Peeking from the dark tree tops, poised to snatch at any unlucky victim who happens to be out for a midnight stroll, the Lechuza watches on silently. Its eyes are wide lidless orbs that look ghost white when they hit light. They are witches in the guise of huge owls and they love to prey on children, swooping them away never to be see again.
Their signature calling call is a melodic whistle. As a matter of fact, that is how the Lechuza lures children away. They whistle a song out from the dark, and when the child- or even adult- moves in closer to investigate they feel the scabby talons clamor onto their back and then are whisked away into the sky. I have heard so many different stories about these creatures. In some versions they are not owls but just huge dark birds. In others, the witches would morph back and forth to lure men. A recurring theme has been that the Lechuzas prefer first borns.
For this post I am going to take a narrative approach to three accounts that I have heard my entire life. These stories belong to my mother, her mother, and my father’s mother. All of these stories also take place in Coal Mine, which I write about in my blog Due to the Weather. If you aren’t familiar with it I suggest you check it out. Now, whether or not the culture and community of Coal Mine has any influence on the stories is left to be seen. Perhaps by the end of the blog something will be apparent.
Story 1: My Mother’s Account
I was born in 1983. I grew up in Coal Mine. My home was at the end of a lonely road that abruptly ended in farm land. On one side of the community there was a railroad track and empty fields. On the other side there was a lot of brush. We lived close to the tracks, so close that you covered your ears when a train went by.
A few days after I was born my parents brought me home for the first time. One day while my father was at work my mother was at home taking care of me. She had just put me to sleep when she heard a loud thud on the roof of the house. She ignored it at first but then there came the sound of something walking above, suddenly accompanied by the flutter of wings intermittently. Spooked, she dared not make a sound. She had had all of the windows open for it had been a hot day and she listened intently as the noise traveled to one end of the roof to the other, as if whatever was out there was pacing back and forth. Suddenly she heard the tell-tale sound: A high pitched whistle coming from high above. In a mad dash, my mother closed and locked all of the windows, returning to my crib to watch over me.
When my father got home later he asked her why all the windows were closed, and when my mother recounted the story to him all he could do was nervously laugh it off. It was superstition, he knew that. He had heard all the stories too.
Story 2: Grandmother’s (mother’s side) Account
My grandmother lived in Coal Mine her whole life. She would always tell this story whenever the topic of spooky things came up. When her first child had been born my grandfather worked the night shift. Every night he would wake up, eat dinner and then head off to work, leaving his wife alone.
On one particular night, her first child having just gone to bed, my grandmother heard the sound of someone whistling outside. She said that it was loud, and when she looked out the window she could only see the tree branches swaying fast in the night breeze. Even though she could not see anyone or anything outside she could still hear the whistling. She ignored it and turned away from the window.
Suddenly the whistling was very close, seemingly coming from right outside her door. It startled her, but after she caught her breath she went back to the window to see if someone had indeed come along in the dark, perhaps a neighbor in need.
She paused against the glass as the whistling suddenly stopped. Outside shadows danced in the wind while crickets chirped in the dark.
Suddenly the whistling started up again, this time from on top of the roof. My grandmother, having grown up with the stories of the Lechuza too, went to her sleeping child and picked him up in her arms. She prayed aloud to be protected, and the next time she heard the sound of the whistling it was far off and fading, eventually disappearing all together.
Story 3: Grandmother’s (father’s mother) Account
Both of my grandmothers grew up in Coal Mine. All, if not most, of their families were there. My father’s mother actually lived down the street from my mom’s mother. It is a small closed knit community.
My grandmother said that when she was a little girl she awoke in the middle of the night needing to use the restroom. At that time there was no indoor plumbing, and my grandmother dragged herself out of bed to go use the outhouse that stood out in their backyard.
As she clamored out of bed she ran into her mother who had also woken up to use the restroom. Together they walked out into the night.
When the reached the outhouse both of them were startled by a tremendous rustling in the tree above them. They watched silently as an enormous dark bird pushed off from the branch it had been resting on and flew off into the empty night sky. There was a bright moon out that night and they both watched in amazement as the giant bird perched atop of large dead tree a half a mile away. In those days the surrounding area wasn’t developed as much and they were able to see clear over empty fields as the bird fluttered its wings and then stood still watching them.
My grandmother said that her and her mother used the restroom quick after that, the dark bird keeping perfectly still. Suddenly in the dead air they heard a high pitched whistle float out to them and they rushed back into the house.
Coal Mine is a very interesting place, complete with its own myths and history. However, I guess that is true with every small forgotten town.
In all three stories the prevalent themes seem to be that there is a first born child involved, and that the bird-whatever it is- whistles out to people. The story of the shape shifting witches is nothing new. Through out history witches have been believed to take the forms of cats and rodents. In some corners of the sheltered little towns you might even find some one who will tell you that they do this to try to smother babies in their sleep. There are also numerous stories involving witches kidnapping children, many of these stories also state that first borns are sought after for sacrifice.
In the end I believe further research must be collected in order to see a distinct connection between culture and superstition when it comes to the Lechuza. If this is the first that you’ve ever heard of them I would suggest that you look online for more stories.
So, if you happen to find yourself out one night taking in the moon, and you hear the sound of someone whistling in the dark, beware. Do a double take at the treeline around you.