All That Glitters Ain't Gold
We kept trudging up the mountain and soon fell back into silence again. We had a few back and forths about different topics though — chatting about the theme for the Christmas Festival and some magic trick his dad was working on. The atmosphere felt lighter than before, but we still kept a fast pace, which didn’t set the mood for long conversations. I’m pretty fit, but Jason is supernatural. I figured he must spend a lot of time in the mountains.
After another hour, or so, we reached places I’d never come near before. We were in the forest bit on Gold Mountain, with the skiing slopes to either side and Silver Mountain behind us. I’d been to the forest plenty of times before, but we were not around the regular treks and we were, by my estimate, higher than any of the hiking and biking trails.
The forest finally started to thin out, replaced by rock. Only a few trees stood tall here.
Suddenly Jason stopped.
I did as he asked and caught my breath.
“Oh my God Jason, that’s incredible.” And it was. We’d reached a plateau and while we were still far from the top of the mountain, we were higher up than most of the skiing slopes went on this side. The view was out of this world. We had reached a point where we were just above the tree tops, so we could see the valley below us and Silver Mountain on the other side of the valley. Fog was slowly forming below, slivers of white dancing like spirits. It was like something out of a fairytale.
“It’s going to get very foggy soon, but I know this mountain like the back of my hand. There’s no chance we’ll get lost. You don’t feel uncomfortable with fog, do you?”
I shook my head. I’d always loved the fog.
“No, it makes everything look magical.”
As soon as the words had left my lips I felt silly. I love nature. I was brought up by hippies for Goddess’ sake! Whenever I need to get energized I go for walks, or sit back in our office chalet and look into the woods, or up at the stars, through the glass walls. It always strikes me how much beauty we have right on our doorstep. And I tend to get ridiculously excited about it. Only kids our age usually don’t.
Jason didn’t ridicule me for sounding like a romantic fool, though.
“Yeah, it does make everything look a little bit magical, but it always does to me. I mean it always looks magical. Nature is magic. Everything’s magic, really.”
I did a double take. Did Jason just say that? It appeared he did.
“Yes, yes it is.” Maybe Jason could handle my witchy aunts, after all. So far he’d only really had a chance to chat to Jenna and she was all about the love and sex, but there was hope he could deal with the rest of them. And me. Hope he could deal with me. Because I was just as witchy as the rest of them.
“I want to show you something now. A place, really. We have to climb a little further, but then we can sit down and eat. It’s nicer there. Are you cool with that?”
“Sure.” I’d been munching on some nuts and had some tea as we walked, so I could wait a little longer to eat. I was, however, becoming ravenous. If you’ve ever hiked up a mountain, you know the feeling!
“OK, let’s go then.” Jason smiled at me and then turned and started to climb. This smile was one of his shorter ones — the usual mysterious one, in other words. He seemed a bit on edge again. If I didn’t know better I’d say he was nervous, but I’d never seen Jason nervous before. He never got nervous doing presentations in school, or talking to people. Not even Jenna had made him blush. That’s pretty epic. At least according to my measures.
I didn’t get to ponder long on whether Jason was nervous, or not, because this terrain was harder to walk in. We were literally scrambling up the mountainside. And Jason wasn’t the slow type. He also had the advantage of having been here before — to me everything was new. I didn’t know where to put my feet, or where to turn next. I just scrambled after him, trying to keep up.
We climbed for another fifteen minutes, or so, then Jason did another sudden stop, after stepping on a boulder in front of me. This time I did walk into him. Head first just above his butt, as I stepped on the boulder below, leaning forward.
“Oh, sorry, I shouldn’t have stopped so quickly. It’s just…I am not used to having anyone with me.” Jason turned to look at me with a concerned look in his eye. At least he was looking concerned, not angry that I’d just head butted him. Quite literally. I tried to swallow my embarrassment and focus on the facts instead. He’d never taken anyone here. Or didn’t do so often, anyway.
“You don’t take Elb here?” I asked, curious. I had always assumed those two did everything together.
“No, not here. I mean I go climbing with him and we spend a lot of time in the woods, but I haven’t taken him here.”
Jason was standing on a boulder, just in front of me, looking down at me. We were only inches apart and I could feel myself going all tingly again. Seriously? It was like having current move inside of me. Jason was starting to look uncomfortable, too. I could have sworn he was nervous again. This place must mean something to him. Any mentalist could figure that out. But why was he taking me here? We barely knew each other.
“Right, come, stand next to me.” Jason reached his hand out to grab mine, big fluffy mitten and all, and pulled me up next to him.
“So, this is what I want to show you. We need to go through this tunnel here to enter the cave.” He pointed towards some rocks in front of us. I’d never guessed there was an opening to a cave there, had he not told me. It just looked like a bunch of rocks against the mountainside.
“I didn’t know there were any caves worth visiting up here. I mean I know of a few further down the mountain.”
“Yeah, no one knows. And you can’t tell them either. But come, let’s go.”
I felt mystified. Why couldn’t I tell anyone? Was this Jason’s secret hideaway from the world or something? But why on Earth was he bringing me along? Sure we’d bonded a bit over the ghosts, but not enough to warrant me seeing his secret spot. Even if he liked me, which I suddenly realized I had a tiny hope he did, a normal guy wouldn’t give away something he wanted to keep from the rest of the world until he got to know you better. Not that Jason was normal, that much was clear, but still… I didn’t get it. All the same, I was stoked. And very, very curious to see what he wanted to show me.
Just as we got to the rocks, Jason stopped again. He turned to face me and took both of my mitten clad hands in his gloved ones. It was a very clumsy way of holding hands, but it felt pretty good all the same. Especially when he looked me in the eye, a half-smile crossing his face as his eyes met mine. It was a brief smile, but it was enough to make my heart do some funny gymnastics inside my chest.
“Lu, you have to promise me never to tell anyone about this unless it’s an emergency and you’re running from…from a murderer, or something. I’m not joking.”
His eyes were serious — a shade darker than normal. And they bore into me. I’d probably have promised to fly to the moon in a jet plane just then if he’d asked me. But I felt lost for words. So I said nothing.
“I know it sounds strange, but there’s a really good reason. Only my grandpa and I know about this cave. Well, my dad has seen it, but he doesn’t remember. And you’ll understand why in a moment. At least I think you will.”
“Sure.” I couldn’t’ think of anything else to say, apart from possibly: “Your hair still looks tousled in just the right way even though you’ve just climbed a mountain.” Or: “You just called me Lu. No one calls me Lu. I like it.” I bet those weren’t the answers he was looking for.
Jason kept looking at me until he seemed satisfied I was telling the truth — I wasn’t going to tell anyone about his cave. Then he led me to the opening.
When we first entered the tunnel I couldn’t see much, but as we kept walking we reached another opening and beyond it I could see a shimmering light. As if the walls were made of silver. Maybe it was some sort of fluorescent stone?
Before we reached the opening, Jason stopped again.
“Do you remember how you felt when you saw the first ghost? Josephine?”
I thought for a while, then nodded.
“How did it feel?”
“Well, it’s hard to describe. It felt like there was something different about her, you know. Like she had this…feel to her. It felt all natural and all different, all at the same time. There were a lot of of “alls” in that sentence, but yeah. That’s how it felt. Like there was something in the air around her. A lightness.”
Jason nodded. “OK, come, let’s go inside.”
Then he walked ahead of me and got down on all fours to enter into the opening — he had to crawl because it was too narrow to enter, apart from at the very bottom. I could possibly have gotten away by just bending forward, but I followed in his trail and did the same thing. Easier than tripping all over myself by trying to stay upright.
As I stood up on the other side, I gasped. The cave really was filled with a strange, shimmering light. There was sunlight coming in through a hole, at the top, so that explained the light, but there was something in there that made it shimmer. Kind of like watching light shining through glass prisms. Ever so often, you caught a glimpse of the colors of the rainbow.
“What do you see?” Jason asked expectantly as he looked at me; studied me. I could feel his eyes watching my every move, my every reaction.
“It’s beautiful, it really is. All this light. It’s like being in a cave filled with glass prisms.”
Jason kept looking at me.
“No,” I shook my head as I looked around. All I saw was a massive cave filled with a shimmering light. Wait! A shimmering light. Like the light of ghosts. Then I gasped — just as I’d thought about ghosts, shapes took form in the midst of all the light. But the shapes weren’t those of ghosts. The shapes were those of…dragons!
I blinked. This couldn’t be real. But of course not, they had to be statues carved into the stone! Shimmering statues.
My pulse that was now racing, started slowing down again as I understood. This was a cave where someone had made beautiful stone statues of dragons. No wonder Jason loved it so much. But why hadn’t I seen the dragons at first? And why…why was one of them moving, coming straight at us?