JOAO PRESTES (Continued)
Seated on a threadbare sofa in his modest home, Vergilio explained that he was Joao Prestes's second cousin. "I was born and raised in Aracariguama. That's where I began working in the Morro Velho gold mine at the age of 15 or 16. There was a British engineer who couldn't write my name and called me garoto de ouro ("golden boy").
I'll tell you what I know about the horrible death of Joao Prestes. It was in 1946 during the carnival season. He went fishing in the nearby Tiete River, riding in his cart, while the wife and children went to the festivities. It was the dry season and there was no rain. When he got back, he stabled his horse and fed it some corn. He put the fish in a pot and heated some water with firewood to take a bath. When he changed clothing, a sort of beam of light or yellow light had appeared in his room. He felt his body burning and that his beard, while short, was burning. Panicked and unable to move his hands, Joao raised the door latch using his teeth and ran into the street barefoot, since he never wore shoes. He ran screaming to his sister Maria's house, near the Aracariguama church. He dropped on a bed and said he'd been burned. The police chief, Joao Malquias, went over immediately, who told him there was no one to blame for what had happened, because his attacker 'had not been of this world.' This was followed by lightning and thunder, and a powerful rainstorm...."
This part of Vergilio's story reminded me of the Varghina case, which occurred in 1997 in Minas Gerais. A rainstorm the likes of which had never been seen in Varghina occurred after the appearance and alleged capture of one or more supposedly alien creatures. Significant atmospheric changes tend to occur in "fortean" cases.
"So, you were able to see Joao Prestes on his deathbed?" Claudia Suegana asked Vergillio Alves.
"Yes, my cousin Emiliano Prestes, who was my neighbor, called me over. When I got to Maria's house, I found Joao Malaquias, the sheriff, speaking with Joao. He was in bed and having problems using his tongue. His skin, which was fair, was toasted, reddish, as if he'd been roasted. His hands and face had the worst burns. The hands were twisted. His hair didn't burn, nor did his feet nor clothing. He was only burned from the waist up. His feet were torn up from running barefoot on sharp rocks."
"Did you see Joao's flesh falling off in pieces at any time?", I inquired.
"No, no. His skin was burned, but it wasn't falling off. I think that the boitata was to blame, since it had attacked him once before," Vergilio told us. Claudio and I exchanged looks of stupefication as the lucid nonagenarian imparted his information.
"Please tell us about this other indident," we said, almost in unison.
"Well, when Joao was a tropero (cattle driver), he was still young and lived with his father in Aracariguama. One day at sundown, as he led the donkeys over a hill, he saw a fire that fell from the sky -- a fireball. He was near a chapel that had a cross, and he could feel the fireball passing him, almost knocking him down. Joao would tell me that at that spot you could sometimes see ten or twelve balls emerging from the sky. Some of them were red, others Moon-colored. Sometimes five or six of them would fall to the ground and explode. People would call them the boitata lights..." Vergilio explained.
I would like to digress to explain that the word "boitata" is of native origin and designated mysterious lights that would pursue and even kill the native Indians, according to Portuguese colonial chronicles and the stories of Canarian priest Jose de Anchieta in the 16th Century.
Vergilio himself witnessed the apparition of one of these lights, which emerged from behind the mountain where the gold mine was and landed on Mt. Saboao, another hill where strange lights always appear. "We also called those fireballs maes do ouro (mothers of gold). There was also the "golden lizard," an elongated tongue of flame that moved in a straight line, slowly, without making a sound."
The mysterious Morro Velho gold mine is currently abandoned. Canadian general George Raston, who founded the mine in 1926, lived there until it was closed in the late 1930's.
While we ate some delicious plantains grown by Vergilio on his own farm, he told us that wolf-men had also been seen in Aracariguama, thus confirming the information provided by Luis Prestes.
"Who took Joao to the hospital?" I asked Vergilio in order to resume and finish our interview on the case.
"Malaquias, the sheriff, wanted to take him to a hospital in Sao Paulo, but the road was in bad shape and they went to Santan do Parnaiba. An investigation was requested from the police but no answer was found for the case. They only said that nothing had burned in Joao's house, since some had said that he had burned himself with a candlestick."
Tomorrow, the "Road to Aracariguama."