After my discovery of the diary, I had virtually abandoned urban exploration. However, a report in a Minho’s daily newspaper woke once more that interest of mine.
A vessel bound to the port of Viana do Castelo had sunk at the mouth of the river Lima. Interestingly, it sunk bow first, leaving its stern and back half almost vertically out of the water. The obvious opportunity for exploration was not lost in me.
In the next weekend, I went to Viana. To my relief, this time I didn’t have to lie or hide the truth from my wife. She was well aware of my interest in urban exploration. I didn’t like to deceive her, and she had surely started to suspect something.
I met an old friend who lent me a boat (the same I had used to explore the islets and find their king), and when night fell, I rowed to the wreck.
It occurred to me then that I could have invited the rest of Braga’s urban exploration group. I was so used to going on the expeditions based on the diary alone that this time I didn’t even think of them. And just as well, as I was about to find out.
Close to the ship, with the help of my flashlight, I looked for an entrance. It didn’t take me long to find a porthole situated just above the waterline. I approached and, with the flashlight handle, I broke the glass. I had some difficulty passing through the narrow porthole, but I eventually managed it.
As soon as my feet touched the metal floor, I pointed the flashlight around me. It was a cabin. The first thing I noticed was that it didn’t have any furniture. However, that wasn’t the strangest thing about that room. To my surprise, the door was in a vertical position. As the ship had sunk bow first, I should be standing on one of the walls. As such, it was as if that cabin was made to rotate ninety degrees.
I approached the door and cautiously opened a slit. On the other side, I found nothing but darkness, so I opened the door a little more and pointed the flashlight to the outside. I then saw a corridor lined with several other doors. I went out and began opening them. Behind every one, I only found empty cabins that differed little from that through which I had entered.
Finally, after a bend in the corridor, I saw a glow in the distance. I approached it and found a watertight door ajar. The light came from behind it. I opened it expecting to reveal another corridor, but what I found was something I had never imagined.
In front of me was now a huge open space, which occupied much of the submerged half of the ship. Metal stairs led down to a network of platforms and passageways, and finally, to the ground. This consisted of muddy earth which, at that depth, could only be the riverbed. On it, and on the platforms, men, cranes and back loaders opened a huge hole.
After seeing the gigantic hinges and hydraulic pistons attached to the inside of the hull, I realized that that ship was not only prepared to rotate ninety degrees, but it could also open the bow to explore the river and sea bed. Immediately, I wondered what they were looking for, but a blow to the head made me lose consciousness and stopped me from going immediately in search of the answer.
When I came to, I found myself in one of the small and empty cabins of the upper levels. It, however, didn’t have a porthole and was scarcely illuminated. Indeed, the only light came from the small gap between the door and the floor. I looked in my pockets, but all I had in them (phone, flashlight, pocket knife, wallet, keys) had disappeared.
I don’t know how long I was kept there before I heard the door being unlocked. Then it opened, revealing four men. Three of them wore dark gray uniforms, including boots and berets, and wielded assault rifles. They were clearly military but had no insignia to identify their country or service.
The fourth man, however, wore a suit, a black tie, and a white shirt. His short hair was neatly combed, with traces of gel, and he couldn’t be much older than me. He was probably in his early forties. In fact, he seemed like one of the businessmen that I come across every day at work.
Motioning to the soldiers to stay in the corridor, the man in suit entered the cabin and approached me.
“My name is Almeida, and I’m in charge of this investigation,” he said, extending his hand.
By mere habit, I greeted him. He, then, sliced his hands into his trousers’ pockets.
“I’m…” I started to say.
“I know who you are,” Almeida interrupted me. “You know, your blog didn’t go unnoticed.”
That statement caught me by surprise. In fact, I had a scarcely read blog where I wrote about my expeditions (you can find it in Portuguese at http://www.terceirarealidade.wordpress.com, but as you will soon realize, it isn’t a very reliable source). However, no one had identified me as the author.
“No need to look so surprised. Your activities are of great interest to us.”
“Why?” it was the only thing I managed to say.
“Blogs like yours can be a good tool to discredit the events that are our responsibility hide. The more apparently crazy people write about them, the less the public believes them.”
I didn’t need to hear any more to realize who those men were. They certainly belonged to the organization that Alice had told me about charged with hiding the world that exists parallel to ours.
“By the way, I have a proposal for you,” continued Almeida. “If you agree to add articles to your blog and change some of the already written according to our instructions, I’m willing to show you what we find here. If not, remember that we can easily make your blog disappear and hinder your life and that of your family.”
Looking at the soldiers behind him and thinking about all the resources I had seen digging the river bed, not to mention the ship itself, I didn’t doubt that he was able to fulfill his threat. Also, I wrote the blog more to pass the time than to be read, so the veracity of what was written in it wasn’t very important to me. I ended up accepting the Almeida’s proposal.
“Excellent!” he replied. “Come with me, then. We’re about to find what we came here looking for.”
He took me back to the corridors and, through them, to the huge chamber where the excavation was taking course. From a platform, we observed the work. At our side, a screen showed what I guessed was an image of the subsoil obtained by some kind of sensor. It clearly showed a huge white spot that could only be what those men sought. Almeida didn’t tell me what it was, and I didn’t ask. After all, judging by that image, I would soon find out.
Minutes later, something appeared. Among the dark mud, we now saw a white spot. The machines stopped and moved away, and the excavation was resumed by men with shovels.
Gradually, they revealed the mysterious object. Every second that passed it appeared larger. From the distance I was at, it was hard to be sure, but the white material it was made of had a strange texture, similar to skin. In fact, whenever one of the diggers touched it, it appeared elastic.
When, after more than an hour, the object became completely uncovered, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. On the one hand, it looked like an animal with the size of a whale, its skin covered with a viscous substance that was clearly organic. On the other, it had a triangular shape with rounded corners so regular that it didn’t seem of natural origin.
Almeida’s men patiently dug beneath the object and passed straps, made of what I think was Kevlar, through the gaps from one side to other. Then they attached them to a crane, which, slowly and carefully, began to lift the strange object in the direction of a platform not far from where we stood. As it passed near us, however, its “skin” began to move, first slightly, then violently. It looked like something was trying to get out from it. The soldiers pointed their weapons to it.
“Don’t shoot,” ordered Almeida.
Our suspicion was confirmed seconds later when a hand terminated by claws ruptured the surface. Before anyone could react, from inside the object emerged a vaguely humanoid creature covered with black fur. It was bigger than most men, about two meters tall, and had long arms that would touch the floor even if upright. It looked at us with his yellow eyes and then jumped toward us.
“Shoot!” shouted Almeida.
Bullets whizzed toward the creature, flying disconcertingly close to us, but none seemed to hit home. Propelled by his powerful legs, the creature reached our platform, pushing me and throwing me to the floor. I must confess that lying there at the feet of that being was one of the scariest moments of my life, at least until then. Those claws and fangs could rip me apart in an instant. Fortunately, the creature did not linger and ran up the stairs.
“After him!” ordered Almeida. “Don’t let it get off the ship.”
The soldiers did so. Almeida followed close behind. When I got back up and recovered, they had already disappeared behind the watertight door leading to the upper levels. I ran after them. Following the sounds of boots on the iron passes, I crossed corridors and climbed stairs until I got outside. I found them in what I can only call deck located on the back of the ship’s bridge. They were leaning over the side, pointing their guns at the water. I joined them.
“He jumped into the river,” Almeida said.
I helped them look for the creature in the water. It reappeared moments later, in the tall concrete riverbank. With the city library just above it, the Organization’s men didn’t dare to shoot, and the creature disappeared into an alley.
“We’ll have to chase him into the town,” Almeida said, more to himself than to those around him. “Lower the motorboat.”
Then he turned towards me, “Do you know Viana?”
“I grew up here,” I answered.
“Then you’ll have to come with us.”
The soldiers went back in through the same door from which I came. Shortly afterward, the wall started to move. An entire section slid aside, revealing a basement containing several big inflatable boats. The soldiers grabbed one and took it to the rail. With a press of a button, the rail lowered itself and rotated, forming a ramp through which the motorboat was taken to the water.
After we embarked, it took us just over one minute to get to the bank. We landed at approximately the same place where the creature had climbed to shore and followed it into the alley.
As expected, it no longer there was. The soldiers pointed their flashlights at the other three alleys that intercepted that one but found no sign of our target. They seemed quite experienced in those situations because, without waiting for an order from Almeida, they started looking for clues that would tell us where the creature could have gone. They soon found some marks in the half-fallen plaster of a nearby house. They were huge holes located more or less at regular intervals.
“He climbed to the rooftops,” Almeida said, voicing the obvious.
We all looked up, but of course, the creature was no longer there. However, we knew now what to look for. In an adjacent alley, we found tiles fragments that didn’t seem freshly fallen. In another, parallel to the latter, we found the same. In still another, we saw claw marks near the top of a wall. Following these clues, we ended up spotting a shadow that moved through the city’s rooftops. When we were passing in front of the Main Church, it even jumped over us, landing inside the bell tower. However, it didn’t remain there long, as it promptly jumped to the roof of the church and then to the building behind it.
Almeida and his men started down the street, certainly in search of a passage through which they could follow in the same direction of the creature, but I called them, “Through here.”
Taking a narrow, hidden alley next to the church, we ran parallel to the creature. When we emerged to a larger street, we were ahead of our quarry.
Finally, we reached the square located next to the old market in the center of which was the Chapel of Souls. In an attempt to prepare for the creature’s every possible movement, we moved to halfway between the street and the chapel. From there, we could follow it quickly wherever it went. Luckily, the being jumped straight to the roof of the chapel. With military quickness and precision, the Organization soldiers surrounded the building before the creature had time to move to the next.
“Put it down,” ordered Almeida when the being started gaining momentum for a new leap.
Automatic rifles opened fire. Despite having some interest in weapons, I had no idea what model they were. There was almost no noise when they shoot. Not that many people lived in that part of town to hear it.
When it was hit by the first bullet, the creature interrupted its jump and tried to find refuge, but the soldiers covered all the angles of the roof. Bullets and more bullets lodged in its body until it finally fell off. However, it wasn’t finished yet. It stood up and, with a growl, advanced in the direction of one of the soldiers. Almeida pulled a pistol from an inner pocket of his jacket and joined his men, surrounding the creature. Caught in the crossfire, it couldn’t resist anymore and finally fell, becoming still on the ground.
In an almost mechanical movement, without hesitation or even thought, one of the soldiers took out a black plastic sheet from his backpack, approached the body and covered it.
“You can go,” Almeida said to me, putting away his gun and shoving his hands in his trouser pockets. “We will be cleaning up, now. We will contact you to tell you what we want you to change on your blog.”
Obviously, I had a lot of questions. What was that creature? What was it doing on the river bottom? What was it inside of? And the Organization had been raised by whom? Who did it respond to? Who financed it? However, it was clear that Almeida wasn’t going to give me any answers, so I left and went to retrieve my friend’s boat.
Again, on the way back home, I became lost with the possible explanations for what I had seen. I got home almost without noticing, and only when the garage door began to open did I realize I had been away much longer than expected. What excuse would I tell my wife?