Alterpedia: Cucuy

In the Alters’ World (and the series of books found here), creatures of legend reveal themselves to the world. Born through genetic abnormalities, defects and mutations, the Alters have lived for centuries as outcasts of human society, hiding their true nature from the world while colorful stories have been written by many to describe what they’ve seen. How are these creatures different from what was described in the stories? What relationship do they have with humanity? Every entry of the Alterpedia will delve into a new creature from around the world. This week we cover:

El Cucuy

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It was a dark and stormy night. The world was shrouded in black, save for the flickering of candles and the brilliant display of the storm above. Thunder rolled endlessly over a small town in the middle of a desert as people screamed into the dead of night, yelling at each other over the wailing wind and the growling clouds above. And one lone man stood under that sky, watching for signs of rain and realizing the horrible truth of the fate that had befallen them:

I was probably not going to be able to update my blog on Friday since my power was out all of Thursday night.

But another terrible thing was becoming apparent as the dark night grew long. Long raised around the culture of Mexican immigrants, this lone figure knew, deep down, that something else was brewing in those shadows. The stories had been passed in whispers for years, murmured through elementary school classrooms. A single name was spoken in hushed tones, the name of something which lurked in the shadowy corners of the world. It was clear, the longer the lights were gone, that a child in the city was under a looming threat. Someone was being watched that night, from the deepest shadows, by the Cucuy…

Appearance

Mythology

 

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The Cucuy lacks a true form that any have ever seen, a horrific figure that can change its shape at will and move through the darkness. How it chooses to present itself to its victims is entirely up to the Cucuy. Some have seen it as a shapeless form, like a living shadow, creeping out of hiding. Others have seen it as an amalgamation of beasts, a series of parts mixed together haphazardly in a horrifying mass. But the truth is… it was all of the above.

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One of the most common tricks of the Cucuy is to appear as a dragon, or a chimera, which invokes terror in the hearts of those it will encounter. Through a collection of traits that should not be blended together, it represents horrible beasts and uses those to its ends. As the Cucuy itself has no single form, it uses these to invoke something in the minds of the people it encounters. In some places this is somewhat organized, like the dragons of Portugal which Saint George slayed. But in other places it can be as unpredictable and unusual as a monstrous tortoise with a horned spine.

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One thing many can agree is that it can be quite nearly human if it chooses, but only in grotesque, unusual fashion. Traditions throughout the Iberian peninsula hold that the Cucuy’s face is something that looks nearly human but is more like an inhuman abstract of the form. This led to many traditions where the people would try to recreate the Cucuy’s head to scare others, eventually a means of scaring off evil spirits or guiding cursed souls – a tradition we hold in some countries to this very day.

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And the haunting form of these creatures was found everywhere by those who knew of the creature. As explorers from Portugal came upon a strange fruit in the tropics, they found themselves naming it after the Coco and Coca, the male and female forms of the Cucuy. Its form, resembling a fuzzy skull with two eyes and a small mouth, reminded them too much of the monsters from home to let it pass. And, like the tradition above, we still know of it to this day.

coconut

For something with no true form, its impression has lingered for centuries in the hearts and minds of those who know of it.

Alters
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courtesy of Grimm, one of the few depictions of the beast

In truth, the Cucuy is an ancient shapeshifter which holds traits suggesting a connection to other fearsome creatures of Europe such as the Krampus of the North. Their bodies are flexible, with a skeleton consisting mostly of cartilage and every aspect of their form can be squeezed or bent in a way they see fit.  Their skin-tones are usually quite dark and blend in with their environments, selectively adopting color which can be used for camouflage in their environment. Because of this, it is difficult to know for certain what a Cucuy looks like in its natural form, but evidence suggests a terrifying, warped human face.

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Their faces are generally lacking permanent detail, a side-efect of their constant and rapid changing, but what does remain is unmistakable. They are generally known for maintaining only the eyes and mouth at any given time, the typical human nose being difficult to morph away and return to repeatedly. However, seeing as they are often difficult to see, this is generally enough. The aspects of their face which are universal, their eyes and mouth, are naturally easier to see in the dark anyway. This is especially true of the eyes, as Cucuy are notoriously nocturnal and dislike even the slightest light – resulting in eyes adapted to shine in the dark like those of a cat.

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Seen here as a “Rake”

When at risk of being discovered, the Cucuy will take on traits which make them more terrifying. Long claws, sharp teeth, reptilian skin and plates are not unheard of. These traits are not simply random selection either, as many times the Cucuy will take the form that will produce the most fear in that environment. However, even these specimen, when returning to natural environments, will default to their near-human appearances for the sake of easier travel through their usual environments. The only traits they’re known to keep consistently are the sharp claws and teeth, tools they find great use on for their prey.

Abilities

Mythology

cucuy

The Cucuy is able to move through the shadows unnoticed and creep into the rooms of the unsuspecting. Traveling through the darkness and managing to crawl their way into various nooks and crannies, the Cucuy can just as easily be in your closet as under your bed. How it gets there is unknown, but once the light is gone it can freely move through the room with absolute silence and creep towards those in the room.

Even in motion, the Cucuy can change its shape. With skill and subtlety, the Cucuy moves as though it were made of liquid, warping and twisting into the thing it needs to become. It is practically a living shadow, unseen by all but those terrified people who it approaches. And, should light try to be cast on it, they can disappear in an instant, rapidly retreating back to those narrow spaces they emerged from.

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It’s as though they weren’t even there.

Alters

monster under bed

But they are. The Cucuy’s unique body makes them incredibly capable of squeezing through almost any space with little effort. Provided their head can manage to squeeze through a space, the rest fo their body will soon follow. And these movements, with unique joints and light frames, are nearly silent. Their eyes are adapted to be able to see their way through even the pitch black night, and the claws they use on their prey can be retracted to avoid any unwanted sounds. Combined with the ability to change their shape to adapt for even stealthier movements, the Cucuy is able to get almost anywhere without notice.

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Their shapeshifting ability is incredibly fast but unsophisticated. While other shapeshifters are capable of adopting the traits of other people with little difficulty, the Cucuy is incapable of duplication. However, the trade off for this is that the Cucuy’s form is incredibly elastic and able to stretch, bend, and warp incredibly easily. Like the creatures of legend, they move as though they are living shadows and are able to do so quickly.

Their senses are keen, sometimes too much so, and as a result they are generally aware of the movements of others in their environment. This is a double edged sword, however, since they are incredibly sensitive to light and need to avoid direct contact with it to avoid harm. This would be a problem for most, as their sensitivity is even to softer, artificial lights. But the Cucuy’s ability to keep track of those moving around it makes them capable of anticipating the movement of others and taking cover with incredible reflexes.

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This same ability makes them difficult to defend against. Should the Cucuy reach their intended victim, few things can be done to stop them besides light. They’re far too fast and powerful to be fended off any other way, and only hurting them with something that can’t be avoided is known to do any good.

Behavior

Mythology

cucuy eating

Their stealthy, adaptive movements are a great problem for the children of the world, as the Cucuy is known to only eat one thing – misbehaving children. Long sung of by many parents throughout the Latin world, the Cucuy is known to wait for misbehaving children and attack them in the night. Hiding under their beds and in their closet, these creatures are incredibly patient and will haunt a child for many days, even weeks, before making their move at the right time. The reasons for targeting only bad children are unknown, but it is believed it may be because those children would not be terribly missed by the parents. At least, this is what the Cucuy seem to believe.

When unable to get their hands on children, the Cucuy’s diet and habits may change drastically. Traditionally spending their time hunting at night, Cucuy who are forced to hunt in the day for alternatives (a possible but unpleasant prospect), will adapt themselves physically to this new environment and target much larger prey. On multiple occasions across the Iberian peninsula, desperate Cucuy have been forced to adapt themselves to the daylight and emerge as dragons. In this time, they’re known to eat adults, particularly women, in great numbers.

Alters

drag under bed

One of the few Alters to continue to prey on humans well into the modern day, the Cucuy is a vicious predator. Stalking their prey for some time, they will often drag them to the darkness and eat people with little care. This is unusual for most Alters, as many of them were once human or try to blend with human civilization, but the Cucuy has little care for this. Like Wendigos, Cucuy have rejected human society entirely and prefer to continue living like animals, feasting on whatever they can capture.

The reason for their selection of targets is simple: children are delicious. Having less dense, softer muscle and great deals of baby fat, Cucuy find children to be particularly flavorful and will go to great lengths to get one. It is known for a Cucuy to stalk some children for several months if necessary. These targets are generally those that the Cucuy believes it can take without too much worry of retribution. However, this is a miscalculation of their race which has proven to be fatal.

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The Cucuy are now terribly rare, hunted to extinction by angry parents and having their heads mounted alongside carved pumpkins for centuries. Mistaking angry parents for uncaring ones, they have often made the miscalculation that resulted in vengeful parents hunting them down. Like many predators threatening things important to humans, the Cucuy have been nearly hunted to extinction as a result.

However, due to their stealthy and secretive nature, it is difficult to know the exact number of Cucuy left in the world. Many sounds in the night, now attributed to the house settling or an animal outside the house, could still be a Cucuy in hiding. And, while the number of children eaten by these creatures has fallen drastically over the years, the fact remains…

You never really know for sure.

(I write novels and have a twitter account. Both are worth a read. Preferably not late at night, as you wouldn’t want to risk the Cucuy considering you as prey.)

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