I never liked going to my aunt Paola’s house. Honestly, I never liked her either. She’s a creepy bible-thumping Jesus fanatic and she’d always circle over me like a vulture. But none of that creeped me out like her house did. It was old, run-down and filled with weird religious art. Sure, there were the typical paintings of the Last Supper and Our Lady of Guadalupe. That’s not what made my skin crawl. It was the statues. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what bothered me, but something wasn’t right about them. They were littered all over the place, filling every corner, turning up in every direction you looked, and I swear they looked back. Giant god-awful figures of saints and angels clogging the tiny house and turning it into a claustrophobic maze.
I often wondered where my aunt had gotten the money for all the sculptures. In all other regards, it seemed as though she had taken a holy vow of poverty. Very little money was spent on herself or even her toddler son. My cousin Miguel was just as strange as his mother. They were so alike that I sometimes forgot Aunt Paola had adopted him. It was the eyes that truly made them resemble one another, a haunted stare accompanied by uncomfortable silence.
The first time I babysat Miguel he never fussed or cried the way normal babies do. It should have been a relief, but the entire time I squirmed as he watched me. My mother insisted there was no medical reason to blame for his disposition. Secretly I wondered if it came from being cooped up with my aunt who had never dated or married.
After that evening I passed all the babysitting opportunities on to my younger sister. She didn’t seem to mind. It probably would have continued on that way if not for a school project that had my sister occupied at a neighbor’s house right when my aunt insisted on going to Saturday mass. There was nothing I could do to get out of it. My mom didn’t care about my whining. She just leaned across the kitchen table and said, “Look, Marcos, I’m not asking. I’m telling.” That was the end of it.
An hour later we were in the car driving to my aunt’s house. Gradually clean-swept sidewalks and picket fences gave way to chain link and graffiti. Occasionally we’d pass a coffee house packed with hipsters milling around like poverty tourists on safari. People like my aunt were the wildlife.
Just as the sun began to set, we arrived at the house. My mom parked, I stepped out of the car and walked up four wooden stairs to my Aunt’s front door. As I reached out to ring the doorbell, the front door flung open. “Hola, Marcos!” she said in a thick Mexican accent. Her dark eyes stared into mine. She was a small lady with shoulder-length black hair. She wore a white polo shirt and a navy-blue skirt that resembled a schoolgirls uniform. Her wrinkled brown skin reminded me of a dried-up river bed.
“Miguel is already asleep in his crib. Make sure you give him his bottle if he starts crying. I made two of them already. They’re in the refrigerator. And make sure you do not put the TV too loud. Your mom and I will be back in an hour.” She pronounced the “H” in the word hour when she said it.
“Okay, Tia Paola,” I responded. She preferred when I called her “Tia Paola” because the word “aunt” was too American for her. She was an old school Mexican lady that didn’t believe in speaking English. She had no choice when it came to me because I didn’t speak Spanish. That made her angry and it made me chuckle every time I reminded her of that.
She stomped off towards the car as I waved my mom goodbye. I let out a sigh of disappointment as they drove off. “Here we go,” I thought aloud as I closed the door and walked into the pitch-black house. I felt the wall for the light switch and flicked it on. Directly in front of me stood a five-foot-tall statue of the Blessed Virgin. I jumped back and yelped. Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought I saw hate in the eyes of the otherwise serene face of the statue. It was ridiculous. Statues can’t feel hate or anything at all. “It’s just plaster,” I said under my breath as I warily backed towards the sofa.
As I rummaged around the floral pillows for the remote I recalled that my aunt was too cheap to pay for cable. Maybe the bill would have eaten into her precious statue money. Still, that left five channels to choose from. Three of those channels were network news, followed by FOX and some kind of Spanish public access. The pickings were slim. Luckily FOX was showing episodes of the X-Files, and I had enough time to grab a snack while the commercials were on. Wandering towards the kitchen I noticed crucifixes nailed above each doorway. “Nope, nothing weird there” I muttered sarcastically.
Inside the fridge, I found stacks of Tupperware, the two bottles for Miguel, and a cookie tin hiding towards the back. There was a fifty percent chance the tin held sewing supplies, especially since it was sitting on top of a bible. Clearly, Aunt Paola was losing her mind. A spoon sat next to the bible, so I used it to pry open the tin. Beans. Cold smelly beans. My consolation prize was a bottle of water, which I grabbed just as I heard the show start in the living room. Hurrying back, I plopped down on the couch. My phone buzzed with a new text message. Apparently, my friends were off hanging out at the mall like normal teenagers and the girls they were meeting had a friend who thought I was cute. Great. I was officially cursed.
Instead of replying I tossed my phone towards the other end of the couch so I could focus on the adventures of Mulder and Scully. The monster they were investigating was a shapeshifting something-or-other that was behind a string of murders and several local legends. Of course, Mulder had to ask “What if the legends are true?” while Scully rolled her eyes and scribbled on a clipboard. Halfway through the episode, Scully was conducting an interview with a witness who just happened to be the monster in disguise. Tension was building, and just as it reached its peak, Miguel let out a blood-curdling scream down the hallway.
I jumped up and ran down the hall to Miguel’s room. His bedroom door was slightly ajar. I pushed it open to find pitch darkness. With my body, halfway into his room, I blindly fumbled for the light switch. I flicked it on and found Miguel standing up in his crib. Tears rolled down his cheeks and onto his light blue onesie. His pudgy hands clasped the rails of the crib as he rocked his body back and forth. “What’s wrong, Miguelito?” I asked as if expecting a two-year-old to respond.
Quickly, I remembered the bottles in the fridge and ran to grab one. I hustled back to his room and handed a bottle to him. He wouldn’t take it and continued crying. I then pressed the nipple of the bottle to his lips, but he refused to drink. Desperate, I looked around his room as if I would find the solution to his crying laying around somewhere. I jumped back in fright. I don’t know how I missed it when I walked into the room, but in front of Miguel’s closet, stood a life-size concrete gargoyle. It hunched over as if ready to pounce on its prey. Sharp feathered wings sprouted out from its back. Its menacing face was dominated by a nose that protruded like a parrot’s beak over thick lips formed into a feral grin. The bald, misshapen head was dwarfed by its muscular body, from which oversized hands and arms hung below its bent knees. Although the feet it perched on resembled a chicken’s talons, the overall effect was apelike. I’d never seen anything like it, yet it had an indefinable quality that matched the rest of the sculptures in the house. Maybe that was why I didn’t run away screaming.
While watching the hideous gargoyle, I rubbed my cousin’s back to soothe him. “Shh, Shh. Don’t cry, Miguelito.” He coughed and made himself gag from crying so hard. Through his sobbing and crying, I heard my phone ring from the living room. I dropped the bottle in Miguel’s crib, picked him up and walked to the living room. Without looking at who was calling, I quickly answered the phone with my one free hand. “Hello?!” I shouted over Miguel’s cries.
“Marcos, it’s Tia Paola. Why is Miguel crying?”
“I have no idea. I gave him his bottle and he wouldn’t drink it. He doesn’t stop crying.”
“Mass ended early and we’re on our way home. I told you not to put the TV so loud, Marcos!” she shouted.
“Tia, maybe he’s crying because of that ugly black statue you put in his room. That thing even scared me. Why would you have something like that in a baby’s room?”
“What black statue are you talking about, Marcos? I’ve never put anything like that in his room” she answered.
“Then where did it come from? It was in front of his closet facing the crib!” I shouted.
She stayed silent for a moment, then whispered as if someone on my end of the line might overhear her.
“Listen to me carefully, Marcos. Get out of the house right now. Take Miguel and leave immediately”
“What?” I asked.
Her whispers turned to screams, “Marcos! Leave now! That statue you saw isn’t a statue! Es un demonio!” I slowly lowered my phone and attempted to translate her last words. “Es un demonio,” I whispered to myself. Prickles and goosebumps shot up my body once I realized what she had said. “Oh, shit! She said it’s a demon!” I dropped my phone and stumbled. The back of my knees hit the couch. I could hear my mom and aunt screaming my name from the phone speaker. As I stepped forward to move towards the front door, Miguel’s bedroom light suddenly turned off. Miguel stopped crying and squeezed my neck with his little cold arms. With his face pressed against mine, we focused our eyes on the black hallway. His bedroom door gently creaked open.
I could feel Miguel’s heartbeat galloping along with mine. From the darkness of the bedroom hallway, a low-pitched growl echoed into the living room. Miguel began to scream again. As I ran to the front door all the lights in the house suddenly shut off. Heavy footsteps thudded towards us. Something yanked both of my legs out from under me and I fell onto my side. My head hit something hard, but through the dizziness and nausea, I held onto Miguel’s torso with my good arm and struggled to my feet. We made maybe two or three steps towards the door when Miguel was then ripped out of my grasp. The last thing I remember was somebody screaming. It might have been me. I’m not sure.
When I came to my senses, I was on a stretcher being loaded into an ambulance. A paramedic said I had a broken arm and a serious head contusion. I don’t recall rambling about monsters or trying to get up, but when I woke up in the hospital I was told that I had to be restrained to keep from hurting myself. Doctors and detectives quizzed me on what I could remember. I insisted a monster disguised as a statue had attacked my cousin and I. They chalked it up to the blow to my head and told me that my cousin had been taken in the same home invasion that had resulted in my injuries. Someone with a clipboard gently explained to me that I had been watching a TV show about monsters and urban legends before I was attacked. The emotional and neurological trauma caused me to blend fantasy with memories of the crime.
“But what about the statues?” I asked.
Clearly I was still confused. My aunt never had any statues, not of gargoyles or anything else. A nurse came in to put a shot of something in my IV. The last thoughts that drifted through my head were that maybe some urban legends are true, maybe a demon can look like a statue, and maybe that house was crawling with them.
Original artwork by Sammy Ruiz
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