A Halloween story, for all the family 🎃
by Jen Blaxall.
Jacks older brothers were always ganging up on him, taking advantage of the fact they are 5 years his senior they use poor Jack for their own entertainment. Being twins and doing everything together Jack never stands a chance against his big brothers but always tries to prove himself to his siblings by accepting their challenges. Regardless of the constant defeat, Jacks determination to stand up to and impress his siblings kept him saying ‘challenge accepted’ time and time again.
It was the night of Halloween and Jack’s older brothers thought it was the perfect time to set a new challenge. They dared Jack to go deep into the woods and stay there for an hour on this dark, spellbinding evening if he completed the challenge he would win all the sweets the three boys had collected on their trick or treat round earlier that evening. So as always, Jack bravely accepted the challenge as the twins sniggered knowingly that Jacks 100% fail record probably won’t change that night.
As he prepared for his moonlit challenge he pulled on his green wellington boots over his double socked feet to prevent the slightly large, hand-me-down wellies rubbing his heels then zipped up his duffle coat pulling the fur lined hood close around his neck before adjusting his rucksack over his shoulders.
When he stepped out into the late autumn evening his breath was visible on the outbreath and as the chill hit the back of his throat on the in-breath there was a distinctive taste and smell of wood burning fires in the atmosphere. Jack apprehensively sets off only to find his brothers were waiting for him on the edge of the dark forest to make sure he goes through with the challenge. After a bit of goading and mocking from his bully-boy siblings, Jack bravely entered the woods.
All his senses were on high alert with only the dazzle from the moonlight as his guide. Barking from a muntjac could be heard from deep in the bracken and a freakish cry from a vixen echoing through the trees. Rustling from fallen leaves where mice and voles were moving hastily over the ground were all magnified by the cold, dark air. A break of a twig shocked Jack into holding his breath momentarily and as he turned quickly he saw a flick of a white tail caught by a moon beam. As he let out his held breath he said ‘phew, just a deer!’ While watching it bounce away into the darkness of the undergrowth.
Jack then repeated to himself until his heart steadied ‘There is nothing to be scared of, it is only the wildlife, there is nothing to be scared of it is only the wildlife…..’ Just when Jack had started to convince himself of this, a gust of wind lifted the dried, golden leaves from under his feet and up over his head. As the whip of a cold wind and rustling leaves settled he realised something was touching his shoulder. Frozen to the spot with fear, hands shaking and chest pounding with adrenaline,Jack slowly looked over his shoulder wide eyed with terror wondering what he was going to see, then took a sigh of relief when he realised it was just a branch from an old oak tree he was standing under. In the whip of wind it had caught under the strap of his rucksack. While Jack tussled to remove the branch it appeared to grip his shoulder. Jack let out a panicked shriek as a big, bellowing voice said ‘Don’t be scared, I won’t hurt you.’
Planted by fear and the grip of the branch, Jack looked up and realised it was the tree talking. How could this be?
The tree continued….‘I am the spirit of the forest, I have stood here for hundreds of years watching mankind walk these paths, cut down my ancestors in their prime for their own needs with not a thought for the forest. Over the generations they have brought their guns, bows and arrows and I have witnessed them littering these lands with death and destruction of the wildlife that lives amongst us as well as one another. Despite this, I have provide your kind with food, shelter and clean air to breathe all in the name of hope.’
Jack struggled until the spirit of the forest loosened its grip then ran from the woods as fast as his adrenaline fuelled body would carry him. The heat of his breath was visible on the air before being dispersed by his face as he moved faster than his breath. Running is difficult in his oversized and sock filled welly boots and the friction noise of his duffle coat where his arms worked hard and fast to quicken his sprinting pace could be heard above the hooting owls while he raced through the moonlit woods and out into the open through the clearing in the trees. Suddenly the mockery from his brothers seemed insignificant.
For many years Jack was traumatised by the events of that Halloween night. He had never spoken about it, not even to his brothers whose only memory of that night was being physically sick from gorging on sweets after their defeat over Jack once again. He never returned to the forest and lived with the fear of that dark Halloween night. He knew he had to get past it but also knew he couldn’t unless he understands it. So to try and start to recover from his ordeal he began to learn about the forest. He learnt about the creatures; from the reptiles to the mammals and the insects, butterflies and bees and he learnt about the plants and the trees; from the smallest daisy to the largest oak, the fungi and the foliage. He started to understand how everything in the forest supports the life of the forest, and it became his life’s work and a healing process from his terrifying night in the woods.
10 years on from that eventful night, Jack was now a man with great knowledge of the forest so decided it was time to return to the old oak tree to finally lay his fears to rest.
It was the night of Halloween; Jack dared himself to go into the deep, dark woods, so apprehensively he set off on his challenge. Filled with adrenaline he embraced the noises from the woodland creatures but his senses were heightened with just the dazzling moonlight as his guide. He approached the old oak tree which was still standing deep in the woods tall and proud with its heavy canopy of dried golden leaves and its gnarly bark and twisted boughs and as he did, the dry fallen leaves from beneath his feet lifted on a gust of wind up over his head just as it did 10 years previously. As the whip of a cold wind and golden leaves settled he felt something on his shoulder. His heart was beating out of his chest as his memory took him back to being that terrified boy.
The big, bellowing voice he never forgot said ‘I am the spirit of the forest, don’t be scared.’ Jack took a deep breath and responded. ‘I am not fearful; I am respectful of the forest and all it has to offer.’
The old oaks voice softened. ‘I am old and tired, full of decay. There is no moisture left in the polluted soil for my roots and my branches are breaking. My hope lives on in you.’
With his last whisper there was a flash of light and the old oak started to fall all around a bemused Jack. Falling limbs and splitting branches surrounded him with an ear-piercing sound of dried, hollow timber crashing to the forest floor with not a splinter hitting Jack. As the ancient oak tree up-rooted from the ground an intense flash of light left the tree, it was so bright it was momentarily blinding before it travelled into Jack with such a force, he collapsed alongside the dying old oak known as the spirit of the forest.
With a bright light from the warm early morning sun, Jack started to focus through stinging eyes. Initially confused about what had happened then he looked around him and it took a moment for him to realise that the fallen ancient oak tree that surrounds him wasn’t a dream. Jack had been out here all night knocked unconscious by the power of the spirit of the forest. As he stumbled to his feet he pulled leaves from his hair and brushed down his blue jeans that were now covered in dust created by the mighty crash of limbs. Jack turned to pull his rucksack out from under a decayed branch that had detached from the tree as it collapsed to the ground when he was faced with a stag. Not your average stag, he was half the size again of any stag Jack had seen with magnificent antler just gentle bending the branches from the surrounding trees creating a shimmering noise from the dried autumnal leaves before they fall onto his coat of pure white which draped over his lean muscular body.
Jack questioned himself to whether he should be worried, but when looking in the eyes of this magnificent creature they were full of kindness and hope.
Jack was stunned when the stag started to speak to him. He said in a gentle voice. ‘Don’t be scared, I won’t hurt you. The spirit of the forest lives on in you. Go share the message of nature and nurture to all mankind and banish the destructive, evil behaviour they perform. ’
From his previous experience in the forest Jack may have been stunned, but not surprised by the talking stag, only surprised by what he was suggesting but before he could question it the stag proceeded. ‘You were the chosen one, when the dear old spirit of the forest reached out to you as a child he possessed your spirit and soul. Not with darkness and fear, but with love, peace and harmony. He saw something in you knowing you will go on to learn about our beautiful forest and all that lives amongst it for the greater good. Now you are the spirit of the forest and we look to you for our survival.’
Jack walked quietly through the forest with the stag for a while asking questions and trying to piece together how and why he was chosen. His new magnificent friend just kept responding to Jacks queries with ‘you have the knowledge and the spirit of the woods gave you his instinct when he died, so you will know what to do Jack.’
As they walked together in thought, stepping quietly and mindfully through the carpet of fallen leaves and colourful fungi, for such an immense beast the stag barely makes a sound. Jack can feel the stag’s awareness of all the forest and the positive impact of his gentle actions…..In that moment Jack realised this is the message he should spread and create this awareness in all. He realised his whole life had been mapped out to this moment all inspired by the spirit of the forest.
As the expression of realisation grew on Jacks face, the stag, who on this visit has been his guide and teacher, explained that it is time they parted company now. The stag slowed his pace to walk behind Jack although Jack tried to stay pace with him in hope he would accompany him a little longer as he turned to wait for his white robed friend he had vanished into the trees without a sound! Jack called to him for a few moments but knew he wasn’t returning so started to make his way along the dappled glade of the trees towards home with a head full of thoughts and inspiration from his eventful Halloween expedition.
He wondered where to start with his new found instinct. ‘What would the oak tree do?’ Jack said out loud to himself ‘he would have listened to the forest!’
So for a few moments rather than being lost in his own thoughts Jack became more aware of his surroundings and quickly realised as he stepped along the path every bird, woodland animal, tree and toadstool gently bowed their head in his presence.
Jack no longer feared the forest or the trees and felt the presence of the spirit of the forest in his daily decisions, his work and his soul. From this day on Jack spent his days teaching people about nurturing nature. He educated schools with forest classrooms; He helped the sick by giving them the opportunity to spend time in nature. He taught people from corporate companies that it is important to stop, listen and be aware of your surroundings and with his teachings people started to care more for this beautiful environment. They felt they were part of it and responsible for it. People no longer littered the land with death and destruction, they became more mindful of their actions, nicer and more understanding towards one another, more educated about their environment and the creatures that lived within it and because of this; The grass grew greener, the trees grew stronger, the soil grow more nutritious and the waters flowed clearer which made the creatures of the forest grow healthier and eternally grateful to Jack for spreading the word that every one of us has the spirit of the forest in our souls, it’s just that some have to look a little harder than others.