Born in México and raised on the border, Yara is drawn to darker tales and is an aficionado of Mexican folklore. She attributes this to her own mother and abuela who told the best spooky stories around. This particular story is an interpretation of an event that occurred in her own family.
She is a Latina dual language educator, mother and author who is passionate about representation and advocacy in all realms. As an elementary dual language educator of nearly a decade, she particularly enjoys crafting paranormal cuentos that both adults and children can enjoy. She has been published in LatineLit magazine and Latinx Magazine. She lives in Austin with her two young daughters, husband and rescued Blue Heeler mix. You can follow her on Twitter @YariWrites
“Mija,” my father’s voice sounded desperate. “We are going to need you to come home this summer after all.” I could sense the pain in his voice as he tore me away from my university summer plans.
“Your mom is exhausted taking care of your abuela all alone. And I’m still working night shifts.” For about 2 years, my mom had been the sole caretaker for my abuela, her mother, who was quite ill with dementia and diabetes, not to mention far along in age. I’d planned to train as a resident advisor that summer; basically, a dorm babysitter for the freshman living on campus, because it covered all of my dorm fees. Alas, my eldest daughter duties beckoned me home. As I resigned myself to a heavy work-study schedule the following semester instead, I felt an odd sense of relief. It wasn’t a difficult decision for me. I was always Abuela's favorite, and I considered it an honor to help during what could presumably be her last months with us.
Abuela lived out in a rural, almost remote area; 30 minutes from a small town and almost an hour from a hospital. This pueblito lay on the Texas/Mexico border and looked every bit the part with small, colorful wood-framed homes dotting the flat landscape and the occasional decaying vehicle in a front yard. My parent’s home is in the same town as the hospital an hour away and my abuelita had a home health aid come in twice a day, a nurse every other day, but no overnight care. For the previous two years, my mother headed out to spend the night at her house to provide care and companionship. As the dementia accelerated, she claimed to see people at the window at night, including her beloved husband who had passed five years prior. My abuelo had been a noble farmer his entire life, rising before the sun and not ceasing work in the dusty fields that surrounded their ranchito until dusk. Other, perhaps most sinister, nightly visitors, Abuelita said, would whistle and try to convince her to unlatch the windows.
Although her home was in a rural area, the neighbors, though distant, kept an eye out for each other and each other’s property the way only country folks do. Once, they’d found Abuela wandering a field in the middle of a South Texas heatwave and brought her back home. It was an eerie, but safe, area.
The days of driving back and forth began to take a toll on us, so ultimately my parents agreed to pull some savings and make a couple of updates to Abuelita’s home so that we would be more comfortable staying there full-time with Abuelita when my university classes resumed in the fall. Abuela loved her home dearly and it would have broken her heart to leave her beloved ranchito behind. It was a shell of the functional little ranch it had once been with only a handful of chickens and a sad cage of palomas left. Abuela would even protest at times that if she were to move, that my grandfather wouldn’t be able to find her when he came home at night.
As her illness progressed, her overnight hospital stays became more frequent. Nightly, I’d head out to el ranchito to be sure the renovations on the house were going well and to be sure the construction supplies were safely stored overnight. Although the neighbors kept a watchful eye, theft was common on that part of the border.
As time went by, I noticed a large, but kindly looking white dog resembling a lab mix coming by in the evenings. He was much too beautiful to be a stray, but none of the neighbors seemed to be missing a dog. As it was unlikely his home was nearby, I began to feed and water him. Truthfully, I enjoyed the dog’s peaceful presence on lonely nights at el ranchito. The ivory dog would mysteriously arrive most evenings before dusk, have dinner and sleep on the porch quietly. Since my abuela only had network TV and really only prioritized seeing her Mexican novelas, there was little else to do than settle in for an evening with the dog. With the sunrise, the canine would head off again for the day only to return to the porch the next evening like clockwork. We began to call him Guardía, as he seemed to guard the house while my abuelita and mother were at the hospital.
Though her illness had been long, ultimately, my abuelita's death did come as a surprise as she’d frequently been in and out of the hospital bouncing back with the stubborn determination typical of her generation.
The night after her funeral, when the final visitors had left, my parents and I began preparing to make our usual drive to Abuelita’s house to monitor the construction supplies. We brought a feast of scraps for Guardía as we had the last few months, but strangely he didn’t show up. I continued to bring him dinner until the day I headed back to my university hoping to catch one last glimpse of him. Eventually, el ranchito was sold. As there was no longer an urgent need to move out there, my parents decided to sell the place with renovations in progress.
Yet, we all remain puzzled that Guardia never returned again. My parents took drives around the countryside frequently looking for signs of him and asking neighbors about him. Nothing. Even stranger was the fact that none of the neighbors claimed to have ever seen him at all. They didn’t see his dusk trot over to el ranchito, his evenings on the porch with me, his morning departures nor him wandering the fields. Habría sido un alebrije, a spirit guide, sent to lead Abuelita safely to the other side?