The Ghosts of Roo Island: Part Two
Five to midnight, and I was standing outside the hospital with a hulking big ladder under my arm. Not how I usually spent my Saturday nights, let me tell you.
I had just worked out where my aunt’s window was locating on the third floor, and luckily, it was facing away from the entrance. I was surprised; my usual luck meant it should have been so I had to climb up right in front of the sliding doors, pretending to be a workman coming in the middle of the night to inspect the gutters, or something.
As it was, I propped the ladder up against the wall. It had taken some time for me to work out how to extend it, being only one, short Kougra and having no one to catch the extended bit at the top. Eventually, I’d locked it into place, and managed to put it down without waking the whole hospital up.
Now it was time for the climb. I slung my backpack over my shoulder, and tested the first few rungs. It seemed secure enough, and I hoped that was true, or I’d be seeing those ghosts from a hospital bed, lying right next to my aunt, with my own leg in a cast.
I began the climb up, paws gripped tightly onto the sides of the ladder, fearing every gust of wind that came my way. I’m a pretty brave soul, but Kougras are, first and foremost, land pets. I’m not a Pteri who thinks heights are laughable.
Up I went, then, passing the first floor windows, and making my way up to the second floor. My bag was happy. I had taken everything I deemed suitable, and what had helped me when I’d de-ghosting Marty’s house. It included the obvious flashlights, ropes that I had no actual need for but seemed like a good catch-all survival item, a bucket of red paint, and a mirror.
The red paint was to throw at them, so I’d know if it was just someone mucking about in a sheet to scare the patients.
And the mirror…well, I wasn’t sure if you could see ghosts in the mirror. Maybe that was just vampires. But it didn’t hurt to give it a go, did it?
Finally, I reached my Aunt’s window, the latch undone as promised. As quietly as I could, I slipped inside, which involved me tripping over the window ledge and landing face first with an almighty thud.
“Illanari? Is that you?” came the voice of my aunt from the general direction of her bed.
I got up, feeling at my nose incase a chunk of it had been taken out on the floor. I seemed in tack - which was lucky, because I don’t know if Woodland Kougra’s regrow the same was an actual tree does.
“Who else would it be? Yes, it’s me, Aunt Keefa.”
“What’s the codeword?”
My eyes adjusted enough to the darkness in the room to see she was brandishing one of her crutches at me.
“We didn’t agree on a codeword, Auntie,” I sighed, walking towards her.
“Ha! That’s not true!”
I rolled my eyes, and took the crutch off her, to which she gave little resistance. “No we didn’t, stop being silly. Now tell me - where am I going to find these ghosts?”
Keefa seemed mollified by this, and settled back to lie down again. “Oh, there’ll be along soon. They always start their haunt around midnight.”
“Every night?” I asked.
She nodded. “Every night, like clockwork.”
“Right then, let’s wait.”
And we didn’t have to wait long, either. Not five minutes later, a ghostly howl came down the hallway. Aunt Keefa startled, and pulled the covers up closer.
“That’ll be them, Nari! Go take a look for your old aunt, won’t you?”
Into the line of fire I went, then, if she was going to pull the ol’ “old defenceless aunt” trick. I guess that’s where I learnt my charming tactics from, since my own parents had all the charisma of door knobs.
“Uh, okay, I’ll go and take a look.”
I put my bag down, and fished out the heavy bucket of paint and the torch. I padded towards the door, my wooden feet only barely making a sound on the linoleum. From the doorway, the overwhelming chemical scent of the hospital was insisting it shouldn’t be ignored. But I caught another strange aroma too - it seemed to smell like…oh, it was candyfloss. I furrowed my brow, or the best furrow you can do when that brow is made of bark.
The howl came again, low enough to sound like the wind, but knowing what Keefa had said, that definitely wasn’t the wind.
I stepped out into the hallway, and looked about. I couldn’t see anything, but there was a gentle glow that seemed to be moving down the hallway towards me. A cool breeze seemed to blow across me at that moment, and if I had hackles, they would have been up. Perhaps a more suitable metaphor is that my leaves stood on end as it passed over me.
The moaning grew louder, as did the glow, until I could just about make out a shape. It was that of a Blumaroo, covered in rags, and looking a bit worst for wear, if I’m honest.
It seemed like an actual ghost, not an impersonator, but just for good measure, only because my paws needed to do something to stop their shaking - not that I was shaking or anything! - I threw the bucket of paint as hard as I could in the general vicinity of the ghost. And I mean, I threw the whole paint can.
It flew right through the, apparently, very real ghost, the paint flying out in every direction, and the can that had once contained it clattered to the floor with a deafening clang. The Blumaroo made a small sound, almost like a whimper, and floated to the other end of the hallway. My heart was thudding in my chest, and only when the ghost dipped around the corner did my breath come more easily.
It was just as it disappeared, too, that the beacon of a torch caught me in its spotlight.
“What in Fyora’s name is going on here?”
I turned around, eyes wide, suddenly more scared than I had been of the ghost. A towering blue Elephante in a nurse’s scrubs was staring at me with a more disappointed glare than even my own mother could muster, and boy could she a muster at the look of disappointment.
“Excuse me, who are you, and what in Sloth’s name are you doing?” the Elephante asked. She didn’t sound pleased, as if the glare hadn’t given her feelings away already.
“I - uh - well, I just came to - I mean…” I stuttered, unable to use my words. “Ghosts?”
And that is how I got thrown out of the Roo Island Hospital at twenty past midnight, while being told very strictly what the accepted visiting hours were. Oh, and how I’d woken the entire floor up, which, if I hadn’t done that myself, this Elephante’s yelling would have done. She also was complaining of what a mess I had made.
She had me on that point. As she’d dragged me off by the ear, I’d chanced a look behind me, and there was more red than a poppy field, splattered everywhere in that section of the hallway. I wasn’t sure in the dim light, but there had even seemed to be some on the ceiling.
When I came back in the morning to visit my aunt to tell her what happened, I was going to need to bring a very big bribe - I mean gift - for those nurses. If they even deigned to let me in after this disaster.***
As soon as I got back to the hotel I was staying at, The Rootz, I fell into a deep sleep. The next morning, I woke up feeling like my head was full of cotton wool. For that, I only know of one cure: a huge cooked breakfast. Luckily, that was comped by the hotel, since it was so ritzy thanks to my Aunt Keefa paying for it, and I gorged myself on the best Breakfast Croissants that you’ve ever laid teeth on.
There was something niggling me, a stray thought at the back of my mind that I couldn’t quite catch hold of. After breakfast, I decided a walk down to the harbour would do me good.
The day was overcast, so I’d like to pretend the sea was clear and calm, but it was actually raging like my mother whenever I got caught skipping Neoschool. I sighed, and leaned against the railings to look out. Above me, Pawkeets swooped in and called endlessly to each other. Probably hoping to find someone who wasn’t watching their Pfish and chips closely enough. They’re tricksy little things, those harbour-side Pawkeets.
The sea wasn’t helping, and nor was all that squawking, so I decided to walk inland. I walked down past the massive arcade that sang endless theme tunes and belched out coins rattling so loudly in the metal trays that I could hear them from outside.
Down from there, I traipsed through a patch of trees, watching out for any Warf traps on the way. It was just as I was coming out of the small woods that I heard a nostalgic sound. A tune was jingling, and while I couldn’t quite place it, it sounded vaguely like the Ride of the Valkyriis. That wasn’t it, but it was the same sort of old fashioned music, and it came from a carousel in the distance. Nowadays, carousels seemed to play more upbeat music, but as I got closer, I began to realise how old this one was.
It was obviously dilapidated, the Unis to ride on having been rendered out of wood, rather than the usual brightly coloured plastic. While I could tell there had been paint once, now it looked peeling and sun-bleached. It looked about as appealing as the Turmaculus, but curiosity got the better of me.
It spun round in staccato circles, and an cheerful looking yellow Blumaroo manned the ticket booth. He grinned as I came closer.
“Can I interest you in a ride, Miss?” he said, pointing towards the wooden Unis with his cane. “50NP a ticket. Same price it’s always been, same price it always will be.”
His smile was infectious, and I couldn’t help grin back. I reached into my pocket and produced the neopoints.
“That’s a good price, not like what the rides up by the harbour are charging, you know,” I said. I wondered how lonely he must get, if he stood here day in and day out, always waiting for a customer. I might be sarcastic, but I wasn’t heartless.
“The harbour? Why, child, we’re the only fairground ride on all of Roo Island, I can assure you,” he said, taking my money and giving me a wooden “Redeemable for One Ride Only" chip in return.
I gulped. If he didn’t know about the Ferris Wheels, Helter Skelters and Fun Houses on the harbour, I wasn’t the one to break it to him. He seemed far too nice for that.
“Do you often get customers down here?”
“Oh, we used to do a roaring trade, let me tell you, but it’s been a little thin lately, I won’t lie. There, look, the ride has stopped and you can get on now.”
I did as I was told, and only narrowly made it onto a Uni who seemed to have once been painted Cloud. The carving itself was gorgeous, and even though it was rotting or the cuttings had been worn away by friction in most places, it must have looked spectacular when it was first installed.
The Blumaroo emerged from the ticket booth, and collected my plastic token.
“I used to have a partner for this,” he said, a hint of sadness in his voice. “But he retired with his wife, in a nice cottage on the other side of the island.”
“I didn’t see any cottages up there,” I said.
“Didn’t you? Well, you should look again. His cottage is called Wockyglove. You should visit, he loves visitors! It’s on Algernon Road. You know, after the King.”
“Is that King Roo’s first name?”
Before I could follow that up, the carousel began to turn, and he stepped back off onto the grass that surrounding it. I went round for a few minutes, the up and down motion almost making me sea sick. The Blumaroo waved at me every time the carousel turned his way, and I waved back enthusiastically, hiding my want to get off the darned thing.
Finally, I stumbled off. “Thanks for that, it’s been a long time since I’ve been on a merry-go-round.”
“I’m so glad you enjoyed it,” he said, smiling.
“Can I ask your name? I’m Illanari, but you can call me Nari,” I said.
“And I’m Peter Roodolpho,” Peter said, holding out a hand for me to shake. “Now, do you want some candy floss to take home with you?”
I had no idea how long ago that candy floss might have been waiting for a customer to take it home, or even where it had come from, but when he produced a big plastic bag of the stuff from behind his back, sugary and pink, I couldn’t help myself but snatch it up. Besides, sugar never goes off, right? Something like that, I’m sure of it.
“Thanks Peter, maybe I’ll come back tomorrow for a ride,” I said, and shook his hand again before walking off.
“Please do, have a nice day!”***
After I’d stopped by the Coffee Cave for some, you guessed it, coffee and Chokato Croissant, my favourite, I wondered back towards the hospital. Luckily, the nurses from the night before seemed to be off shift now, and I got to my aunt’s room without incident.
Keefa was finishing her lunch when I arrived, and she raised an eyebrow as I came in.
“What are they doing, letting a troublemaker like you in?” the Kougra said with a wry smile.
I grinned back. “Oh, don’t you start, getting your poor, naive niece into that trouble in the first place.”
I plonked myself down in the seat next to her bed.
“What’s that you got there?” she said, eyeing the bag in my hand.
“Oh, this?” I said, lifting up. I’d sort of forgotten I was holding it. Memory of a Goldy, me. “Candy floss. Some guy at the carousel gave it to me.”
“Let’s have some then,” she said, reaching out a paw. “You should share with sick old ladies.”
“You’ve got a broken leg, Aunt Keefa,” but I opened up the bag nonetheless, and she took a handful not a moment later.
I was about to do the same, but my paw froze mid-candyfloss-grab. Something was off, but I couldn’t tell what it was. And I knew it must have been off, for me to be resisting the urge to eat sugar. Was it just mouldy candy floss? No, that wasn’t it. I lent down, and took a big whiff of the candy floss scent. Then it hit me.
“Aunt Keefa,” I said, slowly, unsure where my brain was going. Not that that’s ever stopped me before. “Have you ever noticed a smell when the ghost is around?”
Keefa struggled to swallow the huge wad of sugary pink stuff she’d just stuffed in her mouth. “Yeah, now that you say it. It always smells - well, sort of sweet, I guess.”
“Like this?” I asked, and held the bag up to her snout.
She frowned, before nodding. “That’s about right…how odd!”
Then another thought struck me. “What road are we on, auntie?”
“Ooh, let me remember now…it’s Algernon Road, number 232 to 467, I believe,” she said, grinning at having gotten it right.
I stood up, my brain reeling. “Are there cottages along this road?”
Aunt Keefa shook her head.
“There haven’t been cottages here for years - not since they knocked some down to build the hospital.”
My head was starting to hurt, and I began pushing the rest of the candy floss bag at Keefa, before turning to exit. She called after me, confused, and I paused in the doorway.
“One last thing, Aunt Keefa - what’s King Roo’s first name?
She chuckled. “Is this one of those quizzes? It’s Roo, of course!”
“Then, Roo what?”
“Roo Roo, everyone knows that dear.”
I gulped. I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask the next question. “So when did King Algernon reign?”
“Oh,” she said frowning. She began to run her chin with the paw not shovelling candy floss. “Well, that’d be in your great-grandfather’s day, I imagine, much before my time. What’s this all about, Nari?”
I started out the door again. “I’ll have to tell you later, auntie. I have to go see a pet about some candy floss."
I marched out, already sweating - or should that be “sapping” in my case? - from the new found knowledge, and began back towards the carousel grounds.
To be continued…