I am listening to his last words from that awful night fifty years ago again. No matter how many times I listen, the terror in his voice raises the hair on the back of my neck. I hear the sound of a man being scared out of his mind. But I’m also straining to catch something I might not have heard before, which will finally make sense of what I have been listening to almost all my life.
And, just when I’ve decided that this is a waste of time, I hear a sound on the recording I’m sure I’ve never heard before.
I can’t help but smile when I realise that I’ve been handed the key to this mystery once and for all on the night when the spirits of the dead come back to visit. I put on my walking boots and coat, slip a torch and my iphone into my pocket and enter the darkness. For one brief moment I wonder if the spirit of Max, the man who made the original recording, is at my shoulder.
It’s after midnight and the village is still. I look up at the illuminated church and the gibbous moon and resist the temptation to cross myself before I begin my journey.
Just before the road turns into the path down to the sea, I become aware of movement in the shadows below me. In an overgrown garden, Count Dracula is making love to a witch with a green face and long, cobwebby hair. I hurry on.
Now that I’ve finally decided to follow in Max’s footsteps, I have no time to waste. Or, more to the point, I need to act quickly while my courage is still screwed to the sticking place.
* * *
The ease with which I find my way over the rocks and up the cliff face to the tunnel entrance should unnerve me but it doesn’t. After all, I made this secret journey countless times when I was a child spending my summers in the village. But maybe there’s something more than memory at work, some strange force guiding me on because it wants me to find the entrance again, needs me to find it.
I expected to be exhausted when I finally reached the tunnel entrance but, although I’m panting and sweating like a racehorse, I’m vibrating with energy. Actually, I feel more alive than I have done in years.
Sitting on the ledge in front of the tunnel entrance I take deep breaths and wait for my heartbeat to slow as much as it ever will. Behind me, the tunnel entrance – smaller than I remembered – is an open mouth beckoning me in. I wish I’d brought some water.
I stand and look down for a moment at the rocks that tumble down to the sea which shifts now like the back of a vast inky monster, and a picture of Max’s naked, broken body flashes into my mind. I will never know why I didn’t go running to tell people what I’d seen all those years ago. I just didn’t. But I did find his portable cassette recorder tucked into a crack in the rocks.
Back then, when I was a child, I only ever went a short distance into the tunnel. It unnerved me and I had no friends to explore it with. Now, I squeeze inside and am surprised to find that I can stand. I turn on my flashlight, take a deep breath, start recording on my iphone and walk into the darkness. I am terrified but also trembling with anticipation.
* * *
Diego, the crypt keeper, stops whistling when he sees the man’s body on the dirt floor in front of the ancient metal gate, its bars scorched and stained with blood. He pokes the man’s leg with the toe of his boot. The man doesn’t move. Diego shines his torch into the man’s face and smiles when he sees how it’s contorted and frozen in terror.
“Looks like you found what you were looking for, doesn’t it?” he says in Mallorquin.
The thing behind the locked gate doesn’t scare Diego. His father introduced him to Ell when he was a small boy, showed him how to feed Ell and even stroke its scales after Ell had eaten. When Diego has a son, he’ll do the same thing. No, the thing behind the locked gate doesn’t scare him at all. He loves Ell.
Diego leans over and reaches into the man’s coat pocket. He takes out the man’s iphone, which is still recording, stops it and plays the final few seconds. The man is screaming and Diego knows why. He can hear Ell on the recording.
Before he opens the gate with the intricately carved key that hangs on a hook hidden behind a stone on the wall, he takes a photograph of the man’s face with the iphone.
Diego unlocks the gate, drags the man’s body inside and waits for Ell. He doesn’t have long.
If you’re a fan of the great weird tale writer H.P. Lovecraft you’ll know that my little story is intended as an homage to him. But, while I was doing some research, I discovered the legend of The Dragon of Na Coca, a giant reptile that lived in the sewers of Palma in the 17th century.
Apparently the creature dragged a number of Palma residents to their death before it was challenged by Captain Bartomeu Coch, the Governor of Alcudia. He vanquished the dragon after a ferocious battle. The remains of the dragon, which looks suspiciously like a crocodile are displayed at the Diocesan Museum of Palma at Calders 2.
Even if Bartomeu Coch simply killed a crocodile, the question of how on earth it ended up in the sewers of Palma still has to be answered.