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 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?

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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.