October 29, 2010
I wrote a draft of this story years ago for a college writing course. Apparently, I gave a few girls nightmares. I don’t know if it’s that scary, but I certainly got a creepy feeling while writing this. If you don’t know who el cucuy is, just think of it was the Mexican version of the boogeyman.
Anyway, have a safe Halloween and go be wild! It’s the one night of the year you can dress up like Batman and people won’t look at you like you’re insane.
I was six the first time I saw the el cucuy. My mom and dad had been fighting all afternoon, but once they calmed down I asked my dad if I could set up my Cub Scout tent in the backyard and camp. He said it would be fine as long as I didn’t cross the tree line into the monte, into the wilderness with the wolves, and cactus, and rattlesnakes. I took a bag of animal crackers, some juice boxes, a few comic books, and a flashlight to read them once it got dark. I even snuck out a book of legends my dad kept in the living room. I took it even though he told me I was too young to read it. When it got dark, I opened it and looked through the pictures and tried to read a few of the stories. There were pictures of killers, screaming innocents, demons in the shadows, and the monsters that followed us from Mexico to America. I didn’t know what any of it meant. I pulled the sleeping bag over my head and peered at the pictures and hoped demons wouldn’t hurt me.
I looked at my watch and saw it was almost midnight and my parents were fighting again. The pictures burned into my mind while I stared at rough drawings of el cucuy and other monsters as I tried to drown the screams inside the house with the gray, black, and white of the book.
At one in the morning, I heard the rustling outside my tent. Mom and dad were still shouting inside. I turned my flashlight off and crept to the tent’s zipper, opening the flap as carefully as possible. My sweaty little hands grabbed the flashlight like it was my mom’s hand. It must have taken me hours to open the flap.
My eyes quickly adjusted to the moonlight when I finally looked outside. The house sat less than thirty feet from me, and behind me I could hear the sounds of the desert. A cricket played his fiddle in the dark. A whitetail buck scurried between the bushes. I also heard something crunching. It sounded like cookies being eaten. I crawled around the tent on my stomach until I could see the big elm tree behind me.
Something was curled up beside the tree, its back facing me while I tried to move as little as possible and not even disturb the grass. I could see nothing but black skin in the moonlight until it stopped munching on whatever it was eating. It turned slightly. A strand of sugar-white hair fell almost to the ground from its head. I followed the hair all the way up to the half of its face that was staring at me. A pin-prick of red light stood where its eye should have been. It turned and looked at me.
The thing spoke.
It sounded like a hiss and a whisper, something more animal than actual language. Needle-sharp teeth poked out of its gums like a piranha’s. It had ice-white hair, wild and free, that reached almost to the floor. Its skin was jet-black and the glow from its eyes gave it a sharp edge like a knife. I could see long pointed ears, horns I thought briefly, and even though I was fixed on the light from those eyes, I got the impression it was a “he.”
He turned around and ran into the monte, impossibly fast, and I tried to follow, but I lost him when he jumped into the brush.
I returned to the tent and found what remained of an animal cracker wrapper. It still had half a note stuck on it, “If you get hungry later. –Mom.”
My parents were busy with the divorce for several weeks. Every time I wanted to tell them about el cucuy, they just asked me to come back later. They had things to do. I stayed with my mom while my dad moved in with a friend of his. During those few weeks, I wanted him around. I wanted to talk to him and play basketball. On Saturdays, he used to take me out for ice cream. My mom was lactose intolerant. She and I had cookies when I got back.
On Saturdays, then, I had a lot of free time. Once the sun went down, I would sit on the windowsill in the living room and look out into el monte behind the house. Once it got dark, I turned off the lights inside so I could see further into hills. It was easier when there was a full moon, but even then I could barely tell the difference between the trees and anything else moving along the undergrowth. I kept my ear close to the window to hear anything that might break the silence.
After my mom won custody, I watched long after she thought I had gone to bed. She would kiss me good night and close my door, but I would sneak to the living room and stare out into the darkness for hours, until I could no longer keep my eyes open.
I didn’t see el cucuy again for several years.
To be continued…
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