They were in their early twenties, in a camping trip through Patagonia’s cold forests, cheerful participants in a journey through the mountains that seemed to last forever. They felt themselves eternal, and their own death a mere possibility into the unimaginably distant future.
One night, as they felt intensely the infinity of the stars, the vastness of the woods, the night air so dense, and the soothing comfort of the campfire, the conversation that had been turning around the usual topics, such as life, the existence of God, and the problems of the world, began to die out, just like the fire. It was getting late. One more subject came up, sparking some interest: a local myth, a hairy snowball of a creature called Momio, who had good standing in the area just like Bigfoot or Sasquatch in theirs. They talked about Momio sightings and the varying credibility of Momio stories.
The group had a bedtime ritual. Before falling asleep, everyone would greet everybody else in the tent by name, one by one. The salutation would begin on one end of the tent, and move towards the other, everyone taking a turn and greeting everybody else.
Good night, Graciela!
And the response: good night!
Good night, Julio!
Good night, Roberto!
After the last round of salutations, with everybody having been greeted good night, one of them had a flash of inspiration. He jokingly said:
Good night, Momio!
Giggling started up in the group, as it was, certainly, a funny idea. However, it was cut short. From the darkness outside, clearly, a severe, austere voice responded:
They were all city born and bred, well educated, and certainly not prone to believe in legends. The woods were unknown, unpopulated, but generally safe. However, everyone jumped. For a second, a deep, animal fear set in. It was rooted in history, or, perhaps more appropriately said, in prehistory. It was triggered from the species’ memory of wild beasts, unprotected caves, and merciless thunder gods. It was the fear that permeated the human DNA throughout the millennia. All of it was there, just beneath the skin. One scratch was all that was needed to make it come alive.
They told and retold the story many times. Over the years it became tight, logical, smooth, like the river stones in a stream bed; that is, that they were alone in the vast woods, everyone was inside the tent, and nobody was unaccounted for.