Ghost story

It’s October again — here’s another ghost story:

   “Warner, now that you have me thinking about it,” Paulo said, “I have a ghost story which I should tell you. Would you like to hear it?”
    “Certainly,” Warner said. “Is it from Chile?”
    “No, it is from El Salvador.” Paulo shrugged. “You know, it could be from Chile. It is something you might hear from several countries of South America, or Central America. But it is from El Salvador. It is from 1983. This ghost was seen by rebels who were living in the countryside and fighting for the FMLN.”
    “The leftist revolutionaries.”
    “That is correct. This ghost haunted a river in the countryside near where they were camped. The river was on the edge of some woods, and when these soldiers were in the area they would see the dark form of the ghost momentarily before it receded back into the shadows. The ghost reminded them of an old woman. La Ciguanaba, they decided it was. The Hag, you might say; a spirit witch. The men had already heard rumors of her from the locals. The guerrillas were deathly afraid of her; more afraid than they were of the government soldiers. At least they carried guns with which they might defend themselves against the government soldiers, but against La Ciguanaba they could do nothing.”
    “And what might she do to them?”
    “Well, the fear was that she might abduct one of them and drag him into the woods, forever. That never happened, but she could also paralyze people—and indeed she did, several times. Like a spider poisoning and immobilizing its prey. A man would see her shadow in the woods and would be frozen until a comrade shook him back to consciousness. They had to go on patrols all around the area, so they could not avoid that stretch of river completely, even if they went upstream or downstream at other times to fetch their water.
    “I spoke to one of these men personally, Warner, and let me tell you, he was terrified at the time. She was a murky spirit who moved silently. She would usually come out just before dawn or in the twilight; often when the men were a bit sleepy and their minds were ready to play tricks on them in any case. This man I spoke to, he once peered into the woods for many minutes, he said, before walking down closer to the water while on patrol; and only when he had chided himself to stop being afraid did he see the two white eyes staring at him from the far bank. La Ciguanaba haunted that creek for over a year.
    “One day a rebel walking from the other direction—through the woods, and out into the clearing—a courageous man—surprised her. She squealed; the first sound anyone had heard her make. With this he became brave, and chased her when she ran off. Eventually she became tangled in brush, could run no further, and was captured.
    “She was female, and thin, but not an old woman; she was a young girl. The rebels coaxed her along with them, gave her food, and took her to see their medic.
    “It turned out she was a survivor of the massacre at El Mozote, Warner. That was the massacre in 1981 when the Atlacatl Battalion killed eight hundred, nine hundred civilians.”
    “Yes, I have read of it.”
    “The officers of that battalion were trained in our country, here, you know, not so very far from where we now sit. And this girl survived. She had run away from the government soldiers that night when they came into the village, and she lived off weeds and fish from the river. She had no idea what was going on; no idea what exactly had happened. Whenever she heard gunfire, or explosions—which was often—she assumed the soldiers were back, and killing more people in her home, in El Mozote. Every last member of her family was killed, Warner. Like everyone else in that village they were shot in the head, or had their throats cut open, and then they were dumped in a pit or else incinerated. And this girl knew no one else; there was no one to report that she was missing, no one to care. She lived by that river for a year, as a ghost.”
    Warner said nothing.
    “There you are,” Paulo finished. “That’s a ghost story for you.”

– From White Cedar Press:

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