"What Señor Delfino saw chilled his blood, but he knew it was as real as the heart pumping in his chest..."
The year was 1928 when the people of Coyula began to fear for the safety of their children. It was common to hear the pitiful cries of young mothers each morning as they discovered their little ones had been lost during the night and see fathers, those strong and tenacious men, down at the tavern, drowning in pain, depression, and alcohol. If only they could just forget.
Children slept with their parents and were forbidden to leave their homes after dark. Amid the cries of their mothers, they could hear the curse of their grandmothers blaming the disappearance of their little ones on creatures of darkness. They turned to their religious sources for consolation. This curse was formidable, and no one knew the cause.
Señor Delfino Tochtli Xotl was a man revered and well known among the people of Coyula. He had nine children: two adult sons, and seven beautiful daughters. His oldest son, Anselmo, had been living abroad in the city, trying to make a name for himself but finding no luck, returned home to become a farmer like his father. To celebrate his coming home, Señor Delfino invited the whole town to feast with them.
Despite being a somber time, the food and festival lifted the hearts of the villagers for at least the night. To everyone’s surprise, Mitla came. This young woman had arrived at the village shortly after Anselmo left, and she caught his eye at the party. She was a beautiful young woman unlike any other. Her hair was as black as obsidian, contrasting brilliantly with her porcelain skin. She had piercing eyes, long lashes, and rich lips that memorized both the young and the old of the village.
No one knew much about Mitla. She only ever left her mother’s house to bring water or grind corn, but she always returned as fast as she could. She had many suitors who came looking for her, but her mother always turned them away. She told them she was not ready to meet anyone. Sometimes on her short outings, she would be intercepted by some stricken young man, but she never so much as glanced his way. After weeks of this, the suitors stopped trying, and word spread that it was impossible to charm the girl.
Anselmo, however, had no idea of her coldness and decided to try his luck. Once again, the villagers were astonished—she actually accepted him. They began courting and were married in the Catholic church a month later. They had a beautiful ceremony according to local customs. This great news seemed to lift everyone in the village out of their melancholy. Their luck had changed; no more children were disappearing. The young couple set out to build their home at the edge of the woods, and in the spirit of the bounteous fortune, the whole town went to help.
But the curse had not lifted. A week after the wedding, a mother awoke to see the huge black wings of some menacing creature escaping through the window. She turned in her bed only to find her little baby missing. She leapt through the window to prevent the creature from escaping with her firstborn child, but only in vain. There was nothing in sight. Depression crept back into the heart of Coyula.
Amid the village’s troubles, Anselmo was troubled himself. His dear bride was not eating. She always prepared his meals and had them ready when he returned from the fields, but she never ate with him, saying that she ate before he came home. This was strange as it was custom for a man and wife to dine together. He consulted with his father, who was also confounded. Señor Delfino decided to watch in secret at the house to find out why Mitla refused to eat.
The next day, the Señor crept into the bushes outside the cottage window after Anselmo went out to work. He watched her sweep the floors, clean the dishes, make the bed, and prepare Anselmo’s meal, but he did not see her taste one bite of food. So he came again the next day to watch her. Everything she did was completely ordinary, but she still would not eat. He returned two more days to watch her and became very concerned. It was not possible for a person to refrain from eating for that long and not show signs of fatigue or illness. He decided to stay longer.
He watched his son come home, eat the meal that was prepared, drink the ale that was made for him, and retire to bed with his wife. It wasn’t until after midnight that he saw movement again. Mitla had lit a candle and was moving toward the tlecuil, their fireplace in the kitchen. He took care for his steps not to be heard and moved closer to see more clearly.
Mitla started a fire and threw in some herbs, breathing the fumes in deeply. She set a pot with water and more herbs on the fire. Then the most puzzling thing happened. She drew a circle in the dirt of the kitchen and danced and hopped around the tlecuil. After a few minutes, the chilling dance ended. Mitla cleared the dirt away from the floor to reveal a secret storage, from which she pulled out two gruesome guajolote legs. Señor Delfino thought it was strange that she was going to feast on the large bird legs because of how dry and disgusting they looked, but instead, she moved toward the tlecuil.
Suddenly, in what was a bizarre and terrible scene, she bent down and ripped her own legs from their place, leaving the bones visible. Señor Delfino rocked back, gasping. If he were not such a strong man, he would have fallen there, dead from fear. He quieted himself and stood, motionless.
He watched in horror as Mitla replaced her freshly torn legs with the guajolote legs and began her ritual dance once more. Feathers grew on her arms and chest. Her luscious lips were replaced with a repulsive snout. The resulting beast was a nightmarish sight. Half woman, half bird. What Señor Delfino saw chilled his blood, but he knew it was as real as the heart pumping in his chest.
The bird-woman finished her ritual and flew out the window. Señor Delfino, having been undiscovered, banged on his son’s door to warn him of the great danger he was in. Alas, Anselmo could not be awakened no matter how loudly his father called his name. The Señor, in an effort to save his son and the rest of the village, hurried toward the square to ring the bell and wake the sleeping families. Before he even left his son’s land, he heard the flutter of wings in the sky and saw that horrendous harpy coming back with something wrapped in rags hanging from its claws. Again, he devoted himself to observe and tried to pay as much attention as possible, hoping this was a nightmare but he knew it wasn’t.
The creature’s package was still moving. She unwrapped her prize and the Señor heard the most heartrending sound he ever heard in his life: the cry of a baby in unimaginable pain. As quickly as he heard it, it disappeared. Mitla, or what was left of Mitla, threw the body into the pot warming in the tlecuil, sniffing the fumes hungrily. Señor Delfino turned away when he saw her take the pot off of the fire to dine on her find. Forever engrained in his mind are the sickening sounds, which seemed only to last a moment, but would now last a lifetime for him.
Mitla returned to the hidden storage and exchanged her guajolote legs for human ones. She was now that striking woman again. It was impossible to believe that someone so beautiful, kind, and quiet could in reality be such a filthy and treacherous monster responsible for the disappearances in the village. She quietly returned to bed and the Señor hurried home. He lay in his bed, trembling the rest of the night.
He sat all night thinking about what to do. He couldn’t tell anyone, fearing that word would get back to that harpy and she would flee. His father had taught him that witches must be killed when they are on the hunt, so he devised a plan to do just that.
Señor Delfino went out to observe his son’s house again each night until he could catch her on her hunt again. For a full week, he was watching with nothing stirring in the house. Finally, the strange woman awoke, performed her outlandish ritual, and flew out the window. He raced inside, tossed aside the pot, grabbed the human legs, and watched them burn in the tlecuil.
With their ashes in the fireplace, he returned to his hiding spot outside just in time to see the creature return to the house. In a fluttering rage, she let a string of curses slip out of her beak in her own language. Mitla jumped and groaned with each step in pain, trying to begin a new ritual to restore her legs. Dawn broke and Señor Delfino saw her guajolote legs dry up in the light of day, leaving Mitla with torn stumps that bled with a foul smell. There was nothing she could do. After a few moments, she was gone, drained of the precious blood of life.
Anselmo woke from his slumber to see the entire village at his doorstep with his beloved wife dead in a pool of her own blood in his kitchen. Delirious with pain, he would not hear the explanations of his family and friends. He fled the village and never returned. Mitla’s mother could never be found, and both homes remained empty forever.
These were the words recounted by the great-granddaughter of Señor Delfino on our trip to Coyula. The story is incredulous, but fear filled her eyes as she told it to us. The people of Coyula walk with a certain sadness, and the empty streets shudder in the gloom.