Beyond the cracked garden wall, where the ivy creeps in to burrow and choke grandmother’s herbs, you’ve seen flickers of yellow orbs. Waiting. Watching.
You press your hands against the wall, nose fitting key to lock in the nook under the child-high peephole. The creek is dry. Lifeless. Only the ivy has more green leaves than brown.
The kitchen window groans shut, and you pull yourself away. Grandmother doesn’t like it when she has to call you. When she has to remind you of your place.
You scurry back to the shack. You’ll return to the wall tomorrow. To watch. To wait.
Maybe tomorrow you’ll be gone. Taken.
You’ve tempted them all: boogeyman, Black Annis, and Mary. None answered your call. Only Cuca, reptilian-eyed and fiery haired, has ventured this close. Cuca, who sleeps only once every seven years, who rests in the river’s deeps, and preys on children who dare stay awake in the forbidden hours. So it is Cuca you wait for.
You hear your mother’s lullaby hissing in the wind: Nana neném, que a Cuca vem pegar…
Sleep child. If you don’t, Cuca will come and get you.
You try. You try not to sleep. You try to stay awake.
Don’t close your eyes. Don’t sleep. Don’t sleep. Don’t.
But it’s no use. Every day you wake up to the same stained sheets, the same peeling walls, the same faded curtains with the gray flower print and the tear where a single strip of sunlight sneaks into the room. Every day you wake to your mama’s absence, to grandmothers muttered curses, to the silence of resentful custody. Every day you try to make yourself small, to not eat much, to not be in the way, to not be a bother.
Every day you fail.
Nana neném, que a Cuca vem pegar…
Sleep child. If you’re awake, Cuca will come and get you. She’ll take you from your home, tear you from your bed, pull you away from everything you know. She won’t be afraid of grandmother. Her yellow eyes can see in the dark, her big crocodile teeth can snap at anyone who tries to keep you locked away, her sharp claws can carve out your escape.
Don’t sleep. Don’t sleep. Don’t sleep. Don’t.
You must stay awake. You must convince Cuca that you could be a bad, bad girl. Far, far from here.