31 Oct The Guaguanco
(from Ecuadorian Ghost Stories, edited by Mario Conde, translated by Christopher Minster)
San José de Chimbo – Bolívar
Polibio and Floripa could not have any children. They had been married for six years, and they had visited every doctor, herbologist and midwife they could find, but all of their efforts to conceive a child had been in vain.
They lived in San José de Chimbo, a small town about an hour away from the city of Guaranda. They owned large tracts of land that Floripa had inherited from her father, a wealthy man from the region. The marriage seemed to be a stable one. However, the truth was that it was all an act, because Polibio had only married Floripa for her money, and when no one was around, he was very abusive, blaming her for his own sterility.
At first the couple was asked to be godparents to a whole generation of the children of Chimbo until one day Polibio grew sick and tired of bringing other people’s children to church, asking for a blessing from a God that refused him any children of his own. He changed. Although he was once a happy, lighthearted man, he became somber and greedy. One time, his wife was asked to be godmother for the daughter of one of their servants, but when he found out, he forbade her to ever help anyone again. Floripa promised to obey him, knowing how frustrated he was that they could not have any children of their own. Polibio became obsessed with the idea of having a huiñachishca or an adopted child who could keep him company. But it wasn’t that simple.
One afternoon, Polibio took his wife to town with him to arrange some details regarding a land sale he was involved with. Their business went to about six o’clock. At that time, they walked back to their home, which was only about twenty minutes away. To get there, they had to walk along a trail that was lined with thick bushes. It began to get dark, and the couple quickened their pace.
When they were about halfway there, a sudden silence fell over the area. There were a few tense seconds until they heard a cry, like that of a baby. It seemed to be coming from the bushes a few meters in front of them. Surprised, the couple went closer to see if the cry had come from a human baby or some mountain bird.
They heard the same piteous whimper again: it sounded like a baby, hungry and cold. They looked at each other without a word. After a moment they had not heard any adult voices, and their curiosity drove them into the bushes. They hadn’t gone as far as ten steps when they saw a little package, bundled in baby clothes. It was a baby, and he was crying loudly in front of a small sigses bush.
Polibio took the child and covered him with his own poncho, while the eyes of his wife moistened with happiness. Floripa asked indignantly what sort of mother would have so stony a heart as to leave her newborn in such a state, as if it were some little animal. Polibio replied that it must be the result of some sort of illicit love affair, maybe the son of a single woman who got rid of him to hide her shame.
It seemed like a good explanation, and the couple was filled with joy. Finding the child they had always wanted was like a miracle. They left the bushes and went home, delirious with happiness.
On the road, while they talked excitedly about their plans for the future, it got dark. They had to slow down, so that they would not trip. The child had stopped crying and was nice and warm, all snuggled in the poncho. Polibio, fearing that something might happen to the baby, sent his wife ahead to advise him of any holes in the trail. The couple had not gone far when Polibio, feeling suddenly nauseous and tired, asked his wife to wait a moment.
“What’s the matter?” his wife asked.
“The baby is heavy,” he replied, upset.
They kept walking, but oddly, the baby kept getting heavier and heavier. Polibio didn’t get far before he didn’t have the strength to hold it. Feeling faint, he stopped again. Suddenly, from one moment to the next, the baby was not only very heavy, but also burning hot, so scorching that Polibio felt his body being burned as if he had red-hot coals in his poncho.
“What is this? My God! What is happening to this baby?” he asked, shocked.
Polibio was certainly not expecting an answer to his question. However, the baby responded in a shuddering, nasal voice:
“I have teeth. Look, I have teeth!”
The baby reached one of its hands out from within the poncho. It had long, black fingernails, and it pulled the poncho away from its head. Polibio was horrified to see that the baby had sharp, tusk-like teeth like a wild beast, a purplish face and burning eyes, blazing like two tiny fireballs.
“I have teeth. Look, I have teeth!” the demonic baby repeated. Then, it leapt out of the poncho and grabbed onto Polibio’s neck with its long nails and bit down with its teeth. Polibio died almost instantly.
Floripa screamed in horror and ran away as fast as she could, terrified, tripping and stumbling. It had gotten so dark that she could not see anything at all. Nevertheless, she kept running, horrified, without knowing how far she was from home. Instinct told her that at any moment the devil’s child would throw itself onto her throat. She went mad with fear the moment she heard its infernal cry in front of her, as if lying in wait for her in the bushes. She kept fleeing, but the more she ran, the more she heard the demonic child. Desperate, she kept tripping in the dark until she finally fell, exhausted.
She couldn’t go any more. It felt as if her chest would burst. It was then that she heard the nasal voice:
“I have teeth. Look, I have teeth!”
A tiny shadow, with a demonic shape, was approaching. Floripa covered her neck with her hands and waited for the end to come. But at the last moment she heard another cry, which sounded as if it came from a different baby. She raised her eyes and saw a woman approach, carrying a baby. She was lit from behind by a white light.
Without realizing it, she had made it home and was on her own patio. The woman was the servant, mother of Floripa’s goddaughter, and she had come outside to investigate the strange noises. When the servant felt the presence of the devil, she pinched her daughter, who began to cry. The innocence and purity of the infant frightened the devil-spawn, who let out a chilling shriek and vanished in a puff of smoke.
Without the bad influence of her husband, Floripa returned to the gracious, sociable woman she had been before she met him. She became very devout and served as godmother for many of the children of her employees and even took children of single mothers into her own home. Floripa used to say that if an unwed mother abandons a child in the wild, and if the child has not been baptized, the devil will accept it as a godson and turn it into a Guaguanco. This creature lures its victims – evil men and women – by pretending to cry like a newborn.