LOVE IS IN THE AIR
“Welcome to Shang Simla,” Elisabeth smiled at Benjamin when the Great Wall appeared beneath the clouds.
“Impressive, isn’t it,” she continued. Benjamin was looking out of the window with his mouth wide open. This was the first time he traveled by plane. The first time he saw the Great Wall. The very first time he saw the world from above. Silent ‘wooow’ was Benjamin’s only comment on the beautiful panorama that opened below them.
“I know,” said Elisabeth. “The first time you see this, it leaves you speechless. Oh, and wait until you see the Dragon’s Maw! You’ll probably stop breathing,” she giggled.
“Yes. It’s the resting place of the greatest enemies of the ancient Chinese Empire.”
“You mean a tomb?” Benjamin asked her with interest in his voice.
“Yes,” nodded Elisabeth. “But it’s just a legend… who knows if there’s something down there,” Elisabeth added quickly when she remembered what happened the last time she entered the cave.
“Down there? Have you been there before?” asked her Benjamin. Elisabeth hoped for a better moment to tell him about her underground adventure, but from the way he looked at her it was obvious that he has understood. There was no point in hiding the truth from him.
“Yes. I have. But I haven’t found any physical evidence about-”
“Elisabeth, you don’t have to hide anything from me,” Benjamin said softly and then he gently smiled at her. When Elisabeth looked into his piercing blue eyes she didn’t see any other way. She couldn’t lie to this person. He almost looked like an angel in the morning light. Her Guardian angel that came to protect her from the evil on her journey.
Before the plane reached the ground Benjamin knew all the story. Well, most of it. Elisabeth changed one tiny little detail. Actually, a very important detail. She told him that when she opened the sarcophagus, there was nothing there.
“Maybe somebody has already visited the place before you. Who knows, maybe a group of organized tomb robbers. Or treasure hunters.”
“Maybe,” sighed Elisabeth and looked out of the window. The Dragon’s Maw was right in front of her eyes.
Was she the tomb raider? Or the treasure hunter? No. She never meant to steal anything. She was just curious. A curious little girl who didn’t listen. The more she was thinking about the light that came out of the sarcophagus, the more she was feeling the need to go back there. What was she expecting to find anyway? The truth? Maybe.
“This is the place. I hope you didn’t expect anything fancy,” Elisabeth said to Benjamin when they arrived at the base camp.
“I had no idea we were staying in a palace!” Benjamin said brightly.
“This is not a palace,” laughed Elisabeth. “It’s just a house. A bigger house.”
“If you call this great building a bigger house, then I am living in a phone booth!”
“You’re so funny,” Elisabeth smiled at Benjamin. “Come on, let’s go pick the room before they’re all taken.”
“I wouldn’t mind sharing a tent with you i-if you don’t… mind,” stuttered Benjamin and bit his lower lip in fear that Elisabeth would take it the wrong way. Elisabeth silently observed him. Benjamin started getting nervous, his ears got red and he didn’t know what to do with the hands.
He likes me, Elisabeth thought to herself. And she was right.
“I don’t mind,” Elisabeth broke the silence with a nice, big smile.
Benjamin got relaxed. “Great,” he sighed in relief.
“But we don’t have a tent, so…” she teased him.
“Let’s go find some free beds.”
“Wait! Can I take a picture of you?”
What? Elisabeth thought to herself. “A picture? Here?”
“Yeah. I brought my camera with me,” Benjamin said enthusiastically.
“Well… I’m kinda tired. Plus I don’t think I look my best after an eleven-hour flight.”
“Nah. You look great! C’mon! It won’t take long,” Benjamin started persuading her.
“Okay then,” agreed Elisabeth.
“Splendid! Please, stand over there, I’ll get the camera!”
“Yeah yeah, right there. Now, I know you’re tired, but it would be very nice if you could smile a bit.”
“Yes! Just like that! Uhm… could you remove the hands from your hips? Try waving to the camera or somethin’ like that. I wanna see a natural pose. Nothing too forced. Yeah. Just like that. Big smile for the camera, please! Perfect!”
Later that day, Elisabeth took Benjamin to the market. They were still tired from the trip so any sightseeing was out of the question.
“Are you hungry?” Elisabeth asked Benjamin when a familiar smell hit her nose. “They make delicious noodles here,” she said and pointed towards the food shop. “You’ve got to try it.” And so he did. Benjamin looked at the bowl of noodles swimming in the meat broth in front of him. Then he looked at the chopsticks.
“May I ask you something?”
“Sure,” Elisabeth smiled at him.
“How am I supposed to eat soup with chopsticks?”
Elisabeth started laughing. “Well, first you eat the noodles and the meat with the chopsticks. Then you drink the broth from the bowl like tea.”
“Come on, give it a try before it gets cold,” told him Elisabeth and picked a dumpling from her plate.
“Fine, let me try this,” said Benjamin and attempted to pick a piece of sliced pork with the chopsticks. Before he reached his mouth the piece of meat slipped out of the chopsticks and fell in the bowl. He tried once more, but it slipped out again. Benjamin looked helpless.
Elisabeth smiled to herself. “It took me an entire afternoon to learn to eat with chopsticks,” she encouraged him. “Try the broth.”
Benjamin sipped from the bowl and his eyes widened suddenly. He quickly put the bowl back on the table.
“Hot!” he whispered in pain.
“Wait a moment then, you’ll burn your tongue!”
“Spicy hot,” he specified.
“Oh… So… I guess you don’t like it,” smirked Elisabeth.
“It’ll make it only worse. Here, have a dumpling,” said Elisabeth and put one in his mouth.
“Thanks,” said Benjamin when he swallowed it. “This is definitely not getting on the list of my favorite foods! How can someone like it?”
“If prepared well it’s actually really good. It was okay the last time I had it here.”
“I will try to believe you,” Benjamin smiled at Elisabeth.
“We can split the dumplings,” she suggested.
“That would be great. Thanks.”
After the lunch, they wandered through the market. When they entered the bookstore a smell of old paper and scented sticks welcomed them.
“Look! I found the perfect book for you!” called Elisabeth and showed the book to Benjamin.
“Toddlers and Chopsticks? Seriously?”
“Well… If you don’t like it I will get it for Chloé,” Elisabeth smiled innocently.
“She’s fine with her hands,” told her Benjamin and put the book back on the shelf.
“Fine, fine. I was just joking.”
Elisabeth looked around for Sima Zhi, but she was nowhere to be found.
“Excuse me, do you know where I could find Sima Zhi?” she asked the relic merchant.
“My name is Elisabeth Loewe. I have visited Shang Simla together with my father around two years ago.”
“Oh, it’s YOU,” sneered the woman. “I can’t help you.”
“What?” Elisabeth asked, dumbfounded. The moment she said that, a camera flash filled the room.
“You heard me. Can’t help you.”
“I think we’ve found her, Cui-Fen!” said a man standing right next to her. Benjamin turned around and saw two strangers with cameras surround Elisabeth. What the hell is going on? He thought to himself and quickly approached her.
“Who are these guys? And what do they want?” asked her Benjamin.
“I have no idea!” whispered Elisabeth. Neither of them knew what was going on.
“Maybe it’s better if we get out of here, Benjamin.”
“Why? We haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Well, not you, but I have… two years ago,” Elisabeth said guiltily.
“I don’t understand,” said Benjamin and looked at Elisabeth who was staring into the ground.
“I haven’t been honest with you.”
“What do you mean?”
The bright light filled the room once again.
“Excuse me, could you stop that?” Benjamin told to the woman in the yellow dress. She gave him an ugly look and walked to the other side of the room.
“When I opened the sarcophagus…,” said Elisabeth with a very low voice that even Benjamin could hardly hear her, “… a bright yellow light shined out of it. I have no idea what that was.” The moment Elisabeth told him the truth, another flash of light blinded them both.
“Okay. That’s enough. Let’s get out of here,” said Benjamin, took Elisabeth’s hand and dragged her out of the shop. “Why haven’t you told me before?” he asked her once he was sure nobody could hear their conversation.
“I… I haven’t told anyone.”
“And do you think it’s safe to keep it to yourself? Oh my god, Elisabeth! You might be cursed!”
“Have you never read any adventure book?” asked her Benjamin as they walked up the stairs leading to the Halls of the Lost Army.
“It’s full of stories of explorers getting cursed because they touched something, looked at something or only entered a place they shouldn’t have.”
“Benjamin, you’re scaring me!”
“No, Elisabeth. You are scaring ME!”
“What do we do now?” asked him Elisabeth with fear in her eyes.
“The same thing the explorer from an adventure book would do. We’ll search for information about the place. We need to know who was buried there and why.”
“Okay, so… where do we start?”
“I think we’re just in the right place,” Benjamin smiled at her and looked at a tile on the floor that was different from the rest. His photographer eye never missed a thing.
“I wouldn’t want to mess things up more then they already are.”
“Do you trust me, Elisabeth?” asked her Benjamin and put his hands on her shoulders.
“I think I do.”
“Good. So follow me,” Benjamin winked at her and went to give a closer look at the tile. “Do you see what I see?”
“Exactly. Step on the tile.”
“C’mon. Step on it!”
Elisabeth looked at him doubtfully, but something inside her was telling her to do what he said. She looked around to see if there was someone watching. Luckily for them, they were the only two people in the room. Elisabeth took a deep breath and stepped on the tile. Nothing happened.
“Hmm… There must be some trick to activate the switch,” pondered Benjamin.
“How do you know there’s a switch?”
“What happens when you put your foot on the gas pedal of a started car?”
“Answer the question.”
“The car moves forward?”
“Try once more.”
“Don’t play tricks on me, Benjamin. It does move forward!”
“Does it really?”
“It doesn’t move forward unless you engage a gear!”
“And what do you do in order to engage a gear?”
“You move the shift lever?”
“And if it’s a very old car and things don’t work smoothly anymore?”
“You have to push harder!” Elisabeth almost screamed the words out, because she realized where he was going with all this. She didn’t hesitate and started jumping on the switch. Then, something happened. The tiles started to shift and revealed a staircase leading underground.
“Amazing,” they said in unison and walked towards the stairs.
“What do you think we’re going to find down there?” Elisabeth asked Benjamin and looked at the stairs.
“I guess something that we were never supposed to find,” answered Benjamin and together with Elisabeth went down the stairs.
“Look, there’s a message!” Elisabeth called enthusiastically and pointed at a little stone table on the wall. “Ugh, it’s written in Chinese!”
“Just give me a moment,” told her Benjamin, took his cellphone, opened some application and pointed the phone at the text. Like magic, English translation appeared on the screen!
“Every good explorer should carry a tent and dried food at all times! The stairs closed behind me but luckily, I’m prepared. I’m confident I’ll find a way out any day now…”
“Are you sure that the app works well?” asked Elisabeth.
“Yeah, I’m sure it does.”
“In that case we’re really lucky. The stairs didn’t close behind us.”
“Well, we still lack some dried food and a tent.”
“I don’t think we’ll need any of it. Come on, let’s go.”
“The door is sealed.”
“It may be. But we’ve got the key!” smiled Elisabeth when she saw a big stone in the shape of a key on a pile of stones in one corner of the room. It was quite heavy, but she managed to pick it up and insert it in the key-shaped hole in the wall.
The stone locked in and the door opened. Elisabeth and Benjamin stared at the statue blocking the door to the next room.
“This is way too easy, Elisabeth. I bet there’s a catch. We should be careful.”
Elisabeth walked through the door and gave a look around. “It looks safe,” she said while walking towards the statue.
There were more Chinese symbols engraved on it. Elisabeth didn’t pay much attention to it and started pushing the statue forward.
She could have put as much effort as she wanted but it wouldn’t move. “You’re not going to move, are you,” she spoke to the statue.
“You have to pull, not push,” laughed Benjamin. “C’mon, let me do it,” he said and started pulling the statue from the door.
The veins on his forearms appeared as the biceps got to work. He must be working out, Elisabeth thought to herself when she saw his strong arms in action. She closed her eyes for a moment and imagined herself being carried in them. Then she heard a familiar sound.
“Did you hear that?” Elisabeth asked Benjamin.
“I think I heard a crack! Stop moving!”
When Elisabeth said that, Benjamin was afraid to look down to his feet. He stepped on a hidden switch and activated it! The floor started shaking. The statue fell over to the ground and broke in half. After few moments the shaking has stopped. When both of them thought they were safe, the floor started moving upwards. “Elisabeth, run!”