by: Kaye Lynne Booth ((Header art, entitled “Hidden Secrets,” is by the incredibly talented Elise Chisholm.))
A two-part epic, where the difference between those who look out for themselves and those who think of others first becomes unmistakable…
Cassie paused, leaning against a tall Aspen tree to catch her breath. After climbing one last incline, she found the rapid rise in altitude affected her more than she’d imagined after being away for so long. She took breaths of pine and juniper in deep gulps at first, then slowly steadying her breathing as it returned to a more normal rhythm.
Tony came to a halt beside her, pushing his bangs back out of his eyes and repositioning his baseball cap. “When you said we had to hike in, you weren’t kidding,” he said. “That last hill was a doozy.”
“The cabin is just up ahead, big boy,” Cassie replied. At six-three, weighing two hundred and twenty pounds, Tony was in top physical shape, but the altitude was bound to get you when you weren’t used to it, regardless of how fit you were. “We used to use bikes and ATVs to get here, but then Clinton passed the Wilderness Act in ’93. Motorized vehicles are now prohibited this side of the Rainbow Trail. Burt Hineman, the man who runs the general store, delivers supplies and mail on horseback, once a month, as weather allows. In the winter, he sends them with Todd Landers in his helicopter.”
“That’s why the old Yamaha and the four wheeler in the garage down below both had a couple inches of dust on them,” Tony said. Cassie had seen him looking them over as she parked the Jeep before they’d headed up the mountain.
“Yeah, they’re nearly antiques,” Cassie replied, laughing. “Come on, we’re almost there.”
They resumed their trek up the mountain, quickly reaching the top of the hill. As they came up over the summit, a bowl opened up before them, the bottom filled with water, forming a sparkling clear lake.
“Man, look at that!” Tony said, placing his hands on his hips, breathing in the fresh mountain air. “This is fantastic.”
“This area used to be open meadow about a hundred years ago,” Cassie said, pulling a water bottle from her pack.
“How did the lake get here?”
“There was a landslide back in the nineteen thirties, dammed up the river that runs through the valley, backing up the water to make the lake,” Cassie said, pointing out the cabin, silent and alone on the hill, almost hidden in the pines. “The cabin was here then. My great, great grandfather built it in 1890. My tribe owned the land, even before that.”
“Must be nice to own all of this,” Tony said, his gaze panning the hills on every side. “How much land did you say you had?”
“It belongs to my family,” Cassie said, replacing her water bottle and zipping the pocket closed. Her gaze came to rest on Tony’s tall, muscular frame, as he adjusted the bill of his cap, pushing the loose bangs back out of his eyes. She was glad she could share this part of herself with this gentle giant of a man. And why shouldn’t she? She wanted to share the rest of her life with him. “One hundred and twenty acres total. All part of the damned family legacy.”
Mentioning the legacy made her think of why she’d decided to come up here. This trip might not end up being a happy family reunion after Gram heard what she had to say. But there was plenty of time to think about that.
“Let’s hit the cabin and get something to eat, then you can explore all you want,” she said, changing the subject before Tony could question her about it. She’d deal with the inevitable questions when the time came. “Gram will have a hot meal waiting, guaranteed.”
A loud splash drew their attention back to the water. A series of very large rings radiated from the center of the lake, disturbing the calm, pristine surface. Tony looked at Cassie with raised brows. “You got some big granddaddy trout in that lake?” he asked.
“I haven’t been up here in years. My grandpa used to tell some whopper fish stories though,” Cassie said with a shrug, heading across the hill toward the cabin. She didn’t want to dwell on the lake. Too many bad memories. “There’s lots of stuff to do up here besides fishing. We can explore all these hills, and I’ll show you all my secret places from when I was growing up.”
“I don’t know how your grandparents manage up here all alone,” Tony said, winded as he hurried to catch up. “How old and frail are they?”
“They may be old, but they’re anything but frail,” Cassie said over her shoulder, laughing. “My family are Ute. They roamed these hills before the white man ever set foot here. It’s national forest on all sides now, wilderness area. The government wants to buy us out, but my family will never sell.”
Cassie came to a sudden halt when she caught a glimpse of a dark figure on the sun-dappled hill above the cabin. Tony placed an arm around her waist, drawing her attention just as a cloud crossed the sky above them, shrouding the hillside in shadows.
“What’s up, babe?” Tony asked.
When the cloud cleared from above, the setting sun shone through the trees once more, but the figure was gone. It had been so dark and strange, Cassie wasn’t sure it had ever really been there. “Did you see someone?”
Tony let his gaze follow hers, but shook his head. “You?”
“I guess not,” Cassie said, shaking her head. “The light probably played a trick on me.”
Cassie’s grandmother came out on the faded wooden porch, with sleeves rolled up, wiping her hands off on her apron. Her graying braids poked out from beneath the rim of a floppy denim sun hat, made even floppier by the weight of several plastic figures which were pinned on to it: a lime green frog, a large sunflower with a big brown center, a blue and black butterfly, and a large bumblebee.
Gram looked older than Cassie had remembered. Of course, she knew Gram was older. But Cassie had a feeling it also had something to do with the fact that her memories were those of a sixteen year old who looked at her grandmother with the adoring eyes of youth. Then, Cassie saw the same smile she knew as a little girl peering out from under the silly, but in a weird way adorable, sunhat Gram always wore.
Gram waved them in. “Come on you two,” she called to them. “Supper’s ready. It’s going to be dark soon.”
Cassie ran to greet her grandmother, wrapping her arms around her. It had been eight years since she’d been up to the cabin. It was good to feel her grandmother’s embrace.
“Don’t worry, Gram,” Cassie said. “I’m not afraid of the dark.”
“Maybe you should be here,” Gram said with a scolding tone. “You know the lake and its history.”
“Now, Gram, don’t start with those old stories,” Cassie said, as Tony finally caught up. “This is Tony. You don’t want to scare him away before I have a chance to work my way into his heart, do you?”
“All right, child,” Gram replied, chuckling loudly. “But you know it’s going to fall to you to carry on our history.”
“I won’t forget, Gram,” Cassie said, kissing her grandmother on the cheek. “I promise.” She sighed a secret sigh of relief when her grandmother didn’t press the issue further. She’d decided to make the trek to the cabin this year in order to talk to Gram about that very thing, but she didn’t want to do it here. Not yet. Cassie loved her grandmother. She wasn’t ready to drop a bomb that might drive a big wedge into their relationship.
“Glad to meet you,” said Gram, turning to give Tony the once over. Cassie took note of the slight nod Gram gave him, a sign of approval, before directing her speech toward Cassie once more. “Now, you and Tony get on in the house and get washed up for supper. Miranda and Jake are already inside.”
Gram turned, heading back inside. Cassie rolled her eyes up at the mention of her cousin. She should have guessed Miranda would be here. Her cousin wouldn’t miss the opportunity to suck up to their grandparents, and making the yearly trek was a ritual for her. Miranda had the idea that if she could find the gold, she’d inherit the family legacy by default.
The screen door banged shut behind Gram, leaving Cassie and Tony alone on the porch.
“What was that about?” Tony asked, cocking his head to one side.
“Nothing,” said Cassie, brushing his inquiry off casually. “Just some silly old family legends. Gram likes to drag all the skeletons out of the closet whenever she has company. It gives her something to talk about.”
“Oooh! Sounds intriguing,” said Tony with exaggerated surprise. “Tell me more.”
Cassie slugged him on the shoulder. “Come on, silly,” she said, heading inside. “Let’s go get washed up.”
Cassie bent to peck her grandfather on the cheek as she and Tony walked around the table to take the two empty seats across from her cousin Miranda and her latest guy.
Miranda wore too much make-up camouflaging the natural beauty of her dark complexion and making her look like a cheap whore. Her choice in apparel only added to the hussy impression, with a white bikini top and jean cut-offs that barely covered her hips, leaving little to the imagination. Cassie had never known her cousin to not have a guy on her arm. Her cousin lived up to the image that she went to such great efforts to create. Only a year younger, Miranda had always been jealous of Cassie and treated her as though there existed a rivalry between them over the gold and the family legacy.
“It’s good to see you, Cassie,” Miranda said. “We were all wondering if you’d ever return.”
For a moment Cassie’s muscles contracted. “Miranda,” Cassie said, gritting her teeth and giving her cousin a slight nod. Cassie took a breath, willing her body to relax.
“Well, aren’t you going to introduce us to your latest boy toy?”
“This is my boyfriend, Tony,” Cassie said, addressing the entire table. “He’s not used to this family, so try not to be too shocking in your behavior.” She locked eyes with Miranda. “In other words, don’t scare him away.”
“Cassie must be giving you some amazing nookie to have enticed you to come up here clueless,” Miranda said, looking at Tony.
Tony stared at Miranda, speechless. In Cassie’s family people spoke their minds, but there were some who didn’t know when to keep their mouths shut.
“You mean she brought you up here without giving up nookie?” Miranda said in response to Tony’s dumbfounded expression. “At least Jake and I have an honest arrangement. He graces me with his gorgeous presence and I put out. I really think I’m getting the better end of the deal.”
Cassie opened her mouth to tell her cousin that what nookie she did or didn’t give up was none of her cousin’s business, but Gram beat her to it.
“Miranda!” Gram said, placing a serving spoon forcfully into the bowl of mashed potatoes. “That’s hardly appropriate table talk.”
“Sorry Gram,” Miranda said, looking duly chastised. She then turned back to Tony. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tony. Forgive my bad manners.”
Miranda turned to the hunk of a man sitting next to her in a Gatorade tee shirt, with sleeves rolled up as far as they would go to reveal large, firm biceps. His straw-blonde hair and light complexion, combined with his muscular build, made him appear to be the all-star date. “Everyone, I’d like you to meet Jake.”
Seated, they set to the task of heaping their plates with the feast Gram had set for them: fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, and of course, Gram’s biscuits topped with creamy homemade butter.
“The food is delicious, Ma’am,” Jake said to Gram as he piled a second helping of potatoes onto his plate. “Best meal I’ve had in a long time.”
“Eat up then,” Gram said. “There’s plenty more. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a big family meal together.” She looked to her husband at the other end of the table. “Don’t you think it’s nice, Hank?”
Cassie’s grandfather grunted, giving a nod of his head as he took another bite of biscuit.
“Do you have a lot of fish in the lake out there, Sir?” Tony asked. “I thought I heard a big one jump from the top of the hill.”
“Ain’t no fish worth eating,” Grandpa Hank said with a harrumph. “Only a fool wastes his time fishing in that lake.”
“Grandpa, you used to fish in the lake,” Cassie said.
She could recall her grandfather fishing when she was younger, but then, Fish and Wildlife stopped stocking the lake, when two women in their twenties had come up for a day hike and were never seen again. “You used to tell us stories. Sometimes they were unbelievable, but I remember them.”
“No more,” Grandpa Hank said. “Lake tainted everything in it. It’s the damned curse.”
“Oh, I see,” Tony replied, looking a bit confused, but trying to appear as if it made perfect sense. “I guess the attraction of it is in the swimming?”
“If you plan on going for a swim, you’d better don a wetsuit and scuba gear,” Miranda said. “The water is ice cold. You can’t explore its depths unprotected. Didn’t Cassie fill you in?” Although her words were directed toward Tony, her gaze caught and held Cassie’s eyes.
“We’re not going to explore the lake, for heaven’s sake,” said Cassie. “That’s the last thing I want to do.”
“Actually, it sounds like fun,” said Tony. “I’ve never been scuba diving before.”
“Great, you can come with us,” Miranda said, batting her eyes at Tony. Jake seemed oblivious, ripping a piece of meat off a chicken leg like a caveman. “I’ll be happy to teach you.”
“Nobody’s going to explore that lake,” Grandpa Hank said. “Thanks to your dimwit cousin, Harold and his infernal book, there’s been too many people up here looking for that damned gold. Fish and Game warned ‘em away, but they come anyway. They’ve got the lake riled up. Once they go down, they don’t come back.”
“Hank!” said Gram, giving him a warning look. “Enough.”
“Grandpa, please,” said Miranda. “We don’t need to dredge up that old legend. Nobody in this day and age believes in ghosts.”
“Ain’t legend. It’s fact,” Grandpa Hank said sharply, rising from his chair and pounding his fist angrily down on the table. “You’re talking about your ancestors! I may have only been eight, but I remember when your great-great-grandfather…”
“Now Hank,” Gram said. “All you’re doing is getting yourself and these young ones all worked up. They’ve come up here for a good time, and you sure don’t need to get all riled at your age.”
“Fine, fine. Lord knows I wouldn’t want to upset anyone by telling them their playing with fire,” Grandpa Hank said, grumbling under his breath as he sat back down. “What kind of pie we got tonight, mother?”
“Fresh-baked apple,” Gram said, rising to go to the cooling rack, where steam rose from a pie with a golden brown crust. “It should be just about ready to serve.”
“Miranda, you didn’t mention this lake of yours had such a mysterious past,” said Jake, stuffing a piece of biscuit in his mouth.
“It’s all in my cousin’s book,” said Miranda, giving Jake a chastising glare. “You didn’t read it, did you?” She smacked the side of his head. “You bungle-head!”
“That dag-nabbed book stirred everything up. It should be burned,” Grandpa Hank said.
“Bringing all kinds of folks traipsing up here looking for treasure…”
“That book explains about the gold and the legend surrounding it,” Miranda said, glaring again at Jake. “It’s all superstitious nonsense, but the more you know, the better our chances of finding the gold.”
Cassie watched this exchange with growing horror. As far as she was concerned, no one should go out on that lake. “You can’t be serious,” she said in disbelief. “How can anyone want to go into that lake? Have you all lost your minds?”
“What?” Miranda said with a questioning look. “Don’t tell me you’re scared of the lake, because of your parents’ deaths? You believe in the curse now?”
“Wait, what?” said Tony, looking confused. “You’re parents died in the lake? Cassie?”
“I can’t talk about this now,” Cassie said, tossing her napkin into her plate. She rose from the table and rushed out of the room.
“Cassie!” Tony said, rising to go after her.
“Sit, Tony. Have some dessert,” Gram said, setting the steaming apple pie down on the table. “Let the child have some space. Losing her parents has been difficult for her.”
Tony hesitated, then sat back down as instructed. “I’m sorry. I guess I just don’t understand what’s going on here.”
“She really didn’t fill you in, did she?” Miranda said. “I’ll let you read Harold’s book on the way out tomorrow. It’s just a short little thing, more of a pamphlet really.”
“That girl’s the only one among you with a lick of sense,” Grandpa Hank said through a mouthful of pie, shaking his fork at them. “Cassie knows the lake is cursed. She does.”
That night, as Tony climbed in between the crisp, cool sheets in the cabin’s guest bedroom he whispered, “You asleep?”
Cassie rolled over to face him, her cheeks wet with tears. “No. Sorry about that scene out there.”
Tony bent his head down, kissing her on the forehead. “Nothing to apologize for,” he said. “You’ve got a lot to deal with. Your reaction was perfectly understandable.”
Cassie smiled. “So, did they fill you in on the family curse?”
“Not really,” he said, “But Gram did filled me in on how your parents died. It’s no wonder you don’t want to go scuba diving tomorrow. Miranda invited me to go with them, but if you don’t want me to go, just say the word.”
Cassie shook her head. “No. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t go have a good time just because of my irrational fears,” she said. “But, I’ll never go in the water again.” Cassie leaned up on one elbow and pecked Tony on the cheek. “Just be careful, ok?”
“So, what is this gold Miranda was talking about?” Tony asked.
“They really didn’t tell you?” Cassie said, surprised. Miranda was always chomping at the bit to talk about the gold. She’d been looking for it for years.
Tony shook his head in response.
“Oh, what the hell?” Cassie said with a sigh. “The story goes that there’s ancient Ute gold somewhere in the lake’s depths. My ancestors hid it in a cave to keep the white man from discovering it a couple hundred years ago. My great, great grandmother used it to buy up this whole area and build this cabin. The location of the cave has been passed down from mother to eldest daughter through every generation since.”
“I don’t get it,” Tony said. “What does gold in a cave have to do with the lake being cursed?”
“When the landslide down below flooded the area, the cave was submerged under water along with the rest of the rock formations that lined the north shore,” Cassie said. “Gram’s mother found it again. She became the Keeper of the great family secret, only removing a small amount of gold at a time, using it to take care of our tribe. She passed the legacy on to Gram, and now, because my mother died before it could be passed to her, Gram wants to pass it to me. I’m the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter.”
Tony stared into her eyes with a serious expression. “Do you believe it?”
“I don’t know,” Cassie said with a shrug. “I suppose I do. The family wealth has to come from somewhere. My family never seems to be in need of anything, but I don’t think Gram or Grandpa have ever worked for money a day in their lives. But there’s more. Supposedly the gold was cursed by the Ute women, my ancestors, because the white man was killing their braves for it. Their spirits watch over the gold and protect it, only allowing the Keeper to come near it.”
“So, you’re to be the next Keeper?” Tony asked, ruffling her hair.
“Yeah, but I don’t want anything to do with it,” Cassie said, pausing, wondering how much she should tell him. But then it would all come out eventually, and she’d rather it come from her than from Miranda. “My parents weren’t the only ones to have mysterious circumstances surrounding their deaths.”
“You think the curse had something to do with what happened to your parents?” Tony asked.
Cassie thought hard about how to answer Tony’s question. Finally, she said, “Yeah, maybe. My parents were both experienced scuba divers, but my dad came up too fast and got the bends. When he surfaced, he tipped the boat over, knocking my mother out. They both drowned.” Cassie paused a moment, gathering her will to go on. “At least, that’s the official story. But, I think my dad must have seen something, something that scared him so bad that he abandoned all his training, resurfacing too fast, or something. He knew what he was doing in the water and so did my mom. My great grandfather died in that lake, as well, and then there are those who have just disappeared without a trace. From what Grandpa said at the table tonight, there have been more disappearances recently.”
Tony was silent for several minutes. Cassie began to wonder if she’d said too much. She’d never told anyone any of this before. Tony probably thought she was crazy after such an admission.
“I won’t go tomorrow,” Tony said, breaking the silence.
Cassie shook her head. “No. Nonsense,” she said. “You go if you want. I just can’t bring myself to go with you. But, it’s okay. I have a few things I need to talk to Gram about. I’ll help her with the baking while you’re gone.”
“Are you sure?” Tony said, brushing the hair that had dropped down over Cassie’s eyes back to meet her gaze.
“I’m sure,” Cassie said, nodding. “Just do me a favor. If you happen to find a cave with a bunch of gold in it, get the hell out as fast as you can. I kind of like you alive.”
Tony gave her a small mock salute. “Aye-aye, Captain,” he said. “Your wish is my command.”
The next morning, Cassie kissed Tony long and hard before he departed for the dock. She hadn’t realized just how much she didn’t want to lose him, especially now. She watched from the kitchen window as he helped Miranda and Jake load the gear into the motorboat and they shoved off. Gram rolled out biscuit dough on the table behind Cassie, watching her silently. When they were out of sight, Cassie turned around, facing her grandmother.
“Gram, I need to talk to you. I don’t want to be the Keeper,” she said. “Miranda wants to carry the legacy. You can pass it on to her.”
Gram shook her head. “No child. That one isn’t the rightful Keeper. It’s your place,” she said. “Miranda is out there right now, hoping that this year she’ll find the gold. All she sees is what it can give her, not how she can benefit others with it. You’re the one that has the head to become the Keeper.”
“Miranda wouldn’t be that bad,” Cassie said. “The family is already so well off, she could squander all that’s left and we’d all survive.”
“No. I won’t hear of it,” Gram said, brushing her hair back from her face with the back of her floury hand, smearing a streak of white across her forehead. “There’s more to the legacy than you know. Every blessing comes with a curse. We fear for our menfolk. It’s the price our women pay for the good fortune of being the Keeper.”
“What do you mean?” Cassie asked. “What’s good about it?”
“My great-grandmother didn’t just happen upon that gold. Our sacred mothers vowed the gold would only benefit the tribe, and placed a curse on it to protect it from outsiders. The women of our family are blessed as Keepers,” Gram said. “It’s the menfolk who are cursed. The Keeper disperses the gold for the benefit of all. The lake knows who the rightful Keeper is. It will be your job to keep secret the location and the rituals which must be followed before harvesting the gold.”
“You want me to believe my great-grandfather got his foot tangled in algae and drowned in that lake because of some curse? That doesn’t explain what happened with my parents,” Cassie said in disbelief. “My mother died right along with my father. How does that fit in with your stupid curse?”
“Your father was with your mother when they found the sunken cave where the gold is hidden,” Gram said, shaking her head sadly. “Your mother’s death was truly an accident. She wasn’t meant to die.”
“I don’t want to be the Keeper. I don’t want the damned gold,” Cassie said, shaking her head. Then, a look of dawning recognition spread over Cassie’s face as her grandmother’s words sunk in. “Wait. You’re telling me Tony might be in real trouble out there?”
“No, I wouldn’t have allowed them to go out if I thought they had anything to fear,” Gram said. “Miranda’s been looking for years. Not a lick of sense, that one. The family’s treasure won’t be found by one as reckless as she is.”
Cassie’s grandmother’s words did nothing to dispel the uneasy feeling which had come over her. In fact, her anxiety rose a couple of notches just thinking about what Gram had said. Gram couldn’t be certain they wouldn’t get close to the treasure, assuming the curse was real, as Gram seemed to believe.
“I’ve got to stop Tony,” Cassie said, rushing out the door.
Cassie ran down the hill and out onto the dock. Tony, Jake and her cousin were already out in the middle of the lake where they would never hear her, but she had to try. She hollered their names from the dock, but the wind drowned out her voice. It looked like the only way she’d be able to stop Tony from going down was to go out on the water after them.
She ran to the boathouse to grab a wet suit from the pegs inside the door and slip into it, but the dank, musty aroma made her stomach churn. Cassie was forced to go back outside to put it on. When she went back in to hoist a tank and a regulator from the row of tanks lined up against the wall, she had to hold her breath, doing a quick in and out. Maybe the smell was because the boathouse had been closed up for so long Cassie thought.
She eyed the little rowboat tied to the dock, bobbing gently with each wave, wary at the thought of going out on the lake. Just last night Cassie had proclaimed her oath to Tony to never go out on this lake again. Now here she was, contemplating doing just that, but she didn’t know if she could make herself climb down into the tiny boat. Her face was covered in a sweaty sheen as she struggled with her dilemma. Cassie told herself to pull it together but she wasn’t sure she could actually make herself do it.
A movement caught Cassie’s eye on the hill across the cove. The dark figure, the same one she’d seen yesterday, was standing in the trees, staring down at the motorboat as it approached the far side. A chill ran down her spine as her gaze went to their craft. When she looked back up, the figure was gone, but the uneasy feeling lingered.
The thought of losing Tony gave her the determination she needed to step down into the small, primitive watercraft. She gathered all her courage, took a deep breath and stepped off the dock into the rowboat, fighting back nausea as the craft rocked gently from side to side with every wave.
Cassie picked up an oar from the bottom of the boat and began slowly moving the craft forward. As she moved across the water without incident, she gained confidence, putting her weight into each stroke, and making the small boat move faster.
Soon, Cassie spied the motorboat at rest at the far side of the cove, but no one was in it. I’m too late, they’ve already made the dive, Cassie thought. She felt the panic rise within her, knowing she must get Tony out of the water, but also knowing the only way now was for her to make a dive herself.
Cassie dropped anchor near the jutting rock formations at the edge of the cove, slipping the tank over her shoulders. She hadn’t been scuba diving for more than eight years, but it all came back to her as if it were yesterday. Cassie slid the mask down over her eyes and adjusted her mouth piece, preparing to slip over the side of the rowboat. As she stared down into the depths, her fear overwhelmed her, nearly paralyzing her. Cassie was unable to make her limbs do as her brain commanded.
Cassie spit out her mouthpiece and lifted the mask from her face. “This is silly,” she said. “The curse isn’t real. It’s just an old legend.”
A voice in the back of her mind asked – If you believe that, then why are you out here in this rowboat? Why do you have that nagging feeling that Tony’s in real danger?
Cassie stood there, undecided, for what seemed an eternity. If something happened to Tony, she’d never forgive herself. This lake took her dad, who was an experienced scuba diver. Tony was just a beginner. What had she been thinking letting him come out here with someone as irresponsible as Miranda? Curse or no curse, she had to go down and get him. Cassie replaced the mask on her face, adjusting her mouthpiece once more. She lifted her legs over and slipped down into the icy water of the lake fast, before she could change her mind.
Cassie adjusted her headlamp to penetrate the darkness as she sank lower into the murky water. The only things the lamp’s light illuminated for her was a school of rainbow trout that happened by. She gave a few kicks to move further down, the headlamp lighting her way until its beam alighted on a sheer vertical rock formation rising up from the lake’s depths, and extending the entire length of the northern shoreline. This was the cliff base with all the caverns in it, which Grandpa had told her about when she was a little girl, the one that had become submerged when the dam flooded the valley.
The caverns would most likely be at the base of the rocks, further down from the surface Cassie thought. She propelled herself deeper, taking care to stay where she could see the jutting formation which marked the edge of the cove. The last thing she wanted was to lose her bearings down here. Cassie thought of all those who had disappeared looking for the gold. She could see how any number of things could happen down here. The urge to return to the surface was strong, but she fought it. Willing herself not to let her fear get the best of her, Cassie pushed herself even deeper into the darkness of the lake’s chasm.
Up ahead Cassie spotted something even darker than the depths around it. As she approached, it became clear that it was indeed a cave, set back in the steep rock formation. She swam down to investigate. She saw no sign of Tony or the others. From her grandparents’ stories, she knew that many of the caves were interconnected. This was as good a place to start looking as any.
The inside of the cavern was pitch black, her headlamp illuminating only a couple of feet in front of her. Cassie repeatedly bumped into jutting protrusions of rock that she hadn’t seen in the darkness. She swam into the cave with her hands outstretched before her, half-feeling her way along.
The cavern was deep, going back a lot further than she’d imagined. As she moved forward, she realized if the caves really were connected, this cavern might go on for a very long time. Cassie had decided to turn around and go back, rather than risk being lost within the caverns, when she saw a glimpse of movement in her light. Thinking perhaps she’d found the diving party, she swam further into the cave’s depths.
But, when she rounded the next corner, all that her headlamp revealed was a school of graylings, small silver fish with large, sail-like dorsal fins, making their way through the cavern. She followed the graylings, keeping her headlamp trained on them. After all, this was their territory. They wouldn’t get lost.
The graylings lead her into a second cave, and then a third. Cassie followed their silvery path, somehow feeling that this was the right way to go. This feeling was reinforced by the icy current that flowed near the floor of the connecting tunnel, pushing her along in the direction of the graylings’ travel.
When she came to a fourth cavern, Cassie was caught up in a whirlpool, which suddenly shot up from the floor of the cave, scattering the graylings in a dazzling silver display in her headlamp, like a spotlight reflecting off a disco ball. Cassie was carried up and up, propelled by the water’s force. The whirlpool acted like a water spout, pushing her up through the roof of the cavern, shooting her, along with dozens of graylings, out on the surface of another lake, resting in the massive cavern above.
Cassie found herself looking at a cavern that was not submerged beneath the surface of the lake. The body of water she was in now was bordered by shore on all sides. She swam toward the shore, until she emerged onto the sand and collapsed.
The massive cavern beyond the shore was completely enclosed except for a large hole at the top, which provided fresh air and let in the sun’s rays. The reflection off the water provided enough light for her to see without the headlamp.
Moisture originated from the hole, running down the cavern walls on all sides, but it didn’t smell musty and damp, like the boathouse had. Here the smell was fresh, like a rain forest. Cassie spit out her mouth piece and removed her mask to breathe in deeply as she took in her surroundings. The rain admitted by the hole fostered the growth of mosses and vining foliage which covered the cavern walls and hung down from above, creating a misty, self-contained tropical paradise.
A glint of brightness from a reflection near the water caused Cassie to squint from the momentary glare. The bright light lead her to the water’s edge, where a shiny object stuck out from beneath the sand.
Cassie moved to take a closer look. She reached down to scoop up the object, but couldn’t. It was heavy, requiring both hands to lift what turned out to be a small, obsidian box, the stone chipped away by hand in the fashion of her ancestors. Cassie slid the lid off to peer inside. What she saw took her breath away. The box was filled with gold dust.
She glanced around the cavern, noticing other boxes made of chipped stone on the cavern floor and on shelves and ledges carved into the cavern walls, larger boxes which would hold much more than the one she held in her hands. If they were full of gold, they had to be worth a fortune.
Cassie went to first one, then another, checking the contents of each. They were all filled with gold. There was more gold here than Cassie had ever imagined existed in the whole world.
The story of the lake’s sunken treasure had been true, Cassie thought, but she had been allowed to find it. She was now the Keeper of the secret, whether she wanted to be or not. It wasn’t up to Gram any more. The lake had chosen her.
To Be Concluded. “Hidden Secrets, Part Two” at Across the Margin tomorrow!
For Kaye Lynne Booth, writing is her passion. Kaye has been a freelance writer for six years, with published work both online and in print. Kaye holds a dual M.F.A. degree in Creative Writing with emphasis in genre fiction and screenwriting. It is a very strange time indeed when Kaye does not have at least three WIPs going in addition to her schooling and writing for hire. Kaye also maintains a writing blog, “Writing to be Read,” where she publishes things of interest in the literary and screenwriting worlds.