Word count 3,356
Thanks to Doc (Terri Derr) for helping with the beta.
Dried and decaying leaves swirled and danced across the moonlit landscape, lifted skyward by a light breeze and finally settling into a watery grave in the Rio Bravo.
It was the time of year when the river ran fast and deep, sweeping away more than just the tears and grief of those who dared come too close to its banks. Deep within its murky waters lay secrets that only time would reveal.
Children’s laughter wafted through the air. They’d been warned not to go near the river, especially after dark.
If not for the full moon’s light, the children would have missed seeing the woman in the long white dress floating toward them, but the woman’s moaning voice preceded her.
“Ay, mis hijos!!”
“So, what happens next?” Teresa asked, sitting on the edge of her chair, eyes wide and fixed on Scott.
They’d turned down all the lamps in the Great Room and built up the fire. Scott’s idea was to celebrate their first Halloween by telling ghost stories.
Murdoch leaned back in his chair, smoking his pipe, listening intently. Scott’s story sounded faintly familiar, but he couldn’t place where he’d heard it before.
Scott shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s all I heard.”
“Heard where?” Murdoch tapped the pipe bowl against his hand and then deposited the burnt tobacco into the ashtray next to his chair.
“I heard one of the vaqueros telling a story to the ranch children. I’m not even sure what they were talking about, only that the children who were listening seemed transfixed and scared. I thought it would be a good story for tonight, but …” Scott shrugged, “That’s all I have.”
Teresa laughed and flopped back into her chair. “You realize you could have just started by saying, … It was a dark and stormy night.”
Scott laughed. “I know, but I thought I’d come up with something more to the story on my own.”
“Well, does anyone else have a story? Johnny?”
Teresa turned her head to look at Johnny. The boy was staring into the fire, his face pale as if he’d seen a ghost instead of hearing about one.
Murdoch shifted in his chair and leaned forward.
Scott looked between his father and brother. “Johnny?” Seeing the expression on his brother’s face, he started to go to him only to have the younger man wave him away.
“I’m alright,” Johnny whispered. Turning his head, he looked at his father. “I know the story, Murdoch.”
“I know the story Scott was telling.” Johnny raised his head to look around the room. “La Llorona.”
“Of course, I thought it sounded familiar.”
“La Llorona?” Teresa asked. “That’s who you were talking about, Scott?”
“I suppose. I’m not sure who or what the vaqueros were talking about,” Scott replied. “It sounds like it’s a popular story.”
Johnny nodded. “You could say that, but La Llorona isn’t just a story; she’s real. I…I’ve seen her. I’ve seen La Llorona.”
Murdoch smiled. When Scott suggested telling ghost stories, he hadn’t expected Johnny to join in. Now, it looked like the boy was going to tell a story about one of Mexico’s most famous ghosts.
“Where were you when you saw her?” Murdoch asked, giving his son the opening to join the conversation.
“Near the Rio Bravo.”
“Madre de Dios.”
They turned to see Maria standing at the edge of the room, a tray with a pot of coffee and four cups in her hands.
The woman hurriedly set the tray down and crossed herself. “You must not speak of such things.”
“What things?” It was Scott’s turn to question his brother.
“Juanito, por favor. It is not wise to speak of La Llorona, especially on Dia de Los Muertos.”
“It’s alright, Mamacita. La Llorona can’t hurt us. We aren’t children.”
Murdoch pushed out of his chair and reached for the coffee pot. Picking up a cup, he looked at Scott, who shook his head.
“No, thank you, sir. I wouldn’t mind a scotch, though.”
Murdoch stared at the cup in his hand and nodded. “A much better idea.”
Sitting the coffee pot down, he walked to the drink cart and poured a glass of scotch for Scott and one for himself. “Johnny?”
Johnny nodded. “Tequila.”
“Teresa, coffee or a sherry?”
“No, nothing. Thank you.” In anticipation of a good story, Teresa tucked her feet under her and wrapped a blanket around her shoulders.
“Maria, would you care for something?”
“No, Patron. I should be going.”
“No, Maria.” Johnny reached out a hand and touched her arm. “Please stay.”
Maria nodded and sat on the sofa.
“It appears everyone knows this legend except me.” Scott looked around the room. “So, would someone like to enlighten me? Who or what is La Llorona, and what does La Llorona mean?”
After handing drinks to Scott and Johnny, Murdoch sat back down and stretched his legs.
“La Llorona means The Weeping Woman,” Murdoch replied.
“The Weeping Woman,” Scott repeated. “Well, it sounds like the legend is a ghost story in itself.”
“It is.” Murdoch nodded and settled back. “The first time I heard the story was shortly after Catherine and I came to the valley. It appears no one knows when the legend of La Llorona began or where it originated, only that it’s been around for centuries and passed down through the generations. Documented sightings of the Weeping Woman go as far back as the conquistadors.
“I’ve heard varying details and versions of the story over the years, as I’m sure Maria and Johnny have.”
Both Maria and Johnny were nodding.
“In one version of the legend, a beautiful woman named María married a wealthy ranchero and gave him two children, boys.”
“So far, it sounds vaguely familiar,” Scott laughed, “except it was one son, not two.”
“You gonna let him tell you about her or not?” Johnny asked.
“All right, I’ll be quiet. Continue, Murdoch.”
Murdoch smiled. “Yes, well, as the legend goes, one day, María saw her husband with another woman, and in a fit of rage, she drowned their children in a river, which she immediately regretted. Unable to save them and consumed by guilt, she drowned herself. The legend says she must spend eternity searching for her children in rivers and lakes.”
“That’s not the version the Abuelas told us,” Johnny spoke up.
Murdoch nodded. “I expect the version you heard was that of a startlingly beautiful woman, christened Maria, born to a peasant family. Many men wanted her and sought her favor, but her small sons came between her and what she wanted. One day the two boys were found drowned in the river. People would see her walking along the riverbank on dark nights and crying for her children.”
“Yeah, that’s the one I heard.” Johnny downed his drink in one gulp.
“One version says they were drowned by her neglect, but others say they may have died by her own hand. The tales of her cruelty depend on the version of the legend you hear. Some say she kills indiscriminately, taking men, women, and children — whoever is foolish enough to get close to her. Others say she is ruthless and kills only children, dragging them screaming to a watery grave.
“The common thread is that she is the spirit of a doomed mother who drowned her children and spends eternity searching for them in rivers and lakes.”
“That’s the La Llorona I saw.”
“You’ve seen her?” Scott moved to the edge of his chair.
“Where?” Murdoch asked. “How… how old were you?”
“You really want to hear this?”
“If you want to tell us.” Murdoch wasn’t pushing.
“Johnny, please tell us,” Teresa begged.
Silently, Johnny stood and walked to the fireplace. Squatting, he reached for another log and tossed it into the flames. When he stood and turned around, he looked at Maria and his family.
“I bet there’s not a child in Mexico that hasn’t heard about La Llorona. The old ones would say, ‘Behave, or La Llorona will come and take you away. Stay away from the water, or La Llorona will drown you. It sure scared the hell out of us, but it didn’t stop us from going to the river.”
The flames of the fire danced and cracked, throwing a soft glow across the room.
Johnny sat on the arm of the sofa near Maria and looked around at the expectant faces. Softening his voice, he began.
“I don’t know how old I was exactly, maybe four or five.” He shook his head. “We were in some border town in Mexico next to the Rio Grande.”
“The village was like all the others where we’d lived, and the kids there didn’t treat me any better because I was small, well…smaller than them.
“Mama was working at the cantina, like always. And, like always, I pretty much did what I wanted. Even that young, I was as free as an alley cat. So, I spent my days roaming the streets and nights sneaking into the cantina to watch Mama dance. I always made sure I was back to wherever we were staying before she got home.
“There were these four boys, older than me, always teasing that I was scared to go near the river. Like I said, the abuelas always told us not to go near the water because La Llorona would come and steal us away.
“One late afternoon, I saw the four boys sneaking off. I remember them looking back and motioning me to follow, and I wasn’t going to let them think I was afraid, so I tagged along.
“I’d been around boys like them before and knew to be careful, so I hung back. I didn’t know what mestizo meant back then, only that no one said it to me with a smile on their face.
“It was still light when they stopped at the river’s edge and started skipping stones across the water. I stood off watching them for a few minutes before picking up a rock and throwing it overhand into the water.
“Not like that,” the oldest boy laughed. “You have to use a smaller stone, and don’t throw it like that.”
“The other boys started laughing, and the next thing I knew, they were all around me, pushing me towards the water. I may have been young, but I knew better than to trust them.
“When the sun finally set, the night came alive. Night birds began to sing, and I heard an owl in the distance, and there was the sound of crickets and tree frogs, and the constant sound of the river, always the river.
“The boys kept laughing and edging me closer to the water when suddenly, the night went quiet. It wasn’t just the sounds of the birds and crickets that stopped; it was everything, even the river.
“A light fog started rising from the water and whirled around us. That’s when the boys stopped laughing and started looking around.
“The moon was just rising, and we could see a tall woman dressed in a long white dress coming towards us along the river bank. Her hair was black and hung down her back to her waist, and the dress shimmered in the light and swirled around her legs.
“At first, I thought it was Mama coming to get me, and I knew she’d be mad at me, but … as the woman got closer, I could hear her crying, and she kept repeating, “Ay, mi hijos.”
“The oldest boy was the first to realize who it was. When he said La Llorona, they all turned and fell over themselves, getting back to the village, leaving me standing alone beside the river.
“I was too scared to move, too afraid to scream.
“The wind picked up, causing the bottom of her dress to whip around her, and I could see she wasn’t walking; she was gliding across the ground. When she got closer, I could see she was beautiful, but her face was as pale as her dress, and her eyes were sad and filled with tears.”
Johnny suddenly stood and turned and put both hands on the fireplace mantel. The flames of the fire started leaping and dancing as if responding to his emotions.
“My heart was pounding, and all my senses told me to run, but I still couldn’t move. I finally gathered my wits and started to turn when I felt her hand take hold of my arm. Her touch was like ice and I struggled to get out of her grasp, but the more I fought, the tighter she held onto me.
“She stopped crying and lowered her head until she was only inches from mine. She smiled and said, “I have been looking for you, hijo. Come with me. Join your brother.”
“When I looked at her face again, it had changed. She was still beautiful, but her eyes were glaring, and all I could see was the evil inside her. Then suddenly she wasn’t pretty anymore. The skin seemed to slide off her skull, and her eyes sank until they were nothing but empty holes.
“The grip tightened on my arm and she was pulling me into the river. I fought with everything I had, but she kept dragging me.”
Johnny turned to face his family, his eyes wide with the remembering. They were all leaning towards him, hanging onto every word and ready for the next.
“What happened, Johnny?” Teresa asked, wringing the handkerchief in her hand.
“Go on, son,” Murdoch urged, his pipe dangling from his hand. “Tell us, what happened?”
Johnny closed his eyes, unable to look at them any longer.
“I opened my mouth to scream, and finally, I did. I screamed until my lungs hurt, but it didn’t do any good. I was up to my waist in the water when I felt something grab hold of my other arm and start to pull me back towards the river bank.”
“I turned my head to see what was holding me and saw that two of the boys who’d run away had come back to help me. The oldest boy had hold of my right arm, and La Llorona had my left. I felt like I was being pulled apart.
“He’s mine!” La Llorona screamed. “He’s mine. Let him go with me.”
“No,” the boy said, “he is not yours. Let him go.”
“That’s when the second boy grabbed me around my waist and started pulling me. La Llorona’s nails dug into my arm, and I felt it snap. The next thing I knew, I was out of the water and lying on the river bank.”
Johnny stopped talking and lowered his head.
“And?” Teresa asked.
There was no response.
“Johnny, don’t keep us in suspense. What happened?” Teresa leaned forward, almost falling out of her chair.
Johnny slowly raised his head, looked around the room, and with a faint smile whispered, “Gotcha.”
Everyone sat motionless until Scott started to laugh and then clapped. “You certainly did.”
Soon Murdoch and Teresa were also laughing. Only Maria sat quietly, staring at Johnny.
“Son, I believe that was the best ghost story I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot. You told it well.”
Johnny glanced and Maria and then turned to Murdoch, laughing, “Boston wanted a ghost story, so I gave him one.”
“That was a fantastic story, Johnny,” Teresa was clapping. Then she stopped and lowered her hands to her lap when she saw the expression on his face. “It was just a story. I mean….it wasn’t true, was it?”
Johnny gave her a faint smile. “Just a story. Don’t you know ghosts aren’t real?”
Murdoch stood and stretched. “I have to admit I believed you.”
“I’m going to bed.” Teresa stood and gave each of them a hug. “I just hope I can sleep after that.”
Maria gathered the coffee pot and cups. “Buenas noches, Patron.”
“Good night, Maria. We’ll see you in the morning.”
“Si, hasta manana.” As she started for the kitchen, she glanced over her shoulder. “Buenas noches Senor Scott, Juanito.”
Scott remained silent until Maria was gone.
“That was quite a story.”
“Yeah, I’m glad you liked it.”
“Would you like another drink?”
Johnny shook his head. “No, thanks. I think I’ll head up to bed.”
Scott didn’t move.
Johnny had one foot on the stairs when Scott asked, “So, brother, what happened to the boys who came back to help you?”
Johnny stopped and turned back to look at Scott. “It was just a story. Like I said, there’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“Is that so?” Scott’s eyes fixed on Johnny. “In this instance, I wonder.”
“There ain’t nothing to wonder about, Boston.”
“I’d like to know myself,” Murdoch added. “I’m from a country with its share of ghost stories and haunted places. I’ve seen things in my life I can’t explain. You can convince Teresa it was just a story, but I’ve seen the scars on your arm.”
Johnny gave him a confused look.
“After Pardee shot you, I saw the scars on your body and wondered about the ones on your left arm.”
“What do you say, you finish the story, now that it’s just us.” Scott stretched his legs out and waited.
Johnny walked back into the Great Room and paused. Nodding, he rolled up the shirt sleeve on his left arm. Four long, fading scars showed where fingernails had dug deep into his skin.
“These what you’re talking about, Murdoch?”
“Yes,” Murdoch answered. “They look remarkably like cuts that fingernails, long ones, would have left.”
A gasp caused the men to look towards the kitchen.
“I, too, knew it was true. You were fortunate to escape La Llorona’s grasp Juanito.” Maria was staring at Johnny’s arm and crossing herself. “And the ninos who helped you?”
“Mamacita, it was just a story, and it wasn’t ….”
Seeing the expression on Maria’s face, he sighed and gave in.
“All right, I’ll tell you.”
Johnny sat down and stared into the embers of the dying fire.
“After the second boy dragged me out of the river, I guess I was in shock. My arm was hurting, and I was crying so hard I barely knew what was happening. I remember looking towards the river and seeing the other two boys fighting to escape La Llorona’s hold. By that time, men and women from the village were there to help, but….”
Johnny stopped, caught up in his memories.
“But…?” Scott asked.
Johnny raised his head and took a deep breath.
“But it was too late. I wasn’t the only one who saw the woman in white float across the river and disappear into the water, holding a boy in each hand.”
The room was silent for several minutes; the only sound was the snapping and crackling of the fire.
“I’ve never told anyone what happened that night. Mama never even asked how I’d broken my arm, and I didn’t tell her.”
“And the ninos?” Maria held her hands to her throat.
“The name of the second boy who came back to help me was Carlos. They found his body the next day on the river bank about a mile from the village. The older boy who fought the Weeping Woman was Paco. They never found him… at least while we live there.
“I found out later the boys who died saving my life were brothers. I guess La Llorona found the souls she was searching for to replace her two sons.”
“No, Juanito,” Maria replied, “the Weeping Woman still searches for her ninos, but she will never find them. La Madre de Dios now protects the innocent souls of the children she killed long ago.”
“And what of those she took since or tried to take?”
“We pray for them, Juanito. We pray.”
Author’s Note: Yes, legend says La Llorona’s name was Maria.
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8 thoughts on “The Weeping Woman by SandySha”
Great story! Perfect for this time of year.
Thank you. I’m glad you liked it.
Awesome story. I didn’t expect the twist at all. Well done!
It’s just turned Halloween here, so I thought I’d celebrate with a spooky story. And this was spooky! I was as enthralled listening to Johnny as they all were. Perceptive Scott and Maria were not buying Johnny’s ‘gotcha’. Thanks for the entertaining read.
I’m glad I read this story on Halloween-it’s extra ghostly. Thank you for sharing it with us.
I love your stories. This was the right amount of spooky. Loved it