Eyes in the Vastness of Forever

By Gustavo Bondoni

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Every few moments, one of the lights would blink. It was just an instant and almost unnoticeable because of their sheer number, but João De Menes was watching intently, defying the devil-eyes to come closer. If they did, he would show them the power of a Portuguese right arm.

Magalhaes had laughed at him, simply saying, “If you fear the Indians’ campfires on the coast so much, perhaps you should take all the watches tonight,” and had then ordered the anchor dropped.

The captain might be an arrogant fool, but João knew the truth: those eyes were watching and weighing, the eyes of hundreds upon hundreds of hungry demons, waiting for the foolish Europeans to sail their ship beyond the edge of the world.

He didn’t know what lay beyond the end of the world. Some men told of a magic mist that you wandered around in forever, with no exit and no heaven, while demons feasted on your spirit.

Others simply said you dropped off the edge of the planet, straight into the fires of Hell. Still others spoke of eternal blackness, impossible torment.

Whichever was true, there were demons and those demons possessed eyes which were staring down at the ship malevolently from the cliffs that marked the edge of the world.

And every once in a while, one of them would blink.


Dawn broke lightless and drizzling, but Magalhaes was adamant: a boat was lowered and a fearful crew selected. It was impossible to fault the captain’s courage – he was the first to nominate himself – but easy enough to resent his cruelty. Of the ten men selected, five were the strongest on the Trinidad, while the other five were the most superstitious. Magalhaes was convinced that they could be cured of their foolishness by force and exposure to the fact that what they believed were demons were just natural phenomena.

Predictably, De Menes was among them. He hadn’t even bothered to go to sleep following his watch because it was obvious that he would be on the boat. He boarded sullenly, ignoring the wind-driven spray. That wasn’t what was bothering him; his concern lay in the fact that he had no inkling as to what devils might await them on the barren patch of rocky land ahead.

The place looked innocuous enough: an empty brown-and-grey shore with low cliffs broken by periodic inlets. But De Menes knew that daytime often found malignant forces dormant, waiting. They were still there, of course, but they wouldn’t show themselves, just feel out the sailors and take them in the night, when their power went unchallenged.

They landed without incident and Magalhaes led them a small distance inland and halted in front of a fire pit surrounded by the bones of some small animal. He pointed at it, looked straight into De Menes’ eyes, and laughed. “Here are your demons João. Hungry savages, from the look of it.”

Turning to the rest of the men, he said, “Be wary; they can’t have gone far. This fire was burning an hour before dawn – I marked it especially.”

The men shifted uncomfortably. All were well aware that being harpooned by seal-hunters who’d never seen a European before would only destroy the body, as opposed to the eternal ravages that falling into the clutches of a demon supposed, but it made no difference to them. Death was what they feared and they would worry about their immortal eternities at a later time. They stood straighter, attentive to the approach of any savages.

The natives they’d encountered along the interminable coast they’d sailed down to get that far hadn’t been particularly aggressive, but it was never advisable to let down their guard. Everyone who’d ever boarded a ship bound for spice or glory had heard the tales of fearsome ceremonies, strange rituals in pitch-colored jungles and unholy banquets in which Europeans had served as the main course.

They need not have worried, however. An hour after sunrise, a small group of natives approached them from behind an outcropping of rock. They walked slowly, their skin just slightly darker than the pale brown grass which their passage seemingly did nothing to disturb.

As they came nearer, the sailors could discern that every member of the group, composed of three women and two men, was as bare as the day they’d been born, their skin covered with some kind of thick grease or paste, a bright red colour. Presumably, this must have kept out the winds which, this far south, were cruel even in the spring – and would be deadly in winter.

The three women walked boldly to the group of Spanish and Portuguese mariners and spoke in their own language, a tongue that sounded harsh and hollow to De Menes, as desolate as the moaning of the ever-present wind. There was no threat in their gestures. The men were unarmed and the spokeswomen seemed unsurprised to see them.

Magalhaes turned to Herrero, a Spaniard who could understand any tongue, no matter how uncivilized. Rumours, given strength by his dusky skin and quick temper, told that the interpreter’s affinity for the tongues of the savages was due to his being half-savage himself. Others said it was a gift from the Devil. However he’d come about it, though, the ability had proven both useful and profitable on the journey so far. “Stay ashore and learn their tongue. I will have the ship send you a boatload of supplies. De Menes and Carrizo will stay with you.” Herrero nodded.

De Menes said nothing. He should have felt fury at the Captain for belittling his beliefs once again, but there was no anger within his soul. He’d known what was coming, felt as though he was walking a predetermined path, with an already-decided ending, albeit one he could not see. All he saw when he thought about it was the greyness of impenetrable fog, an indeterminate future.

He simply walked behind Herrero as the linguist selected a campsite. This was not hard to do, as the whole hillside was dotted with pits, each of which held the remains of some discarded campfire.

The rest of the morning passed peacefully. Herrero had wandered off and was seated in the centre of a group of natives, gesturing, laughing, making gifts of beads and other trinkets which seemed to go down very well with the natives. Soon, they were gesturing for Carrizo and De Menes to join them.

The two sailors did as they were told. De Menes sat down gingerly between a greying old man and a woman who could not have been more than twenty, with jet-black hair. He tried to keep his eyes away from the exposed anatomy of the locals, but the circular seating arrangement made that difficult. Carrizo stared openly, but none of the women seemed to mind.

Herrero was already making progress with the language. Interspersed with the gesturing, there was now a word here, another word there, which seemed to please their hosts, who tried to correct his pronunciation and laughed at his efforts.

One woman, however, was paying no attention to Herrero. The girl De Menes had sat beside seemed to have eyes only for him, and stared the entire time. At first, he thought it must simply have been the close-up view of his light skin and strange clothes, but he soon realized that the girl had not even glanced at the equally-exotic figures of Carrizo and Herrero.

He smiled at her and placed one hand on his chest. “João,” he whispered. Her dark eyes invited him to speculate about the rest of her and he tried desperately to keep his own gaze locked on them while she spoke.

“Teuhuech,” she replied, placing his hand on her own chest. He pulled it back quickly as she said something else, a rapid-fire string of words in her own language, delivered in a husky monotone.

The man on De Menes’ opposite side chuckled.

At that moment, a couple of men from the Trinidad arrived, carrying sacks of provisions. “Your tent is down in the boat. If you want to sleep under cover, I’d suggest you get it. We aren’t coming back up here.”

Grumbling, but relieved to be able to escape from the strange natives for a few moments, Carrizo and De Menes walked down the hill. Herrero, of course, was much too important to be bothered with menial tasks. They joked with the oarsmen as they pulled the poles from the boat. “Magalhaes says we’ll be back tomorrow or the next day. He wants to sail beyond that outcropping.” The man pointed to a peninsula some leagues away, “to see whether we can replenish our water.”

De Menes’ heart sank. They would be alone, without even the comforting sight of the flotilla to keep him sane, on a small spit of land at the edge of the world. But he would not give the tyrant the satisfaction of begging to be allowed back on board. He gestured Carrizo to pick up his half of the burden and set off toward the campsite.

The wind, already a desolate howl, had picked up even more as they began to pitch the tent. By De Menes’ reckoning, it was about three in the afternoon, and there were still hours and hours of late spring sunlight remaining. And yet, the sunlight seemed weak, thin, as if its force was being drained by invisible fog. De Menes shivered.

The girl, Teuhuech, realized he was back almost immediately, and joined them just as João attempted to position the final tent pole. He watched her walk in their direction, unable to ignore the fact that there was a lithe and supple body beneath the red paint. He attempted to keep his gaze on her almond-shaped eyes or her dark hair, tied tight against the wind, but wasn’t completely successful.

She playfully took hold of the tent pole, her surprisingly-strong grip resisting his efforts to tear it from her grasp and his attempts to twist the pole without making contact with her skin only made the native girl laugh.

Finally, she relented, allowing De Menes and Carrizo to finish erecting their tent, a medium-sized piece of canvas suitable for three men. When it was done, she smiled and crawled inside. De Menes tried to look away, but Carrizo had no such qualms. He stared at the indecently-exposed flesh and then turned to his companion and winked lewdly. “I would go in after her, my friend, but I don’t think that would make her happy. You, on the other hand, should hurry before she changes her mind.”

De Menes gave him a dark look. While he wasn’t a saint, by any means, and certainly wasn’t averse to the occasional dalliance with one of the native girls, this one’s single-minded determination made him nervous. It was impossible to shake the feeling that there was something deep and disturbing lurking just behind those smiles. Maybe it was just his dread at having been abandoned by his ship at the edge of the world with nightfall approaching fast. But he felt that his soul and his immortal existence were at the mercy of forces no mortal could ever hope to control.

He shook his head and returned to the circle where Herrero was still holding court. The Spaniard complemented his limited – yet still impressive, considering how little time he’d taken to create it – vocabulary with wild gestures and vocal sound effects. His audience sat at rapt attention.

“I’m telling them the story of our Atlantic crossing,” he explained. “Although they seem to believe that we’re sorcerers from the sky, because they saw the sails of our ship, and think it looks like a bird.”

De Menes nodded and sat on the cool ground, squeezing between two of the local men who’d arrived in their absence. The red paint did little to cover them, either, but it was still less distracting than having Tehuech beside him. As the story went on, more men arrived, none aggressive, all painted red. The girl, disappointment evident on her face as she saw his new seating arrangements, sat straight ahead of him.

The long afternoon’s anemic light soon gave way to an eternal twilight, and the men began to drift to the nearby fire pits. Soon, the demonic eyes once more lit the hills, but this time De Menes sat among them. He wondered what else walked the night, connecting the dots between the islands of ruddy light.

The sailors were left to their own devices as night came down and the last vestiges of the day’s warmth and cheer were swept away before the howling wind. De Menes had difficulty believing that the savages could bear the chill without clothes and found himself wondering whether they insisted on that same lunacy during the winters, which he imagined must have been merciless in those latitudes.

Their own fire was an unimpressive affair, built close to the tent and casting a small ring of light from which De Menes refused to venture even to relieve himself. He could feel the demon lords watching them from the darkness, present in every shadow and trying to find the doorway that led from their own grey-and-boundless kingdom into the world of the living.

Knowing sleep would be beyond him, he’d offered to stand guard. So, he sat with his eyes open long after Carrizo and Herrero had drifted into snoring slumber. He cringed at each sound, ready to defend himself, but, when the demon crawled into his tent and took his hand, he could do nothing but follow it out.

It led him endlessly across the stiff grass to the embers of another of the bonfires. By its light, De Menes saw that no demon held his hand, but that Tehuech had brought him there. He knew exactly why. She was still naked, but she’d also scraped off the paint.

He pulled his hand away, trying to remember the way back to his own fire and the security of the tent, but fear had made him an unthinking being, a sheep led to slaughter. He turned back to the girl and a movement above her breasts told him that she wasn’t completely bare. A necklace of stone and shells and driftwood danced above her breasts.

Seeing where his gaze lay, she smiled. “João,” she said. She removed the necklace and held it towards him with both hands, saying something incomprehensible, and then “João,” again.
He shrugged and bowed, allowing her to pass the offering over his head. It caught on one ear, but was soon in place around his neck.

“Thank you,” he said, and she smiled back, understanding the meaning, if not the words.
João felt more relaxed. Having accepted her gift, he felt that it would be all right to return to his camp. He turned away from the fire, the afterimage of the embers dancing in his eyes. He waited for them to subside, for his night vision to return.

But, instead of disappearing, the moving lights came into sharper focus, resolving themselves into points of light just beyond the ember’s illumination. Eyes that stared unblinkingly back at him, seemingly an arm’s-length away. De Menes recoiled from those eyes, his steps taking him straight into Tehuech’s waiting embrace.

He knew that the fire was all that kept them away, and that the girl was all that kept the fire alive, and that the creatures of the netherworld were not there to interfere, but to bear witness to a consummation.


The following day dawned bright and clear, memories of the previous night burned away, but De Menes was still surprised to wake inside the tent. He had no recollection of having returned, and his memory of the rest was blurred, as if veiled in grey fog. But it had not been a dream: the clicking of his new necklace as he crawled out of the tent assured him of it.

“Come on, sleepyhead,” Carrizo chided. “The sun’s been up for an hour, and Magalhaes is back. He found some more savages a little further west and they seem a bit more advanced than these. We have to pull up the tent and return to shore.”

The manual labor allowed De Menes to temporarily forget about midnight rendezvous and ghostly eyes and, as he approached the sea and its waiting boat, he felt an enormous weight lifting. Each step felt lighter than the last.

A small party awaited, natives mixed with sailors. The savages even helped to load the boat, only asking a few trinkets and some cloth in return for their unnecessary help, which were given gladly – too often the sailors had had to fight natives who took a dim view of outsiders. Tehuech, among the local group, said nothing and kept her eyes on the ground.

Finally, as De Menes was about to step aboard, one of the older women came forward and said something to Herrero.

Herrero listened, and turned to João. “I’m not really sure what she said, but I think it was ‘that man wears a wedding circle’, and she pointed at you. Do you know what she’s talking about?”

De Menes hung his head. “I think I do.” He pulled the necklace back over his head and walked to where Tehuech was standing, heart heavy with dread and remorse. He held it out to her, but she made no move to take it, and refused to meet his gaze, eyes resolutely turned away. Finally, he left it at her feet and stepped back. Still she gave no sign of acknowledgement.

João walked back to the shore and boarded the boat. None of the savages made any move to stop them.


As the Trinidad left the hills with eyes far behind, the crew began to taunt De Menes, asking what had happened, and attempting to get the details of what they imagined must have been one of the more sordid escapades of the journey. But he refused to elaborate and the speculation soon passed into the realm of wild orgies and fantastic pleasures.

De Menes heard none of it. The lewd shouting seemed to him a far-off whisper. As the ship advanced, it grew fainter and fainter.

Even the ship itself seemed to be fading. It had sailed into a fog which became thicker as they sailed through it. The Trinidad’s prow became a ghost of itself and soon, even the mainmast, scant meters away, seemed a specter.

A small tremor of panic coursed through him as he realized that the deck beneath him was no longer solid but made of ethereal mist, but he simply shrugged it off. Understanding had replaced fear, and a broken trust was suitably punished. Perhaps the endless, featureless grey at the end of the world would not be as bad as the visions of fire and torment that the hell of his own land promised.

And perhaps, just perhaps, he would be called upon to bear witness in some distant future, thereby remembering what it was like to tread upon the grass at the end of the world, and share the love of one of its guardians.


Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer with over forty stories published in five countries, both online and in print, and a winner in the National Space Society’s “Return to Luna” Contest and the Marooned Award for Flash Fiction in 2008. His genre fiction has appeared in three Hadley Rille Books anthologies, Atomjack, The Best of Every Day Fiction, and others. His work has also been published in Spanish translation. He can be found online at www.gustavobondoni.com.ar, or at http://bondo-ba.livejournal.com/.