This story is by Carlos Arce and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Maggie was outside with a coat, wearing a skimpy nurse’s costume. Pablo’s eyes widened at the sight of the costume. He was embarrassed by his simple costume of a burlap mask with a painted red smile and two eye holes. He revved up his Venom X22 motorcycle. She climbed on, and her arms tightened around him. A smile formed on her face as she inhaled the aroma of his rugged Truye Western men’s cologne. She listened to his heartbeat with her eyes closed, her mind floating away on a daydream of teenage love.
“Mags, we’re here.”
“There goes my hairdo, and I spent an hour on it.”
“Uh, sorry, Mags.”
It was ten o’clock, and the moon cast a dim light over the ruins. The wind howling through the woods played tricks on their minds. Occasionally, a deer would walk through, making noise as it stepped on the dry leaves. They imagined cursed creatures feeding on humans in the dark.
“This was the house where La Llorona lived with her husband and children before he betrayed her.” Pablo said.
“She is still around.” Jorge cut into the conversation.
“It’s just a story, man.”
“Why, if you are feeling so courageous, shall we proceed to the stream and beseech her?” Jorge dared Pablo.
Stella snuck slowly and quietly behind Pablo. She approached him and then yelled in his ear. Pablo jumped from fright and screamed. “Come on, scared cat.”
“Fine, let’s do this.” Jorge, always the leader, went in front of the rest. Everyone followed his steps. They arrived at the stream after a five-minute hike and were met with the stench of the old creek. “This stinks to high heaven.”
“I think it is from upstream, where the sewage mixes with it,” Pablo said.
“It smells more like her victims.” Jorge laughed at the thought. He searched his pockets, took out two candles and a lighter, placed them carefully on the ground, and lit them. The flames danced in the howling wind.
“Are you sure this is a good idea, Jorge?”
“The only way to conjure her is to say her birth name, and nobody here speaks Nahuatl.”
“Lucky for us, I am a good researcher.” Jorge said, pulling out his cell phone.
“This site says it is Malintzin, and she was cursed. She was the beautiful Aztec lady Hernan Cortez fell in love with but betrayed.”
“Our parents told us the story.” Pablo said.
“Repeat after me, everyone.” Jorge told them. “Malintzin, Malintzin, show yourself to us!” Everyone repeated it and waited.
“AAAHHH!” Stella fainted, convulsing and letting out a bloodcurdling yell. Stella’s yell scared the guys.
“What the freak?” Jorge and Pablo screamed.
Stella began laughing and sat back up. “Got ya. Y’all were scared, like a bunch of girls.”
They grabbed sticks and leaves and threw them at her.
“Maggie, let’s go somewhere more private.” Pablo told Maggie.
Each couple went exploring on their own. Pablo and Maggie followed the river to where two tree stumps protruded. They sat and talked. Jorge and Stella laughed. Stella stopped and looked at her dirty costume. It was stained with mud and small vegetation debris. Jorge tossed a stone across the stream, making splashing sounds. He leaned against an old, decaying tree and pulled Stella close to him. The wind died down, and the trees grew still. Splashing sounds became louder and louder. “Did you hear that, Jorge?”
“It is probably a fish caught on someone’s net.” He dismissed the sound and continued kissing her. The splashing sound turned into a squishing sound.
“It is getting creepy out here, Jorge.” Stella said, rubbing her arms to warm up.
“Stop being silly; everything is OK.” The hairs on her neck stood up as chilly air rushed up her back onto her neck. Stella felt a hand grip her hair. It gently pulled her head back. “Oh yeah, pull my hair, baby.”
“I am not pulling your hair.” Jorge assured Stella.
Stella slowly opened her eyes and froze. A transparent figure stood beside them. Stella’s pupils widened, and her mouth opened. Paralyzed with fear, she took a deep breath and cried. Jorge jumped back, tripping over a tree root. The ghost lifted Stella by the hair and screeched loudly. They glided above the water as Jorge stood frozen in fear. “Help, Jorge, help.”
Jorge ran towards Stella. The mud made it difficult for him to pick up the pace.
“Aay, mis hijos.” La Llorona screamed loudly. Their sounds echoed into the night, scaring animals, and the ruckus ended in a splash.
“Stella, Stella!” He fell to his knees, crying and splashing in the stream.
Children’s giggling erupted behind him. He stopped and turned around. He saw two small, white, glowing orbs dancing around each other. The globes approached until he saw two children dancing and singing a Spanish melody.
“Duérmete niño, Duérmete ya, Que viene el cucuy, y te llevará. Go to sleep, child. Go to sleep now. The cucuy man is coming, and he will take you.”
The children’s song and dance entranced him. He stretched out his arms to touch them. The children motioned for Jorge to follow. Jorge waded deeper into the stream with every step, and water filled his lungs. Spectral hands pulled him into the abyss.
“That did not sound good at all, Mags.” Pablo looked worried. The scream sent chills up his body. His furrowed eyebrows and darting eyes revealed his fear.
“Pablo, maybe we should call it a night and just head home.”
“Jorge is never going to let us live this down, right?” Pablo looked embarrassed. “Screw it; let’s head back.”
As they walked, they heard rustling and saw a light in the distance. Maggie held Pablo’s hand tighter and whispered to him. “Are you seeing that light? No matter how far we go, it always stays the same distance away.”
“Maggie, I am trying not to look at it.” Pablo said it in a shaky voice. “Ok, just over that creek by that leaning tree is where Stella and Jorge were.”
They picked up their pace. Finally, they reached the stream and stopped. The silence was eerie and unsettling.
“Ok, remember to step on the rocks and be careful; they might be slippery.” Pablo told her, reaching out to step on the first stone.
Maggie followed his steps carefully. A light breeze blew past her, and she heard a cry. Pablo passed the last stone. “Thank God, we made it safely.”
“Yeah, but I wonder what happened to them.” She looked around, and both froze. The light was now ahead of them. It floated toward them.
“¡Ay mis hijos!” The light transformed into a beautiful lady dressed in white. Her sad, teary eyes tugged at her heart, and they tried to reach out to her. When Maggie touched the white specter, it looked straight into her eyes. She screamed, waking them both from their trance. They ran as fast as they could to the ruins.
“Pablo, quick, keep moving.” They ran through thorny bushes and over cacti. La Llorona kept up with them; she was not going to be denied her victims. Pablo checked on Maggie to see how far they were from the ruins. A low-hanging branch knocked him down. Maggie heard the sickening thud of his head hitting a stone and reached out to help him. La Llorona grabbed him by the head, tilting it back.
“No.” Maggie yelled at the top of her lungs, and tears flowed down in streams of fear and sorrow. La Llorona screamed at Pablo. He began to scream, and she slammed her decayed hands into his mouth. Screams turned into gurgling sounds. She picked him up and tossed him aside, with Pablo still gurgling and water streaming from his mouth. The water turned blood red as Pablo faded away and life left his body.
“You’re never going to get me, witch.” Maggie yelled and ran even faster towards the ruins. Her tears stained her face as she jumped over the broken wall near the ruins. La Llorona looked angry at her. Maggie stood up defiantly and shouted at the specter. “You cannot come in here, can you, witch?”
La Llorona floated away. Maggie stepped out, looking for the weeping woman. “I beat you, you damned witch. I beat you,” Maggie laughed as the sobbing woman was inches away from her face. They both screamed, until Maggie fainted and fell to the ground. La Llorona left as the sun began to rise on the horizon.
# # # #
“What happened here, Mr. Gonzalez?” The officer questioned him.
“Kids, being damn stupid like always.” Mr. Gonzalez said, pulling on his coverall and chewing a blade of grass. “Every Halloween, it is the same BS.”
“What about that girl over there?” The officer asked.
“It must have been a bad hit of acid to leave her in that state.”
“What is she saying?”
Maggie lay on the stretcher, repeating over and over, “Malintzin, Malintzin, Malinche.”