Jacob and the Last Apostle
Jacob Cavendish held his mother’s hand as they made their way down the long, cool ramp out of the bright sunlight. The crowds of pilgrims, tourists, and thieves threatened to separate him from his devoted mother, but Jacob held firm as he took in the lettering on the walls that led down to the tomb. Engraved into the stone and inlaid with gold, the endless rows of words told the story of the last Apostle, Saint Anna of Prague. At eight, Jacob could read well enough, but between the crush of people, could catch only a few words.
Flower, sleep, celestial palace, home, and others that he glimpsed from between the pushing people.
The crowds pushed Jacob and his mother slowly down the ramp until, finally, they entered the vault. In there, the walls were painted a pure white and recessed lights shone down brightly on the tomb. Jacob had never seen anything like it in all his short life. The sarcophagus itself was made of clear, smooth crystal filled with an amber fluid that suspended the body. Jacob had thought that the body would be all bones and skin, or maybe mummified leather like the ancient Egyptians, but the priests that had preserved the body had kept it in perfect youth. The woman—a young girl, actually—hung suspended in the fluid, resting her head on a column of cables that seemed to penetrate her skull, partially obscured by her jet-black hair. Another set of cables protruded from between the Apostle’s shoulder blades.
Whatever fluid that the priests are pumping into the body must keep it from decaying, Jacob thought as he neared the low rail that separated the crowds from their beloved.
The people pushed forward and Jacob found himself momentarily pressed against the rail, then moved down to the left toward the exit of the tomb, pulled and pushed by the current of bodies. His mother momentarily let go of his hand to make the sign of reverence, and within that moment, many things happened.
At first, the lights in the high ceiling of the tomb grew much brighter. As one, the river of people gasped in pain and shielded their eyes. Jacob felt the many arms around him lift up in unison and then the lights went out. For a moment, there was complete silence. Then someone must have remembered she was far below the ground in a tomb with a corpse and began to scream. Like a virus, panic spread through the crowd and Jacob felt the people surge forward behind him, pushing him over the rail and onto his hands and knees. He tumbled down the slight incline and his head smashed against something smooth and hard. He called out for his mother and tried to scramble back to the railing, but instead found his hands touching the cool crystalline surface of the tomb. Jacob was awash with terror, his mind filled with a vision of the Apostle reaching out for him, now a decayed and hungry corpse instead of the well-preserved young girl. Jacob felt an abyss of terror opening up to swallow him, when the emergency lights flickered on.
A calm voice came through the well-hidden speakers and directed the visitors toward the exit. Jacob looked up and found he was directly under the tomb, gazing at the bundle of wires that held up the Apostle and through her long black hair. The hair moved gently in the amber current, and for a moment, Jacob could see her back through her translucent tunic. There, he saw the outline of what looked like a tattoo. He pushed his face against the crystal, no longer afraid that the body would reach out through the glass and grab him for a snack, peering closely through the slowly shifting cloth. It was a tattoo, but rather than the symbol of a curled, sleeping angel, the sign of the Apostle’s order, common among the priesthood, it looked like…a map! Jacob could make out a grid with numbers at the top and one side, similar to latitudes and longitudes, and the vague shape of a shoreline or mountains, and maybe… But then his view was blocked by the flowing dark hair and from behind him, he heard his mother shout his name.
He tried to get another view of the markings, to no avail. He mother called out again, this time with a note of panic. After all, Jacob was touching the holy of holies, the tomb of the Apostle, and the security guards monitoring it via camera were sure to notice that he had breached the boundary. As Jacob scurried out from under the tomb, he took a last look at the floating Apostle—and saw her hand move. He looked once more and saw the Apostle’s fingers gently curl and relax again. Stunned, Jacob ignored his mother’s shouts, joined now by other pilgrims who had noticed him at the tomb. He heard more shouting as security guards and priests pushed their way through the crowd toward Jacob, but he could not move. He was sealed to the floor, staring at the hand that had moved. He needed to see it move again, or at least determine if the movement was caused by the flowing amber. He heard the guards climbing over the rail, calling for him to step back, but he was transfixed. And then, he saw the delicate fingers of the Apostle slowly close into a fist and open again. Before he could say anything, he was grabbed roughly by the guards and hauled out of the tomb, trailed by his mother, who was promising many nights of severe punishment and a grounding that would last an eternity. But Jacob wasn’t paying any attention to her. Even the fear of what the guards and priests might do seemed distant. The Apostle had moved! And what did the map on her back lead to? These thoughts burned in Jacob’s mind even as the guards, priests, and his mother asked him what had happened.
In the security chief’s office, Jacob told them how the crowd had surged and pushed him over the rail when the lights went out. He carefully left out the parts about the map and the movement of the Apostle, somehow aware that he was forbidden to know such things. He told them how afraid he was and how he thought the Apostle would reach out and grab him. The guards and priests all laughed, and assured him that the Apostle loved him and wouldn’t harm an innocent child such as himself. His mother seemed relieved as the guards and priests assured her that no harm was done and ushered them to the door.
But just as Jacob was about to step through, the High Priest touched his shoulder and Jacob turned to face him.
“Now Jacob, are you sure you did not see anything unusual?” he inquired almost as an afterthought.
Jacob searched the face of the High Priest carefully for clues as to what he was looking for. Seeing something cold and black in the man’s eyes, Jacob knew to keep what had happened to himself.
“No, sir. Nothing. I was too scared to really look at anything other than my mother.”
The priest nodded and his mother smiled and they were on their way. Walking back to the train, his mother spoke softly about the privilege Jacob had experienced in getting so close to the Apostle and actually touching the tomb! Then getting to meet the High Priest! A privileged boy indeed. Jacob thought that he was certainly privileged, but not for the reasons his mother thought. One day he would go back into the tomb and see the whole map. One day he would find out where it led and free the Apostle.