Salmeks-Crystal_ebook_layersChapter One

The Tor was shrouded in pale moonlight, as Salmek followed the winding pathway up to the top, where the Michael Tower stood. By her side was her small black and white Welsh collie dog, Chewy. He ran ahead of her, bouncing and barking with excitement, chasing his tail in circles before returning to give her hand a reassuring lick.

Salmek sat down on the damp grass and surveyed the view of Glastonbury. On this clear summer’s evening, as dusk began to fall, she could see house and street lights twinkling for miles into the distance, and a faint, amber glow edged into the sky. A playful breeze teased strands of her long, strawberry-blonde hair free of her loosely tied ponytail. It was perfect… A picture-postcard view.

Her eyes were drawn to a rich, creamy-golden, opalescent light that was rising up in a large dome-like shape from somewhere in the High Street. She leaned forwards, hugging her knees towards her, as she tried to work out what was causing it and where exactly it was coming from. She wondered whether it was a fire, but realised it couldn’t be, as there was no smoke. A beam shot towards her, and engulfed her in its spotlight. For a moment, the light blinded her and she was forced to look down, screwing up her eyes in pain, before the beam dipped downwards to shine upon the Tor itself. There was a bright white FLASH, as if someone was taking a photograph using a giant’s camera…

Then there was a BOOM! The earth shook. All around her, Salmek could see faint, glowing lines spiralling from just beneath the surface of the earth, to encircle the Tor. She followed the light-lines with her eyes as they stretched out before her, like thousands of oversized underground fibre optic cables gently pulsing with energy. They appeared to link the landscape via an intricate web of connections; it was as if the light channels were tracing out luminous pathways on an invisible earth map.

Her eyes were drawn back to the main light in the High Street. It was powerful and mesmerising, but strangely soothing at the same time. Swaying and enticing, the light expanded and contracted, rising up and sinking down, rippling outwards and back towards its centre. She had never seen a light like it. The movements were rhythmic and pulsing, luring her towards its centre and tempting her to go off in search of its source. She felt like she wanted to be close to it, to be engulfed by it and to merge with it.

Her body was pulled up by forces she had no control over. As she stood, she tried to steady herself by using her arms for balance in case she lost her footing and fell. Her feet began to move, and with no apparent control, she started taking steps forward towards the source of the light. She was compelled to continue, stumbling onwards, tripping on clods of earth as she went.

In moments, her hypnotic state was shattered, collapsing as quickly as it had risen. Chewy nuzzled his head under her hand, insistently searching for attention and breaking the spell that she was under. It was as if a switch had been flicked off and she came to after a few minutes, shaking her head to dislodge the cloudy residue that had built up. She blinked rapidly to clear her vision. The light in the distance subsided, as did the pull that drew her towards it. It was the strangest feeling, it really was. Looking around her, all the light pathways that had wrapped themselves around the Tor had disappeared.

When she was much younger, Salmek’s mum had taught her how to see auras – the energy light fields surrounding all living things – by just relaxing, drifting off into a daydream and allowing her eyes to kind of glaze over and defocus. An aura is similar to the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights: a glow of hazy light, like a magnetic field, that appears as a fluxing luminous cocoon, around someone, or something. But instead of only being green or red like the Northern Lights, they can be any colour of the rainbow, and depending on the mood of the person, they appear dense or light, sludgy or clear.

Seeing auras wasn’t anything special; anyone could do it, if they opened their minds to the possibility. Salmek could see the energy light auras around trees, plants, humans… Anything, really. But the light she had just seen was different. Different from anything she had ever seen; she’d never been pulled by a light before.

Stroking Chewy’s head she looked up and then down, in an attempt to ensure the world was still as she remembered, with the stars above and earth below. She even stamped down into the grass beneath her to double check all was as it should be. It took all her effort to bring herself back together; for that was what it felt like, bringing herself back into her own centre after being pulled outwards, as if controlled by external forces. She needed to sort herself out before she could even think about heading back home.

The Tor was a powerful place, and local people would often talk about the Michael and Mary ley lines, invisible energy paths under the surface of the earth that converged there, right underneath the tower at the top. It was said to be a sacred site; a place that held mysterious power, which was why many rituals and gatherings had been held there for hundreds of years. But there was no one else on the Tor this evening, no gathering of local folk and no ceremonies. Salmek was alone. She wondered whether the spectacular light had been something to do with the ley lines that she had heard people talk about?

She didn’t know if anyone else in the quiet market town had witnessed that light, and if they had, whether they had been drawn to it. For some strange reason, Salmek felt that the light and its energies were calling to her and her alone. But she had no idea why.

‘Come on, Chewy, let’s get home. I’ll race you.’ Salmek tried to muster some enthusiasm, thinking a run would clear her head. In reality, it was the last thing she felt like. Chewy accepted the challenge and bounded off ahead.


Salmek and the Earth Keepers - cover

Chapter One

 The ox-blood-red 1950s Chevy pickup truck rattled and bumped its way over the winding track that curled itself around the base of Mount Shasta. Gabriel wound the stiff window down, allowing a warm breeze to carry the fresh scent of pine into the cab that all three of them were squeezed into. Their baggage had been thrown into the back of the truck and was sliding and bouncing around all over the place.

There was no comfortable padding to cushion them from the impact of anything the vehicle rumbled over, only a wooden bench seat. George screwed his face up every time they drove over a rock or hit a pothole, too agitated to notice or take comfort from the golden late afternoon sun that shone down to welcome them to America.

‘This really isn’t good for my lumbago, old boy. Have we got much longer to go before we get to these blasted cabins?’ George grumbled, as he rummaged in the silk-lined inside pocket of his tweed jacket and fished out a miniature bottle of gin that he’d pilfered from the plane during their flight from Delhi to San Francisco. Battling with the screw top, he eventually resorted to using an old cotton handkerchief to loosen it enough for him to get at the contents. He downed it in one gulp and smiled at Salmek, who was squeezed tightly between him and the door, holding the pouch with her crystal in. She was exhausted and barely had the energy to smile back.

On arriving in San Francisco, they’d boarded an internal flight to Redding, one of the nearest airports to Mount Shasta, and hired the truck there. Bob, the helpful man behind the car rental desk, informed them they still had roughly100 kilometres to drive before they reached the town of Shasta, and when Gabriel asked him about the possibility of booking some accommodation too, Bob shook his head and laughed. He explained that everything in town was full, so their only option was to try a place called Pine Tree Cabins, which was situated close to the foot of the mountain; it was owned by an interesting, rather eccentric old lady who only took in people she liked the look of. Sadly, there was no way of pre-booking; they’d have to just take a chance. When they heard this, they all groaned in unison, as not only did they have more travelling to do, they couldn’t even guarantee they’d have a place to sleep when they got there.

Over an hour into the journey, Gabriel stopped the truck and unfolded the wrinkled map that Bob had given him; it had been marked with the scribbles of previous users and was ringed with coffee-cup stains.

‘According to this, it should only be another five minutes or so, but that Bob was a bit vague. He said I had to watch out for lots of pine trees and a wooden sign, but look around – there are pine trees everywhere.’ Gabriel folded the map up and sighed, started the engine and they were off again.

The verdant scenery, combined with the invigorating, purifying scent of the pine and the overwhelming peace and quiet, were in stark contrast to Salmek’s experience of Egypt and India. Only yesterday, they had been battling through the crowds at Delhi airport for the second time, leaving the madness and excitement behind.

It had been sad, saying goodbye to everyone in India; Ismail had flown back to Cairo

and Bhagirath remained in Varanasi, each with their own crystals, as they all agreed it was vital to ensure the energies remained strong and stable in both of these sacred places, leaving Salmek to continue her search. Everything had to be ready for the time when they would all gather again, even though none of them knew when, or where, that would be.

But after they’d waved their farewells and Salmek had settled into her seat as the plane took off, everything started to feel less real, as if the adventure to India never really happened at all. They’d experienced so much together, but the party to celebrate the healing of the plague had kept them up all night and into the following morning, leaving barely any time to book their onward flights and make the mad dash for the airport, let alone reflect on what had actually happened.

Now Salmek, Ismail and Bhagirath were separated and in different parts of the world, Salmek had no choice but to go on alone. She had her dad, Gabriel, and George, but it wasn’t the same. With the boys, she felt she had two people who really understood how she was feeling, true friends she could trust and share her concerns with. They were crystal holders too, and that meant they all empathised with each other and understood the significance of the task ahead.

The journey so far had been a rollercoaster ride of emotional highs and lows, jammed full of adventure, fear, disbelief and revelations. All three of their crystals had been responsible for healing the plague in India, after which Bhagirath, Ismail and herself had been blessed by wise men in the Ganges river. It had been such an honour, and Salmek squeezed the new pouch that the sadhus had made to hold her crystal: a luxurious jade-green with a salmon-pink silk lining. Even though the crystal was now attached to a golden chain and she could wear it as a necklace if she wanted to, she still felt it was best to keep it hidden.

Since the blessing, the crystal had remained calm; it hadn’t heated up, emitted light or done anything unusual. It was safe, but for how long, she didn’t know. Ever since she’d arrived in Egypt and travelled on to India, so many crazy things had happened. She’d been followed, kidnapped, drugged, and then partially branded by Quantox Lomming, one of the followers of The Dark Serpent. But everything seemed so calm here. Maybe they had managed to shake everyone off their trail by making all the arrangements to leave India in such a hurry, although she had to admit there was something worrying her. They’d left Quantox at one of the ghats; his head pouring with blood – he might be dead by now for all they knew.

Her fingertips tentatively felt underneath her T-shirt and traced their way over the surface of the half-serpent brand. It had faded and she felt no discomfort now, but it was there as a reminder of Quantox Lomming’s malevolence towards her, and the underlining threat that somehow, The Dark Serpent was watching… and waiting for her. Even worse – she could have absorbed some of its energy during the branding. She remembered what Bhagirath had told her when Mr Vishwakarma had translated the Nadi Leaf… that if The Dark Serpent rises, it begins to control people’s minds with fear and negativity, so she knew she had to be careful in case she noticed any change in herself.

The Sanskrit scroll had been destroyed, but, thankfully, she had just enough information from the Nadi Leaf to continue with her task of trying to bring balance and healing to the world. However, there were four more children she had to find to help her with this. She knew they were in the right place to find one of the children – Mount Shasta – but didn’t have a clue where to start looking, or even if the child was a boy or a girl.

Her eyelids and limbs were heavy and weary. She yawned. All she wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sleep. Ideally, her dog, Chewy, would be snuggled right up against her and her mum would be sleeping in the next room – only then could she believe that everything was normal and safe. But deep down, she knew that it would be a while before she saw them again. In reality, things were far from normal… or safe.

‘Here we go, this is it, isn’t it?’ Gabriel slowed the pickup and it juddered to a halt. He jumped out and made his way over to a wooden sign that was partly concealed by foliage. ‘Yep, this is it, “Pine Tree Cabins”, let’s go and park up.’ He swung himself back up into the driver’s seat without closing the door properly, and manoeuvred his way through the entrance and onto the driveway.

He didn’t get very far. Standing right in the middle of the earthen track was an old woman, brandishing a rifle. She wore faded-blue denim dungarees, over a red gingham shirt. On her head was a brown leather cowboy hat, worn tipped at a jaunty angle, with a drooping wild flower tucked into the brim. Underneath the hat hung two long plaits, fashioned from her coarse, wiry grey hair. On her feet, she wore what looked like clumpy men’s leather work boots.

‘Good God, look at her – she’s a hillbilly!’ George sniggered, and then stopped when he noticed the gun. ‘Are you sure this is the right place, Gabriel, old boy… I mean, it’s quite possible she intends to shoot the lot of us?’

‘This is definitely the right place – but you heard what Bob said, she’ll only take in people she likes the look of; he didn’t mention that she shoots the ones she doesn’t,’ Gabriel said, with his hands still on the steering wheel, reluctant to get out.

The old woman strolled over to the truck and stood by Gabriel’s open window, resting the barrel of her rifle on the glass ledge.

‘Have a reservation do youse?’ she asked, in a slow, drawn-out, Midwest American kind of accent. As she spoke, she scanned the cab and fixed her ash-grey eyes on Salmek, then poked her tongue out and sucked her teeth.

Salmek remained silent, not knowing quite what to make of this strange woman.

‘No, no, we don’t. The guy at the airport said you didn’t take bookings. He told me that we’d have to just turn up and see. It was Bob… we hired the truck from him too.’

‘And a right old piece of horse dung this thing is as well,’ she said, kicking the tyre. ‘He’s a dirty, thieving weasel, that Bob. This heap of tin belongs to his brother, Joe, and I bet Joe don’t even know it’s missing.’ The old woman shook her head as she cackled, showing off a set of stained, uneven teeth.

‘My name is George, and may I say, it’s lovely to meet such a fine lady,’ George said, reaching his hand across Gabriel’s chest and waiting for the old woman to take it. Instead, she looked at him and frowned.

‘I ain’t a lady, mister, but I like the look of you, George, so I’ll be pleased to shake your paw. I’m Winnie.’ She held the rifle in one hand, with the barrel still resting on the truck’s window, and shook hands with George.

‘You’ve got a good grip there, Winnie, I wouldn’t want to wrestle with that,’ George laughed, releasing her hand and rubbing his own in mock pain.

‘I only wrestle with bears, not men, George,’ the old woman chuckled. ‘Now get out of there and let’s take a proper look at youse folk.’

She stood back and eyed each of them as they got out of the cab.

‘And who might you be?’ Winnie asked, nodding at Salmek, the rifle now thankfully pointing towards the ground.

‘Salmek, my name’s Salmek.’

‘Weird name that. Do you have foreign parents?’

‘No, she doesn’t. I’m her father actually,’ Gabriel said, sounding slightly irritated.

‘Why did you give her a name like that?’ Winnie asked.

‘It suited her and we liked it,’ Gabriel answered.

‘Who’s “we”?’ Winnie asked.

‘Salmek’s mother – we’re not together anymore – not that it’s any of your business,’ he snapped.

‘You’re right; it’s not my business. I like the name. It does suit you girl – sounds like a shaman’s name.’

‘What?’ Salmek asked.

‘Never mind, ain’t important,’ Winnie said

‘Is that thing loaded?’ Gabriel asked, worried it could explode at any moment.

‘Nope, it’s empty as a poor man’s belly,’ she said, looking stern, ‘but I have loaded guns in my shed, just in case,’ which made Gabriel reluctant to ask any more questions.

‘Youse all look like you’ve been fighting with skunks… smells like it too. There’s no hot water in the cabin, but youse can boil up a pot on the stove. Get your bags and cover my prints!’ Winnie ordered, as she strode ahead, swinging the rifle as she went.

‘So we can stay then? I mean, you have a free cabin?’ Gabriel asked, trying to keep up.

‘Looks like it, don’t it,’ she snapped.

She led them through a narrow gap in the trees to a clearing where the sun’s rays enveloped a small cabin that had the name “Wolf Moon” carved into the door. A narrow veranda curved its way around the hut, making it a perfect spot to admire the view of the mountain, as well as feel the safe hug of the deep green foliage around them.

‘Now this here is your place; it’s forty bucks a night,’ she said as she flung the door open. ‘The little kitchen is just fine for making up your tea, but there’s no electricity, so youse have to use the gas stove and lamps. Light it with the matches by the sink, but mind your fingers and hair, the stove has got a bit of a temper on her y’see.’ She tapped the stove with her boot, emphasising her words. ‘I’ve a basket of basic provisions over there,’ she pointed, ‘and the beds are nice and fresh. Now, get yourselves washed up and fill your bellies – I’ll be over in the big shed if youse want anything,’ Winnie said, before leaving them to their own devices.

‘She didn’t know we were coming, so how come she has a basket of provisions ready?’ Salmek asked

‘I have no idea; she’s as mad as a hatter but I’m sure she’s harmless,’ Gabriel replied.

‘I quite like her – she’s funny,’ Salmek said.

Gabriel put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close.

‘When we’ve had a chance to settle in and rest, we’ll chat about our plans and I’ll tell you what your mum said when I rang her from the airport. I’m afraid she’s pretty angry. The money ran out before I could pass the phone to you, so she’ll be even more annoyed now. We’ll find a place to call her tomorrow, okay,’ he said, looking concerned. ‘I know we’ve got things to do here, people to find and all that, but we all need to get some rest first.’

‘I knew Mum would be worried, but I didn’t think she’d be angry. I can’t even think properly, my mind is all mushy. I’ve never felt this tired, Dad, I just want to go to bed,’ she said, sinking down to sit on the mattress closest to the kitchen and rubbing her sore eyes.

The cabin was open plan and everything was made of stripped pinewood. It was scrubbed and sparse, but snug, with several roughly-woven rugs in various neutral shades scattered over the bare floorboards. There were three, sturdy single wooden beds, made up with white cotton sheets, layered with blankets and thick patchwork quilts: one red, one blue, and the other green. Hanging above each bed were circular mobiles, wrapped in colourful cloth, with mesh centres that looked like delicately-woven spiders’ webs that were strung with small ceramic beads; from the circles dangled brown feathers, tied on with string and thin strips of leather. Each one was unique and the swaying plumes caught Salmek’s eye.

‘What are these?’ she asked, stifling another yawn.

‘Dreamcatchers – I’m sure your mum used to have one hanging in our bedroom in Bristol.’

‘I’ve seen something similar in the shops in Glastonbury, but these are more homemade-looking. What are they for?’

‘I guess they’re used to catch dreams; ask Winnie, she’ll know,’ Gabriel replied.

The small square windows looking out over the pine forest were dressed with curtains, made from the same red gingham as Winnie’s shirt, and in the distance, beyond the trees, Salmek saw the glistening summit of Mount Shasta covered in snow. She felt the same pull as when she looked at the Tor in Glastonbury; there was something alluring about this place too. But oddly, her crystal remained inactive. She wondered if it was because she was so tired. Maybe she wasn’t able to connect with its energy when she didn’t have any herself?

‘Right guys; let’s get that pan on the boil for some hot water. The light’s beginning to fade now so we’ll have a quick wash, eat some food and then get some sleep – what do you say?’ Gabriel suggested.

‘Good plan, old boy. Let’s have a look at what old Winnie has left us to nibble,’ George said, shuffling over the floorboards, too tired to even pick his feet up.

Salmek lay down on the bed and stretched out. They could wake her when the water was hot enough; she just wanted to have a little nap.