Folklore plays a huge role in our daily lives. From a young age, we’re told stories of leprechauns playing tricks and leaving gold coins on St. Patrick’s day, giant water creatures in Lock Ness, vampires, chupacabra, fairies…you name it. Our parents tell us these stories, just as their parents did for them, and so forth.
But have you ever stopped to wonder where this lore comes from? Someone, at some point, must’ve started this, right? Does that mean that there’s some truth to these tales? Is it possible that, while we grew up thinking these are fictional tales to help us daydream or keep us in line, these creatures and entities could be among us without knowing?
One Latin folklore that’s grown in popularity over the years centers on a beautiful young woman named Xochitl. As legend goes, Xochitl married a rich man. Together, they had two children. Life was perfect until Xochitl caught her husband with another younger woman. Some say that her husband was planning to leave Xochitl for this woman and take the children. Others say that she was so enraged that she impulsively acted.
No matter which story you hear, it always ends the same way.
Xochitl takes her two young children to the river.
She drowns them one at a time.
Consumed by guilt, she drowns herself.
Xochitl is refused entry to the afterlife and is doomed to wonder purgatory until she can find her children.
Since she’s always looking for her children, Xochitl is often seen near lakes, rivers, and—sometimes—crossroads, often in Mexico, Latin America, and parts of the southwestern United States, usually dressed in all white and heard crying for her lost children.
Is it possible to see Xochitl—more commonly known as La Llorona, or The Weeping Woman—elsewhere in the world? Specifically, in the mid-Atlantic region? To answer that question, it’s time for the story of my possible encounter with The Weeping Woman.
It was late winter. After the worst of the bitter cold ended, but before the days grew longer. Everything seemed forever damp, whether from the melted snow the other day or the three days of rain. The nights were long, too. Sure, we were getting closer to the sun setting after 6 p.m., but it was still pitch black by dinnertime.
This night, my two sisters and I had a hankering for stuffed pizza break. For hours, we tried to think of anything but the way thyme filled the house while it baked or how perfectly the cheese melted inside the crispy bread. After several failed attempts, we threw in the towel. I volunteered to drive if my sisters paid. With everyone in agreement, we piled into the car at 9 o’clock at night and headed to the grocery store.
The only problem was that the store closest to our house didn’t sell the pizza bread we salivated over for hours. That meant we needed to drive to the next closest supermarket on the opposite end of town. Normally, that’s not a big deal. What differences do a few extra minutes make? Any other night, it would’ve been the same as comparing vanilla to vanilla bean ice cream. It’s different, but not of any major importance.
On this night, though, having to turn left out of the driveway instead of right made all the difference in the world.
One thing I noticed about this night was how dark it was. There was no moon, and a thick layer of clouds prevented even the brightest of stars from illuminating the blackness. Then there was the bite in the air. Yes, it technically was still winter, but I got used to the unseasonably warm weather. So, when I stepped into the night and a chill pierced through my skin and hit me in the spine, saying it unsettled me is an understatement. I almost said to forget it or go without me…that something didn’t seem right, but then the thought of stuffed pizza bread got me back on track.
Looking to shake the last bit of nerves, I got in the car and immediately queued up some music. “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Landslide” or some other song we’ve had memorized since we were kids played as we embarked on our journey.
Turning onto the back road, none of us noticed anything. At least, nothing other than mentioning how the rows and rows of trees on both sides of the street made everything extra dark, ominous even. We joked, mentioning how it’s the perfect time to see a ghost or cryptid right now, hoping to scare the other sister. But all fun and games abruptly ended the second I flipped on my high beams.
That’s when we saw it. Her.
A woman with long hair as black as the night dressed in all white standing in the middle of the road, her attention fixed on something ahead of her.
I slam on the brakes, even though she’s at least 50 yards away.
That’s creepy, I think to myself. Why’s someone walking alone at night, wearing a shin-length white dress without a flashlight? And is she…barefoot?
I idle for what feels like hours, frozen as I wait for the woman to do something. She doesn’t.
I note how the last couple inches of her dress seemed dirty, crusty almost, like she walked through knee-high water within the past few hours, allowing the cotton plenty of time to dry.
“What are you doing, Cait?” my younger sister called from the backseat. “Get away from her.”
“Where do you want me to go?” I asked in a raspy whisper. “She’s standing in the middle of the road.”
“Honk your horn or something,” my older sister said.
As if she heard us talking about her, the woman took one step toward the other side of the road, all without looking our way. Each step she took was slow, deliberate, like she was in a funeral procession.
Confident I have enough room to pass her safely, I creep my way down the road. With each inch, I feel the air leave my lungs. Every survival instinct fires at all cylinders.
Slam your foot on the pedal.
Get the hell away from her.
Something’s not right.
These survival thoughts whirled around my head like a tornado. I was dizzy from the lack of air. I was foggy from all the screaming thoughts. Yet, I couldn’t seem to get away from her. There was something seriously wrong with this woman. I knew it, yet I wanted to stop my car, roll down my window, and ask if she needed help.
“Drive!” my sister screamed behind me.
That did the trick and pulled me from my trance.
I eased up on the brake, propelling us forward a couple feet down the hill. I knew I shouldn’t look at the woman. I knew it’ll only lead to problems if I do. But my body had a mind of its own. As soon as I was ahead of her, I peeked into my side mirror. The reflection of the high beams bouncing off the trees made it look like she was glowing. The crimson taillights back lit her ominously. Whether it was a trick of the light, my mind playing tricks on me, or it was real, what I saw in my side mirror was pure evil.
My body finally got the survival message. I slammed on the gas pedal. In a second, the woman was nothing but a blip in the distance.
“What the hell are you doing? You could’ve hit her,” my sister said next to me. “She was alone. What if she needs help?”
“Who cares?” my other sister said. “Keep driving!”
“You need to stop.”
I didn’t. I kept driving.
“I’m calling Mom and Dad,” she said.
“What’s that gonna do?” my younger sister said.
“They can go outside and see if she’s still there since you won’t stop and help.”
“There’s nothing they can do,” I said.
“Because she had black eyes.”
My sister called anyway. Just as I suspected, there was no barefoot woman in white on the road. Our parents checked the woods, too, thinking she went there to hide, but she wasn’t there, either. They assumed she left a nearby party, probably high, and was wandering around.
I thought she was looking for something or someone.
Some things we’ll never know for sure, but what I do know is that the woman in the white dress with the muddy hem was quite fixated on the road that lead to a creek at the bottom of the hill.