Our next spooky story takes us to Mexico. Once again, it is impossible to say exactly when this story started, but La Llorona has become a pervasive, spooky urban legend far beyond Mexico alone. There are many different iterations of La Llorona, but once again this is the story more or less as it was told to our office.
Hernan had taken a lover. This is what the other women told to Maria, who only six years earlier had married Hernan and had children with him. Never much one for gossip, Maria was at first incredulous of the silly-sounding tale spun by some jealous old bags. “My word,” said Maria in a gasp of feigned surprise, “what sort of woman can she be?”
“Oh, she’s a pretty thing,” answered one of the women in earnest. Her name was Isabella and she had overblown half-truths incriminating every man, woman, and child in town. “Much younger than you, of course.”
“Of course! What do you mean, ‘of course,’ Isabella? I’m not a day past thirty. Hardly an old crow like you.”
“Well, I’m not his lover!” quipped Isabella. “Men do not take lovers a day past twenty,” she said, still very much in earnest. “Do what you want. We only thought you should know.”
Isabella turned to go about her business, and the other women, realizing that Maria was not to be the well of hot gossip they hoped for, turned to go about their business as well. Maria rolled her eyes and thought nothing more of the posse of old gossips or their warning. She went home, tended the children, and ate with her husband–who, incidentally, seemed not a bit different from the way he always did.
Satisfied completely that the women were only making stories, Maria felt comfortable teasing them about it. Passing Isabella about town she would ask, “How is my husband’s lover?” To which Isabella would respond something like, “She has a new necklace,” or, “She wrote him a poem.” It was all a very funny joke until one day Maria asked, “How is my husband’s lover?” and Isabella responded, “She is with child.”
For some reason that answer stopped Maria in her tracks. She looked intently at Isabella, who looked back at her detached. Neither woman said anything, and after only a second Isabella turned and walked away. Maria shook her head as if to wake from a dream. She went home, tended her children, and ate dinner with her husband. This time, though, she could not put that woman Isabella out of her head. “She is with child.”
That night Maria slept in a fever. She is with child. She is with child she is with child she is with child Sheiswithchild SheiswithchildSheiswithchildSheiswithchild. And on it went she is with child, until those words meant nothing, until they were not even words but a heavy, repetitive hum. What does the hum mean? she wondered. It means I am expendable. It means I have lost my place, that I have been usurped. It means I am no longer the mother of my children. He has given them to her!
“Oh, my children!”
She woke to find herself covered in sweat, screaming. “Oh my children!”
“What? What’s this? Hush!” snapped Hernan, broken off from his sleep.
“Oh, my children!”
Hernan, still undressed, ran to the kitchen for a bowl of water and splashed it over his wife. Suddenly, drenched to the bone, Maria quieted down; she remembered where she was. “Hush!” snapped Hernan.
Maria went about the following day as usual but her head throbbed and she could not think about anything clearly. There was something still vivid about those feverish dreams. He is trying to replace me with her. She hung the wash on the line. He is taking my children. She cooked dinner. He has given them to her. She played with the children.
In their six years together, Maria and Hernan had three children: a boy and two girls. The boy was three; the girls were four and two. Maria liked to play with them after dinner. The day after her fever dreams nothing was visibly amiss until the girl of four asked, “Mama, why are you crying?”
Maria hadn’t noticed that she was crying. Suddenly, though, the weight of her situation fell on top of her. She knelt and gathered her children in her arms. “I love you,” she said, “You are my children. Mine. And I won’t let anyone take you away.”
Over the next few weeks Maria gave no outward sign of distress, but her condition grew only worse, in large part because her husband’s infidelity grew harder and harder to deny or ignore. First he became careless: a strand of her hair here, an envelope in her handwriting there. Before long, though, he became brazen. He left for whole nights without saying anything. He was seen about town with her and even used her name in Maria’s home. One night before Hernan left to be with his lover, Maria looked at him imploringly. He looked back in defiance and slammed the door on his way out.
Her head swimming, Maria felt that her only choice was to confront Hernan. Perhaps if it was brought to the surface she could end this usurpation. She would not have to be forced out. Hernan was about to leave once again when Maria stopped him. “Hernan, please.”
“What do you want?” he snapped.
“Hernan, please. Please do not do this to me.”
“Do what? Go to bed. Let me be.”
“Hernan, I am not replaceable.”
“Oh, shut up!” he cried suddenly. “You are replaceable. I am replacing you. I deserve a young woman. Not an old crow.”
“Old crow? How can you call me old? I am not a day past thirty.”
“You are an old crow. All you do is cook and clean. Just like the village women. Like an old crow.”
Maria could hardly find words. “I do those things for you! Do you think I want to spend my days cleaning? If I am an old crow it is because you’ve made one of me!”
“Shut up!” he said, brushing past her and reaching for the door. Maria slipped in front of him and forced the door shut. Hernan slapped her hard across the face and she fell. He stormed out to see his lover.
Looking out the empty door, Maria finally broke. Sheiswithchildsheiswithchildsheiswithchildsheiswi He will not take my children too!
Suddenly composed, Maria stood, steadied herself and walked briskly into the children’s room to wake them. “Get dressed, little ones. We must hurry.” Maria helped her children into their clothes–one by one–and packed a bag for each of them. When they were ready for their journey Maria knelt and gathered them in her arms. “I love you. You are my children. Mine. And I won’t let anyone take you away.” She is with child.
In a hurry but still gently, Maria led her children to the banks of the Lerma. She kissed each of her children on the cheek. One by one. He is not going to take them from me. First the girl, age 4. Then the boy, age 3. Then the girl, age 2. She drowned her children in the river. One by one.
Maria fainted after the last little body floated away. It was the best she slept in weeks. She woke feeling tranquil to a full moon and the sound of rushing water. But as the river ran on she realized what she had done. “Oh,” she breathed, her stomach falling, her face stretching. She put her hand over her mouth. “Oh!” she shouted with tears in her eyes.
“Oh, my children!”
Maria stood and looked about frantically. Perhaps it was a mistake. Perhaps she could find them. Her children. Hers. “Oh, my children!” They were lost. She had to find them. “Oh, my children!” Somewhere between frantic hope and grief, Maria put her own head in the water. She had to find the children. She had to go where she sent them.
But even after she was drenched to the bone, after the river carried her away, after the last air left her lungs, still she could not find her children. She looked and looked, and never stopped looking, so that still today, all around the world, in the dead of night one can still hear the Wailing Woman. Oh, my children. Occasionally she mistakes children alone at night for her own lost children and lures them back into the river, hoping to get them home the same way she lost them. Still she cannot find them, so still she searches. Oh my children!