Wednesday, 18 June 2014

An Ecuadorian Legend - La Dama Tapada (The Veiled Lady)

It was the year of our lord seveteen hundred and I was recent arrived in the Most Noble and Most Loyal City of St James of Guayaquil, one of the most squalid and backward little ports the Viceroyalty of Peru has to offer. 

Not even the merest fugitive flicker of the great revolutions in science and reason emerging from the old world had reached its benighted and superstitious shores. I do declare that no matter how far and wide you search on this, God's good earth, you never shall find a more wretched hive of scum and villiany.

I am a man of reason, not taken to flights of fancy, bound by the guiding principles of empiricism to admit nothing that I cannot first prove, to allow nothing that I have not first experienced through direct sensory contact.

As I said, I am a man of reason.  And had I not witnessed the events I am about to unfold to you with mine own two eyes, I would without doubt consider it credulous nonsense: an old wives' tale conjured up to strike fear into the hearts of the gullible.  But no true man of science can deny what he has witnessed firsthand.  And what I witnessed that night, chilled me to the very marrow.

It was close to midnight and I had spent the evening in the club conversing with some fellow immigrants from the old world with regards to the latest scientific marvels of the day.  It was such a blessed relief to discuss matters of import with civilised people, and we had spent several fine hours wrapped in conversation with a bottle of good coƱac and a box of fine cigars to lubricate the discourse. 

The evening drawing to a close, I bid my friends adieu with the intention of walking back to my lodgings.  They advised me in the most ardent terms to hail a cab, but I declined, saying that an evening stroll would help to clear my head.  How I do rue that decision now.

I took a shortcut through a dimly lit backstreet.  Exceptionally for such a thoroughfare, this lane emanated a sweet and fragrant scent, redolent of fresh spring mornings, new cut grass and finest peppermint.  Advancing through the gloom, my interest piqued, I began to discern the sillhouette of a lady.  As I approached, I saw that she was wearing an elegant black evening gown, of a sort most rare in the colonies, carrying a parasol of the finest silk, her face covered by an intricate black lace veil..

<<A good evening to you m'lady>> Spake I <<These are dangerous roads for a delicate bloom such as yourself to be walking after dark.  Might I be permitted to escort you to your lodgings?>>

The lady gave no reply, but beckoned me with a come-hither of her right index finger

<<Is this the direction of your abode?>>  I asked

Again there was no reply but the waggling of a single coaxing finger.  Intrigue proved stronger than caution and I followed. 

I know not how long we walked;  I placed one foot in front of the other in front of the other as in a trance, following that intriguing silhouette, drawn on by that enticing aroma, until I found myself in a field far from the city centre.

She turned to face me and lifted up her veil.  Instantly, the sweet aroma was replaced by a nauseating stench of rot and decay that seemed to burn my very sinuses.  Below the veil, her face was that of a corpse still in the process of putrefaction and her eyes were two flaming balls of hellfire. She approached me with a greedy look on her ruined face, arms outstretched, grasping at me.

I turned and fled with all the speed and vigour of blind panic.  Ne'er before have I run so far and so fast and ne'er again shall I.  I did not drop my frenetic pace until I had reached my lodgings in the centre of the city and the safety of my bed, which I lay on in a cold sweat of terror, eyes wide and breathing heavy.

But I was one of the lucky ones.  Many were found that year in remote corners of the city, convulsing to death on the ground, frothing at the mouth like rabid dogs, faces clenched in a deathmask of panic.  There final words in this  life repeated over and over, a mumbled death rattle of <<the veiled lady, the veiled lady, the veiled lady....>>

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And the moral of the story is: if you're going to get blind drunk and follow a strange woman to a remote location through the darkened backstreets of a port city of dubious reputation, first ensure that she is not a homicidal, flame-eyed  corpse.
Stay safe now........

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