Los Pirules
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—Nervious, Gonzalo? —said that burly man whose footsteps made the dry leaves rustle.

—I've had to deal with civilian idiots before —he replied to his partner. Gonzalo was a middle-aged man who walked silently, almost instinctively. He glanced at his wristwatch, it read 00:47. Do we have a particular protocol for these cases, Ramirez?

—No, no, just the basics: amnestics, and erase any records they may have taken.

Gonzalo nodded his head. He looked around trying to familiarize himself with the environment, he had been transferred to the place a few hours before and didn't want to do things wrong his first night there. He walked a couple of steps behind Ramirez, who moved between the rows of tombs with remarkable ease, his experience walking around the place could be noticed. Some tombstones had papier-mâché figures, and decorations typical of the time; Halloween and the Day of the Dead were very close. The trees in the cemetery, mostly pirules, waved back and forth, as if it were a living thing with an anxious desire to get up and walk. The strips of toilet paper swayed unevenly from branch to branch. Gonzalo watched them out of the corner of his eye, not understanding what the teenagers' intention was when they threw the paper on the trees. The wind carried the whisper of each pirul to the ears of the two men, almost like a persistent lament.

—Is it always like this? —Gonzalo asked without taking his eyes off the branches that hung like a waterfall without touching the graves. I'm referring to the teenagers doing stupid things.

—Not always, there's always some guy who comes here to record videos or try to steal something from the tombs — he paused, glanced briefly at his companion and added —: But it happens more often at this time of year, you know how it is.

—I can imagine.

—But other than that, it's actually pretty calm.

The branches hung over them every time they passed under one of the pirules while strips of paper swayed around them, like long tentacles trying to catch them. The wind shook their small leaves and rattled their bunches of fruit that had already dried. Gonzalo felt a certain discomfort with those trees; the darkness of their canopies, their buzzing leaves and above all those thin branches that hung around them, as if trying to hide something underneath them. Ever since he was a child he always had the feeling that, when he turned towards one of them, without any warning, he could see a silhouette next to the trunk, expectant of his movements. He also felt that its presence lent itself as a backdrop to many of the stories of "supernatural" experiences he had been told. He found it curious that, after several years of experience in his work, this sort of mundane thing caused him some uneasiness. He took a deep breath and managed to keep his mind clear, he had to remain calm, that was always crucial to his work.

—What is the scope of our rounds? —Gonzalo looked away from the tombs, as if trying to read the names on them.

—I would say not much, almost all the work is done up here.

Gonzalo nodded and continued walking, for a moment he thought he heard the earth moving, as if it was being dug. He tried to focus his attention on his feet, noticing how soft the ground was due to the rains of those days and some irregularities in the terrain. He looked off into the distance and prepared to ask the obligatory question in these cases.

—And have you seen anything here?

Ramirez let out a small laugh.

—What, it's not enough what you've seen on your assignments? —He had always found it curious that the employees of the Foundation, despite working with all kinds of anomalies, enjoyed a good ghost talk, especially when working in places like the one they were in. Well, just a few hours ago….

The sound of the radio they each carried on their belts interrupted them.

—Ramirez, the thermal image indicates that the subject has started to move —said a female voice on the other end. He is heading north. From its trajectory, it is possible that it is heading towards access 3.

—Copy that, we'll hurry.

They both began to jog. Gonzalo could feel the cold of the night on his face, as his muscles began to warm up. As they ran, the voices that the wind seemed to bring were distorted, like a muffled scream. The pirul trees shook even more, as if an exhausted soul was trying to get out of their fallen branches, or trying to get rid of the remains of paper that still hung in their tops. After a few dozen meters jogging, the radio sounded again, this time the voice had a tense tone.

—Ramírez, did you find the subject?

—We're 45 meters away from access 3, we have not yet located it.

—You'll need to perform a visual inspection —I heard from the other side of the line some distant voices and a frustrated gesture —. The damn thermal monitor started to fail and we are restarting it, until then you will have to locate it on your own, proceed with caution.


Gonzalo felt a slight sense of uneasiness, the presence of civilians in that cemetery was not something to be cautious about, but the fact that one of the surveillance systems failed at that moment could not be a coincidence.

—Keep it in non-lethal mode —he said before Gonzalo could say what he was thinking —, but remove the safety, if you find more than one, let me know on channel 4.

Gonzalo adjusted the weapon he was carrying at his side and removed the safety catch. Then he took the communicator and slung it over his right shoulder and activated channel 4. Before he could ask Ramirez gave him further instructions.

—Go straight ahead and check the east section, I will go around the west section. If you find more than one, call for reinforcements.

Gonzalo nodded and continued trotting along the path they were on. Ramirez took the path to the left and lost himself among the overhanging graves. Now that he had been left alone amid the towering figures of the trees and with the growing suspicion that he might not be dealing with a mere civilian, he felt them like menacing giants. The October moon was silhouetted against the clouds, casting a fairly clear light on the tombstones that he was trying to avoid, he had preferred not to turn on his flashlight, that way he would not attract the intruder's attention and he would avoid finding something staring at him from the tangle of branches that hovered around him.

He had gone about 20 meters, when he thought he heard the earth being stirred again, as if someone was digging it using a branch. The wind continued dragging the thousands of voices that prevented each tree, but now he thought he could distinguish words, they were quite dissonant, nothing like a chant or prayer, but rather, like the hubbub of a market. He slowed his pace and tried to look for the origin of those sounds, possibly the intruder was digging a grave trying to steal something from it, just as Ramirez had said minutes before.

The buzzing of the trees seemed more intense, they crowded his ears and seemed to travel towards his jaw. The voices were increasing, he thought he heard whole words, names, some moaning. The pirules were subtly connecting with his discomfort and uneasiness, attacking his mind insidiously because of their vast number, and trying in one way or another to present to the imagination an enormous power; a power that was, rather, not altogether friendly to him. For a moment he felt the need to call Ramirez to break the veil that had been created around him so that his mind would stop looking for shapes to those sounds. He put his hand to the radio, but stopped when he saw a pale and thin silhouette moving through the darkness of the branches, it had a face with two black holes instead of eyes, he could not distinguish any other facial feature. The sudden appearance of the strange figure made him stop, he tried to focus his gaze to distinguish what it was. Footsteps sounded behind him, accompanied by a sound similar to a bag full of objects. Gonzalo turned around immediately, but he could not see anyone around him, the sounds had stopped. Again he looked back at the silhouette, but only a few strips of toilet paper were fluttering around. He felt stupid when he realized this and turned on the flashlight to see if he could make out any papier-mâché skulls, but his gaze was quickly diverted to a hole where there should have been a tombstone.

He approached with a cautious step and focused his mind on trying to recognize what was in that place, the voices he had thought he recognized no longer populated his mind. When he was less than 2 meters from the tree he realized that the earth had collapsed into a small sinkhole. He stopped in front of it, contemplating the hole, an estimated 2 meters deep, and he could see that it led to a tunnel from where a yellowish artificial light was coming out, inside the voice of a young person resounded with a sonorous echo.

—Ramirez, come to the western section —he said over the radio —, I found an open grave; I think someone came through here.

—Understood, I'm on my way.

Gonzalo was about to bend down to examine the hole, but he preferred not to do so because of the shadowy figure of the tree and its branches that hung down to almost caress his face, which was right next to it. He took a couple of steps around the hole in the ground trying to see more detail inside it, besides the light and the voice of the young person, which was gradually moving away, he could not distinguish anything.

—What are you doing? —Ramirez's voice asked, startling him.

—There is a lighted space down there —Gonzalo answered, looking up —. Is this one of the entrances to the containment area?

Ramirez frowned, approached the sinkhole and crouched down to get a closer look. Gonzalo could see how his companion tensed, moved slowly, as if he was afraid of making a mistake. Ramirez's silence extended for several more seconds, when he stood up, the look on his face was one of real concern.

—This is not the entrance — he said with a whisper.

Gonzalo felt an enormous sense of emptiness, as if unable to find support when he took the next step. Ramirez picked up his communicator and began to speak in an agitated voice.

—Base, we have a containment breach, the perpetrator entered the containment zone.

—¡Impossible! — the woman's voice replied —. The only way to access the area is through the entrances we guard…

—Well, I have a sinkhole of about one meter fifty, about ten meters from the north entrance, which leads directly into the interior of the anomaly. Call the director and report the breach. We'll wait for the Mobile Task…

—Negative, initiate recovery procedure, the Mobile Task Force will reach you in 15 minutes —the voice snorted.

—Base, we could be dealing with a hostile subject —said Gonzalo with a hesitant tone.

—Or it could be a teenager looking for subs, so stop complaining and find out who went in there, because the director won't be too happy if you let the guy escape just to wait for the Task Force.

—Understood, we will initiate entry —said Ramirez.

Ramirez began to run south, Gonzalo followed him silently, he felt slightly dazed, having a breach just a few hours after his transfer was not pleasant. They stopped in front of a mausoleum, it didn't have any characteristic that made it different from the others in the place, the plaque indicated that it belonged to Susana Castillo Perez. Ramirez placed his hand on the glass of the entrance and it emitted a small sound, indicating that the bio metric verification had been successful. Entering the small place, inside Ramirez had already opened a hatch leading to a metal spiral staircase leading downwards.

—What is it like down there? —asked Gonzalo as he made his way inside —. What do I have to know when I'm down there?

Ramirez continued to move forward, the lights turning on automatically as they descended.

—You read the papers before accepting the transfer, didn't you? —asked Ramirez in a calm manner.

—Yes, I was saying that it is a spatial anomaly, belonging to a group of similar constructions scattered around the world and apparently forming a unique topology; I understand that they are all connected.

—Well, that's just it —replied his companion, seeming to make an effort to remain calm.

—Is there something that dwells in there we need to watch out for?

—You'd have to ask the ones in charge of investigation.

They reached the bottom of the stairs and found a small room with several lockers. Ramirez opened two of them and took out a couple of thick, heavy backpacks. He handed one to Gonzalo and began unzipping some of the bottom latches on his.

—We have eight hundred meters of tunnel that we can safely go through, beyond that you will probably end up in Europe. Remove the bottom compartment, it's food for 5 days, we're not going to explore, only recover. Besides, this way we will go faster.

Gonzalo began to disassemble the lower section of his backpack while Ramirez was trying to communicate with the base informing them of his admission, however, there was no response.

—I guess they're busy notifying the other facilities of the breach and checking surveillance. We need to hurry.

He entered an alphanumeric code on the door panel, the exit led to a darkened tunnel. The lights arranged on the nearest columns turned on as soon as they were outside, there were more of them spread out allowing them to see inside the tunnel. Gonzalo could see that the walls and ceiling were covered by hundreds of skulls and bones of different sizes, all seemed to be human remains, some protruded more than others, forming small ornaments on the walls, from the ceiling protruded hundreds of roots that descended from the surface, like small fingers that twisted in different directions, even underground, that uneasiness caused by the pirules was still present, although this time it was not entirely clear if it was because of the trees or because of the skulls with empty eyes. The ground was slightly smooth and the tunnel had a subtle curve to the right, clearly not a natural structure. The silence again accentuated the sound of the blood vessels in Gonzalo's ears, and he once again had the sensation of hearing thousands of voices whispering to him, for a moment, he felt they were coming from the human remains all over the site.

—He must not have made much progress, the lights turn off after 10 minutes of inactivity and are still on —said Ramirez pointing towards the tunnel. He turned to Gonzalo and pointed to a structure built into the same wall as the door they had just taken —. Take the guide you have on the right side of your backpack and insert the connector into the entrance there.

They both secured their guides to the wall and began to trot into the tunnel, the sound of the cable unwinding coming from their backpacks. They had gone about 30 meters when Ramirez signaled him to stop. He looked up at the ceiling and could see the sinkhole Gonzalo had found a few minutes earlier. He could not make out the outside, it seemed that the hole was more than 5 times the depth that Gonzalo had estimated when he was on the other side.

—It should not be possible to dig to the tunnel —Ramirez's voice sounded more and more altered —, as I understand it, the only connection of these tunnels with the outside is through the entrances that we take care of, nothing enters or leaves through the sides.

—How serious do you think it is? —asked Gonzalo, directing his gaze from the ceiling to the walls and then to the floor. There were some bone splinters scattered about, some skulls and femurs of the walls in that section looked out of place and it seemed that others had been removed from their place.

—I prefer not to speculate. Let's find the guy and get out of here.

Gonzalo continued jogging, despite being underground he still felt the same cold as on the surface. In his ears were still those voices he thought he heard, for a moment he could hear the earth stirring again. He knew it was his mind searching for shapes in the midst of all that silence, his training before cognito-dangerous and memetic agents had left him the bad habit of trying to identify patterns. Out of the corner of his eye he could see that his companion seemed to be in the same situation, he was looking in several directions and his face twitched slightly, as if trying to stay focused.

—Gonzalo —said his partner while holding his temple, for a moment he felt as if he had shouted —, you hear it too, don't you?

Gonzalo slowed down his pace and gave him a confused look.

—I thought I was imagining things because of the training.

—No, I don't think that's it —Ramirez replied, curtly. T-there… there's something here, I don't know what it is but….

Both slowed down until stopping, almost without realizing it. Sounds began to take shape, something was scratching the ground, it could be heard crawling through it, there were some voices, it was the same hubbub from a few minutes before. The voices seemed to come from all directions, but at the same time he was not able to distinguish their origin, as if they came from a fourth dimension they were unable to understand. He felt that his mind was beginning to sink in that sea that came from nowhere, that would overflow and end up consuming him, he felt his muscles tense, it was like being in the presence of an ominous being, the roots of the pirul trees seemed to shake as did their branches, because of a wind that came from the depths of the earth.

—We should go back —said Ramirez, and Gonzalo could tell he had the same concern he did —. This wasn't documented, a task force should take cha….

His words were interrupted by a scream that tore through the veil that had begun to cover them. It was a real sound, something they could hold on to. However, they were paralyzed, their legs were unresponsive, they could almost feel the horror of that voice like a thick fog in their ears.

Among the darkness several footsteps were heard, like a small group of people walking erratically, each step produced a sound similar to that of a bag loaded with small wooden branches. The curve of the tunnel made it impossible to see directly what was coming towards them. Time slowed down. He could hear the trembling voice of his partner on the verge of breaking, urgently requesting reinforcements over the communicator, but the radio remained silent. He tried in vain to hold his weapon, his fingers had no strength to grip it and he could barely coordinate any movement. He felt stupid to allow his years of experience and training to vanish in a matter of minutes.

It was a skeleton that came advancing at a slow pace, its head was about 2 meters high, but its spine curved upwards, touching the ceiling of the tunnel. It had more than six arms, each pair coming out of different rib cages, at least 5 spinal columns could be counted, from that angle the hips could not be seen, but it was clear that it had several. It moved each of its legs as an arachnid would do, each step made the bones crunch as they piled up in that jumble of debris. As he moved forward, they stepped in the mud formed by the urine and blood draining from the corpse he held with 3 arms. The body was that of a boy around 20 years old, he had a video camera hanging from his right wrist and his entire face had been torn from his skull. An cracked smile could be seen on the young man's face. The skull of that arachnid figure had its jaws covered with blood. He stared at Ramirez and Gonzalo, almost curiously. It seemed to move its skull, as if seeking to perceive the scent of the environment. It lowered the boy's corpse to the ground, and both of them knew it was preparing to attack them.

But it didn't have time to do so, the boy's corpse began to shake, his face filled with flames as well as the mud that had formed with his blood. The creature let go of the body and dropped it, as it watched in surprise as the areas where it had been splattered by eating were catching fire. The boy's body rose and stood upright, the flesh was on fire from within, the charred muscle slowly began to fall away as the skeletal creature retreated a few steps. The boy's skull was the first thing to be exposed, it had a dark hue, stained by the burnt flesh over bone. The skull shook from side to side and let out a shrill scream.


The smell of burning flesh made them nauseous and brought Ramirez and Gonzalo out of their trance, they felt as if the blood had returned to their bodies and they ran back to the entrance of the tunnel. The arachnid-like being stayed behind the blackened skeleton that was struggling to get rid of the remains of burnt flesh.

They ran as fast as they could, not even wanting to look back. But as they advanced they realized that the walls of the tunnel were moving, the roots were shaking as some skeletons tried to break away from the wall, others had begun to burrow to the surface. The earth was falling around them and hundreds of bones were flying from one side to the other. It was difficult to see between so much movement, they had to push many of the skeletons that began to fill the place, the guide of their backpacks began to get stuck between so many bones and made them go slower. Gonzalo took off his and tried to close his eyes to prevent the dust from entering them. They listened to the screams, laughter and complaints with enormous fear; the entire catacomb shook violently with every step they took.

Gonzalo could see Ramirez typing in the code and coming through the door at full speed, he rushed to the chamber and entered as fast as he could, the door automatically sealed behind him. He heard Ramirez's footsteps going up the stairs, Gonzalo tried to knock down the backpack lockers to cover the door, on the other side the walls and dirt were crumbling covering everything with a thick layer of dust. When he looked up he could see the arachnid creature from before running about 30 meters away, moving all its limbs to run at full speed towards them. He took the steps two at a time, trying not to stumble. When he reached the top, he saw through the windows hundreds of skeletons coming out of the tombs that opened from below. Gonzalo contemplated the scenario that was taking place and put his hand to the communicator; on the other side he could hear cries for help and desperation. A dull thud was heard in the lower chamber, followed by a lot of scratching and inhuman screams, he could hear Ramirez's voice asking to be let in. It was then that he realized that Ramirez had not gone up the stairs, he had in front of him a skeleton wearing a Foundation uniform, this one was looking at him with surprise. Gonzalo tried to shout, but the air got stuck in his throat and he could not make a sound, his wristwatch beeped twice: the time was 1 AM.

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