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 1 – The Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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