Folktales by the Fire
“I think I saw a ghost once,” Carolina said, “but to this day, I’m uncertain I did.”
We sat around the fire-pit on a cool night. The brook babbled nearby, and we heard the occasional flapping of bat wings in the orchard; fruit bats making a banquet of the pear trees. The sound of their leather wings and the dancing fire gave the garden an eerie atmosphere. Billowing clouds veiled the moon in the crisp, humid air; it had rained all afternoon, and the wetness chilled the bones.
We had trouble lighting the fire, but once we got it going nothing could drag us away. So, with tequila to warm the bones, and faces red from the licking flames that rose to the sky, the conversation drifted to spooky folklore.
Everyone told a story; fire-lit anecdotes of nameless acquaintances. We wove a tapestry of words and flitting embers about witches and shape-shifting nahuales. The night listened to tales of haunted houses with buried gold, elves braiding horses’ manes, and people going up the mountain to meet the Devil. And La Llorona, the restless soul who, in life, had drowned her children.
“So, Caro, tell us,” I shivered into my woolen sarape… from the cold? From the wet? Or just the creepy conversation?
An owl hooted.
“I was driving on the highway, it was December and the processions had already begun, you know, to La Villa, to worship La Virgen de Guadalupe.
“Traffic was slow because a huge procession was ambling up ahead. I glimpsed the banners and flowers, even from so far behind. It was getting late, and I was losing patience, but what to do, right? You can’t just run over people. So I stopped at a gas station café nearby, hoping they would veer off somewhere and the jam would clear.
“I don’t know how long I waited, but the sun was setting as I climbed back in the car. I drove for a little while. Twilight was falling, and it was that time of day when the half-light hurts the eyes. It’s too light and too dim at the same time.
“Anyway, up ahead a man was walking alongside the road, and I wondered whether he had fallen behind the procession. As I neared, I noticed he wore huaraches, and a long jorongo. His head hung low on his shoulders, and I couldn’t tell if he was young or old.
“I slowed down. He seemed to carry a bundle of something wrapped in the front of his jorongo. In the beam of my headlights I thought I saw a rose petals peeking out from the sides of the bundle.
“I would’ve pulled over, but at that moment a semi-trailer honked. I glanced in the rearview mirror; the semi was fast approaching. Its two big headlights bore down on me, blinding me for an instant. Then, when I glanced towards the man by the road, he wasn’t there.”
“Were you afraid?” I asked.
We remained silent, reflecting on her story. I think we all pondered the same legend, but no one wanted to say it out loud. December, the processions, La Virgen de Guadalupe, the man with a bundle of roses…
The fire crackled, sparks danced and a low howl wove through the orchard, followed by the shriek of a barn owl — a lechuza — in the distance.
“It was just a guy catching up to the procession,” I broke the silence, “I bet he knew a footpath or a shortcut, and took it.”
Everyone nodded, and the mood lightened; even the breeze seemed to heave a sigh of relief.
“You know, La Llorona appears on rainy days, or near water,” Pedro said, his impish smile flickering in the firelight. “And the brook is only a few paces away…”