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SAGA OF DARKNESS VISION OF LIGHT

Chapter Four - Mysterious Altar

by Dennis R. Cook


SAGA OF DARKNESS VISION OF LIGHT

Chapter Four - Mysterious Altar

by Dennis R. Cook

Old Blackgoat had already begun his Sunday morning service when Steven and I arrived, but when we tried to sneak in and take our seats in the back, he stopped his sermon delivery as though to inform us as a matter of point that he didn't like being interrupted. I was relieved when he, along with the rest of the congregation, began to smile and laugh a little. I realized he knew the perfect way to break the ice for me. Steven and I sat down, and the rest of the service was filled with warmth and peace, as hearts filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit worshiped God in the oneness of love.

After church we shook hands alongside Old Blackgoat and received continuous ribbing about our running on Navajo time; that is, late; but we took it well. All the smiling faces made me feel so good I was beaming all over. However, as soon as the last parishioner had departed, both Steven and Blackgoat cautioned me that the Navajo sometimes put on a show for visitors, and that I needn't expect such emotional support every service. That unnerved me a tad. However, I put aside my perplexity when I overheard Steven and Old Blackgoat discussing an afternoon fact- finding mission back to the gorge and cave where they had discovered the passageway of the serpent.

"Not in broad daylight," I heard Steven say. This he did in a harsh whisper, before accompanying Old Blackgoat into a small office at the back of the church. "The fewer people that know we know about the passageway, the better."

"What are you afraid of?" Old Blackgoat said.

"Shall we sneak about in the shadows like the serpent? We can't hide from the enemy forever. Sooner or later we must take up our cross!"

"Ok, Ok," Steven conceded, holding hands in the air to signify agreement and submission, "I'll do whatever it takes to keep peace."

I was amazed. Was that instance of conciliation a first for Steven? I wondered.

We climbed into Blackgoat's camper and began to navigate the pot-holed, wheel rutted dirt road toward pavement. Steven's large frame squished me against the door, and with all the jostling from the terrain, it was difficult for me to reflect back on the sight of Old Blackgoat's country church.

To be honest, the old church reminded me of one of my grandfather's old weathered, white-washed cow sheds, but I wasn't terribly bothered by the sight of it. I knew the building of a church was the work of God, and that the work of God was carried on inside people, not on the outside of a structure. They say even Shakespeare produced his plays in a barnyard. As for the prospect of confronting satanists and devils, and demons and dark angels, to be honest, I was terrified! I longed for my boardroom and the safe confines of my chalet!

The red rock basin walls arched northward along our highway. Although picturesque, they did not seem to welcome us that Sunday afternoon. We were intruders. Even so, I could sense a timeless Indian spirit watching over us. He sat with benign sovereignty from atop a woven blanket, always ready to dispense the freedom and grace he had been given by a Spirit so great, His glory could only be perfected by the praise from the lips of a babe.

Some ten miles later the red rock began to diminish toward the eastern sky. Old Furry loomed before us, then vanished with an abrupt change in topography that left me dazed. What began as red rock, sparse grass, and a few pinion trees, had been transformed into the lush meadows lined by high mountain greenery.

We had been heading north since leaving the church road behind. Old Blackgoat flicked on a blinker. We would make a right turn, east, toward our destination.

I felt the onset of tension. My neck muscles tightened. My heart thumped within my chest. My mouth became dry. I couldn't swallow.

"Nervous?" Steven asked, sensing my uneasiness. I nodded, then replied, "Yes, I seem to be."

Old Blackgoat fumbled around in his pocket and brought out a few lint marked lemon drops and some tiny pinion nuts and offered them to Ike and me.

"Don't mind if I do," Ike said.

"Thanks so much!" I said.

"Happy to help," Ol' Blackgoat said, popping a lemon drop in his mouth.

As our pathway began to ascend, I caught sight of chipmunks scurrying about by the side of the road. Great pines stretched as far as the eye could see, even arching over the backs of some of the lower mountain crests. Patches of carpet soft fescue filled winter moistened gulleys and gulches with other shades of green, and in total with vines and moss, the combined wonders of the landscape melted away my anxiety, and replaced it with admiration for the Navajo and their land.

I caught sight of the high-flying tail of a buck bolting over a fallen tree. The staccato sound of a determined woodpecker filled the woodland solitude with his promise that spring had come.

Old Blackgoat brought the camper to a stop. I couldn't wait to get out, stretch my legs, and breath in the crisp, cool, mountain valley air. As I did so, Steven retrieved his lantern from the rear storage compartment. Old Blackgoat waited patiently.

Trekking downward toward the gorge, shadowed by the mighty forest arrows that were the landscape's good fortune, I couldn't help feeling that they, too, though unable to voice their opinion, were offended, even appalled by the rite of ritual sacrifice that had been performed within the belly of the mountain. Nature had provided the cave for refuge, not carnage. My peace was gone. My anxiety, back.

The gorge was much as Steven had described it. White, water washed rocks and boulders of all kinds and sizes lined the valley floor right up to the sheer face of the escarpment.

Walking across water washed, flattened and rounded rocks was not easy. But our entranceway into the gorge left only a short distance to the base of the cliff. There, we found the cavern entrance unobstructed.

"What God opens stays open until He wants it closed," Steven said, beaming.

"Hush!" Old Blackgoat hissed, his face showing alarm as he cocked his head like a wild buck sniffing the air. "Let's get inside the cave," he whispered, tugging at our shirt sleeves while continuing to look above the escarpment face. "Quick! Now we must hurry!"

Rushing down the incline into the cavern I understood Blackgoat's abrupt tone of urgency. A ton of rock and debris came crashing down around the mouth of the tunnel leaving us little room for escape. When the dust had settled, however, and we could see there wouldn't be trouble getting out, we all sat down, rather shaken.

"Well, Steven," I mocked, "do you still think God wants this cavern open, or was that rock-slide an omen or something?"

"Hey, it's open, isn't it?" Steven shot back as he rose and began dusting himself off.

Old Blackgoat began to laugh. "Indians have always had to save white man's butt with his ears. Did I ever tell you about the time my great grandfather saved Kit Carson's butt?"

Steven and I just ignored him. That was our way telling him we didn't think the landslide was funny, but I'm sure Old Blackgoat didn't take it too hard.

After regaining some composure, Steven, having finished dusting himself off, addressed us. "Well, what is the consensus? Do we head down the tunnel, or do we go up and investigate?"

"For my two cents," I began, "I'd feel quite a bit more comfortable knowing whether the landslide was accidental or a deliberate attempt at murder."

"My sentiments exactly," Steven said.

"If we must," Ol' Blackgoat said. "But it was only a buck, spooked by our scent."

"But, to be sure...," Steven said.

"Ya, I think that's best," I said.

"I guess the white eyes have outnumbered the Indian again," Old Blackgoat lamented, tongue in cheek.

We had to plod through the debris that had fallen in order to get out of the tunnel. The good news was, there wasn't much to move out of the way. The debris was a mishmash of tree branches and leaves washed down the mountainside. Unfortunately, the debris had stopped short of the gorge, and come to rest atop the cliff along with a few rock fragments already broken by continuous weathering.

We made our way back up the trail the way we had come, then veered off the beaten path and made our way upward, fending off tree limbs and brush as we went.

Our investigation didn't reveal much at first, but soon Steven found deer tracks not a half dozen feet from the lip of the escarpment.

"Blackgoat was right," he said.

From our vantage point it looked as if the deer had been grazing when it caught our scent, and bolted windward up the mountainside, it's heals catching rock and debris, touching off the slide. Steven and I were satisfied we didn't need to feel paranoid any longer.

Ol' Blackgoat looked disgruntled.

"Better to safe...," Steven said, before Blackgoat cut him off in mid-sentence with...

"Ya, Ya, Ya,.... Come on, let's go."

Once back inside the serpent's passageway we made our way quietly but quickly toward the suspect cavern section where Old Blackgoat and Steven had first come upon the high priest or whatever he was, and his two nocturnal companions. The light of Steven's lantern showed us the way.

I purposed not to have any real expectations of finding anyone home. By all accounts I had read, those engaged in clandestine coven meetings arranged tight security for surrounding areas. We had been unhindered in our approach, just as Steven and Old Blackgoat had been earlier.

My explanation for the absence of a security force was that this cave was top secret. Meetings were rare and so small, and the entranceway so obscure, that someone felt cock sure they wouldn't be interrupted. And, from the account Steven had given me, I knew only an act of God had revealed the location in the first place.

Of course, my second guessing supported the revelation that the Holy Spirit had given Steven, which was, of course, that an excess of sin makes one confident to the point of becoming foolish. It was the sheer arrogance of the practicing Satanist that had allowed him to be caught in the act. I didn't think he would make the same mistake twice. I was right.

Upon entering the great hall, we couldn't find a single demon to play with. In fact, not only was the cavern empty of spirits, human or otherwise, the pentagram, circle, candelabrum, altar, and all that Steven had described to me, were gone, or, at the very least, very well hidden from view. They weren't to be found anywhere, look as we might. There were no tell-tale signs that someone or something had been there. We were standing in the cleanest cave in America. Had Old Blackgoat and Steven dreamed their experience while high on peyote or chalk beer? I wondered...?

Steven wasn't deceived, however. "I can't believe they have moved that altar out of this cave!" He swore with a shout. Shaking his head, he continued, "if the altar was, in fact, gold, it would have been the proverbial immovable object. If the altar was only stone, moving the thing still would have required half a dozen big muscled men. From what I recall, my guess is that altar stone was over ten feet long, and had to be at least five feet wide. The altar base had to be at least three feet high. Just moving those items around in here would have taken some doing."

Steven glanced at the bare cavern floor once more in abject disbelief, then turned toward Old Blackgoat and me. "We're going to need more light. We've got to comb this place from top to bottom," he said.

"I'll get the two oil lamps from my pickup," Blackgoat said. "But will they be enough?"

"They will have to do," Steven answered. "But while you're at it, grab your straight tire iron and rubber mallet. Bring one of those chisels you use for splitting wood, too."

"Joseph, why don't you go with him," Steven said, "then Old Blackgoat won't have to balance quite so much coming back down the hill and over those rocks."

I was willing to comply, but held back knowing we all had to walk back to the opening of the tunnel again since we only had one lamp. Didn't figure Steven was too keen on the idea of staying in that labyrinth alone in the dark. I chuckled under my breath when Steven finally decided to accompany us all the way back to the pickup under the pretense that perhaps Old Blackgoat had other tools we might need. I would have done the same thing.

Upon returning we were relieved to discover that indeed Old Blackgoat's lanterns were sufficient to light the cavern chamber. In fact, we were able to spare the battery in Steven's electric lamp for possible use later.

With the extra light I could make out stalactite and stalagmite formations on either side of the entranceway. They stood as pillars to a pagan temple. Fitting, I thought.

Steven showed me where the altar had been, then the circle, and finally where he had scooped up a bootblack can full of his "living faith."

Meanwhile Old Blackgoat pushed around on the stalactite and stalagmite formations, and searched for clues in every crevice.

Using the tapered end of the crowbar I pried at larger cracks and under a few large rocks.

Steven tapped walls for hollow sounds.

After a few hours, and after leaving no stone unturned, we had to admit to ourselves we were whipped.

Old Blackgoat began to complain of his need for rest before the evening service, and I could tell Steven's conscience was taking a beating, having misjudged the devil worshipers determination to hide their tracks.

He suggested we pray. Steven agreed that if the Lord didn't reveal anything to us, we'd call it a day.

As it turned out, Old Blackgoat didn't have a vision, the Spirit didn't quicken Steven, but once in prayer, and fortified with one mind, we knew we had overlooked something. Perplexed, we again surveyed the cavern, all the while shaking our heads.

That's when it hit me. Leaving was our answer. We were so cock-sure there had to be another tunnel which would lead away from the chamber we were in, we hadn't bothered to check the tunnel by which we had come. I suggested as much.

I took a lamp to the left wall of the tunnel. Old Blackgoat took one to the right. Steven used his spotlight for the ceiling.

We had taken only a few steps outside the altar room when Steven froze in his tracks.

"Stay right where you are," he said. "I'll be right back."

Losing no time, Steven retrieved Old Blackgoat's hammer from the unholy worship hall and returned. Running his hands over the ceiling, he exclaimed, "this isn't rock, it's that stuff they use in the movies!"

Old Blackgoat and I soon discovered the walls were also bogus. Meanwhile, Steven made every effort to break through the ceiling, but to no avail.

"What about the floor," I said.

Steven surveyed. "No use," he said.

I could see Old Blackgoat was working out a hunch, running his fingers along the bogus rock several feet away from us. Steven and I quickly caught on. Old Blackgoat had discovered a slight crack that encompassed the floor, the wall, and the ceiling. Leaving that, he had no trouble locating a similar crack about ten feet from the entranceway to the unholy hall.

"Elevator!" Steven and I said at the same instant.

Moments later Old Blackgoat discovered a switch covered by one lone rock resting in the floor of the cave.

"Pay-dirt," I yelled, and flipped the switch. switch.




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