Chapter OneLupe and la Llorona
When the clock in the kitchen struck midnight, Lupe quietly got out of bed. She dressed hurriedly, crept to her bedroom door, and listened intently. In the adjacent bedroom, her parents were sound asleep.
Quietly, she slipped out of the house. The village of Puerto de Luna, a farming community on the banks of the Pecos River, was also asleep. An October quarter-moon hung over the valley, but it shed very little light. Lupe shivered as she ran to meet Carlos by the church.
Earlier that afternoon in the schoolyard, Carlos had been bragging that he wasn't afraid of la Llorona.
"It's just a story our parents tell to scare us," he said to the seventh graders gathered around him.
"No, she's real," one of the girls replied.
"I don't believe it," Carlos said, looking at Lupe. "I dare anyone to go to the river with me."
"Yes, at midnight!"
The others glanced nervously at Lupe. She was strong and tall like Carlos, and she was the only one in the group who stood up to him.
"It's a crazy idea," Lupe said.
"What's the matter, you chicken?"
Lupe clenched her teeth. Carlos had been after her all week, ever since her team had beaten his in baseball. She had tried not to pay attention to his needling, but nobody called her chicken!
"I'll prove who's chicken," she shot back. "I'll go with you tonight!"
The kids had cheered her, but later, as they walked back to the classroom, JosÉ fell in step beside Lupe. He was her neighbor, and the boy she secretly admired.
"You don't have to go," he whispered. "It's dangerous by the river at night."
"Do you mean it's too dangerous for a girl?"
JosÉ blushed. "You know what Imean."
"I know," Lupe answered. "But Carlos dared me in front of the gang. I won't let Carlos call me a coward."
"Yeah," JosÉ agreed. He knew Carlos had been hassling Lupe all week. "Do you want me to go with you?" he offered.
"No, Carlos challenged me." She looked into his eyes and saw he really was concerned about her. "Thanks," she added.
JosÉ shrugged. "Just be careful" were his parting words.
Maybe I'm like Carlos, Lupe thought as she approached the church at midnight. I want to find out if la Llorona is real or just a story our parents tell. She stopped cold when she spotted a shadow at the door. Her skin tingled. "Who is it?" she called.
"Booooo!" Carlos cried, jumping out at her.
"Boo yourself!" Lupe said, faking laughter to show he hadn't frightened her.
"Bet you thought it was la Llorona," Carlos teased her.
"Don't be silly," Lupe answered boldly.
"Are you afraid?" asked Carlos, peering toward the river.
Lupe hesitated. All her life, she had heard the different stories people told about la Llorona. Some said she was a young woman who long ago had lived in a neighboring village. She had fallen in love with a rich man's son and had a baby, but since she wasn't married to him, the young man's parents were going to take the baby away from her. The baby was all the poor girl had in the world, and she vowed not to let them take it.
When the family came with the sheriff for the child, the young woman gathered the baby in her arms and fled to the river. The sheriff and his deputies followed, using hound dogs to track her. The baying of the dogs could be heard up and down the valley.
As the sheriff and his men drew near, the frightened girl threwherself into the river. The strong current swept her off her feet and tore the baby from her arms. It disappeared into the watery depths.
Later, some villagers would say she had intentionally thrown the baby into the river. The sheriff had saved the young woman, but the baby drowned. It was never found.
After the accident, the young woman was overcome with grief. She walked along the edge of the river, looking for her baby. At night, the people of the village heard her crying and calling the child's name.
"You can still hear her crying at night," the old people told the children. "She became la Llorona, 'the crying woman.' Don't go near the water. She might think you are her child and take you."
Parents told the story to warn their children not to play near the river and its dangerous currents.
"I'm not afraid," Lupe said, shivering. She wasn't going to let Carlos scare her. Besides, she had the medal of her guardian angel hanging around her neck. She touched it and said a silent prayer.
Carlos, too, had hesitated. Across the road, the river and its dark forest looked menacing. "Okay, let's go," he said.
They left the village and hurried through the river bosque. Overhead, the tall, stately cottonwood trees formed a canopy that shut out the scant moonlight. Around them, river willows and salt cedars pressed in on the thin trail. Finally, they came to a small clearing in the brush.
"Here's where she cries at night," Carlos said.
Lupe shivered. She knew the spot. This was the place where the young woman and her baby had jumped into the river.
There was something evil about the place. Dank vapors rose from the river. The awful stink of something dead touched Lupe'snostrils. The trees rose in the dark like giant specters.
Suddenly, they heard an eerie sound and they froze. A shadow appeared in the moonlight and shimmered on the water. It seemed to be the figure of a young woman walking on the water, coming toward them. A shrill noise filled the night, sounding like the cry of a grieving woman.
These short stories and folktales set along the Rio Grande trace the river's proud and diverse heritage--and the Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American peoples who settled there. Illustrations.