How La Llorona scared and inspired me
As a kid in Pueblo, Colorado, I lived down the street from a cemetery, which to any horror fan is like living near Disneyland.
The cemetery was old. A six- foot tall stone and crumbing fence surrounded the place which we ignored during the day. But nighttime was another matter. Facing our street was a black iron gate in the cemetery wall and lone light above that threw off a yellow illumination not only attracting bugs but evil. Just inside the gate was gravestone with the name Frankenburg or something like that. To us, however, it became Frankenstein’s resting place, or unresting place. We used to dare each other to touch the stone and live to tell the story. I tried once. My fingers grazed the cool marble. I swore I heard Frankenstein moan, or maybe it was Frankenburg.
Before the days of zombie videos, my friends and cousins tried to outdo one another in scaring the socks off each other in the evenings before our parents called us in for the night. And as Latinos, we specifically terrified each other with sightings of La Llorona.
We all knew the story of La Llorona, which had been told to us by our parents. As a result, the variations are many but this is the one my sister and I heard. The story starts with a beautiful, selfish woman who loved to party and keep company with men. One day, she drowned her children so she could run off a man. God swept the babies to heaven, but his wrath fell upon the woman. Her once lovely face turned demonic from her wickedness. Her hair became white as mist and gnarled as angry snakes, and her eyes were blood red from incessant weeping for her lost children. She called in a hideous squeaky voice, “Where are my babies? Where are my babies. ” La Llorona means the weeping woman.
Though not exactly a cozy bedtime story, the tale was meant to keep youngsters away from strangers. But to us, the weeping woman was just another monster from which to hide or run from. In fact, she ranked right up there with vampires and Frankenstein. (The zombie craze had not yet hit back then.)
In front of the cemetery, the cousins would yell, “It’s the Llorona!” We would spin and swear we could see her, or at least imagine seeing her. Dragging twisted feet and wearing a dirty ragged white gown. We’d scream out of the very real fear—for it is that when you are nine–that she would indeed grab us with claw covered hands and take us to hell or drown us like she did her poor children. We’d scatter, then return the spot under the cemetery light and wonder what other monster we could spot.
Those were the good times.
I owe a lot to La Llorona. She scared me then and was part of the inspiration for me becoming a writer. Hers was just a darned good story. It also made me want more horror tales.
I stayed up reading “Tales from the Crypt” and H.P. Lovecraft. Sure, I loved to read fairy tales and all those other good kids books, but give me a good scare every time.
I never missed Friday night horror movies on TV. One night when my father worked a late shift, my sister, my mom and me huddled together watching the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” We trembled when an unformed alien body oozed out of one of those bizarre pods. We didn’t want to close our eyes in sleep and I was tempted to look under my bed to make sure there were no pods.
Ah, what memories.
As I grew up, my love of horror continued. Vampires were among my favorites. Not the cute Edward Cullen kind, but the bloodsuckers whose eyes were gorged with blood from their latest victims. To this day, I am a particular fan of Christopher Lee’s version in the British Rank Films. Now that is one vampire you don’t want to see outside your window.
My love of the horrific in books, graphic novels, television and movies continues. Why? It is true. The more scared you are, the more you feel alive. But there is something else. Perhaps, it is because of a sad humanity behind the monsters and creatures. An unfairness when a man grows hair and fangs through no fault of his own, when you happen to move into a house built over a cemetery, when the devil has its eye on you, or you’re stuck in a spaceship with a malevolent alien. There is also bravery in how people face a Michael Myers, Jigsaw, anyone carrying a chainsaw, and a zombie licking its lips for your brain.
I do write children’s books, dramas, and romance. But horror is well, special, all because of La Llorona. She inspired me, and her tale is part of my culture and childhood. I have written about the weeping woman in a short story, play, and now a novel. She taught what it was like to be scared.
Sometimes, my husband and I walk our dogs at night. Up ahead under a street light, I still wonder if La Llorona lurks in the shadows, crying for her doomed babies, claws out, and ready to strike.
Patricia Santos Marcantonio grew up with a family of storytellers. Her children’s book “Red Ridin‘ in the Hood” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) earned an Anne Izard Storyteller’s Choice Award and American Library Association Starred Review, and was named a Best Collections to Share – Wilde Awards. Her screenplays have hit the top percentage in several contests, including MORE Women in Film, Screenwriting Expo 5, Women in Film Las Vegas and the Phoenix Film Festival contest. Her new horror novel, “The Weeping Woman” has been released by Sunbury Press, Inc.