"How can this be?" Asked North to the nothing once again. "How could we just… don't notice before?"
The other guardians remained silent as they looked at the sleeping white-haired one lying in the bed. The Queen Toothiana was kneeling right beside him, squeezing his hand as if he would disappear in any second; Bunny was across from her, glaring at him so intensely as if the boy would awake by keep doing so; and Sandy, he was missing, in the exact moment they had put Jack in bed, he left the room.
They were worried, it was a fact.
That day, the Guardian of Fun had left Santoff Claussen to bring some snow in the other parts of the world he had 'forgotten' the past decades… (some mountain-tops here and there, some southern islands, some natural-cold places without snow) Knowing how hyper and eager Jack could get, it didn't seemed quite estrange that he didn't get back early, after all, he never did. However, there was something that didn't felt exactly right, and with the pass of the hours it became worse. North, who was currently the kid's mentor, ignored it at first; he thought the boy would be causing some hail somewhere, (hail is not as easy to make as snow; but then, the feeling hit him harder.
It was almost night time, and the weather at the Pole was rater calm… calmer than usual… too quiet and almost even warm, and the place's natural magic was not the cause, for sure. And so, he summoned Sandy, Tooth and Bunny; Jack was in danger, he could feel it. In his belly!
Even when he knew Jack could have decided to pass some time in his frozen lake he was sure the ice-eyed-one was not there, the Pole's weather was now messed up, and he was sure it had something to do with Jack. And it was indeed. As he had suspected, they found Jack a few dozens of Kilometers away from Santoff Claussen, he was lying in the snow, his staff was found somewhere around a mile, it seemed as if he had fallen. Once back in the Workshop, they put him in some of the free spread rooms.
None of them could tell what was wrong with the kid, besides, it did not seem like an accident or a common sickness.
Suddenly, Sandy came back to the room, bringing with him a book about dreams that he himself had helped to write back when he was starting his duty as a guardian. He hurriedly placed the book on the night table and showed them the page where everything was explained, this, however, was not exactly encouraging…
According to Sandy, and the words he had plastered on the book, it was the work of a a dark memory…
A memory of some point in Jack's life when something sinister happened. Unlike sad memories, this kind of memories are not about sadness or gloomy/depressive times, are about desperation and fear beyond compare in a little-one's life.
"Isn't it wonderful?" echoed Pitch's voice through the room, all guardians put up their guards when the voice was followed by a fountain of black sand coming from under the bed. The sand was not enough to form a full body replica of its master, but it was surely enough to sketch his sinister silhouette in the air. "…the consequences that little memory, almost forgotten, can bring?"
"What do you do to him?!" demanded Bunnymund with his boomerangs ready to strike…
"Oh! Me? Nothing…" denied the Nightmare King "I just couldn't help but overhear a little conversation between our dear Jack here and his little friend Jamie… Apparently, his mother was really mad at him this afternoon and Jack gave him some good words of advice…" He paused as his avatar floated through the room "… I might have… used some of my dark sand to make him remember something he didn't want to…" The idea of Jack being tortured by a horrible memory made the guardians' wrath grow, in less than a second Bunnymund had already hit the sand with his boomerangs and North made the figure banish with his swords, but the evil laughter from the boogieman still resounded loudly with his last comments "…His so-beloved memories will turn against himself, friends would look like enemies, loved-ones as hated scum… What a glorious doing from chaos and death! He'll revive those moments until his spirit brakes! It's like being alive again…" once again, the nightmare king's figure appeared, this time by deforming one of the shadows in the room "…he has told you, hasn't he? He was chosen because of his sacrifice… once this memory has killed his enchanting heart, he'll regret that crucial decision, and when that happens and he loses his powers… and there's nothing you can do to stop it… the only way would be his own will… but since that is impossible…when the time comes, I'll be here…ready to bury a death heart…"
Minutes passed and the evil laughter along with his words still echoed for the guardians. Everyone was still speechless about the idea of Jack dying because of a memory…
"Would he regret what he did?" asked Tooth to no-one in specific. "Would he wish to never have saved his sister...? He… he can't lose his powers can he…? Without his powers…What if…?"
"Shush! Thoothiana!" called North as he took her by her shoulders with his big hands "Stop! Keep yourself together! We don't know what is going on inside his mind…"
"North's right" seconded Bunny "since we don't know what is that memory about, we don't know if there's something we can do, or if what Pitch said is going to happen…" a (literal) wave of golden sand flowed through the room align their attention. The golden man had already prepared the book to explain what was now working inside his own thinking: there was a way to help Jack.
The procedure was simple, they had to be covered with a especial mixture of the dream-sand in order to get to the inside of Jack's dreams… since it was a memory, they wouldn't be able to interact with him or change anything of it; however, that should be enough for them to know how to help from the outside world.
When they opened their eyes, they were in the middle of what seemed to be an ancient village, each of the houses covered with a light layer of snow, the sun was covered up by some stormy clouds, so it was difficult to know what time of the 'day' it was. Tooth, Bunny and Norht seemed lost in the middle of those houses after noticing a subtle thread of a golden path, the three of them followed the track of sand to the place that was supposed to be where Jack's memory was taking part, Sandy was waiting for them, spying everything that happened from a window.
In the humble insides of a rustic shack, was looking by the window the adorable form of a young human-Jack, approximately of 10 years old, with messy brown hair and eager brown eyes filled with joy and almost sparkling like gold as they followed every snowflake falling near the window.
"Mother! Look! It's snowing!" he called his mother as she was trying to keep the remnants of firewood lit. It was obvious there was a blizzard coming, and everyone in the village bought as much coal as they could, except for them. Since her husband had gone back to England and joined the royal army, things had gone from bad to worse instead of what he has anticipated. Coal was too expensive for their family, (and they had lost many sheep because of a plague) and they only had firewood, not exactly of the best quality and not exactly dry either, but that was what they had, and that was their last piece of it.
"I see it sweetie…" his mother answered to Jack's exclamation, when the crying of her younger daughter made her leave her task. She came to the cradle placed near the fireplace and took her in her arms. That seemed to take Jack's attention.
"Why is Pip crying?" innocently asked the boy looking at his three-year-old sister. "She had a nightmare?"
"I don't know Jackson… but her fever hasn't faded… she's so sick…" answered his mother, only carrying about making her daughter quiet, when she finally got her to sleep again; she continued her task of lifting the fire.
Jack in the other hand came to her sister's cradle (she wasn't really fully asleep yet) sobbing quietly against her pillow, and stayed like that for a long time. She had had that fever for several days, and her mother said she couldn't play outside with him. Also, his mother had denied him the right to play outside out of fear that he would get sick too. That was not something that Jack liked.
"Jackson…" called his mother while putting on her biggest coat, the fire was already lit and ready in the chimney "… I'll go get some coal with Mrs. Mason; you stay here with Piper and make sure the house is warm while I'm out. Do you understand?"
"Yes, mother" he answered and looked how his mother took a basket and went outside with the storm about to fall…
"I'll be back soon" but she did not.
Mrs. Manson was an old lady for whom Jack's mother used to work sometimes, as a seamstress, and was a very caring woman (she was like an aunt for them). Unfortunately, she lived in the outsides of the town, and getting there with this storm would take her a couple of hours… and another more to get back… except that when she was supposed to be heading back home, the blizzard was in its worst point.
Jack stood in front of the window, looking how the blizzard was falling when he heard his sister cry. She was sobbing soundly and wincing in her sleep. The little Jack then came to the cradle again and touched her forehead. It was really hot. His mother was out, but he was supposed to take care of Piper.
He needed water.
He took a bucket and tied it to a rope, opened the window and threw it outside, after a few more moments, he pulled it back inside. It was almost completely filled with snow, he took a piece of cloth and with his bare hands wrapped some snow in it and then placed it on his sister's forehead. Now he had to wait…He sat in front of the fire, resting his back on one of the cradle's legs.
After what felt like ages, she opened her eyes.
"Hey Pip…" he greeted. "…how are you feeling?"
"Momma?" she asked.
"She is out, she said she would get some coal and we can't go out…" Jack explained, while Piper seemed to be about to cry behind her messy brown hair. "But it's alright! It's the two of us! Only you and me! We can still have fun in here…" as if his life depended on it, he looked to his right and left looking for something to play with indoors. And then, he saw the bucket still filled with snow and used the still-solid part of it to model a little snow man, using some buttons as eyes and a piece of wood as the nose. Jack placed it on the chair that was in front of the window before, so that Pip would be able to see it. She loved it, she had laughed while his brother was making it and now she was smiling just by seeing it through the bars of her cradle.
Delight by his sister's smile, the little Jack kept doing things to make her laugh, until she fell asleep, this time not because of the sickness (the fever had faded). Jack fell asleep too (but not before he could cover his little sister with enough blankets to keep her from the cold), and when he awoke, he saw his mother getting inside, coat covered in snow. The blizzard had passed, and now the outside was calm, dark and colder than before.
"Mother! You're back" he exclaimed excitedly, but his mother didn't seemed as happy as he did. The flame in the chimney was already fading, and the bucket was now filled with cold water.
"Why is the fire off?" she asked as if she had seen a wild bear. "Didn't I tell you to keep it on?" she asked, about to break in madness. Jack was now scared, scared of his own mother. He was little, and in that moment, he didn't comprehend why she was so worried. He was happy for his sister was feeling better and they had some time to play together; but their mother was still worried about her sickness… she had left with the guilt of leaving her sick child and even more stressed she got when the storm made it impossible f other to get back home… for all that time, she was sure the cold would kill her little girl… she had to keep her warm no matter what…
"… what is this?" she demanded when she saw the melting snowman on the chair. "JACKSON! WHAT IS THIS?!"
"A… a snowman…" he answered with his voice very low
"So you dared to open the windows just to play with snow?! Knowing your sister is sick?!"
"B-but mother she's be-!" Before he could continue, he sadly felt how his mother slapped him across the face.
"I TOLD YOU SHE IS SICK!" She yelled "SHE'S SICK! SHE COULD DIE! YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT HER? IS THAT IT? YOU WANT HER TO DIE? SHE'S SICK! WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!"•she repeated over again. Inside of Jack's young heart… something felt like breaking… his tears ran across his face and just before they could touch the floor he ran outside. "JACKSON! JACKSON! COME BACK HERE!"
Jack ran as fast as she could, not caring about where he was going, he only wanted to go away, just enough to not feel what he just felt… The snow and frost made the way slippery and hard to go, suddenly, something made him fall on his face. He stayed on his knees for a long time, crying without an end, feeling his heart wounded…
"Mother doesn't love me anymore…" he said to himself "Why? What did I do wrong?" he kept asking not caring about the cold around him, or being in the middle of the forest…
The four guardians woke up as the sand's effect ended and they came back to the real world.
"So that's the memory…" Spoke first Bunny "… what a way to break a heart…" he added sadly.
"For a child, that's the kind of memory that leaves bigger prints in their memories with just one instant…" Tooth added. "Maybe it is not something they don't want to remember… and is kept hidden but sometime in their future… they do remember it…"
"I wonder…" North intervened "…what damage such memory will do?" They all stared the sleeping Jack, he didn't seem to be bothered by anything, he looked just like someone who is sleeping soundly… not smiling but not complaining about something as a nightmare. "Seems like, all we can do is wait…" the others glared at North as if he had said an atrocity "…there's no black sand, and we don't know how to wake him up… he has to wake up by his own…"
"No, there has to be something we can do, mate!" exclaimed the Bunny hoping to the side of the bed "Are you there Jack?! If you can hear me, you better wake up or I'll send your bottom to the center of the earth!" Bunnymund was worried, and the only way he had to let the stress go was with wrath. North placed one hand on his shoulder and with one glance indicated them all to go out of the room.
Jack was still crying his heart out, when the sweet sound of a singing voice caught his attention…
Come, little children… I'll take thee away,
into a land of enchantment.
Jack looked around, incapable of recognize the place he was, and his eyes fount a fading white light moving in the woods. Curious and without fear, he walked towards the swift light, guided by the heartwarming sound of that song…
Come, little children,
the time's come to play,
here, in my garden of shadows.
Little by little, Jack came closer to the light that now was too bright to look at… and discovered he wasn't the only one walking with it… there were other children chasing the diming light.
Follow, sweet children,
I'll show thee the way
through all the pain and the sorrows…
Weep not poor children,
for life it's this way:
murdering beauty and passions
As they followed, they came to a part of the forest that was completely dark (the village's lights were not able to reach it in that moonless night) Even thought it was an unknown path, there was no signals od rocks or obstacles in the way, as if that was a rode where everyone had to walk through…
Hush now dear children,
it must be this way,
too weary of life and deceptions
One they found a clearing they stopped and the light source was clearer. It was the figure of a young lady, wearing what seemed to be a light white dress that twirled and waved with the lightest wind along with her long light-bluish-silver hair and the silver ribbons tied to her wrists. The white light faded a little when she sat on a large rock, and the other children sat around her, to hear her song…
Rest now my children,
for soon will away
into the calm and the quiet…
After some minutes, all of them fell fast asleep, all but Jack. He was still standing and eying the girl with curiosity. Her skin was as white as the moon itself, and her voice was sweet and comforting… She was now petting the head of the nearest kid to her… (she was taking care of them)… if they seemed to feel the cold, with one movement of her hand, some threads of light would cover them as a blanket of light.
He wondered if she was an angel.
In some point of his admiration, she averted her gaze from the sleeping kids and placed her eyes on Jack. She didn't have a visible iris or pupils, her eyes were completely white. Jack saw in her eyes, even when this connection lasted a few seconds, he could see there was sadness inside of her.
The cracking sound of a stick brought them back to reality. A dark hooded figure wearing a long black robe came to their position. The girl greeted the visitor with a movement of her head and once again, she intoned her song… waking up the sleeping-ones
Come, little children… I'll take thee away,
into a land of enchantment
Once again, all of them followed her, even when she was guiding them to the scary dark creature… they didn't seemed to be afraid, and when they were right in front of the dark creature, with one nod from the bright young lady, they followed now their new guide… until they disappeared in the dark of the night…
Come little children,
the time's come to play,
here, in my garden of shadows
Jack had stayed behind that time, and was intrigued by what he had just saw…
"Who was that?" He asked
"Death" answered the sweet voice without her owned needing to move her lips.
"Why did you give them away?" asked Jack again
"Because they were supposed to be with her… she has to get them to the other side, to the place where everyone has to go sometime…" she explained. "I just guided them to her…"
"It is my duty, little-one, when children are lost; I guide them and stay with them until someone finds them."
"But… I've heard of kids who got in the forest and when they were found… they… were already…"
"yet again, I take care of them until someone finds them, sometimes it is Death the one who finds them first."
"Then, why didn't you due me to her?" he asked with his voice lauder.
"I don't know why you didn't follow, maybe you have to stay…"
"And why didn't you do something to prevent the others to go?"
"It is not my decision who leaves and who stays, I just make sure they don't be scared until the time for them to be found comes…" she explained "…I'm happier when they all go…"
"Why? You hate children?"
"No…" she answered with sympathy laughter… "…it just feels better when they are in the other side… life is just too horrible and hurtful for children… children are born with natural lights that the paths of life make fade more and more until they are extinguished…" she sighed and her expression became sorrowful "… and I've seen the future… I've seen the horrors awaiting their future in this world …"
"It's not like that!" yelled Jack "…life can't be like that! If it was that bad… then why would laughter exist?" the girl's white eyes opened wide towards the boy. "I have a sister, and mother said she was so sick she could die, if life is as sad as you say, then why would we try to make her be healthy again?"
"It's not that simple, little one…" her eyes looked at the snow now "… parents do everything they do for love… and sometimes they don't even notice the great harm they do…" she started to cry. "This life is only filled with tears and blood, fear and hate, desperation and sorrow… even the warmest summer day is only a glassy illusion in this gelid valley of tears… Friends are the weirdest of all inventions… they get to warm and hurt your heart like nobody else can…"
"No! No! NO!" Jack denied "There's nothing like that! The sad moments exist only to make the happy ones brighter!" he yelled "… and friends are really difficult to find, they're like gold!"
"You have something different little one…" she said with a little smirk "…I don't know what it is… but you're different… why are you out of your house?"
"I… my mother… is… angry… and I ran away…" he said before finally noticing how cold it was
"I see…" she then came to his eye level and noticed the path his tears had fallen through moments ago "…and still you say life is worth of feeling pain… What are you called little-one?"
"I'm Jackson… but everyone calls me Jack"
"Well, nice to meet you Jack. My name is Dimdee, and some call me the Dark Guide."
As daylight made its way inside the room, the guardians opened their eyes little by little, they had stayed watching Jack the whole night, and now they were all smiling wide by seeing him yawn.
"g'morning guys…" he muttered still a little half asleep and annoyed by the brightness over his eyes
"Jack! You're awake!" exclaimed Bunnymund almost not believing what he was seing.
"Yeah… and… you too…" he yawned again.
"How do you feel boy?" questioned the big Russian man.
"Not too bad… just…as if a truck just hit me… like five times…" his answer made the others laugh.
"You remember what happened?" questioned Tooth's voice.
"Yeah… kind of… I made a little stop to see Jamie and it was almost midday when I got back here… then… I suddenly felt tired and… then nothing…" looking around he realized "Did you brought me inside? How much time have I slept?"
"Yes and… you've been out since we found you in the snow… Pitch did something with his sand to you, mate…"
"Pitch? I thinkI'll pay him a visit later…" he thought out loud "…I've always wanted to create my own GRLACIAL!" Angrily shouted before some feeling some pain and let himself fall in the bed again "Ouch… so… it was pitch... that explains the dream…"
All the guardians remained quiet.
"Something you want to talk about?" questioned North.
"Nothing special…. Just one time when my mom got really mad at me… and I got lost in the woods…" he admitted "…met a friend… she was pretty… the most boring memory of them all… "
"Should we know something about that friend of yours frostbite?" teasingly asked the bunny… "Someone we may know?"
"Hey! It's nothing like that!" loudly answered the boy hitting the bunny with his pillow.
"At least give us her name" continued Bunnymund laughing behind the pillow.
"JACKSON! JACKSON!" called someone. The boy opened his eyes and found himself curled against the same rock the glowing girl was sitting the night before, he was covered in snow… and shivering lightly.
"JACKSON!" Once again called, there were so many voices calling for him, but somehow he felt unable to answer back…
"JACKSON!" that was the familiar voice of his mother calling for him. The boy tried his best to stand, even with the freezing feeling running through his veins…
"M-Mother!" his calling, even when it was low toned, echoed until it reached the people's ears.
In no-time, everyone was around him, and his mother came telling him to not do that again and how worried he had been. Jack only could say "…how's Pip?" making his mother cry. Meanwhile, behind one of the trees, the white eyes of Dimdee shined as much as her smile (that was invisible to everyone evne children under the sunlight) that little one had somehow given her new hope in humanity…
"Hey frostbite! You leaving again?" called the Guardian of hope "after what happened yesterday?"
"I just need to play a little and I'll be back in less than an hour, I won't go too far!"
"You better do as you said, you almost killed me of a heart attack last night!"
Smiling and laughing, the winter spirit left Santoff Clousen, he needed to go to Burges to check on his best friend, Jamie's mother had had some trouble at work and Jamie ended up thinking she was angry at him… Jack had to make sure Jamie was fine before coming back to the others… they'd be worried sick if he was not back when he said. And also, he wondered if he hould tell them about the Dark Guide… and that he lied to them….
Meanwhile, down in the woods, an invisible spirit was admiring his flying skills.
"You're still a child… but at least you have someone to find you…" she whispered with a little giggle before continue her walking into the forest while humming her song…