We start today with the opening scene from my first attempt at fiction, The Dark Night Murders: A Fray John of the Cross Mystery. I tinkered with this one off and on for a decade while busy like Martha about many other things. The novel is based on a historical visit John of the Cross made to the monastery at Pastrana at the insistence of St. Teresa, but the murder at the core of the novel is fiction. The book appeared in 2009,
Monastery of St. Peter the Apostle
February 23, 1572 Ash Wednesday
Gáspar rolled over on his side, panting, sweat stinging his clenched eyes. The fire in his stomach burned hotter and the sweat mingled with tears. Why did it hurt so much? Santa María, help me! St. Joseph, save me!
He threw off the heavy blanket and tried to untangle thin legs from his long brown robe. He tugged at the collar of the tunic, trying to get some fresh air. It was stifling in the little room, and the lone candle stood straight as a sentinel, unmoved by the least breath of air. He leaned over to reach for a cup of water, but another pain ripped through his side and he fell back, clutching himself.
What is wrong with me? Why does it hurt so … aggh!
After a moment, the pain eased and he lay back on the hard mat. A moment later, his hands began to tremble, and then he was shaken by chills. He reached for the discarded blanket and hugged it around his frail body.
Except for the candle on the rough table, the small pottery cup of water and the simple bed – just a board on trestles – there was nothing in the room. Soot streaked the wall about the candle, and the air smelled of vomit, although Brother Tomás had cleaned up the mess earlier. Good Fray Tomás! Bless him and the other novices for coming to visit and pray with him. He appreciated the company, although Fray Ángel had told him to cherish this time of solitude. He did not admit it to Fray Ángel, but Gáspar did not like solitude that much. Especially now, when he was frightened. Frightened of his illness and pain, and frightened of something else. Frightened of –
No, better not to think about that. Maybe the story he had heard wasn’t true. After all, he had always been kind. Hadn’t he been one of the most frequent visitors to the infirmary. Hadn’t he –
Another pain sliced through his midsection and Gáspar doubled over on his side. He couldn’t stand it. This time he screamed.
A moment later, Brother Tomás scurried through the door.
“Brother, what is it? Is it worse?”
Gasping, Gáspar reached for the cup, but he knocked it over. The thin pottery shattered on the floor. Tomás knelt to pick up the shards, but Gáspar begged him. “Please, Brother, do something. Get a priest! Get a priest! I have to confess! I think I’m dying.”
Horrified, Tomás stared at the young man. Gathering his own robes, he turned to run and find help. The wind stirred up by his sudden departure made the candle flicker, and the flame died out, smoke rising in a thin thread before disappearing. Gáspar fell back, his hand to his throat. He panted for a moment, his throat working wildly, then leaned over the side of the bed and vomited. This time he tasted blood.