Myths Over Miami

Captured on South Beach, Satan later escaped. His demons and the horrible Bloody Mary are now killing people. God has fled. Avenging angels hide out in the Everglades. And other tales from children in Dade's homeless shelters.

"The rich people said: 'Why are you taking our friend who buys us drinks?'" Phatt continues. "The angels tied him under the river and said: 'See what happens when the water touch him. Just see!'"

Phatt insists that his beloved cousin (and only father figure) Ronnie, who joined the U.S. Army to escape Liberty City and was killed last year in another city, warned him about what happened next at the river. (Ronnie was gunned down on Valentine's Day while bringing cupcakes to a party at the school where his girlfriend taught. He appeared to Phatt after that -- to congratulate him on winning a shelter spelling bee, and to show him a shortcut to his elementary school devoid of sidewalk drunks.)

One night this year Phatt and his mother made a bed out of plastic grocery bags in a Miami park where junkies congregate. It was his turn to stand guard against what he calls "screamers," packs of roaming addicts, while his mother slept. Suddenly Ronnie stood before him, dressed in his army uniform. "The Devil got loose from under the river!" Ronnie said. "The rich people didn't stop him! The angels need soldiers."

Eight-year-old Miguel, who drew himself in the tiny bed at his picture's right edge, tries to aid his father's spirit. His father was burned with matches, then shot dead by robbers, and appears here in bloodied work clothes covered with tiny flames. Miguel says his father was searching desperately for the warrior angels.
Eight-year-old Miguel, who drew himself in the tiny bed at his picture's right edge, tries to aid his father's spirit. His father was burned with matches, then shot dead by robbers, and appears here in bloodied work clothes covered with tiny flames. Miguel says his father was searching desperately for the warrior angels.
Bloody Mary, weeping tears of blood, invades a homeless shelter after being conjured through a mirror coated with seawater (upper right corner). Eleven-year-old Tiffany depicted herself calling for help as two children are maimed and a gateway to Hell (lower left corner) gapes in the floor to consume them.
Bloody Mary, weeping tears of blood, invades a homeless shelter after being conjured through a mirror coated with seawater (upper right corner). Eleven-year-old Tiffany depicted herself calling for help as two children are maimed and a gateway to Hell (lower left corner) gapes in the floor to consume them.

Phatt says his dead cousin told him that as soon as water touched the Devil's skin, it turned deep burgundy and horns grew from his head. The river itself turned to blood; ghostly screams and bones of children he had murdered floated from its depths. Just when the angels thought they had convinced Good Streets' denizens that they were in as much danger as those in Bad Streets, Satan vanished through a secret gateway beneath the river. "Now he's coming your way," Ronnie warned. "You'll need to learn how to fight." Ronnie nodded toward the dog-eared math and spelling workbooks Phatt carries even when he can't attend school. "Study hard," he implored. "Stay strong and smart so's you count on yourself, no one else. Never stop watching. Bloody Mary is coming with Satan. And she's seen your face."

Given what the secret stories of shelter children say about the afterlife, it isn't surprising that Ronnie appeared in his military uniform. There is no Heaven in the stories, though the children believe that dead loved ones might make it to an angels' encampment hidden in a beautiful jungle somewhere beyond Miami. To ensure that they find it, a fresh green palm leaf (to be used as an entrance ticket) must be dropped on the beloved's grave.

This bit of folklore became an obsession for eight-year-old Miguel. His father, a Nicaraguan immigrant, worked the overnight shift at a Miami gas station. Miguel always walked down the street by himself to bring his dad a soda right before the child's bedtime, and they'd chat. Then one night his father was murdered while on the job. Recalls Miguel: "The police say the robbers put lit matches all over him before they killed him."

Miguel's mother speaks no English and is illiterate. She was often paid less than two dollars per hour for the temporary jobs she could find in Little Havana (mopping shop floors, washing dishes in restaurants). After her husband's death, she lost her apartment. No matter where Miguel's family of three subsequently slept (a church pew, a shelter bed, a sidewalk), his father's spirit appeared, bloodied and burning all over with tiny flames. Miguel's teachers would catch him running out of his school in central Miami, his small fists filled with green palm leaves, determined to find his father's grave. A social worker finally took him to the cemetery, though Miguel refused to offer her any explanation. "I need my daddy to find the fighter angels," Miguel says from a Salvation Army facility located near Liberty City. "I'll go there when I'm killed."

The secret stories say the angel army hides in a child's version of an ethereal Everglades: A clear river of cold, drinkable water winds among emerald palms and grass as soft as a bed. Gigantic alligators guard the compound, promptly eating the uninvited. Says Phatt: "But they take care of a dead child's spirit while he learns to fight. I never seen it, but yes! I know it's out there" -- he sweeps his hand past the collapsing row of seedy motels lining the street on which the shelter is located -- "and when I do good, it makes their fighting easier. I know it! I know!"

All the Miami shelter children who participated in this story were passionate in defending this myth. It is the most necessary fiction of the hopelessly abandoned -- that somewhere a distant, honorable troop is risking everything to come to the rescue, and that somehow your bravery counts.

By the time homeless children reach the age of twelve, more or less, they realize that the secret stories are losing some of their power to inspire. They sadly admit there is less and less in which to believe. Twelve-year-old Leon, who often visits a Hialeah day-care center serving the homeless, has bruised-looking bags under his eyes seen normally on middle-aged faces. He has been homeless for six years. Even the shelters are not safe for him because his mother, who is mentally unstable, often insists on returning to the streets on a whim, her child in tow.

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7 comments
donnac84
donnac84

Bloody Mary is not new or original, she has always been summoned by chanting her name three times in front of a mirror.  I first heard of her as a child in the 60's, in New Jersey

lardosardo
lardosardo

OK wow that makes a whole lotta sense dude.

www.AnonWayz.tk 



cynmccollum
cynmccollum

@donnac84  No she is not new, but I'm guessing you did not grow up with the folklore of the homeless kids. Middle class white kids play with the occult, the desperate live it. Do not condescend to that which you do not know.

fake_off
fake_off

@donnac84 You clearly didn't read the story in its entirety, so why leave a comment?

barefootmama0709
barefootmama0709

@donnac84 The point of the article is the way in which street children are repurposing common legend. 

asjdhasjdkh
asjdhasjdkh

@donnac84 No shit. The rest of the legend is unique though, which makes it interesting. You're not some sole arbiter of secret information.

 
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