Lessons learned from World War Z
Not many movies give me the shivers, movies that turn my blood the temperature of an iceberg.
But I chilled with fright and anticipation of more horror with the movie “World War Z.” Those chills started five minutes into the film when Brad Pitt’s character Gerry Lane and his family were trapped in traffic and so began their entrapment in the beginning apocalypse.
To back up, I must say the book by Max Brooks is also frightening. Brooks did a fantastic job of describing the indescribable. A massive attack by zombies. Reading the book at night, I’d look at the windows to make sure nothing horrible would break through. That is another kind of horror, the imagined terror set free by words. With film, you have the visual and the audio and combined, they scared the socks off me.
So what made the film so frightening? To me, it was watching the people on screen face the inescapable. Hordes of zombies. No matter where they would run, it wouldn’t be far or fast enough.
There was no safe place.
The sequence in Israel — one of the film’s best — demonstrates that magnificently as the wave of zombies rides over the city walls like a horrific tsumani. The city is no longer safe.
Even when Gerry escapes on a plane, there is no escape.
But throughout, Gerry is never safe, as we as the audience feel the claustrophobia of the bad dream from which we can’t wake.
And that is what made the film so damn scary. That is the stuff of nightmare. Of good horror.
Some horror stories reflect real evil
On a recent trip to Colorado to see family, a few relatives claimed they had seen or knew someone who had actually spotted “La Llorona.”
Because they knew of my book, “The Weeping Woman,” which is inspired by the La Llorona tale, they shared their stories.
One relative said when she was younger she and a bunch of girlfriends were walking home one night when they spotted a woman dressed in black standing under a street light. The woman watched as they passed. When she turned back, the woman had disappeared.
My father told me of curses of witches (Brujas) had made on people.
And who hasn’t heard the story of the clicking toes nails?
I love listening to these stories. When I was a girl, they scared the hell out of me. Sure I was also frightened by those monsters in the movies on the late show. But La Llorona was terrifying because she had the aura of reality. These stories were more than culture. They were told by people who believed them.
During the Depression, the WPA created the Writers Project in which people collected cultural tales around the nation. Among those gathered were witch and ghost stories from Latinos in New Mexico. They are fascinating to read.
What I garnered from those tales, as well as the one I heard as a child, was that we are drawn to what scares us. I believe people tell and listen to these stories because they mirror real evil in the world that may strike even at good people. They are metaphors for the real wicked people out there who are ready to carry away children, and those whose souls have become black as the shadows because of their sins.
This is scary. This gives me nightmares.
But for me there was always hope. That is, there are always other people willing to fight the evil. In addition, there is also redemption for those willing to come out of shadows and into the light.
Watch ‘The Exorcist’ for everything you need to be scared
I remember the first time I saw “The Exorcist.”
I couldn’t sleep. I shivered. I had nightmares. Each time I heard that tubular bells theme I came down in a chilly sweat. When my sister snored, it sounded just like Mercedes McCambridge’s growl.
The movie taught me how to be scared.
All my life I loved scary books and movies, but this one took the horror cake.
Too often, horror movies give up their scares before the opening credits are even over. Which draws you in, yes, but by the end, you are almost scared out. That means, the scares have to keep getting worse and worse, which is tough for the writer and director to pull off.
Directed by William Friedkin from the screenplay by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the book, “The Exorcist” builds tension long before we even see the demon Pazuzu manifest itself in Linda Blair. As a result of that tension, even little things scare the hell out of you. The glimpses of horror become like a nervous tic.
The disfigured statue of the Virgin Mary.
The candle shooting flame as Ellen Burstyn’s character searches the attic.
The endless medical tests on Regan to see what ails her.
Father Damien’s mother in a madhouse and his confession of lost faith.
By the time, the demon shows itself in Regan, we are already cold with anticipation.
When the demon possession is in full force, we not only get the famous green vomit and turning head, but terrifying sounds as if hell had opened in that little girl’s bedroom, which it has. (The film won for Best Sound Mixing.)
With the characters, we hold our breath everytime they walk down the hallway to that room because we don’t know what the hell the demon will do next.
The exorcism battle over Regan between the creature and Father Damien and Father Merrin is physical, mental and shocking with brillant, horrific moments.
The demon chuckling over the dead body of Father Merrin.
How the demon uses images of Father Damien’s mother. “Damie, Damie”
The glimpse of Pazuzu on the bed.
All cascading to the ending that is hopeful and satisfying, thanks to the sacrifice and strength.
The actors were all deluxe and the characters well developed and so human. From Burstyn’s somewhat arrogant actress knocked down to humility to the vulnerable Father Damien, played by the late great Jason Miller. Friedkin directed a piece that lives on many best lists.
As a horror fan, “The Exorcist” is my ideal.
As a writer, it is the same because it not only taught me about a great story, but how to be afraid.
Your story may be only as strong as your villain
I’ve taken several writing classes and one of the things I learned is so true.
And that is, sometimes your story is only as good as the villain (or antagonist in writer’s jargon). In horror stories this seems twice as true. Many a good story has collapsed because the villain, monster, or evil house or creature was feeble and scary as a wet napkin.
And when that happens, the audience and reader feels cheated because they invested so much time into the story.
What makes a good villain? In horror, they should be scary, yes. But he, she or it should also have more than one dimension. They need charisma. They need character. A hint of humanity or melancholy. Villains can also be mirror reflections of the good guys, the protagonists, of course in a bad way. That is, they are everything the good guy is not. In my book “The Weeping Woman” villain Mercedes shares traits with the protagonist, detective Blue Rodriguez. Both had bad childhoods, have paranormal powers, and most importantly, they want to be loved, although their reactions to that need is what separates good from evil.
The devil is always a good villain, but we don’t just want to a red guy with horns and tail. We expect that.
In “Constantine,” I loved the Satan character played by the wonderful Peter Stormare. He was a weird creature in a white suit, which enters, feet first dripping with a black goo as if he stepped right through perdition. He’s funny, evil, and creepy.
A brilliant portrayal of a bad guy was the Red Dragon in the book by Thomas Harris. A madman, yes. A killer, definitely. But interesting because he was an abused boy who turned into a monster. Jame Gumb (AKA Buffalo Bill) in “Silence of the Lambs” also was killer with a hint of sadness. And the king of them all, Hannibal Lector, who was erudite, witty, charming, and a cannibal.
For half of “Psycho,” we felt sympathy for Norman Bates. Annie Wilkes in “Misery” loved Liberace as well as to torture her houseguest. And Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” talked with seriousness about the brillance of Huey Lewis and the News and got enraged over people with better business cards.
So we’re talking diepth. Villains with depth give our stories more depth, life and dimension.
When writing our antagonist, we should also form an in-depth character sketch—similar to what went into forming the hero. Even a haunted house should have a background. Take Shirley Jackson’s, “The Haunting of Hill House.” This place becomes a full character. Even the fog in “The Fog” has a backstory.
Of course, there will be those who are evil just because they aren’t any other way. Take the alien in the movie of the same name. What made it so damn great was its perfection at being evil and full of malevolence. And as always, the main story is really about how our protagonists act in the face of such a villain or evil.
So make sure you craft good villains, otherwise they could kill your story as well as the good guys.
For really bad horror pics check out:
Finding unique ways to scare
The recent No. 1 movie in America was “Mama,” the terrifying film by my hero Guillermo del Toro and most recently, “Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters.”
What does that say?
We love to be scared.
As a writer, I love the different ways writers try to scare us.
The best scary stories are the most original in idea and approach. Haunted houses, aliens, vampires, zombies, people with special powers, werewolves, and other horrible creatures and situations are nothing new. Think about this. “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley was copyrighted in 1818. “Dracula” by Bram Stoker was published in 1897. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” was first published in 1845. So terror, monsters and blood sucking creatures have been around for a long time.
The challenge to writers of horror and other scares—including me–is coming up with something that people haven’t read or seen before. Without that, then the audience or readers will think, and rightly so, that they’ve seen this all before. Or worse, it’s scares for scares sake and you can get that in one of those house of horrors at a carnival.
The best horror stories then are not necessarily those with the biggest scares or most terrifying monsters –although that can be fun. The best are those with unique frights, with twists or turns that I didn’t expect, scares that surprised me, and stories I hadn’t seen before. It’s good storytelling so that you don’t see the ending coming from a mile away. The best also requires good characters so that when they get attacked by zombies, creatures, or a guy with a sizable knife, then you care. I admit to watching some horror movies where the characters suck. I’m not talking about the ones you know are only there to be creature food or the bad guys who deserve what they get. I’m talking about main character so one-dimensional, shallow and underwritten that you are actually happy when they meet Freddie or a malevolent alien.
Given that criteria, here are some of my favorites when it comes to originality, good storytelling and/or great characters.
“The Exorcist” — Horrifying not only as a book and movie because it was the devil possessing a little kid, an innocent. Back then (1973), that was pretty new, but it also one great movie. There have been many devil possessions since, so many that the devil must be one busy guy. To me, I have only to hear that music and turn around to look for evil. And of course there’s the green vomit.
“Halloween” — Set the stage for the faceless menace.
“Alien” — the creepiness, the claustrophobia, one great monster and of course, a female bad ass.
“Night of the Living Dead” — The little kid eating her parents in the basement set the stage for lots of zombies attacks to come.
“The Haunting of Hill House” — the 1959 novel, and 1963 movie, where the terror was never so subtle. The latest version was just lame.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” — Melds fairy story, real life horror and cool creatures from the mind of del Toro.
“The Changeling” – A haunted house never so scary and with George C. Scott, it’s well acted.
“The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – The original gives you the chills from first minute and the Donald Sutherland version is pretty good, too.
“The Sixth Sense” — A socko punch.
Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend” — The chapter where hero Robert Neville has stayed too long into the night still gives me goose bumps.
“28 Days Later” — Fantastic storytelling with good characters and lots of scares.
Anything by HP Lovecraft
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” – Nightmares and a mad house. Need I say more?
“Shaun of the Dead” – Comedy and zombies combine for one cool film. And Nick Frost is fabulous.
“Event Horizon” – A voyage to hell in space and in the mind.
“Nosferatu” – Now that’s the way vampires should look, not with shiny skin and nice hair.
“Silence of the Lambs” – Was there ever a monster so charming and lethal as Hannibal Lecter?
“The Thing” – The original is great; the version with Kurt Russell is even better in story and thrills.
“The Shining” – I shivered all through this movie. Those twins saying “Come play with us Danny” still gives me the sweats.
“Psycho” – Scary and unexpected.
TEARS FOR LLORONA
This story was first published in the anthology VOICES FROM THE SNAKE RIVER PLAIN published by River St. Press.
Copyright Patricia Santos Marcantonio
Tears for Llorona
Without a cry, my daughter was born.
Without a tear, she took her first breath, even when the midwife held her small feet and slapped her bottom. My baby’s eyes opened to first light. She was alert and healthy as if she hadn’t spent the last nine months inside my body, but in heaven, perfect and waiting for this moment. The midwife Lucita quickly pinned a medal of the Blessed Mother on the baby’s clothes so no one would give her ojo.
“She is so beautiful that people will want to steal a glance of her, so you must protect your child from the evil eye,” warned Lucita, a short stocky woman.
I thanked her and held my cooing baby girl. “I will call her Paloma. She is my beautiful dove.”
Then came a knock and Lucita’s sisters, Concha and Mária entered, their faces sorrowful.
“What is it, sisters? You look like someone stepped on your graves,” Lucita said.
“Juanita, we have bad news about your husband, Carlos,” said Concha, who was thin as her sister was stocky.
I held Paloma tighter.
“His amigos said that Carlos was about halfway across the river when he lost his footing and went down. He was swept away, and they couldn’t find him in those cold and dark waters,” said Mária, who was the shortest of the three.
“My God, my God. Carlos will never see his daughter.” My tears wet Paloma’s blanket. My heart felt dead as my love.
“We’re so sorry,” the sisters said.
“That is the way of things, sometimes…one life ends and another begins,” Lucita pronounced. She always was the wisest of the three.
“Juanita, there is plenty of time for grieving,” Concha added.
“How can you say that!” My hand wiped at the tears, but it was no use because more followed.
“Now, you have your child to worry about,” Mária said.
The three women put their hands on my shoulders.
“One life ends…,” Lucita said.
“A new life begins.” Concha finished.
“That is the way of things.” Mária closed the door as they left.
Rocking Paloma, I told her how Carlos and I had met at a fiesta. He said that I looked like an angel in the moonlight. His heart was big as the sky. I fell in love with him before our first dance even ended. He had little money but worked hard, and that made him a rich man to me. I told her of our last time together, near the bridge outside of the town. I begged him not to leave, but he wanted a better life for his family. He promised to send for us as soon as he could. Be careful, I said. He was in God’s hands, he replied.
The baby began to cry.
“Shush, shush, my sweet angel. I have wept a river of tears for your father. I have wept that he never saw you and that his hopes were also lost in the river. But my beautiful Paloma, I promise you with all my heart, that you will not shed any tears. I have cried enough for both of us.”
And as if she understood, Paloma stopped crying.
The first time I took her out into the plaza everyone stopped me to have a look, and when they did, they cried because of her beauty.
“She’s like an angel!” Mária put her apron to her eyes. “I’ve never seen such a beautiful child!”
“Un momento. How about that baby we saw at the church in Chihuahua?” Concha said.
“No, Paloma is much prettier than her,” Mária said.
“How about that baby in the market of Mexico City?” Concha said.
“Ay, not even close,” Lucita replied.
Concha scratched at her head. “Or that one little girl in Guanajuato?”
“Sister, you have a bad memory. Paloma is the prettiest baby we’ve ever seen,” Lucita decreed.
Paloma began to cry.
“Hush, hush, mija,” I kissed her cheek.
The baby quieted. I looked at the sisters. “Because she
came into a world of such sorrow, I made a promise that she will not have anything to be sad about.”
“Isn’t that going to be impossible to do?” Concha said.
“Tears and laughter are both needed in the world. They are two sides of the same coin,” said Lucita.
“Without tears how can we really enjoy happiness?” Mária added.
“But where does it say that our babies have to cry?” I kissed Paloma‘s other cheek.
The women looked at each other and shrugged. “We don’t know.”
And so I kept my vow, and it became that I could not bear to hear Paloma cry for anything. If she began to weep, I picked her up. When she was hungry, I rushed to feed her. As she grew older, I gave in to all her demands for clothing and toys, even taking another job at a tavern to pay for whatever she wanted.
Every day, Paloma grew more beautiful. Her black curls, full and thick, bounced with each step. Her lashes were long over eyes brown and clear. Her skin glowed like a magical sunset. She was indeed the prettiest little girl in the whole town.
At a fiesta for the Virgen de Guadalupe, the plaza was busy with townspeople eating, talking and dancing. The Máriachis’ music played in my heart, and I missed Carlos. Just then, Lucita’s daughter, Gabriela, who was as chubby as her mother, ran up.
“Paloma took my new doll,” Gabriela said.
Paloma walked over to me, holding the doll. “Mama, I’m the prettiest girl so the doll should be mine.”
“You have lots of dolls at home. Give it back,” I told her.
“No, Mama, it’s mine. IT’S MINE!”
People began to look at us. The three sisters shook their heads.
“Por favor, Paloma.” I pleaded. “You must learn to share and respect the things of others. Now, hand it to me.” Paloma reluctantly surrendered it. I returned it to Gabriela.
“I’m sorry,” I told Lucita, who just nodded.
“I want a doll! Give me one or I’ll cry! Do you hear me? I will cry!” Paloma said.
“I’ll get you a doll tomorrow. I promise. Now let’s go home.”
“Mama, will you make menudo tonight?”
“Of course,” We headed home, but I turned and saw the sisters put their heads together and didn’t have to guess what they were saying. And while some doubt crossed through me, I knew I couldn’t break my promise to Paloma.
As the years passed, Paloma became the most beautiful young woman in the town and some said in the whole state and all of Mexico. Other girls hid when she strolled by because she made them look ugly. Boys fought over who would walk beside her every day. Proudly, I watched my daughter grow, but it hurt to see that she carried her beauty not like a gift from God, but as if owed to her like a payment.
“I’ll marry a rich man, Mama, and he’ll buy me a casa grande with servants so I won’t spoil myself with work,” she told me as we ate dinner one night.
“Your father was poor, but a good man.”
She took one of my hands. “Mirar, you’ve made yourself old before your time with all the scrubbing and scraping.”
“I’ve worked hard to take care of you, Paloma. You can help me with the hard work anytime.”
“What, and have red hands like you? I need my looks to get rich, Mama. Besides, I do work hard in the dress shop in the plaza. Do we have any more enchiladas?”
Soon, men instead of boys came round, and she went out each night with a different one.
“Please, stay home, Paloma, I’m lonely, jita, and I miss you,” I pleaded with her one night.
She continued to brush her black hair until it reflected blue from the lights. “Oh, Mama I see you during the day.”
From her jewelry box, Paloma brought out a fine gold chain and put it around her throat.
“Jita, where did you get that?”
“From one of my many boyfriends.”
“You really shouldn’t take gifts, not unless you are going to marry the boy. It’s not decent.”
She shook her curls. “Mama, I can’t help it if they find me beautiful and want to give me things. Life is too short not to take what it will give you.”
A few weeks later, I found Paloma sitting alone in the kitchen when I came home from work. I ran and hugged her face was like a stone mask. “I’m happy you are home tonight. I’ll make you a good dinner. Then we can play cards.”
Suddenly, Paloma screamed. “I’m going to have a baby!”
I sat down slowly as the air seemed to leave my body. Quietly, I asked, “Who’s the father, Paloma?”
“One of my boyfriends. But he ran away when he found out. He wasn’t even rich, Mama.” She threw down her glass, which shattered. “This isn’t fair! I don’t want a baby. It will turn me old and I will lose my looks.”
I gripped her hands in mine. “Well, you are going to have a baby and now is the time to think about someone else other than yourself, Paloma. I gave in to you as a child and I have paid for my sins. Now, you have the chance to become a good woman and mother.”
She ran to her room, slamming the door.
Paloma took no joy in her coming child. She stayed home so no one would see her growing belly. But I waited anxiously for the baby and I swore to be the best abuelita ever. God had given me a second chance not to repeat the mistake I had made with Paloma.
At her time, Paloma gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl.
“You name them.” Paloma just looked in a hand mirror.
“I’ll call them Angel and Dulce.” I kissed their foreheads.
“I will be beautiful, again.” She didn’t even look at the babies, who began to cry. “Feed them, please, Mama. I’m tired.”
In a short time, my daughter regained her figure and beauty and began again to go out to parties with men. I took care of her babies, who were as sweet as angels in El Cielo and always smiled.
One night, Paloma came home late. Her face turned solid as the plaza stones.
“I’ve found a man, Mama, a rich man who wants to marry me.” But her voice held anger that made my skin cold.
“I’m so happy for you, jita. I am sure he will make a fine home for you and the babies.”
“My man does not want children. He says he wants his wife only to pay attention to him. So now what will I do?” She pointed at the sleeping babies.
I put my arms around her shoulders. “Paloma, you marry him and I’ll take care of your children.”
But Paloma broke away from me and paced. “Mama, you’re old. What if something happened to you? Then, I’ll have to take care of them.”
Her usually deep voice echoed a hawk screeching with hunger and her eyes became black. I trembled at this stranger, but found my voice.
“Please, Paloma, let me do this for you and for the babies.”
“We’ll talk later.” She went to bed.
Putting on my shawl, I went to the church where I threw myself before the statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe. My hand beat my breast and I dropped to my knees. “Forgive me, forgive me, God for raising such a selfish daughter, forgive me.” I prayed that Paloma would change her mind and love her children. I prayed that she would find a man who would be a good father to her babies.
My hands bled with prayers.
The next night, Paloma hardly spoke to me. “I will make coffee tonight,” she said finally.
“Gracias, mija.” I was surprised because Paloma hated anything to do with the kitchen.
She poured coffee for me. It was a little bitter.
“Paloma…” I said after awhile.
“Mama, I know what you are going to say. I am still thinking about what to do, but my man won’t wait forever for an answer. Sit down. I’ll clean up.”
Outside, thunder and wind swept in from the west, as if blown by the devil himself. Sitting in my rocker, my eyes closed against my will. Soon, I dreamed.
I am running into the darkness. I cannot breathe as if the weight of the Rio Grande flows over my chest. I hear Angel and Dulce crying and my hands reach out for them. Up ahead I see Paloma who carries the babies in a large basket. I follow them to the bridge over the river, but I cannot catch up to them. Lightning flares and shows Paloma on the bridge. Then all goes dark. When the lightning strikes again, Paloma stands alone. The basket is gone.
The next morning, I woke still sitting in my rocker. My head ached. The house was dark and purple from the sunrise. The babies were gone. My daughter was gone.
“Paloma!” I screamed, running through each room.
I searched the village. But she had disappeared with my angels.
A month went by with no word from Paloma. Every evening, I lit a candle at church, asking God to protect Paloma and the babies wherever they may be, but grateful also that she decided to take the babies with her. Still, the dream I had the night that she left hung on my soul.
“Give me a sign that they are all safe,” I asked the Virgen. “Please, any sign.”
Instead of a whisper of comfort, there was a scream. I ran out into the plaza just as evening had come. Lucita and Mária comforted their sister Concha whose eyes fluttered. Other people came from their houses and shops.
“I saw a demon!” Concha’s arms flew into the air. “I was coming home after visiting old Señora Martinez. As I turned the corner to go down my street, I saw her.”
She swooned and her sisters caught her. “This creature from hell was looking in the window at my children. Her face was wrinkled and scarred. Her hair was like smoke. She cried so sorrowfully that it felt like my soul was being cut in two.”
Everyone who listened made the sign of the cross.
“I took out my rosary from my pocket and ran toward this ghost, shouting, ‘Stay away from my children!’” Concha said.
“What happened, then?” Lucita said.
“This thing from hell looked up at me and said, ‘Where are my children? Have you seen my babies?’”
“Dios mio. Dios mio.” I could hardly find the breath. “What is going on here?”
Then another scream from the other side of the plaza. A young farmer, Joseph De La Cruz ran to the crowd now gathered. “I saw her! She was old and wearing a long white dress, and her hands were claws. She asked if I had seen her children. She was crying so pitifully that cats began to cry. I will never get that sound out of my head.”
Over the next several days, more people told me that they also had seen the ghost of the woman—under a street lamp, on the riverbank, and even, looking over the bridge. Every Sunday, masses filled up. Each evening, windows glowed from the tall candles painted with pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary to keep this apparition away from their houses and their children.
When the town was asleep and quiet overpowered the night, I too, began to hear the weeping, but I thought it was a dream. The cries sank into my heart. Never had I heard anything so sad. It was the sound of God turning his back on the world.
The elders of the village sent for a powerful curandero who lived in the mountains. He had healed many people who have been cursed and made sick by brujas.
“If anyone can help us, it will be him,” Lucita said.
Señor Hernandez entered the town, quietly, no sound to his footsteps. A large wooden rosary swayed from his neck. His skin was desert sand rough, but his face gentle. The white-haired man said nothing, but walked slowly around town, as we followed at a distance. Then at the bridge, he stopped. Horror brushed over his face. He made the sign of the cross several times and walked over to us.
“Why is this crying woman haunting our town?” Joseph De La Cruz said.
“Can you stop this bad vision?” Mária said.
“No one feels safe!” Concha added.
“We fear for our children!” Lucita said.
I gently touched his arm. “Is it something that we have done, Señor?”
“There has been a great sin committed in this town. It happened here.” The curandero said in a voice larger than his body.
“Señor, can you tell us who committed this evil thing?”Joseph said.
“I only know that it was so great a sin that the earth shook that night, and that the sinner was greatly punished.”
I trembled as if my dream was coming true.
The old man lifted his small shoulders. “I believe this woman sinned against her children. That is why she is weeping and asking about her babies.” He looked in the direction of the bridge. “But I also felt a loss as big as the night sky. She may have done this terrible deed, but she is greatly suffering. It is as if she is not only walking your streets but also through the fires of a hell that she made for herself.”
Lucita put her hands on her hips. “So how do we get rid of her?”
“Will you use special herbs and prayers?” Concha said.
“Yes, yes, tell us what to do and we shall do it,” Joseph said.
“I cannot help you. She will continue to walk the earth.”
Mária, Lucita, Concha, and Joseph sighed with disappointment and left. But I remained.
“Señor? Do you believe dreams can be real?”
“I dreamed about that crying woman, and you’re right. It was a great sin and she was punished.”
“Then you are suffering also, Señora.”
The hours seemed long before the sun flamed, burned into the sunset, and then left the sky. Placing a shawl over my head, I went out into the night, led by a lantern. I headed to the bridge, and waited all night, until the rising sun painted the sky golden. The next night I went out again, and waited until the morning sun. And so the week went by until Sunday came around again.
Hugging tight to my shawl that night, I stepped on the bridge and said a prayer with each step. This time, I didn’t have to wait for long. Behind me, I heard the sound of agony and light steps on the dirt.
“Paloma,” I said.
Beside me on the bridge was my daughter. Gone was her beauty and youth. The path of tears made a cracked river bed of skin down her face. Brittle white hair replaced her silky curls. She wore a dirty marriage gown, ragged on the bottom. Her bare feet bled from sores and miles of walking.
And her eyes, her eyes.
From all her crying, they were full blood, tiny slits of vivid blackness.
“Mama?” Her voice cracked with anguish. “Have you seen my children, my babies?”
“They are dead, Paloma.”
She shook her head in disbelief.
“You did it right here, didn’t you, Paloma?”
She wailed. “No, Mama, you’re wrong. I must look for them.”
“What happened, Paloma?”
She paced the bridge. “I remember one night I was going to meet my man. I was happy because I was free to marry him. We met at the cemetery but as I came near him, he screamed and ran away.”
“Don’t you see what happened, Paloma? You drowned your precious babies to be with that man and you were punished for your sin. God took your beauty as you took the life of your children.”
“No, Mama, you’re lying. My children are out there.” She pointed into the night. “They are waiting for me.”
“No, my daughter, you’ll never find them because God has taken them to heaven.”
Paloma screeched and tore at her straw hair. “I must go find them. I will find them if it takes me forever.”
She ran off the bridge, her gown flapping like a strange, maimed bird into the night. I didn’t follow.
“Adios, Paloma. Adios Angel and Dulce.” I whispered.
No more did I seek my daughter. I realized that she had really died the day she walked onto the bridge with her babies.
Every sunset, I wait for the night and the weeping. I wonder how long la Llorona will wander the nights looking for the children she never will find. How many tears will she shed— enough to fill the Rio Grande and send it to the ocean? Mostly, I wonder about all the women who cry for their sins and loss, me among them.
Maybe one beautiful day, the crying woman will realize her crime and ask for God’s forgiveness. On that day, I believe she will find her babies in heaven and weep no more.