In Search of Fate
Chapter 7: The Sanctuary
Eventually, they did decide to occupy their time together in another way. Adam took up Evelyn’s suggestion of exploring one of the adjoining chambers. She thought it would be better to move about than sit in her skimpy attire while the chill of the cave bore into her. Questor once again offered her his jacket and they proceeded together into one of the chambers the lava flow had created. The oil lamp lighted their way, even if the darkness beyond its horizon was a bit ominous. They proceeded cautiously. Although Questor was no expert on volcanoes, he did understand enough about lava flows to point out some of the idiosyncrasies of the lava tube they had entered. The light from the oil lamp was reflected off smooth walls and ceiling shaped by the lava. What revealed itself ahead of them was a sinuous passage with gutters on either side subsequently carved out by rushing water. Their progress was slow because they were not sure of the footing. Under foot were broken rock and a mush of pebbles of varying sizes that seemed to have been deposited by the water. Questor thought that the network of lava tubes had been created by an active volcano many thousands of years ago. In the intervening years, the tubes had been periodically washed out by flooding, probably run off from torrential rains. The make-shift shower waterfall was just an example of how water in the mountain’s soil could coagulate into underground tributaries. Questor thought the caves might not be the best place in a heavy storm, especially deeper into the bowels of the mountain. He thought he should discourage his adventurous mate from following the steadily downward trending tube they had chosen. But something else discouraged Evelyn from proceeding. In the convex sidewall of a cutback, they came across what they imagined was the abandoned lair of the lioness that had once frequented these caves. Bones of small animals were scattered inside a slight hollow carefully, though inexplicably, clawed out of the wall. The sight of so much death had a deflating effect on Evelyn’s mood. They retraced their steps in order to return to the large lava lake chamber.
On the way back they encountered a craggy hump which Questor had initially thought to be some kind of rock obstacle the lava had to navigate around. From the angle of their return path, however, Questor could visualize another explanation. He held the oil lamp up towards the ceiling and pointed to a small break above their heads where the curved wall and ceiling met. There, he speculated, a parallel lava flow might have intersected with the one that had formed the tube they were in. The wall separating the two tubes probably had broken down slightly and a small amount of lava had flowed down the sidewall into their tube, forming the hump and leaving a hollowed opening at the point of the breakdown. Just inside the opening Evelyn thought she saw something illumined by the raised light. She took the lamp from Questor and asked him to give her a boost as she clamored up the broken rock created by the supposed breakdown. He clasped her tight about the thighs and raised her up. She lifted the lamp into position to shed more light on the opening and then fell back suddenly with an abrupt scream of surprise. Questor broke her fall as she slid through his enclosing arms until her feet touched the ground. He was now holding her about the waist and breast with her abbreviated nightgown now pulled up to her mid-section. Embarrassed for her, Questor immediately released his hold of her and stepped back. Her nightgown fell back into place, and Evelyn quickly recovered her composure. Fortunately, she never dropped the lamp. “I’m alright,” she said. “Really, it’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s just so unexpected. Take a look yourself.” Questor stretched his arms until he found a ridge to hold onto and pulled himself up. She held the lamp as high as she could to help his investigation. Reactively, he gave an involuntary gasp when he saw the source of her surprise: it was a human skull. Also, he realized that the opening was not the result of a lava tube breakdown. Like the hollowed out side wall where they found the bones, it had been carved out in like manner. In fact, he was gazing into a manmade grotto in which a single human skull had been placed. Whoever had created this sepulcher had done so a very long time ago, for the hump they initially encountered was just the rock and soil dug out many generations ago and solidified over time into the fabric of the tube. But here was a mystery. Why was there just a human skull? What happened to the rest of the body? Were the other bones washed away or perhaps carried away by animals? And who had placed this skull in such a manner? Why hollow out an opening in the upper part of the tube when it would have been easier to dig below? Perhaps the burial party was following some ritual and wanted to place the remains above the water line or out of reach of small animals. Questor also noticed markings and sketching on the walls surrounding the skull. He described his discovery for Evelyn, interpreting the images and writing as best he could. The faded drawings, he explained, appeared to be selected scenes from the Stations of the Cross. Above the skull he read aloud the words, “hodie mecum eris in paradiso.” He lowered himself beside Evelyn.
She asked, “What does it mean?”
“Those are Jesus’ words to the good thief who was crucified with Him. He had asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Jesus’ response was ‘This day you will be with me in paradise’.”