Among the Dark Places of the Earth, by Julio Toro San Martin

(Download the audio version of this story here, read by Mars Homeworld.)

It was on a Tuesday when we crossed the towering peaks of the Andes Mountains. Its continuous chain of monstrous girth, which extends all the way along the west of South America, aroused to my sensibilities a sense of the magnitude of its suggestive power, and with this sublime elevation of feeling came a dread. These gigantic growths, spawned of earth’s rocks, seemed to live a life apart from man, brooding and majestic to themselves, true only to themselves, as brothers. As I gazed atop their snowy summits from the 6-passenger plane I feared we had greatly erred and had made an intrusion into places where man should not be, and watched beings that saw our onlooking and curious eyes as trespasses and voyeurship, but they were patient and waited. To our north in the distance loomed one of the highest of earth’s monoliths, iridescent Aconcagua, clothed with a sliver of clouds. I imagined it to be the mighty monarch of the peaks –peaks that were its subjects. And should it become annoyed, what then? I thought, what if mountains moved? What if they got up and walked? What army could stop one leg from lifting? A profound respect for them dawned on me such as I never experienced before, for if these mountains moved, would they even see us as sharers in a common destiny on this earth; or as nuisances, as flies, inconsequential to their estranged and alien minds?

After awhile these disturbing thoughts began to abate, and the terror softened as we left the Andes behind somewhat and beheld their western slopes. Yet they were never wholly gone, for always they remained to our left while we journeyed, as the Pacific Ocean did to our right. Like two boundaries they seemed, land and water, poised to attack, while we flew between them. The pilot and I were in Chile, the snake-like country to the west of Argentina.

Refueling in the capital of Chile, Santiago, we continued our journey south. We passed various cities in Chile’s pleasant central valley and crossed the Bio-Bio River. Our journey south took us through densely forested areas and lake regions, remarkable for their beauty and solitude. Our destination was Chiloe Island. The last grand majestic marker before our descent should have been the glacier-covered volcano, Osorno. We planned to land at Tepual Airport in Puerto Montt, and from their chart the ferry that would take us to Chiloe. In all, we would have covered the land mass between Buenos Aires in the east of Latin America to Chile’s bustling capital Santiago in the west, and covered 668 miles from the capital in the north, and would have stood near the worlds end. We knew that not much further south lay nearly untraversable fjords and inlets, dark brooding cities, the straits of Magellan, tempestuous waters, and then the daunting, cold wastes of the Antarctic.

At 3,000 feet, I remember looking out the window and noticing the forested lake regions below us. Then I took a brief nap and when I awoke I saw a worried look on the pilot.

“That’s funny,” I overheard him say. “There shouldn’t be mountains this high.”

I immediately looked out the window and realized we were overhead the Andes again. I could see their snow covered peaks below and some giant sentinels in the distance. It was as if we had backtracked our voyage and were now recrossing the Andes all over again.

“Are we turning back?” I remember asking him, holding my fear in check.

“I don’t know. The navigational instruments aren’t working right,” he said. And then added in an ominous undertone, “I don’t know where we are.”

From that point on our flight became one of real, and not imagined, terror and mind-numbing stress.

“Can’t you contact anyone?” I remember yelling.

“All I get is static.”

I tried to use my cell phone and it too didn’t work.

“Sit beside me and help me any way you can,” he then said to me.

I sat beside him and followed his instructions in an intensity of fear as best I could, sensing everything, his instructions, our movements, in wild dimensions of phantasmagoria which passed dizzyingly before me in transmutations incorporeal and unreal. The world outside the cockpit became as a solitary giant, dark and uninviting. This feeling was intensified when a thick, encroaching mist, began to encircle the environs of the strange, moving skyscape before us. It surrounded the plane and covered the sun. I remember seeing one hoary mountain top become completely submerged within it. Soon the mist, now a thick fog, blanketed everything, and no matter how high we rose, it was always there.  The only sound was the loud hum of our engines.

It must have been hours, or minutes, when the fog began to disperse and we caught sight of land below us. We were unnerved to realize we were flying lower than was safe.

“It looks like the ends of Patagonia. How did we travel so far in so little time?” the pilot said. “We shouldn’t be here. Not enough fuel.”

He estimated we were past the Straits of Magellan. Confused, he warned me that we were running out of fuel and had no choice but to land in this isolated, nethermost region of the world, far away and farther south than we had planned. Flying lower, we circled a wide expanse of flatland and the pilot made a safe, yet highly rocky, landing.

“I’ll go check to see if anyone can help us,” I said to the pilot.

We were on elevated ground and in the distance I could see far away a lonely homestead and a wooded area near it, and stretching in all directions, empty grassland. Behind us began small foothills, which gradually increased into a chain of low-lying and then larger mountains. The pilot guessed they were a tributary of the Andes Mountains and that we were inexplicably lost on Tierra del Fuego, either on the Chilean or Argentine side.

We didn’t talk much when we landed, and the pilot said he would spend his time checking the plane for whatever was malfunctioning, and trying to fix the radio. Help would come soon he was sure, and if it didn’t, tomorrow we’d head off with supplies to one of the nearest cities, that he was convinced were no more farther away than a few days walk from our landing place. He encouraged me to go, in case the small house in the distance had a phone that worked or other communication device, and also suggesting that the walk would be good for my flailed nerves.

When I was ready to leave a low buzzing noise started to sound.

“Don’t worry,” the pilot said. “It’s probably just wind blowing through the mountains.”

As I walked, I tried to keep my thoughts from making any compromise with the irrational and told myself that some explanation for our past danger in the plane would present itself, in time. I wore a heavy sweater, meant to have been worn in Chiloe, since the weather here was also cold. Low heavy clouds formed overhead and a small drizzle of rain began to fall. I estimated it to be near evening.

The dwelling was farther than it looked, however, so by the time I reached the wooden fence of the house I was soaking wet and the light through the clouds had dimmed a considerable degree. The fence surrounded the rural one-story house. Sparse trees dotted the small property irregularly throughout it. To the east I could see the long forested area and to my north the small mountain chain and our plane like a speck of dust in the immense surrounding grassland.

I yelled from the fence to see if someone was home, but when no one answered I took it upon myself to enter the property, since I was by this time extremely chilled and as I have said wet, and its then that I noticed that the small wooden gate was open and the corral for horses was empty. I looked at the front door of the house and saw also that it was slightly open and creaking slowly because of the wind.

The property did not seem right. It now took on for me the impression of a house not lived in, abandoned, perhaps an old gaucho residence gone to rot, unnoticed in the quiet plains. A gaucho being an Argentine cowboy. The thought unnerved me that I and the pilot were perhaps the only two people in this out of the way place.

Uneasily I stepped through the door, since as I have said I was extremely cold and wet and needed to get help.

“Hello!” I yelled into the void. The void made no reply.

I yelled again as I further entered cautiously into the dwelling. A lone shutter I could hear now banging monotonously against a window. A sense of years upon years of emptiness now hit me.

The door I passed led into a kitchen. Decrepitude had done its work, and thick dust accumulated on one finger, as I ran it atop a table. I also noticed overturned chairs, lying sprawled as if knocked over in a hurry.

I continued to explore the house, with its moldy smell of wet age. I noticed there was no TV, but only an old antenna radio. I found it strange that personal belongings and furniture should still remain in the house, more so in the three small bedrooms, where there were still bedsheets and clothes in the closets.

In one room I located a diary, which confirmed the pilots suspicions that we were somewhere on chilly Tierra del Fuego, that southernmost island at whose bottom the Atlantic and Pacific meet and which skirts the ice-cold Antarctic. It further confirmed my suspicions that the past residents were a family of gauchos. The writer was a girl of about 15 or 16 years of age I estimate, and the diary is peculiar since it is written more like random thoughts hurriedly scrawled, than in a typical compendium of a day’s events and thoughts. The reasonably long age of the diary also unsettled me. Why had no one else been here since the time it had been written and then carried it off? Was there some meaning, also, in the fact that it had been penned at the dawn of the ‘flying saucer’ age? With curiosity I took up the small book, wiping off the dust and cobwebs, and with slow mounting horror, in that house between mountains, sky and land, started to read it.

November 14, 1951

Uncle said the thing squirmed on the ground like a giant worm, but he couldn’t get a good look at it since it quickly disappeared into a huge hole that uncle could fit in. Later on I went to my window and looked up at the stars. Father says the stars are eyes.

November 29, 1951

The whales sing to the night, uncle said, when he returned from the coast. He also saw ice-bergs on the water. He also said a man and his horse got lost from them in a fog so he didn’t come.

December 2, 1951

The disappeared man came today. He said he’d only been riding for 2 hours.

December 3, 1951

Mom keeps telling me we should live our lives like nothing is happening. I try to. Uncle tried to remember if the old Fuegian or Patagonian Indians had any stories about these things. He said they didn’t.

December 4, 1951

This morning I overheard mom and dad fighting. Dad was saying how hard life is and then this happening. He said he can’t leave us to go to the sheep farm to work. Over yerba maté tea today uncle told us he thinks those things come originally from far in space and they’re a danger not only to us but to the world. He says we should tell more people no matter how much they think we’re crazy. I believe him.

Undated

Men came today. They stayed overnight and nothing happened. They laughed at my dad and uncle. They said they’re not true gauchos.

Undated

I saw one good today standing nearby. Like uncle describes them. Uncle says there’s more now. I hate looking out my window at the mountains, where grandma says they come from. Mom says from a pit in the ground, like devils from hell. Christmas and New Years is coming soon.

December 15, 1951

There are more of them now. Every night they surround the house. Every night I hear the strange buzzing sound they make to the sky. I dreamt last night I saw them falling from the sky, millions of them like snowflakes. I hear everyone crying secretly. I want to run away to Ushuaia or Rio Grande, where there’s more light. I want to go to school. I want to kill them all. I would even run into the Antarctic.

Undated

More friends came from close where the Beagle Channel is today. They showed themselves to them. I don’t understand those things. Why do they only show themselves to some people? What do they want?

January 10, 1952

Christmas and New Years passed already. I got few presents. I pray a lot.

January 13, 1952

We’re taking the two living horses. It’s late and foggy and uncle and his friends shot at the things near the foothills. He said he saw one eating Heber or at least he thinks it was eating him. It was impossible to see clearly. It was lying on the grass, a doughty, glistening, maggoty-thing uncle says, and Heber was sticking out of the top of its head. All uncle could see were Heber’s legs and boots and mid-waist the things mouth started and then the rest of it. Heber was slimy. Uncle shot it again and again. They’re outside now. I hear them buzzing and I hear more in the mountains and in the woods and on the prairie. Heber’s brother keeps crying and we’re leaving. It’s raining and father says we’ll carry what we can and send for our things later. I want to see Lorena to tell her about all this. I can see their shadows outside. I can hear their buzzing.

Undated (or perhaps at a later hour from the last entry)

I’m alone now and I feel like I’m falling into a dark hole.

Finishing the diary I put the book down and became fully aware of how dark it had become. I went to the window and saw rain and again a fog so thick I couldn’t see clearly past a few feet in this gray weather of the south. The plane and the mountains were completely obscured. I could also now hear the strange buzzing noise I’d heard by the plane –the same noise so ominously described in the diary. It’s then that I heard something entering the house where the kitchen was.

If it hadn’t been for my experience in the plane I would have thought the diary’s contents a confabulated fantasy. As it was, in the darkness, alone as I was, having just read that suggestive little tome, a dread gripped me with an overpowering sensation of menace.

I quickly tried to open the bedroom window, but it was jammed. Now trapped in that tiny bedroom, nothing helped to reassure my panic, especially when I heard the something move into the small living room, and then a rapid flapping sound like those of innumerable wings, and in an instant, wrong-sounding footsteps, heading through the passageway in my direction.

I moved as quickly and as I silently as I could towards the open doorway. I didn’t dare close the door since then the thing in the passageway would be made too obviously aware of my intrusion.

I waited breathlessly by the side of the doorway. I planned to bolt as soon as whatever was coming passed through it or passed the bedroom altogether.

As I looked from my corner I saw sideways from the door entrance, entering, a white malformed massy head, on a thick palpitating stalk of a neck, with what appeared like huge protruding teeth atop it and a slimy proboscis dangling down. Around the creature’s head I discerned, scattered haphazardly around it, several deep-set and disturbing eyes. I saw no more as now in complete delirium, I instantly decided to run and jump out the window.

The pilot said I appeared bloody, wet and banging on the outside of the plane. He hurriedly let me in. With me I carried the diary though I don’t remember having grabbed it. After this I begin again to remember things, my last memory being a sensation of falling. We were both in an awful state. The things had manifested themselves to him also. He was surprised to see me alive.

Looking out the window of the plane I saw that the cursed fog was not as thick here. I could see the weird varied shapes of the creatures outside, hundreds of them writhing blasphemously atop the foothills, circling a huge jagged rock of protruding mountain. They seemed to sing and I could hear answering echoes farther down and from above the receding mountains. The world was filled with their buzz. A terrible vision overpowered my imagination. I envisioned those inhuman buzzing sounds in the night, atop those solitary peaks, spreading like signal fires atop the mountains; first here, then into the main of the Andes Mountains, and still vastly further up into Central America, all through Mexico and into the North American Sierra Madre and Canadian Rockies, until finally those voices disappear into mist and snow in the Arctic, far on the other side of the world; all the while unheard by knowing human ears.

Long, unhallowed hours passed in that small plane, while that maddening noise continued. We saw lights moving through the mist and clouds and had wild impressions of monstrous goings-on and huge things moving just beyond and above our vision. I thought I heard the sounds of floating heavy machinery through the hard, pattering rain.

“We are being visited from another world or another dimension, my friend,” the pilot once said to me in a crazed laughing fit, “or we are visiting them. Maybe they came on a falling hollow meteor? What demonic technology they must possess! Have you noticed there are no animals here? Maybe we are being taken over.”

“Shut up!” I remember yelling more than once at him that night.

The strange buzzing noise continued (is it any wonder that even now I cannot stand the buzzing of insects or the sound of crickets on lonely dark nights outside my house) and then I heard the loud shattering of a passenger window. I could dimly see outside the broken window a grotesque equine-like quivering shape, and its malformed hand groping blindly and wildly in the plane. It moaned loudly and I felt at once a sense of revulsion and outright horror, for what else could I have expected to happen, since the many-eyed monstrosity also carried reverently a red dress, and I was convinced was the same nightmare creature I’d seen in the house and was somehow the author of the tome I’d brought, the owner of her own stolen diary; or perhaps even more grotesquely, was somehow a symbiosis of the whole family, and other wildlife beasts, mixed into one alien thing.

The creature eventually stopped and left to join the others. They buzzed all night in the mountains and paid us no heed.

“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport,” I quoted more than once in that terrible ordeal, as I succumbed slowly and completely to the menace of those beings’ otherness and suggestive outside power.

We were found the next afternoon by a military helicopter from the Chilean city of Puerto Williams. The sun was out and in its clear glow, with the past day and nights occurrence now gone, the solitary landscape looked beautiful and peaceful –an oasis from the noise and bustle of the rest of the world.

We were at a lost to explain what had happened. A rescuer told us that a black-out had also hit that night in certain parts of southern Chile and Argentina. She also laughed when she told us that strange lights were also reported in the sky. I asked the woman circumspectly if there had ever been a small lone homestead far in the distance, by the wooded area and in the expanse of grassland (since now there was nothing I could see) and she answered, “There hasn’t been a house on that spot for years and years now.”

It would be an understatement to say I don’t have answers to all my questions and I don’t expect ever to find any. I also don’t know what the meaning of the experience was with the cryptic beings, if there is one. I have heard, though, rumors of vast underground cities built by no human hands lying deserted for eons beneath the ice shields of Antarctica and below certain mounds in Oklahoma, which might shed some light on my experience. I’ll never find out, however, since I don’t like the sight of mountains or high hills and I also don’t travel to secluded places anymore, preferring to spend my time within well-lit city limits.

Eventually our misadventure was blamed on pilot error.

Julio Toro San Martin was born in Chile and grew up in Toronto, Canada. He spends most of his days working and nights reading almost anything from history and weird/fantasy fiction to Elizabethan drama, to the latest bestselling novels. He writes because he is driven to and can’t imagine doing anything else.  He has had two stories published by Innsmouth Free Press and also has a story in the Lovecraftian anthology Future Lovecraft.

If you enjoyed this story, let Julio know by commenting — and please use the Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus buttons below to spread the word.

Illustration by Nickolas Gucker.

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12 responses to “Among the Dark Places of the Earth, by Julio Toro San Martin

  1. Bravo Julio. I loved the diary angle, and the horror, and the time slippage. I even looked up the island as most of us in the US are not that knowledgeable about South American geography Not sure if you should leave the creatures be, or perhaps do a follow up story from their perspective. .

  2. The diary section was the strongest. There were a few points, like the sentence fragment explaining “gaucho” or the redundancy of “yerba maté tea”, where I felt as though you were holding the readers’ hands: however, if you had not explained yourself so immediately and clearly, others would complain about not “getting it”. Overall, very nice. I love the theme of sudden, reasonless transportation into another dimension.

  3. Pingback: Lovecraft eZine Issue #9 for December 2011 « Unspeakable Gibberer·

  4. Thanks Unspeakable Gibberer and Nick. I’ve tried for the nightmare and out of time and other wordly feel in other stories I’ve written. But it seems this is the first were I’ve actually been successful in conveying them across. Don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do it again. But damn, it was one hell of a ride trying to accomplish it and somewhat succeeding according to my plan! =) That’s good enough for me!

  5. Great work, friend. Started off going in the direction of a movie I seen last night called “Altitude” and then went into a completely different time/space place…
    Looking forward to reading more of your work.

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