Just as they’d promised, Krystina and Mitch thoroughly enjoyed themselves during their stay in Granite Falls.
They laughed together trying to figure out how to put up their tent; took a long hike over the rocky cliffs by the stream; giggled like children as they went skinny-dipping in the ice-cold river; cuddled by the warmth of the campfire; and lay side by side in the darkness, looking up at the endless sea of stars above.
Their first day (and night) together had been absolutely perfect, and so was the next morning. They stood side by side near the river, fishing poles in hand, enjoying each other’s company (and the gorgeous view) in silence. With each tug on their lines, they could not help but feel a rush of excitement – but they’d caught nothing remarkable yet. And certainly not anything as remarkable as the mysterious angelfish they sought.
Krystina knew that their only chance lay in the deep woods where her father had encountered the old woman more than 45 years before. Of course, she still had her doubts that there would be anyone living there now, but even so… There has to be something special in that lake. Her father had always described the place as feeling strange, and other-worldly… Surely there were more secrets hidden there that he had not discovered.
Guess I should go check it out… She reeled in her line and quickly packed away her pole as she prepared to head deep into the forest. Mitch watched as she did so, and secured his own pole in a small stand on the riverbank as he turned to face his wife.
“Ready to go see if those directions your dad gave us actually make any sense?” He asked with a laugh.
Krystina smiled warmly at him. “Yeah.” She replied. “Now seems as good a time as any! Why don’t you hang out here and see if you have any luck, and we’ll meet back up in a few hours.” She suggested.
Her husband’s face fell. “Are you sure?” Mitch asked nervously. “What if you get lost or something? Maybe I should go with you…”
“I’ll be fine.” Krystina insisted. “I have pretty good reception up here, and I’ll have my phone on me in case there’s trouble.” She assured him. “Besides, you never know what we could find around here.” As she spoke, she gestured toward the sparking river beside them. “Divide and conquer, right?”
Mitch shrugged. “I guess.” His voice was uncertain. “Just be careful out there, babe. Okay?”
“Of course.” Krystina kissed him gently on the cheek. “Love you.”
“I love you too.” He smiled as his wife pulled away from him.
As she walked away, Krystina watched Mitch lift pole from its stand and cast his line back out into the crystal clear water.
She was so glad he hadn’t pushed the issue – Though she had not voiced the thought aloud, Krystina felt like this was something she had to do alone. It was a silly thought, maybe, but her father was always talking about “fate” and “destiny”, especially when it came to Evelyn. And being here now, doing her part to help find the angelfish – this was the part fate wanted her to play. Wasn’t it?
It was nearly noon by the time Krystina finally reached the ranger station at the edge of the forest. Just beyond it, she could make out the smooth water of a tiny pond, just as her father had described. There wasn’t another soul in sight, and the scene was truly breathtaking. For a moment, she felt tempted to pause and enjoy the beautiful view. If only she’d brought her easel with her… No, Krysti. She told herself firmly. Focus.
Recalling her father’s directions, Krystina continued down the trail somewhat reluctantly, past the beautiful scenery and toward the deepest and darkest part of the woods. She wandered uncertainly for quite some time, trying to gauge when she should step off the trail and into the underbrush. All the trees and plants looked so similar… How could she even be certain her father had correctly remembered the way?
Krystina could not help but feel relieved as a figure came into view further up the trail. “Excuse me?” She called out kindly as she jogged to catch up.
It was a woman who appeared to be around her own age. She turned around curiously. “Yes?”
“Sorry to bother you.” Krystina began a bit nervously. “But… I’ve heard that there’s a kind of, uh, clearing around here? With a waterfall?” She paused, but the woman just stared at her. “Do you know where I could find it?”
The woman shook her head. “I’m not exactly sure what you’re talking about.” She replied with a small shrug. “Closest I can think of is the waterfall beyond those huge cliffs over there.” The woman gestured to her right. “You can see it off in the distance if you hike up the mountain a bit.” She explained. “But it’s all closed off… There’s no way through from here. Sorry.”
“Well, thanks anyway!” Krystina replied brightly, then headed off in the direction the woman had indicated.
Close, dad. She thought. Right, then left.
Krystina found the rocky cliff face and began walking alongside it, searching for the opening her father had told her about. But as far as she could see along the vertical wall of rock before her, there were no gaps or holes or cracks big enough to climb through.
It’s gotta be here… She told herself. Right?
Krystina was not sure how long she walked for. She even doubled-back a few times, retracing her steps and continuing to examine the rough stone face of the cliff. Come on, come on… She thought desperately, studying the rocks more and more closely the further she went.
In fact, she was so intently focused on her task that it seemed like the rest of the world had begun to slowly melt away – the wind stopped blowing, the leaves no longer swayed in the breeze, and everything felt so silent, and still. It was almost chilling. But surely it was just her imagination… wasn’t it?
And then, just when things were finally beginning to seem hopeless, she saw it.
“There it is!” She cried out loud in excitement as she drew closer. It was just as her father had described. How had she failed to notice it before?
The soft trickling sound of distant water reached Krystina’s ears as she approached the opening. And there’s the stream… I’m so close! She just hoped that whatever she’d find on the other side would be worth it. With a deep, nervous breath, Krystina crouched forward, pushed aside the vines, and entered.