‘Beastly’ Beatriz. That’s what all the kids called her. Other girls might have thought it cruel or hurtful, but not Beatriz Villalobos. For her, it was a mark of respect. And she loved it.
Beatriz grew up in the slums known as Basurero, under the shadow of violence and fear. The streets were controlled by Los Reyes, a gang of neighborhood thugs who got off on intimidating others. Beatriz and her mother kept their heads down, trying to go about their business without attracting attention. But attention found Beatriz anyway.
Eduardo, the leader of Los Reyes, was only seventeen, but his swagger and his scars added years to his lean frame. He had noticed Beatriz, nine years old and prone to looking at her feet as she walked past him. One day, he got up in her face about it. Weak kids were easy prey. Beatriz was afraid. Eduardo was bigger than her and stronger than her. He had her backed into a corner. She didn’t like that.
Beatriz ran home in tears, shaken by the confrontation. Her mother tried to console her, but Beatriz didn’t want comfort. She wanted to fight back. To be tough. She went to speak with abuela.
Abuela was Beatriz’s name for the old woman who lived a few doors down from her, because she reminded Beatriz of her grandmother. Beatriz told abuela about her confrontation with Eduardo and how she hated to be afraid. Abuela listened to her tale and closed her eyes, deep in thought.
“I can help you, mija,” she said, after Beatriz was done. “I can help you become stronger, braver. You need not be afraid ever again.”
Beatriz was intrigued.
“But fear is a part of you, Beatriz. It makes you the person that you are. If you remove the fear, you will no longer be the same. It will change you.”
It didn’t matter to Beatriz. She wanted to be different. It was better than being afraid. Abuela urged Beatriz to think it over again and went to make some tea. She returned with an unusual tea cup, like nothing Beatriz had seen before. It was made of bone, and the handle was carved into the shape of an animal. It looked like a wolf, Beatriz thought, but no wolf that existed in this world.
“Drink this,” abuela said, “And your fear will be gone.”
Beatriz did as she was told, drinking the hot tea in a few short gulps. Her tongue burned and she could feel fire flowing through her insides. But she didn’t feel very different.
As Beatriz was leaving abuela‘s house, she spotted Eduardo out on the street. He saw her and called her down. Beatriz shook her head and kept walking. Eduardo called out to her again but this time, there was something in his voice that made her obey. She walked downstairs slowly, feeling her heart thud with each step. Eduardo met her at the bottom of the steps, then grabbed her by the shoulders and pinned her against the railing.
“Hey there, little Bee,” he said, reeking of cheap beer and expensive cologne. “where you off to in such a hurry? I just wanna talk.”
Fear swirled inside Beatriz, filling her belly and her lungs. She wanted Eduardo to let her go. She wanted him to leave her alone forever. The fear began to pulsate. She could feel it throbbing in her veins. And then that fear changed into something else. Something darker. Beatriz looked the boy in the eye, even though he towered over her. She stood her ground. And she fought back.
Nobody spoke of exactly what happened that day. Stories began to circulate around the neighborhood. Some said that Beatriz broke Eduardo’s nose, or that she punched his face into a bloody pulp. They said Eduardo was too ashamed to leave the house. But in the safety of their homes, they all told a different story, of how the little girl had transformed into something else. Something not of this world. And that this beastly child had banished Eduardo to the depths of hell. Or worse. In the end, stories were all that remained of Eduardo. He was never seen again.
Beatriz walked the neighborhood with her head held high after that. But that wasn’t all. She felt different. Powerful. Dangerous. Over the years, Beatriz took Eduardo’s place as the ruler of the neighborhood and kept it in order. Nobody dared cross her.
Once in a while, though, someone would step out of line. Someone would be foolish enough to believe that they could steal from the neighborhood or attack the defenseless. Someone would try to hurt those that Beatriz held dear.
And when that happened, Beatriz confronted them. She channeled the swirling darkness inside of her. And she showed them just how she had earned the name ‘Beastly’ Beatriz.