Coming from a Hispanic background, my family was very superstitious. Along with superstitions, they believed in urban legends. One, in particular, was the Cucuy. Pronounced as Coo-Coo-Ee in English, the Cucuy was said to be a monster that chased after and kidnapped disobedient and bad children. I lived next to a large forest growing up, and I was always told to never play in it at night. Common sense, I know, but knowing that playing in there at night was forbidden, just made me want to do it out of rebellion.

My older brother Mateo caught on after watching me stare at the forest every night, and we made a deal. He said if I were to spend the night in the forest, he would give me ten dollars. Spending an entire night in dark scary woods may sound like retardery, but I was only 8; ten dollars? Sign me up! After sneaking out of the house, I made my way into the forest with a walkie-talkie so I could keep communication with my brother should anything happen. I never saw that walkie-talkie again.

Remembering that night these days, kind of sends me into a flashback. I still remember walking into the forest at three AM with a flashlight that night, but not clearly. I remember walking for hours in the cold and dark wishing I had brought a jacket, but not vividly. But when I remember stopping at a clearing in the middle of the woods and pointing my flashlight into the trees, and seeing those deeply sunken, dark, red eyes: it is almost as if I’m there again. The last thing I vaguely remember was dropping the walkie-talkie and flashlight, and the second I start to run, my mind warps back to that childhood memory.

I'm running through the woods. Small twiggy branches are scratching my face as I run past each tree. It’s dark outside, as dark as it gets, and I only have the early morning sky to guide me through the forest. I'm running so fast that the ground below me is just a blur beneath my feet. There is no room for error; there is not even a split second for me to look back. I can still see the Thing’s dark red eyes glowing in the blackness of the trees that concealed it. The monster’s sickening grin permanently burned itself into my memory. I don’t know how I managed to escape it for the time being, I only know I have to run, and it’s the only instinct that comes to mind. I can’t even breathe anymore. But it’s like my body has given up and my mind has taken over.

I see it too late to react: a root sticking out of the ground directly in my path. I try to jump, but in my sleep deprived, exhausted state I react too slowly and I trip. I hit the ground with the lower half of my palms first, my chin hits the ground and I skid for several feet on the powdery dirt. I get back up and I have no energy left to move, and I can hardly breathe. I get to my knees as I'm out of breath and bring my hands in front of my face. The moon has set and the sky is light enough for me to see my surroundings clearly, it’s a dark blue color that is slowly getting easier and easier to differentiate from the treetops above me.

My hands were opened in thin red streaks by the sharp pebbles embedded in the clay-hard surface below and I can see the dirt and dust, slowly be permeated by bright red blood. I realized my face had also slid on the ground when I feel small warm streams start to trickle down my chin and drip onto my shorts. My knees weren’t spared, and I could feel the sting of the pebbles in between the lacerations on my kneecaps.

I can no longer move; I am too exhausted to hardly breathe. Each breath is like inhaling an open flame, and I am so drained I can barely find the strength to open my eyes. I know it is coming for me, and I only wish for it to end me quickly. But I no longer see it. As if it disappeared. The morning sky illuminated the forest floor and my house was in viewing distance. I remember running back to the house and seeing my brother’s smile asking what happened. I shrugged him off saying I lost the items and would replace them for him soon. I slumped in my bed and slept for the rest of the day.

I never walked into that forest again. I never went to get firewood, and I never went in with my family for a bonfire. I never went back to find my walkie-talkie, and I never accepted those ten dollars. I never spoke of what I saw because I knew no one in my family would believe me if I said I saw the Cucuy.

The last night I stayed home before I moved out, I looked back at the forest one last time, thinking to myself about maybe someday walking through it again. And then I saw a light turn on, a flashlight at the edge of the forest. The light pointed at me, then to the holder of the light. Those eyes and grin are permanently burned into my memory. I never went back.