I know that in my previous post I said I would post this story over the weekend or earlier this week – I was however overcome by flu that is still tormenting me as we speak, I hope to be over it before I go on a short vacation next week to Berlin. Anyway, I finished the story and edited it, I made a quick graphic with it and – as a bonus – am adding some links with audio (click picture and YouTube video below!) that should really enrich the experience. Or I hope so, it helped me write this anyway!
So, without further ado, here it is – hope you will enjoy the audio and the story and leave a comment if you please. If you really like it, please retweet! I can use every bit of push I can get!
Sincerely – your sickly author,
And then I found this on top of it to make it all even creepier!
Now that you’re all set – here we go…
I write this to whomever has the misfortune of finding it,
My name is Bernardo Montés, I am a sailor and Conquistadore in service of the King of Castile. I am one of many you will never find, I beg of you not to become one like us, I write this in my dying hours.
We came here from the coast, having sailed South West from Hispaniola, to this cursed land. We met the natives, a simple people who do not wear proper clothes and worship no true, Christian God. We convinced them to show us the in-lands by offering them some of our commodities by which they were easily persuaded in great due to our Taino interpreters.
We sought after gold and silver and to conquer promising land in the name of our king but we found nothing of this kind. I do not know if the natives meant to set us up, but I know we stood alone when everything went wrong. The Taino have died by our side.
We set our course with the help of our Indian guides, whom can tell any tree from another and never get lost. We travelled across many rivers, the landscape changed from dry lands and hills to thick jungles that are damp and no sunlight touches the ground. As the temperature and humidity raised our guides grew more concerned. From what we understood from our interpreters they fear the other tribes here yet speak of them with admiration. Of golden cities and human sacrifice, but more than anything they fear the beasts that live here.
Tales of a spotted cat with teeth like daggers, of a giant snake that lives in the waters and a bird of terror. They fear this bird the most, they call it “the Blood Owl”, whose feathers are permanently stained red with the blood of their victims. Whose beak snaps like thunder and wings that not ride the wind but bring it. No man spotted by this beast has lived to tell. Only those in hiding, those who witnessed the carnage, come back with their stories before they lose their mind.
We laughed, how foolish of us to mock, I believe in doing so we have called this creature upon ourselves. No Spaniard fears the intentions of a bird, we would feast on it like chicken, should it have the nerve to show itself.
We ventured deeper into these ungodly lands, whose jungles never seem to end and the rains never stop, and began to realize there were truths to what they had told us. We saw the spotted cat, it growled as it gnawed through the neck of a wailing pig and disappeared into the trees.
Some of our men swore to have seen a snake wading through the river the size of a battle ship. I did not see this monster but could see the fear on the faces of these men, pale and contorted, like I have never seen on Sevillian sailors or soldiers from Navarre before.
With our long expedition came hunger and sickness, we had little luck hunting as the animals always saw us first. Only the indians could find us food, most of it not worthy of any man to eat. They eat from rotten roots, chew on leafs and even insects they will devour. But in despair we too ate them and many of us fell sick. We saved what little meat we caught, often from monkeys, to feed the sickest and hungriest. But for some it was already too late, friends now buried under the thick leafs, where they will never be able to be found again.
We ventured ever deeper and encountered some rivers with fish, caves to shelter, tall trees to hide from rain and even some animals to hunt, we had some hope. Hope to find food to eat that was not crusty and with slime, to drink water that had not stood for days in mud but flowed freshly.
But our guides grew more restless. When they thought we slept at night they spoke feverishly of the cries in the forests of which we thought nothing. The guides believed that the warning cries of the monkeys meant more than the logic of our commander, a Spanish nobleman.
Then one morning, the cowardly savages – all but two who we managed to catch – were gone. They had packed their meager belongings and left us in these woods. We could not believe that the promise of pure gold and the friendship of the Crown of Castille would not be enough for any man to drop his superstition. But these men did not flee superstition.
Our commander decided that going back was not an option, he believed that by now we were closer to our destination, the mystical city of El Dorado, than we were traveling back. Our Taino believed so too.
With only faith in our hearts we continued our journey into the endless fog, clouding our minds and taking our breaths away. But the promise of reward and so little other options makes a man strong.
We traveled on with our native prisoners, two young hunters, trying to lead us to the nearest river. Three days away. For now that was all the hope we had.
After just a day and a half a storm broke loose, a thunder that broke open the skies and showered us in rain so badly, it hurt the skin as the drops crashed down. We could not even start a fire to warm ourselves. Perhaps this was our final warning.
As night fell we dared not ask the young hunters about the reason why their fellow tribesmen had fled. We dared not ask about the cries we heard in the forests. They seemed to cautiously lead us around certain areas. But with the overflow of water, mud slides rushed from the hills down, making it difficult not to be surprised and swept away, this was becoming harder and we had fewer choices of passing. The nights bright as day in thunder. None had sleep.
When several of our men watched the sky, they claimed to see a monstrous bird sour, through the branches of the trees. We wove away their story, no bird flies in thunderstorm, but were in secret too scared to believe.
The gestures of a bird in flight said enough, or maybe one of our Taino interpreters said too much, to our prisoner guides. Again by dawn we were alone, they had somehow freed themselves from their shackles and ran. We were stuck between overflowing rivers, steep hills and mud slides in a green hell that never ended. One of the men went mad and tried to cut his throat. We stopped him but perhaps shouldn’t have, he would die a worse death soon.
Through a densely grown valley we ventured away from the hill tops, our bodies growing weaker with every step. Malnourished, sleepless and without hope.
The steep climb down forced us to travel in a long line, every man on his own with another barely in sight.
After several hours of travel we noticed that two men at the back of the line were missing, we feared that a mud slide had separated them from the group, the men before them believed they had last seen them within the hour. We believed it to be our duty to return for them, we could not leave them die, not within an hour’s reach.
The Taino helped us trace back our footsteps, we searched for an hour and called their names into the damp air, but not a word came back. We feared that they had strayed from the path never to be found again. There was no other choice but to leave with heavy hearts.
As we ventured back, a panic suddenly broke loose. One of the men had witnessed another in front of him being swept away but what he could only describe as a gust of wind. Even with just a few steps between the growth was thick as a wall and it was impossible to see clearly what it had been. As he told his story, a warm rain fell from the tree tops above, thick drops that did not run easily down the skin. I felt it but thought nothing as I listened intensity while we counted the men. Then I smelled it and realized this was not rain. It was blood.
Before I could say a word we heard a deafening screech, one drowning out even the thunder, freezing us all dead in our tracks. A shadow cast across the forest floor. My breath stopped as I could see the shape of a giant bird.
Within a moment, with souring speed, the creature flashed by between us. Without fear or hesitation, it grabbed our commander and sped back into the trees. We could hear it, his screams and wails and the cracking of his bones, but that was not the worst.
With a thud something fell from the trees, rolling down and coming to a halt. We ran for what it was, but inside we knew. It was our commander. His upper half – still alive.
Never have I seen a brave nobleman in such fear and pain. He could not speak, he only stared at us for a few moments as he began to pale. From his torso fell out his insides as if the contents of a ruptured bag. I held his hand as he whimpered and tried to whisper his last prayers. He never finished a sentence.
The men around me frantically began to load their guns and unsheathed their swords, again the screech followed by the deafening fire of guns into the air. Nothing but dead parrots and monkeys fell from the trees around us.
The thunder in the sky rolled by and as if with perfect timing the monstrosity dove in, I could see it coming through the branches that shook as if an elephant was trying to break through. But this was no elephant, this was a nightmare. Our group broke out in frantic screaming, I dropped myself next to the commander’s lifeless body.
It flashed by over my head, I could feel the pressure of its wings, see the blood on its claws and beak. It looked like an owl but bigger than a condor and vulture together, more terrifying and haunting than any other bird I had ever seen. Tall as a man, wide as an ox cart.
I watched in horror as another man fell prey, the creature crashed into him with such speed that he could only let go of a sigh as the razor-sharp claws stabbed into him like daggers. It swept him off his legs and made a steep ascend into the trees again. I held my ears as not to have to hear the poor soul scream in agony but forgot to close my eyes. A severed foot and leg fell before me.
I cried out in fear when someone grabbed my shoulder, it was one of the other men. We all ran as fast as our legs could carry us, no matter the branches and thorns that cut open our face, tripped our legs and kept us from seeing around – nothing was stopping us from fleeing. The Taino ran like the wind but were brave enough to wait for us to follow. If it had not been for them we would have not made it out. But in the end it mattered nothing.
We ran till we could no longer hear the screeching of the bird, the giant Blood Owl that was haunting us. Men broke down in ways no man should but it was nothing short of forgivable – nothing but our Almighty Lord could save us now. And so we prayed for hours. For our commander and the others we had lost. But above all we prayed like cowards, we prayed for ourselves the hardest.
And as night fell we sat in a giant group, pressed together like lost sheep. Trembling not of cold but of pure fear. Our weapons rattled eager to fire and slash at what was inevitably coming for us.
And by God’s grace I fell asleep, I closed my eyes and returned to my beloved Spain and the town I had grown up in. I fell asleep and for a moment forgot where I was, huddled between wet and scared men. In our foolishness we did not realize we were a beacon of scent, attracting anything nearby that was bold enough to make way.
I woke up from the screams, the pushing and the gunfire lighting up the sky and trees around us. I fear that in panic I may have stabbed another man swinging my sword into the air. But in the chaos that broke out it mattered little.
Soon the owl was grabbing fleeing men and soaring back into the trees, all we could do was fire into the tree lines where we had last seen it. But I realized this was of little success, the creature was too cunning to stay at one spot and be killed and too strong to fear our weapons up close. Truly this bird was from hell.
I have tried to be brave, truly, but as another man – or part of him – fell before me I could no longer be. With his dying breath he whispered to run and so I did. God forgive me, I did.
I don’t know how long or how far I ran, but I know the screaming stopped and not just because I was far away. There were none left to cry out. I left them to die.
After much effort a shallow cave near a waterfall came onto my path, not even the bats inside could keep me from hiding. This is where I write my letter from. It is cold and dark and the monster will find me. I have heard the clapping and rushing of its wings and seen its reflection over the water just before me – circling. It’s waiting.
Every time it screeches from its monstrous beak the bats in the cave squeal and tremble in fear, I have seen or heard no other forest animals. They know to be quiet. It wants me – only me.
I realize now that I have done myself no favors in fleeing, my friends had the fortune of dying together. I will die alone. But not a coward.
I have written this to the best of my ability in cold darkness on a piece of canvas. Heed my warning, my fellow Conquistadores, you will not find a city of gold but merely death on your side. Everything the natives told and warned us of is true. There is no escape, I am trapped here in this cursed cave and endless wilderness. No matter what I and my fellow explorers that fell before me have tried, we will have to face death.
I’ve prayed every day to the Holy Mother to bring me back safe or bring me the city of gold, but now I know that none of this will ever be. I sit here and realize that this is my final destination. I have been forsaken.
With that I end my letter. For the last time in my life I will say prayer before I will step from this cave with my last strengths but my sword raised high. I have no illusions of surviving, this is my last stand. May the Lord keep my soul and those of the men who died before me. I hope that whoever reads this will be more fortunate than me.
Marinero de Primera in service of the King of Castile, in search of El Dorado.