It feels so long since I last wrote to you. I can’t remember when I last wrote a letter to anybody. So much has happened, and I scarcely believe any of it.

I’ve told you about Bael-Sur and the monster that lurks within its caves. I’ve been there and back to Manaus. This afternoon, I finally sent my official report to the Brazilian government and my financiers. I told them that the monster of Bael-Sur was little more than fumes, fungus, and jaguar bones.

I must confess. The official report is not the truth. The truth is far stranger, something I don’t understand. May never understand.

All of my studies in cryptozoology have led to plausible conclusions. The myths and legends of native people all contain a grain of truth. But the legend of Bael-Sur is far truer than I ever suspected. Yet it’s a truth that I hesitate to tell. This letter may take me all night, maybe more, to write. I don’t have the heart to lie to you, but I fear – many things.

My guide Hernando and I voyaged deep into the Amazon rainforest. The people of Bael-Sur gave us a warm welcome. I assume Hernando informed the chief of the expedition’s purpose since he and the other village elders regaled us with tales of their monster. How it took up residence in their once-sacred cave. How it drove their shamans mad with a single glance. How no warrior sent in to confront it ever returned. You go to your doom, they told me. But I was persistent as ever. If only I knew how right they were to worry.

At dawn, we set out into the jungle, along a trail marked by triangular symbols. Old hunter’s marks, I was told. By mid-morning, we had arrived at the cave. The stream fell steeply downhill, pouring into the black mouth of the forest. No one, not even Hernando, would descend with me. So I went into the earth alone. That was my first mistake.

The cave of Bael-Sur was typical for the region at first. Bats and beetles, snails and snakes, blind newts and fish were all species I had seen before. Beyond daylight’s edge, the rocks gave way to crystals, all pure white like untouched snow. Some were over a foot long.

Further on was the village’s ritual chamber. I recognized it by the central fire pit, blackened ceiling, and the angular symbols carved into the floor. The chamber was surrounded by crystals. It must have been quite a sight to behold – shadows and firelight playing over the sparkling walls. As for myself, I felt transported to Iceland’s glacial caves. The place didn’t look like the Amazon at all.

I took the passage out of the back of the ritual chamber. It quickly narrowed to only inches across. I had to shuffle sideways to get through. The veins of crystals here were no longer white but green. A sickly green. The green of infection.

The passage splintered off into a web of tunnels. As I went deeper and made more turns, I gradually forgot all sense of direction and time, even with my compass and watch. Yet I kept moving forward – my second mistake.

The staleness and closeness of the air filled me with a palpable sense of dread. Perhaps I was blindly walking to my death. Sometimes I wonder if it would have been better if that were so.

After an eternity of wandering through claustrophobic crevices, I emerged into a vast chamber of thick blackness. I saw something glisten beyond the circle of my lantern’s dim light. Eyes – thousands of them – blinking like a galaxy of stars – all fixed upon me. I had found it – the monster of Bael-Sur.

I could smell it. Slime and vinegar and tomb rot. The stagnant decay of centuries. I could hear it breathe, a rumble I felt in my own chest. And those eyes. Those glowing, countless eyes. There was an intelligence behind those eyes. A horrible consciousness large enough to consume me whole. I stood there, frozen beneath its gaze. It saw me. It knew me. I couldn’t hide. I was trapped by my own lantern. My heart tried to leap out of my chest. The lantern flickered. My eyes burned. My vision blurred. I collapsed, choking on the air.

I thought that was the end of me. But it wasn’t. I awoke some time later, lying on the bedrock where I had fallen. I was weak, trembling. My thoughts scattered. There was light – a steady, warm incandescence from my lantern. The blackness was pure. There were no eyes. Yet I still smelled that creature and heard it breathe. Still, I could sense it in the darkness. Still, it watched me.

My attention landed on the stone floor between me and the lantern. A symbol made up of perfect circles and spirals was carved into it. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. I was drawn to it. I found myself tracing its perfection with my finger. I did so over and over, and calm washed over me. My mind became foggy. My perception did not dull but softened, like how mist grays and softens your view of the surroundings. You might say I entered a trance state, but I did not feel altered. Rather this action, this symbol, had a numbing effect. In a way, it was an anesthetic for the mind – a barrier between my vulnerable psyche and this creature’s overwhelming presence.

Once soothed, I realized that the symbol I was tracing was connected to other identical ones. My finger moved on to the second, then the third, then the fourth. They formed a chain, a path, that extended beyond my reach. I grabbed the lantern with my free hand and followed the chain deeper into the chamber. It continued up a wall, out of the chamber, through a corridor, and at last, to sunlight. I must have stood there at the cave exit for some time, not knowing where I was. I was lost in the sounds of life and the humidity of the rainforest.

I found myself moving forward once more, this time following a chain of trees marked with triangles. I don’t know if I recognized them as the natives’ trail markers at the time. Perhaps I desired another symbol to follow.

As twilight fell, I met people along the path – Hernando and brave souls from the village. They spoke to me, words that sounded vaguely like questions, but I couldn’t understand them, not even Hernando. I was tired, hungry. When I could speak again, all I could say was “It let me go. It let me live.” That was all I said as I was led back to the village of Bael-Sur then the city of Manaus. I haven’t left the hotel since.

It was days before I could piece together enough fragments of memory to create a satisfactory report. Performing archaeology on one’s own mind is an unnerving process.

I may have recovered from this adventure, but I don’t feel normal. Sleep does not come easy.

That spiral symbol – I see it everywhere, flashing before my eyes. Plastering blank walls. Covering empty tables. Stamped against the bare blue of the sky. Even now upon this blank paper.

I am still haunted by what I found in that cave. I say haunted, but that word doesn’t entirely fit. When I dream, when my mind drifts and I remember, the visions aren’t nightmares per se. I don’t feel fear. Just helplessness. Unsettling, all the same.

That symbol – my savior. I want to draw it, copy it down, preserve it. If only for my own sanity. But every time I try, I can’t. Some instinct deep within me holds me back. It’s the one truth that I’m doomed to take to my grave, doomed to see in all of the blank spaces of my life. A constant reminder of Bael-Sur and the cowardly lie I was compelled to tell all but you.

©2019 Joyce Lewis. All rights reserved.