My name is John Tiberius Johnson. I was born in Exeter (England) and from a young age, I've loved to explore: I had a tree house built by my own hands, I had small canoe in which I explore calm rivers and their banks and I always had the company of Akakios, my labrador.
Thanks to my parents and my persistence, I went on to study anthropology and archaeology. I love ancient civilizations as well as contemporary ones, just watching how people have had different solutions for the same problem and even the same solutions, being separated by thousands of kilometers.
Working for the British Museum, a dream of mine that was fulfilled by a "enlightened" thesis on the customs of the North American peoples, I got to travel a lot, all around the globe.
I saw the Great Wall of China, the pyramids in Egypt, the massive forests of Indonesia, the majestic Machu Picchu and so many more.
But this time I want to tell you about a small part of the world. Many, won't even know it exists. It is called Mount Athos.
Resting on one of the "fingers" of the Chakidiki peninsula, Mount Athos is a strange place. First of all, it's an autonomous region from the rest of Greece. They have a different way of doing things there.
Second, the place is filled with monasteries, all around the peninsula. Beautiful forests unite the sites.
Third, one must get a special permit to enter Mount Athos. It is called a diamonētērion. And, most curious, only men are allowed there.
Preparing for my journey, I travelled to Thessaloniki and applied for my permit, which would allow me to stay and the Megisti Lavra monastery for as a week.
I decided to walk all around the city, waiting for the permit. On one of those outings, around an open market, a strange gypsy woman almost threw herself and me and asked to read my hand. I refused but she insisted and I was bored so I complied. After paying her 5 euros, she grabbed my hand and told me I should avoid facing God soon, as death was near.
A bit annoyed, I went on with my walking. Coincidence or not, a old man looked at me with crazy eyes and spoke fast and loud in greek. Being rusty in the language I could only understand two words: "avoid" and "danger".
Looking to forget all about these weird encounters I went to my hotel and had a nice calm dinner.
After a week of my request, they called me to say the permit had been approved. So I went to pick up the strange sheet. There, I was told to travel to Ierissos, where I would board a ferry to Mount Athos.
I have to say the boat ride was even better than I imagined: the view was not to be missed. Mount Athos, the actual mountain, looked massive but calm and peaceful from the boat. I was traveling with two others: Alex, a photographer for National Geographic and Cedric, a french travel journalist.
When we got to the dock, a small wooden structure on a rocky beach, we were received by a lonely young monk who told us to follow him. It was short walk to Megisti Lavra, as the place rests just above a cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea.
We were shown our bedrooms and the bathroom we would share and told us we could only remain on the monastery or inside its boundaries. Alex then intervened, saying he had been authorized to go hiking, in order to take pictures from the mount. The young monk asked him for his permit, read it for himself in whole and then gave it back. He bowed and then left them in their rooms.
Day one, I went to the main temple and asked to see the manuscripts. They were held in a small library, feeling a bit uneasy as a monk was asked to guard my stay in the room.
I was baffled by the writings, and then by codices. They were a treasure I had wanted to see for long. I took notes for work as well as some photographies, although my guard didn't seem to like that.
Then, a scream. A truly awful, heartbreaking scream. I carefully put away the codex that I was making notes about and went out the main courtyard with my guard. He then indicated me to go to the monasteries main entrance. The place was beautiful, adorned with olive trees and small hedges.
Then, we saw: Alex was running towards the gate. The monks let him in and he fainted in front of me.
Hours later he woke up and told us he had seeing a body laying in the road to the mountain. A group of monks left to check it out. When they left he told me that the man he saw did not have a face, crushed by rocks or something. He was trembling so I accompanied him until Cedric came back from the a stroll down the shore.
Then the leader of the congregation came and asked us to remain in our chambers for the day as something had occurred. Then Alex asked for the body and the man told us that it appeared to be an assassination. They had even found a big rock tainted with blood.
During the next few days, I had to accompany Alex, with two monk guards, to take his pictures. We ascended part of Mount Athos and, although astonished by the beauty of the place, my mind was still wondering about the killing.
So it was a surprise when we came back to the monastery and they told us we were going to stay under lock and something had, once again, occurred.
They had arranged a large room with three beds for all of us and the leader of the monks came again. It had happened they had found another body, this time on the water, just floating by the monastery. They had voted to enclose us for our safety and because we were considered suspects.
- We were on the Mount!
- Mr. Cedric wasn't...
- I was walking with one of your guards!
But then the monk pulled out something from his pocket. Kept in a white cloth, he showed us an object and I recognized the knife immediately: it had been a gift by the director of a museum I had been to in China. A dagger made in times of the Tang dinasty. The only difference was that this dagger was tainted in blood.
And blood was the thing that drained out from my face, as I realized I was trapped here, no way to get out.