All Hallow’s Eve: Part Five
Holly tried to wrap her brain around what was happening. It was all too unreal, and yet it was happening. She knew she had to be strong for Jasper's sake.
"Well," she said, trying to sound confident. "If we haven't cured you by then, we will confine you in the basement. There are no windows and only one way out. We will barricade you inside. Eleven days is plenty of time, though. We might come up with the cure by then."
"One can only hope," Jasper sighed.
Holly decided not to mention that Jasper's condition was obviously getting worse every night. She went downstairs to get breakfast prepared. When Douglas came down for breakfast Holly wondered what she should do about her brother. So long as she and Jasper made sure the beast was locked away each night he was safe. She decided she didn't want to frighten him.
"Douglas, I don't think you are spending enough time out in the fresh air anymore. I'd like it if you spent more time outside before the winter gets here," Holly said as she served him his breakfast.
"All right, old mum. I guess I have spent too much time exploring the house. Meggie invited me to play croquet today. I wasn't going to go, but I guess I will," Douglas said as he started to eat his porridge.
"Good lad," Holly replied as she put Jasper's food on a tray and carried it up to the attic.
She found him already looking through his books. She left the tray in silence and went back to the kitchen. She was too unnerved by what she had learned to eat, so she just drank a cup of tea and then cleaned up the breakfast dishes. Once done she headed back up to the attic. She found Jasper hadn't touched his porridge. She decided not to pester him about it.
"Jasper, what can I do to help?" Holly asked.
He waved a hand at a dusty stack of books. "Pick a book and start looking through it for anything that looks remotely like an antidote for this. I'll try anything."
Holly picked up a book and sat down and started skimming the thick tome. By the time she needed to go prepare supper she had sufficiently examined it, but it had yielded no help. She tried to listen wholeheartedly to Douglas' account of his croquet match, but it was hard to keep her thoughts off Jasper and the approaching night. She dined in the attic and encouraged Jasper to eat, but neither of them had very good appetites. Later that night Jasper called Holly over and pointed to the book lying open on the desk.
"It's worth a try," Holly said as she looked over it. "Do we have everything we need?"
"I think so," Jasper replied.
"Well, we can start bright and early tomorrow," Holly sighed.
Jasper looked over at the clock and saw it was ten to midnight. He sighed and walked over to the cage. Holly came over and embraced her friend.
"Don't worry, Jasper. Maybe by tomorrow night we won't need the cage anymore," Holly consoled.
He returned the embrace in silence. Then he let go of her and stepped into the cage. Holly shut the door and locked it, feeling worse than he did about it. She hung the key around her neck and took his hand, holding it to comfort him until the clock started to chime. He let go and stepped backwards. He started to writhe in pain as his shadow engulfed him. His body twisted and distorted, turning into the hulking monster. She had to look away; she couldn't watch her friend become the beast. She looked back when the transformation was complete.
"Jasper?" Holly asked gently. "Jasper, are you still in there?"
The terrible red eyes turned on her and he began to throw himself again the bars of the cage. Holly knew that there was nothing of Jasper in the monster. She turned away and sat down on the sofa. Now alone, her despair overwhelmed her. She dropped her head into her hands and wept.
"All Hallow's Eve," Holly whispered as Jasper turned back into himself.
Thus far they had tried dozens of antidotes, but none of them had done any good. She unlocked the cage door and laid a pillow under Jasper's head and put a blanket over him. Normally she would try to sleep now, but today she couldn't. Terror kept her awake, thoughts of what could happen that night swirled in her head. She looked out the window and found that it was raining; the clouds were thick and heavy.
She smiled; if the clouds remained there would be no moon to see that night. That would make things safer. When Jasper awoke they went downstairs and worked to strengthen the basement door. In the early afternoon Holly brought a large meal up to her brother who was reading a book in his room.
"Douglas, I want you to lock this door behind me and not come out for anything. Not tonight," Holly said firmly.
"What's wrong, Holly?" Douglas asked. "I've never seen you look so grim and frightened."
"I'll tell you soon, I promise," Holly replied.
He came over and hugged her. "Are you okay, Holly?"
She held him tight. "I am. Douglas, I love you more than anything in the world. You're the best little brother I could have asked for."
"I love you too, Holly," Douglas replied.
She tried to smile confidently at him then kissed his forehead. As she walked down the hall she heard him lock the door and bolt it like she told him to. She went up to the attic where Jasper was watching the light disappear from behind the clouds. The rain had stopped, but the thick clouds were holding steady.
"Come, Jasper. I hate having to lock you down there, but we shouldn't take any chances," Holly said.
Jasper sighed and turned away from the window. "This could be the last time I ever see you."
Holly's heart stopped beating. "Jasper, no!"
She tried to tell him not to think things like that, but she was crying too hard to say the words. He came over and held her tight while apologizing for the hundredth time for the situation they were in. After a few minutes they started to go downstairs. It was already dark in the house. As they reached the ground floor Jasper cried out in pain and pulled away from Holly.
"It's happening early," he gasped. "I'm so sorry, Holly."
He writhed as the shadows began engulfing him. Terror gripped her, but not for herself. She was terrified for Jasper. The transformation complete, he turned to look at her with his blood red eyes. She actually hoped he would chase her. She was ready to run for the basement and try to trick him and lock him down there. Instead he ran for one of the windows, leaping through it, glass shattering and flying everywhere.
"Jasper!" Holly screamed, throwing the front door open and running out after him.
He took off into the Woods and Holly followed him. She wasn't sure where he was going, or what she would do if she caught up to him, but she kept running. All the while the Woods got darker and terrible noises echoed through the trees. Holly ignored them, determined not to lose her friend in the darkness.
She wasn't sure how long she had been running, but it had been a long time. Adrenaline had kept her going long after she had exhausted her physical strength. She stopped in a clearing and looked around. She couldn't see Jasper anywhere. She had seen him run into the clearing so she was sure he was there somewhere.
She panted as she scanned the trees again. There was a giant one in the clearing with an odd shape up at the top where the branches should be. She didn't have time to examine it any further. A sudden chill crept down her spine.
She looked up at the sky and saw a part in the clouds; the moon was starting to come through it. Holly gasped in horror as the moonlight rained down on her. Suddenly Jasper appeared before her.
"No, Jasper, run! Don't let the moonlight touch you!" Holly screamed.
Her cries were for naught as the moonlight swept over the beast that had been her friend. Her heart stopped beating and her breath was knocked from her lungs. She dropped to her knees as the paralyzing truth assaulted her mind; her dearest friend was gone. She sobbed great tearless sobs as she stared at the beast. Suddenly it turned around and looked at her.
It let out an enormous bellow, but Holly stayed where she was. The fear that would have prompted her to run was replaced with crippling grief. She didn't care what happened to her at that moment. The beast got ready to charge for her.
"You stay away from my sister!"
Suddenly Douglas appeared, planting himself between the beast and Holly. The beast charged, Holly jumped up and shoved her brother to the side. The beast hurtled towards her; she felt the breeze from its claws as they swung for her. Suddenly the beast was yanked backwards and came to rest at the roots of the giant tree. Holly looked at it and realized that the tree had eyes and a giant brain.
The Brain Tree brought down his branches on the beast with the great force and it cried out in pain and laid still. The Brain Tree raised his branches for another blow, but Holly raced forward crying for him to stop. The Brain Tree stopped and Holly knelt down next to the beast. In spite of the grotesqueness of it, it had once been Jasper. She held it close and cried.
"He was my friend," Holly sobbed. "The best and most wonderful friend anyone could have ever had. All he wanted was to get me and my brother out of the Haunted Woods so we could see the amazing lands that he said were out there. He never meant for this to happen. It's not fair!"
"Your friend is gone. All that is left is this beast," the Brain Tree said.
"Is there really nothing I can do for him? Is he really trapped like this forever?" Holly asked.
"I am afraid so," the Brain Tree answered.
Holly looked down at the beast. "I'm so sorry, Jasper. I'm so sorry I couldn't help you!"
The Brain Tree gently lifted the beast. He turned as much as he could and, as gently as he could, tossed the beast into a grove behind him. He raised his roots out of the ground, blocking off the grove. Holly looked at him in confusion.
"The trees here will provide an enclosure for him. He will live here forever, where he can do no harm to others and no harm will come to him. He will be safe here with me," the Brain Tree explained.
"You would do that?" Holly asked.
"I will guard him forever for you," the Brain Tree promised.
"Thank you!" Holly cried.
Douglas came up and hugged his sister. "That was Jasper?"
"Yes, he was just trying to get us out of here. He never meant for this," Holly explained.
The Brain Tree pointed off into the distance. "If you keep walking in that direction you will come to the end of the Woods. You will not be harmed, I will send a message that the creatures that call these Woods home."
Douglas took Holly's hand and started to pull her that way.
"Are you sure you want to go?" Holly asked. "Neovia is our home."
"We can't not go, Holly. Jasper gave up everything to get us out of here. We owe it to him," Douglas said.
Holly tried to smile through her tears. "Yes. Yes, you're right!"
They went off, though Holly couldn't help looking back at the Brain Tree and thinking of the beast that had been her friend living there forever. They walked for hours, until the world started to brighten with the day.
Suddenly ahead of them the world changed. There was a sharp divide. On one side was the Haunted Woods, the light was grey and dreary and the trees black and dead. On the other side the light was bright golden. The trees were a rich, warm brown and the leaves were an amazing symphony of yellows, reds, and oranges. Holly and Douglas stepped out of the Haunted Woods and looked up at the trees.
"Jasper would have loved this," Holly whispered.
Douglas hugged her tight and agreed. Holly looked back into the Haunted Woods, they did end after all.
She stepped back to the very edge and called out, "We made it, Jasper! We're out of the Haunted Woods. You were right. We're going to go and see it all, and never come back to the Haunted Woods, never! I'll never forget you, Jasper. You will always be my dearest and most wonderful friend. Thank you so much! Goodbye, Jasper, goodbye!"
"Goodbye, Jasper, thank you!" Douglas shouted.
The siblings joined hands and walked on beneath the magnificent canopy of the world Jasper had found for them.
The Brain Tree fulfilled his promise to Holly. He stood watch over the beast throughout the long years. Time passed, Neovia vanished, the Haunted Woods became an amusement park of sorts, and Neovia was found again. And throughout those long years and changes, he guarded the world from the beast and the beast from the world that would surely hunt him down and destroy him. Vague rumors circulated the Woods, tales of the Beast that lurked behind the Tree, but he would never tell the story that belonged to a soul whose bravery and love had cost him so much.