anything else to snack on?”
That was the end of the creepy house conversation, but I that didn’t stop the questions that whirled around in head like buzzing petpetpets. Kallie left a little later, but I just couldn’t seem to relax my mind. There was little surprise when I found myself lying in bed that night, my eyes wide open and staring at the eggshell white ceiling. Sleep was an elusive whisper of smoke, dancing just beyond my reach.
Outside my window, lightning began to flash and I heard the first few drops of rain splash upon the glass. I had always liked storms, so I silently slipped from my bed and walked over to watch. I thought that perhaps this would relax me.
I stopped the moment I looked outside for there was a candle burning in the abandoned neohome, burning so brightly and beautifully in the dim night. In that moment, I felt myself being drawn towards that light. I just wanted to be closer to it. Without thinking about what I was doing, I turned and left my room. I didn’t even grab a jacket as I ran into the rain filled night and hurried across the street. I didn’t pause, or even slow down as I made my way up the creaking stairs and across the rickety porch.
The door wasn’t locked. In fact, it seemed to swing inward to reveal a beautiful, elegant room that seemed resplendent with its own inner light. My feet carried me inside and up the stairs. I knew where I was going since the layout was the same, and confidently walked into the room across from my own. My eyes were locked upon the single candle.
Suddenly, the door slammed behind me as an icy wind whipped through the room. The candle burned with a sulfurous, crimson light that reflected on the walls as if the entire room was engulfed in flames. I knew that I wasn’t alone even before I heard the voice.
“Finally,” a rasping voice hissed, “someone is here to watch over my neohome.”
Slowly, as if still trying to deny this was happening, I raised my head to look up at the beams of the ceiling - and screamed. The wood had warped and splintered, creating a face looking down upon me which seemed to smile at my predicament. In that moment, I realized what had happened to that old Aisha. Somehow, she was still here, in the neohome. Correction - she was the neohome.
I ran to the door and tried desperately to open it, but my paws couldn’t seem to grasp the knob. Looking down, I saw that my whole body was slowly fading away, but not like a pet that was painted invisible or anything. It was more like I was being erased. In frustration, I ran back to the window but I realized I had been in the home longer than I had thought. The storm had almost passed. Time had moved on, but I had been left behind.
It seems so strange now to think about it how I came to be here. I can’t even describe what I was feeling then because now my mind can only focus on the terror. Will I be trapped in here forever or only until the next victim is drawn into the house? There are only questions now.
Suddenly, I see movement on my front lawn, and I turn to look towards it. To my surprise, I see it’s Har, practicing with that stupid ball of his in the front lawn. He always had a weird schedule of sleep and when he is awake he’s practicing. For the first time since Kallie came over earlier, the faintest hit of a smile touches my nearly invisible face, and I wave my hands trying to catch his attention.
Luck is on my side as the I see my brother actually turn in my direction. I can’t hear anything, but I see his mouth form my name and he actually runs towards the house. Apparently, even as a shadow, I am recognizable to my brother. As relieved as I am, I still don’t know what he can do, and I don’t want him to run into this house. Thankfully, Har has a pretty good head on his shoulders.
All at once, a large rock comes hurdling towards the window, and I have to jump aside to keep from being hit as it crashes through the glass. The candle which had drawn me is knocked over and falls to the floor where the flame begins to lick the old wood. All around me, I hear the house actually screaming, but I try to ignore it as I crawl through the window. The broken glass cuts my arms, but I’m just so happy to be free. As if breaking a spell, I become solid as I crawled in the damp, night air and unto the porch roof. The ancient shingles break upon my paws, and I slide off the roof to land in some overgrown shrubbery by the porch. My ankle is hurt, but I still jump to my feet and limp over to Har.
The house is quickly catching fire, and neighbors slowly pour out of their own neohomes to look. I expect questions, but no one says a word as we all just stand there watching the blaze. In fact, there’s a peculiar look of relief upon each face. Only Mom looks perplexed, and I’m sure she’ll want the full story soon, but I’ll worry about that later. For now, I’m just happy to be safe and to have such a wonderful, strange little brother like Har.