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, 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?

Chapter 7 – The Cerqueiras

One day after work, a few months since my first visit to the Faerie Bar, I decided to go back there. Due to work and family commitments, I hadn’t had the opportunity to investigate one of the diary entries for some time, but my curiosity was beginning to become unbearable. The Faerie Bar was close to the office where I worked, so it was an ideal place for a quick visit. Who knows, maybe I would find someone who could answer some of my questions or even have the opportunity to visit the tunnels hidden under Braga.

As before, I accessed the bar via the stairs behind a door in the back of a pastry shop near the Arco da Porta Nova. When I got there, I came across a scene similar to that of my first visit. There was only one significant difference. A man was seated at the counter. Alice had told me that it was rare to see anyone of my race there, so I approached slowly, watching him closely to make sure it wasn’t just another human-like creature. As soon as I became sure that I wasn’t mistaken, I sat down beside him.

He looked as surprised as me to see another human there. His name was Henrique Cerqueira, and although he had known about that other world for some time, he didn’t seem to know much more than I did. Still, we exchanged tales as we drank a glass of the water that was the only drink served at that bar. He didn’t usually leave Braga, so he didn’t know all I had found out, but he told me about another place similar to the Faerie Bar on the other side of town, although he had warned me that it wasn’t so well frequented. There was no mention of it in the notebook I had found, so I made a mental note to visit it later.

Our conversation was interrupted, after just over an hour, by a phone call from my wife. I had to go home, but not before Henrique gave me his cell phone number and invited me to come have lunch at his house one day. Maybe because I finally found someone I could talk to about that world that most people were unaware of, I was looking forward to my visit.

Unfortunately, I was only able to accept the invitation almost three weeks later, when my wife had to go out of the country because of work and my daughter went to spend a few days at a friend’s house.

I drove to the old parish of Dadim, where the Henrique’s house was located. It wasn’t hard to find. Following the path he had indicated, I immediately ran into an isolated house, just above the base of a forest-covered hill. In front of it lay a valley that I never realized existed, for it was in a depression that was not visible from the road. A granite wall enclosed it and the house, telling me that it belonged to the Cerqueiras’.

I drove to the entrance and rang the bell. A voice asked through the intercom who I was, and as soon as I answered, the gate opened.

Even by car, it still took me about five minutes to traverse the dirt road, which meandered through terraces covered with vineyards.

After one last turn, I got to the house. Up close, it was truly impressive. It had only one floor, with the exception of the tower on its right side, which rose two stories high, although the attic also appeared to be spacious. The whole front of the house was occupied by a huge porch, whose ceiling rested on several cast iron columns. Behind it, windows, also made of cast iron and decorated with various shapes, occupied almost the entirety of the wall.

I stopped the car in front of the steps that led up to the main door where Henrique and the rest of the Cerqueira family awaited me.

“Welcome to Vila Marta,” said Henrique with a smile when I reached the top of the stairs.

Then he introduced me to his family. Between children and adults, there were about twenty people there.

From the entrance, we passed to the vestibule, where I left my coat, and from there to the dining room. There was a huge table with ten chairs on each side. As a guest, they gave me a seat near the end of the table, in front of Henrique. To our right, at the head of the table, sat Henrique’s mother, the family’s matriarch, while the rest of the family sat in the other places on our left.

After a short while, an elderly maid, older than any of the diners, began to bring platters from the kitchen. The conversation started with the usual trivialities about job, family, and even the weather. Then it finally went into that world parallel to ours, of which the whole family was aware.

“How did you find the Faerie Bar and all the other places Henry told me you visited?” the matriarch finally asked.

I told her the story of how I found the notebook that had brought me to those discoveries.

“In our case, it’s a family heirloom,” Henrique explained. “No one knows for sure for how many generations we have this knowledge.”

The conversation then became about strange creatures and places hidden from the sight of most men. Everyone contributed something, and I found out things that weren’t even in the notebook.

Lunch lasted almost until four o’clock, when the diners began to rise. Henrique led me into the living room, where we sat down to drink a whiskey older than me. Through the wide windows, one could see the vineyards in front of the house.

Amidst the drinks, Henrique told me how that vineyard was the source of the family wealth since time immemorial.

That’s when I noticed something peculiar.

“Where are the workers?” I asked, noting the lack of movement in the fields. “You must need a lot of manpower to keep a vineyard so big.”

“Here, most work is done at night,” he explained.

“At night?” I asked confused.

“Come,” he said, rising from his chair.

Henrique led me into the corridor and through it to the ground floor of the tower. There he turned aside a bookcase full of books, revealing a narrow tunnel containing a stairway that curved downward until it disappeared from view. Led by my host, I descended to the bottom, where we came upon a wood and iron door that seemed decades, if not centuries, old. Despite its age, Henrique opened it without any difficulty, giving access to a huge cellar that probably occupied the whole area of ​​the house.

We crossed the narrow corridors opened between fertilizer sacks, wine barrels, empty and full bottles, and farm implements until we reached the far side of the basement opposite the one we entered. There, we found a wall interrupted only by a bar door. Henrique took me to it. 

When I peeked through the bars, I didn’t know what to say. On the other side was a small room with a pungent smell. In the middle of the ground, almost in darkness, dozens of small creatures, no more than a meter high, were pilled. Their skin was blue-grey, and long, matted black hair cascaded down their backs. Claws ended their feet and hands.

“You can’t find cheaper labor,” said Henrique, clearly proud. “A bucket of cooked meat every night and they are ready to work.”

I didn’t know how to respond. Those creatures weren’t human, I knew that, and I didn’t know how intelligent they were, but even then, what the Cerqueiras were doing seemed wrong to me.

Henrique noticed my discomfort and led me back into the living room to finish our drinks. I stayed there for almost another hour, but we didn’t speak much. Finally, excusing myself that it was getting late, I left Vila Marta.

On the way home, I couldn’t forget my disappointment. I had found someone with whom I could talk about that world hidden from most humans, but he used it for his own benefit.

During that night, I hardly slept, because I couldn’t take the image of those creatures jailed in that basement. Even the next day, during work, I couldn’t forget. As such, and despite having a lot of urgent work, after office hours I went to the Faerie Bar. I hoped to find Alice there to tell her what I had seen.

I opened the door that gave access to the bar slowly. I didn’t want to come across Henrique Cerqueira. Fortunately, there was no sign of him. On the other hand, Alice was sitting at the counter almost in the same place where I had first seen her. I approached and sat down on the barstool next to her.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hi,” she said sarcastically.

She clearly hadn’t forgotten my sudden departure last time.

I began to tell her what I had seen in the Cerqueiras house. Although she didn’t appear very interested at first, I ended up getting her attention.

“From what you say, they use troll slaves to work the fields. They aren’t the most intelligent of creatures, nor the most agreeable ones, but they don’t deserve to be treated like that. Come back here tonight. I’ll see if I can find someone to help us.”

I agreed. After dinner, I told my wife and daughter that I had to go back to the office to work so I could leave without raising much suspicion. In fact, it wasn’t totally a lie. I should have gone to work that night, but I couldn’t let the Cerqueiras continue to exploit those poor creatures.

When I returned to the Faerie Bar, it was almost empty. In addition to one or two lone clients, there was a group of five creatures, of which Alice was a part. She called me and asked me to tell the others what I had seen.

As I told, once more, what I had seen in the Cerqueiras house, I observed my new companions. One of them, a man, seemed to be the same race as Alice, for he had the same white hair, long neck, and feline eyes as she. Another was small, barely reaching my waist, and had yellow and orange skin. In contrast, beside him was a very tall, slender woman with blue skin and large eyes, and several black lines on her face that I couldn’t tell if they were natural or tattoos. Finally, at a nearby table, sat a tiny creature that closely resembled the popular idea of ​​a fairy. On her back grew dragonfly-like wings, and small multi-colored scales covered the back of her neck and arms.

When I finished my story, everyone readily agreed to help free the trolls. Then Alice led us to one of the doors to the tunnels where their races lived. Ever since I’d discovered the bar, I have wanted to visit them. I just wished the circumstances had been different.

The door, after a short walk, opened into a wide, high tunnel with a cobbled floor, granite walls, and arched ceiling. Blue flames, which seemed to emit no heat, burned in niches on the walls and gave as much or more light than modern light bulbs. There was a myriad of other doors on both walls.

During our journey, we went through several curves and bifurcations. The further we went, the bigger the tunnels became, and the greater the crowd that walked through them. On the surface, only during the summer did I see so many people. And never with that diversity. I lost count of the number of different races I came across.

Finally, we descended a staircase to a huge rectangular chamber. It was traversed in its center by a ditch that connected at both ends to tunnels larger than any we had passed.

Together with other creatures, we waited on that platform. About ten minutes later, a light appeared in of one of the tunnels. Shortly thereafter, a gigantic creature emerged from it. It was as high as the trench and long enough to occupy the entire length of the chamber. It looked vaguely like a centipede, with a red-brown body and a myriad of thin legs. However, it had no antennae, and its face was vaguely human. On the creature’s back lined up six wooden carriages.

Using a boarding plank, we climbed to one of these carriages and settled on the wood and iron benches. A little later, we set off, entering the other tunnel leading into the chamber. Braga had a subway after all. The surface inhabitants simply didn’t know about it.

We disembarked about fifteen minutes later, in a chamber very similar to the one in which we had boarded that strange train. We climbed stairs and returned to a tunnel system. That one was much smaller than the one next to the Faerie Bar, with much fewer doors and bifurcations. Finally, we came to a metal door guarded by a tall, muscular creature, who let us out. We were now in a narrow natural cave, through which I could only walk sideways. A few moments later, a silver light appeared ahead. After passing a thicket, which disguised the entrance, we reached the outside.

It was with some surprise that, in the moonlight, I realized that we were in the valley of the Cerqueiras, near the border between it and the hill, not far from one of the farm’s walls. Was that the way Henrique used to enter the world hidden under Braga?

Without wasting time, the little fairy flew over the wall. She returned about five minutes later.

“The trolls are already working,” she told us. “And they’re not alone. The Cerqueiras use Ogrons as foremen.”

“How many?” Alice asked.

“I’m not sure, but not many.”

“So let’s go.”

“Wait,” I said. “What’s the plan?”

“We go in there and distract the foremen while the trolls escape,” Alice answered, not even stopping. “Come on.”

The wall that surrounded Vila Marta and its fields was more than two meters high. If we were all human, it would have been a hard obstacle to cross. Luckily, one of my companions had retractable claws, so it reached the top with relative ease. Then he helped us to the other side.

There was no lighting on those terraces, and it was one of the last nights of a waning moon, so it was dark. I could see nothing beyond the diffuse silhouettes of the vineyards and the poles that supported them.

“I can’t see anything,” I said to my companions.

“We do,” said the fairy and the creature who had helped almost in unison.

“Come on,” Alice said.

With me following the others blindly, we climbed to the first terrace. We hid behind a circular wall, which must have belonged to a well, and we looked up. On the next terrace, I could see several silhouettes among the vineyards, most of them small, but one exceptionally large, probably the foreman.

Alice put a hand on my arm.

“You don’t see well in the dark, so you’re going to help me with that foreman. The others will take care of the terraces above.”

I readily agreed. Crouched, we climbed the dirt ramp that led to the next terrace. Then Alice and I broke away from the others. We tried to approach without being seen, using the poles as hiding places, but the foreman’s night vision seemed to also be better than mine, for he promptly emitted a fearful howl and advanced toward us.

Alice pulled me, and, together, we threw ourselves against him. At first, the being resisted our onslaught, but we ended up managing to push it to the ground. As we pinned down the foreman, Alice shouted to the goblins, “Run! Get out of here!’

The creatures hesitated for a moment, but soon fled, crawling down the wall that supported the terrace like cats.

The ogron continued to struggle and shout. Alice punched him and, when that didn’t work, again and again, and again still. The creature kept moving, so he hadn’t lost consciousness, but he no longer struggled.

“I think we can go,” Alice said.

When we reached the ramp through which we had climbed, we saw the silhouettes of our companions running from the higher terraces, accompanied by small shapes that could only be trolls. Behind them, I heard Henrique’s voice and heavy footsteps. We had been discovered, and reinforcements were coming.

We ran back to the wall, and the trolls, in their craving for freedom, overtaking us and getting outside before we even began climbing.

After leaving the Cerqueiras land, we saw and heard no further signs of pursuit. Still, we just stopped running when we entered the tunnels that led to the living train. To where the trolls had fled, we didn’t know, nor if we had succeeded in freeing them all. There was no point in thinking about it, though. After that night, the Cerqueiras would be on their guard. We were never going to be able to save anyone from that farm again.

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.