The passage was much shorter than Krystina had expected, and she soon emerged on the other side to a beautiful sunlit clearing. There were large blue butterflies fluttering through the air; colorful and exotic-looking plants scattered all around; a crystal-clear lake with a huge, cascading waterfall; and a quaint little cottage overlooking it all from the top of a gently sloping hill.
Woah… Krystina’s eyes darted back and forth over the breathtaking scenery around her. Now she really wished she’d brought her paints and easel with her.
She climbed slowly up the hill toward the little house, searching around for any sign of life… But it seemed she was all alone. Krystina approached the old wooden door and knocked gently. Nothing.
“Hello?” She called out, trying to peek in through a window. Still nothing. With a small shrug of her shoulders, she turned to head back down the hill toward the lake.
It’s so weird… Krystina thought as she walked back down the path. These plants are so well taken care of… But there’s no one here!
Still a bit confused, Krystina approached the gorgeous waterfall near the entrance to the clearing. She smiled softly to herself as she looked down at the lake in front of her.
There’s just gotta be something good in here. Krystina told herself as she pulled out her fishing rod and cast her line out across the beautiful blue water. With a soft sigh of contentment, she settled in, taking in the lovely sights and sounds all around as she waited for something to nibble at her bait.
But as her wait went on… and on… and on still, Krystina found her optimism quickly fading away. “What the Hell?!” She cried out loud in frustration as she placed her fishing rod a bit unceremoniously on the sand below. Nothing?! Not one bite?! It’s been almost two hours! Had this whole thing really been a waste of time after all? It certainly seemed like it…
With a heavy sigh, she pulled out her phone to text her husband and let him know she was on her way back… But Krystina found that she no longer had any service. “Shit…” She muttered.
“Such foul language for such a beautiful young lady.” A kind voice called out.
“AHHHH!” Krystina reeled back in horror, throwing her hands up instinctively to shield her face.
When she finally realized who was addressing her, however, the young woman slowly lowered her hands. Could this be her? A barefoot old woman in tattered clothes stood before her at the edge of the lake, smiling sweetly. Where could she have come from? Wouldn’t Krystina have heard her approaching?
“I’m sorry to frighten you, child.” The woman said gently. “No need to be alarmed.”
Child? Krystina almost laughed. This old woman certainly seemed peculiar… Maybe it really was her. But… how?
“Don’t worry about it… I guess you just startled me a little.” Krystina began uncertainly. “M-my name’s Krystina… And… I think maybe… You’ve met my father?”
The old woman peered curiously at her for a few moments, saying nothing. There was something in the old woman’s gaze that gave Krystina a feeling she could not describe.
“Mm… I thought you looked familiar.” The woman spoke at last, her smile widening in apparent amusement. “Ah yes, I remember your father… Lucas, was it?”
Krystina nodded, dumbfounded.
“And he took a few clippings from my garden… to help a ‘friend’ of his…”
“Yes!” Krystina could scarcely believe that this was really the same woman her father had met so long ago… But it had to be. “And they have helped… a lot, actually… But, see, I’m kind of here because, well… We might need a little more help. This might sound a little weird… We’re, uh… looking for this special kind of fish…”
The old woman chuckled softly. “I had a feeling…” She shook her head in amusement. “Follow me, my dear. I think I may have something that can help.”
Without another word, she began walking up the hill toward her cottage. And Krystina, still trying to wrap her head around it all, followed.
The inside of the woman’s cabin was nothing like what she’d imagined. Though she was somewhat embarrassed to admit it, Krystina had secretly been expecting to see a crystal ball in the living room, or a stone cauldron in the kitchen, or a gnarled broomstick lying in the corner… Instead, everything just seemed so normal. It was difficult to figure out what to make of it all.
“You’ll be looking for that pesky angelfish, I expect?” The woman called from over her shoulder as she began rifling through a bookcase on the other side of the cabin. She muttered softly to herself as she examined the cover of book after book before shaking her head and placing each one back on the shelf.
“Um, y-yeah.” Krystina replied, shocked. “H-how did you…?”
“Ah, here we are!” The stranger came bustling back, and in her wrinkled hands she did not hold a book, but a rolled up piece of old parchment paper, wrapped in twine.
The young woman looked down at it skeptically. “What is it?” She asked.
“A map.” The old woman said simply. “Well, really several maps, I suppose… But they all intertwine together.” She explained. “And with any luck, one of them should lead to what you seek.” A small smile came to her lips as she finished.
“But… which one?”
The mysterious woman just shrugged. “My dear, it’s been years since I’ve taken a proper look at that old thing. It’s a little bit… complicated to decipher.” She said carefully. “But I’m afraid it’s the best I can offer you.”
“Well, thank you… I guess…” Krystina still felt so confused by it all. She’d come there looking for a fish… And now she was leaving with some crumpled old map? Where did this map even lead? And could it really help Evelyn?
“My pleasure, dear.” The old woman smiled sweetly, watching as Krystina tucked the map carefully into her back pocket. “Now, I really hate to be a poor hostess, but I have quite a bit of work I must be getting back to… And something tells me your husband may be wondering where you’ve gotten off to.”
Mitch! She’s right… He’s probably worried sick by now. “Well thank you again.” She said sincerely. “I really hope this helps…”
“Oh, it will.” The woman assured her with a smile. Krystina felt a peculiar chill run down her spine as she did so. “Don’t worry, dear. Good luck.”
Krystina returned the old woman’s wave of farewell and headed through the door back out into the afternoon sun. Well, it’s not what I was expecting… She thought to herself, a bit of excitement slowly rising up within her. But this could be what we’ve been waiting for! Or at least, she hoped it would be.
She quickened her pace slightly as she began heading down the path toward the bottom of the hill. She’s right though, I should really be… Her pace began to slow. …getting… back… to… She stopped in her tracks. Wait.
Krystina hadn’t mentioned Mitch to the woman, had she? And she wasn’t wearing her wedding ring for fear of damaging it while camping… So how did she…?
Krystina simply shook her head. With one last look over her shoulder, she quickened her step and hurried back down the hill, eager to return to her husband and tell him all about her bizarre encounter with the mysterious old woman.