GLOOMY SIERRA

When you are in the middle of a shipwreck, all problems disappear in the face of the only priority: saving yourself from imminent death. There, in the middle of the ancient tropical mountains of Paranapiacaba, part of the Atlantic Sierra, the accident was of a different order, but the effect was the same on me. Seeing the humble worker trapped by the forearm in the mass of ironwork and stones, at the entrance to the partially collapsed tunnel, was to make the heart jump through the mouth. The risk of another collapse about to occur made everything more distressing, reinforced by the fearful inaction of the fools present around us.

When I noticed more pebbles falling, my only impulse was to get a very sharp machete and ask the doctor to prepare a good dose of morphine. I delivered my strongest blow to the man using both hands. Afterwards, I was already bringing to the outside the worker without his forearm, helped by his colleagues. Under everyone’s astonished eyes, just over a minute later, a new massive plunge ended up sealing the gallery. Better to lose an arm than life, Baruch Spinoza would say.

Obviously, I was not happy. Not because of this uncomfortable situation or the leery gloats of men on a brave woman in their midst, which I had become accustomed to. What bothered me was having insisted on the wrong place for this tunnel and caused two accidents, the first one a few months ago, which suspended the job until now. Perhaps the natives who had protested when we started this part of the work were right about being a disturbance to a feared and inviolable place, which could result in an unimaginable danger to the world, according to them. Upon hearing this, I even laughed at the issue.

Rationally, I could not even consider such a hypothesis to be valid. However, I swear I was impressed after the inaugural detonation in the pre-existing niche revealed a side gallery to our route, with a long rustic staircase going down to the heart of the mountain. At its end, an unusual crypt similar to the pharaonic tombs. The artifacts that were able to be collected from it, all bizarre – a cube composed of metallic pieces and two small black stone slabs with several bas-reliefs – were being studied by the new priest to the village, a doctor of archeology. The few who entered the mysterious excavation felt enormous fear, as they left the region the same day, vowing never to return. However, the superior orders were to keep absolutely confidential about all of this: investors and farmers would not like any interruptions in the construction of this second railway line in the region “just so that some old things without any importance for progress would be unearthed.”

Arriving at a fast gallop to the friendly village with terraced houses, wooden painted in wine color, two simultaneous events intensified a feeling that something strange would happen. First, a huge, black, furry dog, more like a prehistoric wolf, stared at me fiercely on a deserted street, with glowing red eyes. As I could not stand his gaze, I turned away only to see a flight of many black birds. At first, I even thought they were bats. They came and went as if they formed pieces of the sunset image itself, as if the horizon was a flat painting. The scene seemed to unravel in small spots, revealing a dark and unknowable chaos behind it, just to recompose itself as an evening sight again.

As soon as I entered the headquarters manor of the company’s commander, located at the village’s highest point, the panoptic palace of a paranoid, Mister James Fforde, the chief engineer, humiliated me with his British politeness. He attributed my big mistake with the tunnel because I’m a woman. He scoffed, even if between the lines, about the fact that I am not English and summarily demoted my position. Then, looking for solace in the arms of my husband, also an Englishman and also an engineer, I felt even worse.

At that moment, his arms and voice only reminded me of my married name, Rita de Moraes Sarmento Miller, hammering a certain guilt in my mind. Sometimes I felt that I had stayed with him just for convenience, even though I was very fond of his sweet and calm company. That cold Friday night saw a dense fog descend which brought a huge uproar to the place: two young single women had disappeared without a trace. Before going back inside, some neighbors were terrified that this could be the return of the murder wave of almost a decade ago: – “Much like Whitechapel’s”, they said, or even of the mad rush that had spread there and also in the villages of Saint Bernard and Saint Paul in 1897, just a year before I arrived here, about two and a half years ago.

One of these cronies had once told me that it was precisely from that first occasion, in 1890, that certain people began to witness the legend of the Black Cape Man. The phenomenon had been called that for lack of a better term, as it would not be exactly a man wearing an overcoat. Those who claimed to have seen such an entity, reported a large figure made of the densest darkness and which seemed to flutter a mantle when moving, with a malefic laugh.

I was not easily impressionable, but that rest of the night I had a suffocating nightmare, in which I was chased by a furious mob of deformed people. When trying to escape, I always returned to the same place. I woke up inside the dream, as if in my living room and was startled by a black wolf with glowing red eyes, growling in front of me. So I really woke up, screaming, very shaky and sweaty.

Early in the morning, after a quick breakfast without food, I called my now former assistant, Phillip Whateley, to find out more about the items recovered from the strange catacomb. He was a man with wide eyes, eccentric mannerisms and quite laconic. Phil took us a delicious pie of pork shank, still smoking. We learned from the archeologist priest Patrick McElvoy, an Irishman recently arrived from Providence, USA, that the night before he had been attacked in the rectory. Although he had managed to defend himself, he had not prevented the strange cube from being stolen by the masked thief, leaving only the plates with the curious inscriptions.

While we were enjoying Mister Whateley’s delicious preparation, the priest asked him where he had found pork, as the village butcher said it was missing, since all the pigs in the area were disappearing. Phil elusively stammered when he replied that a neighbor had hunted a wild pig. At that time, a very tall and strong young man, with a steady look, called Aleister Crowley, knocked on the door. The priest waited for his arrival, having asked his friends in London to send urgent help to decipher the unusual writing on the tablets.

The guy moved and spoke with affected mannerisms like those of a woman, but he showed more firmness than any man I had ever met. He reported a little about his recent trip to Mexico and that he had experienced incredible things there, as well as the chance to study the Mayan codices in more detail. He was, therefore, an expert in ancient languages and occult symbology, in theory and practice, as well as a good-natured person. Lighhearted, yet, deep.

McElvoy soon presented his best brandy and we all started to speculate while drinking. Was that construction the work of the colonizers? By the type of icons and characters in the small slates, Crowley guaranteed that they were something even before the Phoenicians. How could that be?! Well, as the Vikings and Chinese had already visited the Americas, that didn’t sound so crazy.

The occultist said in English, laughing and licking his fingers: – “Hmmm, delicious pie! The flesh is soft like the thighs of a virgin … ”, to everyone’s dismay. While Phil widened his eyes and looked around, Crowley spoke in a fully experienced tone: – “Give me until the night that I will finish translating everything and interpreting the drawings. However, do not look for depth in words and symbols, as this is a mystery hidden by sages. Something that goes beyond the meanings and deals with the living essence of reality ”. We left there so that the specialist could rest a little from his trip and could dedicate himself to hard work without interruptions.

The night came again with a thick fog. With her, another ruckus. One of the girls who disappeared the night before was hanging upside down at one the main square corners, where it was customary to hang advertisements for the village, especially religious ones, such as weddings and baptisms. As the village doctor was far and would not arrive so soon, Father Patrick, Mister Crowley and I got access to the body with the police. A spongy purple fungus came out of every hole in the head, like the flesh of a mushroom. We didn’t touch anything with bare hands just in case. It was clear that it was something that came from the inside out, not the other way around. The occultist, as a good polymath, explained that he had learned enough at Trinity College, Cambridge, to attest that the mold was not of this world. After all, no fungoid being would act so fast, devouring a human being overnight.

The three of us later met at my home. Although at sunrise my husband had gone to the Sao Paulo Railway ceremonies at Luz station and would only be back in two days, the presence of a priest with me guaranteed my honor before “society” (not that I cared much about these things, I have to confess). Crowley revealed to us that the stone tablets contained cuneiform writing, probably Assyrian, since they mentioned King Tudiya. They had registered that the metal cube, called the Jeremiads Machine, would have been entrusted to humans by god Bunene. It was a key locking access to a kingdom inhabited by beings harmful to us. However, two lines were in Egyptian hieroglyphs and Greek alphabet, indicating that whoever brought the artifact and built the crypt was a detachment from the end of the Alexandrian Empire.

Before it got too late, we decided to look for the natives. According to Lord Boleskine (a reference to Crowley’s current and wealthy home in England), they might have known something more practical about all of this, since the inscriptions only revealed that the cube contained a puzzle that prevented it from being activated unintentionally. We were looking for one of the train drivers who had become my friend, Mr. Antonio Carrasqueira. He kindly pointed out to us which hill and trail led to a tribe where indigenous and recently freed Africans lived mixed in harmony. As we left, Crowley did a prediction to the man:
– “Your youngest son will be a very talented flutist and, with his music, he will dispel the darkness that will befall here again in the future”.

McElvoy said goodbye and returned home, saying he had trouble riding. Although not sure where to go, we had enough kerosene for several hours and I knew something about that path. Before entering the forest, we tied the horses on the road. It had not been twenty minutes of walking, the atmosphere was filled with a dense, unnatural darkness. Even the occultist had a serious face. I felt a presence that I can only characterize as an evil one. An abnormal profusion of horrific scenes crossed my thoughts, as if trying to penetrate me with images of people being killed in various horrible ways.

My partner calmly lit a pipe with whiff of opium, puffing it in my face. While he smoked, he uttered an incantation, but not in Latin or Greek. The artificial darkness then moved away, as if a cloak had been removed from us. We heard a high-pitched roar. However, it did not reach us through sound, only through the mind. A beautiful white owl appeared and guided us to the hilltop. There, we were received by a black woman, who said: – “Mother Nanapo is waiting for you”. You could see huts and two small fires. There was a comforting rather than an embarrassing silence. Natives and Africans were seen with the typical garments of each other mixed.

The black priestess was a beautiful woman with long, highly curly hair, crowned by a turban of a beautiful bright red cloth with a huge conch in the middle. Looking at her was both serene and strong at the same time. By her side, two other black women who seemed to form a triumvirate, given the parity of clothes and the equal reverence with which they were all treated. However, they were quieter, occasionally just whispering in Mother Nanape’s ears.

They received an offering from Crowley, who said it was some dried buds of peyote, a Mexican flower used by the natives of that place to “open up spiritual vision”. In return, they gave us little mushrooms to eat, saying they would be our allies to “see the light”. Then the yalorishah spoke to us, in a soft but serious tone: – “Yami Oshorongah was the one who brought you here safely. She is a primordial being, feared by those who ignore her wisdom. A few years ago, a malevolent being arrived here in the region and she is trying to stop him. We try to help her. Now, there is a risk that this evil will be strengthened by the fault of the white man”.

She explained that the husband of the three women, the shaman Andirá-ypí, would speak now. As if he had appeared out of nowhere, an old Native man started to dance, smoking his long pipe. He was naked, his body painted with drawings in black and red inks, a red stripe in the line of his eyes. When he stopped, he looked very closely at Crowley, as if he were stripping him down, while making strange faces and babbling. The occultist smiled slightly and nodded, as if he understood. The shaman said: – “The place that the carayba (literally, “pale face”, white man) opened kept a boat that brings demons from the purple mushroom. Shadow monster always tries to muddle the minds of the carayba. If these bullies arrive, everyone will be ruined”. He stopped for a while, puffing on us a good-smelling herb that he had placed on his smoking pipe.

Then he said: – “Inside each person there is a bright and a dark dog. They keep fighting each other. Do you know who wins? None. If any of them wins, vitality dissipates. For them to stop fighting, it is necessary to love and feed both, because each has its place. The carayba here will understand. For everything to return to its place here, you will have to unite the highest sky and the lowest depths”. He touched both of our low bellies at once, with each hand, and continued: – “You will see a stain. It will become a crack. This is the passage between everything and nothingness. The uncreated mind will come out of this”, seating and closing his eyes. Another pleasant silence followed before they took us to out of the village and down the trail back to the road.

Almost at the entrance to the village, we caught a man attacking a young woman. Crowley tried to chase him, but he ran through the houses. I went to her, but she was already dead. Lord Boleskine found that the girl’s throat had been cut, her abdomen cut and she was without her heart. He exclaimed: – “I found you, Whitechapel devil! Now I’ll get you”. He asked me to indicate Mister Whateley’s house, since the killer’s boots were the same as Phil’s. As we galloped as fast as possible, Crowley took a dagger from his pocket full of engraved symbols, with which he drew patterns in the air. When we arrived at my ex-assistant’s home, the occultist threw himself inside with the skill of a chasing policeman.

Going down to the basement, we found the owner of the house. The two Englishmen began to altercate. I was stunned to realize that the room looked like a kind of temple, decorated with grotesque images, with remains of human skeletons, some candles and a barrel full of salt. On a small pyre lay what appeared to be the burnt remains of a human heart. Crowley stuck the dagger into Phil’s stomach. At that time, some of the figures on the walls twisted and disappeared, as if they were animated by the Lumière brothers. My sanity was standing by a thread and all I could do was sit down.

After making sure Phil was dead, Crowley came over to me and made me take a generous sip of something that looked like laudanum, bringing me calm. He explained that we didn’t have much time, but that it would be necessary to make love there, to stop the dark energies evoked. What could have outraged me at any other time, just reminded me of what the shaman had said about the union of opposites. This was definitely a totally inappropriate place for the first night with a man, although I have been very attracted to the wizard since I met him. However, it was the greatest pleasure I ever felt in life, something unimaginable …

After the act, we were surrounded by a rosy luminosity, a sense of eternity and inseparability in which even the most apocalyptic evil was nothing more than a void to be filled by a stream of goodness. We went out calmly. The street lights went out, but we could clearly see the dark spectrum trying to overpower us again, casting shadows over us like long cloaks. Crowley, however, managed to face him using a strange gesture with his right hand, while keeping his other hand grabbing mine.

We walked, pushing the monster to the station. Strangely, a train that should not have been there at that time was stopped on the platform, about to leave to the Saint Bernard station. The nefarious being threw himself inside, letting out a hellish howl. The sinister cube was never found and Father McElvoy disappeared without any news. More than a year later, the new railway opened, my husband and I moved from there with our first baby. I never saw the English mage again and we never corresponded by letter or telegram, but I was never able to sleep in complete darkness again.