upon the request of an previously unknown relative?
As I sit writing in this prison where they have caged me, I struggle to recall my terrible journey, and that night of hideous fright. When was it? I find it hard to remember. Dates like time seem to slip from my mind, passing from memory. But nothing can erase what happened in that ancient town in South America, that I remember perfectly. The men who have imprisoned me here think me mad, and look on me with a mixture of pity and contempt. I plead in vain for them to destroy that awful town, but now I realise nothing will be done if my voice remains only here. Only the informed public might give rise to action, and to that end I am writing my story.
It began with a singular occurrence, a few years ago, in 1992. I was a clerk at a financial firm in Ottawa, just one of the many drones who sat in a cubicle and filed reports or stamped forms. One day -- it must have been spring time, for the leaves were beginning to appear again on the trees -- I received a queer letter from Guyana. I had never heard of the country, but with a quick inspection of my atlas I soon discovered it. Guyana proved to be a small nation squashed along the northern coast of South America. Its coast rolled along the Atlantic Ocean, nestled beside oil-producing Venezuela to the west, smaller Surinam to the east, and Brazil stretching to the south.
The letter itself was in a yellowed manila envelope. The post mark was too faint to be read beyond the name "Georgetown," but the condition of the letter spoke of rough handling. The most remarkable thing about it, aside from its mere existence, was that the sender had sealed it with wax. It was a red seal, evidently pressed (as of old) with a signet ring. My name and address were boldly written in black ink, but there was no return address.
I opened it as was my custom, using a letter-opener to slice open the top of the envelope. Breaking the seal went against my aesthetic delight at something so eccentric and rare. The opened letter emitted a rather odd, cerebral odour, but only for a moment, and it was too distinct to be named. The contents proved rather disappointing; a single sheet of folded yellow paper, written with the black ink on one side. It had been written hurriedly, for the ink was smeared in places and some of the words were illegible.
I opened up the page and saw my name on the upper left-hand corner. On the upper right was the date: Friday, February 28, 1992. The letter had been long in coming. At the bottom of the letter was a name and address. I was surprised when I read that name, for the surname was mine, Whyte. The first name was John, and try though I might I could not recall any John Whytes in my family. Still, I knew my own family little enough, so some relation was possible. The address which the letter bore was a rather curious one, for it did not match the post mark on the envelope, and for some reason stirred my imagination: Kadras. Glancing at my atlas, I could not find the town. Realising that my speculation would likely be satisfied once I'd read the letter, I got down to business.
John Whyte introduced himself as my great-uncle, being one of my grandfather's older brothers. He was an amateur archaeologist and had studied at Queens University, Kingston, before going off to adventure in his youth. Eventually he had joined up with a noted British archaeologist named Victor Ambridge, a specialist on the Incas. Two years ago while at a dig in Peru, John had encountered an aged colleague of Professor Edward Parker, that notable political scientist who became an expert on the occult before vanishing mysteriously on one of his research projects. The man had given a clue as to Parker's last known whereabouts, and an excited Ambridge had agreed to let John go and investigate. This brought my great-uncle to Guyana.
After a long and mostly fruitless search, my great-uncle finally found out where Parker had been going in the country -- Kadras. Summoning Ambridge by telephone, he had proceeded to the town. The letter at this point becomes partially illegible due to some very unfortunate smearing, but it appears as though my great-uncle found some writings left by Parker in the town. The
letter ended just so:
I'm afraid that Kadras lacks all the amenities, and the postal officials cannot be trusted with anything of importance. Therefore I must beg you to pick up a package of extreme importance which I have entrusted to a messenger bound for Georgetown. It may be found in a safety deposit box at the airport. The key has been left for you at the Holiday Inn. Ask for it at the desk. I can only hope that you will help me, for I am in [three illegible words], perhaps mortal peril.
It ended with another desperate plea and was then signed. Never before in my thirty-four years had so astounding a thing occurred. I had spent my life robotically following the proscribed order of western life; grade school, university, odd jobs, and then more secure work in one of the great, faceless corporations. Here was a call, a cry of distress, and a chance at something which smacked of genuine adventure. And yet the frantic tone gave me pause. What was meant by "perhaps mortal peril"? What could be happening in that remarkable town?
I was too cautious by nature to make immediate plans. First I wished to learn what I could about my great-uncle. I also wanted some information on both Ambridge and Parker, and more pressingly, Kadras. To this end I made inquiries with family members that I had not seen in years. I also contacted Oxford in England and Boston University in Massachusetts by telephone. From the latter inquiries I received a great deal of information, but my family proved mostly unresponsive to my requests. All I could learn about him was that he had severed family ties long ago.
Victor Ambridge was a noted archaeologist specialising on the Incas, as John Whyte had stated, although his broader views of human history were subject to much scorn. Like the recent author Graham Hancock, Ambridge believed human history stretched back tens of thousands of years, and went through various epochs until modern times. Otherwise his views and techniques conformed to modern standards of archaeology.
Of Edward Parker I found it difficult to assimilate the vast profundity of the man's works, or even determine what he believed. Born in Ipswich, England, in 1881, his incandescent brilliance brought him to Oxford when he was only fifteen. He graduated at the age of twenty in political science. Boston University than made the extraordinary offer of immediate tenure to him, and he began to teach there in the fall of 1901. It seems that while privately studying anthropology, Parker became interested in the occult. He published no less than eleven books on the subject, several of which are still considered classics. He by no means abandoned his interest in political science (his text books were used until the 1960s), but the more his colleagues read of his various travels and what he claimed he'd seen, the more inclined they became to doubt his veracity. Indeed, his book The Horror I Met on the Bridges of Bratislave (1922) reads almost like a novel. Parker managed to deflate the charges against him, and produced a few other quite notable volumes, but shortly after translating the works of the French occultist Chanteau, he went on sabbatical and disappeared in 1942.
The information on Parker came from an excellent biography at the local library, supplemented by my conversations with the department of Political Science at Boston University. The views on Ambridge were given me by several of his colleagues, who I will not bother naming.
All this research consumed perhaps two weeks, and by this time the matter was on my mind day and night. Should I go? Dare I go? What might I find? The final motivation did not, however, come from me. My boss told me that I was long overdue for a vacation, and I was informed I must take one. Like the hand of fate, all the clouds lifted and I immediately made inquiries about traveling to Guyana.
You may wonder that I never called the Holiday Inn to confirm the existence of the key to that safety deposit box, but at this point my soul screamed so much for an escape from my drab existence that such a blow to my great-uncle's credibility would have devastated me. I focused instead on arrangements for my trip.
The travel agent informed me that I would have to get shots for various ailments which could ravage travelers to Guyana, and also told me that banditry was not uncommon in the outlying areas. I was told I should stay in the main cities along the coast, and not venture into the hinterland. According to the brochure I was given, Guyana had been a Dutch colony at the beginning of the colonial period, the original settlement or trading post established in 1596. The colony changed to British hands briefly in 1796-1803, was returned to the Dutch, and then finally to the British in 1814. Of industry, modern Guyana was like much of the Americas in that its wealth was resource based. Guyana did not engage in much manufacturing, instead providing goods such as bananas, sugarcane, rice, bauxite, manganese, gold and diamonds. The population was around eight hundred thousand, most of it concentrated in the capital, Georgetown.
Direct flights to the country were not to be found. My route went from Ottawa to Nassau in the Bahamas, and then a stopover in Barbados before arriving in Georgetown. Since this was a paid vacation, lasting two weeks, I felt I had ample time to not only retrieve my great-uncle's package, but track him down as well. In my new spirit of bold adventure, long hidden by loneliness and
dull employment, I was buoyant, even happy. In the early morning on Monday, May 11, I boarded my flight.
I spent the time reading my borrowed biography of Parker. He was certainly an eccentric individual, and for one so free in discussing the unknown, he was given to peculiar silences. I was greatly interested in the Brazilian voyage he made in 1905-1906, where he planned on writing about the beliefs of natives in the interior. No record of the trip exists, but almost the entire expedition perished and Parker himself received several curious scars. I spent the flight wondering about him and the other occultists of his time.
I arrived in Guyana about midday on May 12, completely exhausted. The travel agent had arranged for a room at the Holiday Inn. I took a cab from the airport to the inn. It had been my intention to immediately ask for the key at the front desk, but I was so exhausted that I dragged my luggage (a suitcase and a backpack) to my room and collapsed on the bed.
Wednesday morning broke in on me through the window, and I groggily got up. I showered, and when I was done I looked out at the city I was in. While the tropical environment was evident, I experienced some disappointment at the very normal appearance of the city. After I'd spent some time looking out my window, I went down to the front desk and, after producing some identification, I was given the key my great-uncle had left for me.
Returning to the airport by taxi (the local driver commented on the stupidity of the current government, but I paid him no mind), I located the safety deposit box and eagerly opened it. It was completely empty, and I stood there, stunned. For several minutes I was unable to comprehend the meaning of the empty box before me. When I'd finally recovered from the shock, I didn't know quite what to do.
A local airport official approached me, apparently concerned after having seen my reaction. He was of Indian descent, as are so many people in Guyana (brought over from Asia after the abolition of the slave trade in Britain). He asked me if there was a problem. His very presence seemed to wake me up, and I asked him if he had seen anyone deliver a package to the safety deposit box. He responded in the negative, so I asked him if he knew where the town of Kadras was. The blank look he gave me sufficed, so I inquired where I might find local tour guides, and he gave me an address and the phone number of a very reliable man. Thanking him, I left the airport and took a taxi to the address indicated.
Though I now doubted my great-uncle's story, I had come too far to give up completely. My destination proved to be a squat, brick edifice, which blankly declared itself as the Tourist Bureau. According to the man at the airport, I was supposed to look for Daniel Greene. When I asked for him at the front desk, I was directed to a small office at the back of the building. I walked down the hallway on hideous yellowed carpeting, and knocked on the cheap wooden door. An accented English voice bid me to enter, and I got my first sight of Daniel Greene.
He was a short, thin, precise, black man of about forty, his hair already graying. After initial pleasantries, I asked him about Kadras, and his reaction was markedly unusual. He blinked in surprise, his eyes widening. Recovering himself, he stepped back behind his desk, bumping into the map of the Guianas (Guyana, Surinam, and French Guiana) which was behind him.
"Kadras? Why do you want to go to Kadras?" He paused, and then his initial surprise gave way to curiosity, "Who told you about Kadras?"
I felt no need to confess my reasons to Greene, and replied that it was no business of his why I wanted to go, only if he could arrange it. A flash of irritation gave way to a long practised smile. "Yes sir, I can get you to Kadras."
Before Greene could begin, I asked him to show me Kadras on his map and to explain his strange reaction to it. He did not answer the latter question, but pointed to a place which seemed to be between the Amuku Mountains in the southern hinterland, and the Kayser Mountains of Surinam. There was no indication of a town there, nor was there any road leading through the area (which was in the southern region of East Berbice-Corentyne District). The closest area of civilisation was the Surinam town of Ajoewa. Greene said the best way to get there was to drive to the town of Biloku, about one hundred and twenty kilometres from Kadras. From there I could take an all-terrain vehicle to within about thirty kilometres, stopping at a village not marked on his map. From there I would have to hike.
To this end, Greene himself would take me as far as that unmarked village. From there, I would have to hire a local guide. He warned me that I would find no one willing to take me up the mountain where the town lay. The cost of the trip was rather high, but after some hard bargaining, I got the whole trip at what I thought a very reasonable cost.
Since I was in a hurry, Greene and I would set off the next day. To amuse myself before then, I went to see what sights I could in Georgetown, and sampled some local dishes at different restaurants. I slept soundly that night, waking early to be ready for Greene who was picking me up.
My guide seemed to be in a good mood, and our drive was an enjoyable one, as Greene filled it with a seemingly exhaustless store of amusing tales. The trip to Biloku took six hours, including pit stops. From Biloku, after eating, we picked up our all-terrain vehicle and traveled another ninety kilometres (in two hours) before reaching the village. Passing through the Amuku Mountains had been very pleasant. There were repeated vistas of mostly tree-covered peaks, and crossing the New River by bridge was very exciting -- I took several photographs. By now it was just past three in the afternoon. Greene, who spoke Hindi (which was common to most of the villagers), found me a guide without too much trouble. At four o'clock I was hiking my way through the mountains.
My guide spoke only broken English, and I never did catch his name. Of East Indian parentage, he proved to be rather sullen and uncommunicative. Leading me away from the village to a more desolate part of the mountains, we walked along a very old and ill-used track, which seemed wide enough for a cart. Traveling four hours without rest, I watched the sun go down, and listened to the constant chatter of the animals in the woods in the valleys below.
Our camp was sparse and makeshift and I slept uncomfortably, listening to the raucous chirping of insects. In the early morning of that Friday I was in good spirits despite my lack of sleep. We had another twenty kilometres to walk, but it had been Greene's opinion that this distance was doable in a day, so off we went.
In the first four hours of hiking, before we stopped for lunch, we made good time and entered a more forested region. After lunch, however, things began to change. While previously we had been mostly traveling downward -- amongst the foothills between the Amuku and Kayser Mountains --, but now we began to climb. The woods mostly fell away, and what remained were stunted and broken. Animal activity mostly vanished along with the trees, though insect chirping remained in full force.
We paused again in the late afternoon to eat. We had were walking on a haphazard, crumbling path, approaching a small group of very tall mountains that I did not recall on the map Greene had. There was, jutting out almost like a balcony, a titan cliff wall on one of the middle (and smaller) mountains, and it was towards this that the path was heading. When I inquired of my silent guide if that was where Kadras was to be found, he nodded. I also noted, by consulting my map, that Greene had given me an erroneous indication of where the town was, as I could plainly see that these mountains straddled the Brazilian border, or nearly so.
As the sun began to set, alighting the mountains with crowns of crimson and purple, I espied the town of Kadras. It was majestically situated at the top of the cliff wall, and there seemed to be several very tall buildings -- towers perhaps -- jutting upward. It was obvious from my vantage point that the town got little if any sunlight on it. It faced westward, and the peak of the mountain jutted over it enough to block out most of the sun's rays. A very odd place to build a town.
It was nearly a full moon that night, and the stars were bright. The air was humid, cooled by a gentle wind. By eight o'clock we had reached what appeared to be the ruins of a once great causeway. Who had built it and where it had gone into the jungle were now beyond conjecture, but it clearly lead to Kadras. Once reached, my guide told me in his stilted English that he would not take one step further. Persistent badgering on my part achieved no result. I asked him if he would wait for me. He agreed very reluctantly and only for ludicrous promises of money. I made sure to carefully note in my mind the route back to the village in case he fled.
Though I was relatively close to the town, I was too tired to walk the rest of the way and too worried that I might not find accommodations at such an hour, so I camped with my guide. The night was filled with the excited sounds of insects, and the wind through the mountains. My dreams were troubled, though when I woke I could not remember them. I rose at dawn on Saturday, May 16, and began the steep climb to Kadras.
It was a long climb, and when I reached the top I found the causeway rolled down like a tongue into the town. Kadras itself seemed rather haphazardly built. Its earthen streets connected in a most confused, disorderly fashion. The houses were very old and crumbling, most of native construction -- which seemed similar to the pueblos of the American southwest, if one can imagine such as narrow and packed together --, though there were a few Victorian buildings.
As I walked onto what I presumed was the main thoroughfare, I noticed the houses jutted out over the street, creating almost a tunnel effect. The idea of decay and dilapidation that I had gained cresting the causeway was certainly confirmed in the town itself. Windows were boarded up, the casement for the buildings was crumbling into dust, and whatever decorations there might have been were faded and chipped beyond all repair. There were enough dwellings for a sizable population, but I saw few people on the streets, and they were evidently native South Americans. Occasionally I saw signs of damage on various buildings, as if they had suffered through wars of some kind.
The tall buildings I'd seen yesterday impressed themselves on me as I walked. They towered over everything, and reached a staggering height. What stone they were built of I couldn't guess, but they were like inverted cones, and there seemed to be six of them. Each was at regular intervals at the furthest end of town (westward, and closest to the precipice).
I was searching for the local hostelry, certain that it would be one of those few crumbling Victorian edifices I had seen from my earlier perch on the crest of the causeway. I had already passed a private dwelling of that type, but it seemed uninhabited, with the windows and door boarded up. It was after I'd passed this building and studied the towers that I realised just how deathly quiet Kadras was. It was a study of saturninity.
I walked nearly the length of the street, nearing those great towers stretching towards the stars, when I chanced to see a brick building of obvious British construction. Thinking I'd found what I was looking for, I turned and quickly walked up to it.
The building was a very unremarkable two-story affair, which seemed in slightly better upkeep than the rest of the town. A dingy sign hanging above the doorway barely proclaimed it to be HOSTELRY, but the nature of the building -- which was twice as long as any other -- probably served another purpose in antiquity. Ascending the stairs, I opened the greenish wooden door and entered the parlour.
Sitting behind the old, scarred desk, was a curious looking native man. Shorter than I, but the same build as the other locals I'd seen. He was balding, heavily tanned, and smelled very earthen. What struck me about him was his eyes. They seemed unused to light somehow, though just precisely why I could not decide. Perhaps it was the uncouth paleness, or how he squinted in the dim light. His speech was very accented, and the horse croak of it made me think that he was not accustomed to speaking much at all. Fortunately, his English was excellent.
I quickly made arrangements for the next three nights (I could not imagine I would need more). It was obvious this was the only hotel, so I did not barter with the man -- his price being reasonable in the first place. He gave me the key to my room, and I took my suitcase upstairs to the second floor, and then examined my room.
It was rather narrow -- the bed was old though the sheets were clean. The window was boarded over, but I could still see through the cracks. Besides the bed there was no furniture, and so I set my suitcase down on the mattress. To occupy myself, I looked around my room more carefully. Marks on the wall at knee level showed that a bunk had once been bolstered to the window side of the room, and a quick examination of the other wall (where the bed was) showed the same signs. It now seemed obvious that this building had once been a small British barracks.
I did some unpacking, and glancing at my watch saw that I had a great deal of time to look around town. My stomach also informed me of other needs, so I returned to the front desk and asked for both a map of the town and where I might purchase a meal. The man at the desk said he had no maps with him, but drew me a rough sketch of how to get to a private residence where I could get some food. I asked him about what a tourist might wish to see in Kadras, but he said there was nothing. It occurred to me that this was likely the very place my great-uncle and Ambridge would have lodged, but the man said that he knew of no other foreigners in town. For some reason, I had felt reluctant to ask him about the towers, which were so obviously a tourist attraction. Taking the paper he handed me with his hand drawn map on it, I went outside.
It was only a short walk down two narrow streets to the house indicated on the map. I knocked on the door, and it was opened by a short, squat local woman. She looked me over before she spoke in broken English, "You eat?"
When I answered in the affirmative, she asked for five dollars of the local currency, which I promptly handed to her. She then led me into a small room dominated by a table. A chair was brought, and in a short time a dish was before me of some local wild game. It reminded me a bit of wild turkey. After finishing the meal (which I drowned with water), I thanked the woman and left. It was around mid-afternoon by then.
I walked back to the hostelry, as it was the only landmark I was familiar with. Digging a pen from my pocket, I used the paper the desk clerk had given me to begin mapping Kadras as I walked its narrow streets.
One hour of searching had produced house upon house which were in the same crumbling condition. I found that the streets connected with each other, but that the chaos of them would have had me lost in less than ten minutes without my map. The towers were an omnipresent feature of my tour, but I wished to look at them later. I was more interested in finding the remnants of British colonial occupation, for that was the first place I might find my great-uncle. It was just then that I found the library.
The building was another two-story brick one, with the windows boarded up. There was no sign on the door, but unlike the house I'd seen when I'd arrived earlier, the door was not nailed shut. I knocked several times, each time with no answer. So with great temerity I tried the doorknob. It opened with only slight resistance.
Inside was a small desk similar to the one at the hostelry, but it was covered with dust. Two large rooms presented themselves, as well as a staircase up to the second floor. Both rooms featured shelves of books. Without hesitation I went into the room on my left, and looked about me.
It was a very small library, and yet for all that it was a sign that some kind of infrastructure had existed in the town before the British left. It also seemed a good place to find my great-uncle or Victor Ambridge. The books on the shelves were long neglected, and in rather poor shape. Nothing really caught my attention, so I went into the room on the right. Here I spotted yellowed paper lying on the floor by the opposite wall, and a quick inspection revealed it to be a very old calendar, though the date was not clear. It was then that I heard the floorboards overhead creak.
The sound sent a shock through my body, and I felt fear seize my body. Not being a brave man normally, it suddenly came to me that I was in a very strange town, alone, unarmed, and unable to speak the local language. A second creak of the floor board made me look up, and I noticed a small hole in the ceiling above. Some dust fell from it, and peering up, an eye looked down at me.
A faint cry escaped my lips, and I rushed out of the room. From above I could hear a similar rush of footsteps, but these were obviously headed for the staircase. As I fumbled with the door, I heard a man shout, but I was too panicked to hear what was said. I had just turned the doorknob when I heard a great crash by the staircase. Turning, I saw that whoever had been running had leaped down the staircase. It was then that I saw my pursuer.
He was a somewhat elderly white man, with a full head of gray hair, spectacles (jarred from his leap), a dirty-looking suit, and eyes wide with fright, confusion, and a gleam of hope. As I stood there staring at him, he tried to walk forward, but stumbled and fell to the floor. He raised his head immediately and cried out, "Wait! For God's sake don't leave!"
That was how I met Victor Ambridge.
I helped him to his feet. He had hurt his ankle, but how badly was hard to determine. I wanted to sit him at the front desk (in the only chair on the first floor), but he insisted that I take him upstairs. The task was not as difficult as I had imagined, since Ambridge was desperately thin. I noticed that the second floor was a great deal less dusty than the first floor, and soon discovered why. The upper floor was divided into an open library area (a few shelves, a desk and a chair) and then a small room which perhaps had been an office. This office had become Ambridge's residence. A bedroll was on the floor, and a backpack lay in a corner. Some books were in a pile on a desk, a chair was overturned beside the door, and various other objects were scattered about which I hadn't the time to take note of.
Ambridge sat heavily in the chair once I had righted it. To my questioning look he said, "I had it propped against the door." The archaeologist sat breathing heavily for several moments, while I took a closer look at the items on his desk. There were three books: one on the Incas written by Ambridge, another was a history of Guyana, while the third appeared to be a very old diary. Besides the books, several pens were on the desk, along with a flashlight, an open box of crackers, a thermos, a folded map, and a few other odds and ends. Ambridge interrupted my inspection by grabbing my shoulder, turning me to face him, and looking directly at me, asked, "Who are you?"
I paused, regarding him. There was still fear in his eyes, along with pain and that spark of hope. "My name is Albert Whyte." His grip on my arm became like a vise, and he looked at me intently.
"You're John's nephew? The one in Ottawa?" He said this with a kind of desperation tinged with doubt, and I wondered what could have possibly driven such a levelheaded scientist to such a state.
"Yes." Instantly his hand relaxed its grip, and he seemed to slump in his chair, looking back at me, wincing a bit as he adjusted his ankle. "You can prove that, naturally." Annoyed at the question, I did not answer him, but he was not paying me any attention.
"The package didn't arrive, did it? Well thank God. But why are you so late? John sent that letter in February, before . . ." Ambridge broke down and began to cry. I clumsily comforted him, and helped him to his bedroll. Questions regarding my great-uncle only produced more sobs, and it became obvious that Victor Ambridge was in no condition to help me at this point.
After I had attended to his ankle as best I could, I sat at the desk and examined the books. A brief scan of both Ambridge's and the history of Guyana showed them to be filled with information which did not seem terribly useful to my situation. The old diary, however, was another matter.
Boldly written on the front page in black ink was the title, "The History of Mountain Worship in British Guiana, by Edward Parker." It was dated May 10-15, 1942, and glancing at the back I saw that Parker had never finished it. The diary itself was divided into four sections: a brief history of mountain worship elsewhere, an account of Jan Thorbecke's Dutch expedition into the
Guiana hinterland, a general history, and then Parker's own experiences (which were incomplete).
Parker's brief account of mountain worship was very roughly done, and likely only provisional with the idea of further research and revision when he was back home. It covered the religion of the Incas and the echoes of that worship elsewhere in the Americas. He then addressed the fact that almost nothing was known of the natives of Guyana, although the mountain worship in Kadras seemed very unusual.
He then translated the Dutch manuscript of Jan Thorbecke, which Parker had found in the library files in Amsterdam a few months before. It consisted of a log book with rough notes along the margins. To this section I paid more attention than the history proceeding it.
The expedition was a private affair and not sanctioned by the Dutch West India Company. It was launched from Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles, and Parker postulates that Thorbecke was a privateer, preying on Spanish silver. The year was 1657, and the expedition was in search of Inca gold. There seems to have been thirty to thirty-five men along with Thorbecke, and they trekked by canoe along the rivers. The rest is perhaps best quoted.
Captain Thorbecke and his men soon reached the Amuku mountains by way of the Essequibo River. From there they trekked into the interior, following rumours they had heard from traders along the way. About five days after they had left the river they came across the mountains where Kadras resides. They camped near the cliff wall, observing the huge towers. Thorbecke felt sure they had encountered a far flung arm of the Incas, and no doubt images of gold and silver were dancing in his head. The next day they noted a great deal of activity along the causeway leading up to the town, observing many carts going to and fro. They captured one of the carts and interrogated the indians. It was learned that huge amounts of gold and silver were mined in the town above, and from the natives' descriptions there would not be much resistance to Thorbecke's guns. The ore in the cart was hidden and sentries placed to guard it. Some quick battle plans were made, and the natives disposed of. About thirty men hurried up the great causeway. They were confronted by native forces, but after a bloody clash in which only one of Thorbecke's men was wounded, resistance quickly melted away. When they reached the crest of the causeway they found their way blocked by large stones. No amount of effort on the part of the men, who were continually sniped at by bow and arrow, could move the stones. Thorbecke retreated to consider his options. Night fell. The sentries that night reported having seen "winged beasts" and strange lights around the towers. Thorbecke thought them cowards, and warned deserters of a quick death -- either by his hands or the natives.
At this point there is an entry for a plan to have captured indians (those coming up the causeway presumably) to bring up great levers of wood to pry away the stones. Entries in Thorbecke's hand end, and there is only a very hurried and somewhat blurred account written by someone else. It seems that the natives who aided them found themselves crushed to death by boulders, which those on the other side rolled down on them. A gap was produced regardless, and the Dutch charged, guns blazing. They encountered creatures described as demonic in form. A few escaped (leaving the gold behind), and gave the book to a Dutch trader, whose descendants donated it to the University of Amsterdam.
Parker then tried to figure out what actually happened to the privateers, imagining that the indians may have employed tactics new to the Dutch, and the weapons they used perhaps seemed like magic to the Europeans. The explanation has a feel of artificiality -- and superficiality -- about it, which suggests it was written hurriedly. The whole account seemed rather nebulous to me, and were it not for the specific landmarks mentioned, I would have dismissed it as a false account.
In the general history, Parker records how a small number of British soldiers were dispatched to the Guyana hinterland to investigate the borders won from the Dutch in 1814. These men encountered Kadras in the summer of 1816, their numbers depleted by various diseases picked up along the way. The Kadras they encountered proved much changed from the one Thorbecke describes. While limited mining was going on, it was but a trickle. The town itself was partially abandoned.
The British were allowed to bivouac in the town, but they found the natives sullen and disquieting. The soldiers were refused permission to inspect the mines, no matter what threats were made. The British stayed perhaps a month before moving on. They returned to Georgetown in 1818 and gave their report. Two years later another expedition, this a mix of military and mercantile interests, was launched. Kadras was found much in the same state.
This time the mines were inspected, but found to have little precious metals left in them. The soldiers stayed on for the next year and a half to insure British control of the area, and they built barracks while they were there. One of the merchants who had accompanied the soldiers felt there might be hidden treasures in the towers. He later disappeared.
When the British left for the second time, and the town did not experience a foreign presence again until 1882, when a mining company sent men to inspect the area. The natives refused to cooperate, but British troops changed their minds. The barracks was rebuilt, and several other buildings were also established. The company established a silver mine, but it did not prove profitable. Parker could not find evidence of more than forty non-natives living in Kadras at any time, and more than half of these were soldiers. The Captain of the troops apparently had misgivings over the towers, believing them places of pagan worship. When this became known, the Captain vanished, his broken body later found at the bottom of cliff. Reprisals were threatened, but in the end the British did nothing.
At this point there was a marginal note where Parker has written, "insert Smith narrative," but I found nothing in the journal which seemed to represent this item. Parker's account continues that at the outbreak of World War I the British troops were removed for more important duty, and the silver mine dried up soon after. The British presence was entirely gone by 1916.
The next visitor to Kadras was Parker himself. He had learned of the town through Thorbecke's manuscript, and had researched it as best he could using military and company records. He arrived in town at the beginning of May 1942. The natives proved very uncommunicative, and the mine was evidently abandoned. Parker estimated that there were probably no more than one hundred inhabitants in the town, which probably held thousands at the time of the Dutch incursion.
At this point Parker's account ended. I found the narrative fascinating, but it did little to aid me, other than adding an eerieness and greater fear of the town. The sun, I noted, had gone down while I had been reading, and I realised that if I wished to return to my hotel I would have to do so now. But there was Ambridge.
I woke him up, but no amount of arguing would convince him to go with me to the hostelry. His resistance to the idea had nothing to do with his injury, but rather his aversion seemed to be to Kadras itself. He insisted that the town was conspired against him, and that should he reveal himself his fate was sealed.
To pass the time, I asked him if he had come across the Smith narrative alluded to in Parker's journal. Ambridge looked slightly surprised, and then frowned. "Yes, I did read it. It's what got poor Parker and your great-uncle killed."
I felt shock run through my body. "Dead? Are you sure? What do you mean? How? Why?" I stumbled over my words, my thoughts racing too fast for me to relate them to Ambridge coherently. The old professor raised a hand to stop me.
"I suppose you must be told, blood calls to blood, and I owe it to John." Pausing to collect his thoughts, Ambridge began on his extraordinary tale. "I know your great-uncle told you about our venture in Peru looking for Incas. And you know about the surprising clue we found on the whereabouts of old Parker. John traveled here and found Kadras, and then summoned me to help him -- oh God! If only I hadn't come!" The old man shook his head.
"We arrived here about two weeks before John wrote to you. We found the library after some searching. I wanted to see the towers, but we weren't permitted to go near them. I was the one who found Parker's book lying on one of the shelves in there," Ambridge indicated the room beyond, "and John and I were extremely excited and baffled by its contents. We immediately made inquires with all the locals we could communicate with, but they were unresponsive. So, we worked on our own. The day before your great-uncle wrote you, he found the Smith manuscript and a notebook of Parker's."
Here I interrupted him with the question which had been on my mind since I first heard about this business. "What was in the package he sent me? And why me?"
Ambridge smiled slightly. "He chose you because you were family, and he happened to still have your address. The package contained my laborious and furious copying of both the Parker manuscript, the Smith document, and Parker's notebook."
"By why all this danger and death? What was in Smith's account? What happened to Parker and my great-uncle?" Nothing made sense to me, and Ambridge's sad, defeated face was irritating.
Ambridge pointed to his backpack. "There you will find the Smith narrative. As far as the deaths are concerned, that remains conjecture."
I walked over to the backpack and rooted through it until I found the tattered pages.
"What of Parker's notebook?"
"John had it with him when he died."
"Were you there?"
Ambridge paused, frowned, and shook his head sorrowfully. Unable to believe the strange events that were transpiring around me, I sat down glumly, thumbing through the account given. It was related by Charles B. Smith to Dr. James Robinson, who was stationed with the soldiers at Kadras.
Apparently, Smith was a miner, and around 1897 he stumbled across a vast series of catacombs. These underground passages zigzagged beneath the town, the mine, and the towers. He had been in search of silver, but instead he found what he claimed inhabited the towers. "Spawn out of Hell! Tall as you or I, but bulky, and clothes like I've never seen. Folded on its back was wings, like it was some damnable bug." Smith had fled the apparition, and when the townsfolk learned of his underground adventure, a mob nearly killed him.
The account did not impress me. No doubt the miner did find catacombs, but hallucinations underground are not unusual. Similarly, he must have known the reaction the villagers would have when they discovered his transgression, and self-preservation can make for strange tales.
When I expressed these views to Ambridge, he laughed. "I said much the same thing myself, as I guess Parker did, too. But we've learned different, haven't we?" The archaeologist began to laugh hysterically, and it took much effort on my part to calm him down. After he had drank some water, he recovered himself, and soberly told me the rest of what he knew.
The notebook had been found lying inside the mines, partially ruined. Within it my great-uncle had found a folded map, which seemed to show the entrance to the catacombs. One night, he crept into the abandoned mines. Following the map, he located a narrow passage in one of the mine walls. His flashlight revealed a passage beyond, but he did not traverse it then.
"John and I argued over what we should do, since it seemed that Parker's nosiness had got him killed. This would have been in early March, I think. We agreed not to pursue the matter, but to examine the towers. The natives were on to us though, and no matter when we went, there were groups of them to prevent us from looking at them too closely.
"Then in early April John got impatient, and argued that we must look in the catacombs or have come for nothing. I disagreed, but after a violent argument he stalked off, notebook in hand. I never saw him again."
I looked at him, unsure of what to say. "But this is incredible!" I broke out. "He was obviously murdered by these wretched natives, just like poor Edward Parker! Damn them! Well, they won't be getting you or I, Ambridge. We'll leave on the morrow!"
This considerably cheered up my companion, and he lifted his thermos to toast my intention.
As I settled Ambridge down to rest, I went back downstairs and made sure the door was shut. I propped a chair against the doorknob to ensure our privacy. The back door was thankfully boarded shut, as were the windows. Satisfied with our protection, I returned upstairs and sat down by the desk and thought about our predicament.
The thought of sleep never entered my mind; I simply sat there thinking. As night deepened, I thought I heard noises in the dark. At first I wondered if I'd imagined them, but as I focused my attention on them, they persisted. I realised the sounds were real. After I'd sat listening for some ten minutes Ambridge woke up with a start, looking around, dazed and frightened. Finally, looking at me in the most piteous manner, he whispered "Do you hear that, or have I gone mad?" The poor fellow was at the end of his rope. When I answered, "Yes", Ambridge groaned and his look was changed to hopeless fear. I ceased to pay attention to him at that point, since it finally occurred to me what I was hearing. Footsteps.
The sounds of footsteps on the street. A large number of footsteps. Many, many feet were making that sound, as they thudded dully in the cavernous streets. As I listened, I realised that there was an accompanying sound, a kind of furtive buzzing, as if by some monstrous insects far away. Then, even as I identified that underlying sound, a new noise sprang up, a kind of moaning emitted from a mass of throats. It was strange and frightening to hear. Both Ambridge and I scrambled to the window to peer through the cracks and see what was happening.
The moon was full outside, and the spiky towers could not keep out all the light. Below us in the streets, walking purposefully towards the towers, were what seemed to be the entirety of Kadras' population. Many more people than I'd ever imagined inhabiting the place. Ambridge and I were stunned.
"My God man! My God!" was all the aged archaeologist could say, his voice high and uneven, with his nerves completely shattered.
As I watched person after person vanish into the towers, I felt a strange compulsion. Within me there was a curiosity to find out where the townsfolk were going, and beneath that -- a seductive whisper in the back of my mind -- was a desire to join the procession. The latter feeling I crushed the moment I felt it, but my curiosity, and my desire to solve this accursed mystery, was becoming more difficult to resist.
The tramping of footsteps continued, along with the moaning and that barely heard buzzing. Ambridge was mumbling something behind me, a prayer perhaps, but I had ceased paying attention. At that moment curiosity prevailed, so I hastily made my way downstairs and to the door.
The natives passed by me at uneven intervals, all moaning as they walked. They seemed possessed. Their inattentiveness was to my advantage, and with bravado or madness I quickly opened the door and joined them.
No one paid me any attention, and though I had begun to moan as they did I quickly gave it up, realising that it did not matter. As I walked the buzzing noise increased in volume, and rebounded within my mind like an echo. Clearly, all of Kadras was here, for I spotted not just men, but women and children, too. Their pace was steady but rapid, and soon we had passed through the streets and faced the towers themselves.
Never in all my life had I felt the same awe and terror as I did approaching those towers. Each must have been at least fifty metres tall, and appeared to be made of the darkest onyx. As I came closer, I realised that they were not onyx at all, but a kind of glassy blackness, formed all in one piece. It was as if each tower had been placed there by some gigantic hand. Neither a
window nor door was to be seen on the glassy surface of the towers. They seemed to absorb light rather than reflect it. Like the stiffening claws of the dead, those faceless towers stretched up towards the heavens, while their bulk loomed over the Kadras like the curse of the Almighty. I shook with fear, but felt compelled to go forward into the abyss.
The people ahead seemed to be swallowed up by each tower they approached. As I came nearer to the closest one, I realised that a large slab of stone had been heaved aside, revealing a great stone staircase into the mountain itself. As the man in front of me was swallowed by darkness, I followed him.
Down, down we went into the darkness. The only sounds were the people's steps and moaning, and that increasing undercurrent of buzzing which thundered in my head. There seemed to be some kind of pressure being exerted, for the air became thicker and heavier and damper -- it felt like I was walking through molasses. The buzzing grew louder and deeper, and then I saw a light ahead.
As I descended to the bottom of the staircase, I found myself amongst a great throng in a hollowed out cavern of immense proportions. It was lit by some luminous fungi which hung from above, and in the centre of the cave was a large pit, beside which stood a man in a hooded crimson robe.
As the people bowed subserviently to the crimson man, I noted that along the sides of the cavern there were a variety of small passages. Within one of them might be an exit out of the mines, perhaps the very same place where my great-uncle and Edward Parker had entered in the past.
The air in the cave was becoming heavier and heavier, and the dampness was stifling. An odour began to pervade the cavern, a foul stench which seemed to come from the pit. The buzzing was not just that, but a roar like a thousand waterfalls, rattling my brain. Hearing was practically impossible.
One of the townsfolk rose, undressed, and to my astonishment walked over the side of the pit. There followed a series of short, hysterical screams, and a horrible sound of bubbling liquids and a frightening crunching. Another followed with similar results, and then another. It was then that I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I gave a cry of stark terror, but a hand clapped itself firmly over my mouth to muffle me. After a brief struggle, I realised that it was Victor Ambridge. He had followed me here.
Motioning me further back, where the sound was somewhat less deafening, he began to shout at me in the most frightening tones. "Do you see? Do you see? We have to go, run while we still can!"
"But what is going on here? What does it all mean?"
Ambridge shook his head and said something I did not hear. He then pointed to one of the side passages. I understood his intention, but felt a curious reluctance. Ambridge began to pull at my arm, and as perhaps the tenth person cast themselves into the pit, the sound suddenly stopped altogether. Within that instant, everything seemed loud.
The crimson man must have seen us, for he gave a cry and pointed in our direction. Ambridge screamed and ran ahead of me. I followed him blindly in the darkness, stumbling sometimes over unseen objects. Behind me I could hear shouts and the sounds of pursuit, but I never turned to look behind me. Time was of the essence, and how I would find my way out I couldn't guess. I only felt stark, blinding fear, and a panicked desire to escape.
How many twists and turns I made I do not know. Nor do I know how many close calls I had, but it was soon evident that Ambridge and I were separated. I was then bruised and bloodied by all my falls, but I carried on somehow. After what seemed a long time, I found a narrow, rough hewn passage and followed it. Here the air was wholesome, the intense pressure was gone, and the shouts and cries of my pursuers faded. Had I found the entrance used by John Whyte and Edward Parker? I had no way of knowing. Through all the centuries of delving there was a honeycomb of tunnels, and why shouldn't there be more than one way out? Regardless, what terrified me the most was the strange, hideous roar I heard as I followed the fresh air up towards the outside. The sound of it was tremendous, shaking the ground, and it had a depth, timbre, which went beyond all recognition. Out of the unreverberating abyss came that roar, and I felt it was perilous to hear.
I panicked completely, and I remember nothing of my escape from the mines or my flight down the causeway. My appearance days later in the village where Greene had left me are but dim memories of bush and rock. I was out of my senses until I reached Georgetown and was properly treated. What happened to poor Ambridge I can well imagine, for he was never heard from again. Some think I murdered him, but they are the same fools who insist that Kadras does not exist.
I have written to Greene asking him to verify part of my story, but he has never answered me. I know that my time is short now. What roared out of the depths of those mountains spelled my doom. For I have realised what was happening as I fled out of Kadras. So many facets of what I'd seen and imagined had coalesced in my mind since then. Is not that pit but the opening of a loathsome mouth? And are not those towers but the merest forefingers of some colossal monstrosity? None believe me.
I have begged them to destroy Kadras, but they will not listen. This is my final plea, my final statement to sway them to annihilate that terrible town. When I am gone, perhaps they will take heed of all my warnings. If not, some day a power will rise from the mountain, and the world will quake in its footsteps.
Created: December 5, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004