From Chapter 1
“Did you know almost every part of the country has a story about a ghostly woman and drowned children?” In the Southwest the tale is called La Llorona. Are you familiar with that legend?” For a long while Professor Dawson had rambled on, but this time he waited for McQuede’s response.
“Can’t say I’ve heard much about it,” McQuede replied.
Dawson slowed the Cadillac and chose the shortcut to Black Mountain Pass where he was to address the historical society. Seated beside him, Sheriff McQuede felt underdressed and undereducated—underdressed, because Barry Dawson looked every inch the professor in fancy western jacket that matched his carefully-styled iron-gray hair. In contrast, McQuede looked rough and rugged in a rumpled suit jacket discovered in the back of his closet that certainly did nothing to enhance his broad shoulders, unruly black hair, and silvery eyes. Undereducated, because all he had to balance the professor’s expertise on the subject of legends was the knowledge of a few local tales.
“Many versions of the La Llorona story exist.” Dawson, whose lectures seldom waited until he reached the podium, continued enthusiastically. “But basically it goes like this: a poor but beautiful village woman attracts a wealthy lover who doesn’t know she has children. She drowns her children to be with her lover, who then rejects her. Realizing her mistake and feeling the anguish of her grief, her spirit cannot rest. It is said that if you listen closely, you can hear her voice on the winds, calling for her lost children.”
“There’s a similar story about the bridge up ahead,” McQuede remarked.
“Yes, it is often referred to as Crying Woman Bridge,” Dawson said. “In fact, I’ve included the legend behind it in tonight’s talk.”
Wooden planks rattled beneath them as they started across the rickety structure. The old bridge’s original girders had been supported by steel sometime in the 1930s. Since the bridge didn’t get much traffic beyond a few locals using the back road to Black Mountain Pass, no improvements had been made since.
McQuede gazed through the girders to the thick underbrush and deep water below. At this point the Trapper River started its downward course, cutting through the high mountains on either side. As a boy, McQuede had loved this spot, the rushing water, the obstructing rocks that caused rapids and whirlpools. But with the sinking sun, it lost its allure and seemed cold and treacherous.
“When I was in high school, the kids always gathered here to party. But they were spooked by the place, too.” McQuede leaned back in the car seat, recalling, “In the old days, it was called Mirabella’s bridge.”
“That’s because,” Dawson explained, “according to local legend, a young pioneer woman named Mirabella got jilted by her lover and threw her baby over the bridge.”
“All I know is that at night it is rumored you can still hear her wails.”
“Foolish superstition,” Dawson said.
McQuede attempted to suppress amusement over his friend’s sudden seriousness. “It’s a fact, for sure,” McQuede persisted, trying to keep the teasing out of his voice, “if you say her name three times, she will appear and bad things will follow.”
“Yes,” Dawson echoed, “Three calls and woe to you.”
“Did you ever try it?”
“Not brave enough.” Midway across the bridge, Dawson stopped the car. “But you are. I dare you, McQuede. Call her name three times, and let’s see what happens.”
Dawson pressed the buttons that controlled the front side windows, and they slid open with an eerie, mechanical sound that mingled with the noise of rushing water. A gust of wind from the canyon stirred their clothing and hair. Instead of waiting for McQuede, Dawson called out in a voice loud and clear, “Mirabella! Mirabella! Mira—we’re going to be late,” he broke off suddenly, without finishing. He promptly checked his watch. “Too late for this nonsense.”
Dawson, for the first time silent, stepped harder on the gas as they followed the twisting road. McQuede’s friend always became too involved in these legends, so much so, that they often became fixed in his mind as solid fact instead of mostly fiction. McQuede, noting the anxiety that had crept into the professor’s manner, couldn’t help smiling.
(from Chapter 2)
“Didn’t you hear that noise?”
McQuede listened intently, catching what sounded like a distant voice drifting toward them from the center of the bridge. As they drew closer, the cries became loud and terrible.
McQuede’s blood froze. A woman, shrouded by fog, stood squarely in the center—pacing, wringing her hands, shrieking. Her long, dark hair swept in the wind as did her flowing skirt. The darkness and wind made her look like the ghost of a pioneer woman.
McQuede stared toward her, half-expecting the waif-like apparition to float away, but she remained, a solid substance, swaying and wailing. Her words were now distinct. “What will I do? Help me! Help me! I don’t know what to do!”
Dawson braked the car, and McQuede leaped out. He rushed toward her, gripping both of her arms and holding her fast. “What’s wrong?”
She seemed not even to hear his question. He followed her terrified gaze to the deep drop-off below them. His voice rose above the gurgling of rapids. “Talk to me! What’s happened?”
“Someone took him! She took him!”
McQuede shook her gently, hoping to restore her to her senses. “Who took what? What are you talking about?”
Tears streamed down her cheeks. “My baby! My baby’s gone! She kidnapped him.”
“What did she look like?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. She looked like a ghost.”
The more she spoke. the more unbelievable her story seemed. “Where did she take him?”
“She drove away.”
Her words jolted him. Could there be some truth to her rambling? “Can you describe the vehicle?”
She shook her head helplessly. “She took him away in her dark, ghostly car.”
McQuede’s attention turned again to the rapidly moving river. His heart plummeted as he caught sight of a little blue blanket swirling around in the dark water.