The Myth of Pishtaco or Making Sense of Self-Destruction – Natalie Cortez-Klossner

Grandmother said never to go out at night. A bearded man on horseback will lure you and extract your fat. She warned, “things lurk behind trees,” creating the art of shape-shifting. Grandmother said, “You must stay inside if the sun is out of sight.” I didn’t believe it. I set off at half-light, the southern oscillations yanked the poplar trees, and from the wind, I prayed the roots left my family’s fears.

I’m the child of the Moon. A path led me up the mountain to see her. She never spoke, but it was enough to share myself. I wanted to believe. Grandmother said the Moon fell in love with father, and when she brought him up into the cosmos, she hugged him so tightly that it left her with eternal marks. Now the patterns reflect on the lake’s surface. I wanted to believe.

Grandmother said, “an unspeakable thing roams.” At dusk: the air was dry up the mountain, the skin between my fingers scaled, and my throat itched. The entrance of the Sun brought light to the ghastly rapid river flowing through the lush tropical cordillera, modest bungalows, and terraces carved into the mountaintops. My home was an oasis from the decay and corruption of the empire. Admiring the Sun as it left, I saw a figure with a brimmed hat at the peak. Beneath the Sun’s shadow, the man-like creature trailed my gait.

The following day, Grandmother whispered to me: “There’s been a butcher attack.” A body was mutilated at dawn; their body fat, missing; a beheaded skeleton; blood soaked into the growing soil; no one identified them. It must’ve been a sight so obscene.

Before sunset, I went up the mountain again. I thought the Moon would protect me, and if not, I knew my way around the hills like I could map my body—every crevice and every spirit that is said to lurk behind the foliage. I never stepped into the edge of the chalets, as a spirit disguised as an old lady lived among them and abducted curious children. I dreamt of myself in the sky with Mama Moon at midnight. I’d be betwixt the sky, earth, and rocks; that was my dream until that sunk heartbeat. No warning. There was no warning of it until I saw his frail frame behind a trunk. The semi-human with a man’s body and a demon’s deep smile studied me, dust covering his leather jacket and the thick layer of facial hair. He exposed a blood-stained knife in his hand, his eyes rolled back, and a sucking appendage like an anteater’s snout shot out from his mouth. I ran down, almost falling off a ridge, my limbs flinging out in myriad directions. I experienced the horror of being sucked out of life and gasped out of air.

The following day, Grandmother said, “A second victim was found.” Their head was intact, but one eye looked to the left and the other to the right. Again: not an ounce of fat was on the body. A large puncture on their lower right abdomen drew your attention away from its deflated presence. I wanted to forget the details grandmother didn’t spare. Grandmother said they called the monster Pishtaco and that the thing disguised as a human man used fat as sustenance, boiling it down into a tea.

I knew how to protect myself: hide my fat. I’d start small, storing it in a pouch little by little. I’d go out to see Mama Moon every night to see if Pishtaco came into view. He kept appearing. Grandmother said I’d be safe if I stayed inside at night, but I wanted to see Mama Moon close.

I kept storing my fat, storing my fat, and storing my fat until I no longer possessed any more.

My body wasn’t listening. I made it halfway up the hike when my legs crumbled. I wept in sync to the drips of the melting ice, for I couldn’t run away from Pishtaco. My legs were soft, lacking moral strength, as if they could be torn off my body with a single pull. Hours and hours went by, and I never saw him, although a hoarse scream echoed in the distance. Even with my temperature dropping and my heart slowing down to nothing, I was proud of myself. I did it. I was free from Pishtaco if I could only stand up. I lifted my head as if I were pushing against a massive boulder: it was Mama Moon. She traveled to see me, or so I thought. Her presence was unsettling. My tears thrashed harder, outrunning the speed of the melting ice. Mama Moon said that the Sun God’s name translates to “sea of fat,” and to never forget the sacredness of one’s body before lifting me off the ground and guiding me down.

I went to find my pouch of fat with my surviving spirits, promising I’d restore my body. Grandmother said, “Pishtaco doesn’t eat fat but extracts it to sell it.”

My fat was gone.

“Where is my pouch?” My voice was strained and accusatory.

I believed fears didn’t exist. Regrets did.