Chapter 14 – The Demonologist

The idea for this investigation came quite unexpectedly. On a Halloween night, my daughter convinced me and her mother of going to an annual event at the Palace of the Dukes, in Guimarães. There, a troupe had transformed the place into a haunted house full of monsters, ghosts, and spooks. It was the end of the show, however, that most captured my attention. It was the staging of an exorcism allegedly ministered to a duchess who lived there.

When I got home, I did some research and found that not only was it based on historical facts, but that it was also rumored that strange events kept occurring in the palace even after the exorcism.

My previous encounters with witches had revealed a clear relationship between them and demons, so I had to investigate this alleged possession in the hope of finally finding the Night Witches.

One weeknight in November, I told my wife I was going to work late and headed to Guimarães and the Palace of the Dukes. Of course, the monument was closed, and there was no one around. I parked and started looking for a way in.

As you would expect, in addition to the guards inside, the place was protected by an alarm system. One of my comrades in Braga’s urban exploration group that called himself “the greatest urban explorer,” as he liked to visit not only abandoned buildings but also some in use and even inhabited, taught me a few ways to get around alarms. I only hoped that my meager knowledge was enough to do it.

However, I ended up not having to use it. Turning the corner to the back of the palace, hidden by trees and greenery, I found that someone had beaten me to it.

A woman who wasn’t more than thirty years old had disabled the alarm and now reached towards a small window almost two meters above the ground. Realizing her difficulty, I approached and said, with a smile:

“Need a hand?”

She looked at me with a mixture of surprise and fear. She was relatively short, just over a meter and a half, and lean. She wore black metal glasses, and her hair was tied in a ponytail.

For a moment, her eyes darted in all directions. Finally, realizing that I wasn’t a policeman or a security guard, she decided not to run away and asked:

“Who are you?”

“I should be the one asking that. Who are you? Why are you trying to break into a national monument? Give me a reason why I shouldn’t call the police.”

“I could give you a reason, but then you wouldn’t sleep soundly ever again. There is more here than what a normal person can imagine.”

“Like demons?”

She stared at me, surprised. That told me that she knew what I was talking about and that, probably, was there for the same reason as I.

After a few moments, she asked:

“Tell me what you know.”

I told her all about the diary, my previous explorations, the Witches of the Night and what took me there.

“One day, I’d like to see this diary “ she said when I finished. “I’ve heard of these creatures that you call Witches of the Night, but I usually focus on demons, and they don’t seem to use them as other witches do. From what you say, maybe I should start taking an interest in them too. It’s my responsibility.”

“Your responsibility? Why?”

“I’m part of an ancient tradition that protects people from demons and their agents. My master and I were responsible for all of northern Portugal.” She looked sadly at the ground “But he passed away, and now I’m alone.”

“Can’t you get help from the Organization?” I asked, for it seemed to me that they had common goals.

“This Organization you speak about only appeared in the last century. Moreover, they are more concerned with hiding the truth than helping people. They have nothing in common with us.” After a short pause, she continued “If we are here for the same reason, maybe you could help me. I’ve opened the window and confirmed that I turned off the alarm. Now I have to start bringing my equipment inside, and I could use a hand.”

I accepted immediately, and she took me to the front of the monument and toward the nearby street. Halfway, after some short introductions, it occurred me to ask:

“How did you learn about this demon? Did you also come here on Halloween?”

“No, I didn’t even know about the event until you told me about it. I have a small cluster that uses data mining techniques to find patterns in the news and other databases that I have access to that might indicate the presence of demons. I found that many of those who visited this palace were then involved in violent crimes. That’s a clear sign of demonic influence.”

We continued walking until she stopped behind a white Ford transit from the late 90s. It had seen better days, since, at various places, the paint had given way to rust, and the lock on the back door was gone and had been replaced by a simple padlock and chain.

The demonologist ran one of the side doors, revealing a cargo space containing an odd mixture of ancient and modern items. Several wooden shelves lined the walls, containing clearly ancient books, religious artifacts of various religions and electronic machines with their components exposed, clearly improvised from various sources. On the floor, there were some larger objects such as a rug with a mandala, a huge menorah and what appeared to be one or more computers connected to a battery.

The demonologist gave me two tall, slim speakers, while she picked up a flat screen and a small tablet that, if my scarce knowledge of electronics doesn’t deceive me, had been built from a raspberry pi.

Once we returned to the rear of the palace, I helped her up the window. Then I gave her all the equipment and finally entered the palace.

As I expected given the small size of the window, we were inside a small room. At the moment, it was empty, but in the past, it was probably used as a cupboard, because there was no room for anything else.

Cautiously, Susana, the demonologist, put her ear to the single door, making sure that there were no guards on the other side. When she was satisfied, she opened it.

The huge room we encountered beyond looked familiar to me. It was there that during the Halloween show, the possessed Countess laid in her bed and where a priest executed the exorcism.

Once I told her that, the demonologist began to inspect every centimeter of the room, using her tablet and an instrument that she took from one of the bags on her waist. It was a lengthy process during which I kept nervously vigilant to avoid being discovered. Once Susana finished, she shook her head, and we decided to proceed.

Thanks to my last visit, I knew that the only other door opened into the central courtyard, where we would be easily seen by the guards, so we decided to go to the upper floor.

Through a narrow staircase with two flights, we reached a corridor with some doors on the right and a room on the other end. Behind the first door, was a collection of assembled armor, while the others housed other medieval artifacts such as books, furniture, and figurines. The demonologist inspected each room but again found nothing.

The same can’t be said of the room at the end of the corridor, however. As soon as we entered, LEDs in Susana’s electronic instrument lit up.

“That’s more like it” she said.

We found ourselves in an empty room with a fireplace built-in on one wall. It could be the real quarters of the Countess.

The demonologist followed the demon’s trail to a second door.

Always following the makeshift instrument indications, we crossed bedrooms, foyers, hallways and even a huge dining room. Finally, when we reached the palace chapel, Susana said, pointing with her chin towards the fully lit LEDs on the machine in her hand and a graphic in the tablet screen:

“It’s here. We have to install the speakers.”

“The guards won’t hear it when we turn it on?” I asked.

“Almost certainly, but we don’t have a choice. We have to cast this demon from here.”

We positioned the columns between the chapel’s benches, facing the altar. Due to an demonologist adaptation, they were powered by batteries, so all it took was one press of a button on her tablet for a cacophony of voices and languages to invade the room.

“It’s a mixture of various Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Taoist prayers used to exorcise demons” explained Susana.

For long moments we stayed there, hoping that the demon would be cast out before one of the guards heard us.

Despite my nervousness, I couldn’t help but admire the chapel. The Halloween show hadn’t included it, so I didn’t get a chance to visit it. Varnished wooden beams held the roof, and huge stained-glass windows filled almost the entire wall behind the small altar. But what impressed me most were the two side podiums, as their distinctly medieval look made me travel back in time.

Suddenly they began to tremble, as did the altar and the seats around me. Seconds later, from the ground, emerged a creature almost as big as me with red skin, two horns, and a sharp nose and chin.

Almost simultaneously, the door behind us opened, giving way to a guard holding a flashlight. The sight of the creature, however, maybe combined with the cacophony coming from the speakers, were too much for him, and the man collapsed onto the last row of seats.

Unlike me, Susana had paid no attention to the guard and advanced toward the demon with the tablet screen turned towards it. At a glance, I saw several images passing through: various religious symbols, excerpts of sacred texts, images of saints and gods. The creature stopped and started screaming.

Slowly the demonologist side-stepped, trying to put the tablet between the demon and the door while taking something from her backpack. However, before she could do it, the creature gave a fearsome roar and jumped through the benches almost to the door. Instinctively, I tried to bar its passage, but it threw me to the ground like I was nothing and left.

“He’s stronger than I was hoping” Susana said, helping me up ”Let’s go.”

We ran out of the chapel and down the stairs to the palace cloister, and from there, we followed the demon outside. We passed several guards along the way, but them, stunned by the sight of the devil or our presence there, didn’t react.

We pursued the creature up the hill on top of which stood the Guimarães Castle. However, midway, next to a small chapel built there, Susana grabbed me by the arm.

“Wait. This demon is very strong. Usually, they can’t escape like it did. I’ll get some stuff from the van and prepare to ambush and trap it in this chapel. Take my tablet, go after him and try to drive it here.”

Before I could answer, she put the tablet in my hands and turned around. On the screen, still passed all kinds of religious images.

Taking a deep breath, I started running through the dirt road leading to the top of the hill and the ruins of the castle, where the demon had entered.

Being the most famous fortress in Portugal, I had already visited it more than once, so I knew it well and could concentrate on finding the creature. The keep, which had been restored, was the only building still standing, but it was closed, so there weren’t many places where the demon could hide. Unless it had some tricks I didn’t know about, of course.

Trying to hold at the same time my pocket flashlight and tablet in front of me, I started looking into every corner, from behind the rubble mounds to the fireplaces and the broken chimneys that went up from them.

After a few moments, I saw something move through the corner of my eye. But when I pointed the light there, I found nothing. It could have been just a cat, but for some reason, I sensed it was something more, so I chased it.

Finally, when I came to a dead end, I saw the demon and held the tablet in its direction. Since I blocked the only escape route, a narrow passage between the wall and the keep, the creature tried in desperation to use its claws to climb the wall. But, realizing that it couldn’t, it charged me, screaming with a mixture of pain and hatred. Again, I was unable to stop it, and he passed me, throwing me to the ground. Fortunately, I recovered quickly and pursued it.

Running as fast as I could, I tried to keep close to it and, with the tablet, lead him to where Susana was waiting. Although it deviated once or twice from the most direct path, I was able to lead it to the small chapel.

Next to the building’s door, waited the demonologist holding another tablet and, who, in the meantime, had built a passage delimited by speakers emitting her prayers mix and a huge monitor that led into the interior.

Realizing her intention, I tried to drive the demon into the trap. It tried to escape, but with the demonologist’s help, I was able to take it to the passage and into the chapel.

As soon as the creature passed the door, Susana sealed it with the huge monitor which showed images similar to the ones on the tablet. Then, she activated the speakers she had placed inside the sacred building. The demon started to scream. First, it threw itself against the walls, as if trying to smash through them then charged toward the door.

Behind the screen, the demonologist took from her backpack a curious object that looked like a water gun, like the ones used by kids, but painted silver and covered with sacred symbols. When the being got within reach, she fired the gun. Various jets of liquid flew toward the demon.

As soon as they hit it, it began to scream even more violently. Susana, however, kept shooting. I noticed then that the creature started melting, as if it had been hit with acid. It gradually disappeared, until all that was left of it was a red puddle on the floor, most of which seeped through the cracks between the funerary slabs that covered the chapel’s floor.

“What do you have in that gun?” I asked, surprised and curious.

“Holy water, anointing oil, water from sacred rivers, water from the Zamzam well, things like that” she explained. “Now we better get out of here before the palace guards recover and come after us.”

And that’s what we did. I helped her carry her stuff to the van and got back to my car, but not before she gave me her contact. This investigation might not have given me new information about the Witches of the Night, but it brought me a new ally in my mission to find and stop them.

Advertisements

Chapter 13 – The Sea Witches

After all I had discovered during my visit to the Tavern of the Enchanted, I wanted more than ever to find the Witches of the Night. As such, in the very next weekend, I decided to investigate another of the diary entries that seemed to be related to witches.

On that Saturday afternoon, when my wife and daughter went to a bookstore for a book presentation, I drove to Barcelos.

The diary entry spoke of several disappearances next to a village in the outskirts of that city, involving a sea eye on the Neiva River near a rock known as the “Penedo da Moira.” Supposedly, on certain nights, women came out of the water and dragged any man they found into the sea eye, never to be seen again. After all I had witnessed, I had no difficulty in believing in moiras, but as they weren’t mentioned in any other part of the diary, I assumed that they were witches.

I arrived at the site in the early afternoon. There were several small ponds where people used to swim in the summer; however, being a cold winter day, there was no one around. I searched immediately for the supposed sea eye. I investigated all the rocks in the area, looking for the “Penedo da Moira” that would tell me which one was the right pond. It took me a while, but I finally found a rock on top of which there was a small hole filled with water, the so-called “Moira’s Footprint.” It was partly within one of the ponds, clearly indicating me that that was the one I was looking for.

Years ago, during a vacation in Greece, I took a diving course to be able to visit some underwater ruins. I had even bought the complete equipment, hoping to use it later to investigate other similar places (which unfortunately never happened). That day, I took it with me and, next to the car, I put it on.

Carefully, I entered the pond, and as soon as the water reached my waist, I dived. The water was clear, so, even in the deeper parts, I could clearly see the bottom. This was made of pebbles and some sand. Unfortunately, after a long search, I found no sign of the sea eye. The pool’s bottom seemed well defined. However, a small depression at its deepest point caught my attention. It seemed out of place because there was no clear current that could originate it, and it was almost four meters below the surface, so it was doubtful it could have been created by swimmers.

I approached it. I took aside a few pebbles and waved away the sand. Once it settled, I found one of the strangest things I’d ever seen. Under the depression, there was only darkness, a darkness that not even the light of my diving flashlight could penetrate. It could only be the sea eye.

Slowly, I dipped my hand in that darkness. To my surprise, it disappeared, but I could move it down there. After a few moments, I realized that there was a tunnel there.

Suddenly, I felt the water moving around me, at first slowly, but accelerating rapidly. I realized then that it was a vortex centered on the dark spot I had just discovered. Instinctively, I tried to fight it; however, seeing that it was stronger than me, I just let it take me. After all, I was there to find out what was on the other side.

I confess that it wasn’t my smartest decision. Shortly after entering the tunnel, I hit my head and lost consciousness.

When I came to, I was in a dark place, but out of the water. I was hurting all over, and I didn’t need to see to know that I had several injuries. Fortunately, nothing seemed to be broken.

I swept the floor with my hands in search of my diving torch, however, when I found it, I discovered that it was completely destroyed. Luckily, my smaller flashlight, that was always with me and that I had put in my shorts’ pocket, underneath the wetsuit, still worked.

Once I turned on the light, I confirmed my suspicions. The wetsuit was torn in few places, and I was bleeding from several cuts. Then, I directed the light to the darkness around me. The first thing I found was a small circular pond beside me, certainly the exit of the sea eye. Immediately after, I spotted walls. Made of huge granite blocks, they stood behind and in front of me, until they disappeared into the darkness. They were so high that my small flashlight could not reach the ceiling.

With nothing else I could do, I got up and started to explore the place. I had walked only a few steps when I found what I feared most, but had already expected: a human skeleton. It certainly belonged to someone like me, who got there through the sea eye but couldn’t get out.

I took a deep breath, trying to calm me down, and forced myself to continue moving forward. More and more skeletons appeared, some wrapped in clothes and wearing jewelry so old that must have been there since the Middle Ages and even the hillfort era. I tried to cheer myself with the thought that I might be able to find something that my predecessors didn’t. After all, among the piles of bones and rags, there wasn’t a single flashlight.

Occasionally, I came across statues and bas-reliefs engraved on the walls representing what I could only describe as demons. They had sharp horns and snouts, long teeth, fins and some even had wings. Their representations varied widely in size, but if that was their true scale or only artistic license, I had no way of knowing.

Finally, I spotted a faint light in the distance. I approached carefully, not knowing what to expect, but a few meters further on, I realized that it was the end of the long structure where I was.

For a moment, I felt relieved, thinking that I had found the exit. However, I soon discovered that it wasn’t the case. The structure was, in fact, open in that direction. However, instead of a way out, there stood the ocean itself.

I approached and discovered that an invisible barrier, certainly magical in origin, prevented the Atlantic waters from entering. And me from leaving. Not that it made much of a difference. Even if I could cross the barrier, I could hardly reach the surface alive. From there, I could see the surface, more than a hundred meters above. Moreover, the likelihood of being found and saved in the ocean when no one was looking for me was minimal.

In desperation, I hit the invisible barrier with my fists and then let myself slide to the floor. For long minutes, I stayed there, resigned to die. Then I remembered my family and decided to go see what was on the other end of the building. I didn’t have much hope, but there could be a way out around there.

I was about to get up when I heard a knock in the invisible barrier. I looked up, and amidst a passing shoal, I saw a young woman in her twenties. She didn’t wear any diving equipment, just a pair of jeans and a blouse that seemed not to affect her buoyancy.

I backed off two steps, not knowing what to expect. Soon after, the woman crossed the magical barrier and came into the building. To my surprise, her clothes looked completely dry.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “I came to get you out.”

“Who are you? Are you one of the Witches of the Night?”

Her face contorted in pain when she heard that name.

“No,” she replied.

“But do you know them? Do you know where I can find them?”

“I don’t know where they are, but I know them, yes. Unfortunately.”

The sadness in her voice made me curious, but I didn’t dare ask. Fortunately, she realized all that and continued:

“My mother and the other Sea Witches died because of them. They came to us for help to destroy a community of sea creatures, a few kilometers off Castelo do Neiva, promising us magic items and other rewards. But once we did what they asked, they attacked us. I only survived because my mother insisted I stay behind. The others are all dead.”

With my curiosity satisfied, my thoughts returned to the place I was in, to how I would get out, and especially to the bones I had found. That woman might not be one of the Witches of the Night, but it seemed that her intentions weren’t exactly benevolent.

“What is this place?” I asked.

“An old temple built by my ancestors, nobody knows exactly when. For centuries, we used the sea eye and illusions to bring human sacrifices here. It was believed that they helped draw the Devil’s and its demons attention and facilitated the casting of spells and curses. My grandmother put an end to it. The disappearances were attracting too much attention. Now, tell me, what is your interest in the Witches of the Night?”

I told her all about my search and the “accidents” that started it.

“If you want to stop them, you can count on my help. Come, I’ll get you out of here.”

I approached. She grabbed me and pulled me through the invisible barrier to the ocean. After a moment of panic, I realized I could breathe underwater.

Through a propulsion method beyond my ken, probably of magical origin, we quickly reached a beach. As soon as I looked up, I saw the towers of Ofir. We were in Esposende.

“Keep looking for the Witches of the Night. If you need help, call me.” The witch told me her phone number, which I repeated in my mind until I memorized it.

Then she returned to the sea and soon disappeared beneath the waves.

I had found another witch enemy of the Witches of the Night. However, at the time, I had more pressing matters to think about. I was alone and more than fifteen kilometers from my car. How would I explain the situation to my wife without revealing the dangerous and frightening parallel world that I had discovered? And my wounds?

I was thinking about all this as I left the beach and stepped into the nearby town.

Chapter 12 – The Tavern of the Enchanted

My first searches for the Witches of the Night had been fruitless. Although I still had other entries about witches in the diary to explore, one day, during lunch break, I remembered another place where I could find more information.

In my first meeting with Henrique Cerqueira, he had told me of another place where the strange creatures that dwell beneath our feet in Braga meet. Its location was probably the only good thing that came from having met the man.

As such, a few days later, after work, I went to the Chinese store, one of the city’s largest, under which the place was supposed to be. I parked the car in the underground park and immediately started looking for the drain grate that would take me to the tunnels below.

I found it hidden behind a column, exactly where Henrique told me it would be. In fact, there was no mistaking it. It was the only one through which an adult man could pass, at least if he wasn’t obese.

I had come prepared with a crowbar and, using it, I managed to remove the heavy iron grate with relative ease. Then I lowered myself into the drainage tunnel.

Dragging myself, I started down the narrow, steep pass. Initially, it was coated with cement, but it quickly gave way to dirt and mud. Fortunately, I had changed into casual clothes before I left work.

The tunnel followed in the same direction for its entire length and had no forks, so, with the help of my flashlight, it wasn’t difficult to get to the other end.

When I exited the passage, I found myself in a new tunnel, this one much bigger. It was about two and a half meters high and as many wide, so I could walk through it comfortably. Unlike the passages around the Fairy Bar, the floor, the ceiling, and the walls were made of earth, mud, and stone, with wooden beams here and there to strengthen the most critical points.

I pointed my flashlight at both directions of the tunnel, but I couldn’t see any of its ends. Following the directions of Henrique Cerqueira, I made my way to the east.

For nearly ten minutes, I didn’t see anything more than the walls and the darkness beyond the light of my flashlight, until I finally found the door I sought. It was rough, made of tree trunks nailed together, and ropes bounded it to a beam playing the role hinges.

Carefully, I pushed it open and entered. What I found on the other side couldn’t be more different from the Fairy Bar.

Like the tunnel behind me, it was an open space underground reinforced here and there. The furniture was as rough as the door, and the same could be said of the clientele. Misshapen, dirty, and dumb looking creatures drank from poorly cleaned clay mugs. Most of them were bigger and more muscled than I, although a few creatures with green skin barely reached my waist. I had never seen any of those races in the Faerie Bar. Henrique had called the place the Tavern of the Enchanted, but I now understood that it was a facetious nickname because there was no enchantment there.

Contrary to what had happened in my visits to the Faerie Bar, my entrance didn’t go unnoticed. All eyes landed on me. Weren’t they accustomed to humans or strangers in general?

Trying to show confidence, I approached the counter.

– What do you want? – asked the innkeeper, a huge, brown-skinned creature with a deformed face.

– What do you have?

He pointed to the wormed shelves in the wall behind him, where there were several dirty bottles with strangely colored contents. I chose what seemed less unpalatable, and the creature served it to me in a mug.

After I drank, with a shrug, the repellent concoction, I moved on to the subject that had brought me there:

– Has anyone here ever heard anything about the Witches of the Night? Or know something about the trolls who are causing car crashes?

I was never accused of being subtle.

As soon as I said that, one of the little green creatures left the tavern through a door other than the one from which I had entered.

– Man – said a customer sitting at a table behind me – if I were you, I would leave.

I turned. All eyes were on me, but now there was hatred in them.

– Didn’t you hear me? – insisted the creature, getting up.

He was huge, well over two meters high and twice my width, and had four muscled arms. He picked me up like it was nothing and threw me back into the tunnel from which I had come.

– Get out! – He shouted.

I didn’t dare do anything else. I started walking away. Shortly after, I heard the other tavern door opening. I looked over my shoulder and saw the green creature returning accompanied by several other much larger and muscular beings. I started running, just in case they decided to chase me.

I only relaxed when I got back to the car park. I doubted they would follow me to the surface. Still, as soon I got in the car, I drove off towards home.

A few hundred meters later, when I had already left my fears behind, a massive figure appeared in front of me in the middle of the road. It was the creature that had driven me from the tavern. He had a hand extended in front of him, asking me to stop.

I confess that my first instinct was to run him over, but I wasn’t capable of doing it. I braked and stopped half a meter in front of him. He came up and tapped lightly on the glass on the driver’s side. Cautiously, I opened it.

– Hey, man – said the creature, – sorry for that little thing back there, but if you had stayed, you wouldn’t have lasted long.

I was so surprised that I gaped.

– Park the car and let’s talk. I think I can help you with your questions.

Curious but careful, I did so. We went to the garden of a nearby apartment building and sat on a bench where he could be in the darker half, hidden, and I on the lit side, where I felt safer.

– Oh well, where do I start?

After a moment of silence, he continued:

– It’s like this, the trolls aren’t killing your people on purpose. The Witches of the Night, who have been bossing them around, don’t care about humans at all. The accidents are just a way to destroy their targets without arousing much suspicion.

After my conversations with Alice, I had already come to that conclusion.

– Who are these Witches of the Night? What do they want?

– Sorry man, can’t help you there. Me and the rest of the guys in the tavern work for them, but we only saw them once, with hoods. I think there are five of them, though. They have been attacking fairies and other such races, and are recruiting for an army. And I’m part of it. What will they do with it and why, I don’t have the faintest idea.

I was immediately alarmed to hear that the Night Witches were gathering an army. What would they use it for?

– Do you know where I can find them? – I asked, without hopping much.

– Man, I don’t know. I only saw them once in the Square.

I didn’t ask him where was this square since it was obviously a reference to a part of the tunnels near the Tavern of the Enchanted.

– Now I have to go – he said, standing up. – I already told you everything I know.

– Hang on! – I said. – Why are you helping me?

– Hey man, I don’t think that your people should suffer for no reason. I thought that, at least, you deserved an explanation.

As he finished the sentence, the creature entered the darkness of that winter’s end afternoon, and soon after, disappeared behind a building.

I returned to the car and went home. Along the way, the conversation didn’t leave my mind. The Witches of the Night were trying to weaken their enemies while preparing for war. I wondered if the disappearances of the subjects of the King of the Islets and in the city of the dead in Gerês were related to it. But what terrified me most was that no one seemed to know their ultimate goal. It would be something big, that was now clear, but exactly what was a mystery even to their soldiers.

The possibilities robbed me of my sleep for several nights. But what I would finally discover surpassed anything I imagined.

Chapter 11 – Urban Witches

When I looked in the diary I’d found for entries about witches, one in particular caught my attention. When we think of witches, at least in Portugal, what comes to mind are images of women around bonfires in abandoned fields or in the woods, or folk healers and diviners who attend to their customers in basements or small barns. This entry, however, told of a group of witches from Porto who gathered in a tea room in the heart of this city, which is the second largest in Portugal.

Small wonder, then, that after the most obvious entry, about the witches of Montalegre, I decided to investigate this one.

One day I was alone in Porto on business, I took advantage of a big gap between my meetings in the morning and those in the afternoon to visit the tea room.

With the help of my phone’s GPS, I found the place. I then found a problem. The diary entry was several years old, and the tea room no longer existed. In its place now stood a small shopping center.

I parked in a nearby carpark and went in. Maybe I could find some clue that could tell me where the witches’ new meeting place was.

As soon as I entered, I realized that that wasn’t an ordinary shopping center. Instead of stores selling clothing, jewelry, sporting goods, and technology, as in most malls, this one had esotericism, natural makeup, organic food and cultural items shops.

I walked through the corridors and up the stairs to the second floor. It was then that I came across what I what was looking for: a tea lounge with the same name as that where the witches met. They must have reopened in the mall after it replaced the original lounge.

I went in and sat at a table. The decor was quite modern: white oval chairs, leather sofas, single stem tables. Even the orders were made through tablet PCs embedded in columns or through any smartphone using the QR codes printed on the wooden napkin boxes.

I ordered a tea and grilled cheese, which I consumed slowly as I watched the customers coming and going. Their age seemed to vary between twenty and fifty years old, and judging by their clothes, they were all from the middle/upper class and above. The majority were women, though not by much.

During the half an hour that I sat there, I noticed something that, if I didn’t know what I was looking for, I wouldn’t have. Alone or in pairs, seven women in their thirties wearing high heels, expensive looking dresses, fine makeup and meticulously maintained hair, entered and, without hesitation, went to the top floor.

Fortunately, the sign indicating the bathroom pointed there, so I had the perfect excuse to go up and confirm my suspicions.

I climbed the wood and iron stairs. At the top, I came upon a room at all similar to the downstairs one. Of the seven women, however, there was no sign of them.

Carefully, trying not to draw too much attention, not knowing if I was being filmed, I tried to figure out where they could have gone. In the corridor leading to the bathroom, I found a third door with the usual sign saying “Restricted Access.” It was the only apparent place where the witches could have hidden.

Silently, I put my ear to the door but heard nothing. Slowly, I opened a small crack and peeked inside. Once the light dispelled the darkness on the other side, I saw a staircase leading to another door, above. I closed the first behind me and turned on my flashlight. Being careful not to make any noise, I started to climb.

Just a few steps later, I heard a chant. The more I climbed, the further it intensified. When I put my ear to the second door, I realized it was coming from behind it. There was no doubt that the witches had gathered there.

After about fifteen minutes, the chant came to an end. A few moments of silence went by, and then a distant, high-pitched voice asked:

“What do you want from me?”

It certainly belonged to a spirit or creature that the ritual invoked.

“You see more than any of us. We called you here to answer our questions,” said a female voice, surely belonging to one of the witches.

One by one, the women put their questions. I admit I was disappointed. With all the mysteries of history and the universe that they could try to unravel, their questions were of the most basic of natures. Who was Joana betraying her husband with? Where did Paulo get the money to buy a new Mercedes? How did Miguel manage to win over his wife when he was so ugly?

Gossip! People like that couldn’t possibly be the Witches of the Night. I was about to leave when I heard the high-pitched, distant voice say:

“Would you like to know who is behind the door?”

I turned to run, but I had only descended three steps when the door opened behind me, and someone pushed me. I fell down the stairs, crashing against the lower door.

Dazed and sore, I felt several hands grab me and drag me up the stairs.

After recovering for a few minutes, the dizziness and the mist before my eyes dissipated. I was now in a small windowless room, lit by more than a dozen candles. There was a strange mixture of the modern and the old. Tablets computers, in the screens of which could be seen pages with texts written in strange characters, rested on a worn carpet full of burn marks. At its center burned a small brazier, whose flames were stirred by the air conditioning. Modern chairs, similar to the ones used in the tea room, rested among cabinets that looked like something out of an antique store and contained a multitude of ancient paraphernalia.

Sitting on the carpet, the seven women surrounded me. All of them now had, around their necks, huge amulets with an old and worn look, contrasting markedly with their modern dresses and high heels.

“Who are you?” one of the witches asked me. “And why were you eavesdropping?”

“I’m looking for the Witches of the Night. Do you know them?”

“Who are they?” asked another witch. “Some hillbillies who fly around on brooms?”

Her companions laughed.

“We don’t get along with riffraffs like that,” added a third witch. “Only if it’s really necessary.”

“Now we have to decide what to do with you.”

“Let him go,” said the witch that spoke first.

“And what if he tells someone?” asked the woman who had raised the issue.

“Look at his clothes,” said her companion. “Do you think anyone will put the word of a nobody like him above ours? Getting rid of him would give us more trouble.”

“You’re right,” said another witch. “Get out of here. But don’t come back!”

I did so without delay. Those were clearly not the Witches of Night, so they had no interest to me.

I went to the bathroom of a cafe near the shopping center to wash my suit and my wounds from the fall, and I made my way to my afternoon meeting. Contrary to what had occurred after my previous explorations, this one raised no thought or question. Those witches were useless in the unraveling of the mystery that haunted me.

Chapter 10 – The Witches of Montalegre

As you would expect, one of the first references to witches in the diary I found was associated with the Portuguese town most famous for its witches: Montalegre. Actually, every Friday the thirteenth, the town organizes an event called “The Witches Night” to celebrate this same tradition.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon, when neither my wife nor my daughter wanted to leave home, I went there. There was no highway leading to Montalegre, so I had to use the local roads. For much of the way, they were wide and well-maintained, but a few dozen kilometers before reaching the town they became narrow and winding. Slowly and carefully I drove up and down hills covered with pine and eucalyptus trees.

Finally, after a last climb, I saw Montalegre. Built on a hill that towered over a vast, empty and sparsely wooded plateau, it was an impressive sight, especially on a greyish day like that. At its highest point, above a mixture of new and old buildings, rose the medieval castle, its massive keep looking like it could weather the Apocalypse itself.

According to the diary, the witches of the region only came out after dark. It was almost winter, so I didn’t have long to wait and then decided to pass the time at a local pub.

I took the opportunity to ask for more information about the place where the diary said the witches gathered and more accurate directions to it. The employee told me how to get there without asking question. However, a customer sitting at a nearby table, a somewhat old man with a hat and a walking stick resting on the chair beside him, heard the conversation and said, “Don’t go there! That’s where the witches gather at night. When they find someone near there, they cast a spell on the person. If they are in a good mood, they will only give you the runs, if not, they’ll give you a disease that will weaken and kill you. That’s how a neighbor of mine died. He got curious and…

The warning didn’t dissuade me from going to look for witches. On the contrary, it only confirmed that I was on the right track.

I paid and went back to the car. I left the town, driving through the road that crossed the east side of the plateau. There, on a grey day like that, it wasn’t hard to see why the region gained its supernatural reputation. A moor flanked the road. Here and there grew a tree and occasionally you could see a pond, but it mostly contained rocks and undergrowth, among which rose small elevations. According to the diary, the meeting point of the witches hid behind one of those.

I parked the car at the beginning of a path which, according to the pub employee, would take me there, and I started to follow it. Almost immediately, I became glad I had brought my best mountain boots. The road was bumpy, rocky and muddy. With any other footwear, my feet would have been quickly soaked and sore.

It took me just over an hour to get to the small rise I sought. Behind it, I encountered a small grove with half a dozen trees and some bushes. In the vaguely circular space between them, I found the recent ashes of a fire. There was no doubt I was in the right place.

The sun had already disappeared under the horizon, so it shouldn’t take long for the witches to come to that night’s meeting. I hid behind a thick bush, opposite the path, and waited.

About an hour later, I started hearing someone coming. The night had, by then, fully fallen, and the sky was overcast, so, away from any street lighting, I saw little more than darkness. I heard the person entering the clearing from the trail, and shortly after, the sound of wood logs being thrown to the ground. Suddenly, a small flame lighted up and moments later, a fire was burning strongly. Next to it, I could now see a woman of some age. She was all dressed in black, including a scarf covering her head.

For a few minutes, she stood there, waiting. Then a second woman, younger but wearing similar clothes, appeared coming from the trail. They had barely time to greet each other when a third and then a fourth joined them. The last two members of the group took a little longer, but once they arrived, the six formed a circle around the fire. Then they took off their clothes, and I saw them more clearly.

The youngest was little more than twenty years old, while the oldest had long passed her eightieth birthday. Contrary to what some legends say, I saw no unusual marks on their bodies.

Naked, they started dancing around the fire, singing something in a language I didn’t recognize.

The dance lasted about half an hour, their bodies writhing in a chaotic, but at the same time beautiful, almost mesmerizing, way. Even the older witches showed remarkable, supernatural, even, agility and flexibility.

When they finished, they fell down, facing the fire. Suddenly, from the flames, jumped a small creature with bright red skin. It had pointed ears, between which grew two tiny horns, and a sharp snout full of teeth-like needles. Small wings, clearly unable to support his body in a constant flight, protruded from his back.

He was followed in quick succession by five others. Promptly, they all joined the witches and dance resumed. What was the purpose of that ritual, I couldn’t even imagine.

There was an obvious similarity between those beings and the ones summoned by the cult I had found in the convent of San Francisco, in Viana do Castelo. However, at the time, I didn’t realize that. I was too concerned to find out if those were the Night Witches or not. If I had realized that, perhaps some of the deaths that occurred later could have been avoided.

Suddenly, one of the creatures left the dance circle and began to sniff the air. After a few seconds, he turned to his companions and said, “We are not alone.”

A chill went down my spine. He was clearly talking about me.

The witches and the other imps stopped dancing and singing. I got ready to run, but it was too late.

“Get out of there!” said the first imp, with a shrill voice, towards the bush behind which I was hiding. “And don’t even think about running away. I and my brothers see very well in the dark and we are faster than we seem. We’ll catch you for sure. And you won’t like what we’ll do after that.”

The creature laughed cruelly.

With a mixture of fear and curiosity, I stepped out from behind the bush and approached the fire.

“It’s dangerous to come here after dark,” said one of the witches, one of the youngest, with a grin. “And even more if you peek at our rituals.”

“Are you the Witches of the Night?” I asked, going straight to the point. After all, what else could I say.

Hearing that name, the imps snarled and the witches spat into the fire.

“Don’t mistake us for those bitches,” said one of the older witches.

“We are devotees of the horned one, Beelzebub, the devil. It’s him that gives us our powers,” said a middle-aged witch. “The Witches of the Night came out of nowhere and nobody knows where their power originates or who they serve. But they aren’t like us.”

“Bitches!” shouted an older witch. “They appear out of nowhere and think they are better than us. They don’t go to the Great Coven, don’t respect our master, and don’t even recognize us as sisters.”

“What is your interest in them?” asked one of the imps.

Even though I was already used to speaking with strange creatures, I hesitated for a second. There was something disturbing about those creatures. However, I ended up telling the story about the deaths, the goblins, and the black figure in the abandoned house.

For a moment, no one said anything. They didn’t know how to react.

Finally, the imp that interrogated me said, “Get out of here. But, remember; we are only letting you go because you want to interfere with the plans of the Witches of the Night. Don’t come back.”

Without another word, I did so. On the trail, about midway back to my car, I heard the witches and the imps resume their song.

For much of the drive back home, contrary to what was usual, I couldn’t think about what I had just discovered. The narrow roads with dozens of bends required all my attention, especially at night. But once I got to better roads, my mind began to wander.

Those weren’t the Night Witches, that was clear, but the contempt they have shown them and the fact that they consider them a sect apart was an important discovery. Unfortunately, this didn’t answer the mystery of who the Night Witches were, what they wanted, and where to find them. It just thickened it.

When I arrived at Braga, it was almost dinner time. I called my wife and my daughter to see if they wanted takeout from Burger King. I wanted to compensate them for my absence.

Chapter 9 – City Trolls

Once again, a story in a local paper piqued my curiosity. It reported a series of strange car accidents that were taking place in the city of Braga. They all happened near where the cars were parked overnight and there were signs of sabotage, usually cut brakes. The deaths already exceeded a dozen. According to the story, the police believed that the culprits were one or more serial vandals, but hadn’t yet found any clues or witnesses that would help identify them.

In the past, I would have readily agreed with the authorities, but after all I had seen in the previous months, I wondered if there wasn’t another cause, something associated with the hidden world I had discovered. As such, one night I stayed working late, I decided to look around the city.

On foot, I visited all the streets where cars used to be parked overnight, looking for any movement beneath them. During the first hour, I didn’t see more than one or two stray animals. However, near midnight, I saw a strange black shape under a Ford Fiesta. If I hadn’t seen bizarre creatures before, I could have thought that it was another cat, but there was something about that shadow’s shape that didn’t seem animal-like.

I approached. Slowly, I lowered myself, and turning the flashlight on quickly, peered under the car. What I found wasn’t a cat, but a troll, like the ones I helped to free from the Cerqueiras’ house. It was clearly trying to rupture some of the pipes and cables on the underside of the car.

Alarmed, the being tried to escape. I grabbed it by the arm. If I could capture him, I might find someone who could communicate with him and understand why he was doing what he was doing. However, the troll promptly bit my hand, forcing me to release him. Still I ran after him, but, using his four members, he was much faster than me. I lost him, finally, when he climbed the wall of the terrain adjacent to one of the city’s medieval towers. Besides being too high for me to climb, it was inhabited private property, which I didn’t dare to invade.

The encounter, however, wasn’t fruitless. When I grabbed the creature’s arm, I realized that he had a mark consisting of a circle with an inverted C burned into his skin. So I decided to go to the Fairy Bar to look for Alice in the hope that she knew what it was and also give me some clue about the origin and objectives of that troll.

As I expected, and as in almost all of my visits to the Fairy Bar, I found Alice sitting at the counter. I sat beside her. After our adventure in the Cerqueiras’ house, she no longer seemed so resentful about our first meeting, so I had no difficulty starting the conversation. After the initial greetings, I told her about the accidents, the deaths, my checking of the streets and my meeting with the troll.

“I’ve heard of these accidents,” she said. “Almost all of the cars crashed into places inhabited by some of our smaller races. The one that brought down the wall of the Biscainhos Palace destroyed an entire community of fairies who made their home in the hollow interior. Marta, the fairy who went with us to the Cerqueiras’ vineyard, lost her whole family. That a troll is behind these accidents can be an important revelation.”

I stayed silent for a moment, trying to process what I had just heard. The deaths could have been just collateral damage from someone trying to disguise attacks on fairies as accidents. However, it didn’t reduce my will to find the culprit. On the contrary.

I then told Alice about the branding I saw in the troll’s arm. She looked at me with a grave expression.

“I’ve seen that mark before,” she said. “It was on the trolls we released from the Cerqueiras’ vineyard.”

At that moment, I became white. One, or perhaps more, of the creatures I helped release could be responsible for more than a dozen deaths. It was hard not to feel that their blood was on my hands.

“Are you sure?” I asked, looking for a way through which to escape my guilt.

She just nodded silently.

I got up immediately and returned to the streets of Braga, more determined than ever to find out the reason for all those deaths.

I went back to the street where I had found the troll. Hopefully, I had stopped him before he had completed his sabotage and he would return to finish the job.

I waited, motionless, under the shade of a tree, hoping that the darkness would hide me. I was there almost an hour before the troll came back, out of a nearby alley. I assumed it was the same, as it headed for the same car. This time, I didn’t interrupt his work. I wanted him to finish, so I could follow him and see where he went afterward. There was something else happening there, it had to be, and I would find out what it was, or the blame would be mine… Later I would leave a message in the car windshield to warn the driver.

The creature was less than five minutes under the vehicle. He ran to the alley from which he had emerged and, this time, I managed to follow. I made an effort not to lose him, like last time. Fortunately, the chase wasn’t long. I saw him climb the back wall of an abandoned house in the Carvalheiras – a square located at the other end of the alley – and disappear into the darkness behind the iron bars that lined the garden, built over the garage. I knew that house, I had already visited it with my urban exploration group, so I knew how to get in. I didn’t have the troll’s agility nor its claws, however, climbing on top of an electrical service box, I managed to reach a space between the bars wide enough for me to pass.

As is usual in long-abandoned houses, it had been vandalized. The back door had been broken into. I entered. I took my flashlight but didn’t dare to turn it on. I didn’t want to scare who or what was inside, at least not before I found out what was happening. Yet the light of the moon, the stars, and even the street lighting coming through the broken windows illuminated the interior enough for me to see what surrounded me.

The lobby floor was littered with leaves, probably brought by the wind through the door. Fortunately, it was also covered with dust, on which I could distinctly see several small footprints, which I assumed were from the troll. I followed them to the staircase leading to the upper floor, ignoring two doors open to rooms that, judging by the scarce and dusty remaining furniture, were living and dining areas.

The creaking wooden stairs led me to the upstairs hallway. Several open or broke into doors lined both walls. The light coming out from them was enough for me to see what surrounded me. Just like downstairs, the hall was covered in dust, and on it, I could still see troll’s footprints. I followed them into one of the rooms.

As soon as I reached the door, I saw small figures, certainly trolls, running and disappearing through the door leading to the balcony. This door, however, framed a large figure, perhaps even taller than me. It didn’t t seem particularly bothered with my presence since it didn’t even move a muscle when I entered the room.

A cloak covered its entire body, and with the poor lighting, it was impossible for me to see what lay beneath.

“Who are you?” I asked. “What do you want?”

It had to be the figure that controlled the trolls, so it was time for me to get some answers about the accidents and the deaths.

“Go away,” answered the creature with a female, husky voice. “This has nothing to do with you or with those of your race. Forget everything you saw.”

“But…” I started, but she turned her back to me and walked to the balcony.

I ran after her, ready to fight if need be, to get answers. However, as soon as she got outside, she began to hover. The surprise made me hesitate long enough for the creature to rise in the night sky, high above the house. I then saw her fly westward, disappearing shortly after behind the buildings that hid the horizon.

Frustrated, I left the house and made my way back to the Fairy Bar. Maybe Alice knew who or what was that cloaked being.

She was still there, sitting at the counter, in the same place. I sat beside her, and before she had time to say anything, I told her what I had just discovered. When I told her about the cloaked figure and how it took flight, a terrified expression appeared on her face.

– Night Witches – she whispered, as if afraid to say the name aloud.

– Who are the Witches of the Night? – I asked, alarmed by her reaction.

– The legend of the Night Witches is very old. It tells that they are mysterious creatures that attack some of our races. As is usual with these things, there are several stories of sightings, although lately, I have been hearing more. I never gave them much importance. But now, with what you tell me…

We kept talking about the Night Witches for some time. Unfortunately, the stories she knew weren’t very helpful. Often, they contradicted each other. But that’s the nature of legends.

I left the Fairy Bar decided to find and do what I could to stop the Night Witches. When I got home, my wife was already asleep. I had called her saying that I was going to work late. I didn’t join her immediately. I sat at the desk with the diary I found, looking for all entries about witches. My next expeditions would focus on them.

Chapter 8 – The Organization

After my discovery of the diary, I had virtually abandoned urban exploration. However, a report in a Minho’s daily newspaper woke once more that interest of mine.

A vessel bound to the port of Viana do Castelo had sunk at the mouth of the river Lima. Interestingly, it sunk bow first, leaving its stern and back half almost vertically out of the water. The obvious opportunity for exploration was not lost in me.

In the next weekend, I went to Viana. To my relief, this time I didn’t have to lie or hide the truth from my wife. She was well aware of my interest in urban exploration. I didn’t like to deceive her, and she had surely started to suspect something.

I met an old friend who lent me a boat (the same I had used to explore the islets and find their king), and when night fell, I rowed to the wreck.

It occurred to me then that I could have invited the rest of Braga’s urban exploration group. I was so used to going on the expeditions based on the diary alone that this time I didn’t even think of them. And just as well, as I was about to find out.

Close to the ship, with the help of my flashlight, I looked for an entrance. It didn’t take me long to find a porthole situated just above the waterline. I approached and, with the flashlight handle, I broke the glass. I had some difficulty passing through the narrow porthole, but I eventually managed it.

As soon as my feet touched the metal floor, I pointed the flashlight around me. It was a cabin. The first thing I noticed was that it didn’t have any furniture. However, that wasn’t the strangest thing about that room. To my surprise, the door was in a vertical position. As the ship had sunk bow first, I should be standing on one of the walls. As such, it was as if that cabin was made to rotate ninety degrees.

I approached the door and cautiously opened a slit. On the other side, I found nothing but darkness, so I opened the door a little more and pointed the flashlight to the outside. I then saw a corridor lined with several other doors. I went out and began opening them. Behind every one, I only found empty cabins that differed little from that through which I had entered.

Finally, after a bend in the corridor, I saw a glow in the distance. I approached it and found a watertight door ajar. The light came from behind it. I opened it expecting to reveal another corridor, but what I found was something I had never imagined.

In front of me was now a huge open space, which occupied much of the submerged half of the ship. Metal stairs led down to a network of platforms and passageways, and finally, to the ground. This consisted of muddy earth which, at that depth, could only be the riverbed. On it, and on the platforms, men, cranes and back loaders opened a huge hole.

After seeing the gigantic hinges and hydraulic pistons attached to the inside of the hull, I realized that that ship was not only prepared to rotate ninety degrees, but it could also open the bow to explore the river and sea bed. Immediately, I wondered what they were looking for, but a blow to the head made me lose consciousness and stopped me from going immediately in search of the answer.

When I came to, I found myself in one of the small and empty cabins of the upper levels. It, however, didn’t have a porthole and was scarcely illuminated. Indeed, the only light came from the small gap between the door and the floor. I looked in my pockets, but all I had in them (phone, flashlight, pocket knife, wallet, keys) had disappeared.

I don’t know how long I was kept there before I heard the door being unlocked. Then it opened, revealing four men. Three of them wore dark gray uniforms, including boots and berets, and wielded assault rifles. They were clearly military but had no insignia to identify their country or service.

The fourth man, however, wore a suit, a black tie, and a white shirt. His short hair was neatly combed, with traces of gel, and he couldn’t be much older than me. He was probably in his early forties. In fact, he seemed like one of the businessmen that I come across every day at work.

Motioning to the soldiers to stay in the corridor, the man in suit entered the cabin and approached me.

“My name is Almeida, and I’m in charge of this investigation,” he said, extending his hand. 

By mere habit, I greeted him. He, then, sliced his hands into his trousers’ pockets.

“I’m…” I started to say. 

“I know who you are,” Almeida interrupted me. “You know, your blog didn’t go unnoticed.”

That statement caught me by surprise. In fact, I had a scarcely read blog where I wrote about my expeditions (you can find it in Portuguese at http://www.terceirarealidade.wordpress.com, but as you will soon realize, it isn’t a very reliable source). However, no one had identified me as the author.

“No need to look so surprised. Your activities are of great interest to us.”

“Why?” it was the only thing I managed to say.

“Blogs like yours can be a good tool to discredit the events that are our responsibility hide. The more apparently crazy people write about them, the less the public believes them.”

I didn’t need to hear any more to realize who those men were. They certainly belonged to the organization that Alice had told me about charged with hiding the world that exists parallel to ours.

“By the way, I have a proposal for you,” continued Almeida. “If you agree to add articles to your blog and change some of the already written according to our instructions, I’m willing to show you what we find here. If not, remember that we can easily make your blog disappear and hinder your life and that of your family.”

Looking at the soldiers behind him and thinking about all the resources I had seen digging the river bed, not to mention the ship itself, I didn’t doubt that he was able to fulfill his threat. Also, I wrote the blog more to pass the time than to be read, so the veracity of what was written in it wasn’t very important to me. I ended up accepting the Almeida’s proposal.

“Excellent!” he replied. “Come with me, then. We’re about to find what we came here looking for.”

He took me back to the corridors and, through them, to the huge chamber where the excavation was taking course. From a platform, we observed the work. At our side, a screen showed what I guessed was an image of the subsoil obtained by some kind of sensor. It clearly showed a huge white spot that could only be what those men sought. Almeida didn’t tell me what it was, and I didn’t ask. After all, judging by that image, I would soon find out.

Minutes later, something appeared. Among the dark mud, we now saw a white spot. The machines stopped and moved away, and the excavation was resumed by men with shovels.

Gradually, they revealed the mysterious object. Every second that passed it appeared larger. From the distance I was at, it was hard to be sure, but the white material it was made of had a strange texture, similar to skin. In fact, whenever one of the diggers touched it, it appeared elastic.

When, after more than an hour, the object became completely uncovered, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. On the one hand, it looked like an animal with the size of a whale, its skin covered with a viscous substance that was clearly organic. On the other, it had a triangular shape with rounded corners so regular that it didn’t seem of natural origin.

Almeida’s men patiently dug beneath the object and passed straps, made of what I think was Kevlar, through the gaps from one side to other. Then they attached them to a crane, which, slowly and carefully, began to lift the strange object in the direction of a platform not far from where we stood. As it passed near us, however, its “skin” began to move, first slightly, then violently. It looked like something was trying to get out from it. The soldiers pointed their weapons to it.

“Don’t shoot,” ordered Almeida. 

Our suspicion was confirmed seconds later when a hand terminated by claws ruptured the surface. Before anyone could react, from inside the object emerged a vaguely humanoid creature covered with black fur. It was bigger than most men, about two meters tall, and had long arms that would touch the floor even if upright. It looked at us with his yellow eyes and then jumped toward us.

“Shoot!” shouted Almeida.

Bullets whizzed toward the creature, flying disconcertingly close to us, but none seemed to hit home. Propelled by his powerful legs, the creature reached our platform, pushing me and throwing me to the floor. I must confess that lying there at the feet of that being was one of the scariest moments of my life, at least until then. Those claws and fangs could rip me apart in an instant. Fortunately, the creature did not linger and ran up the stairs.

“After him!” ordered Almeida. “Don’t let it get off the ship.”

The soldiers did so. Almeida followed close behind. When I got back up and recovered, they had already disappeared behind the watertight door leading to the upper levels. I ran after them. Following the sounds of boots on the iron passes, I crossed corridors and climbed stairs until I got outside. I found them in what I can only call deck located on the back of the ship’s bridge. They were leaning over the side, pointing their guns at the water. I joined them.

“He jumped into the river,” Almeida said.

I helped them look for the creature in the water. It reappeared moments later, in the tall concrete riverbank. With the city library just above it, the Organization’s men didn’t dare to shoot, and the creature disappeared into an alley.

“We’ll have to chase him into the town,” Almeida said, more to himself than to those around him. “Lower the motorboat.”

Then he turned towards me, “Do you know Viana?”

“I grew up here,” I answered.

“Then you’ll have to come with us.”

The soldiers went back in through the same door from which I came. Shortly afterward, the wall started to move. An entire section slid aside, revealing a basement containing several big inflatable boats. The soldiers grabbed one and took it to the rail. With a press of a button, the rail lowered itself and rotated, forming a ramp through which the motorboat was taken to the water.

After we embarked, it took us just over one minute to get to the bank. We landed at approximately the same place where the creature had climbed to shore and followed it into the alley.

As expected, it no longer there was. The soldiers pointed their flashlights at the other three alleys that intercepted that one but found no sign of our target. They seemed quite experienced in those situations because, without waiting for an order from Almeida, they started looking for clues that would tell us where the creature could have gone. They soon found some marks in the half-fallen plaster of a nearby house. They were huge holes located more or less at regular intervals.

“He climbed to the rooftops,” Almeida said, voicing the obvious.

We all looked up, but of course, the creature was no longer there. However, we knew now what to look for. In an adjacent alley, we found tiles fragments that didn’t seem freshly fallen. In another, parallel to the latter, we found the same. In still another, we saw claw marks near the top of a wall. Following these clues, we ended up spotting a shadow that moved through the city’s rooftops. When we were passing in front of the Main Church, it even jumped over us, landing inside the bell tower. However, it didn’t remain there long, as it promptly jumped to the roof of the church and then to the building behind it.

Almeida and his men started down the street, certainly in search of a passage through which they could follow in the same direction of the creature, but I called them, “Through here.”

Taking a narrow, hidden alley next to the church, we ran parallel to the creature. When we emerged to a larger street, we were ahead of our quarry.

Finally, we reached the square located next to the old market in the center of which was the Chapel of Souls. In an attempt to prepare for the creature’s every possible movement, we moved to halfway between the street and the chapel. From there, we could follow it quickly wherever it went. Luckily, the being jumped straight to the roof of the chapel. With military quickness and precision, the Organization soldiers surrounded the building before the creature had time to move to the next.

“Put it down,” ordered Almeida when the being started gaining momentum for a new leap.

Automatic rifles opened fire. Despite having some interest in weapons, I had no idea what model they were. There was almost no noise when they shoot. Not that many people lived in that part of town to hear it.

When it was hit by the first bullet, the creature interrupted its jump and tried to find refuge, but the soldiers covered all the angles of the roof. Bullets and more bullets lodged in its body until it finally fell off. However, it wasn’t finished yet. It stood up and, with a growl, advanced in the direction of one of the soldiers. Almeida pulled a pistol from an inner pocket of his jacket and joined his men, surrounding the creature. Caught in the crossfire, it couldn’t resist anymore and finally fell, becoming still on the ground.

In an almost mechanical movement, without hesitation or even thought, one of the soldiers took out a black plastic sheet from his backpack, approached the body and covered it.

“You can go,” Almeida said to me, putting away his gun and shoving his hands in his trouser pockets. “We will be cleaning up, now. We will contact you to tell you what we want you to change on your blog.”

Obviously, I had a lot of questions. What was that creature? What was it doing on the river bottom? What was it inside of? And the Organization had been raised by whom? Who did it respond to? Who financed it? However, it was clear that Almeida wasn’t going to give me any answers, so I left and went to retrieve my friend’s boat.

Again, on the way back home, I became lost with the possible explanations for what I had seen. I got home almost without noticing, and only when the garage door began to open did I realize I had been away much longer than expected. What excuse would I tell my wife?