Lani and the Beast: Part One
“I’m trying, but it’s heavy!”
“C’mon, really slow, easy.” Lani felt her feet shifting slowly backwards.
“Jean, it’s slipping!”
“Try to push it straight up!”
“It’s really, really slipping, Jean!” Lani’s voice, already high for a Xweetok, rose more as she braced her back against the sofa.
“Okay, I’m gonna give it one big pull, so let go on three, okay? One, two, THREE!” Jean heaved with all her might and Lani jumped back as her owner’s adrenaline rush carried the sofa up the steps and into the living room of their new neohome.
“Jean! Are you alright?” Lani scampered up the steps and leapt awkwardly over the sofa, which was still blocking the doorway. Jean was sitting on the floor, laughing when she had enough breath to.
“I still can’t believe that they delivered our stuff and just left it on the lawn! Either Mystery Island is even more backwards than I’d thought, or we chose the wrong moving company.” Lani sat down on the floor heavily in exhaustion.
“At least that’s the last of the furniture, right?”
“Yeah, but we have to unpack all the boxes now.”
Lani sighed and flopped over.
“Well, it’s gonna take time to unpack. You can fix drinks if you want,” suggested Jean. It wasn’t a bad idea, but Lani had no idea where the cups were, and as soon as the sofa was shoved into place, both she and Jean searched for the dishes and the big packet of krawkaid mix. The entire box marked “KITCHEN- FRAGIL!” was nowhere to be found, so an hour later they gave up and opted for Pizzaroo instead. “We’ll just order pizza and a couple cans of neocola,” sighed Jean. “We’ll look for the cups tomorrow. It’s getting late.” Lani glanced out the window with surprise. Sure enough, twilight was crawling across the island, blanketing everything in hazy darkness.
“But Jean, we can’t,” Lani groaned, missing her old home in Neopia Central. “We live on Mystery Island now. Pizzaroo’s in Neopia Central.”
“Why do you think that red Draik is always flying overhead towards Mystery Island? And the blue Shoyru we saw zooming past yesterday?”
“They deliver pizza?!”
“Well, the Shoyru works for Hubert’s Hotdogs.”
An hour later, Lani and her owner were sitting on their front steps, eating pizza. Lani brushed her ruffled blue hair out of her face distractedly. She was still having a hard time adjusting to everything about Mystery Island: the jungle everywhere you looked, the isolation, and good Fyora, the humidity! She didn’t know whether to be thankful for the cool wind that swept in with the darkness or afraid of the creepy shadows that the dense overgrowth threw across the front yard. The palm fronds looked like giant jaws rearing open and snapping shut in the breeze.
“Can we go inside soon?” Lani asked as she shuffled closer to Jean.
“Why? Isn’t it nice and cool out here?”
“But it’s dark.” Lani wished for the first time that she wasn’t a Xweetok. Her sharp hearing let her pick up the sounds of every eerie bird call and every rustling bush. Her eyes were sharp too, and they picked up the shifting shapes in the darkness and the gleams of dew that looked like eyes. Lani stared at a pair of dew drops (BIG dew drops), repeating to herself that they were only yellow because of the light from the house. They seemed frighteningly realistic, but so did everything else.
“Snap!” a crackling from near the two dew drops, and they– Lani squeaked in terror– they blinked and disappeared!
“Lani?” Lani was hugging Jean’s arm, shivering with fright. “Lani, what’s wrong?”
“There w-w-were EYES!” Lani could feel her voice jumbling as she rushed to try and explain. “There were y-yellow eyes and they blinked at me! There’s something there! We have to get inside and lock the doors! There’s something out there, Jean! It was staring at me!”
Jean sighed and gave Lani a hug. “It was probably just a bird, or a lizard. There are lots of little critters out here.”
Lani wasn’t so sure. The eyes had seemed a little too big for a ‘little critter.’ Jean picked up the empty pizza box and walked down the front steps.
“Wait,” Lani gasped in shock. “Where are you going?”
“I’m just going to throw out the pizza box.” Jean walked down the garden path, into the shadows. “I’d rather put it in the big garbage bin outside than have the whole house smell like pepperoni in the morning.” The shadows crept in around the steps as Jean walked off. To Lani, they seemed to be clawing over each other to get closer to her.
“Jean?” Lani couldn’t see her owner at all. “Jean!”
“I’m right here.” Jean stepped into the pool of light, and Lani squealed in shock. “Gosh,” Jean picked the trembling blue Xweetok and walked back into the house, locking the door behind her. “You’re really on edge today! Maybe a good night’s sleep will help cure that.”
Lani’s room prevented her from getting that good night’s sleep. Jean had given her the best bedroom in the house: It was big, with a beautiful view of the pond in the back yard. Lani didn’t want to say so in front of Jean, but she detested it. Especially with all of her toys and furniture either in the living room or in boxes, the room was bare and empty and gaping, like a huge mouth. Besides, after seeing those eyes, Lani wasn’t sure that she wanted to have a view of any part of the yard– front or back. To comfort herself, Lani draped her blanket over her head like a hood and sang the lullaby that Jean used to sing to her when she was younger.
“The kaus in the fields,
The kois in the deep,
Are all in their places,
And you are asleep.
Sleep my dear, sleep,
The faeries watch on
They’ll watch over you
From dusk until dawn.” Lani would have fallen asleep on the spot if it weren’t for a sniffing noise that came from the foot of her bed. Biting back a shriek, Lani pulled her blanket closer as the sniffing got louder and louder. It paused for a second, and then the sniffing thing jumped onto her bed!
Lani dove under her blanket and screamed at the top of her lungs. Her feepit, equally terrified, shrieked in reply, fell off the bed, and ran and hid behind a pile of boxes. A moment later, Jean came flying in.
“Lani!” She was pale and out of breath. “Lani! What’s wrong? Are you okay?” Lani shivered uneasily, but hopped out of bed and tottered towards the pile of boxes.
“I-I heard something, and then something jumped onto my bed, but I think that it was just Minnie.”
Lani nodded and edged towards the boxes. “I think she heard me singing and recognized my voice.”
Jean walked up behind Lani and peered around the pile. “There!” Lani saw a blue and white ear twitch. “I see her! She’s behind the biggest box. I was wondering where she was.”
“Yeah, especially at dinner time. She must be really tired from the move to miss dinner.” Jean groped around behind the box, until there was an undignified squeak followed by Jean’s triumphant laughter. “Hey, this is a pretty big box. I didn’t put any of your toys in the really big boxes.” Jean dropped Minnie in Lani’s outstretched arms and pulled the box into the pool of light that the moon was casting through the window. Lani could barely make out what was written on it.
“Kitchen!” she and Jean exclaimed together. Jean had accidentally moved it with Lani’s boxes without double checking its label.
“Well, that’s a relief. I’d hate to be without cups for two whole days. Are y–awwwyaawaaaawn?” Jean tried, unsuccessfully to yawn and speak at the same time. “You okay?”
Lani hugged Minnie tightly and nodded. “Yeah, we’re okay now.” After Jean went out and closed the door, Lani and Minnie both climbed into bed. Jean didn’t like having the petpets on the bed, but she never had the heart to enforce her rule. Minnie, delighted at having her owner so close, snuggled up next to Lani’s head and fell asleep in minutes. The little feepit’s breathing, soft and reassuring in Lani’s ear, took her mind off the frightening evening, and as Lani slipped into sleep, she noticed that the room was a little less terrifying, and certainly less desolate, now that she had her petpet to share it with.
By ten o’ clock, all the lights in the house were out. A shadow slunk warily out of the jungle, weaving its way through the dilapidated remains of the garden. It paused warily near the cobbled path with one paw in the air, as if undecided. After a frozen moment it continued across even that, and dug the thin cardboard pizza box out of the large metal trash can carefully, so as not to tip the whole bin over. It flipped it open, and as a blessing and a curse, there were still two pieces of pizza left. They were cold and a little smelly from being in the dumpster, and the shadow snorted at them uneasily. But after sniffing at the slices for a while, it narrowed its large, yellow eyes and choked the pizza down with an expression that said, “Well, food’s food.”
In Lani’s room, the smallest trace of a musky, earthy, dirty smell and the sound of something gagging reached Minnie’s ears. They were so tiny, so faint, that even her acute senses barely picked them up. She didn’t notice them consciously and didn’t wake up, but the hairs all along her back stood on end and her breathing became short and fast.
To be continued...