The Wailing Woman of the Winter Hill

It is a story that I wanted to get lost in the vapors of the mist or in the darkness of the evening, but one fine sunny winter afternoon, sitting on the little patio, remembering or remembering what was said in the town about ghosts, my father spoke…

The Wailing Woman of the Winter Hill
A man in work clothes holds a machete as he confronts a ghost-like woman in white amidst the winter fog.

I'd always held a quiet longing to lose myself in tales born of mist and shadow. Yet, the story that would mark me crept forth on a winter afternoon bright enough to dispel even seasoned superstitions. My father, a man not prone to flights of fancy, spoke in a low voice of a firewood peddler named Santiago and his brush with the spectral.

This peddler, a lad back then, was a creature of habit. The sharp smell of split wood would fill the frosty December air at daybreak as he prepared his wares for the market. But one frigid morning, ax poised to fall, something in the air turned even colder. It was an unearthly silence broken only by the eerie wails of the dogs. Their usually playful forms slumped into whimpering submission as their muzzled cries clawed at the moon.

He sensed what his eyes could not yet discern; a presence gliding towards him. As if in some dreadful ritual, her every movement unfurled in time with the dogs' unearthly howls. From out of the early fog came a woman in white. Her unbound hair, the color of midnight, shifted in the breeze, half-masking a delicate face. A figure seemingly sprung from some mournful ballad.

Panic prickled his skin as she neared. His dogs, so often defenders of their small territory, only retreated closer, cowering. Surely, this vision would heed the barbed wire boundary? Yet, she passed through without a snag in her tattered gown. And with her approach, the morning's warmth gave way to creeping unease.

At fifteen paces, her face remained a hypnotic blur, obscured in equal parts by fog and her unkempt hair. Still, something in her spectral beauty struck him silent. The dogs' terror had given way to an unnatural obedience, as if something clamped its fingers around their ragged cries. And at eight paces… nothing. She vanished, her form succumbing to the shroud of mist.

Santiago swore his body abandoned him then. His ax, his livelihood, lay forgotten as he retreated beneath the comfort of his covers. Fear clawed at his insides, a terror heightened by sleep's elusiveness. Dawn brought relief, and his mother's worried frown at his waxen face. When he choked out his story, only a knowing sadness passed over her brow.

“It is La Llorona,” she whispered, a name pregnant with unspoken echoes of grief, “She is bound to these lands. Some claim a life of pain brought her here, others say a desperate act trapped her between darkness and dawn. Pray, my son, if she graces you with her presence again, pray for her soul…and yours.”

That day, firewood went untouched. It remained so for many days after. With every rustle of wind, every shifting sliver of mist, it was her face he saw – that terrible blur of ethereal beauty and unknown longing. He knew there was only one true escape from her clutches, and it wasn't within the boundaries of his small plot of land. Soon after, murmurings carried the tale of a young man fleeing not from one ghost, but from the lingering specter of fear she left in her wake.