Back in February (or sometime before the world ended) I had the pleasure of reading Ann Dávila Cardinal’s Bram Stoker Award (Young Adult Novel category) Five Midnights. Ann is a Vermonter, and we connected and tried to have lunch…alas, maybe sometime in 2021.

Dávila Cardinal’s novel is about a Hispanic monster known as el Cuco (aka Coco, Cucoy, Cuca…many aliases for this nasty bugger). I loved the idea and hopped on the internet, did some reading…this guy is vaguely similar to our boogeyman, parents in Spain, Portugal and Latin America warn their misbehaving kiddos that El Cuco will eat them. The monster doesn’t have a form: he can shapeshift, or sometimes he’s a shadow. What a clever idea, thought I. He feeds on grief and has been around for a very long time. Goya illustrated him in 1799.

Then I sat down to watch The Outsider on HBO. As some of you may know, I love Stephen King, but tend to be leery of his film adaptations. But think HBO does great limited series. So I checked it out. My biggest problem with Stephen King’s books: I read them SO FAST and retain nothing, and had not remembered that I’ve met el Cuco before. King likes to play with fairy tales and make them come to life, usually in very unpleasant ways.

The Outsider and Five Midnights couldn’t be more different. Each author plays masterfully with the antagonist—King incorporates elements of distrusting our eyes, seeing not equaling believing which seem particularly poignant for the here and now. Dávila Cardinal’s novel is about belonging—the protagonist grew up straddling Puerto Rico and Vermont, never feeling at home in either place. Monsters (familiar or unfamiliar, think of the many uses of the vampire or a zombie) serve as mirrors which we choose to reflect certain elements of society on to. As creatives, we can twist or turn our mirrors, and decide how best they serve us and the story we are telling.

Have you met el Cuco, on the page, the screen, or heaven forbid, in real life? Feel free to tell us about it in the comments!