Tales From Elysian Fields: Neopian Appetites
You’re entering a world as real as you make it out to be; there are no limitations to the possible inputs and outputs. But unlike an equation, you can’t chart relics of a time yet to come — an opening into the dark matter before us. Free from the shackles of reality, you are about to take a walk in Elysian Fields.———
The snow falls peacefully, at first. It is both unpredicted and unusual, given the time of year. Korson the Kau, chief analyst of the stock exchange, anticipated thirteen centimetres at most. But as the day progresses, and the snowbanks pile high over the dirt roads, the upper half of Neopia is put under a blizzard warning for the remainder of the day.
Cosmic Ray’s is a quiet, space-themed diner located in Snowywind Vale at the base of Terror Mountain. It has a black-and-white marble floor, retro wallpaper, and various bits of Jazzmosis merchandise as decoration. Along one heavily-postered wall are four orange booths fashioned from Kreludan Homes material. Ray himself is a small, red Grundo in a cook’s uniform. He serves basic meals to the kind Neopians who stop at his shop for a bite to eat, but as of late, customers have come few and far between. There are six at the moment.
“It’s good that we finally got you out of the house,” a Kougra tells her half-sister in between bites of a dewy apple sandwich. “I mean, Zibel, it’s been two years now since—”
“I can still hear her voice, Gaz!” the Zafara replies. “Every time we pass that dumb mansion on that awful hill, I hear Priscilla screaming at me! And the nightmares...”
She trails off. Gaz looks at Zibel with pity. It hasn’t been easy since the night of the accident, when they lost two of their Aisha neighbours.
“That house is empty now,” Gaz reminds her. “There’s no one in there to—”
“DOOOWWWNN WITHH APPPLEEESSS!!” a brown Kyrii shouts from one of the booths. He is staring with such ferociousness at Gaz that she drops her sandwich, which is wise, as the Kyrii leaps from his seat and snatches it from the table before throwing it against the wall. The sandwich lands with a splat! on a Jazzmosis seasonal greeting postcard, much to the dismay of Cosmic Ray.
“Olsef!” a small, professionally dressed, and elderly Bruce says to the Kyrii. “Leave her sandwich alone!”
“THE APPPLESS ARE EEEEEVILL!!” he continues.
“What’s wrong with him?” Ray asks the Bruce nervously. “I don’t want any trouble!”
“I’m Olsef’s doctor,” the Bruce explains as he pulls the Kyrii back into their booth. A tiny Kacheek in Shenkuuvian attire watches from her own, next to them. “I assumed this would be a pleasant day to take him outside the sanatorium, though I have clearly been mistaken!”
Olsef takes out a homemade sign featuring a no symbol surrounding a green apple pictogram and proceeds to playfully whack! the doctor on the back of the head with it.
“How dreadful!” a pink Gnorbu notes from her booth by the door. She is dressed in an equally pink and extravagant fur coat. “The nitwit seems quite the handful, I suppose!”
“He won’t be a problem anymore,” the doctor tells Ray. “Isn’t that right, Olsef? We are going to behave ourselves.”
“We... behave... yes...” Olsef agrees. Ray nods — though he is still uneasy — and returns to attending the counter.
Gaz wipes the splotches off the postcard and glances out the window.
“This weather is ridiculous,” she says to Zibel. “We should really get going after you finish your milkshake. It’s getting dark, and with the snow building up out there, I don’t want to get stuck in here.”
“It’s cozy, I suppose,” the pink Gnorbu admits, “but this place is no Kelp. The aquatic cuisine there is just marvelous!”
“It’s rude to listen in on someone else’s conversation,” Zibel tells the pink Gnorbu, who sits at her own booth next to them. “What’s your name?”
“Eve,” she says.
“Well, darling, I suppose.”
Gaz isn’t paying attention to Zibel bickering with the lady in pink. She’s watching a figure wading in the heavy snow, struggling with each step, until the figure reaches Cosmic Ray’s and walks right into the heavy door with a thud.
“Hey, there’s someone out there!” Gaz announces to the other patrons. She beckons Zibel to help her with the door, and Ray follows close behind them. Gaz and Zibel drag inside a yellow Blumaroo with blonde hair and a tattered suit while Ray tends to the door. The Blumaroo is injured and bruised, and Gaz feels uneasy after examining her. They lie her on the floor.
“Oh, my!” the doctor says as he rushes over and feels for a pulse. “She’s chilled to the bone. I’ve never seen anything like this before!”
“What’s wrong with her eyes, doctor?” Eve asks. “They’re so... crimson, I suppose!”
“Red,” Zibel says, a hint of irritation in her voice. “Her eyes are red, not ‘crimson’ or whatever.”
“Her name is Maria Blumaroono,” the doctor states. “I remember her. She co-hosted the Neo-Market Report with Neil Kauvuto more than a decade ago.”
They all stare at Maria, who is motionless and so cold to the touch that she’s gone from yellow to blue. She sits up straight and begins coughing violently before falling back onto the hard floor.
“They... did this,” she mumbles.
“Huh?” Gaz asks. “Wait, what happened?!”
“From the forest,” Maria continues, “they attacked... hunting us... I fell off.” She draws in air and swallows hard. “I followed... here... inside.”
“Who?!” the doctor demands. “Who here did this to you?!”
“The zombies,” Maria whispers, then gulps. “I see one now.”
Her body goes limp as her eyes close.
“No!” the doctor shouts, then checks her pulse again. “We’re losing her! I need some towels and some water!” He turns to Ray. “Is there another room we can take her to?!”
“There’s the storage room,” Ray suggests, and as the doctor attempts to pick up Maria, adds: “Let me help you with her!”
They carry Maria off, leaving Gaz, Zibel, Olsef, Eve, and the Kacheek alone in the silent diner.
Eve opens her purse, takes out a few Neopoints, and then drops them on the counter before heading towards the door.
Gaz walks in front of her. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Why, I’m leaving, I suppose!” she says. “Blumaroono’s injured, the food here is atrocious, and I have a meeting at the Presidential Palace that I simply cannot afford to miss!”
“We have to alert the Neoforce,” Gaz tells her. “You heard Maria! Someone — in here — attacked her! You can’t just leave!”
“I suppose that’s all the more reason I should leave!”
“She got hit on the head,” Zibel reminds Gaz. “She might not have been thinking straight. She did say it was a ‘zombie,’ of all things.”
“Blumaroono’s crazy, I suppose!” Eve declares.
“You ‘suppose’ a lot of things, don’t you?” Gaz asks her with a scowl.
“I... Well, I—!”
“And Maria was scared, not crazy!” Gaz states. “Olsef, on the other hand—”
Olsef is standing on the table, pointing at the door — the only exit — with his sign. The Kacheek is trying to force it open, but it’s no use, as there is too much snow already pushing against it. The Kacheek gives up, falls to the ground, and begins to sob.
“WE ARE TRAPPED!” she yells from the floor. “WE ARE TRAPPED IN HERE AND WE ARE GOING TO DIE!”
Snowywind Vale, Terror Mountain. A seemingly ordinary evening gone peculiar in a matter of minutes. You’ve just met tonight’s cast of characters currently confined within Cosmic Ray’s: a concerned sister, her haunted sibling, a nutcase, an eavesdropper, and a Kacheek who has until recently kept to herself. You also heard Miss Blumaroono: There’s a zombie in this diner, and if they don’t figure out which of them it is, there might not be any witnesses for the Neoforce to question. Watch your back and watch yourself, because tonight, you’re dining at a little place the locals like to call “Elysian Fields.”
“Everything’s OK,” Gaz assures her. She walks over to the Kacheek and puts a paw on her shoulder. “What’s your name?”
“Lin,” she answers, then sniffles. “My name is Lin.”
“SOUNDS LIKE AN APPLE NAME TO ME!” Olsef shouts, pointing at the Kacheek. “YOU’RE AN APPLE! YOU’RE AN APPLE! WHAT’S YOUR STORY, AAAAPPLE?!”
“Stop that!” Gaz commands. Olsef shrugs, then bounces back to his booth. Gaz returns her attention to Lin. “Where are you from?”
“Are you one of those zom-bodies?!” Eve shrieks.
“You say that because I come from Shenkuu!” Lin shouts angrily, then calms herself down. “I ran little store in the Imperial City. ‘The Delightful Dumpling.’ Then Mister Kan and the Royal Pandaphant put everyone out of business.” She wipes a tear from her eye, smearing her traditional makeup in the process. “I spent my last Neopoints here. On soup.”
“You’re so silly,” Eve says, amused. “If you’re unemployed, how could you ever expect to be rich like me?”
“Did the zombie take your brain, too?” Zibel asks Eve. “‘Cause you sure act like it.”
“And I suppose you were raised in a barn!”
“WILL YOU ALL BE QUIET?!” Gaz shouts at them. She is beyond frustrated and is thankful when Ray returns, despite the frown on his face.
“Doc’s with Maria,” he says simply. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen to her, though.” He looks out at the snow outside. “How’s it looking?”
“Door won’t budge,” Zibel states, then pushes against it to make sure. Nothing.
“Now, I don’t know about any ‘zombies,’ but if you all could stick to your respective booths until I can get a hold of the Neoforce, I’d appreciate it.”
They comply: Eve sits in the booth by the door, followed by Zibel and Gaz, then Olsef, then Lin.
“This doesn’t seem right,” Zibel whispers to Gaz. “Are we sure she said, ‘zombie?’”
“You out of everyone should know better than that,” Gaz notes. “You practice witchcraft, for crying out loud!”
“Wonderful,” Eve interrupts. “I’m stranded in the middle of nowhere with a maniac, a Shenkuuvian, Maria Blumaroono, and a freak.”
“What do you have against Maria?” Zibels asks, turning to face Eve. “And why are you even in Snowywind Vale, anyway? Why this diner, if you’re so wealthy and all?”
“Why — I suppose — well — that’s none of your—!”
“Because Eve is the zombie,” Olsef says. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“That’s what I was thinking,” Gaz jokes, then bolts upright and turns around. “Wait, you can talk?!”
“I’ve been talking.”
“Fair enough,” Olsef allows, then laughs.
“Who are you?” she asks, confused.
“I’m many,” he says, facing her. He takes a bite of his extra meaty sandwich. “Just kidding. Sort of. I’m an actor! I used to have a pretty popular troupe. We’d travel all across Neopia. We even performed for Umma Bunga and the Cocos on Mystery Island, waaay back when.” He sighs with nostalgia. “It was pretty cool, to say the least.”
“So, if you’re relatively sane,” Zibel says, “why do you have that doctor with you?”
“Who said he was with me?” Olsef points out. “Nah. I’m just a really good actor, is all.”
Eve’s eyes widen as she turns and points at him.
“What if you’re not an actor nor a scatterbrain, but the zom-body who attacked Blumaroono!” she cries out. “WHAT IF THE DOCTOR IS A ZOM-BODY, TOO, AND HE’S DEVOURING HER BRAIN RIGHT AS WE SPEAK!”
“Both of you, please, settle down!” Ray commands.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I suppose I’m just so famished—”
“Well, can I take your order?” he asks. “All you had was Borovan earlier.”
“I suppose... Do you have steak, by chance?”
“I’ll go check in the back, princess,” Ray says with a smirk. Eve doesn’t pick up on his sarcasm and merely smiles as her response. He frowns. “Does anyone else want anything?”
“I’ll have some pie, if you have any,” Olsef orders.
“What flavour? We’ve got key lime pie, cherry pie, apple, bana—”
“THE APPPLESS ARE EEEEEVILL!!”
“I stepped into that one, didn’t I?” Ray asks, rolling his eyes.
“Yep. Banana mince will do.”
“I’ll have the steamed root salad,” Zibel says. “Maybe a Neocola, too.”
“Sure,” Ray begins. “What fla—?”
“APPPLESS!” Zibel shouts. She reaches across the table so she and Olsef can high-five across booths. They do so.
“And I’ll just have a wrap,” Gaz says. “We’ll also be paying for Lin’s food.”
Lin darts her head out of her booth.
“Really?! Thank you! Thank you so very much!” She turns to Ray. “I will have dumplings, if you have any.”
“I bet I can whip some up,” Ray says, smiling. “I’ll be right back. None of you better, um, eat each other while I’m gone.”
The room is full of both tension and nervous laughter as he leaves.
“So,” Zibel begins as she eats her meal, “what kind of a name is ‘Olsef?’”
“What kind of names are ‘Zibel’ and ‘Gaz?’” he counters as he cuts another slice of the pie Ray brought him. “I have many names. Altrin’s one of them. Kantroni. Jalick. Today, I’m Olsef. My job requires many aliases.”
“And where exactly do you work?”
“The stock exchange.”
“You’re no longer acting?”
“I’ve worked for several different analyst firms in—”
“Preposterous!” Eve exclaims. “Inconceivable! I suppose I’ll have you know that I’m a market analyst myself, and I have never seen you before!” She looks at Lin’s booth. “And while we’re on the subject, I have also never heard of ‘the Royal Pandaphant.’ You’re a liar, regardless of the region you hail from, while this one here is merely an asylum... fruitcake!”
“DOOOWWWNN WITHH APPPLEEESSS!!”
“Just because he’s from a sanatorium doesn’t make him crazy,” Zibel declares. “I’ve been self-admitted into—”
“Not now,” Gaz whispers to her sister while urging her to come closer. “If what Maria said was true, somebody in here attacked her, and she followed their footprints to the diner. I know it wasn’t you, and you know it wasn’t me, and since the doctor and Olsef came in together, that just leaves Eve and Lin. If we can figure out—”
“Did you say my name?” Eve asks. “I suppose I heard you say my name!”
“Nevermind,” Gaz says, and then to the group: “So all of you work for or have been affected by the stock exchange? If you count the Royal Pandaphant as a major corporation.”
“Seems like it,” Olsef/Altrin/Kantroni/Jalick allows. “What about you both?”
“Not really,” Gaz says. “I mean, we live in one of the nicer parts of Neopia Central. Well, nearby. We used to have these Aisha neighbours who were market analysts.”
“After I kicked one of their daughters down a well, yeah.”
“This is absurd,” Eve says as she pushes her finished plate away from her. “I suppose Blumaroono was severely injured by one of you — a criminal, a witch, a psychopath, a phony — and I’ve been left to pick up the pieces!” She pouts. “Why do bad things happen to me?! I donate to the Money Tree, for the love of Fyora!”
“Why did you kick her into the well?” Olsef asks, ignoring Eve.
“I don’t think I meant to... I don’t know. She was never very nice. Good intentions, sure, but she didn’t know how to get her thoughts across without sounding so...”
“Pretentious,” Zibel says.
“Pretentious,” Gaz repeats. “Her sister was sick, and she was worried. I guess we all overreacted. We said some pretty nasty things. And now she’s gone. Both of them.”
“Well, that’s unfortunate,” Olsef notes.
“I can still hear her voice,” Zibel admits. “That’s why I checked myself into the hospital. Her spirit isn’t at rest.”
“Oh, brother,” Eve says, rolling her eyes. “I wish I was the one who got attacked. At least Blumaroono doesn’t have to put up with you all, I suppose!” She stands up. “Look, will the zom-body here make everything easier for all of us and please reveal themselves?”
The lights flicker, on and off, on and off.
“No, no, stop it!” Zibel shouts. “Please!”
“What is it?!” Gaz yells. “What’s—?!”
“I hear her, I hear her, I hear Priscilla,” Zibel weeps. “Screaming! Screaming! ‘What did you do, put a curse on it? If you had just bought her a regular gift like everyone else, she wouldn’t be this sick!’”
“It wasn’t your fault!” Gaz says. “It wasn’t anybody’s—!”
The lights stop flickering. The diner has been plunged into total darkness.
A candle. Someone has lit a candle.
“It’s the snowstorm,” Ray says. He lights several more. “If this keeps up—”
Jazz music starts playing. It’s the holiday single. “Jingle ‘em all the waaaaay...”
“THE APPPLESS ARE EEEEEVILL!!”
Olsef takes his sign and leaps onto Ray, knocking the unlit candles from his hands and pushing them both into the counter. He proceeds to whack! Ray with the sign, each hit reminding the diner of Olsef’s hatred of apples.
“HE’S THE ZOMBIE!” Olsef shouts from on top of Ray. “HE’S THE APPLE-LOVIN’ ZOMBIE!”
“Get off of him!” Gaz roars. She pulls Olsef away from Ray as the others gather around. “You don’t know that!”
“I’m no zombie,” Ray admits with a sad smile, “but I am a monster.”
The room is silent, save for the smooth jazz. No one dares to speak out.
“What do you mean?!” Lin demands, scared out of her mind, and then to Gaz: “What does he mean?!”
“The stock market is ruining local businesses!” Ray screams at her. “Why would anyone visit li’l ol’ Cosmic Ray’s when they could go to Hubert’s Hot Dogs, Neopian Health Foods, or Pizzaroo in Neopia Central?! Or in your case, Lin, why bother with the Delightful Dumpling when someone could eat at Exotic Foods, mix their own meal at Culinary Concoctions, or buy something official-looking from the Royal Pandaphant? With options such as BreadMaster Bakeries, Kau Kau Farm, and the Meridell Potato Company, why in the name of Fyora would anyone stop at Cosmic Ray’s?!”
He closes his eyes, shakes his head to the music, and laughs to himself.
“When you’re at the bottom, you get your produce from the bottom. Restaurants such as Kelp and the Coffee Cave get first pick when it comes to ingredients. Me? I’m stuck with the leftovers. There’s not enough to go around for the individually-owned shops! So what do we do? We use what we have and substitute for what we don’t. We improvise. We don’t waste.
“Snowywind Vale is a dangerous place. We’re put on avalanche alert every other day. So let’s say there’s this hiker — or an ex-news reporter in the stock trade — who’s wandering alone. It’s not always random. I locked the door after we pulled the Blumaroo inside, but you all were in too much of a panic to notice. In this world, you’ve got to fight for survival. The Kougra knows this — she pushed an Aisha down a well!”
“That was different,” Gaz states. “That was in self-defense! But this...”
“The steak you had?” Ray says to Eve. He turns to the others. “That root in your salad? And the meat in that wrap and pie? Oh, and don’t even get me started on those dumplings, Lin. Though you do prove my point. Neopian appetites?” He gestures towards the storage room. “All the same.”
They are quiet again. The outside wind howls with the voices of mothers screaming the names of their lost children.
Snowywind Vale, Terror Mountain. A grim and fatal night of false accusations and morbid realizations. A sendoff to Gaz, Zibel, Olsef, Eve, and Lin, who all went into a lonely diner for a dinner and found themselves... in Elysian Fields.
For the readers. Thank you.