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Today's Story by Guilie Castillo Oriard

“You believe it? That a woman — a, a ghost — actually appears in the back seat of your car?”

Mischievous Moonlight

“And people really believe it?”

He grinned at the unmistakable derision in my voice. “It’s a true story, Ellie.”

“You believe it? That a woman — a, a ghost — actually appears in the back seat of your car?” I tilted my head towards the back of the Explorer.

Randolph couldn’t be serious.

“It’s true.”

“Has it happened to you?”

He kept his eyes on the road. “It’s happened to people I know.”

“But it’s never happened to you.”

“Doesn’t happen always.” His hand flitted behind the steering wheel, and I heard the rhythmic tap-tap of the turn signal. “Only sometimes. People think they’re chosen. A test of sorts.”

He took the turn faster than I would have, but he was a good driver and I trusted him with my car. Randolph was a good guy, somewhat on the surly side, but I thought I felt the beating of a sincere heart when my head rested on his chest. He was educated and emotionally mature. If he believed in ghosts, though, maybe I’d have to reassess my opinion.

“Seriously, Randolph. I’ve heard something similar everywhere I’ve lived. In Mexico City, on the highway between the City and Cuernavaca, there’s a stretch where everyone drives past while murmuring a rosary, because it’s said if you don’t, a beautiful woman will appear on the next turn and, if you don’t stop for her, she’ll make you crash. In Cancun there’s the aluxes, a kind of… what are the Irish dwarves called?”


“Those. People actually build little houses for them so that they have a home and stay out of mischief. And in Europe there’s —“

“I’ve heard.”

“They’re just legends. Myths.”

“Which is it, legend or myth? They’re not the same.”

“I know,” I said impatiently. Sometimes Randolph knew exactly how to get under my skin.

“Legends have some truth to them, but myths are based on pure fantasy.”

“I know.”

I stared out at the dark landscape outside the reach of the Explorer’s headlights. Curaçao’s landscape hadn’t ceased to surprise me in the few months I’d been here. In daylight barren fields of cacti and craggy cliffs of eroded rock were unexpectedly interrupted by mirage-like expanses of ocean of impossible blue. It wasn’t what I’d had in mind when I accepted six months on an island that no one knows or can spell. “Curaçao”… I thought it was Brazil, but it’s on the coast of Venezuela, in between Bonaire (which even less people know) and Aruba.

When Management requested volunteers to train employees at the latest addition in the Royal Paradise resort chain, I didn’t hesitate. Visions of tropical Hawaii-esque lush landscapes filled my mind, the sound of pristine waterfalls rushing into quiet ponds rocking me to sleep in the two weeks I had to prepare for the trip. I left my roommate in charge of the cats and the little stray dog I’d been feeding for the past month, told her to rent my room if she could find someone who needed a place, but only till January when I’d be back. My friends threw me an enthusiastic farewell party that seemed rather pointless; I’d be gone only for six months. There were no tears and every goodbye felt like a ‘see you later’.

“You won’t be back.” Keelan, my closest friend, sat moping in a corner of the bar as the bulk of the crowd left that night. Her eyes had faint purple shadows under them that got worse when asthma struck.

I put an arm around her, my elbow knocking her almost empty glass. “Of course I’ll be back. Just six months. It’s not permanent.”

“Don’t go, Ellie. Everything will change.”

“Nothing’s gonna change, silly.”

“We’re here,” Randolph’s voice broke the silence, and I felt the car’s suspension rock softly as he slowed down over the gullies the recent rains had carved into the dirt.

There was a moon, but the landscape was only dark and menacing silhouettes until we came to a full stop and Randolph turned the engine off. His door clicked and thumped, and I was alone in the car. Without the headlights, the mondi of spiny bushes and saguaro came into focus in the silvery light, the red earth glazed where puddles lingered. The air smelled thick and green from the recent rain, and it vibrated with millions of the tiny tree frogs that somehow managed to survive in this parched land.

The flute-like cadence of the frogs was the only sound, and the moon was the only light, for miles around. This side of the island, the northwestern-most point that everyone calls Westpunt, is practically uninhabited. I walked away from the car, lighting a cigarette with a practiced hand protecting the flame; these islands were not called ‘windward’ without good reason. I inhaled, smoke welding with the textured scent of moist vegetation into my lungs. I felt alone in the world, like there had never been another human being on the planet and there never would be, and that was the way it should be.

“Too bad there’s a moon.” Randolph spoke from close by. I turned to the sound, but found only empty moonlit air.

“Where are you?”

“Here.” His voice was low, only just above a whisper. I turned in a circle, looking for him in the empty landscape.

“I… can’t see you.” I half laughed. The moon must be playing tricks.

“Here,” he repeated, and I saw his silver silhouette about ten meters away, sauntering towards me.

“You sounded much closer.”

“I was always here.”

I made out his eyes in the darkness, fixed on me. He wasn’t very tall, but he was taller than me, and here in the mischievous moonlight, he seemed taller. I felt a momentary and unreasonable pang of fear, then his arms found me and pulled me to him.

He kissed me hungrily, like he always did, stealing every breath before it was inhaled, and I thought of Keelan. Was this what it felt like, asthma? When I was getting faint, when the fire of his lips scorched even the desperate lack of oxygen away, he let me go with the abruptness I couldn’t get used to. I filled my lungs thirstily, not knowing if it was with relief or with something else.

“Too bad there’s a moon,” he repeated. His voice was steady, low and clipped like it always was. No trace of the passion of his lips.


“No stars.”

I gazed up at the sky.

“There’s a circle around the moon!” I pointed. A halo of iridescent blue surrounded the oblique disk of snow suspended in the night.

“It’s the humidity.”

I was disappointed with this venal explanation. The halo was a magnifying glass in the sky, through which the moon seemed brighter, closer, and in this setting of almost unnatural stillness, it seemed magical, somewhat unholy and, perhaps because of that, compelling.

“That’s when she comes,” he said.

“Who? God, that again? It’s a legend. Or a myth. It’s not real.” But he ignored me.

“Normally,” Randolph headed towards the car, “on a dark night the sky is swollen with stars here. Every few minutes there’s a falling star.”

“We’ll come back in a few weeks, when there’s no moon.”

He glanced sharply back at me. Speaking of the future, even just a few weeks, was taboo. I’d been firm from the start: I was leaving in January, last thing I needed was another emotional tie complicating things here. His eyes flitted over my face for a moment, but he wasn’t one to claim victories of pyrrhic value.

He retrieved the small cooler of beer from the Explorer, and we lay on the hood, our backs propped up against the windshield, drinking and not talking much. I liked Randolph for this, his quietness. When he was in the mood he took what he wanted with an ardor that was beyond me to satisfy, but at times like now, alone and in the middle of nowhere, I’d learned to expect nothing more than an intense kiss or two. That was just fine with me.

The moon was halfway to the end of its nightly journey when we drove back to the highway. Randolph was quiet; usually it was me that kept the conversation running, but tonight I was content to watch the night racing by in fragments as the Explorer gained speed. The roads weren’t smooth, but the heavy-duty suspension made the potholes insignificant, and my lids relaxed at half-mast, barely registering the dark shapes beyond the wind blasting through the open window.

“Stop. Did you see that?” I was suddenly wide awake.

“What?” Randolph’s foot eased off the accelerator.

“There was someone back there. Stop!”

“Where?” He poked at the dashboard and the hazard lights clicked softly in the silence. Gravel crunched as he pulled to a stop on a wide swath of off-road land.

“Back there. It was — it looked like — a girl.” Randolph whipped his head around to the back of the car. “You won’t see her, we were going too fast. Maybe she needs help, Randolph. Let’s drive back.”

His eyes met mine and there was something liquid, something that pulsed, there. “It was her.”


He didn’t reply, but he shifted back into Drive and the car moved forward.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. You think it was the—the ghost? Randolph, it was a girl. A real one. She wouldn’t be out here in the middle of nowhere, not at this hour, if everything was all right. We need to drive back and see if she needs help.”


“You’re being irrational.” I twisted in my seat, straining the seat belt, to face his profile. He guided the car back to the road and allowed it to pick up speed in the opposite direction from where I’d seen — I was sure I’d seen — the girl in the white… What had it been? A dress?

“We’re going home.”

“Randolph! She could be hurt. Maybe someone brought her out here and raped her, or tried to. We have to go back.” I put a hand on his arm, a part of my brain marveling again at how smooth his black skin was, how my lighter shade glowed against it. Something thick and heavy stirred in me; how do our naked bodies look together? “Please. Go back for her.”

He took his eyes off the road and looked at me for a long time.

“Fine,” he said, barely a grunt, and the car swerved into a totally illegal U-turn in the middle of the highway. I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank you,” I squeezed his shoulder and leaned over the front seat’s armrest to kiss his cheek.

“Turn on the high beams.” I was scanning the left side of the road trying to identify where I’d seen the girl, but everything looked the same in the darkness.

After maybe ten minutes, Randolph made another, slower, U-turn and we headed back. He kept the high beams on; we hadn’t seen a single car for hours. I kept my eyes on the side of the road.

“There! There, I saw something.”

He stepped on the brakes so hard my seatbelt cut into the skin of my neck. I snapped the clasp and swung open the door.

“No, Ellie.” Randolph held me back, and there was real fear in the dark pool of his eyes. But I shook his hand off and jumped out. I walked back, the Explorer’s brake lights shining on the concrete pavement with a hellish, but helpful, glow.

“Get back in the car,” he was beside me in no time with his long strides.

“Wait. Look, there.” I pointed to the ground about fifteen meters behind the car. There, in the brush, something that looked like cloth was crumpled on the ground. “What is it?”

Randolph held me back with a fierce look, and moved forward without me. He crouched in front of whatever lay there, blocking my view.

“What is it?” I repeated. “Randolph?”

“Jesus,” he muttered.

“What? Show me.”

He got up, and I could see he held something in his hands. Even before he turned around, I knew what it was.

I’d seen it many times; it was one of his favorites, a brown T-shirt with the playful logo of a monkey that he wore at least three times a week, even though a careless launderer had ironed over the plastic ink and smudged a corner of the monkey’s mouth. I saw that smudge now, as he shook the rumpled T-shirt out at the side of a road at least fifteen kilometers away from the wardrobe where it belonged.

“You hear that?” He turned in the direction of the brush, of the darkness, but I heard nothing above the swishing wind.

“Randolph, I —“

“Sshh,” he held up a hand. “There! There it is again!” He bounded back to the Explorer and returned with a flashlight. Before I had a chance to speak, he disappeared into the mondi, and within seconds, even the flashlight’s glow was gone.


My voice sounded small in the darkness.

“Randolph, where are you?”


“Shine the flashlight this way so I can see where you are.”


“Randolph!” But the budding hysteria in my voice was the only sound echoing in the sky.

And then I heard it. A soft sob, like an abandoned child whimpering.

“Hello? Randolph?” I moved towards the sound, but every time I thought I was getting close the wind shifted it away.

“Hello? Hello out there! Please help me find you!”

Randolph had taken the only flashlight, and, with the moon almost gone, the darkness was thick outside the beams of the car.

The beams of the car. I could drive into the mondi and search for him, for her, with that light. I ran to the driver’s door, hoping Randolph hadn’t taken the keys with him, and felt relief surge as my hands closed around the familiar furry teddy-bear key ring still in the ignition. I backed up until the headlights pointed at the place where Randolph had found his T-shirt — impossible it was his, but the smudged mouth of the monkey leered at me in a frozen frame I couldn’t forget — and drove the Explorer into the brush.

There was a trail of sorts there, where Randolph had been swallowed by the mondi, but it was overgrown, and the headlights picked out nothing but the vegetation in front of me. I retraced the path again and again, trying to find a better way in, but branches clung to the car and mud to the tires, and there was no way forward.

I was about to step out, see if on foot I could get farther, when I saw her. There, in the rearview mirror, brown eyes locked on mine, an edge of a white neckline visible in the corner. Before I could whip my head around to the backseat, before I could will my heart to beat again, she lifted a brown finger to her lips, a quiet admonition.

Turned to stone, my hands gripping the steering wheel as if without it I’d sink into the depths of insanity, I watched her lean closer to the back of my head. Her features were African; huge dark eyes that slanted upwards in the outer corners, high cheekbones and a wide nose, brilliant teeth the exact shade of the vanished moon, the lips around them full and swollen.

“E homber ta di mi awor,” she whispered, and the breath of her words caressed my skin like the gentlest breeze. The man is mine now. I closed my eyes in a shudder, whether at her words or at her very presence, I don’t know. “Laga e keda ku mi, dushi.”


The search for Randolph took days, then weeks. Three months after that night, when nothing had been found (except his brown T-shirt, tangled on a saguaro two miles from the spot where he’d left me behind), and when my short-lived and unwanted celebrity had faded in the light of more immediate news, the authorities gave up. No press announcements communicated this, but I heard from his family that no more searches were scheduled. We weren’t surprised; we’d given up a long time ago. The muhe, the woman, had claimed him; she’d said, ‘he’s mine now’. She wouldn’t let him go.

Randolph’s grandmother said he’d been lucky, we both had.

“He was choose, Ellie,” she’d say in her fractured English. “The muhe, she don’t normal ask nice. She take, just take. She ask you to leave him with her, she ask nice. Is good, that. No violent. Can be violent, the muhe.” She repeated this again and again as she sat rocking on the porch and fanned herself in the heat, until I half believed it.

January rolled around and I found excuses to stay. Another January, then another, and I found myself still here, still on the island, driving the Explorer at night through the mondi whenever I can find a path, keeping my eyes open for hares, or for a face in the rearview mirror.


Guilie Castillo-Oriard is a thirty-eight-year-old Mexican writer currently exiled in Curacao. The events described here were inspired by reality. Cross-cultural encounters are a favorite subject of Guilie’s, and they inevitably find their way into her writing.



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