Chapter 6 – The Cat of Campanhã

As a fan of urban exploration, I’m also a connoisseur of street art. Over the years, I had the opportunity to meet several artists, with whom I kept in touch. One day, during a web chat with one of them, I found out something strange.

Those who know Campanhã Station, in the city of Porto, know that it is surrounded by a huge cement infrastructure. What most people don’t know is that it hides a huge network of service tunnels, part of which I had already had the opportunity to explore.

As might be expected, street artists were able to enter some of these tunnels and took advantage of their walls to practice their art.

It was during one of these visits that my friend and a few other colleagues came upon something very strange. In one of the tunnels, they found a cat. This would be nothing exceptional, were it not for the fact that the animal didn’t leave the same spot in months and constantly repeated the same movements.

After all I had seen since l found the diary, I couldn’t help it but check it out. I arranged a time with my friend and took the train from Braga to Campanhã.

When I got there, he led me directly into the tunnel. The metal door was next to the rail, some three hundred meters from the station, and it was wide open, giving easy access to the interior. Inside, the walls and even the ceiling were covered with multiple styles of graffiti. From simple “tags” to elaborate murals, one could see everything there.

We walked in the tunnel for several tens of meters, until we reached an area opened to the right. In that direction, there was a large well, the purpose of which no one seemed to know.

“That’s where the cat is,” my friend said.

I pointed my flashlight at its bottom, about eight meters below, and then I saw the animal. As I had been told, it looked like an ordinary grey and white cat. I watched him for a few minutes. During this time he remained almost motionless, sitting on the ground, moving only occasionally at intervals which seemed more or less regular to lick one of his front paws, always the same.

Behind the animal, I found an iron door, but it was rusty and didn’t seem to be used in years. In fact, I doubted it would even be possible to open it, at least not without destroying it.

“Since we discovered him four months ago, he’s always there doing the same thing,” my friend said. “A normal cat would have died of starvation.

I had to agree with him. That cat might not be in the diary I had found, but it deserved to be.

“I brought a rope,” I said, pointing at my backpack. “We can go down to look closer at it.”

“Sounds good to me.”

At that moment, two other artists who were painting next to us approached and one of them said “Can we go with you? We’re also curious about the cat.”

“If you like,” replied my friend.

I took the rope from my backpack and attached it to a concrete beam almost directly over the well. I let each of my companions test the knot, and as soon as they were satisfied, we began the descent. The artist who called me there was the first down, followed by me and only then by the two who approached us.

During all this, the cat remained undisturbed, only licking its paw a few times. He wasn’t just indifferent to our presence, it was as if we weren’t there.

We walked around it, watching closely, but physically nothing distinguished it from an ordinary cat. Had it not been for its strange behavior and the fact that it had been in that well for so long, no one would have paid it any attention.

I also inspected the rusty door and confirmed that it was so stuck it was impossible to move.

Finally, curiosity got the better of one of the artists who had joined us, and he tried to touch the animal. To our surprise, his hand went through the cat as if there was nothing there, while it remained motionless like nothing had happened.

We took several steps back. We didn’t know what that creature was or what it could do. However, after all I had seen before, I was the least alarmed of the four. My companions looked terrified.

“It’s a ghost!” Said one of the men who had joined us.

As I could attest, it was a good possibility. But I said nothing. They had already had a great shock, there was no need to aggravate it.

“What do we do now?” asked my friend. “Should we tell someone?”

Before anyone could answer, the man who had tried to touch the cat started screaming desperately.

“What is it?” his companion asked, but he just kept screaming.

His screams were so loud they made my ears ache. He started to circle the well as if he was trying to run away from something but didn’t know where to go. Finally, he tried to climb up the rope, but fell after little more than a meter, sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall.

We gathered around him to try to calm him down and figure out what was going on, but he kept screaming.

“Look ?!” said my friend suddenly, pointing to the hand of the fallen.

Part of it no longer had skin, showing the muscles underneath. Before our eyes, they disappeared, leaving only bones. Finally, even these vanished.

The man, at last, stopped screaming.

“Are you alright?” asked his friend.

When he didn’t get an answer, he tried to touch him, but he withdrew his hand when the body of the fallen emptied itself like a balloon. Finally, it disappeared completely. Whatever had consumed him, it did so both from the outside in and from the inside out.

In a panic, my two remaining companions climbed the rope back into the tunnel and ran outside. Calmly, I followed them, taking one last look at the cat, which still looked like as if nothing had happened.

I only talked again with my friend days later, through web chat. He was still somewhat shaken by what we had seen, so I only gave him some comfort and didn’t tell him about the equally strange things I had seen before and the myriad described in the diary I had found.

However, he told me something very interesting. After our visit, he had tried to go back to the tunnel but discovered that the entrance had been sealed with cement.

Who had done it? Was it the organization that Alice had told me about during my first visit to the Faerie Bar? And how had they discovered the cat’s existence?

As always, one of my explorations had brought more questions to torment me. Unfortunately, these only increased my insatiable curiosity, drawing me deeper into knowledge that no human being should have.

Chapter 5 – The Cult

Taking advantage of the fact that I was spending the Christmas holidays with my wife and daughter at my grandparents’ house in Viana do Castelo, I decided to explore another of the diary entries I had found.

This time, my curiosity focused on an important place of my childhood. Since I was a little boy, I heard my father and grandfather tell stories about the ruins of the San Francisco convent. Among them, was an old rumor that the place was used for strange rituals popularly known as Macumba. I had never found any evidence of it, until, reading the diary, I came upon an entry about a cult that met in the convent.

As usual, the timidity of my predecessor hadn’t allowed him to watch the whole ritual, and he only saw a small part through the gate rails.

Using again the excuse that I was going to visit an old friend, on the night of the first Monday after Christmas, the day of the week in which the diary said the cult gathered, I went up to the convent. When I was a kid, it was situated in the middle of a forested hill, and it took a long walk to get there, so I was surprised to see that now there were urbanizations almost to the first gate.

I parked behind one of these new houses, turned on my lantern, and headed for the forest. After passing a muddy area, certainly a remnant of the construction of the urbanization, I arrived at the gate that, long ago, protected the road that went up to the convent. Of it, only part of the portal remained, for one of the columns had fallen or been knocked over.

As soon as I crossed it, I found myself surrounded by eucalyptus, acacias, and the occasional pine tree. The forest now started there.

I began to climb the path. The rough paving, made up of large, irregular stones, was not easy to walk on, even with the help of the flashlight. I stumbled several times. Luckily, it hadn’t rained for some time, or the smooth stones would be impossibly slippery.

Halfway up, just before a tight turn, I found an old Calvary. It showed signs of ashes and smoke. If these were due to the cult that I was there to investigate or to a more mundane cause, I can’t say.

Finally, after the turn, I reached the final slope. Shortly after, my flashlight illuminated the main gate of the convent. An arch supporting the statues of three saints housed it, and a wall more than two meters high branched from it. To a casual visitor, there would seem to be no way to get in, because a lock and chain kept the gate shut, but I wasn’t a casual visitor.

Beside the gate was a very steep, almost vertical, climb where someone had heaped stones and excavated steps. I climbed it without great difficulty and entered a narrow path that penetrated the dense vegetation. I advanced for a few tens of meters, the wall of the convent on my right. Here and there, there were minor gaps, but none big enough for me to enter.

Finally, I arrived at the place I was looking for; a second entrance opened to a staircase that led down to the convent’s yard. Long ago, there must have been a gate there, but it preceded my first visits.

I entered and finally was in the convent itself. With my lantern, I swept the buildings around. Embedded in the wall that separated the yard from the raised terrain and the path, were two small chapels. They had no doors and were empty except for creepers and weeds. Their stone roofs were broken and full of holes. On the opposite side stood the ruins of the main buildings: the church and the housing and working areas.

But I didn’t go in right away. First, I went to the base of a cavalry in the center of the yard. The cross itself was no longer there, but the vaguely pyramidal base formed by four layers of stone was. According to my predecessor, it was there that the cult performed its rituals. In fact, the signs were everywhere. There were dark red spots all over. Here and there, I saw feathers, certainly belonging to chickens used in sacrifices.

With such clear evidence that something was really happening there, I entered the ruins of the buildings in search of a place to hide and wait for the appearance of the cultists. According to the diary, they only showed up after one in the morning, so there was still plenty of time. I used it to visit the site and see what had changed since my previous visit, more than twenty years before.

The first thing that struck me was that the remnants of the upstairs floor, which I had still seen as a child, had completely rotted away. In fact, the only sign that there ever was an upper floor was the stairs that led to nowhere and the partially ruined but abnormally high for a ground-floor building walls.

After visiting the old kitchen, with its huge fireplace and decorated limestone sink, I went to the church. It had long ago lost its roof, though the rusty chandelier, attached to the walls by equally corroded metal cables, still held its place. There was nothing left of the altar or of any other decorative element. I had a hard time crossing to the main entrance. The tomb slabs that, when I was a kid, covered the ground had been torn away, leaving huge holes difficult to cross.

When I arrived at the small dirt churchyard, I found the slabs heaped in a corner, some whole, others broken, in which the buried’s names and dates of death and birth could still be seen.

I then entered the cloister. As the wooden upper floor had already disappeared, it was completely uncovered. In its center, the small space reserved for the monks’ garden was now filled with weeds and brambles. Some of the columns that bounded it and that once held the ceiling had fallen, if by the action of the elements or by vandalism, I can not say.

It was then that I saw the perfect place to hide: the old bell tower. From the ruins, there was no way to reach it, since the door was on the second floor, that didn’t exist anymore. I went out to the back of the convent, where there was access to the hill and the fields, some small support buildings and, of course, the base of the tower. After circling the later, I found a small secondary entrance less than one meter high. I almost had to drag myself through the ground, but I managed to get inside.

As had happened to the upper floors, the stairs had disintegrated. Fortunately, the tower was narrow, so by pressing my back, feet, and arms against the walls, I was able to reach the top with just some effort. I now had a privileged view of the entire convent, especially of the yard where the cult was supposed to meet, and I doubted anyone would see me there.

I turned off my flashlight. It wasn’t even midnight yet, but I feared that the cultists would appear sooner than expected or see my light in the distance.

I had been waiting for almost two hours when I began to hear a song coming from the end of the path that had taken me there. A moment later, behind the curve, an orange light appeared. I fixed my gaze there, for I knew I was about to see what I had come for.

From behind the curve came a line of people, all holding lamps. Some also brought cloth bags, inside of which something moved.

I confess I was surprised and even disappointed. Perhaps because of movies and television shows, I expected figures in long black hooded robes. However, these were normal people in everyday clothes.

The cultists went up to the gate and then took the same narrow path I had used to come in. After a short while, they were all in the yard, around the base of the Calvary. Nothing could be heard but the hymns and the clucking of the chickens in the bags.

Suddenly the voices became quiet. One of the cultists, a man with long, disheveled hair, went up to the improvised altar and began to chant a new song, this time at the top of his lungs. After a few minutes, one of the other cultists opened the bag and passed him a chicken. With a small knife that he produced from his belt, he cut the throat of the animal and let the blood drip on the stones.

These steps were repeated for a half hour until all the bags were empty. Then the cultists uttered a cry in unison. The ground started to tremble. Gradually, a crack opened on the floor in front of the makeshift altar. An orange-red glow projected out from it. It was as if it were a passage to Hell itself.

The cultists stared at it as if hypnotized, for a few moments, until a gigantic red fist, larger than a person, came out of it. Under the expectant gaze of the cult, the hand opened, releasing about a dozen strange humanoid beings. These were small, about half a meter high, and covered with a short black fur. Two tiny horns crowned their heads, which also had sharp snouts and pointed teeth.

With great enthusiasm, the cultists ran after these imps, picking them up and stuffing them into the bags where they had brought the chickens. At the same time, the hand disappeared, returning to the abyss, and, as soon as the last imp was caught, the crack closed.

Satisfied, the cultists returned the same way they had come, this time in complete silence. Not even the imps, stuck in their bags, made any noise.

I let the light from the lamps disappear behind the curve and waited about half an hour before descending from my hiding place and going back to my car.

Although it was the first journal entry I investigated involving humans, it was probably the one that left me with more questions. Who was in that cult? What were they going to do with the imps? To whom belong the hand that brought them?

I went home thinking about it and even lost that night’s sleep. The possibilities made me shiver. I would only get the answers much later, but they would surpass everything I could imagine.

Chapter 4 – The King of the Islets

As was tradition, at Christmas time, me, my wife and my daughter spent a week’s vacation at my grandparents’ house in Viana do Castelo. Some of the entries in the diary I had found occurred in or near this town, so I took the opportunity to investigate them.

One evening, after dinner, with the excuse that I was going to see an old friend, I left and headed for the Lima riverbank. That excuse wasn’t even an absolute lie. In the afternoon, I had phoned a childhood friend and asked him to lend me his boat, and when I went to get it, we talked for half an hour before I got on board and started rowing.

I was there to investigate peculiar shadows and silhouettes and strange movements in the reeds that the author of the diary found in the islets near the mouth of the river. As usual, my predecessor hadn’t investigated the matter in depth, hadn’t even left the river bank, but I was determined to find out what was happening.

So, I rowed to the largest of the islets, popularly known as Camalhão, which was situated just over a hundred meters from the anchorage where my friend had his boat.

As soon as I got to the islet, I disembarked, attached the anchor to one of the huge clods, and entered a nearby gully. As the tide was very low, the banks of this gully, plus the long reeds, rose above my head so I couldn’t see anything around me. But having spent a part of my childhood in those islets, I knew that gully would lead me to the heart of the Camalhão more quickly than crossing through the reeds.

Just beyond the first turn, I came upon a bad omen. From a puddle in the almost dry gully, the severed head of a man looked at me. It was swollen and showed signs of putrefaction and animal attacks. In fact, the part still submerged was, at that moment, serving as food for several river prawns.

After the initial shock, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t have any reason to worry. It was not uncommon to find bodies and body parts in the river, victims of shipwrecks brought in and left behind by the tide. That head probably had nothing to do with the silhouettes I had gone there to investigate.

I kept advancing, taking a mental note to later warn the authorities about that head.

I had walked a few tens of meters when a tiny black figure jumped over the gully right in front of me. I immediately climbed the bank. When I reached the top, I couldn’t see the figure, but the movements of the reeds denounced it, and I was able to follow.

I ran after it for several hundred yards, the reeds’ tips piercing my pants and injuring my legs.

Finally, we reached a clearer area, covered only by low grass, located under the so-called New Bridge. It was only then that I saw what I was following: a small humanoid being, a little more than ten centimeters high. He disappeared behind a huge pile of tree branches and plastic containers, flotsam brought by the current and tides.

I kept following him, however, as soon as I reached the trash heap, I heard a low, slow voice coming from a nearby gully.

“Who are you? What are you doing in my kingdom, and why were you chasing one of my subjects?”

I was going to reply, but the creature who had spoken rose and left me speechless. It was a huge being almost twice my size. He couldn’t be called fat, though he was anything but skinny, and in the moonlight, he looked as pale as ivory. He wore a crown made of interwoven reeds, which, coupled with the fact that he had mentioned his subjects seconds before, led me to conclude that he was the king of the creatures whose silhouettes my predecessor had seen.

The huge being came out of the gully and approached the pile of garbage. I stepped aside to give him passage, but I didn’t dare try to run away. To my surprise, he sat on the flotsam, and only then did I realize that it was a rough throne.

“Tell me what you’re doing here,” the creature insisted.

I told him about the silhouettes and how I went there to find out what they were.

“It seems that some of my subjects need to be more careful,” he said at last. “Especially now.

“Why especially now?”

“My subjects are disappearing. We don’t know how or why. Which makes me distrust you. How do I know that you aren’t a kidnapper? I saw you chase one of us.”

I tried to justify my curiosity. I even told him about my trips to the city of the dead and to the fairy bar.

As I spoke, a bizarre creature emerged from the reeds. He walked on all fours, though his body was slender and contorted like a serpent’s, and it had a vaguely human face. He approached the king, stood up on his back legs and whispered something in the king’s ear. Then he disappeared again into the reeds.

The king let me finish my explanation.

“I think I believe you,” he said at last. “If you were responsible for the disappearances, you wouldn’t have let my sentries see you.”

He nodded toward the place where the serpentine creature had disappeared.

Now that I was calmer, it occurred to me that the disappearances in the islets could be related to those of the dead, and I told the King what I had discovered in Gerês.

“Curious,” he replied. “You need to go now. I’m gathering my people here and talk to them.

I didn’t wait for him to tell me a second time. I went into the reeds and headed for my boat. As I traversed the Camalhão, I saw several small shadows in the river, in the space between the islets. After looking more closely, I realized that they were trunks and even small leaves carrying several of the creatures that I now knew to live there.

I saw the first land on the Camalhão but soon resumed the walk back to my boat, fearing that the king of the islets would expel me. Or worse.

I rowed back to shore and, after returning the boat, returned to my grandparents’ house. As I drove, I couldn’t stop thinking about the disappearances. Was there really a collection between those of the islets and those of the dead? I still didn’t know enough about that parallel world to answer those questions, but I would keep to investigating. My curiosity would never let me stop.

Chapter 3 – The Procession of Souls

After my discovery of the Faerie Bar, and having confirmed that the account on the diary I had found was not only fiction, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. My wife, my friends, even my co-workers noticed that I became distracted. But I had decided not to tell anyone. At that time, I wasn’t sure how that knowledge could affect us, and I feared it might endanger them.

As such, I had to wait some time until I had an opportunity to embark on another expedition without arousing suspicions. This opportunity came when my mother-in-law got sick and my wife, along with our daughter, went to take care of her.

After my meeting with Alice, I wanted to let some time pass before returning to the Faerie Bar, so I decided to explore another place. After re-reading some of the diary entries, I decided to travel to Gerês and visit an old abandoned village in the mountains where, supposedly, during the night, the dead rose from their graves and left in a procession along the slopes and valleys.

When I left my house, it was still day time, but when I entered the road up the mountain, the sun had already set. Although Gerês’ highest slopes didn’t have many trees, darkness made it difficult to find the village, even with the help of a GPS. Finally, I decided to stop on a small space at the side of the road, near the point where the village was supposed to be.

I got out of the car and started looking around. With the help of my most powerful flashlight, I found the ruins I was looking for just below where I had parked.

The roofs had already collapsed, as had many walls and wooden floors. Everywhere, fallen beams rose in the night sky, like the ribs of gigantic animals.

With my flashlight’s help, I looked for the best way to down. There wasn’t really a path, but between boulders and brambles, I managed to find a passage.

After stumbling and slipping, narrowly avoiding some spectacular falls, I arrived at the abandoned village. Its narrow streets, by themselves already narrow and clogged with rocks, were covered with debris, brambles, and weeds, making them quite difficult to walk through. The silence of the night was only broken by the sound of animals crawling away and the hooting of the owls taking refuge in the ruins.

Finally, I got to what was left of the local church. The top of the bell tower had already fallen, as had the roof, yet the facade seemed intact, though an empty alcove above the door made me suspect that there had been a statue of a saint, now missing. It had probably been stolen by someone to sell to collectors.

Beside the church, surrounded by a low wall of loose stones, I found the place I was looking for: the cemetery. According to the diary, it was from there that the spirits of the dead departed for their nightly procession.

Tombstones, broken and worn, filled the place, along with pieces of rotting wood that once must have been crosses.

I sat on the outside, leaning against the wall, and waited for midnight, the hour my predecessor recorded he had started seeing the ghosts. It was late autumn, so it was already cold in the mountains. In part, I was thankful for it, since it was the only thing that prevented me from falling asleep.

When the hour finally arrived, I was not disappointed. Just as the clock on my cell phone struck midnight, I looked at the graves. Over these, shapes began to appear. At first, they were practically invisible, but gradually they began to take on translucent white forms. These were people wearing ghostly versions of the clothing, hats, and scarves typical of that region until very recently.

As they took their final shapes, the spirits left the cemetery and began descending the slope, while above the graves new forms appeared. I let them all join in the procession, before beginning to follow them.

I went down a path, crossed an old stone bridge, and even walked through a Roman road. The ghosts traversed miles of ground for almost two hours.

Suddenly, to the north, I saw a white line descending another slope like a gigantic albino serpent. It didn’t take me long to realize that it was another procession of souls.

Three more appeared shortly after, coming from valleys and mountains, and, one by one, joined the first one and continued advancing towards the east. More than a procession, they now resembled a military column.

Then, to my surprise, the dead began returning to the ground. Little by little, they disappeared through the soil, until none remained on the surface. I was alone again, in the darkness of the mountains, with my flashlight.

I approached the place where the ghosts had disappeared and searched, without much hope, for some way to follow them. After almost half an hour, I found a hole in the ground big enough for me to get through. I pointed the flashlight to it. It wasn’t particularly deep, it was only about five meters, and I thought I saw a cave from it to the west.

I didn’t have any climbing equipment with me, but the wall of the hole had enough hand and foot holds for me to get down without much difficulty. In a few minutes, I reached the bottom and confirmed that there really was a cave. I pointed my flashlight at it and saw that it stretched for a hundred meters, then it changed direction.

Carefully, for I didn’t know how the dead would react if they found me there, I entered the cave. I reached the bend without any problem, but as soon as I turned it, I found two ghosts. Despite my precautions, they spotted me immediately. After all, without the light of my lantern, I couldn’t see anything there, but it denounced me clearly.

I looked back, thinking of running away, but I would never be able to reach the surface before they caught up with me.

The ghosts approached slowly and carefully, as if they didn’t want to frighten me. Although I was suspicious, I waited for them. They didn’t seem aggressive.

One of them held a candle, which he stretched out toward me he reached me. Fearfully, I grabbed it. At that instant, it turned into a human leg bone. Startled, I dropped it and took a few steps back.

The two ghosts burst out laughing.

“His face,” said one of the spirits.

For a moment, I stared at them, astonished.

“I’m sorry, my friend, but I couldn’t resist,” said the ghost who had handed me the candle.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“The spirits of the dead, of course. Not everyone is lucky enough to rest in peace.”

They seemed friendly, so I decided to keep asking questions:

“Why do you come here? Why don’t you stay in your graveyards?”

“Because at the end of this tunnel lies our city. We only stayed behind because we saw you following us and decided to have some fun, “said the ghost of the candle, smiling.

“City?!” I said with amazement. “The dead have a city?”

“Of course,” replied the other ghost. “We’ll be around forever. We need a place to enjoy ourselves. Come on, we’ll show you, as compensation for the scare we gave you.” 

I followed them through the tunnel for about five hundred meters, past several bends. At last, we came to a gigantic cave, larger than any I had seen before.

We were on a ledge on one of the walls, but the cave went down for several hundred meters, its bottom being only visible thanks to the pale glow of the ghosts.

There were many more ledges on the walls beyond that where I stood. On the larger ones, there were buildings of all of Portugal’s historical periods. Awed, I saw Iron Age roundhouses, Roman villas, medieval huts, country houses, Pombaline buildings, and even a large multi-storey condominium, among others. Nothing connected the ledges to each other, for ghosts just floated between them.

Contrary to what had happened in the Faerie Bar, my presence in the City of the Dead did not go unnoticed. All the ghosts passing by looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and surprise.

“It’s been a long time since someone alive set foot in here,” said the creature that had given me the candle.

“I never even heard of that happening before,” said the other.

Suddenly, from the depths of the cave, another spirit appeared, looking angry.

“What have you idiots done? You bring a living one here, especially now, with all these disappearances?”

“Sorry, Mr. President,” said the two ghosts in unison, staring at the floor like two admonished children.

“Disappearances?” I asked curiously.

“Yes, some ghosts have disappeared in the last few months,” said the spirit that had given me the candle.

“It never happened before,” added the other. “The dead have always increased, never declined.” 

“Can’t you keep your mouths shut?!” Shouted the president.

He turned to me.

“And as for you, get out of here while you can. And don’t even think about coming back. We will move the entrance.”

The president’s tone left no room for discussion, and I did as he said.

On the way back to the car, and after, as I drove home, a question never left my head: how could the dead be disappearing? After my visit to the Faerie Bar and a closer reading of the diary I found, the existence of ghosts, or even of their incredible city, didn’t particularly surprise me, but this issue sent shivers up my spine. At the time, I didn’t quite understand why, but I would eventually find out.

Chapter 2 – The Faerie Bar

The day after I found the diary, the stories it contained were always on my mind.

After getting off work, my curiosity got the better of me, as usual, and I decided to visit a place called Faerie Bar in the book, which wasn’t too far from my office. According to what I had read, it was located near the Arco da Porta Nova, in Braga, under a shop that had already been home to several businesses and which was now a pastry shop.

At first glance, it looked like any other businesses of its kind, with a small terrace on the street, a front window full of cakes and other confectionery, and a counter with a coffee machine and other coffee shop paraphernalia.

I went in, sat down at one of the tables, among three other customers, and ordered tea and cake. I wanted to buy some time to study the place more closely and see if there was any truth in what I had read in the diary. Actually, the door that supposedly gave access to the Faerie Bar was in the expected place, but it could have been just a coincidence or an inspiration.

During the time I sat there, nothing extraordinary happened. It seemed, in every respect, an ordinary pastry shop. Finally, impatient, I paid and went to the bathroom, which was just after the mysterious door. But as I passed the later, I ignored the red sign that said “Restricted Access” and opened it. On the other side, I found a staircase that descended into darkness.

I didn’t go in right away. I was waiting for someone to scold me, to tell me that I couldn’t be there. But no one did, and I started descending.

About ten steps later, the door closed behind me, leaving me in the dark. I hadn’t planned that visit, so I didn’t have my faithful flashlight with me. I had to make do with my cell phone.

I went down for what seemed several minutes. Finally, I reached the bottom, where I found a second door. It was little different from the first. It even had a red sign saying “Restricted Access.” Again, I ignored it and opened the door. That was the most important moment of my life. At the time I didn’t know it, but my world, my all universe, would never be the same again, for it was then that I realized that everything written in the notebook I had found was true.

On the other side of the door was a bar, as I had read. The decor was modern with metal and glass chairs and tables and white, smooth and clean walls. However, that’s where the similarities with surface bars ended.

Its clientele was wholly formed by strange beings, some of whom I hadn’t imagined even in my weirdest dreams.

Many were humanoids, though the smaller ones didn’t even reach my knees, and the taller ones had twice my height, with skin tones that ranged from pale white to dark black, through gray and purple. Claws, horns, and spikes were also common.

Then there were those that were almost impossible to describe. Masses of tentacles with small spherical bodies amongst them; hybrids of various animals; long bodies with multiple legs.

In groups, the patrons chatted and drank the contents of teardrop shaped cups, which consisted exclusively of a clear liquid that looked like water.

The name Faerie Bar has been probably created by the author of the diary since most of these creatures didn’t fit the popular image of fairies (though there were some tiny humanoid beings with insect-like wings in the bar).

From what I had read, my predecessor didn’t stay in the bar long or tried to talk with the patrons. But my curiosity was stronger than his.

Fearfully, I went to the counter. Like the other furniture, it was made of metal and glass, but behind it, there were no shelves with rows of bottles, as I was accustomed to seeing in bars. In fact, the drinks seemed to have only one origin: from the ceiling, water trickled down to a stone pipe on the counter, which carried it to the barista.

I sat down on a high bench and looked around again. No one seemed to have noticed me, or at least they didn’t care.

The clerk put a glass in front of me, filled with the strange water. He didn’t say anything; he didn’t even ask what I wanted. Not that there was much of a choice.

Although he was an intimidating creature, with small horns crowning his head and incisors that didn’t quite fit in his mouth, I tried to chat with him:

“Is the bar always this full?”

He didn’t answer me. He simply turned his back and went to another customer.

“Miguel isn’t very talkative,” said a female voice beside me.

I turned and saw a very pale woman with white hair and several silver rings on her ears and face. She had a long neck, double or triple the size of a human, decorated with a golden torc. Her eyes were big and feline, but she had a small, discreet nose.

“Miguel?” I asked. “Is that his name?”

“What were you expecting?” She replied. “Gorash, or some other of those ridiculous names you give us in your stories?”

I confess I didn’t know how to answer. I even felt a little embarrassed. Fortunately, she changed the subject.

“I don’t see many of your race around here.”

“I didn’t know. This is my first time here.”

She placed a hand on my forearm.

“You know, I’ve always been curious about your race.”

“And I’m curious about yours.”

“I can answer any question you have,” she purred in my ear.

Her intentions were clear, yet I didn’t want to squander that opportunity to learn about the world I had just discovered.

“My name’s Alice, by the way.”

I told her my name.

“I find it curious that no one has made a big deal of my presence here. If my race is so rare around here…”

She smiled.

“Not many of you come here, but some do. At least we see more of you than you see of us.”

“Why? For what reason do you hide? Why don’t you live openly with us?”

“To be honest, I have no idea. I think it’s a cultural thing. We have always kept away from humans. And that Organization of yours doesn’t help either.”

“Organization?”

“Yes. Whenever one of us shows up in your world, by accident or not, or whenever a human who knows about us tries to reveal our existence, the Organization covers everything up. I swear that sometimes it seems they are more afraid that humans find out about us than we do.”

It was an interesting revelation. There was an organization dedicated to keeping the general public from becoming aware of the world I had just discovered. However, its existence also revealed that there were more intersections between the two worlds and more human beings that knew of these creatures than I had at first imagined.

“Don’t you drink?” She asked, pointing to the glass filled with the strange water in front of me.

Distracted by the conversation, I had completely forgotten my drink. Carefully, I took a sip. It didn’t taste particularly good. It tasted like water, lighter than the one I was accustomed to drinking, but still just water. Fearing that I was missing something, I drank the rest of the glass, but the taste remained the same, and I felt no further effects.

Alice noticed my disappointment.

“I think you have to be one of us to feel the effects of the water. It comes from a timeworn spring with special properties. A sip is enough to make us feel calmer and uninhibited. That’s why you can find me here every day. If you want.”

Once more, she touched my arm.

“How about if we went to a more private place to clarify my curiosities about your race? I don’t live very far.”

I confess that I felt tempted, but not for the most obvious reasons. I wanted to know more about those beings and the society in which they lived. Besides, during the conversation, I noticed several other doors beside the one I had used, each of which seemed to give access to a tunnel. It must be in them that those creatures lived, and the urban explorer in me desperately wanted to explore them.

Yet, I had to think that I was a married man with a daughter. It was better not to put myself in the way of temptation. Besides, I had already discovered much that day and I didn’t know if I could handle any more. Letting my feelings about the discovery of that world settle and then coming back seemed a better idea. After all, the mere fact that I was surrounded by beings that shouldn’t exist was enough to make me question everything I believed and knew about the World and life.

To Alice’s surprise, I excused myself saying that it was getting late and that my wife was waiting. At first, she insisted that I went with her, but she eventually let me go. I went back to the pastry shop and to the streets of Braga.

I didn’t go home immediately. I was too enthused about what I had just discovered. For more than an hour, I wandered around the city thinking about that new world, all the questions that its existence raised, and of future explorations to other places mentioned in the notebook. Today, I regret that I wasn’t able to control myself, to simply forget what I had seen and just stuck with my normal life.

Chapter 1 – The Book

The story of how I met the Witches of the Night is long and complex. To tell it in a way that everyone understands, I must explain the world that exists parallel to ours, which most people don’t know exists. As such, I will start with what, for me, was the beginning: the event that made me aware of this world.

From a young age, I have been interested in urban exploration. At the age of thirteen, I joined the Braga urban explorers group and, over the years that followed, I explored the ruins of warehouses, factories, monasteries, and many other interesting buildings. But it was only in my thirties that I dared to do a solo exploration.

It was of a house in the parish of Palmeira, on the outskirts of Braga, that I had discovered during one of the many visits to the Dona Chica Palace that the group had organized. Although I drew attention to the house, no one else showed interest in exploring it. It was a small home, with just a ground floor, and with nothing to distinguish it from those that surrounded it. But something about it drew my interest. Perhaps because it reminded me of my great-grandmother’s house, or because it was old enough to contain artifacts of the life of yore, not found in any modern house.

Whatever the reason, on a morose Sunday afternoon, when my wife went to visit her parents with our daughter, I drove to the old house. Taking care that the neighbors did not see me, I entered through a window whose glass and shutters had been broken by vandals.

On the other side, I found what was to be expected: a room full of broken glass, syringes and destroyed furniture. Anything of value had long been plundered. Still, I didn’t give up. Carefully, fearing to find some squatter, I continued exploring the house.

I entered the corridor, which gave access to two more rooms. Passing over the remains of broken doors, I entered the bedroom, which didn’t look any better than the living room. In the window, agitated by the wind, danced the remaining rags of crochet curtains. Clothes, from black dresses to felt hats, covered almost all the floor, clearly torn from the rotting closet and discarded for being worthless. Oddly enough, and despite the interest that antiquaries nowadays have in such furniture, an iron bed, with its white paint almost entirely replaced by rust, was still in the room, but upside down and tossed into a corner. The mattress had been removed and laid flat against the wall. It was covered in red, yellow, and white stains, and a shiver went up my spine as I thought of all that could have happened on it.

Then I went into the last room, the kitchen. The floor was littered with smashed crockery, and the cabinets were broken into and emptied. Everything else had been taken away.

Discouraged, I prepared to go back home. Unfortunately, there was nothing of interest in that house. The other urban explorers were right.

I was about to leave the kitchen when a metallic glow in the tiny pantry caught my eye. There, between broken shelves and nauseous remnants of rotten food, I found a door. The glow belonged to a primitive latch, which I opened immediately. On the other side, I found a stone staircase that descended into darkness. As I did when I explored a structure, I had a flashlight with me. Its light revealed a basement at the bottom of the stairs, apparently untouched by the vandals. Maybe the lack of daylight in there had kept them away.

Step by step, since I didn’t know what awaited for me down there nor how robust were the stairs, I descended. At the bottom, I found a veritable time capsule from mid-century Portugal.

In one corner, I saw an old manual sewing machine, still with the cast iron pedal and the belt that transmitted the movement to the needle. In a table next to it, there was a charcoal iron. I could almost see smoke coming out of his little chimney.

On the other side of the basement, next to a rotting fabric sofa, I found a cabinet containing a tube radio, its yellowish plastic testament of its antiquity.

On top of all surfaces, there were testimonies of past times: oil lamps, slabs of slate, jars of ink, ink pens, etc. However, my gaze fell mainly on a wooden chest that lay on the floor beside the stairs. Curious, I opened it. It wasn’t locked. Inside, I found albums with photographs, some of them certainly more than a hundred years old. It was sad to see those pictures of lively groups, couples dancing and dinner parties and thinking that most, if not all, of those people were gone.

Among the albums, however, I found a small notebook. I opened it and found that it was a diary. Normally, I never take anything from the places I explore, nor do I think that any urban explorer should do it, but having an account of the life of yesteryear was too tempting, and my curiosity got the better of me, as usual.

I left the house with the book in my pocket. I wanted to read it right there in the car, but dinner time was approaching.

When I got home, I put the book down and went to prepare the meal with the rest of my family. Despite being somewhat curious about its content, I dined calmly and even helped my daughter with her homework.

At last, I sat down at my desk and started reading. The stories in the diary were, in fact, interesting, fantastic, even, but in a way I didn’t expect. They mentioned hidden places in cities, mountains, and even the sea, and encounters with fairies, vampires, witches, goblins and innumerable other mythological and imaginary beings.

Was it a work of fiction, or the reverie of a madman? At the time, I couldn’t consider another hypothesis. But I also couldn’t stop reading, because many of the stories were in or near places I knew.

When I finally went to bed, it was almost two in the morning, and I only did it because I had to work the next day. Still, with much effort, I was able to push the book away from my mind long enough to fall asleep.