My father has been gone four months now. Mamá still nurtures the childlike hope that he will return as if from some crucial mission that would prove his virtue to a town that’s deemed him an abandoning cad. She has this luxury because she’s sequestered herself in her studio, painting abstract portraits of him in reverent strokes of graphite blue and slate gray. But if she would step out of that fume-filled space, her desperate optimism would come to a halt, for strewn throughout the bustling streets are flyers about Papá and three other missing men.
“They were each last known to have been going to the area surrounding Pico Duarte,” a woman from la panadería gossips to whomever will listen. “The first of them was there to fish, the second was a ranger in the park, the third was a guide that led hikers on the trails, and the fourth was a member of the last search team.”
My father was the one who’d been there to fish.
In the woods bordering the mountain, he had found not only a reprieve from his tumultuous relationship with my mother, but sustenance in the current seams of the lesser-known rivers. He stayed out there for days sometimes. He claimed that a peaceful communion with nature was all he was seeking, yet among his belongings, the search party found a small box purchased at the chocolatier’s. By the time they got to it, the decadent morsels (abandoned under a lush canopy that provided shade from much of the sun’s warmth) were partially melted and fused to their elaborate packaging. The supposition had been that Papá was meeting a woman out there when he was attacked by wild boars. Not one fragment of his remains was found, but footprints—not boot prints, footprints, larger than a child’s but smaller than a man’s—were found about the area in the most perplexing of patterns, apparently covering the tracks of whatever predator had struck.
Of course, I haven’t divulged any of these findings to Mamá. Lord knows what she’d do to herself. Still, I bring her trays of food, empty her piss pot, and discretely clear her studio of sharp objects.
“Is my putty knife in the main house?” she asks me one day, scratching her head.
“Why don’t you go and find out for yourself?” I say.
She sucks her teeth and turns her back to me.
I put her tray down and open the window shade.
A face—shaped like the full moon and colored not like the cafecito amargo to which my father is partial, but like the pollo medio that my mother loves—causes me to cry out.
“What is it, mija?” My mother rushes to the window. She then issues a single, robust clap. “Ophelia!” She opens the door for the woman I now recognize as the town mystic. “Come in, come in! Have you had a vision of my Yani? Do you know where he is?”
The woman hides her refusal to speak explicitly of Papá by swatting at a fly, gushing about what a beautiful young woman I’ve become, and insisting that Mamá tend to the pastry and pollo medio I brought her.
Eventually, Ophelia blurts, “I know who’s been taking the men.” She pauses for dramatic effect. “There is an exquisite creature… a creature more beautiful than anyone you or I have ever seen. She lives in a cave deep in the forest, and that is where she lures the men, you see, to have sex with them, then kill them. As they die, she gets stronger, and she’s able to stay on this earthly plane. That’s how this monster gets her power, you know: consuming the last breaths of foolish mortals.”
“Are you speaking of La Ciguapa?” my mother asks incredulously. “Dios mío, Ophelia. That’s nothing but a silly legend!” Angry now, Mamá barks, “How dare you come here, worsening my grief and filling my daughter’s head with nonsense?”
The maria of Ophelia’s lunar face shift and darken. “I speak the truth. My visions are never wrong. This will be proven when we send out another search party—a party exclusively comprised of women. It will be only a matter of time before we catch sight of La Ciguapa. Her charms will have no effect on us. We women have the power to survive her.”
“Oh, we’ll survive La Ciguapa alright. Just not the boars.” Mamá crosses her arms tightly. “I’m not joining your band of idiots, Ophelia.”
“Well then, I guess you don’t want to stop the thing that’s killing our men.”
“There is no thing!” my mother erupts. “The men that are missing either got mixed up in dangerous business or…” Quieter now: “…simply left of their own accord.”
It’s ironic that as soon as my mother reveals her rather sensible beliefs about Papá’s whereabouts, I take a warped sense of solace in the possibility that my father was taken by an otherworldly creature against which men are powerless. It feels better than assuming that he abandoned us for some woman who would settle for a life of clandestine meetings and fancy chocolates. If there’s a chance that I can avenge Papá’s misguided soul, then I will take it.
That night, I steal out of the house, creep past the studio, and join Ophelia and her “band of idiots.” We take an old conversion van as far as we can, then hike the same path that the search parties before us took. We come to a clearing where slivers of moonlight filter through the leafy umbrella overhead. This is where the chocolates were found. My weary brain manufactures the scents of melted cacao and my father’s aftershave.
I’m ordered to bed down with the others who are scheduled for the first shift of sleep. I nod off quickly. When my eyes flutter open, it’s the time of night that’s thickest. One of the women who was supposed to be keeping watch is slumped against a tree, chin to her chest, snoring softly. Then I see Ophelia and another woman huddled together, eye whites gleaming in the darkness. Ophelia is pressing a crucifix to her chest and the other woman is brandishing a kitchen knife in her shaky hand. They’re staring right over me.
Slowly, I roll onto my stomach. I tilt my gaze until I can see what’s scaring my comrades so. Bathed in a shaft of moonlight is a woman with impossibly long hair. Her black tresses have been pulled over her shoulders and left to cascade over her private areas. I am afraid, my body quivering against the uneven earth. But when the grunt of an animal emanates from somewhere deep in the woods and the naked woman turns, I become transfixed by the graceful swoop of her lower back and how it merges with the swell of her buttocks. Her smooth skin is the color of the sky at dusk. I feel something that I’ve never felt before: a hunger that cannot be sated with food. I have a desire to bring my hands and mouth to the feminine curves of that body—a need so strong that my fingertips and tongue tingle hotly. I get up.
The woman with the knife springs into action, her free hand closing around my arm. “You mustn’t.”
The object of my desire faces me again, parting her shiny locks to reveal breasts that are full but pert, a taut belly, and, of course, her sex. I approach her. But I come to a jarring halt.
Her feet… They’ve been twisted so that her heels are pointed forward and her toes are pointed backward. I’m overcome by a sick feeling, not from the look of her from the ankle-down, but because I now understand why the footprints found in the clearing were arranged in such a baffling pattern.
The creature says nothing to lure me closer. She merely looks at me from beneath heavy lashes that throw shadows under the outer corners of her eyes. Her irises are black as well water. Staring into them soothes my nausea and resurrects my yearning.
If Ophelia or the other woman call out to me, I don’t hear it. If I’m walking in this creature’s intoxicating wake, I’m unaware of it, for I don’t feel twigs snapping beneath my feet or branches skimming my arms. Yet, I soon find myself in a cave with a bed of velvety moss. La Ciguapa and I fall onto it. We weave in and out of each other, overlapping in transcendental ecstasy, until I am no longer of the corporeal world.
But I exist, and I always will. I am the air that rustles through the leaves and the soil that cradles every root. I am the rays that nourish all things and the sigh of el cielo at dawn. I will always be here, come torrents or flames or the entropy of eons. I am here even though she is gone, bound by an herb-of-grace rope and scorched by Ophelia’s women. Just as the mystic had predicted, an end was put to La Ciguapa, the “silly legend” that brought my father his demise and me my immortality.
About the Author:
Sophie is a writer of short fiction and mediocre poetry. Her work has been featured by Ellipsis Zine, Popshot Quarterly, Litro UK, Lumiere Review, and other publications. She was nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize and is an avid member of the #WritingCommunity on Twitter. Connect with her at https://twitter.com/SophieKearing.
Feature image by Lars_Nissen / Pixabay