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Time Travel To Torquemada

Story ID:8622
Written by:John Ward (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Period Piece
Location:Salamanca Spain
Year:1447
Person:Thomas de Torquemada
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Time Travel To Torquemada

Time Travel To Torquemada

I have to say I am quite an accomplished backyard engineer and when I set my mind to something, generally, I get it done.

The other day, or maybe it was next week, I became interested in Time Travel. After days of tinkering, I managed to create a Time Travel Machine by combining parts I found in a microwave oven, a TV from the seventies and a blender.

In my excitement I failed to test it on my usual test subject - Anton – the family hamster. I suppose it was excitement at the thought that I might be able to witness history, as well as an unconscious sense of pity for Anton who was starting to show some wear from previous tests and had only partially recovered from my “Invisibility Potion.” His top half had already reappeared but we were still waiting for his back legs and arse to come back.

I attached the Time Travel Module to a lawn chair, sat in it and initiated the sequential coordination prefabulator. Then, I set the modified microwave clock to the 15th century and the Blender to Britain. After firing up the flux generation transistor modulator and the transcontinental high fidelity nobulation device, I strapped myself in with bungee cords and sat back to travel in comfort.

I must have had a slight bend in the contatapipe, because although I made it to the 15th Century I found myself in Spain! I knew this because, when I landed, I found everyone had a lisp. Since I speak a form of Spanish I was able to get by quite well and explain to the first person I saw, a farmer called Ramirez on whose wife I had landed, that there was nothing going on between his wife and me. I further explained that I had come from a place Spain would discover in about 40 to 50 years time. For some reason this alarmed the farmer and his field hands and they quickly dragged me by my top lip to see the local priest.

Don Fulgencio was a small man with a circle shaved in the back of his head. I realized he was a Benedictine priest and this scared me. The Benedictines are not known for their intellectual prowess and when the word “Brujo” started to evince itself more and more frequently in their conversation, I knew I was in trouble.

For my safety I was escorted to a cell in the basement of the Abbey of Don Fulgencio and the gate was clanged shut. I tried to explain that if I was indeed a Brujo I could turn the bars to caramel and eat my way out. This caused terrible consternation and after the prelate gave the Jailer detailed instructions and left, I sat down as well as the chains on my arms and legs would allow.

The jailer was obviously extremely nervous and watched me like a hawk, occasionally licking the bars to test for sweetness. At one point my legs were falling asleep so I stood up in a clatter of chains. My jailer immediately and noisily soiled himself and ran from the dungeon shouting “He’s flying!” I had merely stood up, but the human mind is an amazing organ and I knew he would remain convinced of my ability to levitate.

The next day I was brought to the Church, where I was to be tried. I have translated the proceedings into English for the edification of my readers and to simplify matters. My new Jailer told me that I was indeed fortunate because, serendipitously, Thomas de Torquemada happened to be in the neighborhood burning some Andalusian witches accused of sorcery because they had created light at night by setting fire to cotton wicks that had miraculously found their way through small wax columns. Despite the fact that these light emitters looked very much like candles, Torquemada was convinced they were magic sticks as he had been assured of this by his local mistress who, coincidentally, owed the accused witches quite a lot of money.

Thomas de Torquemada was an interesting looking man. He was entirely bald except for a thin circle of fringe that ran around his entire head. He had the nose of either a boxer or someone who was in the secondary stages of syphilis, when all the cartilage starts to collapse. His ears were unnaturally small and this effect was exaggerated by his enormous cranium. He was very fat for a man of self denial and service to the poor, but he explained that by claiming to be “big-boned.” His mouth was that of a bulldog in that the lower jaw was heavy and prominent and his top lip, which was small and mean, seemed to disappear under the bottom lip when he closed his mouth. His whole aspect was that of a tough customer that any panel of judges would be afraid to oppose for fear of finding themselves on the wrong side of his wrath.

Although Torquemada was a Dominican Friar, he agreed to take the Benedictine case against me on sufferance and adopted an appropriately “put-upon” expression on his face, so that Don Fulgencio might always appreciate the sacrifice Torquemada was making on his behalf.

As the clergy began to file into the church a hush fell over the crowd of local farmers, peasants and serfs who had been allowed to purchase floor room to witness the trial. This sort of trial was very popular among the peasantry as there was no television, movie theaters or any other form of entertainment other than a local game called “Cludge” in which two peasants hit each other with heavy poles until one faints from loss of blood. The one left standing would be proclaimed the winner and bled by surgeons to make him feel better. Very few women were Cludgers.

Farmer Ramirez was ushered in with his wife who, despite having one arm in a sling, sought me out and started smiling and batting her eyes at me. Ramirez himself was dressed in his best Sunday suit, which consisted of slightly less soiled dungarees, a hessian shirt and a jacket made of what looked like bark. A yellowing piece of cloth adorned his newly washed neck and his boots squished as he walked, as if he had walked through a swamp to get to the proceeding.

Both Ramirez and his wife wore large heavy wooden crosses around their neck, presumably to protect them from me. Señora Ramirez wore a cotton blouse that was several sizes too small. Either that or she had her younger brother stuffed down the front of her shirt backwards with his buttocks visible at the top. I remember thinking: “This woman could feed every starving child in Somalia... If only they knew where that was.”

“Witch!” Torquemada roared as the trial began.

“Which Witch?” I asked…

“We are addrething you!” he continued. I noticed he’d adopted the “Royal We,” or else he felt he and God were asking me the same question simultaneously.

“Well I think it’s a little prejudicial to start calling me Witch when we haven’t even determined if I am one or not… I mean, that’s what this hearing is for, right?” I attempted.

“You have been accuthed of thorthery and witchcraft…”

“Both?” I exclaimed “Wait a minute, who said anything about sorcery? I want these charges bifurcated!”

“Aha!” Torquemada shouted to the panel of impartial Clerical Judges who leered at me suspiciously and crossed themselves every time I spoke, “He ith uthing Witch Language!”

“Spanish!” I offered, “It’s a little clearer version, without the lisping, but it really is Spanish…” Then I realized what he meant: “Oh, you mean… OK never mind. Look there is no such thing as ‘Witch Language’ and even if there were, I swear, I've never had a lesson in it.” My attempt at levity backfired.

“You thee oh holy and imparthial oneth, he admitth the pothibility of the exith-tence of a Witch Language!”

By this time one of the impartial Clerical Judges had taken a bowl of holy water and was splashing his face with it.

“No, no wait. That was a joke! Christ has everyone had their sense of humor surgically removed?”

“He jethtth and trieth to make foolth of uth, while we attempt, in our thacred duty, to exthpose the thorthery and witchcraft that plagueth our land! Not only that - he evoketh the thacred name of our Lord in vain!”

“Look” I tried, “can we all calm down for a minute? Firstly, give that cleric a Xanax before has a knipshin…” Too late I realized using Yiddish wouldn't help my case at all.

“ALCHEMY!” Torquemada screamed. The Witch thpeakth of poithoning our brother with Alchemy.”

“Look, Schmucko, stop calling me ‘Witch.’ If you've already determined I am a witch, what the hell is this hearing for?”

“He curtheth! He thpeakth of the domain of Luthifer ath if he ith familiar with it!”

The entire room let out an audible “Ooooo!” I took this as a bad sign.

“Listen, when does my attorney get here?”

“More Witch Thpeak!”

“Oh nonsense – attorney means lawyer… you know - my representation… the person who knows the law and will guard my rights to a fair trial.”

There was a quick meeting called between Torquemada and the Clerical Judges. Their heads were lowered as were their voices, with a head popping up every now and again to scowl in my direction before returning to the huddle. All through this discussion I was thinking “Torquemada means Burnt Tower” Christ, I am in trouble.”

An enormous book was produced and consulted with great difficulty as the slaves bearing it looked malnourished and sick.

Finally one of the Clerical Judges looked ready to make a pronouncement. He stood up and after toweling off his associate Judge’s head he proclaimed in a resonant baritone voice: “It is written – ‘Any Witch that requests the assistance of a lawyer, confirms, by this action, his or her guilt, as an innocent would never have need of such assistance.’ Therefore let us make note that the accused witch has done so.”

The parallels to 21st century logic were startling. I thought of all those poor innocent people who were considered guilty because they had “done got theirselves all lawyered up” after a false accusation. It was interesting that this monkey-thinking had lasted through the Bubonic Plague the Renaissance, the Baroque, Rococo and Modern periods, through the Augustans, the Romantic and the rap periods into the twenty first century.

I tried a different tack. “Have you heard of the Magna Carta? The document signed by King John the Ass Plantagenet at Runnymede after his noblemen encouraged him to sign with simple threats of evisceration? The concept of ‘Habeas Corpus’ ring any bells? It should, it’s in Latin, the original Romance Language. Are you people up for a revolution? Because if you keep this nuttiness up, you’re sure to produce one and in no time you’ll find your heads on pikestaffs staring at your still steaming entrails hanging down a wall.”

A thin line of perspiration broke out on the Clerical Judges brows, all except for the nervous judge who was now habit-less and flagellating himself with a choirboy.

I grabbed the reins and continued: “As for Lucifer’s domain… do you know why we believe that putz exists? Because Moses talked about him! That’s right, that’s where we found out about him. Look, you have to imagine the story in context.

When Pharaoh was going to kill all the first born Jewish kids, apparently killing first born boys was all the rage in those days; Moses’ mother put him, as a baby, in a basket and into the river to save him. He got stuck in some Bulrushes and was found by Pharaoh’s daughter. I forget her name…. let’s call her Edna for now. So Edna, knowing about her father’s idiotic obsession, takes the baby home and raises it as part of the royal family.

This kid is raised like a king, right alongside the next Pharaoh: Edna’s brother Ramses. They play together, get the same education, compete, get into trouble, lie, debauch, chase girls see who can pee against a pyramid the highest and Moses is so good at everything that Ramses becomes jealous and angry one day and tells Moses – ‘You think you’re so great? You’re nothing but a dirty Jew, you’ll never be Pharaoh, I will because I am of the royal blood.’ He reveals the whole Bulrushes scam and Moses, a tall young man who, coincidentally, looks a lot like Charlton Heston, is so annoyed by having the rug pulled out from under him he heads for the desert to sulk.

He’s gone for forty days and forty nights, not like those five day four night cruises where you actually have a three day cruise as days number one and five are for arriving and leaving…” Looking at the blank stares I said “Oh never mind” and continued.

“So Moses is really peeved. I mean he thought he had a fair chance at becoming the next Pharaoh of all Egypt! That’s like winning the Irish sweepstakes and then finding that your ticket with the right number was for last week’s drawing…. Oh never mind.

Anyway, Moses is so ticked off that he schemes and ponders and comes up with a plan B. If he can’t be Pharaoh, he’ll take away the next Pharaoh’s power-base – his slaves! This meshes very well with the fact that he has found out he is of the same faith as the slaves. They’re all Jews, so when he comes back, looking very slim and handsome indeed after forty days and forty nights with very little food and water, he says to Ramses: ‘So, I’m a dirty Jew huh? Well let’s see how well you do without your dirty Jew slaves! I am going to take my people away from you to salvation… you know, up north to Palestine where we'll live with the Palestinians peacefully.’ Ramses says: ‘No way Moses, we've got a lot of work to do here; they haven’t even built my pyramid yet. Where the heck will I live when I die?’

Moses says: ‘I don’t care. You’re short and bald.’ Ramses looked a lot like Yul Brynner… Oh never mind!
So Ramses says – ‘I’m not letting anyone leave and that’s final!’ So Moses starts taking credit for plagues that come to Egypt every year anyway and tells Ramses who is sort of impressionable and superstitious, that he brought the locusts, frogs sicknesses, etc. Ramses is not too swift and decides, perhaps he should soften up a bit on the ‘that’s final” statement.

So Moses takes the Jews into the Eastern part of the Sahara towards the Red Sea. He knows God is going to part the sea and let him and the Jews through, because no-one knows how to swim until Australia invents the Australian Crawl… O never mind.

However, even though God is going to part the sea, there’s no need to rely too heavily on God so he picks the slimmest part of the Red Sea to cross and indeed the waves part and the Jewish slaves cross. A moment later Ramses, who has had second thoughts, comes flying up in his chariot with an army of Egyptians to get back his labor force. Oddly the army, which is on foot, somehow manages to arrive at the sea before a four horsepower chariot, run down to the dry sea bed and God lets the ocean come in and drown them all. God - What a kidder!

Ramses watches from the safety of the bank and looks furiously handsome!

OK so the Jews are following Moses deeper and deeper into the desert. They have nothing to eat or drink but some old stale Manna and some ground water when Moses who, as you know spent 40 days and nights in the desert and knows how to find water, strikes a rock and releases a small spring.

It’s a tough journey and some of the Jews start doubting that Moses is doing all this for altruistic reasons. Some, uncharitably, see it as revenge against his adopted brother and see him as a paranoid-obsessive charismatic who is leading them to their death in the Sahara.

There are rumblings. Some of the Jewish slaves start saying ‘maybe we should go back, I mean at least we had one meal a day, shelter and benefits.’ ‘What benefits?’ Another asks. ‘Well some days we were allowed to work the Shaduf instead of hauling huge blocks up the side of the pyramids… also there was time off on the day after the Sabbath and stomping straw into mud to make bricks wasn't so tough.’ ‘Oh yea, I see’ says the third.

So Moses, who is quite paranoid to begin with, hears these rumblings and decides to teach these ignorant slaves a lesson and he uses the tried and true method of a parable. He starts telling them: ‘Before the Earth existed, even before time existed, there was one kingdom – the Kingdom of Heaven!’ And, for some reason, no one thinks to ask him how he knows all this unless he was around before time and the Earth existed.

Anyway’ continues Moses, ‘In the Kingdom of Heaven, God lived with all his angels. They were happy and a little bored as you can imagine. Then one angel called Lucifer, indeed the one God loved best, just like I love you best Melvin the Carpenter, decided he could be as good as God! He got ambitious! He thought, perhaps his leadership might be better than mine… er… God’s and God, who is both Omnipotent and Omniscient, a fact that never occurred to the angels – you know, that he could read all their minds – God, felt a little insecure about his job security.

So, instead of popping this angel’s head with a thought, he decides to build him a complete ‘nother’ world and make him Prince of that world!!! Seeing this weird reward system, why the other angels didn't all jump up and say: ‘Uh Lord, It’s Michael, the Arch-Angel, remember? I too think I’m pretty good and would like your job.’ So that each of them could get their own Kingdom, is beyond me, but… go figure… Angels – sheesh!

So anyway, that’s why we think there is a Devil and his name is Lucifer. I mean, I think it was just a story Moses told to keep the rebellious Jews in line and bend them to his will. I don’t even think there is such a thing as a devil!”

One of the Clerical Judges had fallen asleep, face down on the bench, another was picking lice out of his beanie and the third was now getting fitted for a hair-shirt by the local Blacksmith.

The look on Torquemada’s face was one of rage and horror at losing his job as a seeker, a finder and punisher of people in the devil’s employ.

“Burn Him! Burn the Witch!” Torquemada was so in-the-moment I felt fear for the first time.

“Alright, alright” I exclaimed. The court came alive at this as they thought they were about to get a confession.

“I have a way to prove whether I am a Witch or not” I claimed, “a fool-proof way to determine my Witchnosity once and for all!”

“How?" "How?" "Tell us witch!" "How?" "Where's my beanie?” could be heard all through the church… Even Torquemada looked interested. For him, this could be a breakthrough; he might learn something and have yet another way to prove witchery!

“Take me to my lawn chair and let me push a few buttons, twirl a couple of knobs and strap bungee cords around me and if I do not suddenly disappear, it proves I am NOT a witch, but if I do disappear, it proves I AM a witch and you can not only burn me, but pee on my ashes afterwards!”

The roars of approval were deafening. People started hopping, flailing and tweaking women’s noses, which I later learned was the equivalent of clapping in 15th century Spain. Torquemada, sensing the mood of the public, was obliged to go with the flow and held up his arms to quiet the crowd.

“Very well” he rumbled “Take the Witch to hith chair!”

At that I was lifted into the air by my thumbs and then dragged through the streets to the field in which my chair had landed. While I scraped over pebbles and cobbles I asked one of the people dragging me:

“What if you find out I am not a witch, how are you going to deal with all this rough treatment you are giving me now?”

“Yes but…You are a witch!?” He replied. “But if you find out I am not a witch, how will you feel about all the abuse you've heaped on me?” I insisted.

“Uh… sorry, right, we’ll say we’re sorry…”

Once again I was amazed at the correlation between justice then and justice now.

When we reached my chair I strapped myself in and although my thumbs were now twice their normal length, I managed to reverse all the correct settings to get me back to the 21st Century. I remembered the bend in the contatapipe and tried to adjust for that.

“Alright, remember, if I disappear, I am a witch, in which case you may do as you please, but if I don’t I am innocent of witchcraftery!”

After my car battery got the prefabulator charged I hit the return switch and a whirring started which caused the court and peasants to jump back. Judge number three ran screaming into the woods.

“It’s just cold” I said “Give it a minute.”

Then, miracle of miracles, I could feel that old sensation of disintegration and nausea that heralded a successful launch. I sat there and watched as the people around me started panicking. I was starting to disappear! The last words I heard were: “He’s disappearing, he's a witch!” and “Call the guard” and “That’s my sandwich, you bastard!” and I was gone!

Because of the bend in the contatapipe and my clumsy adjustments to compensate, I have arrived a day early. You all think it’s today, when in fact you have already read this account and it's tomorrow. Maybe with daylight savings time, I’ll eventually get back, but I’m not counting on it. I think I am going to have to get a straight contatapipe and go elsewhere in the hope of returning at the right time. I’ll write about my next trip.

This is a true story.