Though the forest around her had been eerily silent and still as she’d crossed through the passageway, the clearing Evelyn found on the other side was bursting with sound and movement as she emerged.
There was a beautiful rushing waterfall off to her left, shimmering fireflies hovering through the air, a soft symphony of crickets chirping in the bushes, and a gentle breeze blowing through the trees around her.
Wow… This is incredible! Evelyn could not help but smile as she took it all in. Her eyes scanned the area around her, looking for any sign of the mysterious old woman who lived there. But the entire clearing seemed deserted, apart from herself.
The girl began walking, making her way up the hill toward the small cottage in the distance. Evelyn paused as she crossed through a large, circular garden full of vibrant flowers and big, leafy plants. She peered down at them curiously for a few moments, but they did not appear to be out of the ordinary – just your run-of-the-mill garden vegetables.
This won’t help me… She shook her head and continued making her way up the hill.
As Evelyn headed up the stone path toward the cabin, she noticed the soft yellow glow of lights in the tiny windows. Someone’s in there. She realized excitedly. It’s gotta be her!
Evelyn approached the front door eagerly, peeking through the glass panels into the other side. The inside of the tiny cottage looked completely deserted — there was not a soul in sight. Unfazed, Evelyn lifted her fist and knocked three times against the glass. “Hello?” She called out.
There was no reply.
She knocked a second time, then a third. Still nothing.
Her frustration beginning to rise, the girl reached out and twisted the doorknob in desperation. And to her surprise, it turned. Evelyn tried to fight back a wave of guilt as she let herself into the stranger’s home.
The small sitting area she found herself in was warm, cozy, and nothing at all like what Evelyn had been expecting. Her eyes scanned the room curiously to look for some sign of life, or better yet, some clue that could help her find what she was looking for.
And though the dwelling still appeared to be completely deserted, Evelyn’s gaze did fall upon something interesting – a book shelf on the far side of the room. Well, it’s a start…
She drew closer and began perusing the cluttered shelves curiously. Though at first glance there did not seem to be many books to choose from, Evelyn found that for every book she picked up, two more seemed to appear in its place.
Evelyn flicked through some of the old books in amazement. There were many that were unlike anything she could imagine – old, heavy tomes written in languages she’d never seen before; recipe books for exotic foods she’d never heard of… And there were more familiar books too – classic works of literature, modern romance novels… It was exciting and intriguing, but none of it seemed to be what she was looking for.
She sighed softly as she continued browsing the shelves for several more minutes, her eyes scanning the mixture of unfamiliar and familiar titles. Evelyn almost thought she saw the name “Becca Ainsworth” on one of the spines. But before she could examine it more closely, she was interrupted by a sweet voice calling from over her shoulder.
“Can I help you with something, dear?”
The girl jumped. “I-I’m sorry.” She mumbled quickly, turning around to face the old woman. “I shouldn’t have just barged in like this.”
For a moment, Evelyn felt terrified. But when she saw the stranger’s kind and gentle face, she felt a strange sort of calmness wash over her. Her heartbeat quickly slowed back to its normal rhythm.
“I must admit, it’s not every day that I find strangers rummaging through my bookshelf.” The old woman almost laughed. “But there’s no harm done, my dear. Not to worry.”
Evelyn cleared her throat uncomfortably. “Um, thanks. And… I really am sorry.” She added. “I just… I really need some help, and…” She hesitated slightly. “I think you’re the only person who can.”
The old woman’s lips stretched into a warm smile. “I’ll see what I can do, darling. Have a seat.” She gestured toward the pair of chairs that sat in front of the fireplace.
Evelyn stared at the ground nervously as she took a seat in the comfortable chair. “Look… This is… Well, it’s kind of… hard to explain…” Her voice trailed off for a moment as a thought suddenly entered her mind. “But… maybe I don’t have to.” She continued, her voice slowly returning to its normal volume.
“I – I know you can do things… And I know you, well… know things too, I guess…” Evelyn bit her lip uncertainly, recalling everything that Lucas and Krystina had told her about this old woman. “So you already know who I am, don’t you?” She said softly. “And you know why I’m here.”
It was a few moments before the woman replied. She appeared to be considering Evelyn’s words very carefully. “You’re a clever girl… I suppose there’s no point in denying it, is there?” She said at last, smiling in amusement. “I know exactly who you are.” The old woman admitted.
Evelyn simply nodded, unsurprised by this revelation. “And… you must know why I’m here too, then?” She asked in almost a whisper.
The old woman’s brow furrowed slightly. “I have an inkling…” She said slowly.
“I need you to help me.” Evelyn continued, her tone growing desperate. “You helped him bring me back, didn’t you? Well now you need to help me too. Please.”
“My dear, I –”
“I already have the flower.” The girl pressed on. “And I know where to find the fish, if I can get that tree to open again… But I need the last ingredient. The Aqua Vitae. I know you can help me find it.” Evelyn took a deep breath. “I don’t care what I have to do. I don’t care how long it will take. Just… tell me where to get another one of those seeds for that funny plant… Or creature… Or whatever that thing was.” She paused. “I know you know what I’m talking about. So please… Please, just help me.”
The old woman’s face fell. “I’m afraid I can’t do that.” She replied.
Evelyn shook her head. “You can.” She insisted. ”You have to!”
“My dear… Let me explain.” The mysterious old woman let out a soft sigh. “Even if you were to collect all the ingredients… Even if you successfully prepared the Ambrosia…” She shook her head slowly. “You cannot bring him back. He’s gone.” She explained gently. “His spirit no longer exists in this world.”
The woman simply nodded.
Evelyn felt as though a thousand-pound weight were being lowered slowly onto her chest. It was becoming more and more difficult to breathe with each passing second. It was exactly what she’d been fearing all along, wasn’t it?
“W-w-well that’s what I need you for.” She stammered, fighting to keep her voice steady. “You need to tell me how I can bring him back from… From wherever he is… and give him his life back!”
“I afraid that’s simply not possible. There’s nothing I can do for you.”
“But there has to be!” Evelyn snapped at her. “He wasn’t supposed to die! After everything he’s done, he couldn’t just die like that! He can’t!”
The girl rose from her seat, her fists balled at her sides. “There’s no way this was a coincidence! This is another trick, I know it! And you have to help me fix it! Please! I’ll do anything… I just… I need him…” Evelyn felt the sharp sting of tears in her eyes. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this…” The girl bowed her head, saying nothing as she let the tears fall.
The old woman rose to her feet and crossed the room to where Evelyn now stood, weeping. “There, there, my dear.” She said softly, lifting her hands and placing them gently on the girl’s shoulders. “I know these tricks of which you speak… But I can assure you, this wasn’t one of them. Death comes only when it is your time.”
“But it wasn’t his time. I’m telling you.” Evelyn replied weakly through her tears.
“This must all seem so unfair, my dear. Believe me, I understand… But you must let this go. That boy loved you.” The woman’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Perhaps not in the way you wanted him to… But love is love.” She shrugged. “And he sacrificed so much to give this incredible gift to you… Do you truly believe this is what he would want for you? How he would want you to spend this new life?”
Evelyn wiped away her tears and lifted her head, meeting the old woman’s gaze once more. “Everyone keeps asking me what he would want.” She replied softly. “But how can I possibly know that if he’s not here to tell me?”
The old woman’s brow furrowed in concern. “Believe me, I wish there was some way I could help you, but it’s simply beyond my control. I’m sorry, dear.”
“Yeah.” Evelyn said softly. “Me too.”
Neither of them spoke for a few moments. “I hate to rush you, dear. But it will be morning soon.” The stranger spoke at last, her tone gentle and apologetic. “And I know your family will be waiting for you…”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Evelyn turned away from her. “I was just leaving anyway. Clearly this was a waste of my time…”
I should have known it was a mistake coming here…. She won’t help me. The girl thought bitterly as she hung her head and headed back into the crisp night air. How could she have been so foolish? How could she have believed it would be that easy?
But I’ll find a way… With or without her help. She promised herself. With a heavy sigh, Evelyn headed back down the stony path and began the long journey through the woods toward the campsite.
The old woman watched with unease as the young girl took her leave. This is horrible. She thought guiltily. That poor girl… She needs to understand… She sighed. But how?
It was not her place to intervene, of course. But I know someone who can…
The woman closed her eyes and raised a hand to her temple slowly as she felt her mind reach out into the darkness, toward the very edges of space and time itself. If you’re out there, old friend, you must come at once. She pleaded. I think we need to talk.
Evelyn reached up with a slightly trembling hand, wiping a few tears from her eyes as she looked down at the grave before her. “Lucas…” She whispered. “What am I gonna do?”
Had the old woman been telling the truth? It was a question that had been on her mind ever since she’d returned from Granite Falls that morning. And the more she thought about it, the less she wanted to believe it. He wasn’t ready to die… How could he be ready to move on?
The girl dropped to her knees and stared at the marble tombstone in front of her. Evelyn was not foolish – she had always known her time with Lucas would be short. But she’d never dreamed that Death would take him from her so soon, so suddenly…
“It was never supposed to be like this.” She said softly, choking back more tears. “It’s not fair…”
Evelyn closed her eyes and bowed her head, allowing a few of her tears to finally fall. “You never gave up on me, Lucas. And I’ll never give up on you.” She promised. “Even if it takes the rest of my life…”