The Cave of Sorrow -
03-23-2012, 06:31 PM
Criss Angel, famous magician, escape artist and Las Vegas' most notorious daredevil, reveled in the adulation his fans, the Loyal as they called themselves, gave him, taking time from his busy schedule to sign autographs, pose for pictures, and perform impromtu magic tricks on the street or in the lobby of the Luxor Hotel and Resort for their amusement. They, in turn, proclaimed their undying love of him through art, whether it was on paper, clothing or skin, or in writing, both in print and electronic; cyberspace was zooming with photos of him taken by those lucky enough to possess one. His live shows were sold out for months at a time, and every new episode of his television series, MindFreak, was eagerly anticipated. Many who saw his escapes, "denomstrations" he called them, considered him Houdini reincarnated.
Even his detractors had to admit he had a certain allure that was incomprehensible to them. Despite every effort to discredit him, his popularity never seemed to grow less. Of course, there were those right-wing extremists who blackened his name with accusations of witchcraft and devil-worship, even going so far as to call him the Anti-Christ himself, but they were few compared to those hundreds of ordinary people who had actually seen Criss Angel on television, on stage, or in person on the street. Wherever he appeared, performing everything from a simple card trick to a death-defying escape, more and more people were convinced beyond all unconvincing that Criss Angel could work miracles. Those lucky enough to actually meet him found not a devil but a friendly, affable man who spoke with a New York dialect backed by a mischevious sense of humor.
The Loyals loved Criss Angel, and he loved them in return, grateful for their devotion through good times and bad. When his mother fell ill with a heart ailment, the Loyals prayed for her recovery. When his divorce proceedings became public, they stood by him without question. His triumphs were their triumphs; his pain, theirs. And all they asked for in return was a few moments of his precious time to touch him, speak with him just to hear his voice, and for a small souvenir of their encounter to treasure forever. Despite his busy schedule, he did his best to oblige them. He knew that they were the reason for his fame and fortune; without them, he was just another card-shuffling conjuror from Long Island.
But there were times when Criss needed to withdraw from his worshipful fans and be alone with his thoughts. The Presidential suite at the top of the Luxor was supposed to be his own private sanctuary, but when overeager Loyals started camping out at the front doors, he was forced to move to a different one in the side buildings. But even that failed to give him the solitude he sought; living in a hotel, even one as luxurious as the Luxor, had its disavantages: guests came and went, which meant he was spotted in the corridors coming and going from his rooms. Many times he felt like a bird in a gilded cage, unable to be alone in public. To achieve fame for his art, he had sacrificed his privacy.
In desperation, he would ride one of his custom motorcycles into the Nevada desert, feeling the wind on his face as he sped down isolated roads and highways. It felt good to ride; the sheer exhilaration of escaping the pressures of his career thrilled him to the core. Sometimes he veered from the road and raced his bike through the desert itself, churning up clouds of dust as if creating a smoke screen to discourage the world with all its problems from following him. No ringing phones, no one badgering him for an autograph or a card trick, just himself and the elements. In the desert, he could be human again.
On one such excursion, Criss was tearing through the desert toward a large mesa when he stopped before the mouth of a small cave, just big enough to crawl through. Curious, he shut off the engine of his motorcycle, pulled off his goggles, dismounted, and walked over to look inside. The midafternoon sun did little to illuminate the interior of the cave, so he went back to his bike, took out a small emergency flashlight from his saddlebag, and returned to his exploring, scanning the dark cavern with the tiny beam of the flashlight for anything of interest.
No treasure, no bones, nothing but rocky walls and empty space. The interior seemed larger than the entrance, so Criss crawled inside, still scanning the walls with his little flashlight. There was just enough room to kneel in or sit down, but not to stand; Criss had to remain on his hands and knees, keeping his feet close to the mouth of the cave so as not to get lost or disoriented. He kept his crash helmet on to protect his head from bumps and scrapes from the rocky ceiling above. The air was hot and stale, making him sweat. All the while he fought off feelings of claustrophobia, reminding himself that the exit was right behind him.
He was about to give up and back out of the cave when something on the far wall caught his eye. He drew his flashlight up to it. There, in the back of the cave was a man-made carving of some sort. His claustrophobia forgotten for the moment, Criss examined it carefully. From what he could make out, it was a disc with wavy lines eminating from it, presumably representing the sun. Humanoid stick figures lined up below it, poised in supplication to it. Below the carving was a shelf about a foot wide chiseled out of the rock; it was too symmetrical to be a natural formation, he observed. He ran his fingers along the rock-shelf, feeling the smoothness of its surface. When he withdrew his hand he saw it was sooty and black. Was it some sort of altar where they offered burnt sacrifices to the sun god? Probably. Criss knew animal sacrifices were pretty common in ancient times. Cruel, yes, but common.
Criss wiped his hand on his fashionably frayed jeans and retreated from the cave by crawling out backwards. The hot desert air was refreshing compared to the stifilng atmosphere inside; he breathed deeply, glad to be out in the open again. Still, it had been a thrilling discovery: he wondered if he was the first to find this little cave, or had some other explorer been there before him. He hoped for the former--that would be so cool! Imagine, he, Criss Angel, famous illusionist, making such a historical discovery! The press would have a field day--
His thoughts of fame and glory came to a crashing halt, replaced by fear and wonder. Before him stood an ancient Indian (though they weren't called Indians any more, they were Native Americans) in a finely tanned buffalo hide robe painted with arcane symbols. He wore no feathered headdress like in the movies, but his long white hair was braided with small bone talismens. An agate set in a finely worked silver amulet hung from his scrawny neck, and he carried with him a carved wooden staff with brown feathers dangling from the top. He wore a grave expression on his withered face, and his dark eyes were fixed squarely on Criss, who could only stand there, dumbfounded. Was it a man, he wondered, or a ghost? "Wh-who are you?" he stammered.
"How have you offended?" he spoke in a sepulchral tone.
Criss was as bewildered as he was frightened. "Huh?" was all he could get out.
"How have you offended?" the buffalo-robed figure repeated.
"I-I don't understand," Criss stammered. "Who are you, anyway?"
The white-haired native pointed to the small cave with his feathered staff. "You entered the Cave of Sorrow," he explained in the same eerie voice. "How have you offended?"
The Cave of Sorrow? What the hell is that? he wondered silently. And why did this creepy guy keep asking him how he had offended? Maybe he had been trespassing on sacred ground when he went in? Yeah, maybe that was it. The guy was (bleeped) off about him going into his sacred cave. Criss pulled himself together and said, "Look, I'm sorry if I desecrated your sacred Cave of Sorrow or whatever you call it, but I was, well, I was just curious to see what was inside. I really meant no harm."
The old native remained expressionless. "You have not offended me," he intoned.
Criss exhaled deeply. "Well, that's a relief," he mumbled under his breath.
"And you know nothing about the Cave of Sorrow," the old native continued.
"No," Criss admitted, shaking his head. "Nothing. This is the first time I've been here."
The native stepped forward. "I am Medicine Man," he said, his face expressionless as ever. "In life, I was shaman to my tribe, called upon to heal, to read signs and omens, and to guide youth to adulthood. I alone contacted the spirit world for the benefit of my people. I also judged guilt or innocence to those who offended the customs of our tribe. Now, I have become the guardian spirit, the avatar of the Cave of Sorrow. For many, many moons I have watched over it, to guide those who have offended to atonement."
Again, he pointed to the cave with his staff. "The Cave of Sorrow is for those who have offended to retreat and think upon their actions. Some go in of their own free will, others are commanded to do so. They go in, fast, and think of how they had offended, and how to make amends."
"How long do they stay in there?" Criss asked.
"As long as it is necessary to atone for their wrongdoing," Medicine Man replied. "Sometimes it is a day, sometimes several days, sometimes a full circle of the moon. But all who go in leave an offering to the Sun God when they are ready to return to the tribe and make amends.
Well, that explains the soot on the altar, Criss thought. "What do they offer to the Sun God?"
"Whatever they think is pleasing to him: corn, meat, beads, or anything of value that would serve as a sacrifice of atonement."
"Oh, I see," Criss mumbled, nodding his head.
"And now you know the purpose of the Cave of Sorrow."
"Yes, now I know, and I am sorry to have trespassed upon such a sacred site," Criss apologized. "I promise not to come here again."
"The Cave of Sorrow is for all who have offended," Medicine Man told him. "If you have offended, you must come here, fast, and think upon your wrongdoing. The Sun God shines upon good and evil alike. Do not fear it. It is there for your benefit."
"Amen to that," Criss muttered under his breath. "Uh, well, it's been nice talking to you," he said to the shaman nervously, "but I got to get going now. Thanks for the history lesson. Later."
With that, he jumped onto his bike and jammed the kick-starter harder than he needed to. The motorcycle roared into life. Before he turned around to ride back home, he lifted his eyes toward the spot where Medicine Man was standing. The trouble was, that spot was empty.