There was once a young girl named Maria in a small Mexican village. She was beautiful, but she knew this and was vain. She thought she was too good for all the men in her village. One day, a rich Spaniard landowner (Ranchero) came into town. She thought that he was the only man worthy of her. She had a plot to make him love her. She refused to acknowledge him when he talked to her, and she refused all the expensive gifts he gave her. Her plan worked, and soon after, he was obsessed with her. He asked her hand in marriage, and she accepted. Soon after, they were married.

Maria and her husband soon had two beautiful children. Life was good, until Maria's husband soon heard the call of the open plains, and his Ranchero blood made this irresistible. He soon was commuting to his ranch, living there for months at a time, leaving Maria and the children in the village. When he came home, his attention was always on his children, never on Maria. She was such a vain and jealous woman that she could not stand to see her husband paying more attention to her children than to her.

One night, Maria saw her husband in a carriage with an even more beautiful woman than she, and sitting across from him were their children. Maria snapped, and that night, she seized her children in their sleep and threw them in the river. She didn’t realize what she was doing until the children had both drowned. She stretched her arms out towards the river, but her children were long gone, taken away by the current.

The next day, the men of the village found Maria’s body dead on the bank of the river, where she had fallen.

The first night after Maria had been buried, the villagers awoke to a noise. They thought it was the wind at first, but it persisted. They listened hard, and heard a woman down by the river weeping. Some of them went out to the river to aid the woman, and when they arrived, they saw a woman all in white, the way Maria was dressed when they buried her. She cried "Where are my children?" From that day on, they never spoke of her as Maria, only to La Llorona, or the one who cries. The Villagers warned their children not to go out at night, for if they did, they might be snatched by La Llorona, and they would never return.

This is a tragic tale / Ghost story often told in Mexico. It has roots in a Roman myth, believe it or not. The roman myth is similar, except rather than the husband having a prettier mistress, he marries a new woman, the daughter of a king, to advance his social status. This story traveled when the Romans invaded Gaul, or Spain, then the Spaniards brought it to Mexico. It is still told today.

Very recently, my mother, who was adopted at two weeks old in 1956, tracked down her birth mother. Unfortunately, the woman who gave birth to her, Josephine Altamirano, passed away on January 8, 1997, oddly enough on the same date the woman who adopted and raised her and has always been my grandmother passed away on in 1999.

Although she will never have a relationship with her birth mother, there are many, many living relatives; brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles innumerable and a possible father. Thanks to the wonder that is the world wide web, we have found loads of information about these poeple and are in the process of contacting them. My Grand aunt, who is alumni of Arizona State University even made a website tracing back four generations from herself of our family. This has been somewhat of a jackpot for my mom who has never had any kind of background information about herself or her roots. There are pictures, stories and although there are questions upon questions, leading to yet more questions, it is truly an amazing gift to suddenly have the knowledge of where you came from.

Apparently they emmigrated to Tucson, Arizona from Mexico before relocating to Los Angeles in the early 1900's. According to the website my Great Great Grandmother was a religious fanatic, very superstitious and a strict disciplinarian. To keep the children in order in the evenings she would tell them the story of La Llorona. This is the adapted version that she told my grand aunt, grandmother and their siblings. She took quite the creative liberties with it...=) Now I have an inkling where my flair for the dramatic enhancement of things may have come from.

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A long time ago in a little town called Tucson lived a BAD woman and she lived next to the Santa Cruz river with her three children. She liked to go out at night to the bars and drink and dance and of course she flirted with men. One night she met a handsome man and fell in love with him. She continued to meet him every night, leaving her children alone. One night the man tells her he has to leave Tucson and wants her to go with him. The only problem was her children. "I'll take you but not your children" he told her. "You must choose them or me. What will it be? I'm leaving at midnight and if you want to go with me meet me here. ALONE". She races home and enters her candle lit frontroom where the children lay sleeping. As the light crosses the childrens faces, she looks at them with love. But "is it enough?" she asks herself. "No, I deserve happiness and I can't lose the man I love."

She holds each child in her arms and kisses them good-bye. They move and ask what she is doing. "Come with me." she says. They are crying but she can't hear them because of the roaring in her ears. They go outside and in the shadow of the river rushing by, she throws her babies to a certain death. She has made her choice.

She runs back to the bar. She looks for her love. It is not quite midnight so where is he? The minutes pass and she drinks a beer and then another. Now he is late. "Hey Poncho, where is my love?" she asks the bartender. "Hey lady, he left with Maria right after you left." No, no her mind tells her and she runs from the bar. She looks in the stable and his horse is gone. She looks in his room and his clothes are gone too. He has gone and she realizes what she has done.

She runs home and starts screaming. The look in her eyes is crazy and she looks like a trapped animal. She takes a knife and plunges it into her heart as she runs to the river. There she dies on the shore and the river runs red with her blood. She awakens and looks at the person waking her. It is God. His eyes blazing he says "You have killed your children and cannot rest or have peace as long as their souls are roaming the Earth. You must return and find your lost babies. You must search for them in the still of the night with only moonlight to guide you." She covers herself from his burning eyes and finds her eyes gone. Just black holes are there now. Her body is draped in white shreads of cobwebs. Her hair is wild and long. She screams a long sorrowful shriek as she plunges downward toward earth. She lands in the mud of the Santa Cruz river and becomes part of the mud. But, at the days ends she rises and begins her search for the souls of her babies. She walks along the water crying "Mis hjos donde esta?" (My babies where are you?) She puts her long bony fingers in the mud lifting each handful and shifting through it, constantly searching. She hears children playing near by, could it be them? She rushes towards the voices, screaming but no it is not them. She opens her robe and puts the children next to her skeleton and they become a part of her.

This she will do for enternity. So my little ones, when the sun goes down you must be in your homes and you must not make loud noises because she might hear you and look in your windows to see if you are her babies. And with this I pass on an old legend that never dies.

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Source: http://www.library.arizona.edu/zepeda/
Coutesy of Nellie (Altamirano) Bustillos

The Guatemalan version of the "La Llorona" tale varies little from the previous already written.

In times when Spaniard colonies were established all around the country, there was this beautiful woman, married to a wealthy landlord. Their life seemed oh so happy, but in fact, the landlord had numerous business matters to attend out of town, so he had to travel frequently, leaving his wife bored and all by herself. This of course was something an "adventurous" gentleman (if he could be called so), decided to take advantage of.

He began paying visits to the lady when her husband was away, offering companionship in those lonely days. He brought her gifts, flowers, things that made her feel special, that would make him earn her trust.

Time passed by and the lady found more than a friend in the kind "gentleman". Rumors began to spread about the affair, but the landlord never got to know about them, wether because he wasn't in town long enough to be told, or because people would just kept their peace when he was around.

Nevertheless, the rumors didn't stop the lady and the "gentleman" from meeting whenever possible. However, one day she found out something went wrong: pregnancy. The next time she met with her lover, she told him about the matter, and as soon the last words came out of her mouth, the so called gentleman left the premises as quickly as he could. No goodbyes, no excuses, no answers. From that day, nothing could be known about the escapee.

The lady was distraught. What would she tell her husband? What would be of her? She decided to hide the evidence as long as possible. It wouldn't be difficult. She would wear loose clothing whenever her husband was in town.

Time went by, and it was getting more and more difficult to hide her state. Anyone but her husband had noticed there was something strange with how she dressed and her behavior, but he was too busy with his business to even get a clue.

One night, it happened. After nine months of hiding the product of her sin, it would finally come to this world, and it had to be the at the worst time. The landlord would be back in town by morning. The lady felt reliefed for a brief moment, but when she remembered where it came from, what would be of her if everything was revealed, she panicked. Desperately, she went to the nearest river, holding in her arms what would be the source of her damnation.

She walked into the water until it was waist deep and slowly submerged and let go what she kept in her arms, hoping it would be the answer to her dilemma.

At morning, when the landlord returned home, he couldn't find his wife. He asked around town, but the inital answer he got was that she was seen going for the river the previous night. He went to the river, but there was no sign of her. As he returned to town, he finally knew what had been happening when he was away, and thought she had eloped, right after giving birth to her lover's child.

The landlord got married again after some time, but he was careful enough not to leave his new wife alone as frequently as he did with the previous, who found her end at the river. Killing her offspring caused the Wrath of the Divine, and she was condemned to look for her child, the life she gave and took the same night. She wanders towns and stays near fountains, rivers, and water sources, looking for children, taking them away from their parents. They say she yells in an eerie and desperate cry: "Ay, mi hijo!" (Oh, my child!). The farther the cry is heard from, the closer she is, and when the nearest the cry, the farther she is.

This is not something I ever thought I’d tell anybody. The reason is that it, even now, even to me, sounds like a very big lie. But I came across a few articles today and I feel it is time.

Keep in mind that I in no way endorse a belief in the supernatural; I don’t believe in ghosts. If you were to tell me that you saw a ghost, I wouldn’t believe you. I’d ask about swamp gas, or maybe if you were on drugs at the time, or think that you were flat out lying. Perhaps this is why I’m so reluctant to write this down. I like to think myself of rational mind and even now I feel as if I’m telling a half truth, even though I know I’m not.

I suffer from bouts of insomnia. They’ve come and gone since at least middle school. Some weeks I can sleep fine, but others I can’t. Traditionally, the only way I can get to sleep is to make myself absolutely exhausted. Around late high school, seven years distant now, I began to talk long walks at night. I’d set off at midnight and come home around three in the morning. These were not light strolls and I would walk until my feet were killing me and my legs felt like they were about to fall off.

I usually began by heading out from my house and following the nearby arroyo up until it hit Bear Canyon and then I would walk up the Canyon until it ended and then double back through the side streets.

To understand what sort of place Bear Canyon is, we have to digress into its history. My city, Albuquerque, is dominated to the east by the Sandia Mountains, they are part of the Rockies, but are relatively small compared to their northern brothers. At one point in time Bear Canyon was one of two natural drainage areas that during flash floods would transport most of the water coming down off of the mountains into the Rio Grande River to the west. The Canyon almost down to the river was owned by the Albuquerque Academy a private school for boys founded in 1955, how they got the land is a mystery to me, but they used it for educational outings and hikes up to the mountains. At some point between then and now they sold a good portion of the Canyon to the City and the City dammed it and built houses below the dam, making many concrete arroyos to handle the frequent flash floods. The result is a much smaller canyon, that runs up to the mountains, but has very little water ever running through it. Marks of its previous glory scar it all the way down to the dam. Ghost creeks crisscross the floor of the Canyon, and finely grained sand covers the bed of these dried up streams and the sand is still too fine for many plants to take root. In some places the walls of these wadis have made them into proper arroyos themselves, some being as deep as six feet. Erosion still takes place as the walls of these arroyos are want to crumble, but they make an excellent footpath as you move toward the mountains. The other trails one could take up to the mountains are choked with cactus and thistle and all manner of other thorny plants.

When I went walking up the Canyon, it was often very dark, sometimes the moon was out, sometimes not, but I rarely took a flashlight as I wanted to avoid people. The Canyon feels very isolated at night and even with houses flanking its sides, the place is closed in and wild. Jackrabbits, roadrunners, quail, and prairie dogs can all be spotted frequently during the day. At night you can sometimes spot owls if the moon is up, and sometimes you can hear them if it is down.

Seven years have dulled some aspects of my memory. I know it must have been summer and I know it was on a moonlit night, but that there were clouds in the sky making the Canyon either very dark at some points and very bright at others. I also know that the Canyon is different now, every time it rains some aspect of the Canyon changes and there has been much rain since I last was there. Also, the city has build houses along the base of the mountain since then and now the Canyon is truly cut off from the rest of nature.

I remember that I had crossed through Oso Grande Park and then into the concrete arroyo that goes under the dam and I entered the Canyon as per usual, ducking under a concrete grating and arriving at the more open area near the far side of the dam. After deciding to head along the right side of the Canyon, because I could then choose to follow the largest dried up stream to Tramway Boulevard where I could go under a bridge and rest for awhile, or follow one of the footpaths up into the neighborhoods to take a gander at the three inexplicably bright blue houses that I had noticed on a walk earlier. That day I decided to head to the bridge.

Most of the walk went without incident save for an unusual uneasiness that happened every time the moon disappeared behind the clouds. It’s not in my nature to be unnerved by darkness, so this struck me as odd at the time and I chided myself for not having a very strong constitution. However, I must note that being unnerved when your light source disappears is a natural reaction and that it happened over and over again that night as the moon played hide and seek up in the clouds. Also, I will note that when your light source disappears you become aware of all sorts of little noises you might have been ignoring. Small things like a faraway bird or maybe the slight rustle of wind over desert sage brush. There is, about one city block distant from the Canyon, a school and that school has a playground and when the wind is just right you can hear the down right eerie sound of the chains on the swings moving back and forth. The sound carries quite well, and I have noted it on many occasions, and have never liked it. I probably would have forgotten all of these things, because I had traveled up the Canyon in many different types of weather and none of these sounds were new to me, but this night stands out and I’ll tell you why.

About a third of the way to the bridge, well after the dried river crosses to the left-- that is to say the north side-- of the Canyon, I began to hear a loud wailing noise that seemed to be coming from in front of me, from the direction of the mountains. It was like the sound that coyotes make, and that’s what I thought it was. Already feeling nervous, I considered turning back but the noise was far enough away that I was able to shake off the feelings of doubt and, at this point, possibly dread, and continued on.

The noise did not die down nor did it seem to come from the mountains for very long, it shifted at some point, but I was very slow in noticing the shift. Now it seemed to be coming from the west. It’s significant to mention that I stopped when I noticed this because I was confused. The noise was very similar to the sound of coyotes, but I now thought that it was different enough that I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. I was still standing in the dried riverbed and was trying to figure out if I was listening to the sound of an engine or animal voice. Sometimes it seemed multi-directional coming from both east and west, sometimes north and south, but I put that down to the odd acoustics a large curved area like a canyon must have and was about to start walking again until the sound cleared out and now was clearly coming from behind me.

I couldn’t get out of the riverbed because the sides were too steep and I was afraid I was going to be caught in a flash flood, but that didn’t make any sense because the noise was no longer coming from the direction of the mountains, and for the first and only time in my life I froze in fear.

It’s an interesting feeling. It’s what I imagine somebody in the way of a train thinks when they turn to see their own rushing death. Not, “I’ve got to get out of the way,” but “I’m going to be hit by a train.”

She came from around a bend traveling from west to east and past three feet from me.

Some observations:

She’s not a tall spirit, about a foot shorter than me, and Hispanic, thin, and young. Maybe about twenty, which at the time would have made her five years older than me.

She moves fast, you wouldn’t be able to outrun her. It’s something about her steps which seem unnaturally long, as if her legs were longer than her entire body, and yet I remember seeing no such distortion.

She makes a sound as loud as a freight train, it’s deafening and makes your ears ring. It’s a kind of sob that modulates its pitch up and down not unlike a musical saw. And yet in spite of this incredible noise you can hear her mumble to herself and it does sound like “mi hijo”, or as I thought at the time “miho” along with a fast string of indecipherable Spanish.

She is completely visible even in darkness. I’m not saying that she glows, rather it is as if the darkness doesn’t touch her.

Finally, though she passed quickly enough that you would expect to feel a strong breeze in her wake, she doesn’t disturb the air.

I did what you might expect anybody to do after seeing such and thing, I backed up until I tripped and sat in the dirt with my pulse racing so hard that I could feel my eyeballs bulge. Getting up was very difficult as my legs and arms were too shaky to support myself. And when I did get up I went back the way I came as fast as I was able and took lit streets back home.

It seems like a distant nightmare now. It marked the end of my long night walks and I am still reluctant to walk anywhere at night alone. As for Bear Canyon, I’m not scared of the place, I just dislike being there on windy days and when I am there I try to keep as close to the dam as possible.

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