The following is an excerpt from my new short story The Dream of Father Pagomari, which will appear along with many others in my forthcoming book of short stories I will be publishing in a digital copy. Enjoy!
If you were to ever happen across the town of Santiago del Bosque de Pinos you would notice first of all that the streets are well maintained and the houses are quiet neat and well built. Perhaps you would also observe that the town is well named: there is not one inch of the surrounding land and hills that is not covered in a thick growth of the most fragrant of pine trees. On a summer evening it can smell as though the forest had perfumed itself in order to catch the attention of the craggy peaks of the Pyrenees foothills that surround the area. The townsfolk liked to tell visiting dignitaries and pilgrims that the trees and the mountains were carrying on the most tumultuous of love affairs: the mountains constantly rebuffing the advances of the trees, and the trees in return never relenting in their pursuit of ascending the rocky slopes. Such was the way of these people; they always sought to impart a note of romance on even the most mundane happenstances of nature.
Santiago del Bosque de Pinos was halfway between the north eastern bank of the Ebro and the mountain passes that were the main conduit between Spain and France. It’s people spoke mostly Spanish of the Aragonese variety, with a smattering of French and Basque speakers, especially amongst the traders and shop owners who lived mostly on the northern end of the town near the bridge that led up to the Rubrum Rupe pass. This path was first discovered by the invading Roman legions as the fought off the Carthaginian armies then attempting to establish a foothold in Iberia. It had been used ever sense as the main artery between the towns of the Spanish Pyrenees and the French region of Toulouse. The town was by no means large (no more than 500 souls had ever resided within its ancient chalk-white stone walls) but it was prosperous, at least in relation to the neighboring hamlets and farm settlements. In this area of Spain, to say you were of Santiago del Bosque de Pinos was the same as saying “I have some cache in these parts”. Everyone knew that this town owed its success and relative riches to its location. Certainly its people were no better than any of the others around, and perhaps a measure worse. Because it was also said that if you were a resident of Santiago del Bosque de Pinos you were most likely haughty and full of superstition. These were a folk who did not crack a smile when talking about demons and spirit creatures walking about the woods, casting spells and causing mischief. Long after the rest of the population of the northern Ebro valley had given up believing in such silly things, the Bosqueans, as they were called, held on to their backwards beliefs and prejudices.
Perhaps this reluctance to move on from the past accounted for the interest the Inquisition took in the town. They had sent at least four different inquisitors in as many decades to this little mountain town, though not much if anything ever came from their investigations. But a people who do not have trouble believing in forest spirits and imps certainly will have no compunction in seeing witchcraft and heresy at every turn and in every glinting eye. And so one would be hard pressed to find a period in time when Santiago del Bosque Pinos was not caught up in some sort of civic tumult, we will focus on a more recent example, and an especially potent spell of hysteria and misfortune. The year was 1604 or thereabouts and the Inquisition was especially concerned with reports of witchcraft, paganism and other such affronts to Catholic morality and piety. As usual Santiago del Bosque Pinos was a locus of paranoia and reports of evil deeds. The population needed only a simple misfortune, a bad apple crop or a mislaid hog, in order to go into a frenzy of superstitious handwringing and finger pointing. Perhaps the town had “cried wolf” one to many times, but on this occasion the Inquisition decided not to send a full contingent out to investigate the panicked claims of the inhabitants. There were more important cases to look over, and the Inquisition could not spare the manpower to comb through the petty worries of a rather small mountain town. So they sent Father Diego Pagomari