Chapter Sixteen

As if in slow motion, Sam and his men made their way further into the cave. The yellowish glow of light from the loosely held lanterns swung up and down as it reflected off the tan sandstone walls. Long shadows of men in hats lengthened and shortened, and shakily moved to and fro as they cast themselves over jagged cracks and deep inlaid crevices. Flashing glimpses of crudely shaped figures carved into the wall could be seen here and there. The flickering flames from the lanterns were playing tricks on the eyes of these men. The rank stench remained debilitating, but they were so intensely focused, they plumb forgot about it.

Sam continued to lead the team in single file. Seeing no signs of danger, he finally put his pistol back in its holster. Why the place stunk so bad, he could not figure out. There were no dead bodies in there, animal or human, as far as Sam could tell. He stopped and turned back to the men. “Hold your horses a minute! This could be a trap.” Sam suspiciously moved forward, keeping an eye out for a wire close to the floor. The ceiling was closing in on him, and he had to crouch down lower and lower as he went. He was within ten feet of the small pile of ashes when he spied something written on the wall in red. Sam’s first thought was “Paint,” because it was definitely brushed on. His second thought was, “Paint? Nobody carries red paint around with them. What the hell?” Without looking back, he waved his men toward him. “C’mon and take a look.” Sam was close enough by then to tell that what he was looking at wasn’t just a little fire some somebody made just to say warm. This somebody had drawn a picture around the fire by digging out grooves in the dirt. The men gathered into a half circle around the scene. Questioning looks were on the face of every man. Dumbfounded and awestruck, they stood there in silence, eyes wide open. They didn’t dare gasp for air.

Four blood-colored symbols on the wall commanded their attention — a circle, a square, a triangle, and a five-pointed star. Red drips ran down the wall under each one. Otherwise, the shapes appeared perfectly neat. A little too perfect for comfort, as were the drawings of symbols and foreign-looking letters pressed into the dirt around the smallish fire. They were impossibly perfect; too well done. No doubt, this was the work of a professional. It was not the remains of some Indian ceremony, nor was this artist any ordinary outlaw. Their assumptions pointed directly to the foreign stranger — that ruthless murderer. They were sure of it. All in all, it beat the likes of anything any one of them had ever seen. But then again, the whole thing eerily reminded them of something. Every one of these men had an inkling that they’d seen something like this before, but not a one of them could remember when or where they’d seen it. That’s what made this all the more stupefying. Murmured words mumbled forth from their lips, words such as “witchcraft” and “black magic”.  As Sam was standing there perplexed, he happened to think of Luke. “I wonder if he told us everything back at the Deputy’s office. There is something I don’t know here. But why would he withhold information in the first place? I didn’t at all expect this. Good Lord! What kind of man are we after anyway? And where did he get all this blood?”

A few of Sam’s men tried to describe this scene for Matt a few days after they returned to Bedlam. This is what they came up with: A perfectly round circle enclosed the entire delicately positioned diagram. It was nearly three-foot in diameter. The groove carved to dig out this circle was one inch wide and one inch deep. A small amount of blood was carefully poured into the groove all the way around. It had since soaked into the sandy dirt at the bottom of the groove. Inside this circle was an exacting square. It was two and a half feet across. Outside the square and above every corner was a symbol pressed into the dirt with some sort of tool. They were exquisitely well-formed. At the North point stood a sun with thin pointed rays. On the left side lay a triangle with an eye across the center of it. At the bottom were two quarter moons facing each other; almost touching. Outside of the right corner was a circle with a diamond inside. A vertical line cut through the center of these two overlaid symbols.

Just under the lines inside the square were descriptive symbols that imperceptibly changed form as they rounded the corners. The forms consisted of four unrecognizable alphabets. They could have been sentences, or elaborate equations, or possibly some type of formula. Whatever they meant, the man was a master calligrapher. The skillfully crafted intricate inscriptions that flowed from their creator’s intimations revealed a diabolical intelligence masked in artistic talent.

Underneath these lines and centered in the square were two overlaid triangles; one pointing up and one pointing down. The triangle pointing down was smaller, so even though it still represented a five-pointed star, it wasn’t your average symmetrical star. The remains of the little fire lay in the middle of this star, acting as the center-point of the geometric design. But there was something else rather odd about it. The ashes in the middle of the pile were black and grey, whereas the ashes on the outer edges were white as snow. Taken all together, the whole structure had an otherworldly feel to it. It was obviously a finely honed ritual that implied knowledge of dark-cultured mores.

After a few minutes of serene bewilderment, Sam stooped down and put his hand over the embers. Sensing no danger, he carefully pushed his finger down into the pile. “It’s still warm, men. Out for an hour or so, at the most. That no-good devil took his sweet time going to all this trouble.” Sam paused and quickly glanced all around one last time. “One more thing — in case we have to testify at a later date, remember what you saw here today. Okay?” Sam eyed each man, and each nodded in turn. “Now let’s get the hell out of this God-forsaken sanctuary. We’ll check the other path that goes up to the top. I bet he came in and left that way, and we’ll probably be able to tell which direction he headed off to. He can’t hide all his tracks. I hope you boys are up to this. Looks like we done got ourselves an outlaw to chase. Man, oh, man. I need some air. Let’s go!”


14 thoughts on “Chapter Sixteen

  1. Luke’s good intentions of sparing the kids of the whole story may bite him in the ass. Let’s hope he’s a fast talker.

    Boy am I glad to get outta there. I could feel the dank oppressiveness of fear. First one in, first one out. Did everyone get out ok? What about those crudely shaped human figures on the wall? Seems like someone or something has been using this cave for some time. This is not new. I think more than outlaws have been in this cave. So now we have a creepy cave, a creepy old oak tree at the edge of town and a creepy murder. I think even Scooby Do would stear clear of this one. Yo!

  2. In all seriousness Uncle, I have certain mental disabilities which effect things like reading and comprehending what I read. I realized this years ago. I started making myself read everyday. Long story short, IB was a quantum leap because I had to respond to what I read, the whole comprehension thing.

    Said that to say this. The format of your story, where I can read a chapter each day and also comment on it is magic to me. But not like the creepy magic in the cave. The length of the chapters and the density of information are perfectly balanced. Plus it’s an intersesting and creative story. Reading is therapy for my disabilites and what you are creating is such a great format for me. Thanks. Another example of accidental genius at work.

  3. Hey Derek! Those two kids could still be in trouble.
    Everyone will get out of the cave alive. It figures. Doesn’t it?
    I never said ‘human’ figures. Think graffiti. And
    a buffalo or two, perhaps. Antelope? Maybe.

    All I can think of is…Jay Leno. Am I warm?
    I love happy accidents, but I’m all wet right now.
    Being a helper has it’s own rewards, and if I’ve been one,
    it was definitely due to an accident. (There I am being Sam again.)
    I so wish I were done. The pans on the back burner are touching
    the ceiling. My daughter says I’m obsessed. I told her
    that I’m an accident of Nature…maybe knot. 😉
    I’m glad this works for you. Really! Stay cool.

  4. Your story is really gaining momentum Uncle Tree.

    In several good ways

    Maybe it’s just me, but each chapter seems to flow a little better than the last
    The suspense created as each chapter closes is gradually rising
    The curvature of every twist taken is increasing in force
    The craving to read each newly revealed chapter is nearing addiction

    My empathy for each character revealed is growing because the story is so very well written
    as if the situations were real.

    thank you for sharing

  5. That was very well said, Dusty.
    I don’t know if those statements are true or knot,
    but it was very nice of you to say so in that style and manner.
    My craving to get this done and over with is greater
    than your craving to read it, perhaps. If I hurry
    it’s going to get sloppy. I’ll have to watch that.

    Uniting the opposites is more difficult than I surmised.
    Real and unreal, truth and fable…besides, no one
    believes in ghosts. Being possessed by an evil spirit?
    That only happened in the old days. Right? Anyway…

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
    I do appreciate the help and support.
    Options…you may still have a choice.

    Have a good day, kind sir. UT

  6. Yeah, pretty lame comment (kinda taken the fun and creative wind outta the sail)
    Seriously though the story is only getting better in all aspects


    it seemed funner when you were the outlaw
    the stranger that I’m coming to lynch!

    your character anyway.

  7. Ropin’ the wind, Dusty?
    Some one has hog-tied my creativity.
    As soon as I get loose I’ll put up seventeen.
    I’m shootin’ for tonight. One more character to go.

    It is Friday, isn’t it? Yee-haw! Hot doggies! Mark me down.

  8. Reality check: How many cowboys said these words in the 1800’s?
    “the occult”, and “the netherworld”
    I asked my self this question when I read these lines.

    “of some kind of warped Luciferian vision, one that had been accidentally combined with an eye for the miraculous.”

    What does this mean actually? I get the fact that the room is set up with satanic objects but isn’t using the word miraculous saying that the guy had an eye for things having the character of a miracle? sounds like a conflict of interest to me.

  9. Hey there, Stuart! Just thought I’d catch-up with you here before I go back and work on the rest. You were certainly correct. I was just getting carried away in the moment. Witchcraft, black magic…nuff said. The next phrase you mentioned? Redundant and not necessary. Hard to follow that overblown sentence that I laid down before it. 😉

    What? The devil can’t pull off a miracle? Like making you do
    stuff you don’t want to do without actually touching you?

    Where did the first cowboys come from? Back East? Or Mexico?

    You really went to town, dude. It’ll take me forever to catch-up.
    You be the rabbit,and I’ll be the turtle. Cool?

    Thanks, dude! Have a great weekend! Go Huskers!!!

  10. Sounds like a loaded question, Stuart.
    Like Mercury, Satan has been known as a trickster.
    He was given 3 chances to attempt to pull off a miracle,
    but Jesus didn’t take the bait. He was the bigger fish
    even if the devil was his elder brother, or worse —
    his evil twin. In my experience…it didn’t take a miracle
    to perform a miracle(s) on me. I call them as I genuinely
    see and feel them, or as I have in my oh-so glorious past.

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