Master of Ceremonies: Part Three
As the amber sun descended in the distance and poised itself just above the tree line of the Haunted Woods, more and more patrons filled the fairground. Some young ones were dressed as faeries and others as mutants, and many of them ran excitedly from booth to booth collecting their trick-or-treat candy. Even many of the adults were dressed in costumes as well.
Neopets roamed the fairgrounds with corn on the cob, spiced almonds, and other fried goodies in hand. Long lines filled the pathways as Neopets waited for their turn on the amusement rides. The grand opening of the fairground on Halloween night was turning out to be a huge success.
Somewhere in the midst of those growing crowds, the beautiful Acara, Vira, and the handsome Moehog, Judge, were seen chatting the evening away. They had only spent a couple of hours or so wandering the fairgrounds together, but they seemed to be having a great time.
Judge suddenly stopped to look at a peculiar sideshow. It was an unattended machine resembling that of a large thermostat, but it was labeled with words ranging from “weakling” near the bottom to “jackpot” at the very top. In front of the tower sat a large button mounted on a wooden platform.
The high striker had a sign in front of it reading “Test Your Strength.”
Having her interest piqued as well as his, Vira asked, “Are you thinking of playing it?”
“I’ll take a swing at it,” he said proudly. They approached the sideshow and saw the corresponding prize booth just a few yards away. Inside the cart stood a Mynci who was wearing a large, red bow tie and was busily working on something out of their view.
Judge stepped up to the counter and set down one hundred Neopoints. “Hi, I’d like to have a go at this game.”
The Mynci looked up briefly to say, “Sorry, but I’m closing up shop.” He then looked back down to finish whatever he was doing.
“Please, sir. Just one shot. May I?” Judge asked, pushing the Neopoints across the counter.
The carnie glanced up again and then paused to think. He bobbled his head in slight disappointment, but he then conceded to their request. Getting back into character, he challenged, “So you think you can hit the top? Alright, you can have a go.” He grabbed a wooden mallet, stepped out from the cart, and handed it to Judge.
“Thank you,” the Moehog said. Raising his eyebrows at Vira, Judge walked over to the game. He got into position and raised the mallet high over his head, throwing it down squarely on the button.
The puck shot upward, but it didn’t make it past “mighty.”
Vira courteously applauded, and Judge shrugged with a smile on his face. Also rather impressed, the Mynci remarked, “Wow, you are one of the strongest I’ve had all day. Here’s your prize.”
The Mynci reached into his cart, leaning over the counter, and pulled out a large sack of candy. He handed Judge the Bag Of Halloween Sweets and thanked them for playing.
“Alright, now I’m heading out of here, and you should be, too,” the carnie said, preparing to lock up his prize cart.
“What? Why do you say that?” Judge asked.
The Mynci pulled the shutter down and locked it. “It’s Halloween night! Everyone should hightail it out of here before midnight. With the Haunted Woods just outside the gates, who knows what crazy mischief will happen tonight.”
“That’s a smart idea,” Judge said. “I wasn’t planning on staying that long, anyway.”
“When you leave, stick to the road, and don’t wander around alone,” he also warned.
Judge and Vira thanked him for his time before he headed off.
Noticing the time, the pair decided that it was best to get to the beauty contest tent a bit early and find some seats before they were all taken. They weaved through the crowds and headed toward the center of the fairground in search of their destination.
From across the central plaza the pair could see a steady flow of fairground patrons already entering the beauty contest tent, so they briskly walked past the nearby funhouse and headed inside along with the crowd.
With the setting of the sun, the inside of the beauty contest tent was much dimmer than it had been all morning, but this absence of light perfectly complimented the spotlights and stage lights and fostered the mood of a traditional fashion show. Several banners, each representing a different Neopian land, lined the catwalk.
“Where would you like to sit?” Judge asked politely. Vira spotted some vacant seats on the left side, so they followed the flow of the crowd in that direction.
After taking their seats, they noticed that a few of the beauty pageant contestants were wandering around the tent, conversing with various audience members.
“I bet they’re trying to rally up some extra support,” Judge presumed. “You know, win over some fans to help secure the vote? Tonight’s going to be a crazy night. This place is packed!”
Vira was excited for the contest. It was only an hour or so away that Neopia would vote her to be the fairest in all of Neopia, and that would mean that her life would finally head in the direction it was meant to go.
“Look, there’s Miss Meridell,” Judge said, pointing her out to Vira as Miss Meridell walked out from backstage. “She’s in favor of world peace. Isn’t that the coolest?”
“Yeah, that is pretty cool,” she nonchalantly replied. Vira wanted so badly to inform Judge that she, herself, was also going to be a contestant, but she decided to keep that a secret. This would be the perfect opportunity for her to surprise him.
She would leave for just a moment toward the end of the show, and then show up on stage as the show’s finale! That was a surefire way to impress him!
“Do you want me to flag her over here?” he asked.
“What? Flag over who?”
“Miss Meridell. I think it would be so cool to meet her. Here, hold on.” Judge stood up and waved at Miss Meridell, but she didn’t notice.
After a few more failed attempts, he sat back down.
Vira patted his arm. “Maybe after the show.”
“Ah, but it would have been so cool. I guess we could try again later, but she might be too busy by that point.”
“I have a feeling that she’ll talk to us later.”
“Hm? What do you mean?”
Vira smiled suspiciously. “Well, I… have a feeling that she’ll talk to us when I win.”
Judge paused in thought for a moment. “Oh, I see. You’re thinking of entering next year’s competition?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“You should try it! You’d do great,” Judge nodded in affirmation. “But you’ll have to remember that these models are famous in the lands where they come from, and their popularity is just as important as their beauty when it comes to getting votes. You may not be familiar enough to the masses for the judges to let you past the tryouts.”
Judge looked at Vira seriously as he delivered his advice. He meant no harm, but she misinterpreted both his expression and his advice as, ‘Sorry, but you’re not pretty enough.’
Vira looked away, and embarrassment poured into her every fiber.
Noticing his spoken error, Judge became really embarrassed, too. “I’m sorry. Did what I just say…” Vira’s expression became noticeably flustered.
She stood up without looking back at him. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
“I’m sorry, Vira. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“I know. It’s fine. I just… need a moment by myself.”
Judge stood up, too. “I’m really sorry. Please don’t go.”
“Just stay here,” Vira said calmly, not looking at him in the face. “I’ll be back later. Just… stay here, and don’t follow me.”
Vira walked down the crowded aisle, leaving her bag of candy and friend behind. She reached the end of the row and walked down the aisle toward the exit. She didn’t look back, but knowing that Judge was apologetically watching her leave wasn’t going to console her anyway.
She headed past the funhouse and toward the fairground’s main gate, hoping to escape the noisy crowds and find some time to cheer herself up before returning for the finale. With seemingly the worst of timing, Branston’s voice echoed throughout the fairground over the loudspeakers—the beauty contest was finally starting.
The oppressing noises of chatter, rides, and sideshows all pressed into Vira’s ears as she walked. Costumed entertainers roamed the pathways, playfully frightening the fairground’s visitors and making them scream. The lights, sights, and colorful advertisements were also overwhelming to her. Never before had she been exposed to so much plebian entertainment all at once! She had to get away from this place.
Leaving the tumultuous crowds and sounds behind her, Vira left the fairground and began her retreat toward the mansion, which meant following the perimeter of the iron fence and cutting through the woods. With the sun struggling to stay up above the horizon, it was hard for her eyes to adjust to the stark, growing shadows.
She looked around the forest glade as she walked but spotted no one nearby. Her frustration about Judge and the beauty contest surfaced as she strode down the path alone.
“That’s so annoying. Why doesn’t he think I’m good enough? I have a very fair shot at winning this.”
Vira was unsure about whether she should cry or take courage. Today was supposed to be the best day she had ever had, but that reality wasn’t certain yet.
And neither would it ever be so, for her very own shadow was conspiring against her with plans of its own…
To be continued…