by Reina Cruz
Magdalena saw the sombrerón in her nightmares: it was a creature wearing a sombrero that shadowed his face. He stared up at her. All she could see was his toothy grin.
The smile made her uneasy. It was a mischievous smile, like a child getting away with being naughty. On the creature, though, there was nothing juvenile about it. It wanted her, and Magdalena wanted to get away before it got closer.
The nightmares had begun a few weeks ago, after Guatemala. The trip was supposed to be fun, including tours of the country’s most haunted places. Touring locations that had reported hauntings was a hobby of hers. A harmless hobby, until this last trip.
In her dreams, Magdalena would be back in Guatemala surrounded by tombstones. She remembered the stones being bright and colorful but, in the dream the sky was dark and the stones were darker. The creature was standing on the other side of the cemetery, staring at her. He didn’t speak, but she knew, like the way you know in a dream that you are a doctor or actress. He loved her. The problem was, she didn’t love him back.
Magdalena woke up several times at night in a cold sweat with her heart pounding. It took her a while to settle back down. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw his wide grin and felt his hands running through her hair. His thoughts invaded her head: How I loved her beautiful hair.
Her alarm clock relieved her of the nightmare. She dragged herself out of bed, throwing on the first clothes she found and glancing in the mirror to ensure she looked presentable. Her large round eyes stared back at her; small bags had formed beneath them.
As Magdalena walked out the front door, she pressed her travel mug to her lips, relying on the coffee inside to keep her going. The rocking of the commuter train, and the sound of the wheels grinding against the tracks made Magdalena’s eyelids heavy; her chin dropped to her chest.
In the busy office, before she sat down to tackle the stack of articles on her desk, she poured herself another cup. She jumped, spilling coffee on the counter. Did she see the creature’s sombrero disappear into the supply closet?
You’re tired, Magdalena. Your eyes are playing tricks.
Back at her desk, she took another swig of her coffee before forcing herself to begin reading the first manuscript, an article on Lyme disease, for the health section of the magazine. It was going to be a long day.
* * *
Susana studied the stars. She had nothing else to do under her parents’ rules. Hair too beautiful and eyes so large that men could swim in them made her parents worry for her innocence.
Below the balcony, the man in big hat spied her. He serenaded her and she smiled at the little man. Until her parents found them, it could have been a love story.
At home, Magdalena ran her eyes across the screen. She scoured the Internet looking for answers. Anything to stop the nightmares.
According to this page, Susana was tormented by the man after leaving him. Her food turned to dirt, and sleep became impossible.
Magdalena yawned and scrolled down.
The man stopped only when her parents cut her hair and had it blessed by a priest. Only then was Susana free.
She glanced at the website titled Southern Legends.
Was she so exhausted that she would take advice from folklore?
* * *
Magdalena tossed and turned in her sleep. The creature returned beside her. He lusted over her hair, stroking it and leaning in to smell it. The breath he expelled was sour. Magdalena cringed at his advances before gasping awake; it was the fourth time that night.
At work the next day, she dozed. She couldn’t get past the second page of the manuscript without falling asleep. The creature was back in her dreams, still worshipping her hair. She desperately wanted to run from him, but her feet wouldn’t move. He wrapped his fingers around a clump, smiling his large awful smile. She couldn’t make sense of what she was seeing. He pulled his hand away cupping a clump of hair in his hand. He looked at it like a miner admiring gold.
Her supervisor woke her up before the dream did. Magdalena followed him to his office with burning cheeks.
Instead of making eye contact, he stared at her left shoulder. His brows came together in a small frown. “Are you okay?”
“I’m not sleeping well.” Magdalena followed his gaze to her shoulder.
“Yes, but...” — he hesitated and gestured towards her — “your hair?”
She attempted to run her fingers through her hair. When she brought her hands to her shoulder-length hair, she only felt her blouse. Her fingers scrambled for the hair that should have been there. When she had left for the train that morning, her hair was straight and even. Now the right side of her head had longer hair than her left.
* * *
The nightmares woke Magdalena again that night. She went to the bathroom, splashed water on her face and studied her reflection. Eyes dark. Hair uneven. She let out a long breath; she was so tired.
The slender silver scissors were in the top drawer of her vanity. She didn’t think. Thinking required too much energy. When she was done, she set the scissors on the counter and smiled at her reflection. She felt giddy and excited. She was drunk off of sleepless nights.
Now the creature would leave her alone.
The next morning Magdalena showed up to work fully rested. She smiled at her supervisor and gave him a cheerful hello. She had no reason to be unhappy. The creature had not showed up in her dreams.
Her supervisor stared, open-mouthed.
Magdalena went to her desk and began reading where she had left off the day before.
The creature in the sombrero was gone.
And so was her hair.
Copyright © 2018 by Reina Cruz