Author David Baird recalls how he was reminded in chilling fashion that often rural tranquillity is not all it seems.
One night was enough for me. Friends invited my wife and myself to stay the weekend at their new-found shangri-la, a remote farmhouse in southern Spain.
The idea was to enjoy the rural tranquillity. Tranquillity? Madre mía! Throughout the night it seemed we were under siege as a pack of wild dogs stormed around the isolated farmhouse, baying like the hound of the Baskervilles multiplied a hundredfold.
At breakfast our friends joked about neighbours dropping in at all hours, moody, taciturn types who would sit at the kitchen table gazing at them in a strange fashion.
The more they told me about these odd visitations the more the hairs on the back of my neck rose up and the more it became plain they had stepped into a hornets’ nest.
“It’s so beautiful here,” they insisted.
Maybe, but when night fell a sinister atmosphere enveloped the cortijo. As the facts emerged, it was clear the innocent newcomers had inadvertently become embroiled in family feuds and violent clashes over land boundaries.
The night of the wild dogs and a number of other strange experiences in rural Andalusia so spurred my imagination that I ended up writing Don’t Miss The Fiesta! It concerns an Englishman who seeks refuge in a small community only to find himself embroiled in dark secrets and dangerous passions.
Now don’t me wrong. The book is pure fiction. No connection with the small Malaga village where I’ve lived for many years. Heaven forbid. It’s a delightful spot.
Even so, no matter how peaceful a place may seem to an outsider you never know what lies beneath. Such dramas as Lorca’s plays Blood Wedding and The House of Bernarda Alba have their source in real life.
The first danger sign is when the fellow trying to sell you a village property declares: “Nothing ever happens here. It’s so peaceful.”
Ho, ho, ho! Nothing ever happens in my village either. That’s if you don’t count — in the past year alone — one murder, two suicides, several mysterious fires including a number of vehicles spontaneously bursting into flames, the arrest of a particularly discreet resident (he turned out to be a Russian hitman), my neighbour’s roof caving in at 4am…
Naturally, city-dwellers hunting for their place in the sun don’t want to hear about the darker side of life in the campo. It spoils the illusion. Which plays into the hands of smooth real estate salesmen.
Every old house has its history — and long-forgotten events can come back to haunt the new owners. In one village house objects guided by unseen hands would fly across the room, fall off tables, smash against walls.
Only when when a young member of the family moved to another address did the bizarre events stop. Yes, poltergeists do exist.
An English family, gentle, unsuspecting folk, spent a considerable amount renovating another old property. They were happy as larks — until a neighbour began talking about the hanging.
When they discovered that a previous owner had hanged himself in the stable, now converted into a bedroom, they were spooked. Unable to face even going into the room, they soon fled to another house. But that was an old one too — who knows what events had unfolded there?
Then there was Josefa. Was she a witch or wasn’t she? The case is still open. But she was definitely an “infeliz”.
This acquaintance knocked on our door late one night, asking for a bed. As she seemed upset and confused, we took pity and gave her a bed for the night. A dire mistake.
Josefa was lean, dark and intense. Her eyes burned as she declared again and again that she needed “espacio vital” (literally “living space”). The next day she made no move to leave. Nor did she seem willing to take a shower, which she all too obviously needed.
When I mentioned Josefa to a friend he looked aghast.
“Get her out! She’s bad news. She has an apartment in the next town but she won’t go there. She’s lost all her friends. And she’s been stalking her old boyfriend. There’s something really scary about that woman!”
Josefa showed no inclination to leave, but next morning I insisted on driving her to her apartment. She said nothing, though she did treat me to an enigmatic smile.
That night I was surprised to find our back door had somehow become unlocked, so I bolted it. Later I thought I heard an odd noise, but drifted off to sleep.
Next morning, we found Josefa back in residence. Finding all doors closed, she had smashed a window to gain entry. When I remonstrated with her, she just gave me that same knowing, Cheshire-cat sort of smile.
It was too much. I ordered Josefa to leave. Finally she disappeared. But has she gone for good?
Even now, when we hear sounds in the night — creaking woodwork, something padding across the roof — my wife and I tense. And wonder…
Rural tranquillity? Who knows what lies beneath?

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