It looked hideous.
Donny the red Bori looked forlornly at his Toy Repair Shop. It had been decorated.
Festive black and orange steamers hung from the rafters, pumpkins with gigantic smiles sat in the snow in all their orange glory, Halloween balloons were tethered to a post, and a large banner was draped over the entrance.
Donny turned to his sister. The two of them stood ankle-deep in snow, the late-October wind whirling past their ears, ruffling their fur.
“Take it down, Elle,” he grumbled.
“I thought you’d be pleased,” Elle replied, grin still firmly glued onto her face, completely unfazed by her brother’s reaction. “Come on, I put it all up to surprise you. It’s Halloween today! Celebrate.” She reached over to Donny’s face and tried to pull at the corners of his mouth. “Smile!”
“What’s good about Halloween? All these little kids keep comin' to ask fer teeth-rottin' sweets, ringin’ the doorbell every two minutes. Not a moment’s peace.”
“But aren’t they so darling? I love seeing the little ones all dressed up in their costumes. Guess what I’m dressing up as this year, Donny.”
Donny glanced sideways at his sister. With greying hair, too much makeup, and the faint wisps of wrinkles encircling her crimson and gold eyes, the ghost Acara was far too old to be donning costumes so eagerly.
“You’re not going to go runnin' around asking for candy, are you?” he asked dourly.
“No, I tried that last year ago and nobody would give me anything. So this year I’m having a Halloween party. You’re coming.”
“No I’m not,” said Donny stubbornly. “And take down these ludicrous decorations. I live atop a mountain where it’s winter all year round. The things look so garish hanging over my cabin.”
“The other places are decorated. See, the Garage Sale Igloo has at least a dozen giant pumpkins. Come on, Donny," she wheedled, "Have a little fun.”
“I’m too old for fun. Take down the streamers.”
“Fun has no expiry date! You’re coming to my party; I’ll be expecting you.”
“I’m busy tonight. Put away those balloons, the wind’s almost blowin’ them off anyway.”
“You can take a night off. Come on, you can’t stay at your Shop alone. You know what they say about Halloween: all kinds of mysterious and unexplainable magic happen on this night.”
Donny sighed. “You know that’s not true, Elle, you just wish it was. Now take off the junk you threw over my house and I’ll come to yer silly party.”
“Okay,” Elle agreed. “I did spend a lot of time bringing some Halloween cheer to your place, though. How about I just take away the balloons?”
“Off. All of it.”
Later that day, Donny sat at his workbench, hammer in hand, stroking his beard and looking contemplatively at a broken toy.
The doorbell rang. He grumbled, expecting his sister ready with an army of nonsensical arguments as to why he should go to her party. Elle was an Acara who never grew old, despite aging features. She pranced around energetically, wearing gaudy jewellery, heavy makeup, and a permanent smile, initiating snowball fights and telling jokes. She even enjoyed the fact that their parents had called them Donny and Donnyelle. Donny had always hated that their names sounded like they came straight from a corny nursery story.
He considered not answering the door, but the ringing continued. He grumpily thrust open the door and was greeted by Doctor Sloth and Count Von Roo.
They were much shorter than Donny expected.
"Trick or treat!"
Was it already time for trick or treaters?
Count Von Roo was actually a young Snow Elephante, who seemed to have purchased his costume two sizes too small. A horn poking from Doctor Sloth's head revealed that he was in fact a little Christmas Uni. Both infamous Neopian villains held out bags half-filled with candy.
"I'm sorry, I don't have any sweets," Donny said, trying to ignore their disappointed faces. He didn't approve of Halloween, but he always had a fond spot for children. "But I, er, I do have some toys fer ya." He quickly found some bouncy balls and dumped them into the kids' sacks. It was like this every year.
"Thanks, mister!" the Elephante and Uni said, but both sounded as if they wished the balls were pumped with sugar. They quickly left his doorstep, eager to head to the next neohome.
Donny noticed other trick-or-treaters prancing around Terror Mountain with their bags of candy. It was a dangerous holiday, he thought, children getting dressed and going alone to strangers' houses, receiving food that could be poisonous. He didn’t like to take any part of it. Why couldn’t they just ignore his house?
He noticed Elle forgot to take off an orange streamer. Stepping back from his doorstep, he noticed she hadn’t taken any of the Halloween decorations. Donny grumbled at a grinning pumpkin and retreated back into his Shop.
Over the course of the next hour, Donny was interrupted by several trick-or-treaters, including blue Kyrii quadruplets each dressed as edible Chias, a large mutant Gnorbu wearing an Edna hat, a faerie Tonu masquerading as a speckled Tonu and a speckled Tonu masquerading as a faerie Tonu. Not wanting anyone to leave empty-handed, he gave them each toys.
Just when Donny started tackling a broken toy car, the doorbell rang again. Grabbing a doll, he headed tiredly to the door.
A very tall Neopet stood at the entrance, wearing a dark cloak with the hood pulled up.
"What's yer costume?" Donny asked. The hood concealed the Neopet's face.
"I'm not here for sweets," a bitter feminine voice said. "I need you to fix something for me."
"Oh, sure. Come in,” he said uneasily. The Neopet’s voice sent shivers down his spine.
He led the Neopet to his workshop and sat on his bench. The Neopet gently placed a handful of elaborate burnished pieces of glass and metal onto the table. Lying on the wood surface were shiny fragments with intricate designs depicting ancient Neopians, what looked like a carefully carved handle snapped in two, and shards of glass. The pieces, even broken, looked obviously expensive.
“It’s a mirror,” the Neopet explained.
Donny gingerly examined the pieces.
"Fix it. I have the Neopoints."
"With something so fancy, the repair will take a while. You can leave it the night and I’ll try to finish it by tomorrow.”
“I need it today.”
“May I ask why?”
“I need it by midnight.”
“I don’t want to damage it further; this is a real delicate object you have here. It’d be better if ya lemme take my time,” Donny said, admiring the handiwork on the bits of broken mirror. “And my specialty is toys, not treasures like this. How’d ya break it?”
“It was... so beautiful and delicate,” she snarled, her voice trembling with something akin to rage. “I was just holding it. It was so beautiful I had to look away... and when I looked down, my paws had smashed it into pieces. But you can fix it, right?” the hooded Neopet asked urgently.
“Yep, I think I can. But like I said, maybe tomorrow you can pick it up –”
“Today,” she interrupted. “I need it, tonight. It’s useless tomorrow. I’ll pay extra.”
“I really don’t want to be careless with this. It must be worth a fortune.”
“A fortune and then some. This mirror here is worth ten of you.” She paused, then turned away. ‘They told me... that if I found it, this mirror, if I found it and fixed it and gave it back to them on Halloween... they told me they would make me... beautiful.” She turned back abruptly and Donny caught a flash of light from her eyes. They looked decidedly sinister.
The Neopet lowered her hood. Donny immediately recognized the face. An Acara with curved horns protruding from her head, russet-coloured fur, and Draik-like wings, the notorious Neopian looked at him with piercing eyes.
“Vira?” he breathed, and then started a coughing fit. Known for doing anything in her capability to obtain beauty or take it from others, Donny knew it would be wise to follow her commands. His coughs died down, leaving him standing awkwardly, wringing his paws and avoiding Vira’s eyes.
“Yes. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll fix it as soon as possible,” she said, her voice sickly saccharine, but tinged with obvious desperation and underlying threat. “I’ll be waiting in the other room.”
“I’ll get right to it,” Donny said hastily, gathering his supplies.
Donny was meticulously attaching the fragments together, peering at the tiny pieces through a magnifying glass. The repair was slow, cautious work, and with such small fragments, it was very difficult. He had almost nicked his paws with the glass several times. His eyes were tired and his head hurt, echoing with the sound of the incessant doorbell ringing every few minutes. He could hear Vira in the other room and had heard something smash onto the floor. He hadn’t gone to investigate, but the crash had startled him, causing him to drop three shards of glass and spend almost half an hour looking for them.
At least, after so many hours, the mirror was nearing completion. He had the whole handle, the two pieces attached seamlessly, and had pieced together most of the frame. Every now and then Donny had to stop and just gaze at the finery of decorative frame, eyes roving over the minute detail with awe.
Donny squinted at the pieces laid before him, trying to find the next piece of the jigsaw puzzle. He examined one piece and slid it against the unfinished frame, where it fit perfectly. Grabbing his special glue, he gingerly dabbed the adhesive on with a miniature brush and pressed the next piece into place.
He hadn’t eaten, hadn’t paused to rest. He kept his eyes on his work, made his paws move twice as fast as usual, driven mostly by fear. Usually fixing toys was an enjoyable job, but not when his heart kept pounding and he kept coughing with anxiety, his paw slipping as he thought of the Acara in his Shop. Still, he was proud of his abilities and determined to fix the mirror. He was a perfectionist when it came to his art. Whether the costumer was a scraggly kid with a burst ball or a frightening villainess, he made the toy appear just like new.
How much time did he have left? The clock was ticking on the other side of the room, but his weary, strained eyes couldn’t manage to decipher the time. Instead, Donny just heard tick, tick, tick, ding dong.
It was probably getting very close to midnight, he thought worriedly. His brain had conjured up many images of possible punishments Vira would enact on him if he didn’t finish the mirror, each one worse than the next. He thought his progress rate was good so far, but who knew how much time had passed? What felt to him like ten minutes could have been an hour.
A piece was missing. Did it fall to the floor?
He swept away his tools, the frame fragments, the shards of glass. The missing piece wasn’t on his worktable. He bent down to retrieve it, but his head collided painfully with his hard wooden workbench, the mirror jostling off the table and falling.
His head swimming with pain, Donny lunged to grab his labour of the past few hours, but his head connected with the sharp corner of the workbench once again. The mirror was falling, it was going to smash into a thousand pieces again, Donny’s eyes were sliding closed, tick, tick, tick, and everything became black.
Donny awoke to a dimly-lit, unfamiliar room. His ears were ringing. Warily experimenting with moving his limbs, he was elated to find them all properly working. He felt the throbbing sensation of a headache and a little soreness, but that came often with age.
The mirror; what happened to the mirror?
He had dropped it, which meant it now lay in pieces once again. All his work gone to waste. Vira would be furious. Was there a clock in this room? There was a table beside the plush sofa he was lying on and a clock perched was perched on it, the minute hand moving to half past eleven.
Alarmed, Donny snatched the clock, holding it closer to his face, as if the proximity would drive the hour hand back a few hours. Setting the clock back on the table, he sank into the couch. Vira was dangerous. He had no idea what she could do, but there were stories. He had never before believed them, but now his mind was racing, trying to differentiate between fact and fiction. He could feel his old heart hammering in his chest and heard booming, rhythmic beats reverberating in his head.
He was in danger. Vira must have heard him drop his beloved mirror and kidnapped him, taking him to her lair. She was probably currently deciding on the best way to punish him. The clock on the table was ticking far too loudly, he thought.
But the room he was in didn’t look overly suspicious or scary. A table lamp was on across the room. He sat on a comfortable sofa, with the table beside it and a thick rug on the floor. Boxes were scattered around the floor, labels scribbled onto the cardboard. He couldn’t read the labels and felt his stomach lurch at the possibility of way lay within them.
He should escape before Vira came back from wherever she was. His eyes scanned the room, stopping at a narrow staircase at the far side. Hurry, Donny thought, easing off the sofa. Hurry and leave.
A door opened. Donny heard music, loud and obnoxious and upbeat, coupled with footsteps coming down the stairs. He quickly crept behind the sofa, for lack of a better hiding spot, and peeked over the side.
It was Vira.
The dim light glinted on curled horns, her black dress swishing as she approached the now empty sofa.
Donny hastily pulled back his head, hoping she hadn’t noticed. He couldn’t hear the ticking of the clock anymore, just the deafening beat of his heart. He was too old to mingle with such shady Neopians. Why did Vira have to come to him? He was just a humble Bori who lived on top of a cold mountain and fixed toys. He shouldn’t have been included in Vira’s quest for beauty.
The footsteps were coming closer. His breathing was too loud.
His eyes darted around the room once more. There had to be another place to escape or at least a weapon he could use on Vira. Nothing, unless there was something helpful in the boxes and he had no time to look through them now.
That wasn’t Vira’s voice.
“Elle?” Donny said, coming from his hiding spot.
His sister stood in front of the sofa, dressed in a Vira costume and holding a glass of lemonade.
Donny blinked and started coughing. How had this happened? Why wasn’t he in Vira’s clutches, being cursed eternally for destroying what was perhaps her only hope for beauty?
Elle patted his back. “You’re awake now. You’ve been out a few hours.”
“Vira,” he said hoarsely.
“I saw her, but you’re okay now.”
“What happened?” Donny took the lemonade from her.
“I came to drag you to my party,” Elle began. “I let myself in and I saw Vira, standing in your living room, muttering to herself and staring at the clock. At first I thought maybe it was a costume, like mine... but it wasn’t. Thankfully she didn’t notice me and I ran to look for you and found you passed out on the floor of her workroom. What did she do to you? Did she hurt you?”
“She wanted me to fix a special mirror for her by midnight. I failed.”
Elle glanced at the clock. “It’s not midnight yet.”
“There’s less than an half an hour to go,” Donny said frantically. “I can’t fix the mirror in time. I managed to finish over half of it, but I knocked it off the table and it smashed...”
“Don’t worry, Donny,” Elle said. “Nothing is going to happen, don’t worry.”
“Don’t worry? This is Vira we’re talking about! Ya don’t know how dangerous she can be. I can’t – I don’t... what do I do? She’ll come after me. You didn’t hear her, she really needed this mirror by tonight.”
“Strange things happen on Halloween,” Elle said solemnly. Donny looked at his sister. He face was uncharacteristically strained, the worry written clear over her features. “But I’ll keep you safe. You can stay here.”
“Forever? I have a business to run. And even if I do stay here, Vira would find me.” His voice was frenetic, his throat was dry, his palms were sweaty.
“You’ll have to go back, get the mirror, and try to reassemble it as quickly as possible. Even if the chances are low, you have to try, Donny. Maybe it’ll still be okay if you finish it just a couple hours past midnight”
He seriously doubted it. “Elle, it’s... impossible.”
“Are you a quitter, Donny? No, you’re not, and I’m not, and I’m not going to let you get eaten by Vira.”
“She wouldn’t eat me. It would make her fat."
“Was that a joke?” Elle said, smiling despite their situation. “Now, come. We have to hurry. Donny, please, don’t give up. We’ll think of something. I’ve always been able to come up with last-minute ideas.”
Donny didn’t insert his less than positive feelings toward her past ideas and allowed his determined sister to drag him up the stairs. The Halloween party was in full force: a horde of dancing and prattling neopets occupied the room, drinking and laughing in ostentatious costumes, completely oblivious to the dangers of Halloween.
A red Pteri slid in front of Donny and Elle. “Great party, Elle,” he said, lifting a can of Achyfi. “Hey, who’s this?”
“My brother Donny,” Elle said hurriedly. “Donny, this is Rydon.”
“Nice to meet you, Don,” Rydon said amiably. “You’re not dressed up either! So I’m not the only one. I was going to be a baby Pteri, but I didn’t have time to make a costume.”
“Great,” Donny said. “But I’m in a hurry.”
“Yes, we’d better go,” Elle said.
“What’s the rush? It’s a party, have some fun, you two. Why do you look so uptight, Elle? It’s not like you.”
“There’s a bit of an emergency; we really need to leave.”
Donny blinked. He thought he saw Vira in the crowd, weaving past the partying Neopets. He coughed and shook his head. It was another Neopet in a Vira costume. Apparently she was popular this Halloween.
“Oh no, what happened?” Rydon asked. “Nobody’s hurt, right? Maybe I should come, in case you need help.”
“No, it’s okay. Thanks, though.”
“Are you sure? Is it a fire? A robbery?”
Donny saw the Vira costume again. The figure turned and he caught a flash of powerful, blood-red eyes, focused right on him.
It wasn’t a costume.
“None of those. It’s nothing, actually. Donny just likes to be extra careful... he thought he left his Shop unlocked, he wanted to make sure...”
“That’s what you’re so worried about? Come on, Elle, lighten up. It’s Halloween!”
Vira was approaching, quickly swerving toward him. Donny heart seized and he instinctively fled from Elle’s side, slipping into the mass of Neopets. For once he was thankful Elle had so many friends.
It was still no use, however. Turning, he saw her eyes just steps behind him. The air around him was suddenly frigid. He sped up, running as fast as he could, Vira still hot on his tail, forcefully pushing Neopians aside. He could hear her hissing angrily.
“Donny?” He heard Elle call his name from amongst the partiers.
He couldn’t run fast enough...
He grabbed an ornamental pumpkin and flung it at Vira, his breath coming in ragged pants as he continued ahead. The agile Acara ducked. The pumpkin hit a young plushie Zafara.
The party-goers were starting to notice something strange was occurring. Not wanting anyone else to get hurt, Donny searched for the back door, but found it was blocked by Neopets. Instead, he impulsively ran up a narrow flight of stairs.
Since Elle’s neohome was a bungalow, he found himself outside on the roof, the snow whirling around him. It was cold.
He ran to the edge of the rooftop as Vira appeared from the stairs.
There was nowhere left to run. Donny jumped.
He fell painfully onto the ground, but the thick snow cushioned the fall, which meant he was still able to move, to escape. He scrambled hastily to his feet and resumed sprinting. Running in the snow was difficult. He stumbled as far as he could, until his knees gave way and he sank into the snow. He could see the Halloween decorations on Elle’s house, twice as bright and flashy as the decorations she had strung onto his Shop.
Vira stood in front of him, breathing easily and looking not the least bit chilly. She withdrew a handful of shards from the pocket of her clock and threw them onto Donny’s heaving chest.
“Sorry,” Donny choked.
She laughed, and her laugh was strangely beautiful. It didn’t match her gruesome face and personality.
Donny lay in the snow and closed his eyes. He wondered vaguely what Vira would do to him. He waited for it, feeling the flurries and wind. He heard ticking, tick, tick, tick, before realizing it was his heartbeat.
He opened his eyes.
Vira was gone.
He hadn’t moved. He didn’t feel different. He was still scared, still cold, still tired. Yet Vira was gone; Vira wasn’t in front of him.
And there was a mirror on his chest.
Complete, unharmed, perfect.
He held it gently in his hand. It was so beautiful. He heard snow crunching around his and saw Elle running toward him, her face wrought with concern. “It’s a minute past midnight now,” Elle said, crushing Donny in a hug. “I thought you might not be here anymore.” Her voice trembled and Donny leaned back, noticing the tears glistening on the wrinkles around her eyes.
“I’m okay,” he said hoarsely, unsurely.
“Are you sure?” Elle asked, her voice thick and harried. She saw the mirror. “You did it? You fixed it! I knew you could, oh, I knew you could!” She peered into the mirror for a moment and Donny noticed she was quickly checking her makeup, even after all that had happened. Mirrors make even the best of people vain, he thought.
There was a flash in the glass.
Donny lifted it and tilted the glass to the left, the right. Finally, he saw her. There was Vira, except radically different. This Vira could in no way ignite fear in him. Her face was modestly pretty, she had no horns, and she was smiling. Her smile was so open and blissfully happy that Donny felt like he was intruding Vira’s privacy.
It seemed like having the mirror at the stroke of midnight had brought her beauty, but not in the way Vira had expected it.
Suddenly, the mirror cracked in his paw and once again it lay in a thousand broken pieces, glinting in the moonlight.
Donny buried the shards in the snow.