Manny laughed, a deep warm laugh that shook his ample belly and made Brian feel more at ease despite himself. The priest clapped Brian on the shoulder and Brian smiled. Dave grinned.
“Manny, I have to ask a favor,” Dave said.
Manny looked more serious. “You need some of the earth? You sick, Coyote?”
“It’s for Brian,” Dave said. “He’s not sick, but he needs it.”
“This way,” Manny said, once more clapping Brian on the shoulder. They went around behind the pews, moving up the right side of the sanctuary, Manny leading with Brian and Dave following. They passed through a doorway and down a flight of stairs. At the bottom, Brian was surprised to find himself inside a large cavern.
The walls rose several yards above their heads before meeting to form a natural arch, stalactites dangling from the cavern roof. Here and there, stalagmites reached up from the floor towards their mates. Around the stalagmites, the floor had been worn flat and smooth by multitudes of feet. Rows and rows of candles burned along the cavern walls, bathing the chamber in a surreal glow. Several feet away, ringed by stalagmites, a shallow pit, filled with mud, opened in the cavern floor. Drops of water from overhead fell into the depression, keeping it saturated.
Manny leaned over to remove one of his shoes, and Dave began to unlace his own. Brian shrugged, doing the same.
“It’s not surprising that the Church would deem this a holy shrine,” Manny said. “Though it was here a long time before there ever was a Church. The Indians have regarded this site as sacred for so long, nobody can remember who first discovered it or when. They say it has been here since the Creation.”
“What is this place?” Brian asked.
“A place of healing,” Manny said. “We have a big closet upstairs, containing dozens of crutches left behind by people who no longer needed them after bathing in the holy earth. We have hundreds of testimonials from people who have been cured of all manner of diseases. I myself once saw a woman come here with her baby, which was already dead. She buried it in the earth for an hour, up to the neck. Then it starts crying, very much alive.”
“You gotta be kidding,” Brian said.
“No. That child is now three. I baptized it. Him, I should say. His name’s Johnnie.”
“What’s in that dirt?” Brian asked.
“Some men from the university took a sample and had it analyzed,” Manny said. “The tests showed it was just dirt.”
“People don’t have the know-how to check for etheric energies,” Dave offered. “They were looking for a physical explanation to the mystery.”
“Us Indians,” Manny said. “We understand perfectly. We know the planet has a spirit. Here, that spirit erupts from the ground like a geyser.”
Dave walked over to the pit, stooped and filled a small leather bag with the earth.
“Some places are focal points for these energies,” Manny said. “Some places, and some people.”
Dave walked back over to them, hung the tiny bag around Brian’s neck by a leather thong. “Voila,” Dave said. “A mini-medicine bag.”
“Okay,” Brian said. “What’s it for?”
“Protection,” Dave said. “A spiritual bullet-proof vest.”
“Protection?” Manny asked.
“So this is what?” Brian said. “Like a force-field or something?”
“A force-field?” Manny said.
“Or something,” Dave said.
“Coyote,” Manny said. “I get the feeling there’s something you have yet to tell me.”