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The Mystery of John Brown’s Cave, Harpers Ferry West Virginia: A True Story

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Part VII

Looking down at the footprint of light, I noticed that the pile of rubble was directly below the reflection of light. Curious, I began to probe the detritus in the pile of rubble, within the footprint of light. As I hurriedly clawed my way through the detritus, a human skull revealed itself. Shocked at the sight, I yelled, fell down, then ran away from the pile, breathing heavily.

“Everything all right up there? Tom yelled from below.

“You’re scaring me! Is everything all right?”

“No worries,” I lied. “Just tripped is all.”

As I picked through the detritus, a whole skeleton emerged. The hat and clothes were long-since rotted off the person whose bones I was examining. But my feeling of fear faded, replaced with a distinct calm. It was almost as if the skeleton wanted me there, wanted to be discovered, wanted someone, finally, to be present, to participate in whatever last rites had been denied this poor fellow at the time of his death. Honestly, I felt that I had been guided to this chamber, deep in the mountain, for a reason. With my lighter flickering for lack of butane, I dusted the skeleton off and propped him up on the makeshift throne, and then said a prayer to guide his tortured soul on its way. That’s when I noticed a leather saddlebag, on the floor, to the side of the human skeleton. The leather was weathered, but unlike the clothes, not fully destroyed. It was covered with dust, and dirt. As I picked it up and held it to the light, I read the words “U.S. Armory” written on the front of bag.

Then suddenly, everything made sense, it all fell into place. I knew then, just as I know to this day, the man that the skeleton belonged to was one of the survivors from John Brown’s Raid at the Harpers Ferry Armory.

My Zippo lighter was no longer working, so I would have to climb down in the dark. But I knew, when I left the skeleton, and backed carefully across the ledge from the opening to the domed room, the same unseen presence that guided me up the shear wall in the dark would guide me safely back down to the floor of the cavern.

When I got to the bottom of the shear wall, Tom was there with one torch. I told him what I had found in the small room. He listened and laughed, incredulous that we had stumbled onto what would shed new light, and a final chapter in the John Brown story.

Always thinking ahead, Tom re-lit the spare torch that he had extinguished after I crawled into the domed room. He handed me the torch, and we made our way toward the entrance of the cave that was at least ¼ mile away.

As we approached the narrow passageway where we would have to duck-waddle toward the entrance, we rested. It had been a long day. Both of us were silent, as we thought about what we had experienced this day. As we looked toward the entrance, we could see the orange glow of the setting sun, just as it dropped over the horizon.

Then we heard a frightening sound, like the rush of water. It got louder and louder before we realized that it was the bats, dropping from their silent roost to venture out into the dark to hunt for food. They were coming directly toward us.

“Look out! Tom yelled as he pushed me down into the muddy path. It was a horribly dangerous situation; about one thousand bats pushing into the narrow passageway, where we were already taking up space. We were directly in the path between the bats and their next meal. All I remember, as I lay facedown in the mud, was that I wanted this experience to end… But it didn’t end. The bats kept coming -- hundreds of them. It was the battle of the cave bats. Their wings brushed our hair, and eventually some of the bats landed on us. Tom quickly pulled some of the bats off me, and I picked some off of him. Eventually we beat the bats with our torch sticks. The torches went out. Then finally it was over. We duck-waddled through the dead bats that had run into us, out into the night.

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