It is late in the evening. Moths flutter by the light bulb. The white plastic chairs are gathered in a circle. The door is open to let the heat of the day escape from the house. This is story time.
"One time, I was walking through the woods, and I heard something beside me. I stopped and looked, but I did not see a thing. Then I kept walking. I sensed something by my side. Then," the teller gasps...
Just then a cockroach starts zooming around the room like a hummingbird playing pinball off of our heads. We all gasp and swat at the warm air as the teller says, "I saw it -- it was the white cadejo."
The other women in the circle nod. They had all experienced the presence of the white dog. "The white cadejo walks beside the woman, protecting her from danger. One time, when I went to the river to do the laundry, the white dog was with me."
A husband speaks up. "I have spied the black cadejo from the corner of my eye. He has followed me through the woods. I know this because I have heard a stick break, and when I have turned around fast, I have caught a glimpse of him." Some men are afraid of the black cadejo, and have run to get home quickly. Other men say that it will protect them when they are out at night. If they are drunk the black cadejo will keep them from harm.
These are not just ghost stories. These are the legends which are told among the people of El Salvador, and seem especially popular among those who live near the small town of Tonacatepeque. Legend and life experience are woven together here, and the stories shared are not only shared on All Hallows Eve.
"When I was a little boy," the husband continues, "my grandfather ran into the house one night. He was as white as a ghost. He had seen the headless priest. I was not sure this was true, but my grandfather told us exactly what happened, and I know it was true. He was walking toward the big tree on the old path to Tonaca."
Others in the circle confirm they know of this tree.
"There was a fork in the road and my grandfather had to pass by the tree. The priest was sleeping by the base of the tree. Suddenly he stood up in front of the big tree trunk. It was the priest with no head! He started to chase my grandfather who had to run for his life. I have believed this story since I was a little boy, maybe 8 or 10 years old."
"What about the Siguanaba?" I ask.
No one in the circle has seen the Siguanaba. Some have heard her cry out by the little dirty rivers in the woods. Her voice is beautiful so she can lure men who are out late to come to her. The Siguanaba was once a beautiful woman who fell in love with the son of the god Tlaloc and lured him to marry her. While her husband was away, the woman had affairs and became pregnant. She was a terrible mother to her son, Cipitio, and was cursed by the gods to wander the earth forever searching for Cipitio, who was also cursed to forever remain a little boy. At first, the Signuanaba seems beautiful, with long black hair and beautiful fingernails. She wears a white night gown and her body is very lovely beneath the fabric. She lures men to come to the river where she sits combing her hair and washing her clothes. When her victim is close by, she suddenly reveals her hideously ugly face. Her eyes are read and bulged out and her long breasts slap at the water as she walks. Her nails become long like claws and she grabs at her victim. If her victim sees her true self, he will be crazy for the rest of his life.
This is one of the many stories which encourage men to be home at night, rather than out to be out seeking the company of his drinking buddies or another woman.
We are sleepy. The door is closed and the light extinguished. We crawl onto our warm beds, our foreheads damp with sweat, our dreams filled with visions of spirit dogs, a headless priest and a mysterious woman.