Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Chapter 5 - Another Storm Arises

On the coast of Denmark:

I gripped the gunwale of the tiny sailboat as it tossed in the choppy waves.  I wasn’t used to being on the sea like this, having been born in the town of Hohn, centered in the Jutland Peninsula.  True, Papa was a fisherman, but I hadn’t been his helper like my brothers. 
          And now I was on my way to the Isle of Fohr, a few miles off the western coast of Denmark.  Papa was seated just behind us holding the tiller, looking quite at home there.   He’d been born and raised on Fohr like Mama, but for some reason I still didn’t understand, they’d left the island for the mainland.  Trying to settle my churning stomach, I reached over and grabbed my sister’s hand.
          Elka gave a tiny smile.  Apparently, she too found the churning North Sea uncomfortable.  “It’s all right, Elena,” she whispered.  “The voyage isn’t long.”
          “Papa, why are we going to Fohr now after so long?” I asked.
          Papa frowned and made no reply at first.  Finally he shrugged, “We will talk of this later.  Now I must keep this boat upright.”
          As he said this, the small craft lurched into a tall wave, climbing its side and cresting the white top with a crash.  I gagged and turned to heave my breakfast into the crashing waves.
          “Aye, you’ll never make an islander,” Papa shouted above the water’s sounds.
          “Why are we going to see Grandpapa and Grandmama?” Elka asked.
          I wiped my mouth and tried to swallow the bitter taste in my throat.
          “You’ll see when we get there,” muttered Papa.  “Your grandmother can be very insistent.”

          The boat was now tied to a floating dock on the shore.  As we climbed a nearby grassy knoll, a man in working clothes came striding toward us from a cottage perched on the side of the hill.  He waved, but I saw he wasn’t smiling.
          When he got within a few yards of us, he planted his feet in the sandy soil and crossed his arms in front of his chest.  “So you’ve come at last, have you Hans?”
          Papa stopped and assumed a similar pose. 
          Before Papa replied, the man pointed to Elka and me.  “And these are your girls, I presume?”
          The anger in his voice was confusing me.
          “Father, please.”  Papa’s voice was edged with anger, too.  “Can we at least go up to the cottage?”
          “Your mother insisted on it, of course.”  He said nothing else but turned on his heel and started up the hill from where he’d come.
          “So, is this truly our grandfather?” I whispered to Elka as we tried to keep pace with the men, no easy task in our long skirts and tight shoes.
          “I guess so, Elena.  I’ve never met him before either.”
          Just as we reached the door of the weathered wooden cottage, it burst open and a woman in a long brown skirt grabbed me in her embrace.  “My dear granddaughters, at last I see you face-to-face.”
          “Yes Mama,” said our father. “The eldest is Elka, and Elena has just turned thirteen.”
          “Already women,” the woman sighed.  “Why have you taken so long to bring them to me, Hans?”
          “Hmph!”  This sound came from the older man.  “Enough of this, Helena.  You know as well as I that all Hans’s children have been led astray by their mother’s Baptist heresies.”
          ‘So that’s it,’ I thought.  ‘There’s a religious argument between Papa and Grandpapa.  Could this thing really be the cause of so much strife and separation?’
          “Now Anders,” the woman was sighing.  “Can we please put these differences aside for the sake of family?”
          “I’m not the one who pulled their roots out of this home-ground on Fohr and dragged them away to the mainland.”
          Helena frowned for an instant.  Then she grabbed each of our hands and pulled us girls toward her.  “Don’t listen to the grumpy men,” she whispered.  “Come inside.  I’ve made a special lunch for you.”
          The interior of the cottage was dimly revealed by light coming through the small windows.  They had no covering, and the shutters were opened to the brisk outside air.  I took a deep breath, glad this seemed to settle my still-churning stomach.  Despite its sparseness, the room had a homey welcoming feel.
          “We’re so fortunate to have a sunny day, my dears.  Please sit.”  Grandmama guided us to benches on either side of the worn trestle table.
          Before us were chipped crockery plates, each with a small stack of barley cakes topped with a dollop of jam.
          ‘Is this the special lunch?’ I thought.  ‘It seems so plain.’
          “Oh, thank you, Grandmama,” Elka was saying just then.  “You didn’t have to give us so much of your precious berry jam.”
          “Please call me Nanna,” she smiled.  “There’s no need to be so formal with just us women.”
          Looking up, I saw Grandmother’s warm smile but thought I also saw tears in her shining blue eyes.
          “Would you like coffee?  Or are you not permitted to drink it?”
          “Oh yes, Nanna,” Elka nodded.  “We’d love to try your coffee.”
          Once we had steaming mugs beside our plates, I finally found my voice.   “Won’t you join us, Nanna?”
          “I’ve already eaten my lunch, dears.”
          “Please, just sit with us,” Elka insisted.
          “Very well.”  She poured herself a mug and drew up a battered wooden chair to the end of the table.
          As we ate the barley cakes, I tried my best to look pleased with them.  This would be considered ordinary fare in Hohn, but apparently out here on the Isle of Fohr, things were quite different.
          Then I found my mind wandering back to Grandpapa’s comment on Baptists.   My own baptism was just a few years back, and I remembered it well.  The true meaning of having my sins washed away was cemented in my memory by the feel of the chill waters rushing over my face as the pastor leaned me back into the lake near our little church in Hohn.
          Mama ran and embraced me tightly as I stepped back up the bank, heedless of my dripping white gown.  I remembered seeing her do the same when Elka was baptized.  Now I realized with a start, this was one of the few times Mama had ever hugged me.
          “Blessings on you, my child,” she’d murmured into my ear.  “You have decided to follow Herr Jesu Krist.  May he be with you and guide you always.”
          Now Elka’s voice pulled me back into the present.  “Nanna, why do Grandpapa and our father seem so angry?”
          Even as she said this, I heard deep voices coming toward the door.  “You’ve turned your back on your family, Hans.”
          Nanna jumped to her feet, slamming her coffee mug on the tabletop, and shouted out the open window.  “Do not bring your stupid arguments into my house.”
          I glanced at Elka’s face and saw she was as surprised as me.  Our own mother would never be heard raising her voice like this in public.
          “Those pig-headed men,” Nanna muttered.  “They’ve made their opinions of God more important than their own families.”
          “Is that why Papa has never brought us to visit you?”
          Nanna laid her hand over Elka’s before she replied.  “You are of my own blood,” she sighed.  “I should never have let us be torn apart like this.”
          “What do you mean?”
          “My husband is a Lutheran, like most of Denmark and Germany.  This is a part of who he is.  But when your father married Elka Nahmens, he turned to her beliefs and became one of those who teach differently.”
          “So that’s why he and Mama left Fohr?”
          “My husband sent them away.”  Now I definitely saw tears shining in Nanna’s eyes, and my heart felt heavy in my chest.
          “He banished them?”
          “Some would use that harsh word, Elena.  These men—"
          Her voice broke.
          I reached over and gripped her hand.  It was icy cold, and I began to rub gently, trying to warm it.
          Just then the door was flung open and Papa stomped in.  “It’s time to go, my daughters.”  We could hear the tension in his voice. 
          Elka rose and nodded obediently, but I didn’t move.  “I’m staying here with Nanna,” I said. “I want to visit with my grandparents.” My mind was racing and my heart was pounding.  I couldn’t believe these words were coming out of my mouth.  But as soon as I said them, I knew they were true.
          Papa’s eyes flashed as he turned to us, but Elka stepped toward him from where she was standing at the table.  “She’s still young, Papa,” she said.  “She needs to get to know her family.  Please, don’t stop her.”
          “Why should I take orders from you?” Papa hissed.  “You get back in your place, woman.”
          “You know Mother would let her stay for at least a little while.”
          “These old Lutherans will ruin her faith.”
          “Papa, my faith is strong enough,” I said.
          “And I’ll stay with her, if you wish,” Elka added. 
          “Very well,” he grumbled.  “But you must keep my father from preaching to them,” he glared at Nanna.
          “You know he loves you, Hans,” she murmured.  “He just doesn’t know how to show it.”
          Papa reached down and kissed Nanna on top of her head.  “I know, Mama.”
          “If only you two weren’t so stubborn, you thick-headed Deutsche Manner,” she sighed.
          “I can’t come back for you until after the barley harvest,” he said then.  “Are you sure you want to stay that long?”
          “We’ll be fine, Papa,” Elka said, giving him a hug.  “Don’t worry.  This way we can help Nanna with her canning for winter.  Especially since she’s given us the last of her berry jam.”
          “There’s still a bit left, dear,” Nanna smiled. 
          “I love the idea of helping,” I added as I embraced Papa.  “Please don’t worry.  And tell Mama we’ll help her as soon as we return.”
          “Yes,” Nanna nodded.  “The berries ripen earlier here than on the mainland, I’m told.  The girls’ help will be appreciated.”
          Papa was staring at the floor as though he might find an answer there.  “Very well,” he muttered at last.  “I’ll be back before the winter storms.”
          Then without another word, he turned and stalked out the door, slamming it behind him.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Chapter 4 - "After the Storm" - Book 1 of The Journeys Saga

Journeys Saga Book I - New working title "A Voice in the Past"

Photo below is Long's Peak, Colorado Rockies.  One of the Fourteeners mentioned in Chapter 3.  It's known for its unusual flat top.  This photo taken in Rocky Mountain National Park by Paul Erler, Sept. 2017.

Leah is right.  The storm soon passes, and we crawl back out of our tents to warm up camp stoves and start supper.  By the time we’re finished eating the sun is back out, and we can watch it disappear behind the mountains to the west of us.  There are only a few patches of the white ice pellets left in the shadiest spots.
          “I’m sorry we’re not allowed a campfire,” says Jeanine.  “It would be fun to sit around, sing songs, and tell stories.  But it’s getting dark.  Without a fire, I guess we’ll just have to get into our tents while we can still see them.”
          As Leah and I crawl back into our tent, I hear her humming a tune.  “What song is that?” I ask.
          “It’s called ‘The Happy Wanderer’.  It’s an old camp song.”
          “Please sing it for me.  I’ve never heard it.”  Shivering, we quickly crawl into our sleeping bags to get warm.  “I’m glad Jeanine said to get in our tents.  My hands feel like ice.”
          “Mine, too.”
          As I lie there in the gathering darkness, Leah’s voice begins the song, “I love to go a-wandering…”
          But I must have dropped right off to sleep, because I never hear the end of the song.

          It’s still dark outside when a yellow light glows beside our tent door.  “Who’s there?” I whisper, thinking it’s someone with a flashlight, maybe Jeanine checking that we’re tucked in.
          “Cinda, come out here for a minute,” says a female voice.
          “Wait,” I whisper.  I see no reason to think it isn’t Jeanine.  After all, we’re up here isolated in the mountains.
          I crawl out of my sleeping bag as quietly as I can.  Leah stirs and mumbles.  I freeze.  Once I feel confident she’s still asleep, I unzip the tent door.  The sound seems like a passing jet in the silence of the night.
          “What’s wrong?” Leah’s sleepy voice asks.
          “Nothing.  I—uh—just have to go pee.”
          “Oh—‘kay.”  She pulls her bag over her head, as I heave a sigh of relief.
          Once I’m out the door and it’s zipped again, I shade my eyes and try to focus on the bright figure blocking out the night.
          “It’s me, Cinda.  Lexi.”
          My legs give way and I sit flat on the ground, but she reaches down and helps me up.  At the touch of her warm hand, I shiver for an instant. Then the warmth seems to flow into my body as she pulls me away from the cluster of tents to a pile of boulders several meters away.
          A cold chill freezes my backside as I sit down next to her.  Then it rises to my belly and runs through me like a knife.  “Why are you here?”
          “Because it’s time to come with me.”
          “Do I have to go?  I’ve finally made some friends, and this will make me miss my one chance at camping in the mountains.”
          “Don’t worry.  I can take you through the GAP, and we’ll be back before morning.  No one will even know you’ve been gone.”
          “How can you do that?”
          “I just fold space and time--and cut across the GAP.”
          “What is the GAP, anyway?”
          “It stands for Galactic Antipaterminal Passage.”
          “Is that like a Wormhole?”
          “Sort of.  Wormholes are in space.  But GAPs can be anywhere.”
          “Why do I have to do this?”
          “Because you’re the one being called.”
          “I thought I called you.  That’s what my dad said.”
          “Well, it’s a two-way thing.  You and I are meant to work together, Cinda.  I need you, and you need me.  Please, just come now.  One of your ancestors is in great need—your six-times-great-grandmother.”
          “My what?”
          “Please come with me, okay?  I think you’ll like her.”
          I take two deep breaths before I answer her.  By now, my eyes have adjusted to the light coming from her, and I can see those same green eyes shining at me that I saw in my bedroom a couple of months ago.  “Okay, prove it,” I mutter.
          She reaches over and takes both my hands in hers.  The yellow light seems to flow from her into me.  My hands begin to shake as I see them become a glowing gold.  It’s like they’re turning to molten metal.  Then everything turns pitch black around me, and I feel a wind as sharp as ice.   It pulls and tears at my hair, and I grip Lexi’s hands as tightly as I can.  Then in an instant, the black is lifted like a curtain and I see a sky full of stars.  The rocks and the mountains are gone.  Looking down at my feet, I see they’re standing in wet sand.  In the distance, I hear the sloshing of waves and the call of seabirds.
          “Lexi, where am I?”  My voice seems to echo like I’m in a long tunnel.
          “Don’t panic, Cinda.  I’ve brought you through the GAP to Denmark in 1847.”
          “You’re actually near a place called Hohn, in the district of Schleswig.  Right now it’s ruled by Denmark, but the people here see themselves as more German than Danish.  It’s okay, you’re with family.”
          “You’re ‘within’ your six-times-great grandmother, Elena Hansen.  You and she are now merged and she’s thirteen years old, just like you.”
          “I don’t believe this.  I have to be dreaming.”  My voice can barely squeak out a sound.  “This is impossible.”
          “No, I can assure you this is all real,” she says calmly.  Her words echo inside my head, but I don’t hear them with my ears.
          Everything around us is shaded, like it’s twilight or just before dawn.  Then as the light begins to brighten, I decide it must be dawn.  The sun seems to be rising out of the sea in bands of pink and purple clouds.  Gulls are flying above the waves and occasionally dipping down to grab some food, calling to each other raucously.
          “What’s going to happen now, Lexi?  If I’m ‘within’ this Elena, what happens to me?”
          “Just relax and let Elena be herself.  You’re here to help her.”
          “But how can I help?  I don’t know anything about Denmark in—whatever…”
          “Eighteen-forty-seven.  People are much the same inside, no matter what time and place they’re in.  Elena at thirteen has some of the same questions and feelings you do.”
          “But how will I know what to do?”
          “It will come to you as you need to know.  Don’t worry.”
          “That’s a bit vague.  I can see why Dad wasn’t too happy to see you in my bedroom.”
          “I wish I could tell you more, Cinda, but it would interfere with what needs to happen.”
          “We’re so far from my time, over two hundred years.  I’ll be totally out of place here.”
          “The Lord we serve doesn’t change, remember?  The Book says ‘He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.’ ”
          “The Book?  What book?”
          “I think you call it The Bible.  Don’t you believe in the True Lord?   
“Oh, you mean Jesus?”
          “Yes, that’s one of his names.”
          “Well, sure I’ve heard the stories about him at church.  A few years ago, I was baptized and gave my profession of faith.  We still go to church most weekends.  My dad doesn’t always come with us, but I wish he would.”
          “Is he angry with the Lord about his father’s death when he was so young?”
          “I think it’s something like that, Lexi.”
          “That’s another reason why you need to be here, Cinda.”
          “How’s my going back over two hundred years going to help my dad?”
          “I can’t explain it all.  You wouldn’t understand right now.  Don’t worry about fitting in.  Elena is the one everyone will see and hear, not you.”
          I’m already beginning to feel my real self fading, and my insides flip over, like I’m on a steep rollercoaster.  I want to ask Lexi more questions, but my own consciousness seems to be disappearing along with my voice.
          By now the ball of the sun is completely above the horizon before us, and the beach is bathed in yellow-orange light.  My feet are still planted on the sand, and I can just make out the dark shapes of some pointed-toed shoes.  When I try to take a step, it feels like I’m glued to the ground.
          “Lexi, why can’t I move?”
          “Don’t panic.  We’re still settling into our new time and place, and new bodies.  It takes a bit longer when we go backwards in time.  Try to follow the Lord’s guidance, and things will fall into place as they’re supposed to.”
          I want to turn my head to see where her voice is coming from, but none of my muscles will respond.
          “Okay, I’m really confused,” I take a deep breath to try calming myself.  “Are we trying to change history here, or something?”
          “Nothing as big as that, Cinda.  There are just some paths that would’ve been better not taken.  And we’re here to redirect those choices.  And keep the wrong things from happening.”
          “Sure sounds like change to me.”
          “Well, it is.  But not changes of the big things that happened in this century.  Just some smaller details.”
          “And this will change my dad’s attitude?”
          “We hope so.”
          “We?  We who?”
          “I can’t tell you right now.  You just need to merge into Elena, live her life with her.”
          “I don’t want to lose my identity, Lexi.”
          “Don’t worry, you won’t.  The little risk is outweighed by the benefits.  Please, Cinda.  Just trust me, and the True Lord.”
          “All right.  I’m not sure I have a choice anyway.”
          “Yes, you do.  But I hope you’ll make the choice to help your family.”
          By this time, the sun is moving higher in the sky, and I can see the dunes around us.  Now when I look down I’m surprised to see black button-up shoes on my feet.  “Ouch, these shoes are pinching my toes.  But at least I can move again.”
          I hear a low laugh.  “Shoes haven’t developed comfort yet in 1847.”
          Then I notice I’m wearing a long skirt reaching to my ankles.  The wind is whipping it around my legs, and I must gather it up toward my waist so I can walk.  “These clothes are crazy.”
          “You have to fit in with the people here.”
          “I sure wish I could wear blue-jeans.”
          “Sorry.  They haven’t been invented yet.”
          “When did jeans get invented, anyway?”
          “About two or three years from now, in San Francisco.  Levi Strauss finds that the denim used for ships’ sails makes a sturdy, tough pair of pants for the gold miners in the 1849 gold rush.”
          “Oh, Levi’s!  Can’t we go there and get me some?”
          She laughs aloud.  “No, not really.”
          “I thought you could take me anywhere and anytime, Lexi.”
          “No, that’s not how it works.  Can we please get on with this?”
          “So, what am I supposed to do first?”
          “Just relax and let yourself slide into the background of Elena’s mind.  Then things will become clearer.”
          My heart is pounding—or is it Elena’s?  Taking a deep breath, I look down at my hands where they’ve gathered the heavy woolen skirt.  They don’t look at all like my hands.  They’re much smaller, but not fragile. 
          Now my body begins to regain its balance as I turn and walk away from the shore.  In the distance, I see a small cottage, and my feet want to take me there.
          “Wait.  Lexi, where will you be in all this?  Am I here all alone?”
          “Look at me,” her voice echoes in my head.
          Turning to my left, I see a girl standing next to me in a long dress similar to mine.  “Who are you?”
          The girl next to me shakes her head.  “Elena, you’re such a dreamer.  Has your mind gone across the sea again?  I’m your sister, Elka.”
          Her voice is familiar to Elena, and I quickly nod, “Oh, yes.”
          “Are you inside her?” I ask silently in my mind.
          “Don’t worry,” says Lexi’s familiar voice.  “I’m right here.”

Monday, February 11, 2019

Chapter 3 - "Camp Magic Mountain"


          Spring turns itself into the first days of summer.  As the days lengthen, Ian and I spend evenings wandering through the woods and down to Bison Creek, the little stream that runs across the back of our property.  We don’t see anything strange or magical, except the everyday magic of butterflies fluttering between bright flowers scattered in the rich carpets of grass.
          I’m so glad there are no signs of strangers showing up unexpectedly, especially in my bedroom.  Dad doesn’t say anything about that day.  I’m sure he doesn’t want Mom or Ian to know about our strange visitor.  For myself, I just keep hoping it was all a dream.
          Then finally it’s the last day of school.  I feel so free that I want to fly.  A whole summer ahead of us, just for Ian and me to share. 
          As I’m walking home from school, Ali calls to me. She’s as close as any friend I’ve ever had, but that doesn’t mean we spend all our time together.  She often seems to have a cluster of boys hanging around her.  Ian is still the one I feel closest to.  But now she’s waving and calling to me.
          “Wait up, Cinda.  I’m so glad school is over, aren’t you?”  She seems excited as she catches up with me.  “What are you doing this summer?”
          This takes me by surprise.  She doesn’t often have much interest in what I’m doing.  She’s usually more focused on herself.  “Well, Ian and I are hoping our dad will take us camping,” I mutter, not able to think of anything else.
          “I’m going to Camp Magic Mountain.  I always go there.  It’s really neat.  In fact, that’s why I came over.  Do you want to go with me?”
          “Me?  Go to camp?”  I can’t believe she’s asking me.  “My parents probably won’t let me,” I sigh.
          “But my mother’s already talked to yours,” she laughs.  “They’ve gotten to be friends this year, you know.”
          “I guess I hadn’t noticed.  Are you sure?”
          “Just ask your mom,” she smiles.  “I’ve got to go now.  See you later.”  Then she’s off, walking quickly toward Tomal, the cutest boy in our class.
          When they’re out of sight around the next street corner, I’m still shaking my head.  Is this all a dream?  Or is she playing a joke on me?
          But as I walk into our back door, Mom has such a big grin on her face that I know something is up.  “I saw you talking to Ali down the street,” she smiles.  “I bet she let the cat out of the bag, didn’t she?”
          “What?  Is it really true then about Camp Magic Mountain?”
          “Yes, I’ve already talked to Dad, too.  We both think it’s a great idea, if you want to go, of course.”
          Now I can hardly hear her words for the excitement ringing in my ears.  It really does seem like a dream.  Then a sudden pain stabs through this beautiful cloud like a bolt of lightning.
          “But what about Ian?  Won’t his feelings be hurt?”
          She reaches over and pats my shoulder.  “He’ll be here when you get back.  It’s only two weeks.  There will be lots of summer afterwards, from Fourth of July on.  I’m glad you’re so thoughtful of your little brother, but you need to spend time with kids your own age, too.”
          “Have you told him yet, Mom?”
          “No, I figured you’d want to.”
          By now I’m having a hard time swallowing a lump in my throat.  Just then, Ian comes bursting through the back door.  “What’s the matter?  Is something wrong?” 
          Already he can read my thoughts on my face.
          “Well, not really.”  I glance at Mom and see her nod at me in a way that’s supposed to be encouraging.  “I’m going to camp with Ali for two weeks in June, to Camp Magic Mountain.”
          “Wow, that’s so cool.”  His response is almost immediate.  “That will be so much fun, really going camping.”
          “But you won’t be there with me, Ian.”
          Still, his eyes keep on dancing in a strange way.  “You can tell me about it when you get back.  We can put up the umbrella tent in the backyard, and you can tell me all kinds of real camping stories.”
          I let out a long deep breath that I’ve been holding without realizing it.  How can one so young understand so well?  My heart feels much lighter now, and I give him a big hug.
          “Someday, when I’m older, I’ll get to go to camp, too,” he smiles.
          Mom has a proud look in her eyes.  As I gaze over at her, I can tell she’s in awe, too.  Ian is a very unusual little boy.
          “Come on, Cinda,” he grabs my hand.  “Let’s go figure out what you need to pack.”
          I can hear Mom’s chuckle as he pulls me down the hall.  Glancing over at her, I shrug and see her smile back.
          As we go to my room, he says softly, “Camp Magic Mountain.  I wonder if it really is magic.”
          “Maybe,” I grin back at him.
          Thanks to him, I’m all packed and ready a whole week early.
          The best part, though, is I don’t have to worry about some GAP-crosser showing up to take me away.


          The days drag until it’s finally time to go to the camp.  Ali doesn’t call me or anything so I guess she’s busy with her friends, especially Tomal.  But it doesn’t matter.  I need to spend as much time as I can with Ian. 
          Finally, the day to catch the coach arrives.  Camp Magic Mountain is up in the Front Range beyond Denver, so the ride will take us a few hours.  I come prepared with my Mini-tab to read and pass the time.  But I soon get caught up in watching the scenery pass outside the windows, and the tablet gets left in my totebag.
          For the first hour of the trip, we’re moving through the rolling grasslands of the western Great Plains.  I remember from Vids I’ve seen how this land used to stretch empty for miles, dotted with only an occasional farmhouse or windmill.  Now it’s covered with tall apartments and offices, especially along the roadways.  They begin to spring up more frequently as we get closer to the city, lining the roadsides like stark sentinels of what my dad calls ‘progress.’  I’ve often heard the irony ring in his voice as he adds, “The tallest things out here used to be grain elevators, but the few of those left have been turned into tourist shops.”  
          I keep searching the western horizon for a glimpse of the mountains, but the haze over the city must be thick today.  I don’t see even a shadowy outline until we’re almost into the outskirts of Denver.
          As we pull out of the city again and begin the climb into the first foothills, I can see Long’s Peak to the north.  Its twin summit and sheer diamond face make it the most distinctive shape on the horizon.  To its left is the gentler slope of Mt. Audubon, and further south the more jagged Indian Peaks.  Ian has memorized the names of these Front Range mountains, but I can’t seem to remember them all.
          When the coach pulls into a rest area for a stretch break, Ali joins me as we step down onto the pavement.  She’s been riding in the back with friends, but I need to sit near the front.  The motion in the back tends to make me nauseous.
          “See the big peak in the middle, Cinda?  That’s the Magic Mountain.  The camp is near the base, so you can see it from anyplace.”
          I see she’s pointing to Mount Audubon.  “Cool,” I say.  “I’ve always liked that mountain.  It looks like one I could actually climb.”
          “Don’t worry, we will.  The overnight climb is a regular part of the second week.”
          I smile.  Getting to actually climb one of the Front Range peaks is something I’ve always wanted to do.
          Once we’re back on the coach, the road climbs more steeply as it winds into the mountains.   My stomach begins to get queasy, and I have to close my eyes.  The girl I’ve been sitting with since the last stop must notice because she reaches over and opens the window beside her.
          “Ah, smell the mountain air,” she smiles.
          I take a small sniff and do detect the scent of evergreens.  We must have finally gotten above the city’s haze.  Again, I can look out at the scenery without feeling like I’m about to throw up.
          “Wow, there really are trees here,” I say to her.  “What’s your name?  I’m Cinda.”
          “Leah,” she smiles.  “Is this your first time to camp?”
          “Yeah, and my first time in the mountains for a long time.  My mom brought us here some when we were little.”
          “You have a brother or sister?”
          “Just one little brother, Ian.”
          “I’m an only child,” she adds.
          We stop talking for a bit as we watch the buildings and trees slide by our window.  The structures here aren’t as tall as the ones in the city.  Most of them look like lodges or condos where people can stay for a visit to the mountains.
          “This used to be mostly forest,” sighs Leah.  “Now it’s getting all built up for the vacationers.”
          “Have you been here a lot?”
          “I’ve been coming to camp up here since I was six.”
          “This is my first time.  I recently turned thirteen.”
          “Me, too!”  Her warm smile seems genuine.  “Here, pinkie shake.  We’re both officially teenagers.”  She reaches up her right hand and grabs the little finger of mine with hers.  “Do you know what cabin you’re in?”
          “Not yet.  I just know I’m with my friend Ali.  She’s in the back of the coach.”
          “I hope we’re in the same one, Cinda.”
          “Me too.”

          When the coach pulls into the small parking lot beside the sign saying ‘Camp Magic Mountain’, I’m looking all around, trying to take everything in at once.  Just beyond the space where the coach parks, a small lake sparkles in the sunlight.  Reflected in its water I can see a shimmering version of Mount Audubon.
          “That’s beautiful,” I say to Leah as we step off the coach.  “I feel like I want to fly.”
          “You’re like a little kid with a new toy,” she laughs.
          “I think I am,” I smile back.  Then I spin around on the gravel, holding my arms out like a bird’s wings.
          “Well, there it is—the Magic Mountain,” Ali’s voice says.  “Looks like you can feel the magic already.”
          “Oh, hi Ali.  This is Leah.”
          “Hi Leah.  Did I see you here last year?”  There’s a tension in Ali’s voice which takes me by surprise.
          “Most likely.  I’ve been coming here for six years,” Leah responds.
          “Me too.”  I see Ali look down and wonder if she’s embarrassed she’s never noticed Leah before. 
          “I’m not always here at this first session,” Leah adds, and Ali looks up.  But I can see a hint of anger in her face.
          “That’s probably why I didn’t recognize you.”  I can tell Ali is annoyed.  Then she turns to me.  “So I see you’ve found a new friend, Cinda.”
The tone of her voice has me worried that she resents my hanging out with Leah.  And I get a sinking feeling in my stomach.  I don’t want to have to choose between them.
          It turns out we are all in Cabin Nine.  Ali squeals with delight at the news and hugs me at once, ignoring Leah.
          “It’s right up that path,” says the woman with the cabin list.  “The last one on the left, overlooking the lake.”
          “Cool,” says Leah.  I nod with her.
          Then we get our bags and pull them up the narrow trail to the cabin.  “I think I packed too much, as usual,” Ali sighs.  “This bag gets heavier as I go.”
          When we finally reach Cabin Nine, we’re greeted by a smiling young woman.  “Hi, I’m Jeanine, your cabin counselor.”
          We introduce ourselves and she tells us to go ahead and pick which bunk we want to sleep in.  I’m excited at the idea of being on a top bunk, so I claim the one above Ali.  She seems fine with this.  It isn’t until later I realize being right below me means it’s easier for her to have conversations without me--since we can’t see each other when we’re actually in our beds. 
Leah is on the top bunk across from me.  Right away she lies down and looks up at the wood-beamed ceiling above us.  “Good thing they have these bunks lined up right,” she chuckles.  “Last year there was a beam right across my bunk, and when I sat up I always hit my head on it.”
          By now there’s a girl on every bunk, and Jeanine is sitting on the lower one closest to the door.  “Welcome to Camp Magic Mountain, girls.  There are only a few rules to remember.  You must turn off your smart phones and tablets for your entire time here.”
          I hear some groans, but I’m not worried.  Ali has already warned me about this.  I’m actually looking forward to it.
          “Also, please take your watches off.  We aren’t going to worry about time here.  We want to live by the sun, and there are bells to tell us when meals and other activities are.”
          “That means the staff has watches,” Leah mouths to me from across the aisle.
          I merely shrug.
          Just then a loud bell starts to ring.  It sounds really big, like some I’ve heard on Vids about the old West.  “There’s the bell for lunch,” says Jeanine.  “Two rings for meals.  Three rings for the beginning of an activity, and four means the end.  One ring is quiet time.  If it keeps on ringing, this means an emergency and everyone is to report to the flagpole.”
          “Where’s the flagpole?” someone asks.
          “Right in front of the dining hall.  Come on, let’s head for lunch and I’ll show you.”
          The dining hall is a weathered wood building with a beamed ceiling and wooden plank floors.  I enjoy the smell of warm food and old wood that greets me as I walk in.  I feel like I’ve gone back to a simpler time and place—like a time-traveler.  This reminds me of Lexi’s visit, and for an instant, my heart pounds.  But I take a deep breath and put it out of my mind.  Surely she can’t find me all the way up here.
          Before Jeanine lets us sit at the table labeled ‘Cabin Nine’, we all stand beside our chairs.  A leader near the front of the room helps us sing a song thanking God for the food.
          “That’s an old song,” Leah murmurs to me.  “I hear they’ve been using the same one for over forty years.  My mom says she learned it here way back then.”
          As I nod to Leah, Ali’s giving me an angry look again, but I can’t think of anything to do about it.  It’s her problem, not mine.
          At last Jeanine seats us at the long wooden table.  Its benches are attached to it, so there’s no way to move closer or farther from the table.  “Be sure not to put your elbows on the table,” Leah whispers to me.
          “Because they’ll sing the old song, ‘Mable, Mable, strong and able get your elbows off the table’,” Ali says in a mocking voice.
          Jeanine starts the first plate of food around the table, and soon we are too busy eating to talk.

          The first week of camp flies by, and soon we’re setting out with our counselor on the climb up Mt. Audubon.  She keeps insisting on calling it Magic Mountain, and even though I know this is just made up, I go along with it.  As we begin hiking up the steepening trail, my back is already tired from carrying a pack.  I’m not going to be the first to complain though. 
          I try to keep myself occupied looking at the scenery.  To the north, Long’s Peak is shining in the high-altitude sun.  I’ve always loved to look at Long’s and wonder what the view looks like from its top.  It’s a technical climb, needing ropes and special equipment, from the east side up the face of the ‘Diamond’, and a long grueling hike from its back side.  Dad has told me this much.  And I know it’s a ‘Fourteener’, one of the dozens of peaks in the Colorado Rockies that are over fourteen thousand feet in elevation.
          Nowadays people are supposed to give elevations in meters, but the name Fourteeners has stuck for these highest Colorado peaks, and I’m glad.
          Only two Fourteeners are accessible by road, Pike’s Peak and Mount Evans.  Both lie just to the south of us as we climb Audubon.  Pike’s is lost in city haze right now, but the snows of Evans can be seen rising beyond Indian Peaks.  I remember Mom driving us up to the top of Pike’s Peak once.  But it’s unlikely I’ll ever get to climb a Fourteener, because most of them are technical climbs like Long’s.  Still, I’m happy to be climbing Audubon.  On clear days, we can see it from our house, all thirteen thousand feet of it, so it’s almost high enough to be a Fourteener.
          We set up our tent camp in a bowl slightly below the summit, where we’ll have shelter from the wind.  As we eat our lunch, the sun grows quite warm.
          “I think we should go to the top now,” says Jeanine.  “Never know what the weather will do in ten minutes.”
          Someone laughs, “That’s the mountains.  Don’t like the weather?  Wait five minutes, and it’ll change.”
          “Not always for the better, though,” adds Jeanine.
          Sure enough, as we continue up the trail toward the summit, clouds begin to cover the sun and the wind picks up.  Now I find I need to put my hoodie back over my short-sleeved shirt.  I’m so glad we made camp, so I don’t have to carry my full pack now, especially as the trail begins to make switchbacks up the northeastern face.
          As we continue climbing, I begin getting light-headed from the high altitude.  I need to stop and catch my breath often.  Leah is just in front of me, and I’m thankful to see her stop and glance back at me.  Ali is up ahead with two other girls and Jeanine.  As usual, she’s not paying much attention to me.  She’s basically ignored me since the first day of camp, and there’s nothing I can do about it since I don’t want to hurt Leah’s feelings.  I just wish Ali wasn’t so possessive.
          When we finally reach the top, wind is whipping my hair in all directions, but the sun has peeked out again.  “Wow!” I say, looking toward Leah.
          She nods and smiles, “Worth it?”
          “For sure,” I grin.  “This is like a whole new world up here.”
          We’re above timberline so there aren’t any trees--only stunted shrubby bushes creeping along the ground, short grasses waving in the wind, and tiny flowering plants clinging to rocks and hiding in the clefts.
          Leah motions for me to sit next to her on a bare rock, but it’s not totally bare, I see as I sit down.  Lichens and moss in many shades of green, gray, orange, and brown are growing so flat against the rock that they seem like part of it.
          We just sit in silence looking east toward the plains that come up against the Front Range here.  Dozens of towns and a patchwork of roads and buildings seem to stretch on forever from here.  I’ve looked at the mountains from down there, but this is the first time I remember seeing the view in reverse.
          “Do you ever wonder what all those people are doing down there?” I ask Leah.
          “Sometimes.  I guess they’re just trying to live, like us.”
          “Yeah, buying groceries and going to school.”
          “Or working at jobs.”
          “Like my dad,” I say.  “He works down there somewhere in Denver.  What about yours?”
          “I don’t know,” she replies.  “My folks are divorced, and I don’t see Dad except on holidays.”
          “Oh, I’m sorry.”  I feel foolish.  Lots of people’s parents aren’t together.  I should have thought of that.
          “Hey, no problem,” she smiles.  “What kind of work does your dad do?”
          “He’s in advertising, but he never talks about it much.”
          “What about your mom?”
          “She has a job as a receptionist at a local walk-in clinic.”  I turn and smile back at her, glad she didn’t get her feelings hurt.  “It’s in our town of Eaton, so she doesn’t have to drive as far as Dad does.”
          “That’s cool, Cinda.”
          I wonder what her mother does, but I’m afraid to ask and make another mistake.  She doesn’t say anymore, so I have to let it go.
          Soon Jeanine calls that it’s time to head to our camp.  I’m glad she’s allowed time for us to get back before sunset because I have more trouble going down than I did climbing up.  My feet keep slipping on the lichen-covered rocks and the gravel in the path.  I move slowly, feeling like I’m going to fall right off the mountain.
          Leah notices my caution after we’ve gone through a couple of switchbacks and begins to walk closer to me.   “Don’t worry,” she murmurs.  “You won’t fall, at least not too far.”
          I try to smile and let her take hold of my hand.  “Thanks.”
          By the time we get back to our tent, the clouds have covered the sky around us, and the wind blows fast and cold.  Then drops of rain begin to fall, and we quickly crawl into the tents.  As we sit inside, it grows even darker around us, and then the rain sounds like tiny needles hitting the nylon sides above us.
          “That sounds like ice, Leah.”
          She unzips the door and peeks out.  “Yeah, it’s kind of sleeting.”
          “Will we get stranded up here?”
          “Don’t worry,” she turns back to me.  “It won’t last that long.  It’s just a mountain shower.”
          “Does it always snow up here in June?”
          “Sometimes.  But it’s really just partly frozen rain.  My mom says they call it graupel.  It’ll melt soon.”
          “I hope you’re right.”
          “Are you hungry, Cinda?”
          “Only sort of.”
          “Here, have a protein bar.  That will hold you ‘til dinner.”
          “I hope we can cook dinner with all the snow, rain, or whatever you call it.”
          We sit and eat the protein bars while we wait for the sounds of the falling ice to stop.