PLEASE STOP THE TIME
Benjamin and Elisabeth managed to escape the tomb just in time. They were very lucky, because if they hesitated only few more seconds they wouldn’t have survived.
“I think this was enough for today,” said Benjamin and looked at Elisabeth who was still in shock. “Let’s head towards the base camp?”
“Yeah, I need to sleep this over,” told him Elisabeth and cleaned her shirt from the dust. They slept like the dead that night.
The following morning while Elisabeth was still asleep, Benjamin got up early in order to surprise her with a delicious breakfast.
But first, he went to take a shower.
When he felt squeaky clean enough, Benjamin dressed up and went to the kitchen. He opened the fridge and found all the necessary ingredients to prepare a big plate of waffles.
He found also some yogurt and orange juice. When Elisabeth came downstairs, she was pleasantly surprised.
“Did you make all this?” she asked Benjamin.
“Yes,” he answered modestly.
“That’s so nice of you! Thank you!”
“I thought you’d be hungry after yesterday’s adventure,” Benjamin smiled at Elisabeth.
“You thought right!”
They were about to sit at the table and enjoy the waffles when suddenly two vacationers came in the dining room to have the breakfast.
“Waffles!” called one of them.
“They smell delicious!” said the other one. They didn’t seem to have any problem to sit down at the table and start eating the food that someone else prepared!
“Excuse me, gentlemen, but they are not for you,” Benjamin told them with a very polite tone.
“Oh, you made the waffles?” asked one of the vacationers. “They’re heavenly delicious!”
“Thank you, but still, they’re not-”
“Come on! There is enough for all of us! Take a seat!”
These guys really don’t have manners, Benjamin thought to himself. He had no intention to argue with them so he just looked at them without saying anything and picked the plate with waffles from the table.
“Hey! Where are you taking that?!”
“Away,” said Benjamin. “Enjoy my breakfast,” he continued. “C’mon, Elisabeth, let’s go to the other room.” Elisabeth picked the two cans of orange juice and followed Benjamin.
“This is incredible. What do they think about themselves?”
“Just forget about them. Here, take this. I’ll teach you,” Elisabeth smiled at Benjamin and gave him a pair of chopsticks.
“Where did you get that?” asked her Benjamin, but Elisabeth didn’t say a word, instead, she winked her eye. “I get it. You stole it at the market!” he said jokingly.
“Well, not that I stole it. Let’s say that I borrowed it.”
“Yeah, indefinitely.” Benjamin just shook his head. “Corn flake rings would have been easier to begin with, but the waffles will do,” said Elisabeth and started dividing one waffle on little squares. She showed him the right way to use the chopsticks. “Try to pick a piece.”
Benjamin learned to use the chopsticks after less than twenty minutes. “Good job! Now you can eat the next waffle,” she smiled at him.
“I think I’ll just use my hand, I’m hungry.”
After the breakfast, the couple decided to take a walk around town. It was too beautiful day to be spent underground anyway.
“So, where do you want to go first?” Elisabeth asked Benjamin when they came by a signpost.
“Do you actually know what is written there?”
“Nope. But we can only go left or right.”
“I see,” smiled Benjamin. “Lets go to the right then.”
So off to the right they went.
“Look! Someone has forgotten his fishing rod at the river. Wanna fish some?”
“Yeah! Why not!”
Benjamin jumped over the wooden fence and picked the fishing rod. “Don’t worry, we’ll put it back once we’re done fishing.”
They walked closer to the river and discovered the perfect fishing spot. Benjamin picked an earthworm from the wet ground and impaled it on the hook.
“The water is teeming with fish, I’m sure you’ll catch one pretty fast!” Elisabeth told to Benjamin as he cast the fishing line to the water.
After less than five minutes, a fish took the bait. Benjamin struggled for a moment to pull the fish out of the water, but in the end, he managed.
It was one big fish. “Wanna take it home with you?” Benjamin said jokingly.
“We could make some sushi. I know how to prepare it,” told him Elisabeth.
“If you’ll eat it all…”
“Why? Don’t you like fish?”
“I’m a vegetarian.”
“Oh, okay. Well then… Let’s set it free,” Elisabeth took the fish and threw it back in the water.
“There. He’s back with his family now,” she said and looked at Benjamin.
“Your turn,” Benjamin passed the fishing rod to Elisabeth. She looked at it and then at the fish happily swimming in the water. “It’s okay. Let’s just put it back where we found it.”
“I didn’t know you were a vegetarian.”
“Now you do.”
“Why haven’t you told me before? I wouldn’t have told you to order ramen. Or eat the dumpling.”
“Well, I didn’t actually eat the piece of pork, remember? It slipped from the chopsticks.”
“Did you make it slip on purpose?”
“Maybe,” Benjamin said jokingly.
“Oh, I see. By the way, you still had the dumpling,” smirked Elisabeth.
“Wait,” he stopped her. “There was some meat in it?”
“Well, yeah,” told him Elisabeth. Benjamin suddenly felt sick of the thought he actually ate meat. “Are you okay?”
“Y-yeah,” said Benjamin. Even though he said he was okay, he felt like throwing up. “Please, warn me the next time.”
“Of course. I’m sorry,” Elisabeth sincerely apologized.
“No, don’t be. You didn’t know.”
“Would you like to see the Scholar’s Garden?” Elisabeth asked Benjamin.
“Sure, why not!”
When they opened the gate leading to the garden, Benjamin was literally mesmerized. It was such a peaceful, serene place. The fish was splashing in the water, the bird was singing in the trees, the people were quietly walking in the garden and just relaxing.
“This is heaven on Earth,” he told Elisabeth and took a deep breath of the sweet, fresh air.
“I love this place,” she said. “It’s so soothing.”
“Come, let’s sit down on that bench over there,” suggested Benjamin and they walked up the little hill.
“I wanted to thank you for saving my life yesterday.”
“No, Elisabeth, you saved mine. It was you who heard the sound. I owe you my life,” said Benjamin and looked into her almond shaped gray eyes.
“I know, but I felt like glued to the floor. If you didn’t take my hand and drag me out of there… I don’t want to think what would have happened,” sighed Elisabeth and looked at the ground.
“Okay. Let’s say that we saved each other,” he tried to cheer her up. “It was a very well executed team work,” he added.
“Do you really believe that I am cursed?” asked him Elisabeth and a tear ran down her cheek.
“I don’t know, Elisabeth. It’s just that I don’t see any other explanation.”
“But… but I am still alive. If I am really cursed, I want to know what is going to happen to me… and when.”
“Don’t think about that now. You’re here with me. I’ll protect you if something should happen to you.”
“Thank you, Benjamin. I’m happy that you are here.”
“Look,” said Benjamin and pointed at the sky. “The first stars are rising.”
“It’s such a beautiful evening tonight.”
“Do you want to watch the stars from over there?” asked her Benjamin and pointed at a patch of grass down below.
“Why not,” Elisabeth said absently. Her thoughts were somewhere else.
When they walked across the bridge, Benjamin stopped to look at the Dragon cave.
“I don’t know what you’ve found there, Elisabeth, but now that I see its eyes glow red in the dark… I don’t want to scare you, but I’m afraid it wasn’t anything good. It gives me a very bad feeling just looking at it from afar.”
Elisabeth listened to Benjamin’s every word. She knew herself it was probably nothing good either. It was the resting place of the greatest enemies of the ancient Chinese Empire after all.
“Oh my God!” she suddenly said aloud. “I know how we can find out who is buried there!”
“Yes! I told you myself already yesterday, but I’ve realized it only now!”
“Yes! Haven’t you listened? When I was talking about the Dragon’s Maw to you, I mentioned it was the resting place of the greatest enemies of the ancient Chinese Empire!”
“Well, I believe that narrows down some options.”
“Exactly! We need to study from history books… Just that I haven’t exactly seen a public library here. I bet they don’t sell old history books at the market.”
“I’m sure there must be a library. We’ll go to search for it tomorrow.”
Elisabeth’s eyes lit up. She felt a little step closer to unraveling the mystery of the yellow light.
They sat down on the ground that was still pleasantly warm.
“Maybe I should go back to the Dragon cave tomorrow,” pondered Elisabeth.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea. Plus I’m not letting you,” protested immediately Benjamin.
“You have no need of going back there. Not until you know more,” he told her with a very serious tone. “I don’t want anything bad happen to you,” he continued gently and put his hand on hers.
“Huh?” Elisabeth felt something touch her hand.
She looked down and saw Benjamin’s hand on hers. Yesterday, when he took her by the hand to drag her out of the tomb, it felt different from now, because well… it was different. There was nothing romantic about it, but now… there was.
Elisabeth looked at Benjamin with dreamy eyes.
“You’re so beautiful, Elisabeth,” told he Benjamin. Elisabeth looked to the side and blushed. “I’ve noticed already two years ago,” he added. Elisabeth looked in his blue eyes. “I knew it was love I felt that rainy evening. But things were different then.”
Elisabeth didn’t know what to say. She felt nice and embarrassed at the same time. She moved closer to him and pointed at the sky.
“Look! A falling star!”
“Shame. Well, I hope you made a wish.”
“I did,” said Elisabeth. “Do you want to know what I wished for?”
“No, don’t say it! The world will hear and it won’t happen.”
“And if I whisper it to you?”
“Well… I guess that could be fine,” said Benjamin and smiled at her.
“I wished for a happy ending,” she whispered in his ear.
“You couldn’t have wished for anything better than that,” he smiled again and looked up at the night sky.
When the ground started getting cold, Benjamin and Elisabeth left the garden and headed for the base camp.
It was getting really dark and they were still quite far away.
“Maybe we should find a place to sleep. It will take us some more hours before we reach the camp,” suggested Elisabeth.
“I agree. Look, there’s a house ahead of us.”
“Perfect, let’s check it out.”
When they came closer, they got to know it was abandoned. Benjamin walked in first and lit a torch on the wall. The light revealed it was an old barn.
“Well, I haven’t expected beds anyway. If you’re fine with sleeping on the haystacks, we’ll stay,” said Elisabeth when she walked inside.
They were both tired, so as soon as they crashed on the haystacks, they fell asleep.
The following day, when the sun was already high in the sky, they found out that there was a campsite not even fifty meters down the hill from the barn. They just laughed about it.
When Elisabeth went to the bathroom, Benjamin used the moment to pick some wild flowers for her.
“These are for you,” said Benjamin and gave her the flowers.
“Oh, thank you, Benjamin! You surprise me every morning!” Elisabeth said in amazement and smelled the flowers.
“You’re welcome, Elisabeth,” Benjamin smiled at her. “So, off to the library?”
“Well, you still haven’t seen the Terracotta Army and the Temple of Heaven… I’m sure the library can wait one more day.”
“I was hoping you’d say that,” sighed Benjamin. “Don’t take me wrong, but I’d like to see everything Shang Simla has to offer, because I don’t know when will be the next time I visit this place. If I ever visit it again.”
“Of course that you will! When Chloé gets bigger, we can come back all together!” cheered Elisabeth. “Assuming that I’m still alive,” she added jokingly.
“So, you said your mom was a good friend of Bill’s. Do you think they used to be more than friends?” Benjamin asked Elisabeth on the way to the Dragon Springs.
“Do you know that I’ve been asking myself the same question for the past two years?”
“And have you found an answer?”
“I’m not totally sure, but I think they were, because… well… I saw them kiss.”
“Yeah. That day we met. But why are you asking anyway?”
“It just came on my mind. You know, I think that he doesn’t have anyone. It’s kinda sad.”
“Yeah, I know. I should pay him a visit someday. Maybe I can find out more about my mom. She never talks about the past.”
“Chloé keeps asking for her mother. She doesn’t understand why we moved away.”
“She will when she gets older. I shouldn’t be judging, because I don’t know your wife, but-”
“She’s not my wife. She never was. We weren’t even engaged.”
“Oh, I’m… sorry.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about.”
“What I wanted to say was that I think you did a good thing,” Elisabeth smiled at him. “Every child has the right to be loved. My mom grew up as an orphan. She never felt the love of her parents. Your daughter has both mother and father, but only one loving parent. I think having a mother who doesn’t love you is worse than having none. Chloé’s mother made a choice. My grandmother had no such choice. She died before she was able to put my mom in her crib,” said Elisabeth and her eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry,” she said and started searching for a handkerchief in her bag.
“It’s fine… I’m just… Uh…,” she kept on searching for something to wipe the tears.
“Here,” said Benjamin and gave her a paper napkin.
“So here we are. Dragon Springs.”
“I was wondering why they call it Dragon Springs. Now I know,” said Benjamin when he saw the red creature on the fountain.
“Dragon is the symbol of power. In the Chinese mythology dragons are depicted as legendary creatures with control over water, rain, rivers and floods… Maybe the people named this place in their honor in order to protect this city from floods or other natural disasters.”
“I think you’re right,” agreed Benjamin and observed the fountain from closer. “What about the color though, if he’s the water god, why is he red and not the actual color of water?”
“I haven’t studied Chinese symbolism carefully enough to answer your question. Maybe he’s red, because the water used to be… uh… bloody?”
“Yeah, I’m sure there have been wars…”
“Very probable. Oh, by the way, yesterday in the relic shop, I saw a statue of a yellow dragon. Do you think the colors have some meaning?”
“They could. I’ll ask Sima about that later.”
“A scholar I met the last time.”
“Great! Maybe she can tell us where to find old history books.”
“Yeah. Good point.”
“Perfect. So, where do we go now?”
“Let’s go see some horses,” Elisabeth winked at him.
“Terracotta Warriors and Horses, the army of the first Emperor,” said dramatically Elisabeth when they reached the monument. “Did you know that he believed this army would protect him in the afterlife?”
“How can they protect him if they’re here and he’s there.”
“Hmm, good question. I believe he didn’t think about that either.”
“Look at the view! Shang Simla looks so tiny from up here,” said Benjamin as he looked at the town in the distance.
“It’s so beautiful,” sighed Elisabeth as she caressed a statue of one of the Emperor’s horses.
“Beautiful indeed,” said Benjamin still looking at the town.
“Can you take a picture of me with the horse?” asked him Elisabeth.
“Uh, I’m sorry. I don’t have my camera with me.”
“Never mind,” Elisabeth sadly shrugged the shoulders.
“Wait, I can take a photo with my phone!” exclaimed suddenly Benjamin.
And so Elisabeth happily posed for a low quality picture of her and the (backside of the) horse.
“What’s your favorite animal?” Elisabeth asked Benjamin on the way to the Temple of Heaven.
“A wolf,” he said decisively.
“What about a more domestic animal like a dog or a cat?”
“A wolf-like-dog then.”
“What?” laughed Elisabeth.
“Your favorite animal is a horse, right?” said promptly Benjamin.
“Yep. But I like dogs as well.”
“What do you mean by this wolf-like-dog? A husky? A malamute?”
“Those could be acceptable.”
“Acceptable?” Elisabeth raised her brows.
“Yes, acceptable option in case I would be buying a dog, which I am not. Not at the moment at least.”
“Very well then. Husky it is,” said Elisabeth and ended the wolf-like-dog or dog-like-wolf argument.
Luckily, the Temple of Heaven wasn’t located far from the Terracotta Army. It took just around two hours of walking to get there.
“We made it!” Elisabeth triumphantly clapped her hands when they reached the top of the temple.
“Wow!” said Benjamin when the beautiful panorama opened in front of his eyes. “I love this place. It’s so… so… GREEN!” Benjamin found the perfect word to describe Shang Simla. It was also the moment he realized that bicycle was the only means of transportation of the local people. “The people here are very lucky. Just breathe,” said Benjamin and took a deep breath. Pure oxygen enriched with natural pine fragrance filled his lungs. “There’s no wonder they’re all so long-lived,” he added and then he looked at Elisabeth.
“Elisabeth, thank you so much. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be standing here. Really, thank you. Thank you so much,” Benjamin continued on thanking her and if Elisabeth didn’t stop him, he would be still thanking her now.
“It’s okay, really. I’m happy you could come,” she smiled at him.
“You’re welcome. You’re welcome,” she laughed.
“You could have asked any of your friends, but you called me. Why?” Benjamin suddenly felt the need to know if there was a reason why she invited him on the trip.
“I only make three kinds of decisions. Just three and they all start with the same letter,” told him Elisabeth but Benjamin looked puzzled. In fact, the only word that came out of his mouth was ‘What?’
“Decisions of three S: Smart. Stupid. Spontaneous. This one was spontaneous. After what happened yesterday, definitely smart as well. And stupid? Hmm, I don’t know yet. But most probably… not,” she smiled.
“Okay, but this still doesn’t answer my question. So, why did you call me to come with you on the trip, Elisabeth?”
“Because I like you, Benjamin. I liked you since the moment I first saw you, but things were different then, weren’t they…”
When Benjamin heard what Elisabeth said, he almost fell down the stairs.
The last day approached sooner then expected and the time to say goodbye came with it hand in hand.
“So this is it,” Elisabeth said sadly and looked down at the ground.
“Don’t be sad. Soon we’ll see again,” Benjamin tried to cheer her up.
“Do you really have to go?”
“Yes,” he sighed. “Chloé needs me.”
“I need you, too… You know, we still have to solve the mystery… remember? And… and what about the curse? What if I’ll never get to see you again?” asked him Elisabeth desperately.
Benjamin knew exactly what he had to do. Plus if he didn’t do it now, he might regret it forever. It was the matter of now or never.
“I wanted to kiss you since the day I saw you and now when I did, I can’t get enough,” he said in one breath. Elisabeth looked at him in astonishment.
Before she realized this was her first kiss ever, Benjamin was kissing her again. He’s such a great kisser! I wonder where he learned that,” Elisabeth thought to herself.
She looked at Benjamin, now even more desperately than before. “Please, stay… Just one more day,” she begged him.
“I would, if I could stop the time, Elisabeth. But you know that I can’t. Don’t make it harder than it already is. Please. Come here,” he said and hugged her tight. “I’ve been dreaming about kissing you for the past two years. I hope I won’t have to wait for years for the next kiss,” Benjamin whispered in her ears.
“I’ll take the next plane,” told him Elisabeth, but what she really wanted at the moment was to go back home with him. If only it was that easy…
“Let me know as soon as you find out something. Everything’s gonna be okay!” told her Benjamin. I hope you are right, Benjamin, Elisabeth thought to herself. I really do. He put on his backpack and ran to catch the plane. “See you in Moonlight Falls! Or Monte Vista! Bye and thanks again for everything! Especially for the kiss!”
“You’ve taken it without my permission!”
“I know! But you didn’t seem to mind!”
Of course I didn’t mind, Elisabeth said to herself. “Bye! Have a safe flight!”
When Benjamin disappeared in the distance, Elisabeth picked her phone and dialed David’s number.
“Hello, Elisabeth! I’m so happy you finally called! Is everything all right? Are you at the airport? How was your vacation? And what about your boyfriend? Is he coming back with you?”
“Dad, DAD! Slow down.”
“Sorry, Liz. Tell me.”
“I need to stay in China for another week… Could you buy me a plane ticket for the next week? Please?”
“Another week? Why? Did something happen?”
“No, no, everything’s fine!” Elisabeth lied to him. She felt very bad about herself, but she had no other option. If she told him the truth, he wouldn’t buy her the ticket.
“So why don’t you come back home? What will I tell to Kate?”
“Please, Daddy, I’m sure you’ll come out with a good excuse.”
“All right then.”
“You’re the best, Dad! Thanks!”
“But promise me, that you will tell me everything and I mean EVERYTHING, when you get back home.”
“Say hello to everybody for me!”
“I will. Bye, sweetheart. Take care of yourself.”
“Sure,” said Elisabeth and looked towards the Dragon’s Maw. “Bye, Dad. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Liz. Bye bye.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I don’t know if you noticed, but Elisabeth magically changed into her adventurer outfit on the way to the abandoned barn. Oops! ^_^