Had the cult member found me already?
The figure made no move toward me.
“Who . . . who are you?” My voice was as shaky as my trembling body. All kinds of bizarre possibilities flooded my stressed imagination. One of my pursuers? A lizard man? An android out collecting anatomical specimens to send to the mother ship?
The figure remained still, but I heard the voice of an elderly female muttering something unintelligible. Then she spoke.
“Come with me.” She extended an arm, still shrouded by low-hanging branches. She was holding something, her arms outstretched toward me. I stumbled forward gingerly on my tender soles, and she handed me a blanket, which I gratefully wrapped around my wet head and shoulders.
The woman had iron gray hair hanging in a long braid down her back. She ripped off pieces of fabric from a long-tailed shirt which hung to the knees of her khaki trousers and bent to tie the fabric around my feet.
“You follow.” she motioned for me to walk behind her.
I followed, very glad for the blanket and the foot wraps.
A few yards away, I was surprised to find a horse, saddled and waiting patiently. The old woman mounted with surprising agility, then reached her hand to me indicating I should ride behind her. After an ungraceful struggle, I managed to get up on the horses’ backside. Now the challenge was to stay on. I’m hardly an equestrian. I felt as if I might slide down the animal’s backside and off his tail at any moment. The warmth of his body felt marvelous under the blanket which draped over me and covered the horse’s sides, forming a sort of tent around my shivering frame.
“Hold to me.” I wrapped my arms around her narrow waist and felt another welcome source of warmth through her clothes—something I could not return, as my own were soaked and cold. I hoped we didn’t have far to go to find shelter.
The horse plodded through the thickly wooded incline. From time to time, I glanced around, fearful of seeing the Yoda yokels bent on recapturing me. I saw only trees, rocks, and more trees in every direction.
We had to duck our heads several times to avoid low-hanging branches. In a particularly thick stand of trees, the horse came to a standstill, and the woman indicated I should get down. I hated to leave the only source of warmth available, but I obeyed, my teeth still chattering.
She dismounted and slapped the animal on the rear. “Git!” The horse obediently trotted off.
I followed her to a pile of brush, which she pulled away to reveal a low opening hidden at the bottom of a rock wall. I had to crawl inside on hands and knees. The woman used a leafy branch to wipe out foot prints behind us, then pulled the brush back over the entrance, making it invisible from the outside. She lighted a candle and motioned for me to follow.
We crawled through a narrow, winding passage between rock walls before we could stand inside a larger room, where I saw a cooking pot and a tiny camp stove, blankets and other supplies.
“Take off your wet clothes,” she ordered, handing me a dry blanket.
Soon I was wrapped in the rough fabric and hovering beside the stove, soaking up the warmth it provided.
“You came along at just the right time. Are you my guardian angel?”
“I am Cheghita, the eagle. I am of the Ponca tribe.”
“You’re a Native American!” I was delighted that she was not one of the Yoda group. “What are you doing here? I didn’t know Missouri had any Indians still living in the hills.”
“I live in the canyon. I come here to this cave to fast and pray for my people.”
“Your people? You have tribal members in the canyon?”
“Long ago there were Oto, Ponca, Kansas, Quapaw, and Missouri tribes. Now most are gone or of mixed blood. Our children don’t practice the old ways anymore.”
“The Indians who keep our ways are the very old ones. Some holy men from tribes in Arizona and New Mexico still go to the mountains to pray, but they are few. In Missouri they are even fewer.”
While she talked she poured hot water into a tin cup filled with roots and berries. She handed it to me. The fragrance was pleasant. I hesitated only a moment. My experiences with drug-laced draughts had made me overly cautious, however there was something about Cheghita that inspired trust. Time had etched deep lines on her passive features. Her pleated lips did not smile, yet there was something wise about her stern features. She reminded me of Sofronia, a Cajun woman I’d once met in the bayous of Louisiana.
“Drink. It will warm you,” she urged.
The tea tasted of berries and spices. Delicious warmth ran down my throat to my middle. My shaking began to subside.
“Thank you,” I inwardly thanked God for sending my rescuer.
“You have been running from those who see things.” Cheghita stated rather than asked.
“Yes, that’s right. What do you know about them?”
The old woman pulled her blanket more tightly around narrow shoulders. “Since the time of the Turtle, there have always been those who see things. But this dark group looks to things that are shadows. Evil things that lie. The understanding of their minds is darkened.”
She lowered her voice to a half whisper. “The Creator has given spirits to all creatures. Some spirits are not meant to live in this world. Whoever sees them, and continues to see them, also does not wish to live in this world after a time.”
I was fascinated by her explanation and her remarkable knowledge of things spiritual. Unlike many gullible people, she recognized areas of hidden danger in that realm.
“I believe you are quite right, but how do you know this?”
She shrugged. “The eagle knows.”
“Will they find us here?”
“They will try. They are looking for you now.”
I shuddered, knowing it was so. The NASA scientist who thought he was a reincarnated Atlantean. The counselor who believed she was one of an elite group chosen by star people to experience alternate realities. Those who had fallen for distortions of truth that was not truth, despite their education.
“Cheghita, you are a breath of fresh air.” I felt greatly relieved. “The most reasonable person I’ve met on this mountain. I’m so glad you found me! You’ve saved my life, you know.”
She looked into the bottom of her tin cup, staring with eyes focused on a faraway place. She drew in several deep breaths and shuddered, closing her eyes.
After a moment, she chanted softly in what I took to be a native song. Her eyes remained closed as she began to speak once more.
“You have survived the circles of earth and wind. You must beware the third circle. The circle of fire. It reaches out to wrap around you.”
I stared at her with sudden dread. What had she just said? Had I spoken too soon? Was the old woman a tribal soothsayer or something?
She rocked back and forth, chanting again in an odd monotone devoid of melody. My mind grasped at her words. Circle of earth. Okay, I’d been in a cave with Zeke and managed to find a way out. Circle of wind. Could that possibly refer to the tornado I survived in Lesley’s camper?
“What is the third circle, Cheghita?” I couldn’t imagine anything more frightening than what I’d already been through, and that scared me.
She rocked from side to side, chanting softly. At last she opened her eyes. They were surprisingly blue. I would have expected any Native American’s eyes to be brown.
“Cheghita, can you tell me what the third circle is?”
She blinked. “The Great Spirit is protecting you.”
I was glad she believed that, even though I wasn’t at all certain about her belief system. Protecting me? Yes, looking back on my last few days, I had to believe God was protecting me on every step of this bizarre journey.
The vague memory of a tall warrior figure dressed much like a gladiator drifted across my memory page. Where had he come from? A drugged-dream state? Or had he been something more?
“You rest. Dry your clothes. I will find your boot.” She rose up and turned to leave.
My heart skipped into fast gear. “Cheghita, don’t leave me.”
“You are safe here. If the dark ones come, they will not see.”
Did she think we were invisible? She could probably camouflage herself amid the trees, but what about our tracks? What if the Yoda bunch found her first? Forced her to bring them to me?
“They will not find me.”
The woman took a candle and left the chamber. The light cast moving shadows on the stone walls of the passage.
Well, Kaytie, here you are in another cave.
Five thousand caves in Missouri and I’d managed to land in two of them. Would there be others?
I’d left the oversized jacket, sodden and heavy, behind at the stream. Perhaps the cultists would find it and think I had drowned. I draped my wet jeans and blouse over rocks nearer to the camp stove, hoping to dry them out more quickly. I wanted to be fully dressed in case someone arrived other than Cheghita. Then I huddled inside the blanket and finished sipping the root tea. The temperature of the cave was several degrees warmer than outside. I grew comfortably warm.
Where were Dax and Zeke?
By now they had managed to hike down the mountain. Sheriff Tom would have formed a search party. Still, they had a huge area to search. My bird’s-eye view from the trees had been disheartening. No sign of habitation. I was in the mountains—actually just big hills rising up with dips and hollows between, like a flat blanket shoved and rippled into long ridges. Maybe this was part of the Mark Twain National Forest Preserve. Lesley’s four-wheeler tracks were probably visible, but for how long after the rain?
What about the Yoda yokels who’d been at the cabin? How did they travel? Beam down from an alien craft? Had they arrived on four-wheelers like Zeke’s? Had they come in other vehicles? They must have followed a road or some kind of trail.
Zeke would know how to find me. He was familiar with the woods, trails and caves. He’d traveled these hills since childhood. I told myself he would lead my rescuers straight to this place. To this secret cave.
It dawned on me with sudden fear that Zeke wouldn’t know to look for me in this hidden cave. It was probably miles from where he usually roamed.
Cheghita might be the only human alive who knew its location. I’d simply have to depend on her to get me back to civilization.
The camp stove, fueled by oil, radiated warmth and thankfully put out little smoke for searching eyes to see. A pleasant drowsiness came over me, and I gave in to the urge to sleep and rejuvenate tortured nerves. I dreamed of a rescuer lifting me in strong arms and carrying me to safety. He looked a lot like Dax Larue. In my dreams, I did not turn away from the warmth of his arms.
My candle had burned low when I woke with a start, warm but stiff from lying on the bed of stone. Glancing around the chamber, I saw no sign of Cheghita. She must have had time to go to the stream and get back by now. What if something had happened to her, and she wasn’t coming back? My mind conjured up all sorts of possibilities, none of them pleasant for her, or for me. What if she had suffered an injurious fall, or she’d been nabbed by the Yoda group? Even now, they might be torturing her to give away my hiding place. What if they were coming for me this very moment?
I sat up and checked my clothes. Dry enough. I slipped them on and turned my body to toast the areas which were still damp, then looked for another way out of the chamber. My last experience in a cave had taught me there was usually more than one entrance. Lighting another candle, I stood up to examine my surroundings.
The ceiling was dark and very high overhead. I thought I could see tiny bats hanging upside down. Ugh! Candle light barely reached the darkened upper recesses. If there had been an exit above, the walls were too smooth to climb.
I walked the circumference of the stony chamber and examined shadowy recesses. I had almost given up when I found it. Low down next to the floor, I felt a cool draft of air. Sure enough, a small depression under the rock wall, maybe just large enough to squeeze through. A tunnel to another chamber? I didn’t want to crawl inside and risk another freefall such as Zeke and I had experienced. This time there might not be a pool of water or a ledge to break the slide.
Leaning down, I held the candle inside. The tunnel was visible several yards ahead, appearing to widen into a narrow passage.
Since I had no idea how long Cheghita had been away, I decided it might be wise to explore the route, just in case. I got down on my knees and squeezed into the hole. It was tight. Crawling was difficult while holding a candle in one hand. At one point I was ready to give up, fearing my panting breath would extinguish the flame. I didn’t want to be in a claustrophobic place in the dark. Then the passage widened and I crawled out into a larger chamber.
Like the other cave, this one was filled with frozen stone-sickle formations made of whorls and delicate stalagmites. Colors reflected off geodes on the walls, beautiful and fascinating. But was there an exit? I didn’t want to find myself trapped here.
Cheghita? I dared not call out her name.
Shadows and candlelight flickered inside the tunnel. Someone was coming!
I froze, unable to run, helplessly waiting to see friend or foe.
“Beans,” the old woman crawled out and stood up on unsteady knees.
“Cheghita! You frightened me.”
“Beans,” she repeated.
“Beans?” I blinked unknowingly.
“Come, we will go back and eat by the camp stove. It’s night. No one will come.”
The crawl back through the tunnel was much easier than before.
Cheghita had a can of beans warming on the stove. She took a piece of round, flat bread and emptied half the beans on top of it, chalupa style.
I bit into it. Ummmm. When you’re famished, the simplest food tastes delicious.
“Okay, now what?” I asked after we finished the meal.
“We will not sleep. They will wait until sunrise to look for you. We must be gone by then.”
Gone by sunrise. I liked the plan.
“How do you know of these people? How do you live? What do you do?”
“I live in the canyon. I have worked at the Tourist Center since my husband died eight years ago. Our community is little more than a few trailers and shacks. Some make arts and crafts to sell to the tourists. It’s not part of the forest preserve.”
“I had no idea there was an Indian village in these hills.”
“No village. Some of the old ones tried to keep it so. Most people know very little of us. Our young ones go away to find work. The smart ones choose to get an education. Others go to the casinos of Missouri and Oklahoma for jobs. Then they gamble away what little they earn. Those who remain in the canyon often turn their trailers into meth labs. They bring trouble on us. That is why I come here to fast and pray.”
I saw the sadness in her eyes. I felt certain she had seen many sorrows over the years.
“Who do you pray to?”
“From ancient days, the Indian tribes have known there is a Creator, the Great Father of spirits.”
“Oh yes! The Creator. The Lawgiver. And do they know He has a son?”
“Yes. His Son was a healer.”
Cheghita blinked without surprise.
“My people were told of a healer, hundreds of years before the white man came.”
“Who did they believe this healer was?”
“Our story-tellers, the medicine men and holy men say that he was not a red man. They say he was a white man. Others say he was not flesh, but spirit. He came to the land of the Great Turtle long ago and taught our tribes the law of love and to respect Mother Earth.”
I was fascinated by her story. How could the Indians have known of a white healer even before the arrival of the Europeans?
“Did this man have a name?”
“Yes. You know Him as Jesus.”
I felt a thrill of astonishment.
“Jesus? Your ancestors believed they were visited by a spirit healer named Jesus?”
“When I was a small child, the old ones spoke the name ‘Jesus.’ He was known to the Cherokee and to the Apache tribes. Hundreds of tribes in North and South America and even the South Pacific have ancient legends of a white-skinned, bearded lord. He had many names. They say that two thousand years ago, he traveled among the villages, teaching the tribes to live in peace and healing the sick. The Cheyenne called Him Wakea. The Hopi called Him, Pahana, the lost white brother.”
“Lost white brother. . . is there a written record of these stories? Or are they handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation?”
“Both. I have studied books which tell of them. The Spaniards destroyed many written records, but not all. The Toltecs, Aztecs, and also the Incas have ancient writings. Their seers foretold of three ships landing on their shores on April, 22, 1519. The people on the ships were white, bearded men in metal clothes, carrying thunder rods which killed from a distance. History books confirm that the Spaniard Cortez landed on that exact day. They thought he was their god. They soon learned that he came as a destroyer, not a healer.”
I listened, growing more and more excited.
“The seer warned our tribes of bearded men who would kneel under a great cross. He promised that if those men were true to the symbol’s meaning, there would be no need to fear, but only if they were true to the symbol.”
“Tell me more,” I begged. “I never knew of these prophecies.”
Cheghita paused and turned weary eyes toward me.
“The Toltecs called the white god, Kahtee-Zahl. I will recite for you the prophecy given by him:
Yet too many bearded men are children of war. They speak my precepts but their ears do no listen. They use ever more powerful weapons, until they reach for one which is ultimate. To use that weapon is to make man over, reaching into the heavens for the Godhead. This is not man’s decision and man should not presume to think for all things. That is to mock the Almighty. Woe to those who do not listen. There are lamps beyond that which you are burning. Roads beyond this which you are treading. Worlds beyond the one you are seeing. Be humble before the might of the Great Hand which guides the stars within their places. There are many lodges in my Father’s kingdom, for it is more vast than time and more eternal.”
These last few words were startlingly similar to the scripture. I had to wonder if indeed the Holy Spirit had imparted these words to the ancient Indian prophets.
Were they His sheep, spoken of as ‘others, not of this fold?’
“This is so amazing. You are well read Cheghita. I never knew the Indian prophets were so closely aligned with those of the Bible.”
“I am a seeker of truth. Our children have forgotten. From the oldest of my people, I learned stories of the past and prophecies of the future, but our children regard them only as stories. They scoff and turn away. Few are left to pass on the ancient wisdom. Yet the old ways are not just stories.”
I watched the sadness in her eyes turn to wonder.
“When I was a young child, my mother never took me to a doctor. All my brothers and sisters visited a healer whenever we were sick. Three times I was at the point of death, and the healer made me well. Today, our people go to the Indian clinics where they must wait for weeks, or even months, to see a doctor. Sometimes they are not treated until it is too late.”
I sat in thoughtful silence, aware that she felt a great injustice to her native people. Finally, I asked, “What do you know of those people who see things that are not true?”
“There are many spirits. Some of them are deceitful. In the nineteen nineties, an Ogallala Sioux holy man listened to the wrong voice. Such stories as he told are what the dark people hear.”
“What kind of stories?”
“He said each Native American tribe has star-people ancestors. The star people would return to Santa Fe, New Mexico in the 1990s. He was wrong. We are not children of star people. My people know the Father of Spirits is our Creator. Sioux Man believes the Star Nations must come here to help because the end of time is coming soon. Men have become sick with ego, greed, and the desire for pleasure. That part of his vision is true.”
So, here we had another contactee repeating the same message that earth’s population is an experiment by star people. How widespread that message has become and how it continues from generations past. A strong deception already in place.
“I see. These Native American seers are not always accurate. Like mediums from the past, Edgar Cayce and Jeanne Dixon, they have made errors.”
She listened, her intelligent eyes absorbing my words.
“Cheghita, I don’t want to put my trust in a source of half-truths and mistakes. Some seers tell lies, themselves deceived. How do you know what is truth?”
She remained silent.
“Do you ever read the Bible?” I asked.
“I have read some pages of this white man’s book, but I don’t understand it.”
Her seeking heart gladdened me. “The Bible is the book written by the Creator for all nations, tribes and peoples, not just the white man. It tells of His plan for all of us, and the history of our world from the beginning to the end. It contains all the truth we need to live by.”
“You speak of sure words. There are many words of prophecy since time began.” She turned her blue eyes toward me, full of honest seeking.
“Yes, that’s true. Since ancient times, there have always been seers, mystics, and prophets. Most of their information contains half-truths or cryptic messages, and much is inaccurate. If you want to know truth, you can find it in the pages of the Bible. Every ancient prophecy concerning Jesus’ first coming was fulfilled with complete accuracy. Some of these prophecies were made thousands of years before His birth. No seer, apart from the Bible’s prophets, has ever predicted that far ahead without error. That’s one way we can know that God is God. He declares the end from the beginning and it comes to pass.”
Cheghita startled me with a question. “One of the Bible prophets, Joseph, was an interpreter of dreams. You are a follower of Bible teachings. Can you do this too? For me? Can you tell me the meaning of a dream?”
Wow. A tall order. Could I? What had Joseph said to Pharaoh? “It is not in me, but God shall give the interpretation to your dream.”
I serve the same God as Joseph, I told myself. “I cannot interpret dreams, but I know the One who can. Tell me your dream.”
“I saw myself riding a war pony. The dream was so real I could feel the pony’s flank’s heaving under my legs and hear his panting, snorting breath. I joined others, both white and red men. Although I could not see their faces, I sensed they were all my people. We were fighting together against a great enemy—fierce warriors, brutal and strong with war paint on their faces. They killed numbers of my people. I fell and was taken captive.”
I could see that her dream disturbed her greatly.
“These warriors hurled me into a deep pit filled with cold, black water. They stood in a ring around the edges of the pit. Whenever I tried to climb out, they shoved me back with spears. They were laughing and tormenting me. It was great sport for them. I could not escape. My arms and legs grew heavy in the water, and I knew I would soon drown.”
Cheghita shut her eyes. Her voice remained impassive.
“Then a Great Brave on a white horse rode into their midst. He offered his life for mine. The warriors pulled me from the water. I turned to see my rescuer. They tied his hands. He walked to the edge of the pit, and they threw him in with a loud cry of victory. I sensed that his life was far more valuable to them than mine. Who was I but a mere squaw in their eyes? I walked out of the enemy camp. When I woke up, I remembered the dream and longed to know its meaning. Even more, I longed to know the warrior’s name who took my place. Can you tell me?”
I breathed a silent prayer for help.
“The one who gave his life for yours is Jesus. He freely offered his life as a ransom for you, and for many others throughout the world.”
“Jesus? But I saw him perish in the water. A spirit does not perish.”
“Jesus died in a body of flesh, over 2000 years ago. You already know that we have a Creator who is the Lawgiver and Father of spirits. The Sioux prophet spoke true words when he described how man has become filled with greed and the lust for pleasure. That’s the sin nature in us. We need a Savior to ransom our lives from the Great Enemy of our souls who wants to destroy not only our bodies but our spirits as well.”
Was I telling her too much doctrine? I didn’t want to confuse her. I could see a light of understanding in her clear blue eyes.
“The warrior in your dream chose to die in your place to pay the penalty for sin and save your life. He is the son of God, who came to earth with a physical body. His death made it possible for you to live a new life, filled with the spirit of God instead of the spirit of selfishness.”
She considered my words. I waited, hoping she would ask me a question.
“There is something else I did not tell you. When I was a small child I fell into a creek and was drowning in the water. Nobody heard my cries for help. I struggled until I sank under the surface three times. Then my spirit rose up through a long corridor. I came to a place of great light and peace. The same brave warrior I saw in my dream was standing there with outstretched arms. I saw many people pass through him into a Great Beyond. They did not go around him, but went through his body. I marveled at this. Then I heard a voice like many waters. Moments after this voice spoke, I was drawn back down to my body, where hands grasped me and pulled me out of the water.”
She offered me another challenge. “I will know your God is the One who interprets dreams if you can tell me what the voice said.”
Without hesitation, I heard the words rise up on the inside of me. “I am the way, the truth and the life. I am the door. No man comes to the Father but by Me.”
Her eyes grew wide when I spoke those words aloud. She exclaimed, “Yes! That is what he said. But what does it mean?”
“It means that if you want your spirit to live eternally with God, the Father of spirits, instead of as a slave to the Great Enemy, you must come to Jesus, your lost white brother. You do this by recognizing He gave His life as a ransom for yours. Ask Him to forgive you for breaking the Father’s laws. Ask Him to give you a new spirit joined to His.”
“How does this happen that I would get a new spirit?”
“I can’t explain it. I only know it is true. You have only to ask and you will receive.”
“Then I owe my life to this Jesus? Why would he give up his life for mine?”
“Because the Creator loves you and wants you for His own. He wants to set you free from the one who would destroy your soul.”
Cheghita sat in silence for a long moment, considering my words. “You speak with sure words. I have followed many paths for many years to find truth. My grandmother told me it starts with self. I have seen the ‘self’ of mankind. It leads only to selfishness. If men follow this Jesus, will they be free of self?”
“We are never free from the selfishness of sin, but if we follow Jesus, we will be free from the power of sin and death.”
I prayed the Holy Spirit would speak truth to her heart.
“Does Jesus also speak of the time of the end?”
“Yes, the end of time is coming. Even lying spirits know this. But we don’t have to fear. We aren’t appointed to wrath. God has made a way of escape for those who are children of the light. That’s all the future we need to know. This other stuff about cosmic oneness and star people coming to our rescue is junk. You already know this, deep in your heart.”
“The dark ones have believed a lie. I feel the evil around them. From you, I feel no lies. Only truth and peace.”
“That’s because there is a spirit of error and a spirit of truth. The spirit of truth always agrees with God’s word. It is the standard. The measure.”
I reached into my mind for an example. “Let’s say you’re a carpenter, and you need to know how long to cut a board. You have a ruler to measure the exact length. Twelve inches in a foot, three feet in a yard, etcetera. All carpenters use standard measurements, so the work is completed perfectly. But what if one carpenter decides instead to use eight inches as a foot, or fourteen inches? He’s using a different standard and his work will not be accurate.”
She listened to my words, absorbing and pondering.
“Cheghita, the Bible is God’s standard for truth. He’s the Master Carpenter, building a temple of our lives, and He’s given us the proper measure as a standard of truth to live by. If we use any other standard, we will not be acceptable.”
“I will read this Bible,” she announced.
That’s when we saw the flashlight’s beam reflecting off the cave’s walls.
“Go! Hide quickly!” Cheghita urged.