Based on a rural legend of Guanajuato, Mexico.
It is interesting how sometimes fear can adhere to the skin and memory... Just like the trigger of a gun, there are things that make us shiver, taking us to the most atrocious moments that we ever lived, saw or heard.
A few days ago I accompanied my grandmother Matilda to a local market in the suburbs to buy corn leaves and dough to prepare tamales, since we were on the eve of "La Candelaria" Day. There, between the revelry of the tumult, between the hustle and bustle of the people who came and went with bags full of things, we both strolled through the colorful stalls full of images of saints, used articles, vegetables and even animals... When we were almost leaving, we both crossed in front of a pile of cages where some chickens, ducks, turkeys and roosters were exhibited.
My grandmother stopped suddenly and the bags she was carrying almost fell out of her hands when she saw, among all the birds, a huge black rooster croaking hoarsely. I looked at her and saw on her face an expression of terror that I had never noticed in her tender features. She regained her composure after a few seconds and then we continued walking. We got home after a few minutes and hurried to prepare the food.—Oh, dear... I am very sorry, —she said, as we began to prepare the tamales on the table—. "It's just that I remembered something a while ago when I saw that animal… I want to tell you a story, but I will ask you to make it our secret because no one else should know about this… —I nodded and started to listen to her—. This is something that happened to Artemio, your grandfather. Oh, I hope God has forgiven him when he died… It was the worst thing that happened to him in life, something that embittered him forever and caused him a remorse that he took to his grave.
»It happened almost forty years ago, shortly before we moved here to the capital. Until then, he and I were born and lived in a humble rural town, where all the men dedicated themselves to raising animals and planting the corn fields in the mountains that surrounded the valley, while the women dedicated ourselves to the house. I would be almost twenty-two and Artemio thirty. We were in bloom. But he always drank a lot ... He used to spend whole days with his friend, a guy named Melesio. They were very close friends, they almost always got drunk together.
»If there was something in that rural town that united the men, those tanned and closed country men like the shell of the armadillos, that "something" was the drink. Being drunk was the only way they could open each other up to tell each other their sorrows because, there, in the hills where we lived, poorness and sadness were abundant, but the men didn't know how to vent their pain except by drinking. That example had been inherited from their parents and grandparents.
»Back then, Artemio was a womanizer, —said my grandmother, without lifting her eyes from the soaked corn leaves with which we wrapped the tamales—. By then, he and I had been married for several years, but he used to go to other towns to meet girls in the patron saint festivities... I didn't say anything to him. I couldn't do it. Women were forbidden to complain... It was "our cross", as our mothers had taught us.
»But as I was saying: one afternoon, Artemio and Melesio both came, already very drunk, from a very remote town. On the way they met a very pretty girl, skinny and with very fine features, wearing a cloud-white huipil and had clear eyes. Artemio explained that to me, —my grandmother clarified—. Oh dear! I swear I would have boiled of jealousy when he told me about it that time when he returned home...! But... he was crying with fear.
»When they found her, the young woman asked them both to accompany her back to her house that was behind some hills, not far from there, but she was afraid because it was almost dark and the road took almost an hour to get there, crossing several paths between the hills. Melesio, who was tricky with women, immediately said yes, and Artemio, although “he doubted it a lot”, as he told me, ended up accepting because the girl began to insinuate him, to hug him, almost rubbing his skin to tempt him… Oh, I already knew what my husband was like when he drank! He wasn’t a saint... But God knows he didn’t deserve what happened to him.
»Both followed the woman, still walking crooked due to drunkenness, between laughter and kisses that she stole from them, first to one and then to the other. They headed towards the hill where she had indicated, in those silent paths surrounded by maguey stalks, huizaches, thorny bushes and cactus plants.
»Oh... —she sighed, sitting at the table with me, and then she wiped her hands on her apron to take a break—. Artemio told me that when they were far up the hill, where that woman supposedly lived, there was no house, or cabin, or anything. Then she began to laugh like crazy... They were almost scared to death because the woman no longer spoke to them, but shouted things that were not said in the Christian language. Suddenly they saw her older and much uglier. "Her voice! There was something in her voice, Matilda!” Artemio repeated crying when he explained to me everything that happened up in that hill… —I felt a hole in my stomach while I listened to her—. And after that, the woman, who until that moment had seemed so beautiful, got naked! But they didn't see her legs or breasts or anything, because there were only feathers! Lots and lots of feathers! Only the garments remained of the woman because there was a huge black bird similar to a rooster that hovered and jumped on them to peck and scratch them with its claws, flapping its dark wings and growling in anger...
»Artemio and Melesio were afraid, and they defended themselves with their tools from the cornfield: while Melesio tried in vain to cut off the head of that demon bird with his scythe, it was Artemio who managed to hit the animal with his machete. "I swear I just saw the black feathers flying and the blood splattering when I cut its head off... but that beast didn't die, Matilda! I was already beheaded but It was still kicking!" Artemio said. And he kept hitting the rooster with the machete, until he got tired and saw that the demon no longer moved. Then he passed out from the scare.
But, unfortunatelly, the story doesn't end there, my dear. The worst part is just coming: Artemio woke up several hours later when the new sun fell on his eyes. He got up and looked around: by that moment he realized he was among some hills he didn't know... He walked for hours the last night, he had met a witch disguised as a woman who led him and Melesio to those lost hills in the middle of nowhere! Then he noticed that Melesio was no with him. He started looking for him everywhere, still with the machete in his hand. Several meters from where he was, Artemio found something. —When she said that, I had a lump in my throat—. He saw something lying n the middle of those blood-beaten herbs. It wasn't the dismembered black rooster, it was Melesio! There he was, what was left of him... Artemio had killed him!
»Oh, my poor Artemio...! —she commented in distress—. He was seduced by that devil-witch and she tricked him into killing his best friend. Only the remnants of poor Melesio remained in the middle of that hill. Luckily, Artemio knew how to return home. He said in town that a witch had misled Melesio but he lied. He never told anyone that he was with him that night. They never found Melesio's corpse. After that we moved here, to the capital. My husband was never the same again... Nor was I. Since then I have this fear stuck low to the skin, hidden in my chest but latent... —said my grandmother at the end of her sinister tale.
This story was originally written in Spanish during the month of March 2020 for the Digital Magazine "Mundo de Escrittores" No. III, and translated into English in April. It was inspired on a local legend from a rural town in Guanajuato, Mexico.
Merci pour la lecture!