I’ve always held a fascination with the sea, the vast blue oceans that account for two-thirds of the Earth’s surface. I grew up on the west coast of Ireland, enjoying pristine and almost abandoned beaches facing out onto the cold and wild waters of the North Atlantic. My father served in the merchant navy for many years, and he taught me how to sail. It was from him that I learnt about navigation, tides, and currents.
Dad had many tales of adventure on the high seas – exotic locations, beautiful scenery and wildlife, but also of danger and tragedy. He always warned me that the sea is treacherous, and it can drive you insane if you let it. I wasn’t put off however and spent much of my childhood dreaming of escape and adventure. I often wished I’d been born in an earlier time, when so much of the world was still a mystery – a blank space on the map if you will.
Having grown up in the latter half of the 20th century, I assumed that everything on the planet had already been discovered. As it turned out, I was wrong.
I’m now a fully grown man in his early 40’s. My naïve youthful exuberance has faded over the years. Nevertheless, I’ve never settled down, instead moving from place to place, continent to continent, whenever the opportunity arose. My life has been shaped by wanderlust and a yearning for adventure, but there has been one thing I’ve inexplicably not been able to escape, no matter how far I travel.
Somehow, they always manage to find me, no matter how far I go. I often think back to that fateful day thirty years ago, when the 11-year-old me made a decision based on naivety and a youthful sense of wonder. To be fair to my younger self, there’s no way I could have predicted the long-term implications of my decision. If only I had known what I was getting myself into, but there’s no way to turn back the clock.
And now, as I face the end and feel nothing but fear and regret, I choose to share my story, in the hope it will prevent others from making the same mistakes.
The tale begins on a hot summer’s day back in 1991. I was taking our family dog Skipper on his morning walk. Skip was a black Labrador, very loyal and with bags of energy.
Obviously, he’s no longer around, but I still have great memories growing up with him.
We walked along a lonely stretch of beach close to my home. As I previously said, I grew up on the west coast of Ireland – a beautiful part of the world and an amazing place to be a child, but not so great when you come of age and start looking for work.
Our local beach was out of the way and rarely visited. This was before the tourist trade took off, and hidden gems like our little beach were still protected from mobs of visitors. That morning I was enjoying the sunny weather and clear skies (a rare enough thing anywhere in Ireland), and Skipper was having the time of his life.
I let him off the lead to run the sands while I looked out to sea, daydreaming of adventure and escape. I was brought back to reality by the sound of Skipper’s loud barking. I saw him at the water’s edge, the tide washing over his paws as he struggled to dig something out from the sand.
I suspected it was nothing more than a piece of driftwood, but curiosity got the better of me as I jogged across the sands.
“Here boy!” I called, prompting Skip to back off and end his barking frenzy, although he continued to keep a close eye on the object. Bending over, I saw a green glass bottle washed up and half buried in the sand. The top of said bottle was sealed with a cork, making it watertight, and inside appeared to be a rolled-up parchment of yellow paper.
I felt a surge of excitement in that moment, realising that I’d stumbled across a genuine message in a bottle. Now, messages in bottles aren’t exactly a common thing these days due to the onset of instant global communication, but they have a long and romantic history dating back centuries.
You’ll probably be familiar with the hit song by Sting and several movies on the theme, but the original concept dates back at least as far as the Ancient Greeks. The basic idea is that you place a written note or communication in a sealed bottle, throw it out to sea, and eventually the bottled message will be carried by the ocean’s currents and wash up on shore, possibly in an entirely different continent.
For obvious reasons, this isn’t the most reliable or quickest form of communication, but there is an incredible lore built around bottled messages. In my young mind, I associated such messages with shipwrecks, hidden treasures, castaways, and long-distance romances. Therefore, I was almost shaking with anticipation as I lifted the bottle and forced open the cork to reach the note inside.
I held images of a SOS message from a ship that sank decades ago, or from someone who was stranded on a desert island somewhere. Perhaps I could play a role in solving an ancient mystery or rescuing a castaway who’d been given up for dead. I would be a latter-day hero!
Looking back now, it all seems rather ridiculous, but I was a 11-year-old boy yearning for adventure. At the very least, I thought I might establish a pen pal-type relationship with someone living overseas, which would be exciting enough. But in reality, I had no inkling of what horrors I would unleash by unsealing that bottle.
The bottle itself was unremarkable – made of thick green-tinged but transparent glass. It looked old, but there was no indication of how old. Dry sand poured from its neck after I opened it, and I slid my index finger inside to fish out the note.
The dog-eared parchment was delicate, so much so that I feared it would fall apart in my hands. Therefore, I was very careful. When I unrolled the paper, I discovered an undated letter written neatly in what appeared to be red ink. The ink was smudged in several places, making me think it had been written using an old-fashioned fountain pen or perhaps even a quill.
The content itself was more or less in modern English, and both the style and vocabulary made it seem like it was written by an educated person, although after reading the letter, I guessed the author was little more than a child. Unfortunately, I have since lost the original letter, but I made a copy years ago, which I will transcribe here in full –
“Dear sir, I hope this letter finds you in good health and spirits. I am writing in the hope of establishing a correspondence and perhaps forming a bond that stretches across oceans. My name is Emilie and I live on the small island of Sataniago with my mother and father. Our home is beautiful but isolated, and sometimes dangerous. Winters are long and cold, and we are plagued by wild beasts – ferocious bears as big as cows and white like a swan, and a beast as large as an ox which lives in the sea, with two teeth in its mouth like those of an elephant.
During the daylight hours, our island is covered with snow-white nesting birds, while a feathered umbrella of thousands more fly and screech above our heads. Nights are a time for caution, as demons stalk the land, hunting for victims. But we are too smart for them, as we always keep our hearth burning and our guns loaded, keeping the demons at bay.
We come from hardy stock you see. My ancestors were marooned here many years ago, punished for their love and left to die in this unforgiving land, but they survived against the odds, starting a family and making this island their home. And here we have remained, cut off from the world, but free. For mortal men still fear to tread on this land, and ships avoid our treacherous shoreline.
You may wonder why I am writing this account, good sir. I’ll confess that I am sending this message without my parents’ knowledge or consent. Please do not judge me too harshly for my small act of rebellion. As much as I love my parents, I do get very lonely, and I yearn for a connection with the outside world.
I should warn you, establishing a correspondence with me is not without risks. There are nefarious powers that wish to prevent such things. Nevertheless, I ask that you take the risk, good sir. Please tell me about your life…your family and home, your hopes and dreams…I wish to know everything.
I cannot tell you the location of my island, and it doesn’t appear on any man-made maps. What I can tell you is that any letter sealed in this bottle and set adrift on the sea will reach me, and I will write back. I sincerely look forward to hearing from you, good sir. Yours faithfully, Emilie.”
I re-read the note several times over, my hand still shaking as the seawater washed over my ankles and Skipper waited patiently by my side. Now, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, the bizarre letter contained a number of red flags, particularly the references to demons and a mythical land.
The most obvious explanation was that the note was an elaborate hoax. But I was a naïve 11-year-old boy with a fertile imagination and lust for adventure, and so all this talk about mystery islands and lost legends got me excited. I wanted to connect with this world and be part of this fantasy.
I didn’t tell any of my family members or friends about my discovery, not even my mum and dad. I don’t know why exactly. I guess I thought they wouldn’t believe me, or perhaps I just wanted to keep it as my little secret. In any event, the next day I wrote a letter, sealed it in a bottle, and tossed it over the cliff’s edge, watching as it was carried out to sea, until the green glass disappeared under the waves.
I didn’t keep a copy of the letter and I can’t remember exactly what I wrote all those years ago. Needless to say, it was the type of nonsense that an 11-year-old boy would ask, telling Emilie about myself and where I lived, while asking her questions about her life on the island, which sounded much more interesting than mine.
The fact that I threw the bottle into the ocean expecting it to reach Emilie was obviously ridiculous. If you want to establish a correspondence with someone using a message in a bottle, you provide your address and contact details on the letter, allowing the finder to respond by conventional methods. The odds of a bottled message being released at random and somehow making its way across thousands of miles of ocean, back to its original sender, are virtually nil. Nevertheless, that’s what I did.
And I waited in vain to receive Emilie’s reply, as weeks, months and eventually years passed by with no response. I was bitterly disappointed at the time. Nevertheless, I did do some research on the contents of Emilie’s original note as I tried to find some evidence to verify her story.
This wasn’t the easiest thing to do in the days before Google and Wikipedia, but I pieced together the tale from various books and historical records I tracked down over the years. The name Sataniago comes from the Portuguese for Devil and is the name of a phantom island that appeared on maps of the North Atlantic during the 16th century.
Also known as the Isle of Demons, this mysterious and intriguing isle was allegedly populated by a curious mixture of wild animals, mythological creatures, and evil spirits or demons, all of whom found common cause in tormenting civilized men. The location of the island differed depending upon the map, but it was widely believed to be somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland.
There are many tales from the Isle of Demons, but the most famous is that of Marguerite de la Rogue, a French noblewoman who traveled on an expedition led by her uncle during the 1540’s, with the aim of establishing a colony in the New World.
During the journey, Marguerite entered into a passionate love affair with one of the young officers onboard. Her uncle discovered the illicit romance and punished his niece and her lover by putting them ashore on the dreaded Isle of Demons, where they were forced to fight for survival against savage beasts and evil spirits.
The ultimate fate of Marguerite and her officer lover is unclear, with some accounts saying they were eventually rescued by a passing fishing boat, while others claim their spirits remained trapped on the island to this very day.
Elements of Emilie’s letter matched up with the story. Other references were more difficult to explain, but I assumed what she described as wild beasts were in actual fact polar bears, walruses, and colonies of gannet birds, all being native to that region. But her talk of demons stalking the land at night were bizarre and unnerving.
I spent many sleepless nights worrying about such things during my early teenage years, but when I got older, I wrote it all off as a hoax and moved on with my life, doing the things adolescent boys do, and planning for my future.
I didn’t hang around once I finished school, instead moving to Edinburgh to attend university, where I lived life to the full while somehow attending enough lectures to obtain my degree. I wasn’t ready to settle down into a 9-5 job straight after university, so I did what many Irish students do, taking a gap year and travelling to live and work in Australia.
I loved it out there, making new friends and entering into a string of short lived but exciting relationships. I was definitely enjoying my hedonistic, party animal lifestyle and thought little of the odd experience I’d had during my childhood. But then, something happened which defied all logical explanation.
I was living in Sydney at the time. It was early on a Sunday morning, and I’d been partying all night. I walked home along the beach just as the sun was rising, nursing one hell of a hangover as I staggered across the sands. My plan was to go back to my place and get a couple of hours sleep, but fate intervened. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw it, literally rubbing my eyes in disbelief.
There it was, half buried in the sand, right by the water’s edge. The green bottle, washed up to shore. I experienced a cold chill as I looked upon it, and as memories from my childhood came flooding back. From a distance the bottle looked identical to the one I’d found on the beach in Ireland ten years before…But it must be a coincidence, I told myself.
I was thousands of miles away from my home, on the coastline of an entirely different ocean. There was just no way it was possible. I reassured myself as I looked up and down the beach, before I cautiously made my way along the sands, reaching out to grab the bottle with a shaking hand.
On closer inspection, I was astonished to find the bottle was totally identical to the one I’d discovered years before, even down to the cork sealing it tight. And right enough, when I glanced through the transparent green glass, I saw a dog-eared yellow note rolled up inside.
I felt a mixture of intense emotions in that moment, but most of all a dreadful sense of foreboding. I became paranoid, having the distinct feeling that I was being watched. But when I scanned the beach again, I saw I was on my own. Part of me wanted to throw the bottle back out to sea and never think about it again, but I found I couldn’t do so. I don’t know why, but I had an uncontrollable urge to open the bottle and read the note contained inside. I knew I might not like what I read, but nevertheless I had to know the truth.
I carefully removed the delicate parchment from the bottle, unrolling it to reveal the same handwriting I’d read ten years before. However, the tone of the letter was noticeably darker.
“Dear sir, thank you for replying to my letter. You cannot know how much it means to me. I very much enjoyed reading about your home and family. Ireland sounds like a wonderful place, and I would love to visit someday…Alas, I no longer think this will be possible.
For you see, my family’s situation has deteriorated since I last wrote. My mother and father have become ill. I don’t know whether their illness is of the mortal world, or if they’ve been cursed by supernatural entities. In any event, they are often weak and thus unable to maintain our defenses during the long, dark nights.
Therefore, it has been my task alone to keep the fire burning and the monsters at bay. The mortal beasts are vulnerable to spear and bullet, but not the demons. The night is their time. I see their shadows circling our cabin during the midnight hour, searching for weakness, always looking for a way in. And I hear their unholy roars through the storm, the hellish din shaking me to my very core.
The demons allow me no respite. Their attacks are constant. I cannot remember the last time I slept. I am terrified and exhausted, but I must continue to fight for my parents and my family’s legacy. When I feel my courage falter, I think of my ancestor Marguerite, and she gives me strength. God does not dwell in this place, and so I must survive on my own wits.
I am sorry to be the bearer of such grim news, good sir. I do hope you will write back. Your last letter bolstered my spirits whenever I received it, and the thought of continuing our correspondence gives me hope for the future. I wish you all the best fortune and look forward to hearing from you. Yours faithfully and forever, Emilie.”
I stood there in a state of shock for what seemed like an eternity, reading the note over and over again, as I tried in vain to make some sense of it all. There just wasn’t any logical explanation I could fathom. Had someone been stalking me for the last ten years, waiting for their chance to drop the bottle in my path? But how, and why?
Why would someone follow me to the other side of the world to play such an elaborate trick? It made no sense. But, the only other alternative was that the note was genuine, and Emilie was real.
I left the beach when the morning surfers began to arrive. I still felt extremely uneasy, but I’d recovered from my initial shock and devised a plan. I had a friend living in Sydney who was studying for his masters in archaeology at the University of New South Wales. He had access to lab equipment and – after some bribery – I persuaded him to carry out carbon dating on the letter.
I didn’t tell him the full story, simply claiming I’d found the letter inside the cover of an old book and was curious about its origins. It took a couple of days for the results to come through…a tense wait, during which I could think of little else. I literally snatched the envelope out of his hands when he came to me.
The results were unbelievable. The age of the parchment was impossible to determine with 100% accuracy, but it was at least a century old and perhaps dated back hundreds of years. What’s more, the ink used to write the letter wasn’t actually ink, but dried blood.
My heart froze when I read the report, as it seemed to confirm my worst fears. My friend made no comment on the letter’s content. I got the distinct feeling he wanted to hand over the results and wash his hands of the whole affair. I didn’t blame him, but unfortunately, I didn’t have the option of walking away from this.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Emilie’s letter and her chilling words. Who was she? And where was she? How could it be possible for a letter written centuries ago to be addressed to me? I had never believed in the supernatural, but what other explanation could there be?
I spent many sleepless nights thinking about Emilie and her horrific situation. The thought of this young woman alone, her parents sick, as she fought to protect her home against…demons! What kind of hell was she living in? What had this poor girl done to deserve such a terrible fate?
I thought long and hard about my response, going through several drafts before finally sealing the note and tossing the bottle out to sea. I really did want to help Emilie and felt certain there must be some way I could save her. I guess you could call it a ‘white knight’ fantasy, but I was coming from a genuine place.
I didn’t receive a response by the time I left Australia, but I had a feeling Emilie’s reply would find me eventually. I lived through the rest of my twenties before I heard from her again. I won’t claim that I spent a decade pining after Emilie and dwelling upon the contents of her letter. I lived my life – travelling, working various jobs, making and losing friends, and entering into several love affairs, none of which lasted very long.
I never did settle down, instead moving from place to place. I had some good times for sure, but the darkness stayed with me. I never did forget about Emilie and the Isle of Demons…about that poor girl fighting to save her family.
I thought about her more and more the closer it came to the anniversary, and I knew where I needed to be during the summer of 2011. Newfoundland.
I spent weeks out there on the North Atlantic coastline, chartering fishing boats at great expense to visit and search the isolated and often uninhabited small islands north of Newfoundland, including all of those rumoured to be the true location of the legendary Isle of Demons. I found nothing. I don’t know what I expected. Deep down, I knew I would never find Emilie, not in this world at least.
On my last day on the island, I decided to walk the beach close to my hotel. I was only mildly surprised when I saw it – the green bottle washed to shore, with the inevitable note carefully rolled up inside. I knew the routine by now, not that this made things any easier. My heart was beating fast in my chest and my hand shook as I reached out to recover the message.
The first thing I noticed was how Emilie’s writing had deteriorated from her last letter. For a woman who wrote her correspondence in blood, her penmanship had always been exemplary. But this time around it was little more than a scribble and barely legible. Clearly, she’d written this note in a hurry or a state of distress, and probably both.
This didn’t bode well.
I had a genuine sense of dread as I read her words, and what she wrote was this…
“Good sir, I can’t thank you enough for your kind letter. You seem like a good man, and I have no doubt you would come to my aid if you could. I can feel your presence. You are so close yet might as well be on the far side of the moon.
I never regarded myself as a shrinking violet or a damsel in distress needing rescued. Far from it. Ever since I was young, I have fought hard to survive, and I will continue to fight until my last breath. But alas, I fear my time is almost at an end.
My beloved parents have passed away. I can’t remember when they died exactly. Time has a way of playing tricks in this God-forsaken place. I know my father passed first, my mother soon after. I buried them both in the cold hard ground. It was all I could do.
I’m all on my own now, and I’m so very tired. There was a storm last night…the worst one yet. The hail stones lashed down on the rocks from dusk to dawn, and the winds were so heavy I feared our little cabin would be blown to kingdom come.
They came shortly after midnight – their hellish cries so loud they drowned out every other sound. I struggled so hard to keep the hearth alight and the barricades up, but in the end my strength faltered. He broke through.
I don’t believe I have the words to describe the evil I encountered in that moment. A minion of Hell? Most definitely. A demon? Very possibly. But the creature did not appear in the form I would have imagined. It took the shape of a man dressed in dark robes, a hood covering his head. He stood in my open doorway, the wind and rain beating down heavily behind him, but there wasn’t a drop on him.
I should have defended myself. Normally I wouldn’t have hesitated, but – in that moment – I was frozen in fear. I watched on in terror as he slowly reached up with his bony right hand, removing his hood to reveal the horrors which lay underneath. I expected to see his face, but instead there was nothing but darkness – a black, empty void that shook me to my very core.
I felt like my immortal soul would get sucked into that damn void, and there was nothing I could do to save myself. I was entirely at this monster’s mercy. But, just as I prepared for the end, he spoke to me. I don’t know how, as he had no mouth, but yet he did. His voice was so deep and raspy and bore no resemblance of that of a mortal man. He spoke just two words, saying – ‘NOT TONIGHT’.
And in the blink of an eye, he was gone…disappearing into thin air, leaving the open doorway and the storm behind him. I was spared last night, but I strongly suspect the demon will not allow me to live for much longer. My time is coming, and I must make my peace.
I do appreciate your kindness and compassion, good sir. Your letters have brought me some joy in these dark times, and I do hope you will write to me one last time before I meet my end. Take care, good sir. Yours faithfully and forever, Emilie.”
There were tears in my eyes when I read her words. I couldn’t bear it. To know Emilie was going through hell and there was nothing I could do to help her.
My thirties weren’t a good time for me. I never did get back on an even footing, and my life slowly fell apart. I couldn’t commit to a job or relationship and instead drifted, cutting myself off from family and friends, and turning to alcohol and drugs to dull my pain. I guess depression was something I’d always had to deal with, but Emilie’s letters – the last one in particular – cast a dark shadow over me, one I was never able to escape.
My depression grew worse the closer I got to my 41st birthday. It had been 30 years since I’d received my first letter from Emilie, and her replies had always found me every ten years, no matter where I was. I could have gone anywhere in the world to mark this grim milestone, but I chose to come home, back to the same beach where it all began.
The old place has changed a lot over the last three decades. My mum and dad both passed away years ago, and my old family home has been sold on, meaning I’ve had to stay in a rented cottage. This part of the coastline has become something of a tourist trap in recent years, and the beach I used to walk is now packed with summer holidaymakers. The truth is, I don’t have much of a connection to the west coast of Ireland these days, but I still hold on to a few happy memories.
I walked the beach early this morning, avoiding the crowds and keeping my eyes on the shoreline. I wasn’t at all surprised when I saw it – the ominous green bottle sticking up from the sand. Taking a deep breath, I strode forward, my back creaking as I reached down to grab the glass bottle.
I dreaded the prospect of reading the note. Emilie had revealed true horrors to me ten years ago, and I doubted her situation had improved in the time since. But yet, I had to read her letter. I’d spent the last ten years waiting for this.
I felt faint as I unrolled the yellow parchment and read what turned out to be my destiny. And, in the end, Emilie’s final letter was a short one, and what she wrote was this…
“I’m so sorry, good sir. You’ll never know how much. You’re a good man and you don’t deserve this. They made me do this, you see…I wish my strength had held, but I’ve reached my limit. They know about you now, and they’re coming for you…
Watch for the storm on the horizon, that’s when you’ll know they’re close. I wish I could do more to repay your kindness, good sir. But, in the end, our demons will always win. God speed, good sir. I pray that you find the peace which has eluded me. Yours faithfully and forever, Emilie.”
So that is that. I’m no longer a bystander observing events from afar. The horrors are coming to me. I don’t blame Emilie, not at all. In some ways I think I was always destined to suffer this terrible fate.
I can see the storm now, coming in from the ocean and heading straight for me. It’s the worst I’ve ever witnessed – a sky filled with ominous black clouds, terrifying thunder and flashes of lightning, and winds of hurricane force…And above the almighty din I can hear them…I can hear their hellish roars and their cruel, inhuman laughter. The demons, they’re coming for me.
I could try running, but deep down I know there’s no escape. I wonder now how different my life would have been if I hadn’t found that bottle all those years ago. Maybe I would have been spared, or perhaps not.
I wish I could give you some answers, but this is all I’ve got. My time is nearly up. I can hear the windows rattling under the sheer force of the winds. I can see their dark shapes emerging from the clouds…To echo Emilie’s words, I just hope I can find peace.
Credit : Woundlicker
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2 thoughts on “For thirty years, I’ve been receiving letters from a land that doesn’t exist”
i feel very emotional right now… i was hoping for a happy ending, but alas…. those are rare around here
(10/10 story i would love a sequel)
So impressive,and meaningful