Sands don't blow in the horizon. No, it's dirt - thinner than the coarse sand, and even more invasive. A handful of buildings, scattered to make alleys that twist and bend, no longer have the bright red vibrancy to their brick walls: it's the fucking dust that has washed away all colour until everything is bland creme. Yes, it's a harsh living, but at least the agave harvest is good (hell, the money those gringos pay for the liquor is good).
It's a small town; the kind where everyone knows each other; the kind where everyone can tell a stranger apart. Just last month, Magdalena's neighbour from across the street fell very ill - within five hours, the whole town knew about poor Jacinta's sickness. El Charco is but a sand grain of civilization scattered among thousands of others that constitute the vast Sonoran desert. You wouldn't find it if you weren't looking for it, and not many people do look.
One day, a stranger does.
She rides into the village, with a sensible (but by no means cheap) hat blocking off the sand from her eyes. Her horse is as black as night - but without the relief of stars. No, that beast looks every bit the devil's own; moves like it too, runs like Hell is chasing. They move as one, with the stranger's leather-bound heels digging into the meat of the animal's belly until it almost bleeds (and if it did, would the blood be red at all?).
Magdalena is one of the many who watches the stranger arrive, dismount, walk herself to the only inn there is. Within an hour (and perhaps it really is Magdalena's doing; her and her big mouth), the whole town of El Charco knows of the woman in the black-rimmed hat and silver-buttoned leather boots, and her beast of a horse.
It's that night when it starts; Magdalena's three dogs bark, and once they start, they do not stop. The sound is maddening: an ever-drumming ringing mixes with the cold night air and echoes, bouncing against sand and stone. She can imagine how kindly all her neighbours will smile at her in the morning. She calls "Chicho!", she calls "Lucio!", she calls "Paca!", begging them for silence. Magdalena asks her dogs - she asks, "what do you see?"
"We cannot tell you," says the one with the bent-tail and the long ears, the first night she asks. And so Magdalena sleeps through that deafening sound - or tries to, at least.
"We cannot tell you," says the one with shaggy dark hair, the second night she asks. And so, Magdalena returns to her bed, and closes her eyes so harshly, bidding the heavens above for some semblance of quiet, that she might even get wrinkles.
"We cannot tell you," says the smallest one on the third night she asks, slender and with clever brown eyes, "but we can show you. If you really want to know, you must wear our eyelashes for three days and three nights, and then you'll see." And so, Magdalena plucks two eyelashes from each dog and places the thin hairs alongside her own to frame her small eyes.
She wears the lashes for three days and three nights, and on the fourth night, just as the dogs begin to bark, she walks out of her house and into the night. Cold air and heavy dust set against her skin, as usual, but today is different. Today, Magdalena can see.
Before her, and right in the middle of the dimly-lit street, two figures move. The stranger is bare as the day God saw her birth, and she's dancing with the girl in front - the one no-one has seen for days. 'Oh, and where is dear Jacinta? I always liked that girl," they said, but it turns out she wasn't so ill after all. She wouldn't dance just as fervently as she's dancing now, even if she does look paler than she once did - sickness seeps from under those big brown cheeks. And she's thinner, too; you can see it in the way her ribs stick out, and Magdalena can even count the individual lines. And if she dares (does she, does she?) look further down, she'll see that Jacinta's feet are stumbling with the rhythm - graceless and limp. And if she dares, she'll notice that the feet of the stranger are no ordinary feet, no - one would surely keep such deformity hidden, bound in leather for not-one to see, because that is simply horrible, horrible. And how can the stranger walk with such feet? With one leg a'rooster's, and the other a'goats's? And if she dares, if she dares look, she'll see two horns nested between the jet-black strands of hair. And was the stranger's skin always as red as the bleeding-sunset-sun?
And if she dares, if she dares look, she'll surely scream because there are fires in the stranger's eyes that burn so wrongly, Magdalena may never see again. Magdalena cannot scream, though. Her body's been frozen with cold ice that burns to the touch. Magdalena just stands and shivers, unable to run or look away while her dogs bark and bark and bark, like they've done for nights now. The fear that overcomes her is strangling at her every muscle, constricting the walls of her skin inwards so she is trapped in herself ever-tighter. Red threads dig deep into the cavity of her chest and wind snakelike around her beating heart; Fear himself pulls at the threads, threatening to rip the madly-beating organ out. Her blood curdles, and it's like hours before she can make a sound - but she shouldn't have, because that clever devil, that damned stranger takes her voice and her soul and swallows it whole.
Magdalena wakes up in her bed, with her dogs sleeping at the sides of it.
When she tries to speak, no sound comes out at all.
There's a knock on the door of her house - no, there's three. Each one is louder and more forceful than the one before, and it makes her jump three times - one for each knock. It's bare knuckles against wood, and who could ever know that just flesh and bone could make such a horrid noise? Magdalena rises, trembling and she walks towards the front of the house, dreading every step she takes.
On the other side of the door, the stranger tips her hat and winks nonchalantly at the petrified woman. "I'll be seeing you soon," she smiles; a wolf baring her teeth.
And Magdalena, who has not stopped shivering, knows those words are not an idle threat; no, the stranger tells the truth.
this is loosely based off a mexican 'leyenda' (of which we have many!). i remember reading this story, but i could never find a written version... weird, isn't it? i hope i've done it some justice. Ft. a more experimental writing style? I tried to imitate (to an extent) the oral tradition/oral narrative + elements which are usually employed in the narrating of leyendas (commas, run-on sentences, grammatical mistakes common in spoken language, communicating with the audience).... idk how well i did, but do let me know! hope this isn't so long that nobody wants to read it rip