El 26 de Septiembre, 1937
It was dark. Cloying and cold where he lay, shielded from his pursuers. Since the early morning hours he had huddled, curled into a ball beneath the oaken desk. They were out there, although the hammering against the door had stopped just before nightfall.
Juan Antonio Rodriguez was scared. Not for himself, no, he had survived the march across the mountains. The reprisals had passed him by and he had reached the pueblo safe and sound. He was frightened for Isabella and the child. So, at last, he rose and made his way cautiously to the door. A small push at first, then a harder one. Nothing. Pain lanced through his fist as he pounded the door, blood sweating his hands. One finger found the problem. Nails.
Low grumbling, reminiscent of thunder on one of the far away peaks began outside. Light sparked and then flared as torches were lit and he saw them. All the village were there and at the rear Isabella, her father forcing her to watch. The child clung to her skirts, shoulders heaving.
Glass shattered in answer, Juan covering his face from the flying shards.
“Hijo de puta!”
A leering face closed, it was Isabella’s husband. He thrust the pitch smeared torch through the shattered window. Juan followed its skittering path and ran to intercept it. He turned to see a sullen procession as one by one the men passed. No-one was immune, all had been given flame and they used it. Last of all came Padre Manuel, his young face contorted in hate.
“For the Bishop, the Sisters and your priest, demonio.”
The pile of criss-crossed brands formed Juan’s pyre. There was no way out. Now the ranked villagers stared in silent anger, as first the walls caught, then the roughly beamed roof.
The priest spoke.
“Was there mercy when Sor Francesca choked on the rosary forced down her throat? Pity when the Bishop was re-baptised at the bottom of the well? When your own village priest was stoned to death by your soldiers?
“Then there will be none for you. No prayers welcoming you to Our Lord’s bosom. Last Rites are lost to you. Burn in the eternal fires of Hell. Suffer as did they.”
Flames reflected in the hate-filled visage of the priest, in the majority of the villagers. Only one smiled and Isabella shed her last tears.
Juan’s voice eclipsed the roaring flames as his face melted beneath the crackling heat. It was soft, cold and vindictive.
“You deny me God? Only spite do you throw in my face? Very well, hear me. There will be pain in equal measure, for each and everyone of you. I will never rest and neither will you. My curse will go on. Hasta la muerte…y mas allá.”
His scream ended their torture, but Juan watched. Vicious eyes peered from amongst the flames as skin boiled away. A tenacious vengeance held him there …through death and beyond.
El 26 de Septiembre, 1938
Padre Manuel turned the heavy key in the lock and shivered. The temperature dropped as fog rolled down the mountainside. He tended to this blighted parish, his penance for past sins. Dying flowers curled in the vases by the doorway. The women would change them tomorrow.
Troops no longer were stationed in this village, the regiment from Navarra now marched on Asturias. Life had returned to a semblance of normality. Tomorrow the child would leave and the last memory of hatred would be expunged. One more night. As he climbed the cobbled road towards his lodgings, he passed the burnt out shell of the schoolhouse. There was something else that needed to be removed and he would mention it before he left.
Wind whipped his cassock around his feet. He stumbled, then righted himself. It was quiet, the workers in their houses, doors shut tightly against the cold. His breath frosted the air as a gelid hand slammed into him. The priest struggled uphill, his feet slipping on suddenly slick stones. Fear coursed through his body as ice formed about him. Not fifty feet in front of him dew sparkled on green and verdant grass. By his side, plants withered brown and dead.
A voice rasped in his ear. He turned quickly. There was nothing.
More insistent now and smoke began to rise from the hem of his robe. Blue flame sputtered and held, his frantic attempts to beat it away only causing it to spread to his hands and then his sleeves. Intense heat reddened his face, whilst ice frosted the ground around him. A mist puffed towards him, enveloping and hiding him from sight. Until all that was left was a vague form, eerily etched in blue light, which wavered from the depths of the now deep fog.
Inside his prison, he burned. Two red eyes came into being high above him. As he prayed for deliverance, a maniacal laugh rang out, soon to be eclipsed by a tortured scream.
In the houses, people heard. They pulled their blankets tight up to their necks. Lips moved in mechanical pleas, yet none were answered. Then there was silence.
El 26 de Septiembre, 1940
Isabella watched her father work. He and the others had rebuilt the schoolhouse and the new priest would consecrate it tomorrow. She did not care. They had taken her daughter from her. The shame they said was unbearable. Now she hated too.
Her lover’s bones were ash and buried in the foundations of the new building. The curse would be lifted in a simple ceremony, but she wanted none of it. Juan had always kept his promises and this would be no different. There would be vengeance.
She saw her father stumble, slide one foot along the roof to reach a more stable grip and she wished him dead. As if in answer, a strong gust of wind unbalanced him. He crashed awkwardly against her husband and fell. It was not a great height and normally he would have survived. Not today though.
The brush of a cold kiss caused her to turn. A word whispered in her ear made her smile and in slow motion she watched the tragedy unfold. Tools had been discarded and a pickaxe was struck by the now unsteady ladder. It rolled point upwards just in time to catch her father in the small of the back. He lay gasping for breath as his son-in-law fell too. One studded boot landed heavily on a reddened throat and Isabella laughed.
El 26 de Septiembre, 1985
The car raced down the narrow track, spraying dirt and gravel as it took the first corner. They had all been drinking. Their Aunt had thrown them out and told them to go home. It was too early though and they had borrowed Old Pepe’s car. A pair of wooden stools in the back served as seats and they laughed uproariously as they were flung from side to side.
Three more curves and they would reach the main road. The last one was the sharpest and it had long been a challenge to see how close they could come to the edge. Cigarette clenched between gritted teeth, José Cossío pressed hard down on the accelerator. His cousins cheered him on and he swerved to one side in preparation of his victorious manoeuvre.
Darkness crashed down on him. Rain bouncing off his windscreen and blinding him. Forever after, he would tell of the pair of flaming orbs which swooped suddenly into view. The sound of roaring flames and the curses flung in an unknown language.
Engine whining in protest, the car continued on, out over the open gap. It bounced three times, slamming with bone-jarring force into the earth. When it came to a stop, it was a mangled mess and José lay to one side, thrown through the shattered windscreen. His body was broken, as was his mind. When they found him, he mumbled manically of the flames and cruel voice.
Sliding further down the hill they found the remains of the twisted and buckled vehicle. Inside were the crushed bodies of three of their young men. This was not what caused them to fall to their knees in prayer, to kiss the crucifixes hung round their necks. It was the heat-blistered paint on the bonnet and the smell of charred meat.
SDIV El Juego Chapter Thirty Part Three
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