Editor’s note: Ana Maria Londono Leudo’s ‘Red Suspenders’ won first place in The Kiosk’s Fall 2023 Fiction Story Contest. Congratulations to Ana on this well-deserved win!
That night Eneris stretched her legs to prepare to go to sleep. Her now wrinkled hands lay side by side on the bed covered with thick blankets, preparing for the winter cold that was yet to invade her bedroom. As she closed her eyes, she felt the warmth of the sun, a sun of the country she had left many years ago.
It was always summer in that land. The greenery extended through the horizon as if it could never end. Eneris remembered the mornings that she cooked for her siblings, the games they played, and most importantly, the smell of coffee and wet land. She recalled how her father Marcial would come home from working the land to make her favorite drink: a warm cup of caspiroleta.
The smell of cinnamon would cover the place. Surrounded by plants and the sound of the trees, Eneris’ heart was filled with bliss. Those mornings were precious, all except for one.
That Wednesday morning Marcial woke up with a sour taste in his mouth. The income from the produce he had harvested was not enough, so he planned to do some mining by the river in the afternoon. Marcial left Eneris in charge as usual, and gathered his tools and some fruit.
As Marcial descended the mountain, Eneris saw him from afar and she felt an inexplicable desire to join him. Later, she began cooking eggs for Marcialito and Yamileth, her siblings, who were still asleep. The day went by as usual. Eneris did some chores while the children played in the yard.
In the evening Yamileth and Marcialito went back inside, and Eneris noticed her father had not returned home. The house made in bareque had clay and mud that seemed to be falling apart at times. A frustrated Eneris would patch the holes that constantly appeared in the exterior walls, but the rain would make more holes show up every other week.
Eneris decided to patch one more hole next to the palm tree. Her ears could hear the laughter of Marcialito who had pulled his sister’s hair and was running around their bedroom. Eneris used a broken hoe left behind by her father to make the mixture and set the wooden sticks in place.
While in her project, Eneris noticed she was not alone. Down the mountain from the house, she saw her friend Libertad standing in complete silence. Eneris raised her hand to greet her and yelled at her to come up for food. Libertad did not respond.
Eneris was intrigued. Libertad just stared up the mountain and did not move from her position. Eneris thought something was wrong with her. The silhouette of the little girl began moving, her right hand gesturing Eneris to come down the mountain, yet Libertad did not speak.
Eneris left her tools by the house and began descending the mountain. Her steps stopped as she observed Libertad’s clothing. Her red shirt had many holes on her, and she appeared to be in brown pants with suspenders. Eneris had seen men wearing these types of trousers but never women. And even less, they did not match Libertad’s girly taste.
Eneris stopped completely. Libertad continued waving down. Eneris’ eyes noticed that her friend’s stare was as if it was lost on the horizon, expressionless and cold. “This was the bad feeling,” she thought to herself, as she climbed up the mountain. Many things went through her mind, but she felt an inexplicable feeling that Libertad’s presence meant danger.
By the time Eneris reached the palm tree she looked back at the bottom of the mountain. She did not see Libertad, but a tiny souvenir. The bright red suspender had been left on top of the bushes by the house. Eneris rushed inside the house and locked herself up with her two siblings.
Marcial came home that night, tired from work by the river. Eneris served him dinner and described what had occurred that evening. Marcial turned pale. “This could only mean that the devil is tempting you, as he does to all girls who turn 15.”
Eneris did not understand. As a faithful Catholic who prayed every morning and every night she failed to find logic in his father’s words. He continued: “It’s el duende mija”. Marcial began explaining what he had heard from stories in the town nearby. “The devil takes many forms, one of which is the duende. He will try to confuse you or to lure you into the forest and make you disappear.”
Eneris could not sleep that night. She could not tell her siblings nor she had a confidant to talk about her fears and frustrations. Eneris’ mom had died recently and she was solely caring for her siblings while Marcial worked. She could not ask her father to stay home. If that was the case, there would be no food at the table for the weeks thereafter.
The teen decided to keep a close eye on her siblings and walk around with a machete in hand, just in case. As Marcial walked away from the house, he gestured a blessing for her and the children. Eneris’ heart dropped as her father walked away and she wondered if this was the last time she would see him.
Marcial looked back one last time to see his daughter tearing up. He teared up as well but in a show of strength, decided to walk faster. He stumbled upon the red suspender hanging from the bush nearby. He grabbed it and put it in his pocket so that Eneris wouldn’t be upset by it.
Later that day, Eneris gathered some of the clothes so that she could wash them by hand in the yard. Marcialito and Yamileth played next to her as she bluntly and roughly cleaned her father’s shirts and brushed the dirt away. As she hung the shirt on the clothesline, she stared at the vast greenery of the mountains nearby. The darkness surrounded the lands that were far away, as well as the tiny neighboring house. She wondered how fast she had to run if she were to ask them for help. “Not fast enough for that mountain,” she thought.
Eneris went to grab Marcialito’s pants to repeat the washing ordeal. As she leaned over the basket, she heard a noise. The repeated sound of a whistle, as if someone was calling a dog. As she turned around, she noticed the two children had left, and she rushed inside the house to look for them.
Desperate and sweating, Eneris could not find her siblings. She began to panic. She looked underneath their bed, in the kitchen, but there was no sight of the kids. When she walked out the house, Yamileth and Marcialito were slowly descending the mountain. Eneris yelled at them to come back inside.
Yamileth and Marcialito looked at their sister and returned to the house. They were surprised by how upset she was. They explained that they first saw a small puppy sniffing around the house, they followed the dog and found his owner, a tall man waiting at the bottom of the mountain. “Don’t go anywhere without telling me! We are going to stay here today until Dad comes back!” Eneris said.
When the night came, Marcial hadn’t returned home. Eneris felt her anxiety growing out of control. She and the children stayed in the bedroom and locked all doors. The children decided to play a game to keep their minds busy. Marcialito would count from 1 to 5, Yamileth 5 to 10, Eneris would do the other ten numbers, and Marcialito would continue in that order. Counting made Eneris feel safer. As the numbers went by, she could feel the fear slowly leaving her body.
Counting made Marcialito and Yamileth tired. Eneris saw how the children’s eyelids slowly shut down. She placed the children by the bed, and she sat down to wait for her father, fighting to stay awake.
Eneris felt that the room was suddenly cold. A racing thought of rain crossed her mind and she remembered that she had left the clothes hanging outside. She would eventually have to pick them up. She could feel the fear climbing up her spine. In an attempt to calm herself down she began counting out loud. 1, 2, 3, 4, and her mind seemed to settle. 8, 9 and she paused and took a deep breath.
Suddenly a whisper from the window said “10!”
Eneris jumped up from the chair and woke up the children. She did not know what to do or where to run. Whatever that was, the noise, the person, was right outside the window. Eneris came to a terrible realization, the machete that she had sought to protect her, was also outside the house.
The desperation and frustration pushed Eneris to find the only solution she knew. She asked her siblings to pray with her a rosary and they obeyed her. The prayers were made in a loud voice, loud enough to be heard from the surroundings of the house. At times, Eneris teared up and covered her face with her hands. Her siblings were confused. The vast darkness of the landscape did not help reduce her fear, if anything the natural noises from the forest tormented her even more.
While the children prayed, a loud noise came from the kitchen. Some pots and cutlery had apparently fallen all over the place. When there was silence, Eneris opened the bedroom door to look at the hall. Her eyes opened wide and they were startled to notice the presence of a small being. The thing suddenly walked in two legs but then crawled in four, rushing from the kitchen to the living room.
Eneris closed the door shut, and ordered the children to continue praying. Eneris’ heart felt as if it was going to explode. Her last resort was to think about the warmth of the hugs of her mother who she missed so much. Eneris grabbed a shoe and found the strength to come back outside the bedroom. She found that the rest of the house was empty and there was no sign of the thing.
She locked the bedroom with the children inside and began walking away. She rushed to find her machete and return right back. When she approached the clothesline, she grabbed her weapon and ran to the door, only to find that it had been closed and locked from the inside.
Eneris screamed and banged on the door. She decided to rush to the bedroom window by going around the house. She followed the walls until stopped by her bedroom window. Eneris’ eyes saw a tall man leaning into the window, spying on the children, expressionless.
Courageously, she lifted her machete and pointed it at the man. Then she hit the machete against some rocks, causing sparks to fly towards the yard. The man turned his face towards her. The tall man wore a black suit and a wide black hat. He was a white skinny man with thick eyebrows. He smiled at her and did not say a word. Eneris’ body felt paralyzed by fear, yet at that moment, she was concerned about what he could do to her siblings.
Her machete pointed straight at the man’s face. He slowly walked towards her and she yelled, “Stop!” He stopped and removed his large black blazer to reveal red suspenders holding his pants. Eneris shook her head and struck him with the machete which seemed to cause him no harm.
The more the man smiled, the wider his face looked. His eyes looked black and he looked at her with malice. Seeing that he was not injured, Eneris ran towards the yard with her machete. The man continued walking towards her slowly. Eneris yelled at him to go away.
Suddenly, down the mountain a series of lights appeared. Chanting and prayers were heard from the top. Eneris was scared at both the man and the lights.
As the lights increased in size, they revealed a Catholic procession. A group of people from the town were going up the mountain with the local priest. The light of their torches allowed Eneris to notice their faces. The man stopped moving.
Marcial ran to the house. Eneris appeared to be holding a machete to nothing. Marcial saw her and shook her. He told her to calm down, and he tried to remove the machete. Eneris said, “He is there! Can’t you see him?”
Marcial stared but did not see anything, yet he moved his daughter away from the supposed apparition. Eneris lowered her guard and told her father that her siblings were inside. The procession had fully ascended to their house and all the people gathered around her. The tall man continued to stare at Eneris.
The priest began spreading holy water at the scared girl. Some of the drops fell on the man. Eneris saw how his skin began to rip apart, as if he was disappearing into thin air. The man disintegrated and flew away into the mountains. The rain began and Eneris never forgot the procession prayers, nor the holy torches that saved her on that nefarious day.
Eneris opened her eyes and covered her legs with the thick blankets. Her wrinkled hands had fought that and many other battles in her youth. She heard a knock at her door calling for her name. She stood up and saw her teen granddaughter. “Grandma, someone dropped these by the door.”
The girl’s hand held a set of red suspenders with some dirt.