Silvia Moreno-Garcia | The Witch: A Mexican Story
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Night sky photo.

The Witch: A Mexican Story

I was on NPR’s “All Things Considered” today. We talked about my latest novel Certain Dark Things (vampires in Mexico, buy it now) and folklore. And we talked about my great-grandmother, who told me stories about the Mexican countryside and the monsters that lived there, including shape-shifting witches, winged serpents and evil spirits.

Today is the longest night of the year and this is a story my great-grandmother told me. Consider it a holiday gift.

The Witch: A Mexican Story

It was in the sierra, in the years of the Revolution. There was a town of witches. Everyone knew to be wary of the town and when they went there to trade or sell their wares, people made sure to leave before nightfall.

My youngest uncle was tall and handsome. All the girls were in love with him. He was charming, lively; he could tell jokes well and with the rifle slung over his shoulder he cut an impressive figure. This was his downfall. One day the men took him to the witch town; they set off with their weapons and their wares. My mother didn’t want them to go because she didn’t like the town. She especially didn’t want her littlest brother there. He was her favorite and she mothered him , glad for his sparkling stories and smiles. But the men insisted he should accompany them. It would do him good to step outside instead of being cooped in the house and besides, they needed the help.

They went to the market and all was well until, towards the end of the day, a young woman passed by in front of the men. She zeroed in on my young uncle. She was interested in him and made an overture. But he wasn’t interested in her. When he dismissed her kindly and she persisted, he lost his patience and became rude, cracking a joke or two at her expense. This sent the other men roaring with laughter and the woman frowned. She told him he would pay for his jest. She would cast a spell on him and he’d be hers. She’d turn him into a stool to sit on.

She muttered other taunts and curses, but the men shooed her off, yelling and calling her names.

My uncle was upset and wondered if he shouldn’t try to make it up to the woman and apologize. The others, however, were readying their mounts. Dusk was arriving and they needed to ride back. By the time the men returned home they had joked and distracted my uncle. He forgot his misgivings. The family ate dinner and everyone went to bed.

In the middle of the night my uncle ventured to the outhouse. He never returned to the room he shared with his sibling. In the morning the men went looking for him. He was nowhere to be found. My mother was distraught. She blamed her older brothers for what had happened, saying they had not taken care of her little brother, but none of them would shoulder this blame. My mother prayed often and one night her prayers were answered because my uncle suddenly showed at her doorstep.

He looked tired and haggard, no longer his brash, bright self.  The men were out on a hunting expedition. My mother offered my uncle food and drink and he sat in the kitchen. Eventually he told my mother that he’d been spirited away by the witch from the market. She had turned him into a stool, as she promised, although she now let him roam around the town in his human form. He had managed to get away that night but was afraid.

My mother grabbed a rifle and provisions. They went to the barn to ready a horse. But as they were saddling the mount they heard noises above their heads, on the roof of the barn. A scratching and then laughter. Female laughter. My mother readied the rifle. You learn to shoot since you are knee-high in the sierra and she was not afraid.

But he was scared.

My uncle ran outside, telling my mother it was the witch, that she’d found him and he must go back or his family would suffer.

My mother rushed after him with the rifle but there was no one there. She circled the barn, she circled the house, she walked through the corn field and the wind bent the stalks, but she was alone. That night she didn’t sleep, instead sitting by the window clutching her firearm. There were no other disturbances.

As for my uncle, no one ever saw him again. The men, when they returned from the hunt, cold and wet from an icy rain which had fallen the whole day, said she must have dreamed the whole thing. But she knew better.

That is why you must be careful if you are ever in the sierra. There are witches and warlocks there who speak to the stones and turn into animals. And I’ll tell you the name of the town of witches, but you must not say it out loud. I’ll whisper it and you can whisper it to your children.

Photo: Flickr,troyearnest.

Certain Dark Things

Certain Dark Things

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Year: October 25, 2016
ASIN: 1250099080
A teenage garbage picker meets a vampire in Mexico City. But narcos are after them. “With its vibrant prose and stellar world building, Certain Dark Things is one of the best books I’ve read in years.” - V. E. Schwab, author of the NYT bestselling Shades of Magic series
About the Book

Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…

Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eeking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life.

Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Domingo is smitten.

Her plan doesn’t include developing any real attachment to Domingo. Hell, the only living creature she loves is her trusty Doberman. Little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his effervescent charm.

And then there’s Ana, a cop who suddenly finds herself following a trail of corpses and winds up smack in the middle of vampire gang rivalries.

Vampires, humans, cops, and gangsters collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive?

Silvia’s debut novel, Signal to Noise, won a Copper Cylinder Award and was a finalist for the British Fantasy, Locus, Aurora and Solaris awards. She is the winner of a World Fantasy Award for her work on the anthology She Walks in Shadows.