The Elbuort Chronicles: Job Shadowing
"We're supposed to job shadow someone for Career Week," announced Avatar Elbuort one evening at dinner.
"Ah, Career Week. I remember it well. I always was bad at blocking out bad memories," quipped Arthena as she floated into the room. June gave the ghost Kougra an odd look. "Why would you hate Career Week? You get visited by Neopians from all kinds of jobs, you get to do a bunch of fun activities, at the end of the week you dress up like the job you want..."
"Let's just say no one told me that 'pyromaniac' isn't a real career option and flamethrowers aren't allowed in school, and move on," replied Arthena, plopping down in a chair between McNabb and Lee, who slowly inched away from their crazy relative.
"So, which wizard are you job-shadowing?" Rex asked Avatar, trying to change the subject.
"Four kids're already doing wizards, so I signed up to job shadow Arthena," replied Avatar, shrugging.
Ten pairs of eyes stared at the little yellow Shoyru like a tree had just sprouted from her head. Even blind Chrystal turned her head in Avvie's general direction, a shocked look on her face.
"Um, Avvie, you do realize what Arthena does, right?" June questioned.
"Haunts places, yeah." Avatar nodded.
"Uh-huh, sure, assume I haunt places just because I'm a ghost! How stereotypical!" huffed Arthena, looking offended.
"But you DO haunt places," McNabb pointed out, using sign language to 'talk'.
"So? You still shouldn't assume I do just because I'm a ghost! I know ghosts who're butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers, for crying out loud! Granted, the candlestick maker lives in Neovia, but..."
"Avvie, I don't think it's such a good idea for you to job-shadow Arthena. She goes to all kinds of dangerous places: old, rotting mansions, swamps, the Haunted Woods. And there's always the risk of ghost hunters," said June, concerned.
"Actually, lately the places I've been going to've been pretty safe for fleshies. 'Sides, you know I'd never let anything hurt her, and neither would the other Ghouls. How long you gotta job shadow me for?" Arthena asked, looking over at Avvie.
"Three times you go to work. Then I gotta write an essay on all I saw," replied the Shoyru.
"An essay? Second grade must've changed a LOT since I was there! And if y'all are so worried, how 'bout we try Avvie job-shadowing me tonight, just once, to see how it goes? If she gets so much as a scratch, you can make her job-shadow someone with a boring job, like Jaylie."
"Jaylie doesn't have a job anymore. She goes to school... on her home planet," Rex pointed out.
"Like I said, a boring job. So, whaddaya say?"
Rex and June looked at each other, then looked over at Grandpa Tobi, an old Korbat who acted as a grandfatherly figure for them and, occasionally, an arbiter.
"Eh, I don't see why not. Avvie's a smart gal, she can take care of herself, and 'sides, Arthie's word's good as gold unless she's playin' Cheat," said the old Korbat cheerfully. Rex and June looked at each other again and sighed.
"Fine, you can go. But bring her back when she starts to get sleepy, and if anything happens..." warned Rex.
"Understood." Arthena nodded. "Man, I'm starving to death, no pun intended! Pass the potatoes, please!"
A little while later Arthena and Avvie teleported to the Haunted Woods, just outside a graveyard. As they walked up to the gate, Avatar looked up and noticed that there was a slogan at the top of the gate: 'Memento mori'. "This is where you work?"
"Just HQ. We haunt all over Neopia," replied Arthena, opening the gate and giving Avvie a mock bow. "Ladies first."
"The Ghouls of Your Screams. We're sort of a gang/drama troupe. When we're not haunting places, we're putting on a play, a concert, something like that. We almost got into Concert Hall once."
"Wow," said Avatar, impressed. "What's 'Memento mori' mean?"
"'Remember you will die'. Here's me boss!" added Arthena cheerfully as they walked up to a ghost Chomby. "Avvie, meet Morganwe. Morganwe, this is me cousin Avatar. She's job-shadowing me."
"Nice to meet you!" said Avatar, sticking out her hand.
"Not too shy, is she?" Morganwe grinned, shaking Avvie's hand. The Chomby looked about twenty years old, and had on gothic-inspired makeup, a gothic buckle shirt, a gothic red rose necklace, and holey black jeans. "How 'bout I introduce her to the rest of the crew while you go change into the Mad Bride?"
"The Mad Bride?" Avatar questioned, puzzled.
"Whoo, the Mad Bride! I love being the Mad Bride!" whooped Arthena, then floated off, disappearing through the wall of what looked like a crypt. Avvie blinked, and looked up at Morganwe, "Who's the Mad Bride?"
"A character Arthie plays sometimes. C'mon, the others're over this way," said Morganwe, extending her arm. Avatar put her hand on the Chomby's arm, and Morganwe led her to a clear section of the graveyard way in the back, where six ghost neopets were gathered around a campfire chatting.
"Everybody, this is Arthie's cousin, Avatar. Avatar, this is Elanor, Enigma, Sherman, Fang, Benjamin, and Schwartz," introduced Morganwe, pointing at each neopet as she spoke.
"Ah, you must be Avvie! Arthena tells us all about you and ze mischief you and your family get into!" exclaimed Enigma, a Hissi in cobrall charmer clothes, with a dark-brown head-shawl covering all but her eyes.
"Really? She never mentions what y'all get into." Avatar frowned. Arthena had never gone into great detail about her job, and Avatar had always assumed she just floated around and scared people. She'd never imagined it would involve costumes and drama troupes.
"Our lives are fairly boring, outside of work," replied Elanor, a Draik in a charming pink Draik gown. She scooted over to make room on the log and patted the empty spot. "Sit down, sweetie. You will need your energy."
Avatar obediently sat down, and looked around curiously at the other ghosts. Sherman was a Buzz in a pirate vest and trousers, Fang was a short Meerca in a tough guy jacket and ripped black jeans, Schwartz was a Moehog in punk clothes and shades, and Benjamin was a Krawk in a tuxedo. "Are y'all dressed up to go haunting already?"
"It certainly looks like it, doesn't it?" laughed Benjamin. "But no, m'lady, we aren't. Our shifts don't even start for another fifteen minutes. It's just Arthena loves her job, and always starts early."
"Does she play anyone besides the Mad Bride?"
"Lady Elaine Centric, ze Headless Duelist, and Nickelfool the Clown," recited Enigma after a moment of thought. "But she's best at ze Mad Bride."
"Of course she is! She's a psychopath, and so is the Mad Bride! She doesn't even have to ACT in that role!" piped up Fang, scowling.
"Ignore 'im, Avvie. He has SNS: Short Neopet Syndrome," whispered Sherman.
"I do NOT! I am perfectly fine with my height! And I am NOT short! Everyone else is just freakishly tall!"
"Denial. It's not just a river on the human's home planet," drawled Arthena as she floated up. "So, Avvie, whatcha think?"
Avatar gaped at the Kougra, shocked. She'd changed from her usual potato sack dress and woodland archer cape into a deathly union dress, her long black hair had been freed from its usual newsboy cap and had the deathly union veil in it, her eyes looked like blazing fire, her face was painted with skeletal facepaint, and in her right hand she carried a scythe tall as her. "Wow!"
Arthena grinned. "That's a first. Normally people say something more along the lines of 'AAAAAAAHHHH! DON'T HURT MEEEEE!' So, you ready to head to Brightvale?"
"What's in Brightvale?"
"The Mad Bride's mansion, of course. C'mon, there's sure to be some kid already there on a dare to see if the Mad Bride exists. Let's not disappoint him," said the Kougra cheerfully.
"Supposedly, fifty years ago there was a young Kougra who lived in a mansion on the outskirts of Brightvale. She fell in love with this Gelert who, of course, was quite poor . Her parents told her not to marry him 'cause he was a sleazy schuzzbucket after her money, but she wouldn't listen. She married him, he moved into her mansion, and neither one of them were ever seen again. They say her ghost still haunts the mansion, taking out her untimely demise on any who enter her house, because she's gone mad and thinks everyone she sees is her traitorous husband," explained Arthena as she wiped some cobwebs off a chair and plopped Avvie down in it. "Any questions?"
"Why do you use a scythe?"
"'Cause, scythes are awesome. Here, drink this," added Arthena, tossing the Shoyru a potion. "It'll make you invisible, to non-ghosts anyway."
Just then they heard the front door creak open a few doors away.
"That's me cue," whispered Arthena, and vanished, her scythe seeming to hover in midair.
"Billy, you know we're not allowed here. You know what they say about..." whispered a boy as he and another walked through the house, coming closer and closer to Avvie and Arthena's room.
"That's just mumbo-jumbo told by moms to get their kids to behave! There's no way the Mad Bride's real! C'mon, Blake, stop being a scaredy-kad."
"I'm not! And what if she is real? What are you gonna do then?" challenged the boy's companion. They were nearing Avvie and Arthena's room now.
"C'mon, like there's really a crazy ghost Kougra who thinks everyone she sees is her traitorous husband and uses a scythe to-"
"DIE, TRAITOR! DIEEEE!" screeched Arthena in an unearthly voice, suddenly becoming visible again and leaping out at the boys, two blue Pteris, just before they passed the room.
"AAAAAAHHHHHH!" screamed the Pteris, and ran for the door, Arthena following and swiping at them with her scythe, still yelling "DIE! DIE! DIEEEE, DECEITFUL ONE!"
Avatar followed at a distance, watching as the Pteris tripped over each other trying to get out the door, then flew away as fast as their wings could carry them. Arthena wailed until they were out of earshot, then doubled over laughing. "Aw, man, did you see the looks on their faces?! They won't be breaking the rules again anytime soon! Whew, I'll bet they didn't even know they could run that fast till today!"
Avatar laughed with her, though she felt slightly guilty. "Will they be okay?"
"Don't worry, after a coupla weeks they'll get over it. I'm going to go set up me next scare. There's usually at least two 'guests' per night."
"Can I help?"
"Nah, I want you to be surprised. You okay with waiting here?"
"Yeah, I'll be okay," nodded Avatar. Arthena ruffled the Shoyru's hair, and floated off.
A few minutes later, Arthena was still gone, but Avatar heard voices whispering on the porch. Someone's here again already? That was fast!
Avatar crept over to the window and peered out. The Pteris from before were there, talking with a pirate and a desert Kyrii.
"...done well. Once we have captured the ghost, we'll reward you well," said the pirate Kyrii, patting a peculiar device that reminded Avvie of a toy slime gun, except this one had no slime and a bunch of glowing buttons. Avatar's eyes widened. Ghost hunters! They're after Arthena!
She flew through the mansion until she found Arthena. "Arthena, there's some Kyrii in the front with weird slime gun-things! I think they're ghost hunters!"
Beneath her facepaint, Arthena scowled. "The Cesare Brothers. They've been terrorizing ghosts all over Neopia for the past coupla months. Seem to think if they catch enough of us in those crazy contraptions of theirs, they can convert our 'ectoplasm' into a dangerous weapon."
"Can they?" asked Avatar worriedly.
"Don't know, don't care to find out. Stay here. I'm going to go chase 'em off."
"But what if they catch you?! I'm coming with you!" declared Avatar.
"No, you're not," retorted Arthena. "These guys are psychos; if they knew you were me cousin, they'd threaten you to get to me. I'm not letting you get hurt."
"Stay. Sit. Heel. You know what I mean!" snapped the ghost, and floated off.
Avvie waited until the Kougra was gone, then pulled out her wand and muttered, "Elbuort Family Rule One: 'Never wander off alone.' Or fight evil ghost hunters alone."
Arthena very nearly succeeded in scaring the Cesare Brothers off, but then she made a grave mistake: she underestimated her opponent. So with no warning, she found herself being sucked into the desert Kyrii's slime gun-like contraption.
"Hey! Lemme out!" the ghost protested, dropping her 'Mad Bride' act.
"Is that a Meridellian accent I hear?" asked the pirate Kyrii, smirking. "Looks like we caught another 'actor', Alex."
"Whaddaya mean, 'another' one?" demanded Arthena, alarmed. As far as she knew, there were only three ghost 'drama troupes' in Neopia: her own, the Smada Clan, and the Shriek Sisters.
"Oh, you're the third we've caught so far. Let's see, there was someone named Samwise Smada, and this creepy Poogle dressed up like a witch."
If ghosts could pale, Arthena would have. Samwise Smada and the Poogle- who could only be Emma Campton, one of the Shriek Sisters- were good acquaintances of hers, and, she knew from experience, very, very difficult for ghost hunters to capture. If they really were in the Cesare's clutches, these guys were more dangerous to the ghost community than she'd thought. Why hadn't the Smadas or the Shriek Sisters SAID something?
"Well, that's ten down, forty to go," said the desert Kyrii, patting his contraption in smug satisfaction. "Let's get outta here. This place is givin' me the creeps."
He turned to open the door, only to get slammed in the face as the door swung forward by itself. He stumbled back clutching his nose and howling. "I dought you said ghosts couldn't do stuff like dat in da Buster681984, Borgia!"
"They can't! Must've been the wind."
"Oh, sure, and it just HABBENED ta make da door swing open and hit me in da face!"
"Hey, don't get mad at ME for your rotten luck. Now man up and stop--OW!" cried Borgia as something hit the back of his head. He turned around and saw a poker floating in midair. The poker hit him again, this time on the forehead. "OW! There must be another ghost in here!"
"Are you sure YOU don't just have rotten- GAH!" exclaimed Alex as the rug he was standing on started levitating. It went higher, and higher, and higher, until his head was brushing against the ceiling, thirty feet above the floor. "Borgia, HELP!"
"I'm kind of busy right now!" retorted Borgia, who was running from the poker, which apparently had taken a liking to swinging at his head. Borgia looked back to see how much distance he'd put between himself and the possessed poker...
Borgia's head was caught between two cymbals clanging together. He stumbled away, almost too dizzy to stand or even feel the poker hitting him on the back of his head. When his head finally cleared, he realized that a variety of old instruments- cymbals, a drum, a violin, a harp, and a tamborine- were floating around the room playing all by themselves. Not only that, but all the furniture was floating as well, and he could hear scores of disembodied voices cackling maniacally.
"It's an army of ghosts! I'm getting outta here!" shouted the pirate Kyrii, running for the door.
"Hey! What about ME?" protested Alex, still on the floating rug.
"You're a big boy, you can take care of yourself!" retorted Borgia, and fled the mansion, slamming the door behind him.
The rug holding Alex suddenly crashed back to the ground; the Kyrii laid there dazed for a moment, then shot to his foot, threw his Buster681984 down, and dove out the open window, shouting, "That's it, I quit! I don't CARE if it leads to world domination, this ghost hunting stuff don't pay enough!"
Once both Cesares had left the hilltop (the Pteris from earlier were long gone), all the floating furniture fell back to the ground, perfectly normal again, and the voices ceased laughing. Arthena suddenly found herself being ejected from the Buster; she landed in a heap on the floor.
"Are you okay, Arthie?" came Avvie's anxious voice. Arthena looked up to see the yellow Shoyru staring down at her worriedly.
"Avvie? YOU did all that?" asked Arthena in disbelief as she stood up.
"Yeah. I used this levitation spell Grandpa Tobi taught me, and a creepy laughter spell I learned that time Rex got turned into a mortog and we had to ask Sophie for help," nodded the Shoyru. "I'm sorry I disobeyed you. I hope you're not mad at--"
Arthena laughed, and pulled Avvie into a hug. "Are you kidding?! That was the second-most epic thing I've ever seen! I think you may've missed your true calling; you'd make an AWESOME haunter!"
"Really?" asked Avatar eagerly.
"Really really! We'd better get back to HQ; Morganwe'll want everyone to hear about what the Cesare Brothers're up to. Well, BrothER, since Alex apparently quit," Arthena corrected herself. She picked up her scythe with one hand and took Avvie's in the other. "C'mon, my little protege, we've got work to do."
Two hours later, Arthena walked into the Elbuorts' living room holding Avatar, who was so tired she could scarcely keep her eyes open. "We're home!"
"Already?" asked June, who'd been waiting up for them, surprised. "It's not even eleven o'clock yet!"
For some reason, Avatar only needed three to four hours of sleep most nights. Usually during weeknights she'd train with Grandpa Tobi (who also didn't need more than a couple hours of sleep) until about three in the morning, then get up about seven.
"Well, she kinda had an exciting night," shrugged Arthena.
"Really?" asked June, looking over at Avvie.
"Uh-huh. It was fun," she yawned.
"What'd you do?"
"Met some really cool actor ghosts, saved Arthena from ghost hunters, and stayed with Sherman and Elanor while the others rescued a bunch of other ghosts from the ghost hunters' lair. I like them. They're nice. And Sherman calls me a 'little anklebiter'. I don't know what it means, but it sounds good," added the little Shoyru. June looked at Arthena, "What was that about ghost hunters?"
"Um, you know what, I've got to get back to work," said the ghost Kougra, setting Avatar down. "G'night, Avvie."
"'Night," replied Avatar, rubbing her eyes tiredly. Arthena floated off before June could question her further. June sighed, and looked down at Avatar. "Alright, it's long past time you were in bed."
"Carry me?" the Shoyru pleaded, holding her arms out. June scooped her up, and began carrying her towards her room. As the Xweetok was climbing up the straw stairs in the southwest corridor, Avvie said quietly, "June, may I go again tomorrow night?"
"I suppose so," said June reluctantly. "But you have to promise to stay out of trouble."
Avatar smiled sleepily. "I love you, June."
"I love you too," June smiled back, though inside she was sighing. Who was she kidding, making Avvie promise to stay out of trouble? She was an Elbuort; trouble came to her, even if she wasn't hanging out with crazy ghost relatives, fighting ghost hunters, and being babysat by people who called her an anklebiter.
Well, at least it was only two more nights. How much more trouble could she possibly get into?