The São Augusto was a Portuguese carrack, setting sail from Cape Verde in 1550 with a payload of Senegalese banana plants. It had been one of many such ships to transport banana plants from Portuguese Africa into what is now modern Brazil. It had a modest crew of fifty men, all of whom disappeared completely along with the ship in one of the most mysterious nautical misadventures in the history of colonial Brazil, the details of which was sure to interest those who dealt in items of historical importance. The ship had been spotted near French Guyana before it made its way southward along the coast. But, it never made its destination at the port of São Vicente. The ship had carried more than banana plants. It carried two additional treasures; the promised soon-to-be bride of a banana plantation owner’s son, and her dowry of jewels and gold.
Jewels and gold.
Centuries later, just last week, these details were sent to Guy Chalmbers’ office in Boston from an address in São Paulo. They came from a Raul Merenda, a legal representative of the very respected Soza family. Chalmbers was a finder, a freelancer for museums, universities, and sometimes private collectors who were interested in acquiring historical data, and most importantly artifacts. Most academics, and curators didn’t like to deal with the likes of him. He drew a sizeable fee for his uncanny ability to produce results, and most knew it. But, he was crass, with a cloud of ill-omen about him. Usually, his patrons acquired his services off of the books, and through very specific contacts. He barely existed in daylight. He did his deals in the shadows.
The Sozas knew where the jewels and gold were, the letter said. They also knew the whole story of the ship and her crew, with documents to prove it. Chalmbers could sell the information to the highest bidder, and then take the gold for himself. It was unusual. There was normally a middle man for a deal like this. He hadn’t expected a letter from the Soza family in Brazil delivered to his office directly. But, it was a simple job. He would take it, not just because of how lucrative it would be. But, because he was curious as to why the Sozas had contacted him personally. What was in the deal for them?
Chalmbers was in São Paulo the next night. He’d left several days on his itinerary for personal time, and for an indulgence in opium, and in young flesh. He paid extra for first-timers. Or sometimes, he just took them if he could. He humiliated them. When they cried and begged, the wracking sobs made it better. It had been the same wherever he traveled. But, it was his particular custom in countries where life was cheap, and flesh even cheaper. His soul had blackened and shriveled to a wizened dark fruit, split open to bloom into a climbing vine of perversion, greed, and cruelty.
From the hotel bar, he called Merenda’s office, and Merenda had fed him another address. It would take a boat ride to get there to an island off the coast. He was to be on the boat in forty-eight hours, time enough to immerse himself back into his investment in a thirteen year old Tupi girl, a street urchin he found on the streets of São Paulo. She spoke no english. He had lured her to the hotel with the promise of food, shelter, and money. But, he had beaten her and raped her instead. She was tied up in his room, with a gag in her mouth even as he talked with Merenda, and as he wrote down the time of departure and the name of the boat on a sodden beer mat. Chalmbers felt like a king, with a king’s treasure soon to find. It was time to celebrate.
Soza’s Well was a deep hole a a thousand meters wide in the Atlantic ocean, one hour’s sail from São Paulo, and several miles down into an interminable cold darkness barely conceived of outside of a nightmare. Though the sea was often tempestuous, the waters over Soza’s Well remained still, as if the winds and the pull of the moon itself dared not disturb them. On the rim of that oceanic abyss was Soza Island, a desolate spar of rock on a crescent of coral, growing upward into stone walls and towers. The house reached up into the Atlantic sky like a gravestone, pitted with gothic domed windows of dark stained glass. A latticework of stairs crisscrossed the structure like multiple spines, or was it scars? The stone manor was otherwise tiered with jutting balconies that hosted verdant terraced gardens. At the apex of the manor was the broadest terrace of all, with the adjoining main house of Senhora Soza herself. According to the captain of the yacht hired by Merenda, of all the Sozas, she was the lone survivor who still dwelt in the Ancestral family home so far out to sea and away from the eyes of the modern world. Perhaps she was the only remaining Soza anywhere. The captain himself had never seen her, nor had any others to his knowledge. He suspected that even Merenda hadn’t ever seen her. Their relationship consisted of exchanged letters, which the captain, and others couriered back and forth. Chalmbers’ invitation to meet her face to face was unusual to say the least.
The captain maneuvered the boat around the edge of the great Well. He would not sail over it. Guy Chalmbers stood on the deck and stared up, a half-smoked cigarette dangling from dry lips. His lazy gaze hungrily climbed the neck of the enormous fortress-like house at the edge of the watery abyss. His eyes rested on the weather vane at the very top; a coiling, wrought-iron depiction of a creature he couldn’t quite take in, so alien was it to his eye. He convinced himself that his eye had fooled him, or that the weather vane was too far away too see with any accuracy. He felt a wave of stale euphoria rush to his head, which was turning into a sort of numb lethargy at the thought of having to climb the stairs. The opium he’d indulged in on the voyage in was to blame perhaps, he told himself. He put a hand through his greasy hair and smiled. His skin prickled, not unpleasantly. He threw his cigarette overboard into the sea.
No one had greeted him at the short pier that led to the ground floor entryway to the Soza household. There were instructions left for him there in a spidery hand to climb the stairs to the very top, and to meet the Senhora in her front room. Chalmbers climbed the stairs one at a time, his heart pounding and breath wheezing through narrowing passages. The last traces of the opium had worn off. He leaned breathlessly on a wall on one of the landings that jutted out onto the sea. From there, he could peer down into the vast mouth of the Well, a dark, almost perfectly circular blue-black stain on the surface of the ocean. It seemed to scream at him, silently. He turned his head away from it as the wind blew through his hair, and he began to climb again.
The double doors at the top of the stairs and across the wide terrace were open, and Chalmbers crossed the flagstones of the terrace, passing over the threshold into a dimly lit hall out of the reach of day. Soon, he found himself in a wide parlor,with marble tile under his feet and a vaulted ceiling above him, with the room lit only by small windows on the far side, and by portals along the edge of the ceiling. The furniture was elegant, marked with a curly-cue Rococo flair. On a small, low table by the divan was a hand-woven basket that contained a bunch of bright yellow bananas that were at the peak of ripeness, without a single brown spot. For a moment, they looked almost grotesquely beautiful to Chalmbers, occurring to him that bananas had always struck him as almost alien in their appearance, like bloated curved fingers, or talons.
Through an arched doorway on the far side of the room stepped a woman who was the oldest person Chalmbers had ever seen. He guessed that she must be over one-hundred years old at least; papery skin over a map of blue veins and liver spots, silver-white hair done up in a formal bun, and large black eyes, glistening like those of a doll. Yet at the same time, she wasn’t bent with age. She stood tall, and stately. And she was certainly tall, matching Chalmbers’ six feet if not surpassing him. Despite the heat of the day, she wore a billowing blue-black dress that climbed to her neck, almost reaching her chin. The dress tapered at the sleeves to where her long hands extended, with long and rather cruel-looking fingernails curling into points, and with swollen knuckles that made them look more like claws than human hands.
“Mr. Chalmbers, welcome,” she said, noticing that he’d been eying the bowl of bananas upon her entry. “You know, there are apocryphal versions of the story of Creation that suggest that the fruit of knowledge in the Holy Scriptures was in fact a banana. Yes. It was Eve’s way of tempting Adam to fornication, using the shape of the singular fruit to tell him what she wanted of him.” Then, she giggled mischievously yet without mirth. Chalmbers smiled, not knowing how to respond. Although she was ancient, her voice bore no signs of age. It was like a young girl’s voice. The contrast was startling, chilling even. She had a strange accent; not Brazilian, not Portuguese. Chalmbers had been all over the world and had never heard anything like it.
Finally, Chalmbers remembered his manners. “Senhora Soza, I’m honoured.” said Chalmbers. “Thank you for seeing me, and for your letter.”
The two sat, with Senhora Soza in a high-backed chair, and Chalmbers on the divan across from her. The bowl of bananas sat half way between them on the table. “Let us talk together.” she said.
“Yes, I understand that you have some documents ready for me. I’m wondering what the conditions of the transfer will be, Senhora Soza.”
The old woman smiled showing her ruined, crooked teeth and blackening gums. It was a hideous smile even beyond the billious rictus of her expression. It was a thin veneer that held back an ocean of malevolence, and singular unwholesomeness.
“Please, Mr. Chalmbers,” she giggled girlishly and mirthlessly again. ” I am an old woman, unused to such directness and haste to get down to business. Perhaps it is because you are a citizen of the modern world, and I am not. Yet, I understand that you have come a long way for what I have prepared for you. Before I promise to show you the diary entries, and shipping logs that you so hungrily seek, I wish to tell you the tale of the São Augusto. The history of my family is tied up in it. You will hear the tale.” It was not a question, but a quiet demand.
“Yes, I will Senhora Soza,” Chalmbers responded, almost as if his reply had been drawn out of him. There was something unnatural about the exchange. Chalmbers felt the flesh on his arm crawl. And the hairs on the back of his neck prickled. There was an atmosphere in the room that seemed to impregnate the very air. Chalmbers breathed it in.
“The telling of the tale is important. It has great power. This is why your buyers would pay so handsomely for it. You agree, Mr. Chalmbers.”
“Yes.” Chalmbers’ voice said before he himself could form the thought to utter it.
“The São Augusto was one of many ships owned by the Careiras, a respected mercantile family in São Vicente. Pedro Careira had a partner in Cape Verde, Marcos Soza, who had a young daughter, Micaela. She was fourteen years old. The two merchant families wished to strengthen their association by means of marriage. Micaela would marry Careira’s eldest son, Osvaldo who was unknown to the girl, but was purportedly cruel and stupid. And so a great dowry was gathered to bind the two families in contract, with both girl and treasure to be put aboard the great nau in Cape Verde in secret, known only to the Captain and his officers. And soon the ship and her crew set sail with their burden of banana plants bound for the New World. The girl Micaela stayed in the Captain’s cabin, while the good captain stayed with his navigator.”
“Yes, Senhora. Your letter filled in the details very well. But, where are …”
“Yours is not to interrupt,” said the old woman with that same jagged smile. “It is to listen. This is my domain, Mr. Chalmbers.”
Chalmbers felt a cold streak of fear run through him for reasons he couldn’t place. This had been a mistake. He never should have taken this job. But, he found that he couldn’t say anything. He would listen to everything the old woman had to tell him.
“Young Micaela was sad and scared. She was sad because she missed her Vovó; her grandmother, I think you would call her. It was she who had taught the girl everything she knew, and more. The more was the ancient Craft, the secrets of the Netherworld that the old woman knew that young Micaela would need to live in the world where women and girls were mere pawns in a game, where she was but chattle to serve the dealings of men. Indeed her Vovó had been right. She was a witch, you see. Her Craft, and the Craft she’d passed on to her grandchild would serve the young girl well in the loveless marriage into which she’d been fated to enter. But, they found the old woman’s books, her ancient texts of power. They were destroyed, along with the old woman herself; burned at the stake by her own son, Micaela’s father. And so, Micaela was alone. No one could protect her.”
Chalmbers was riveted to the sound of Senhora Soza’s voice. Yet he noticed something else, too. It was the bananas in the bowl between them. He noticed a number of faint, yet distinct brown spots on the perfection of their yellow surfaces. Strange. They’d been pristine yellow when he’d first observed them, he was sure. “I must not have been paying close enough attention.”
Senhora Soza’s dark eyes flashed. She had seen him noticing the bananas.
“The dowry that her father had collected for the Careira family was a sumptuous treasure; gold and diamonds from the cape horn of Africa, a queen’s ransom. Captain De Sousa, had ordered his officers not to divulge the presence or whereabouts of the treasure, or the girl to the crew. He had dedicated himself as her protector. It was feared that the gold and the jewels would drive them to lust for wealth, and to mutiny. His fears were justified, for there were fortune-hunters among the crew. Many of them were former pirates in the China Sea. After reaching the coast of the New World and navigating south along the coast, an officer got drunk and revealed the location of the treasure, and of the girl kept virtual prisoner in Captain De Sousa’s cabin.”
Chalmbers glanced at the bowl on the table. The bananas now had a distinct patina of brown spots. The smell of ripening banana soon became impossible to deny in the humid air of the parlor. Chalmbers’ eyes widened as the bananas grew more and more spotted before them. A sudden thrill of cold fear hit him like a blow. He wanted to run, to dash out of the room and down the long flights of stairs to where the boat was moored, leaving the treasure behind. But, he couldn’t; something stopped him.
Senhora Soza continued. Something had changed in her voice, less like that of a young girl, and somehow more bestial. The voice rattled from out of her, as if it were coming out of the pit of hell.
“The raiders were led by a smaller group of ruffians who whipped the other members of the crew into a frenzy for gold, and for other even more base desires. They found the treasure and the girl after disarming the guards and lashing Captain De Sousa and his officers to the mast of the ship. Any remaining crew members who were loyal to them were hamstrung, and cast overboard to the sharks. After the officers were tortured, their fingers burned with torches, and the key to the cabin was procured, the ringleaders slit the throats of the officers one by one. Captain De Sousa cursed them as he was made to watch. His tongue was cut out. And they disemboweled him while he was still alive.”
Something was happening as Senhora Soza spoke. Her face grew ashen, and the lurid pattern of veins on her face under her papery skin was becoming more and more pronounced, as if it were undergoing the same vividly grotesque transformation as that of the rapidly ripening bananas in the bowl in front of him. Chalmbers’ blood froze as she continued, and he tried not to show outward signs that anything was amiss. A quiet, frightened voice in the back of his mind began to jabber; “She must not know that I know something is happening to her. She must not know I know what she is. She must not know that I can see her beginning to change, just like the bowl of bananas. I must stay so, so, quiet and still. Or she will get me …. she will eat me up …” And the bananas grew spottier and spottier. One turned a deep ochre as he stared at it. The smell was suffocating.
“They found the girl cowering in the captain’s cabin, and each man took his turn with her, thirty-six men in all. They beat her and raped her …”
Senhora Soza stood, rising out of the seat as if pulled by invisible strings, and her body seemed to twist as if she were a lifeless doll.
“They broke each of her legs …”
There was a snap snap! And the Senhora’s legs became knock-kneed, turning her into a grotesque and darkly parodic marionette. She smiled her terrible smile, her black eyes pinning him to his seat as he stared back into them.
“She was full of their foul seed when they threw her over the side, covered in bruises and cuts, and with her two broken legs. She was in agony. She glanced off the hull of the ship on her way down, breaking her neck …”
Then, there was a grinding, splintering, crunching sound. The Senhora’s head lolled to one side, and her eyes filled with black blood. Her mouth hung open and moved up and down like that self-same horrible string puppet. Her skin flushed and turned blue, with black rivulets of clotted blood spilling out of her mouth and nose. The fishy smell of decay hit Chalmbers like a sudden gust of wind, causing his stomach to pitch and roll. Paralyzed on the divan as the Senhora loomed over him, her limbs branching out at odd angles, her feet floating inches from the floor, he stared with his mouth agape. The bananas in the bowl had transformed into a black, stinking mass, crawling with fruit flies that burst forth out of the mouldering contents of the bowl, mingling with the smell of rotting flesh. Chalmbers felt his bladder give, and a rush of urine gushed out of him.
Still the Senhora spoke.
“But she did not die right away, even then. When the waves took her, she called not to God, or Mary, or the Saints, but to the spirits of the Netherworld as her Vovó had taught her. She cried out in dark eldritch languages to be spared, and to be avenged. And then it came; The Throossolokk from the deep. It found her small, but powerful voice, and it obeyed her, even as her body sank into the hungry sea. It broke from the dark depths of the Netherworld, and it was born into our world from a hole in the ocean taking the form of a great leviathan with the heads of many sharks. It was her child, for she had conceived it, and her protector because she commanded it. But, it was her sustainer, for it emboldened her dead spirit to endure. It was hungry for men’s souls.”
Chalmbers hitched his breath for a scream, and found that he could not draw a breath at all in that instant.
“You are such a man, Guy Chalmbers. You are such a man as they. The stench of your deeds has called you to me. And now you will share their fate. For The Throossolokk cometh. It cometh for thee …”
What had once been the Senhora grinned horrifically again, its voice buzzing like the plague of locusts of old, inhuman, and without reason. Chalmbers ran, and the dark entity that had been the Senhora floated after him across the room. He tripped over the leg of a chair and sprawled, his hands slapping on the marble tile floor. Without pausing, he clawed his way toward the open double doors that led to the terrace where he’d entered, his hands and knees sliding on its smooth surface. The Senhora howled like a ferocious animal in a windstorm, and pursued him. Chalmbers eyed the double doors and didn’t turn to look back over his shoulder. He could smell her coming after him. “Please don’t slam shut, please don’t slam shut…” He scrambled to his feet and dashed out the doors, breaking across the terrace, toward the stairs leading down to the pier.
He looked over the railing, stupidly. The Yacht that had been moored far below was gone.
But, something was coming.
He turned his head back towards the double doors across the terrace. The Senhora wasn’t there. She was no longer after him. But the doors slammed open and shut, sending noisy, arrhythmic reports across the terrace and down to the sea. She was still back there, waiting. It hadn’t been a dream. She was still in there.
And something else was coming. It was something massive.
I am The Throossolokk …
It was a voice that seemed to speak to the core of Chalmbers’ mind, making him whine in horror. He dashed down the stairs in a panic, his pants wet with urine, his face drawn back in a grimace of sheer terror. “This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening …” he gibbered.
I am The Throossolokk … I am so hungry …
It was then that the great dark spot in the ocean below, Soza’s Well, began to boil. He stopped on one of the landings, gripping the wrought iron railing. He turned to one of the doors on the landing, and pulled on the iron handle; locked. He beat the wooden door with his fists, until the pain grew too great.
Still, the hole in the ocean below boiled. And the voice in his mind reaching out to him became louder.
I am The Throossolokk … So hungry … my larder is your home … my cold, dark vaults under the sea … Guy Chalmbers …. I am coming for you …
Soza’s Well boiled and boiled. It was coming closer, and closer, and closer to the surface. He couldn’t see it, and yet he could; an entity with many mouths like that of a school of sharks, with eyes that were blind yet always seeking, with its hundreds of great fins, and huge expanse of lashing tail that propelled its sickeningly huge body of dead-white flesh upward toward a sun that would recoil from it rather casting light upon it. It rushed nightmarishly from the great cold depths below, toward the waking world above, a creature born into our world out of pain, violence, and hatred. It came because its mistress mother had promised it a tasty morsel like the others who it held as pale, waterlogged prisoners below.
Suddenly Chalmbers knew that they were all still alive down there in the darkness, even as the Senhora was alive in her way above it, and the terrible knowledge of it broke his mind. They waited for him below; the crew who had killed her, trapped in a half-life of blindness, cold, and fear for eternity. He would join them. The Senhora hadn’t lied. She knew what had happened to the ship, her crew, and the treasure. It was down there with them.
Guy Chalmbers slumped on the landing, and far below, as the waters rose up the sheer walls of the Soza house. The Throossolokk rushed to meet him. Soon, he would be down there too.
He let out a sob, like that of a frightened girl.