A quarter-moon hung high over the Andean village of Santa Rosa when Father Benito Jaran returned from the countryside. He'd been visiting farmers who were too old or too ill to come to town.
The hour was late, the plaza was deserted, and the villagers had gone to bed. The homely, good-natured priest grinned as he anticipated the pleasure of resting his weary legs and dining on a bowl of hot soup. He picked up his pace as he crossed the cobblestones to his church.
Suddenly a flock of winged things burst out from under the eaves of a nearby building, startling the priest. Flying in spirals, they rose high above the town square.
Bats, thought Father Benito.
But they weren't bats, they were birds, and their numbers multiplied with every passing second, clouding the sky. The night was filled with their frightened cries as they fled Santa Rosa.
Dogs began howling all over town.
Dark windows filled with yellow light as villagers woke up.
The old iron bell in the church tower struck a single, hollow note.
It rang again, louder. The church doors were flung open and the caretaker ran outside.
The priest called his name: "Hernando!”
“Father Benito!” “I—I thought you were ringing the bell!”
"It rings itself, Father!”
“But how ..." the priest gasped, as the bell rang for a third time.
Thunder crashed, not in the sky but from underground. Father Benito reeled as the plaza rippled.
"Earthquake!” Hernando shouted. Fighting to keep his balance, he hurried the priest out from under the shadow of the church and into the open.
People clad in nightclothes fled their houses.
The plaza tilted, rising and falling like a restless sea. Windows shattered. The streets were pelted with roofing tiles and pieces of masonry. The church bell rang again and again.
Santa Rosa was slammed by furious noise and vibration.
The fury weakened. The earthquake died down and faded away. A few mild aftershocks marked its passage.
Then it was over, finished as suddenly as it had begun.
Father Benito let out the breath he'd been holding.
“The Lord be praised!”
Stunned villagers gathered around him and joined him in prayer.
Travel is hard in the rugged Peruvian highlands. A day passed before Father Benito learned that the tremor that rocked Santa Rosa was only a minor by-product of a massive disturbance that struck the windswept plateau twenty miles west of town.
Herdsmen from that remote region sent runners to town to tell the priest what the quake had unearthed.