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.

Advertisements

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.