Niňos de la Tierra

I grew up believing there were children under the earth.

“When it rains, they come out,” Abuelita said, wrapped in the exoskeleton of her black rebozo. “One sting, and you’re dead.”

After a storm, my little brothers and I guarded the windows with plastic swords, watching mud shining in moonlight.

“They’re bald like a new-born,” Abuela whispered with her mothball breath. “They cry like a child.”

We listened, between wind’s pauses, for their wail.

If we broke a plate, she frowned, her face wrinkled like caterpillar-skin.

“They have six legs and little baby fingers at the end of each leg. They kidnap bad kids.”

We hid, blankets curled around us like cocoons.

Covered in cobwebs of veils, she slammed her hand against the door. We huddled together. “Don’t go outside. The children of the earth are going to get you.”

“What are they?” we asked.

“They’re Satan’s children. Part baby, part tiger.”

One day, I flipped her the middle finger.

“I’m going to grab that little finger and twist it and give it to the earth babies,” she snarled. “They’ll drag you to hell.”

When Abuelita died, we got a dead cockroach and pretended it was her. We buried her in the garden. Then we sprinkled holy water, sealing her grave and trapping her underground.

All that summer we ran on top of her, laughing, surrounded by swollen roses.

Published in Burnside Review

Republished in Dark Ink: An Anthology Inspired by Horror, Moon Tide Press

Selected by Dan Chaon for inclusion in Best Microfiction 2019 Anthology.