Monday, October 26, 2015

The Cucuy in the Nighttime

                                                 
According to my grandmother, the cucuy (pronunciation: coo coo ēē) recognized a kindred lost soul when he saw one and would abduct the bad child at night.  He had eyes that gleamed in the dark and had fangs that tore through young flesh as if it were cake. No one would miss the bad child the next morning.  They would be too busy celebrating good times and lavishing all their love and attention on the good children the cucuy left behind.
On days when I was exceptionally bad, I slept with one eye open, knowing the cucuy was waiting for me to fall asleep.
I have used the cucuy on my own kids but not to the extent it robbed them of their dreams.   My children had their own bouts with night terrors.  As a little boy, my oldest tried to escape his by sleep walking.  I was always on the alert and followed him around the house until I could steer him back into his bed.  My youngest swung punches and kicked at his brother and sister in his dreams. We had countless family meetings about not bullying their little brother.
It was my daughter, the middle child, who suffered the worst dreams. A ghostly specter, she said, floated out of her closet every night and tried to steal her soul.  Similar in description to the Dementors in Harry Potter, her ghoul was all white – long white hair, gown, and fingers. The five-year-old begged to sleep with us but her father refused, so I sat guard in her room with the lights on every night. I promised her I would not leave her alone. At first she startled awake several times during the night, making sure I was still there, so it took her a while to believe me that I wasn’t going anywhere.  I slept sitting up in a rocking chair for over a month until she got over her fear.    
It doesn’t take a genius to see why we are afraid of the dark.  Humans are diurnal animals, not nocturnal. At night our vision and spacial acuity is limited.  It heightens our other senses and our imagination makes up what we cannot see. We feel out of control, defensive, and vulnerable. Emotions like loneliness, sadness, grief, stress, and depression double in weight, and the span of one night feels like a lifetime.
The moment we cycle back into the light, we regain our footing.  If we were to encounter the cucuy, we would take a club to it and finish that child-stealing sucker off.  If not, we would call 911 or raise a posse and hunt it down. In the daytime, we solve our problems, face our bullies, react with reason. We find hope in the sunlight and laugh at our insecurities.

We certainly would not drive into the spooky woods in a car that needs a new battery or is running low on gas.  We would not trek through the mud at night toward the creepy house that sits abandoned by the dilapidated cemetery.  And we certainly would not let something with a baby-sounding name like “cucuy” to scare the daylights out of us.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

What Scares You?


With Halloween just around the corner, everything around us screams Boo! I went with HoneyBunch the other day to Hobby Lobby and then to Lowe’s. There was a whole section of expensive, scary lawn decorations.  I am talking The Grim Reaper, a horrific witch who lunged at you as you passed in front, and a zombie who drooled and turned to follow you with its watery eye sockets.
Way to go!  Buy that trio and you make up what you spent on decorations by not having to buy Halloween candy.  The neighborhood kids and their parents would be too frightened to come near your abode.
What scares you besides opening your water bill every month or the price of beef?
I hate scary movies.  I do not like zombies or vampires, Chucky or the guy from Elm Street.  I like realistic endings.  Let me emphasize that again – endings. I want to know that when you kill something, it stays dead.  I realize that commercially successful movies will engender sequels and prequels, but I hate scary movies that make you cringe and your heart race for two hours and the “thing” is still alive. No, thank you.
I hate scary books more.  I have a very vivid imagination.  Whereas I can mute a movie and it lessens the fright factor, I cannot mute my imagination.  I have a difficult time with horror or realistic fiction novels where the suffering and the gore are graphically detailed.  Double no thank you.
I hate pranks, scary pranks where things jump out at you or fall on you and you cannot escape. I do not have quick instincts so the snake that pops out of the box or the furry thing that falls on my head or the mucousy thing someone left in the drawer for me to accidentally touch is NOT COOL.  Years are shaved from the few I have left.
I hate being alone, at night.  I hear noises and see shadows.  Things glow and slither and scamper into corners. I end up turning on all the lights, double checking all doors are locked, and sitting with my back to the wall where I can see all entrances and exits easily.
Probably the thing I hate the most is the one gift God gave me that makes me unique – my naiveté.  I am the trusting chick in the movies who answers the door or the phone or finds herself walking down the street at night alone.  
I once had a breather who called me on the phone every time I was alone in the house.  It was like the person was watching me. I was shocked to learn it was a person who I had befriended at work, a loner everyone else avoided. I was at a disadvantage until I realized the same background music played when both the breather and the co-worker called. When I confronted him and told our supervisor at work, I was able to get rid of him.
Another time a bunch of drunks followed me after I had dinner with some friends on the Riverwalk. I got to my car and locked the doors right when they reached for the door handles.  As I drove off I honked my horn to cause attention and scare them away. I should have let my friends drive me to my car when they offered.
I am not a coward but it is good to know one’s weaknesses.  It helps to make me stronger.  I can protect myself and guard my soul. Knowing this about myself, I would rather spend my money on candy or Charlie Brown holiday movies than buying ghouls for lawn decorations.


Monday, October 12, 2015

I Believe in Ghosts

We bought a house in the older area of the little town. The houses on that two-block neighborhood were on quarter-acre lots, made of brick on all four sides, and were spacious. The owner had passed away and the heir had inherited several houses and wanted to liquidate all the properties, so he sold the house to us at a ridiculously low price. 
The real estate agent knew the deceased and told us she had passed away within days after one of the neighbors found her ill inside the house.  Her husband had died several years previous and their one son had died in a war a long time ago, probably Vietnam.
My first husband and I divorced, the dog and cat died, and the three kids grew up and moved away in the fourteen years I lived in that house, but I never felt alone.
There were lots of times I felt, heard, or saw movement inside the house, but when I went to check, there was nothing or no one there.
One time I was standing at the sink washing dishes and saw movement out of the corner of my right eye. A person came out of the bedrooms, crossed the living room, and stood on my left as I scrubbed at a dish.  Thinking it was one of the kids, I turned to joke with them if they wanted to rinse or dry the dishes, but there was no one there when only a moment before I had seen and felt a real presence. 
There were many times, mostly in the evening or at night, when I saw a shadow move that I knew was my “ghost.”  The lady across the street complimented me one day as we both worked on our front yards that the owner would be pleased with the way I cared for her house, so after that I would talk to the empty rooms, letting my ghost know that I was taking care of our home and she could rest easy.
In a way, we had both ended up alike – lonely females in a lovely old house.
One evening I became so engrossed in a novel that I read far into the night. As I lay on my bed I noticed a flash of white in the darkened hallway.  I got up and followed it, thinking one of my kids had seen the bedroom lights on from the street and had come to visit.  Barely out of their teens, they sometimes would drop by and crash at my house, especially if they were troubled.   
In the dark, I could see the flash of white turn into the living room/kitchen area. By the time I got there, its luminescence was visible outside on the back patio.  I did not have time to turn on lights if I wanted to catch my child’s attention so I rushed to the back door.
It was then I noticed movement around the Morgan building in the back yard. Three shadows lurked back there.  I took a step away from the door when I noticed it was unlocked.  In my carelessness, I had not secured the house for the night before becoming engrossed in my novel.  I quickly latched the door, turned on the outside security lights, and raced to the alarm system that armed the perimeter. If the trespassers tried to get in, the alarm would blare, alerting the neighbors.
The three scurried away, one jumping the back fence, the two others ran toward the side of the house. I did not waste time and ran to the other outside doors making sure they were all locked. I stayed awake, alert the rest of the night until I saw the sun rise.
I never doubted afterwards who the flash of white was in my hallway.  My friendly ghost kept constant watch over her house and me.  She wanted me to know I was in danger.  She led me to the unlocked back door. She saved my life.  
I don’t remember any more apparitions after that, but on that last day when the house was empty and all my junk was ensconced in my new home far away, I said goodbye to her. I stood in the middle of that big kitchen/dining/living room and thanked her for sharing her home with me.  



Monday, October 5, 2015

Do you believe in ghosts? I do.

It’s not like I attend séances trying to visit past relatives or old loves.  I do not go chasing after them or watch TV shows about ghosts.  Mine are incidental encounters. 
I believe in ghosts because I believe in the hereafter.  And because I believe that there is better than the right here, I think the ghosts we do encounter have a reason to make themselves known in this realm.
I have no explanation why they want to visit with me but I wish they would do it in the daytime, but that is never the case.  My ghostly visits have always been at night.
Everyone in my family thinks I am afraid of the dark.  Not so.  I am fine with the dark.  It’s the night that scares me, and I have my grandmother and my dad to thank for that.
My grandmother raised us and she kept us in line with the whole array of Mexican folklore about the llorona (pronounced yorona), the Cucui (the boogieman), the Diablo, and an assortment of other scary stories.  When we got older (and properly scared straight), she confessed that Mexican moms tell those stories to help keep naughty kids in line without having to resort to punishment each time.
My two sisters and I loved when our father tucked us into bed each night.  To keep him near us for a while longer, we would beg him to tell us a story.  Some of the tales came from his mother and some he made up on the spot.  None of them ever ended happy.  After scaring us to pieces, he would tickle us, make us laugh, and bless us before planting another kiss on our foreheads.
By then I was afraid of the night and along with that, I was afraid of the dark.
In my grandmother and dad’s defense, their retelling of Mexican spooky stories was no different than how the original fairy tales were formed.  Almost all of the modern fairy tales once had scary and sad endings.  Their original versions were not necessarily for children.  They were not G-rated or the sanitized and Disney editions we learn today. They were intended to moralize or scare or scandalize the reader.  
Because I am afraid of the nighttime (ergo the dark), I totally understand my grandchildren’s need for a nightlight.  While everyone else dismisses their need to keep a night on in their bedrooms, I provide them with an excuse when they sleep over at my house.  I plug in “safety” lights or leave a closet door cracked open a bit with the light on, just in case they need to get up and use the bathroom.
They are in a new place and we don’t want them to stub a toe, do we?
(Whisper) Besides I have never encountered a ghost on nights I left a light on in my bedroom.