The spiral eyes of the clifftop petroglyph gazed oblivious out to sea. They hadn’t changed over the past few hours, the past few centuries. They weren’t here to answer my questions.
I pulled out my camera, snapped a lens into place, and set it for a close shot, hoping the light would do. I squinted up at the afternoon sun, then past the rocky point of the Caviness estate, trying to figure angles, figure east and west. Usually I had a strong sense of direction, but here on the island I kept getting turned around, my internal compass off kilter.
Crouching in front of the petroglyph, I focused my camera on the crudely carved face. I kept seeing his face, feeling the heat lapping off his bare skin as he sat close on the Jeep tailgate. Feeling his presence somehow here with me now, a shadowy lodestone pulling the compass needle into an erratic spin.
Victor Manden? “Animal magnetism?” I shuddered. Gripping the camera firmly, I sighted into it, narrowing my focus to the petroglyph. I shot carefully from different angles.
Slanted sunlight broke through a gap in the trees, outlining the incised face with shadow and intensifying the image. There was no trace of the offerings from the night before, not even the coarse flour, as if they’d been rinsed away. I took a few more shots and moved cautiously to the cliff edge. Glancing down, I recalled the dizzy glimpse of rocks glinting far below in moonlight. Even now in the sun-drenched afternoon, I felt off-balance.
I snapped another shot to capture the glyph’s background, then turned to shoot its view over the sea. The setting for the glyphs often seemed as important as the symbols themselves. Had this watcher witnessed what I’d set out to prove? Had it seen the African traders in their reed boats riding the Atlantic currents to find these islands before Columbus? I wished the stone could find its tongue.
“Be careful what you look for here.” Leon Caviness’s deep voice echoed.
I replaced the camera in its case, took out a piece of white cotton cloth and a box of charcoal sticks. After whisking away grit with a soft brush and taping a finely-woven cloth over the glyph, I rubbed charcoal over the textured surface. A ghostly image took shape. The ancient face appeared on the cloth like a photo negative, incised outlines remaining white. I blew away charcoal crumbs, sprayed the cloth with fixative, and sat back on my heels as it dried.
The sea pummeled the rocks below in a muffled, rhythmic roar. A breeze made it just bearable on the baking rock, fitfully stirring the bushes crowding the cliff. The carved eyes stared through their cotton veil.
Leaves fluttered in an updraft. I shivered, suddenly understanding why the anonymous petroglyph carver had etched the spirit of this place so long ago — a funnel for the power within the stone. For a frozen moment, I was afraid to touch the cloth shroud, fold it up and carry the potent residue of that power.
I hastily detached the cloth, put it in my knapsack, and started to leave, but then something made me hesitate. Scanning the dense foliage behind the carving, I pushed past a prickly bush. Nothing behind it but more brush and vines beneath the tree canopy. I worked my way through to the trunk of the nearest tree. Papery patches of its scaly bark peeled off under my hand.
Hanging from the lowest branch was a small cloth bag wrapped around lumpy objects, tied with a crimson ribbon, and decorated with bloody feathers. A rust-colored smear stiffened one side of the cloth.
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