The Life And Death Of Zebros Santiago by Peter Levi

If someone considers you his friend, you should help him in his need.

Hands on the wheel of time
Pale moons rise
R'lyeh sings of Great Cthulhu's return

Fumes befoul the air
Blasted by the Outside
Through the gate
A malicious intelligence

I quake with fear when I see the ground shake
The moon eclipsed, the oceans fury
For who can guess when the stars are right?

-- Zebros Santiago, Poetry of the Dead

Life of the Poet

Few have ever heard of the Spaniard Zebros Santiago, or read his works, and for good reason. Santiago was not truly insane, but his views were so bizarre that they bordered on insanity. Zebros was a dreamer and a mystic. He claimed to know of many strange things, and to have personally documented many cases of actual supernatural activity. Even as his one and only friend, I scoffed at such notions, for as strange and bizarre as Zebros' works were, he could never produce any tangible proof, or even a reliable witness to verify his "discoveries." Indeed, much to my scientific mind's disgust, Zebros was insistent that such empirical evidence was impossible to obtain, as the very nature of his studies was outside the ken of human understanding. He was much insistent that there were Beings from Outside, beyond reality as it is currently understood, and that one might reach out and touch if one knew how.

I was a fool to have laughed at him.

It is ever more unfortunate that it took Zebros' horrific and tragic death to convince me of this. And to my own terror, I will soon join him in that unnamable abyss that claims all those who look too far into the realm of the unknown.

It may be that there are a few occult scholars who are aware of some of Santiago's works. In fact, one published book, the slim volume A Look Beyond the Tattered Veil, became quite successful in Spain and South America. That book was written at the beginning of Zebros' occult researches (in 1881), and as such contains none of the staggering material that he wrote in the years that I came to know him.

I met Zebros while visiting friends in Arkham, Massachusetts. Zebros was seeking out information on the occult, and as a man who was familiar with such things, I aided him in his searches.

Zebros was a resident of Cuba at the time, and had lived there some twelve years since moving from Oviedo, Spain. He was a small man, with long dark hair and a very dark complexion. His small dark eyes were constantly darting to and fro, as if constantly searching. Born in the early months of 1861, he had lived an unremarkable life until the age of seventeen, when he began having the most extraordinary and vivid dreams. Since then Zebros had decided to live his life in search of the strange and bizarre, which was his meat and drink.

Before we'd met he had written two more slim books on the occult, both dealing with generalities of the occult practises in Cuba, San Juan, and Haiti. He had dealt mostly with Latin cults in his early years, but now was ready to expand and write of English and American cults.

He arrived in Arkham in May of 1894, and throughout his six month stay he experienced many strange dreams. But he found little in the way of actual cult activity that he had sought.

Zebros returned to Cuba in October, and from then on my contact with him was almost entirely through the venue of letters. He had a book published in 1896 by the Golden Goblin Press, which was based on his dreams in Arkham. The book was entitled -- appropriately enough -- Dark Dreams. After this Zebros began living the life of a recluse, remaining four years in Cuba before departing again. I was never sure what it was that finally grabbed Santiago's attention that summer in 1898, but it was probably due to the instability caused by the Spanish-American War, which lasted from April twenty-fifth until December tenth.

Regardless, Zebros gathered his possessions and moved to the southern Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua. There he spent over two years compiling notes and tracings on artifacts of the little known Rama Indians. When he had finished his business in Nicaragua, he moved to British Honduras, hoping to research the mighty Mayans and their gods. But the poverty of the colony and the constant threat of flooding facing the city of Belize was too much for Zebros, and he moved to Miami in the fall of 1901.

He issued an appeal for a visit from me, to which I acquiesced. Zebros wished me to aid in the writing of his newest book, and since I edited a newspaper, he felt I was his best bet.

When our work was done, the little known book, Ceremonies of the Dead Ramans was finished and eventually published in 1904. Santiago was again given to stay where he was, and refused to make any journey outside Miami. The stay would prove a fruitless one for Zebros, as poverty eventually forced him to work as a factory hand in the slums of the city. It was during this time that he wrote his best known work, Poetry of the Dead, a collection of verses that described his many dreams.

The book proved to be rather too popular, as it came eventually to the attention of the religious leaders of Florida. They quickly condemned the book, and told Zebros to remove himself from Miami. This was in August of 1907. Angry and bitter at what he described as "puffed up demagogues bereft of intelligence or imagination," he headed west to Arkansas. He found the state lacking in stimulation, and moved further west, to a small town near Santa Fe, New Mexico. There he stayed for two years, moving to Los Angeles in 1910, still unable to reach the creative powers he had once had on tap so often. Frustrated, he took my suggestion and moved back to Florida. He knew that Miami was off limits, so he chose to live in St.Augustine instead.

How he had lived on his meagre wages before that time I do not know, but Zebros seemed to be well off enough to engage in several antiquarian trips. He summed up his experiences on these trips in one book, The Gods of Florida. This book was so poor that he was forced to publish it himself, and the cheating publishers did not print the book until late 1915.

He then wrote of plans to travel to South America to investigate strange occurrences there. He mentioned Guiana, some of the more remote Inca villages in Peru, and caves in southern Argentina. I encouraged him to take these trips, advising him that, if nothing else, a successful book would have him back enjoying the lifestyle he was used to in Cuba.

Santiago agreed, and began making plans to take a ship to Columbia, where he would then travel overland whichever way he wished. It was when he reached Columbia in February of 1913 that his letters turned from intellectual discussions to a paranoid discourse which made me question the poor fellow's sanity.

I think the strain of reading the obscure French occultist Chanteau and the notorious Necronomicon was too much for the fifty-two year old mystic, unhinging his mind.

It started with a postcard from Barranquilla, Columbia, dated February fourteenth. In his crooked, queer handwriting, Zebros described a brief meeting with a half-Indian on the outskirts of the city who, upon learning of Santiago's particular interests, told him that he knew the location of an occult site that would interest Zebros immensely. The half-Indian, described as having a strong Negroid strain, was willing to lead Santiago to the site for $100 American dollars. Such a financial debacle caused Zebros much distress, but he wrote that he finally paid the half-breed in order to view the site.

The next I heard from Santiago it was an urgent request for funds, with no explanation of his need. The short note was from Bogot, and was dated February twentieth. Friend or no, I was not about to send money for unknown reasons, and said as much when I wrote back to him. His next letter, which was dated March fifth, I will quote in full for the reader to judge as to its nature.

The Letter


Your rebuke has put me in the most difficult situation. I have been granted the rare opportunity of viewing certain occult rituals which are to take place sometime in April, but in order to travel there I am in need of at least $500 American dollars, or all is for not. I cannot tell you what it is that I expect to see, but instead I will relate some of what I saw in the company of the half-Indian Pulpo, and hope this will reconcile you to the fact that I am not wasting my time here in Columbia.

I was taken by Pulpo to a small village near the Crist'bal Col'n mountain, and from there led up the steep slopes to a narrow plateau. A small stone altar was not far distant, approximately four feet high and at the centre of the plateau, with a single step leading up to it. Pulpo advised me that we should remain hidden, as the participants of the cult would be violently disagreeable to our presence. Agreeing that this seemed a proper precaution, he and I found a small cavity in the mountain side from which we could watch the events near the altar without being seen. We stayed there for some time, and it was long after midnight when a few dim torches appeared from the other side of the mountain. There were fourteen people: twelve in black robes carrying either torches or long staves, the thirteenth man garbed in gaudy white and gold robes (which I assumed meant he was either a priest or a wizard), and finally a Negro of about twenty, who was naked and shivering.

I kept careful track of all that was said and done. When the procession neared the altar, the wizard raised his hands in the air and the rest of the group stopped. Then the wizard and the twelve "disciples" took off their hoods, and I got a good look at them. The wizard was an ancient white man, with a long yellow beard and an evil, wrinkled face. The rest of the "disciples" were of varying ages, but all seemed to have a particularly malign countenance. The Negro was then led to the altar by a pair of the "disciples," who proceeded to tie him to the altar and then moved back. The wizard then approached the altar and bellowed out a chant, which his followers repeated faithfully numerous times.

Ng'gai'ghl rai uflu ph-ngl dtuu v'hss Xalafu ght gai'lall

They chanted this for some seventy minutes. During the whole time the Negro stayed absolutely still, but when the chant had ceased, he began screaming in a tongue I did not understand. His screams were soon beaten out of him by the staff wielding "disciples." The wizard then began ritually waving his hand, and when he was finished pulled a tiny vial from his pocket. I was to find out later that it contained a white powder which I have since had classified as Diabolusaerugo. The word "aerugo," as you know, is the suffix for rusts. "Diabolus" is latin for "devil," so I presume the powder to be something like "devil's rust." I for one have never heard of it -- it did not compare to any alchemical powder, nor occult powder. After the wizard had waved the vial over the Negro eighteen times, chanting to himself, he broke the vial in two and poured the contents down the length of the Negro's body. When this was done, he began chanting, this time in sequence with his followers.

Omm ug'luh vai Ufalax cn-cns'lgh mngl whglg ssi XALAFU!

This was repeated over and over for at least fifteen minutes. It seemed to affect Pulpo in almost a hypnotic manner, and I was forced to shake him violently from his trance-like state. When my attention returned to what was going on by the altar, the "disciples" had backed away and the wizard was alone by the altar. He chanted once more, and then moved back to his companions.

UFALAX iss glghw lgnm hgl'snc-nc Xalafu iav hul'gu mmo
Llal'iag thg Ufalax ssh'v uutd lgn-hp ulfu iar lhg'iag'gn

This was, of course, the opposite of the earlier chants, and as an ardent student of the occult, I was fully aware of just how difficult it was to do this. Following there was a distant scream, and then a horrible wrenching in the sky. Thunder clapped without lightning, the sky turned a sickly red, and the moon became purple.

Pulpo screamed, but this was drowned by the sudden blast of wind. The wind was so strong that Pulpo and I were slammed back against the wall of the mountain. Pulpo fainted, for which I was very grateful. As the air pressure began to mount, driving me downward, the tremendous Event occurred.

In the sky there was what I can only describe as a "rip," from which an orangish light gleamed. Through the rip came the alien bulk of Xalafu. The thing was a massive, repulsive titan, squeezing its enormity through the hole in the sky. When it had come out in full, I gazed in terror at its cosmic malignity. It was a great spherical bubble, shiftingly translucent and opaque, covered in colours of disturbing hue, both violet and blue and green. From out of this came a single great eye, which dominated the whole, and yet could not be. This monstrous thing crept down from out of the sky and limbered itself onto the plateau, smothering the area and the Negro on the altar. With no mouths to feed Xalafu gorged itself. Then It floated slowly upwards to the rift and disappeared. The Negro was gone. The wizard and the "disciples" descended back to the other side of the mountain, their procession a flickering of torchlight. Sickened and frightened, I shook Pulpo to wakefulness and he and I descended the mountain.

I hope this incident proves to you that I am truly in need of funds.

Zebros Santiago

Madness and Escape

What the letter proved to me was poor Santiago's madness. The poor fool had been the victim of a clever charlatan. I imagined the old fellow was still with this "Pulpo," and was responsible for his care. Knowing that if I rebuked Zebros again he would go to other less reliable persons to obtain the money, I relented and sent him $300, telling him that was all he would get. I also suggested that he should get rid of Pulpo, pointing out that he might be taking advantage of him.

It was many months later before I heard from Santiago again, and when I did it was only a brief postcard. Zebros was in a hotel in Loja, Ecuador, beginning a study on the Incas. He said nothing of the expedition I paid for, and said only the bare minimum about what he was actually doing in Ecuador, and what he had done the last seven months. I was furious. I took my pen and wrote a scathing letter, demanding to know what the old mystic was up to, and what he had found. When I received a reply in late November, Zebros was apologetic, saying that he was in the process of writing another book on the beliefs of several Colombian and Ecuadorian tribes, and he would write more fully later. He said he had left Pulpo, but I was to find out later from a friend -- who was in Ecuador at the time --, that Pulpo had stayed with Santiago to the bitter end.

It was in January of 1914 that I next heard from him. Now in Peru, near Chimbote, Zebros claimed he was investigating the mountain worship of some of the northern Incas, apparently banned by the Great Inca, and supposedly destroyed by the conquistadors. Santiago claimed he had discovered this cult was alive and well in remote villages. There they did not worship the mountains as the Incas did, they worshipped the Great Old Ones, who would plunge the world into darkness when the stars were right. I had heard such theories from Zebros himself, and wondered at the time if the old man was delusional.

I wrote a short letter back to him, telling him to keep in contact and wishing him luck in his studies. There was again a long break in communications, but I received a telegram on May twenty-third which prompted me to take action.


I must admit I was not shocked at the message, having long suspected that Zebros had been forced to deal with agents who would turn on him the moment the money ran out. I made arrangements to get a ship from Boston that would take me to Panama. From there I would take another ship to Lima, and then move overland to Cuzco. I planned to arrive May thirty-first. I would take both my old hunting rifle and $600 in cash, confident that neither would prove necessary.

I arrived in Panama three days late, as our ship had been forced to stop for repairs. I made up two of those days on the trip to Lima and Cuzco, engaging a special train for the last leg. I was prepared to go to extreme expense if it meant pulling the old mystic from the fire he had undoubtedly built for himself.

I arrived in Cuzco and was immediately handed a telegram by a dark, dirty man who fled after giving it to me. It was from Zebros, telling me his location -- a nearby hotel -- and telling me to hurry. I made haste and found Zebros himself in the front lobby.

He looked horrible. Half starved, his eyes were wide with a look one associates with madness. His hair was unkempt and his mouth was partly agape. He grasped my arm with great strength and without a word led me to the second floor and his room. He bade me to sit down and began, disjointedly, to tell me his situation.

"Thomas, I am in mortal danger! I have delved in places that men ought not to delve, and have seen things which were not meant for mortal eyes! Iä! Iä! Xalafu! My days are numbered!" The old man collapsed, crying and sobbing hysterically. Uncertain how to deal with this, I stepped back and looked again at the man. I had little time to observe him however, as he suddenly leaped up at me and grabbed the front of my shirt.

"I can do nothing to stop it! Nothing! Even with all I know. I am like Al-Hazrad, doomed to destruction!" He was shaking me violently the whole time, but after he said "destruction" I managed to wrench myself free of his grasp. Then, grabbing hold of him, I shook him, shouting at him to regain his senses. When the madness finally left his eyes, he slumped onto the couch, silent and morose. I let him sit there, watching him mumble to himself and wave his hands in despair. When he finally relented to speak with me, he moved to the window, his back turned.

"These last months I have spent searching for the hidden temple of Xalafu, whom I saw that night in February. It is not like us -- utterly alien. I have dealt with similar beings before in my travels, but none so awesomely powerful. To know of the sacred deity and not worship it is to invite death. And this is my fate. When and how I do not know, but I know that it is to come, one way or another.

"Those nights in the mountains of Ecuador, and what I saw -- good god man! You have no idea! I was not worried until I found out Pulpo was a former cultist, and I forced him to tell me all he knew.

"It was the ritual, you know, that was my mistake. When I heard the words spoken Xalafu became aware of me. It has been sending me dreams. Not those second-hand weak ones I used to get, oh no, these were ten times as powerful. Worship or die. But I couldn't, not when I found out what was planned. . . .

"You have got to get me out of here Thomas, I have to leave. I can't do it alone, the building is watched. No, don't ask any questions. The answers would endanger you, too."

When Santiago was finished, I had already made my assessment of his desperate situation. The old man was unstrung. He was suffering from delusions. Perhaps the half-Indian Pulpo had been feeding him opium or some other drug. There was no doubt that Zebros believed all that he had said.

He was right though. I had to get him out of South America and away from Pulpo. I agreed to take him out of Cuzco secretly, and spent the next three days planning our "escape." During the whole stay I saw not one person follow us anywhere, and was further convinced that Zebros had concocted the whole story to protect his mind from the knowledge that he was truly mad.

It cost me nearly all of my money to get Zebros out in the way he desired. I was forced to take an elaborate course through Cuzco to get to the train station, and then proceeded to travel on two different trains before reaching Lima. We then sailed back up to Panama and then to Boston.

I forced Santiago to spend an entire week in Boston recuperating, and he seemed the better for it when we took the train to Arkham. I let him stay at my house for several weeks. During that time he worked mostly on his notes taken during his travels, saying that he was working on a book. When I chanced to see his work though, it seemed to me he was researching rather than writing. And from the reading list, I suspected he still believed the cult was pursuing him.

I let it go on though, until he began questioning me about the Necronomicon. Here I was firm, for that book would be the cause of legitimate trouble -- trouble neither he nor I needed. I was firm in my refusal, and Zebros was extremely distressed over the whole matter.

The old Spaniard finally left in late July, shortly before the beginning of the first World War. He did not get in touch with me for over a year, but I heard through my contacts around the world that he had travelled back to Spain, staying for a short time in Madrid. Then he left for Villa Cisneros in the Spanish colony of Rio de Oro in North Africa. He spent only a short time in Africa, travelling to the far east and Tibet in May of 1915. After two months there, he made his way through the Dutch colonies in the east (where he contracted some illness which nearly finished him) and travelled to northern Australia. I lost track of him there, and it was not until August twenty-fourth, 1916 that I heard from Zebros Santiago.

Death and Prophecy

The postcard was dated August tenth, and was written hastily and therefore very difficult to read. That day was to be the last anyone would ever hear from Zebros Santiago.

He was in Iquique, Chile, having discovered something which he believed would save him from dreaded Xalafu and his cult. It is for the sake of the permanent record that I include the postcard's content, as I suspect those agencies that seek out my death would destroy the original.

I know it has been a long time since you have heard from me, Thomas, but you will forgive me I'm sure when you hear what I have been doing. I have, during the last two years, been seeking out a way to appease Great Xalafu, and at last, I think I have found a way. I gained my first clues in Africa, and then in Tibet I spoke to an ancient man who had a great store of knowledge concerning the Great Ones from the stars. He sent me to Australia, and there I contacted a man named Grippen. This Grippen told me that if I were to gain the possession of a vial of Diabolusaerugo, and recite the chants in the opposite manner of the old wizard, Xalafu's doom would be quelled. The unfortunate thing is that I needed a human sacrifice, so I thought of that God Damned Pulpo as the perfect candidate. I am running out of space Thomas, but needless to say, I have gained a supply of the white powder, and have Pulpo in tow now. I shall be attempting the reverse ritual soon.

Zebros Santiago

I was horrified. The old fool was going to kill Pulpo. Charlatan or no, murder was a heinous crime that needed to be stopped. It was possible that Zebros had already committed the act, but I decided I should travel to Iquique and at least try to stop him. I would have written him to change his mind on his course of action, but he had left no return address on the postcard. My faith in the local authorities was nonexistent.

I made travel arrangements to go to Chile, and four days later I was on a ship heading from Boston to Panama, and then on to Chile.

I reached Iquique September fourth, and made inquires as to the location of Zebros Santiago. I discovered that he had been living in a small apartment by the waterfront, but had left three weeks ago and not returned. My blood ran cold -- had he performed the ritual?

I was determined to find Zebros, even if he had already committed the crime. I placed an advertisement in the local paper for the guide who had instructed Santiago how to reach wherever it was he was going, offering a substantial reward. The guide responded quickly, and told me that he had given the old occultist a map leading to a certain mountain that was miles from the city. I offered the guide a great deal of money to take me there, and he accepted.

We travelled out to the mountains the very next day, and almost immediately came upon an old trail that was undoubtedly used by Zebros and Pulpo.

We travelled a few miles into the mountains when a second trail appeared. I instructed my guide to follow the path that Santiago had followed.

It was at a particularly narrow ledge that my native guide died. One moment he was guiding me forward, and the next he was plunging down the side of the mountain, curls of dust marking his multiple impacts. I felt little pity for the man, and was more worried for myself now that I was without a guide, and might possibly get lost in the mountains.

Deciding that my safety outweighed that of either Pulpo or Zebros Santiago, I turned around to backtrack. It was only after six o'clock, four hours after my guide had fallen, that I realised that I was hopelessly lost. Knowing that without shelter I would suffer from exposure in the night, I began looking for a cave. It was then that I saw the torches.

There must have been hundreds of them, perhaps even a thousand. Almost all wore the black robes which shockingly reminded me of Zebros's letter in February of 1913. I shuddered as I spotted several of the "wizards" Santiago had described, and I came to the realisation that the aged mystic had not at all been delusional, but had told me sober truth.

I was so struck by the horror of the thing that I fainted. I awoke in a sudden orangish brightness, and wished to God that I never had.

Floating only a few hundred meters above the cultists was the awesome presence of Great Xalafu. The orange light which streamed out of the rift was sickly, and I felt fortunate not to be in its direct path. The unearthly pressure pinned me down, but it was then that I noticed the wizards waving a pair of bulky objects towards their god, and I saw the objects squirming. These, I felt sure, where the covered persons of Zebros Santiago and Pulpo.

I will not, and cannot describe what happened to them, but they are dead. Consumed by dread Xalafu. What the worshippers did with the remains is too shocking to discuss, and neither will I tell of their grotesque rituals and celebration that followed.

When Xalafu had gone I ran. Through the mountain cliffs on thin ledges, flying as only a madman can. I babbled and screamed nameless things in the night, wishing only death or madness to save me from what I had seen, from what I now knew to be true.

I reached Iquique just past dawn, and fainted dead away on arrival. I was revived and taken to hospital, where I was soon released. I paid my way out of Chile, and returned to Arkham as quickly as possible. I began to fear that my presence at the ritual may have put me at risk, and it was then that I went over the notes that Zebros had made in 1913 and 1914.

There is too much more to tell. Too much that Zebros found out, and I now know. It would take volumes to make even a dent in that material, and I have no time nor desire to take up such a task. I learned that the ritual itself had not put me in a dangerous position, and for a few months enjoyed a feeling of safety and security. This feeling was crushed January twenty-second, 1917, when a telegram arrived.


This telegram is on my desk as I write. It arrived last week, and now my life is now measured in mere moments. The size and power of the cult which pursues me is very great, and those who support them even greater. I beg you, the public, to put an end to these men who seek knowledge of the Outside. The damnable truth which could destroy us all.

Since I know very well that my report will be viewed with scepticism, I leave one final and irresistible item of proof of my tale. There is a picture now in my safe that Zebros never told me about, found amongst his papers after his death. One that he had taken in Columbia in his later searches. The developer had succeeded in making it clear, despite lighting difficulties. But why Zebros had kept it, after all he went through afterward, I can't guess. A picture of --

Send your comments to Peter Levi


© 1998 Edward P. Berglund
"The Life And Death Of Zebros Santiago": © 1998 Peter Levi. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1998 Old Arkham Graphics Design. All rights reserved. Email to: Corey T. Whitworth.

Created: July 1, 1998; Updated: August 9, 2004