Episode 25 – Grandpa Snow

Layan’s Cabin – The Valleys

With school cancelled for the rest of the day, Jaak and Tag were back at Jaak’s cabin by mid morning, having hitched a ride back with another friend. It was a little bit eerie driving back up and over the ridge road. They could see clearly where the tyre tracks of the bus had left the road, where the tracks abruptly ended at the edge of the bank and then the large area of trampled snow at the bottom of the gully far below, where the bus and occupants had landed quite unscathed.

After conducting a thorough raid on the larder for an early lunch, Jaak and Tag set off up the trail to visit Layan. Their walk up in the bright sunshine, was mostly unremarkable until they crested the trail by the rock outcrop and looked down at the cabin. The cabin itself was just the same with a wisp of smoke curling from the chimney. What was different, was a bright red dune buggy parked outside. Jaak had never seen any kind of vehicle up at Layan’s cabin before, the only access being the walking trails that crossed the ridge.

Jaak: Holy hot fudge tits! I wonder when he got that?

Tag: That’s freakin’ cool!

The boys made their way down the short slope, and over to the front of the cabin where the buggy was parked. It was splattered in mud and snow from its recent trip up the trail. They clambered noisily up the stairs to the cabin deck chattering happily about how much fun it would be to drive up here in the buggy instead of having to walk.

They banged boisterously on the door.

They heard the scrape of a chair and footsteps approaching. However this time there was no familiar tap, tap, tap, of Layan’s walking stick. The door opened and to their surprise it was not Layan. It was a much older looking snow leopard, whose fur – even by snow leopard standards was quite white around his muzzle and cheeks. He wore a faded red scarf which looked like it has seen almost as many previous winters as its owner.

Old Snow Leopard: Well hello there boys – and what brings you two up here on this fine day?

For a moment the surprise of not seeing Layan answer the door, left them fumbling for words.

Jaak: Oh. Um… Er… Yeah… um… we came to see Layan. Is he here?

Old Snow Leopard: Layan? Layan you say? He is up at the station, but I daresay he will be back down soon – I have made that young cub his favourite – my specialty fish gumbo! Come in, come in! Please.

Jaak looked at Tag and they immediately thought the same thing. Did he just call Layan ‘young cub’!? Layan – young? Even though they generally thought of Layan as being ‘old’ – this snow leopard was clearly much older still. Yet he walked with no stick and he soon busied himself back to the stove were a delicious aroma was now wafting through the cabin. The boys watched him for a few moments as he placed bowls on the table – four. He clearly expected them to stay for lunch and despite their early lunch, it was most fortuitous that their hike up the hill and the smell of the gumbo was making the boys ravenous all over again.

Jaak: So .. um.. will Layan be back down soon?

Old Snow Leopard: I am expecting him shortly – but – I am sure there is something I have forgotten to do – old age you know, does funny things to your head! No, no I definitely put in the smoked paprika… that’s not it…

The old snow leopard paused for a moment deep in thought

Oh of course! You will be wondering who the roaring blazes I am and what I am doing cooking fish gumbo in the young cub’s cabin!

There it was again – ‘young cub’ – Jaak and Tag couldn’t help but suppress a giggle.

Old Snow Leopard: So – let’s start over! Hello again. I am Grandpa Snow!

Jaak and Tag looked at each other again with surprise – Grandpa? Layan’s Grandpa? Wow – Grandpa must be really, really old – positively primordial even – from a land before time itself!

Jaak: Erm, ah… yeah, hello again to you too – So I’m Jaak and this is my friend Tag. We’re friends of Layan.

Tag: Hullo!

Before long they heard movement in the cellar below and shortly after that they heard the sound of someone coming up the ladder. A long wooden staff appeared through the trap door, followed by two fluffy pointed ears attached to the head of a snow leopard wearing a blue scarf and green tunic.

Layan: Hooya! Something smells good in here!

He then noticed that Grandpa was not alone

Oh! It’s the young…

He suddenly cut his usual greeting off as if something had just dawned on him

Er… um… hello Jaak, hello, Tag!

Grandpa Snow: Hrumph! There is only one young cub around here – even if he does use a stick to get around!

Jaak and Tag now couldn’t help themselves – their suspicions now confirmed, they looked at each other incredulously and burst out laughing.

Layan: Ah yes – well. Thank you Grandpa…!

He clearly wanted to change the subject

So boys! I see you have met Grandpa Snow. He has come up here for a bit of a break from Matron Rattenfänger at the Aoraki Assisted Living Facility for Aged Nekomi and Hundes.

Grandpa Snow: Aged! I’ll turn your hide into aged cat jerky if you give me anymore of that cheek!

Despite their verbal banter the two snow leopards actually held a great mutual rapport and respect for each other.

Grandpa Snow: Right then – enough chit chat! Lunch!

Grandpa ladled gumbo into four large bowls and served it with chunks of crusty bread torn off from a freshly baked loaf.

Layan: I heard from Tenzing on the two-way radio that you boys have had quite an interesting start to the morning. So its true that no one was hurt and the bus was not damaged at all?

Tag: Yep that’s right! The bus flew right off the mountain road…

Tag made a flying motion with his arms

…and it just… well – it just landed in the valley below!

Jaak: Yeah. That’s why we came up to see you Layan. We wondered if it was … well anything to do with…

Layan: The stones? Its OK – you can talk about the stones in front of Grandpa. In fact he might even know a thing or two that I don’t – after all he is a bit older…

Grandpa Snow: Ahem.

Before another round of aged related verbal tit for tat ensued, Jaak took the opportunity to quickly explain what had happened on the bus that morning. The fact was that everything had happened so quickly – and slowly – and then quickly – that he was still trying to piece it all together himself.

Jaak: The thing is…

He said between mouthfuls of gumbo and bread

~ This is really good!

Waving a piece of gumbo soaked bread at Grandpa

…that when the bus left the road, both Tag and me agree, that our stones definitely did something. They felt lighter – that made us feel lighter – and we think it made the bus lighter too, just long enough for it to spin around and land again without anything bad happening.

Jaak and Tag then went on to tell their story of the first day of term when the two bus bullies backed away from Tag’s protruding elbow.

Tag: I dunno why I stuck my elbow out – I just did it. It was like at that moment, I just felt really strong – but without needing to actually do anything more.

The two older cats sat there for a few moments silent after the boys had finished their stories. Both had listened intently, and had not interrupted with stupid questions that adults sometimes ask. They just nodded occasionally to let the boys know that they were still listening.

Grandpa Snow: Do you have them with you now?

Glancing at Layan who gave them a slight nod, they took out the stones and placed them on the table.

Grandpa leaned forward and examined the two stones laying on the table. At the moment they looked fairly unremarkable – round and smooth with a faint bluish colour.

Grandpa Snow: May I?

Just like Layan a few weeks earlier, Grandpa did not just reach out and pick up the stones without asking. Jaak and Tag nodded. He carefully took the two stones one in each paw weighing them carefully. Then with a slight movement of his wrists, the stones began to rise and fall in graceful circular arcs as if he were juggling them – but now without actually touching them. He kept this up for a minute or so, moving his paws in different ways in a range of different patterns. The stones then came once more to rest in his paws, and he carefully placed them back on the table.

Jaak: Grandpa Snow, what do you know about the stones? Why do they behave the way they do? Do you know what gives them their power?

Grandpa Snow: The valley snow leopards have known about the stones found and mined here in the valleys for many generations. Much much longer than before we ever dreamed of using them to produce electricity or to power space stations.

Your stones are indeed very interesting. Stones do often behave differently for each person holding them. Just because they helped repel your bullies or kept your bus safe from a nasty crash, does not necessarily mean that they will do the same again in future. They are quite mysterious objects indeed and I think that we have really barely scratched the surface as to finding out all their secrets. Those truly versed in stone-lore are few and far between and much of the old knowledge has been lost. I do not profess to be an expert. There are however stories that have been passed down through the generations, and while some may dismiss them as folk legends – I do think that the old stories do still hold threads of truth.

There was one story in particular. It was about a group of the first miners that followed some of the valley’s natural lava tunnels, eventually expanding them to become the tunnels of Big John’s Mine which is still operating today. The further they dug into the mountain, the more stones they started to find. It caused a bit of a frenzy. However one day as they were following a new tunnel, one of the timber roof supports cracked and the whole tunnel caved in. A number of the miners were killed, but one did manage to scramble to safety. Whispers and rumours swirled for years that they had found a large cavern, one that was full of glowing cyan stones and surrounded by bright blue crystals. However the one miner that managed to get out was so traumatised, that he never spoke another word as long as he lived.

Grandpa paused for a moment and then looked intensely at Jaak and Tag

So where exactly did you find these stones?

Jaak and Tag who had been listening with rapt attention to Grandpa’s story were suddenly jolted back to the present. They looked at each other and then looked at Layan, who again gave the slightest of nods.

Jaak: Well… um… that’s a long story… but…

Jaak gave Tag a purposeful look.

Tag: The blue cavern. It’s real. We’ve been there. That’s were we found the stones.

Previous: Episode 24 – Airbus
Next: Episode 26 – Corpus Bugaarium

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