Once upon a time, an old Huarpe Indian known as Mariana visited the town of San Juan every summer. She stayed all season long. She was striking for her bronze, wrinkled skin and her slender body. Her eyes were deep and dark, and everyone who came close to her said she looked as if she knew many secrets. Those eyes changed color, depending on the time of day and on Mariana's mood. If she was angry, they glowed dark as night; when she was happy, they shimmered green.
Mariana wore a big layered skirt, a dusty turban and a ragged rebozo draped over her shoulders. She had a little dog that was as skinny as his mistress -- and as fierce. Nothing could lure him from her side.
Every year when Mariana came to town, she sat on a dusty road beneath an old carob tree. The moment she arrived, the tree bloomed. People said that the moment she departed, the blossoms died. Stories spread far and wide about her powers. Children loved to visit her, for she told them old stories that weaved magic with her memories and words. The children could never get enough of Mariana's stories. She seemed to know the history of the whole wide world -- of every war and every celebration, of each superstition and belief. She told tales of the pleasures her people had known, and she told tales of their sorrows.
Mariana's voice was musical and deep, and the little ones were dazzled by all she had to say. She was kind to the children. She knew their names and their family histories. She knew what they liked and what they loathed. And she loved them, though she did not like their parents or their grandparents. At least, it seemed that she did not.
But she needed the children's elders, for they gave her money for the golden nuggets she carried in her bags. She called them "pocitos," and she said they came from a pit south of the city, although no one had ever found such a place.
Tales of Mariana spread across the land -- and across oceans.
One day, a group of Spaniards arrived in the city. They claimed to be merchants who had heard about the old woman who sold gold nuggets, but they were really robbers who planned to follow her to the pit to steal her gold.
So the robbers watched Mariana from a distance. One moonless night, when the sky was as dark as coal, they followed Mariana out of the city.
"She will lead us to the pit of gold," they whispered. They dreamed of filling their own pockets, bags and boots with riches.
Mariana reached the southern edge of the city, and she walked on. The robbers followed closely behind. But when they were far from the city, they suddenly heard a low, fierce growl, and before they could move, Mariana's little dog leaped out at them. It no longer looked skinny and harmless. It had turned into a demon with breath like fire. Its eyes glowed red.
When the robbers saw the creature, they turned and began to run away as fast as they could from this strange growling beast. As they ran, they heard Mariana's laughter filling the air.
While they were running away, an earthquake suddenly struck the city. Buildings shook; trees toppled; the ground cracked.
When dawn came, the people saw the damage done to their city. The carob tree was gone, and so were Mariana and her little dog.
She never returned.
A few weeks after the earthquake, one of the robbers who had been missing since that night appeared on a dusty road outside the city. He was covered in dirt and starving, and he talked of nothing but nonsense -- tales of demon dogs and magic pits filled with gold.
No one could make sense of the man's stories, and none of the other robbers ever appeared again. From that day on, the people searched and searched for Mariana's magic pit that held golden nuggets, but no one ever found it.
Still, they named the spot Pocito where the earthquake had struck the city. To this day, they talk about finding Mariana's pit of gold and becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams.
"Tell Me a Story 3: Women of Wonder," the third CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, please visit www.mythsandtales.com.