Short Story Sunday: Crystal Cave
Last night my Aunt Judy and I watched a movie about a father and daughter who were trapped under their house during a storm. Giant alligators attacked them. These weren’t just any run of the mill Florida alligators. These were HUGE GIANT MASSIVE alligators with voracious appetites.
The movie was pretty bad. Thank goodness for fast forward. In the end the daughter, father, and their exceptionally cute dog were saved.
We laughed about the movie. Then Aunt Judy opened a bottle of wine, and changed the subject.
“When you were small,” she said, “your parents said you’d talk about visitors who’d come see you at night. They loved to talk about your wild imagination.”
“I guess that’s why I’m an artist now,” I said.
“I’m so proud of you. You know I am.” Then she poured me a glass of wine, then one for herself. “Tell me about the night visitors.”
“They sure as hell weren’t alligators,” I said. Then we both laughed. “Sometimes they were like ghosts, you know, just shadows. Other times I’d see them dressed up in 19th century costumes like they’d come out of a Poe story. They went away after we moved to Berkeley, you know after my mom started teaching at the university. It was a good move. Dad wasn’t always so tired anymore.”
“I thought we were going to lose him,” said Aunt Judy. “Even as kids, he had so much energy, then it was like he’d been just drained.”
“Like night and day,” I said.
“Exactly,” said Aunt Judy.
“Great grandma Gracie told me that she had night visitors too. Did you ever hear about that?”
“She didn’t talk about it much. People already thought she was crazy. She wasn’t. Like you she just had that artistic touch.”
That night I had dreams about giant alligators and gray shadow people. I woke up feeling drained, like I’d hiked all day then been beaten with a baseball bat. I checked my body for bruises but there was nothing. I chalked it up to too much alcohol and sleeping on the wrong side.
After breakfast Aunt Judy said, “Would you like to see something pretty cool?”
“Sure,” I said. “As long as it isn’t a giant alligator.”
“No alligators in California,” she said.
So, we put on our shoes, put a leash on her old Black Lab Mix Charles, and went for a hike in the woods near her house.
Aunt Judy lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. She was spared this summer from the fires that kept her house blanketed in smoke for months. A few bears have come down from their burned out homes to visit her property lately but no damage was done. Now that it is fall the rattlesnakes aren’t out in full force like they were during the summer months.
Living in the foothills means living in Gold Country, as in the California Gold Rush of 1849. So it didn’t surprise me when Aunt Judy led me to the entrance of an old abandoned mine.
“Why didn’t you ever show me this?” I asked her.
“I didn’t want any of you kids getting hurt. Now that you’re grown I’ll show you around,” said Judy, as she unclipped Charlie from the leash. Then she pulled a couple of headlamps out of her daypack. “Put this on,” she said handing me one of the lamps. “No light once we get down in the tunnel.”
Aunt Judy is nearly 70 years old but she gets around better than most 20 year old’s. I’m 26 and sometimes I have a hard time keeping up with her.
We walked about 50 feet down a tunnel into a room that was about 15 x 20 feet around.
“Look up,” said Aunt Judy.
The entire ceiling was covered with crystals.
“Quartz. On a rare day you might find some gold but this is just too beautiful to destroy it for the chance of making a few thousand dollars.”
“It is like some enchanted cave,” I said.
“That is exactly what it is, an enchanted cave. Follow me. There is more.”
We walked down another 20 feet when Aunt Judy whispered for me to walk softly and not talk. Then she told me to turn off my headlamp and take her arm, as she lead me down another few feet.
Next she turned off her headlamp and took out a small dim hand held light, the led me around the corner.
It was dark but I could tell were were suddenly in a well furnished room. The walls were covered with tapestries, and the furnishings were richly carved with brocade fabrics. The cave floor was covered with fine antique Turkish rugs.
“What…” I started to ask, but Judy put her hand over my mouth.
Then she put her light towards a bed in the corner. There slept two people under the covers of a magnificent carved bed. Old fashioned clothing was draped over a chair. A top hat was on the nightstand, along with a bottle and two wine glasses.
Aunt Judy pulled me back and we went back to the room with the crystal ceiling, then out into the sunshine again.
“Aunt Judy, what did I just see?”
“Did you recognize them?” Judy asked.
“No, should I?”
“They’re your night visitors. They visited your dad too. They also visited Gracie.”
“What? I don’t understand.”
“They adored your father. They wanted him to be one of them, but he wouldn’t leave your mom, or you. A weaker man might have taken them up on their offer but your dad, my brother, is a better man than that.”
“I still don’t understand,” I said.
“They’re vampire. The people in the cave are vampires. They’ve been around here since the Gold Rush, along with our family. We’ve always lived here. I’m still here to keep them in check and make sure they behave.”
“I don’t let them bring anyone into their ranks. When I’m gone I don’t know what will happen.”
I felt a little light in the head, then I laughed.
“What?” Judy asked.
“Alligators. Just bring in some alligators.”
Aunt Judy laughed.
“Hey, Judy?” I asked. “Do you know them, the vampires?”
“Sure, I’ve known them all my life, but I’m not going to tell you about them. I can’t have them tempt you. They tried when you were a child. They know where you are. They’ll always know, like a guardian angels, only they won’t protect you from anything. They’d like to but they can’t.”
“So now what?” I asked.
“Nothing,” said Judy. Then she pulled a crystal out of her coat pocket and put it in my hand, then closed my fingers over it. “Just keep this with you. Maybe it will keep you safe. Maybe not.”
As I drove home, a few hours away, I thought about the vampires, my night visitors, my sore neck, and my dad. I wondered about Aunt Judy living out there alone with nobody but Charles the dog. Then I wondered thought about how young looking Judy had stayed all these years. She’d said it was because she always wore sunscreen, but I wondered. Did she trade places with my dad, or maybe….
When I got in my house I called my dad and told him about my visit to Aunt Judy’s. “Yeah, dad she called me out of the blue. She took me into the cave.”
There was silence on my dad’s end. “Did she show you her friends?”
“Yes,” he said. “Don’t go back there. Don’t ever go back.”
“Why did they like you so much?”
“Shit, I don’t know. That would be like asking a cat why it likes something. It won’t answer you and if it does you’ll never know if it is a lie or not.”
I had to smile. “Thanks dad, we’ll talk more later. Will you talk with me more later about this.”
“Sure,” he said, “but don’t tell your mom.
“I won’t,” I said. “It will be our secret.”
And it will be. Holy crap, and I thought other people had strange families.
As always this story was written today over a cup of tea with a few interruptions from my husband and my dog. 11/07/21
~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman