Lambert Bobs for Apples
Lambert trod along the cobblestone path to Neovia, holding his new scarf close for warmth. The scarf smelled of printed books and ink, which reminded him of his cozy office back home and somehow served to comfort him. He was relieved when the first signs of Neovia's presence began to peek over the treetops. He may not have a cup of tea and a warm fireplace waiting for him, but at least he'd be out of these accursed woods. The Haunted Woods was very much unlike the sunny streets of Brightvale. He never would have ventured here if it weren't for the important business he was to take care of. He almost wished he had brought along someone with him, at least to suppress the gloom, but he knew very well that he needed to be completely alone on this journey.
Lambert stopped at the gates of Neovia and looked up at the stone buildings curiously. He'd certainly seen more impressive architecture, but there was something about being there in person that put it all in perspective. Without a sound he pulled out the detailed map that one of his cohorts had lent him and began to read it over. To his dismay, he found that the damp air of the haunted woods had smeared the fine ink, rendering it useless. Lambert gave a heavy sigh and tucked the map back into his pocket. Now how was he going to find his way?
"Hey... you're looking out of place," a rough voice called out. "Need directions?" The voice came from a shady figure standing not too far away, leaning his weight against an old wooden cane.
"Good evening," Professor Lambert greeted politely. He really wanted no business with this other Gnorbu, but he figured that the faster he asked for directions, the faster he could leave. "I'm... visiting a friend, perhaps if you directed me to the Printing Press I could find my way from there." Lambert was not entirely telling the truth, his business in Neovia was far more important. But he somehow had the feeling revealing his whereabouts for the night would be a mistake.
For a moment the other Gnorbu seemed to ponder something through. Then he grinned a grin that made Lambert highly uneasy. "Say, why don't we make a deal," he began. He thrust out his hand in a fashion that seemed almost too friendly. "My name's Vandebart Biggsby, friend."
"Professor Lambert," the professor replied uncomfortably, accepting the handshake.
Bart grinned again, this time with a little more malice. "Well, Professor Lambert, nice to meet you. Now, here's the deal." He motioned to the stagnant pool of apples in front of him. "This here is my apple bobbing tank. I don't see many well-dressed characters like yourself on this side of Neovia. It would do me well to have a gentlemanly customer. Come, bob for apples."
Lambert frowned distastefully down at the bucket of apples, which for some odd reason he had failed to notice before. "I could hardly call that an apple bobbing tank," he replied curtly. "You mean to tell me that you want me to dip my face in there? That seems highly unsanitary."
Bart let out a raucous laugh, one that seemed rather loud and out of place. "Come on now, don't tell me you're afraid of getting a little wet," he taunted the professor. "I refilled the bucket just an hour ago, after my last customer. I've replaced all the apples too: fresh, polished, and ready for you to sink your teeth into. Safest attraction this side of the Haunted Woods."
Lambert raised a skeptical eyebrow. "And you're telling me that if I partake in your little game that you'll give me directions."
"Sure as daylight." Bart nodded. He paused a moment to chuckle at the irony of his statement, given there was little sunlight at all in Neovia. "Come on, professor, it's a fair deal. We Gnorbus have to look out for each other."
Lambert sighed and glanced down at his shiny golden pocket watch. It was getting late, and he had to admit if he hadn't encountered Bart then he could have been wandering the streets of Neovia for hours on end. "Very well," agreed Lambert reluctantly. "Let's get this over with."
"Excellent!" Bart exclaimed. He shoved the apple bobbing bucket needlessly closer with his foot. "Whenever you're ready, have at it!"
Lambert knelt down diligently, careful not to stain his pant leg on the moist ground, and peered down into the rippling water. Staring back at him were the wide blue eyes of a very worried Gnorbu. There was another reflection in the water as well: one of a shady green Gnorbu with a crooked-toothed smile, whose eyes were nearly obscured under the brim of his hat. Lambert tried to ignore this unsettling imagery as he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and plunged his nose into the murky water of the apple bobbing tank.
The taste of the water was awful. For a brief moment Lambert had to fight the urge to gag, but he quickly regained his composure. He dared not open his eyes at this moment, he was certain that if he did he would see something awful. Nudging at the apples in the tank, he soon came across one unlike the rest. Carefully he took the apple in his teeth and emerged to the surface of the water, sputtering remorsefully. He was quite confident that had been the worst experience of his life.
"See? What did I tell you?" Bart laughed, giving Lambert a rough slap on the back that made him flinch. "You're a natural at this! Look, you've got an apple."
Lambert spit the fruit out of his mouth and watched it roll across the cobblestones. "That's an apple?" he questioned suspiciously. "It's covered in spots!"
"It's a special apple!" Bart explained. "You won't find apples like them anywhere else! Here, have a towel to dry yourself." Bart pulled a faded blue towel from his pocket and offered it to the professor, who was still mortified.
"Are you sure that was even water? It had the consistency of gravy," Lambert shuddered, running the ragged old towel over his drenched hair. "And are you sure you changed that water? I think I felt something move at the bottom..."
"Aw, stop whining, it wasn't that bad," Bart laughed obnoxiously. "Neopets flock from all over just to have a chance at my bobbing tank. They love it!"
"I fail to see the enthusiasm," Lambert muttered.
"Well, I made you a deal, so here's my half of it," Bart interrupted. "The Printing Press is just a few blocks that way, to the left. You can't miss it! Aren't I an honest fellow? Good doing business with you, come again!"
"As if," Lambert through clenched teeth. He handed the soggy towel back to Bart and straightened up with a scowl. "Now, see here..." He was about to tell the trickster off, when quite suddenly he was stopped short a rather strange phenomenon.
For just a brief moment, the time it takes to blink an eye, the hat perched on Bart's head shifted to the side. And just for a moment, brief as it was, Lambert felt a second presence with them, glaring at him. By the time Lambert had shaken his head and blinked the vision off, the feeling was gone.
"What did you say?" Bart asked loudly, putting his hand up to his ear dramatically. "I didn't hear you!"
Lambert pulled away with a sound of disgust. "Ahem. Yes, well, thank you. Good day to you." He turned and headed off down the street, walking at a much faster pace than he had been before. If he had looked back behind him, which he most definitely wasn't going to do, he was certain Bart would have been watching him leave, undoubtedly grinning that same eerie smile while waiting for the next misfortunate Neopian to enter the gates of Neovia.