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The Coco is a mythical ghost
In traditional belief and fiction, a ghost is the soul or spirit of a deceased person or animal that can appear, in visible form or other manifestation, to the living. Descriptions of the apparition of ghosts vary widely from an invisible presence to translucent or barely visible wispy shapes, to...

A monster is any fictional creature, usually found in legends or horror fiction, that is somewhat hideous and may produce physical harm or mental fear by either its appearance or its actions...

; equivalent to the boogeyman, found in many Hispanic
Hispanic is a term that originally denoted a relationship to Hispania, which is to say the Iberian Peninsula: Andorra, Gibraltar, Portugal and Spain. During the Modern Era, Hispanic sometimes takes on a more limited meaning, particularly in the United States, where the term means a person of ...

 and Lusophone
A Lusophone is someone who speaks the Portuguese language, either as a native, as an additional language, or as a learner. As an adjective, it means "Portuguese-speaking"...

 countries. He can also be considered a Hispanic version of a bugbear
A bugbear is a legendary creature or type of hobgoblin comparable to the bogeyman, bogey, bugaboo, and other creatures of folklore, all of which were historically used in some cultures to frighten disobedient children. Its name is derived from an old Celtic word bug for evil spirit or goblin...

, as it is a commonly used figure of speech representing an irrational or exaggerated fear. The coco is a male being while coca, is the female version of the mythical monster
A monster is any fictional creature, usually found in legends or horror fiction, that is somewhat hideous and may produce physical harm or mental fear by either its appearance or its actions...

 although it is not possible to distinguish one from the other as both are the representation of the same being.

Names and etymology

The myth of the coco originated in Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 and Galicia. According to the Real Academia Española
Real Academia Española
The Royal Spanish Academy is the official royal institution responsible for regulating the Spanish language. It is based in Madrid, Spain, but is affiliated with national language academies in twenty-one other hispanophone nations through the Association of Spanish Language Academies...

 the word "coco" derives from the Portuguese language, and referred to a ghost with a pumpkin head (in that "coco", from which derives the word coconut
The coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, is a member of the family Arecaceae . It is the only accepted species in the genus Cocos. The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which is not a botanical nut. The spelling cocoanut is an old-fashioned form of the word...

, is analogous to a pumpkin
A pumpkin is a gourd-like squash of the genus Cucurbita and the family Cucurbitaceae . It commonly refers to cultivars of any one of the species Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita mixta, Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita moschata, and is native to North America...

 or calabaza
Calabaza is a term that can be applied to a variety of gourds and melons grown throughout the world.-Etymology :The word calabaza is derived from the Persian term for melon . The French term "calabasse", and hence "calabash" is based on the older Spanish...

). The word coco is used in coloquial speech to mean the human head in Portuguese and Spanish. Coco also means skull. The word "cocuruto" in Portuguese means the crown of the head and the highest place.
The name coco could have its origins in the old Celtic word *kokk– meaning ‘red’. Either the pumpkin or the dragon are related with fire which is of the same colour.
Koko in Basque
Basque language
Basque is the ancestral language of the Basque people, who inhabit the Basque Country, a region spanning an area in northeastern Spain and southwestern France. It is spoken by 25.7% of Basques in all territories...

 means mask
A mask is an article normally worn on the face, typically for protection, disguise, performance or entertainment. Masks have been used since antiquity for both ceremonial and practical purposes...


In Northern New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

 and Southern Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

, where there is a large Hispanic population, el cuco is referred to with its anglicized name, the Coco Man. But in Brazilian folklore, the typical monster sung in children rhymes is Cuca, pictured as a female humanoid alligator
An alligator is a crocodilian in the genus Alligator of the family Alligatoridae. There are two extant alligator species: the American alligator and the Chinese alligator ....

 from Portuguese coca, a dragon
A dragon is a legendary creature, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures. There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern...



The name of the Cuco is widely used by parents in Spain and Latin America when children disobey their parents, do not want to go to sleep, do not want to eat, or go to prohibited places and like to wander.
It is not the way the cuco looks but what he does that scares most. The cuco is a child eater and a kidnapper, it immediately devours the child and leaves no trace of her or it takes the child away to a place of no return, but it only does this to disobedient children. The coca is on the look out for child's misbehavior on the top of the roof, the coco takes the shape of any dark shadow and stays watching. They are attracted by a child's disobedience. They represent the opposite of the guardian angel
Guardian angel
A guardian angel is an angel assigned to protect and guide a particular person or group. Belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity...

 and are frequently compared to the devil. Others see the coco as the representation of the deceased of the local community.

Parents sing lullabies or tell rhymes to the children warning them that if they don't sleep, el Coco will come and get them.

The oldest known rhyme, which originated in the 17th century, is in the "Auto de los desposorios de la Virgen" by Juan

The rhyme has evolved over the years, but still retains its original meaning:
Which translates as:
During the Portuguese and Spanish colonization of Latin America, the legend of the Cuco was spread to countries such as Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

, Argentina
Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

 and Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

. In the Mexican-American community the creature is known as "El cucuy".

Physical representations

There is no general description of the cucuy, as far as facial
The face is a central sense organ complex, for those animals that have one, normally on the ventral surface of the head, and can, depending on the definition in the human case, include the hair, forehead, eyebrow, eyelashes, eyes, nose, ears, cheeks, mouth, lips, philtrum, temple, teeth, skin, and...

 or body
With regard to living things, a body is the physical body of an individual. "Body" often is used in connection with appearance, health issues and death...

 descriptions, but it is stated that this shapeshifting
Shapeshifting is a common theme in mythology, folklore, and fairy tales. It is also found in epic poems, science fiction literature, fantasy literature, children's literature, Shakespearean comedy, ballet, film, television, comics, and video games...

 being is extremely horrible to look at. The coco is variously described as a shapeless figure, sometimes a hairy monster, that hides in closets or under beds and eats children that misbehave when they are told to go to bed.

Mythical animals

Coca is a female dragon
A dragon is a legendary creature, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures. There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern...

 that in medieval times, in the Iberian Peninsula, used to take part in different celebrations. In Portugal one still survives in Monção
Monção is a municipality in Portugal with a total area of 211.3 km² and a total population of 19,738 inhabitants .The municipality is composed of 33 freguesias , and is located in the district of Viana do Castelo....

 and she fights in some sort of medieval tournament with saint George
Saint George
Saint George was, according to tradition, a Roman soldier from Syria Palaestina and a priest in the Guard of Diocletian, who is venerated as a Christian martyr. In hagiography Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic , Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox...

 during the Corpus Christi
Corpus Christi (feast)
Corpus Christi is a Latin Rite solemnity, now designated the solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ . It is also celebrated in some Anglican, Lutheran and Old Catholic Churches. Like Trinity Sunday and the Solemnity of Christ the King, it does not commemorate a particular event in...

 celebrations. She is called "Santa Coca" (Saint Coca) or "Coca rabixa" (Tail
The tail is the section at the rear end of an animal's body; in general, the term refers to a distinct, flexible appendage to the torso. It is the part of the body that corresponds roughly to the sacrum and coccyx in mammals, reptiles, and birds...

ed Coca) and if she defeats Saint George
Saint George
Saint George was, according to tradition, a Roman soldier from Syria Palaestina and a priest in the Guard of Diocletian, who is venerated as a Christian martyr. In hagiography Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic , Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox...

, by scaring the horse, there will be a bad year for the crops and famine, if the horse and Saint George win by cutting off one of her ears with earring and her tongue, the crops will be fertile. Oddly enough the people cheer for Saint Coca. In Galicia there are still two dragon cocas, one in Betanzos
Betanzos is a municipality in Galicia, Spain, in the Province of A Coruña. In Roman times Betanzos was called Carunium or Brigantium. During the Medieval period the settlement was known as Carunio....

 the other in Redondela
Redondela is a small town in the province of Pontevedra, Galicia, northwestern Spain.-Parroquias:* Cabeiro* Cedeira* Cesantes* Chapela* Negros* Quintela* Reboreda* Redondela* Saxamonde* Trasmañó* Ventosela* Vilar de Infesta* O Viso- See also :...

The legend says that the dragon arrived from the sea and was devouring the young women and was killed in combat by the young men
of the city. In Monção, the legend says, she lives in rio Minho; in Redondela she lives in the Ria
A ria is a coastal inlet formed by the partial submergence of an unglaciated river valley. It is a drowned river valley that remains open to the sea. Typically, rias have a dendritic, treelike outline although they can be straight and without significant branches. This pattern is inherited from the...

 of Vigo
Vigo is a city and municipality in north-west Spain, in Galicia, situated on the ria of the same name on the Atlantic Ocean.-Population:...

The oldest reference to Coca is in the book "Livro 3 de Doações de D. Afonso III" from the year of 1274, where it is referred as a big fish that appears on the shore
A shore or shoreline is the fringe of land at the edge of a large body of water, such as an ocean, sea, or lake. In Physical Oceanography a shore is the wider fringe that is geologically modified by the action of the body of water past and present, while the beach is at the edge of the shore,...

"And if by chance any whale
Whale is the common name for various marine mammals of the order Cetacea. The term whale sometimes refers to all cetaceans, but more often it excludes dolphins and porpoises, which belong to suborder Odontoceti . This suborder also includes the sperm whale, killer whale, pilot whale, and beluga...

 or sperm whale
Sperm Whale
The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, is a marine mammal species, order Cetacea, a toothed whale having the largest brain of any animal. The name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal's head. The sperm whale is the only living member of genus Physeter...

 or mermaid
A mermaid is a mythological aquatic creature with a female human head, arms, and torso and the tail of a fish. A male version of a mermaid is known as a "merman" and in general both males and females are known as "merfolk"...

 or coca or dolphin
Dolphins are marine mammals that are closely related to whales and porpoises. There are almost forty species of dolphin in 17 genera. They vary in size from and , up to and . They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelves, and are carnivores, mostly eating...

 or Musaranha or other large fish that resembles some of these die in Sesimbra
-References:Bibliography*The Rough Guide to Portugal; 11th edition, March 2005; ISBN 1-84353-438-X*Rentes de Carvalho, J. - Portugal, um guia para amigos ; De Arbeiderspers, 9th ed. August 1999; ISBN 90-295-3457-5Notes...

 or Silves or elsewhere...[]"

In Catalonia
Catalonia is an autonomous community in northeastern Spain, with the official status of a "nationality" of Spain. Catalonia comprises four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. Its capital and largest city is Barcelona. Catalonia covers an area of 32,114 km² and has an...

 the "Cuca fera de Tortosa" was first documented in 1457. It is a zoomorphic
Zoomorphism is the shaping of something in animal form or terms. Examples include:*Art that imagines humans as animals*Art that portrays one species of animal like another species of animal*Art that creates patterns using animal imagery, or animal style...

 figure, looks like a tortoise
Tortoises are a family of land-dwelling reptiles of the order of turtles . Like their marine cousins, the sea turtles, tortoises are shielded from predators by a shell. The top part of the shell is the carapace, the underside is the plastron, and the two are connected by the bridge. The tortoise...

 with a horned spine, it has dragon claws and a dragon head. The legend says she had to dine every night on three cats and three children. The legend of the Coca can be compared to the one of Peluda
The Peluda is a supposed dragon or mythical beast that terrorized La Ferté-Bernard, France, in medieval times. It is said to have come from and lived near the Huisne river near the town. Despite the French origins, its more recognized name is Occitan —or any latine origin— for "hairy"...

 or Tarrasque
Tarrasque and similar can mean:*Tarasque, a monster tamed in a legend about Saint Martha*Tarrasque is a Dungeons & Dragons creature*20mm tarasque a French light anti-aircraft gun...


In Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

 the cuco appears as a female alligator called 'cuca'. Cuca appears as the villain in some children books by Monteiro Lobato
Monteiro Lobato
José Bento Renato Monteiro Lobato was one of Brazil's most influential writers, mostly for his children's books set in the fictional Sítio do Picapau Amarelo but he had been previously a prolific writer of fiction, a translator and an art critic...

. Artists illustrating these books depicted the cuca as an anthropomorphic alligator. She is an allusion to coca the dragon, from the folklore of Portugal and Galicia


Traditionally in Portugal, however, the coco, is represented by an iron pan with holes to represent a face with a light in the inside or by a carved vegetable lantern made from a pumpkin with two eyes and a mouth, that is left in dark places with a light inside to scare people. In the Beiras, heads carved on pumpkins, called "coca", would be carried, by the village boys, stuck on top of wooden stakes.
"The same name [Coca] is given to the pumpkin perforated with the shape of a face, with a candle burning in the inside - this gives the idea of a skull on fire - that the boys on many lands of our Beira
Beira Alta
Beira Alta Province was a Portuguese province in the north of Portugal.Vast plateaus, river valleys, mountains, and castles abound in Beira Alta.Formerly it was part of the Beira Province.The two main cities were Guarda and Viseu...

 carry stuck on a stick."

An analogous custom was first mentioned by Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who flourished between 60 and 30 BC. According to Diodorus' own work, he was born at Agyrium in Sicily . With one exception, antiquity affords no further information about Diodorus' life and doings beyond what is to be found in his own work, Bibliotheca...

 (XIII.56.5;57.3), in which Iberian
Pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian Peninsula
This is a list of the Pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian peninsula .-Non-Indo-European:*Aquitanians**Aquitani**Autrigones - some consider them Celtic .**Caristii - some consider them Celtic ....

 warriors, after the battle of Selinunte
Selinunte is an ancient Greek archaeological site on the south coast of Sicily, southern Italy, between the valleys of the rivers Belice and Modione in the province of Trapani. The archaeological site contains five temples centered on an acropolis...

, in 469 BC, would hang on their spear
A spear is a pole weapon consisting of a shaft, usually of wood, with a pointed head.The head may be simply the sharpened end of the shaft itself, as is the case with bamboo spears, or it may be made of a more durable material fastened to the shaft, such as flint, obsidian, iron, steel or...

s the heads of the enemies.
According to Rafael López Loureiro this carving representation would be a milenar tradition from the celtiberian region that spread all over the Iberian Peninsula.
"The autumnal and childish custom of emptying pumpkins and carving on its bark
Bark is the outermost layers of stems and roots of woody plants. Plants with bark include trees, woody vines and shrubs. Bark refers to all the tissues outside of the vascular cambium and is a nontechnical term. It overlays the wood and consists of the inner bark and the outer bark. The inner...

, eyes, nose and mouth looking for a sombre expression, far from being a tradition imported by a recent Americanizing cultural mimicry, is a cultural trait in ancient Iberian Peninsula."

This representation would be related to the celtic cult of the severed heads in the Iberian peninsula
Iberian Peninsula
The Iberian Peninsula , sometimes called Iberia, is located in the extreme southwest of Europe and includes the modern-day sovereign states of Spain, Portugal and Andorra, as well as the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar...

According to João de Barros
João de Barros
João de Barros , called the Portuguese Livy, is one of the first great Portuguese historians, most famous for his Décadas da Ásia , a history of the Portuguese in India and Asia.-Early years:...

, the name of the "coconut
The coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, is a member of the family Arecaceae . It is the only accepted species in the genus Cocos. The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which is not a botanical nut. The spelling cocoanut is an old-fashioned form of the word...

" derived from "coco" and was given to the fruit by the sailors of Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama, 1st Count of Vidigueira was a Portuguese explorer, one of the most successful in the Age of Discovery and the commander of the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India...

, c.1498, because it reminded them of this mythical creature.
"This bark from which the pome
In botany, a pome is a type of fruit produced by flowering plants in the subfamily Maloideae of the family Rosaceae.A pome is an accessory fruit composed of one or more carpels surrounded by accessory tissue...

 receives its vegetable nourishment , which is through its stem
Plant stem
A stem is one of two main structural axes of a vascular plant. The stem is normally divided into nodes and internodes, the nodes hold buds which grow into one or more leaves, inflorescence , conifer cones, roots, other stems etc. The internodes distance one node from another...

, has an acute way, which wants to resemble a nose placed between two round eyes, from where it throws the sprout
Sprouting is the practice of germinating seeds to be eaten either raw or cooked.They are a convenient way to have fresh vegetables for salads, or otherwise, in any season and can be germinated at home or produced industrially...

, when it wants to be born; by reason of such figure, it was called by our [men] coco
The coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, is a member of the family Arecaceae . It is the only accepted species in the genus Cocos. The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which is not a botanical nut. The spelling cocoanut is an old-fashioned form of the word...

, name imposed by the women on anything they want to put fear to the children, this name thus remained, as no one knows another."

Rafael Bluteau (1712), defines that the coco and coca were thought to look like skulls, in Portugal:
"Coco or Coca. We make use of these words to frighten children, because the inner shell of the Coco has on its outside surface three holes giving it the appearance of a skull"

Hooded cloak

In Portugal coca is a name for the hooded cloak
A cloak is a type of loose garment that is worn over indoor clothing and serves the same purpose as an overcoat; it protects the wearer from the cold, rain or wind for example, or it may form part of a fashionable outfit or uniform. Cloaks are as old as human history; there has nearly always been...

. In Portimão
Portimão is a Portuguese town located in the District of Faro in the Region of Algarve, the southern coast of Portugal. It was formerly known as Vila Nova de Portimão . In 1924, it was incorporated as a cidade and became known merely as Portimão. The town has 41,000 inhabitants and the Portimão...

 during the holy week celebrations, in the “procissão dos Passos" (sp: Procesión de los Pasos), a procession
A procession is an organized body of people advancing in a formal or ceremonial manner.-Procession elements:...

 organized by the Catholic brotherhoods, the herald, a man dressed with a black hooded cloak that covered his face and had three holes for the eyes and mouth, lead the procession and announced the death of Christ was either named coca, farnicoco,( farricunco, farricoco from latin far,farris and coco) or death. The name coca was given to the cloak and to the man who wore the cloak.

In 1498, the portuguese king Manuel I
Manuel I of Portugal
Manuel I , the Fortunate , 14th king of Portugal and the Algarves was the son of Infante Ferdinand, Duke of Viseu, , by his wife, Infanta Beatrice of Portugal...

 gives permission to the catholic brotherhood of the Misericórdia to every year on All Saints' Day
All Saints
All Saints' Day , often shortened to All Saints, is a solemnity celebrated on 1 November by parts of Western Christianity, and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern Christianity, in honour of all the saints, known and unknown...

collect the bones and remains from the gallows of those that had been condemned to death and put them in a grave. The brotherhood in a procession , known as Procissão dos Ossos, were followed by the farricocos who carried the tombs and collected the bones. The farricoco is the bearer who carries dead corpses.


In Ribadeo
Ribadeo is a municipality in the Spanish province of Lugo in Galicia. It has a population of 9619 and an area of 106.2 km². It is the capital of the A Mariña Oriental region .- External links:*....

 two giant
Giant (mythology)
The mythology and legends of many different cultures include monsters of human appearance but prodigious size and strength. "Giant" is the English word commonly used for such beings, derived from one of the most famed examples: the gigantes of Greek mythology.In various Indo-European mythologies,...

 figures represent "el coco y la coca" that dance at the sound of drummer
A drummer is a musician who is capable of playing drums, which includes but is not limited to a drum kit and accessory based hardware which includes an assortment of pedals and standing support mechanisms, marching percussion and/or any musical instrument that is struck within the context of a...

s and Galician bagpipe
Galician gaita
The gaita or gaita de foles is a traditional bagpipe of Galicia, Asturias and northern Portugal.The name gaita is used in Galician and Spanishlanguages as a generic term for "bagpipe"...

 players .

In literature

In the last chapter of the work of Miguel de Cervantes
Miguel de Cervantes
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was a Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright. His magnum opus, Don Quixote, considered the first modern novel, is a classic of Western literature, and is regarded amongst the best works of fiction ever written...

 the epitaph of Don Quijote identifies him as the scarecrow
A scarecrow is, essentially, a decoy, though traditionally, a human figure dressed in old clothes and placed in fields by farmers to discourage birds such as crows or sparrows from disturbing and feeding on recently cast seed and growing crops.-History:In Kojiki, the oldest surviving book in Japan...

 and el coco.
Tuvo a todo el mundo en poco,
fue el espantajo y el coco
del mundo, en tal coyuntura,
que acreditó su ventura
morir cuerdo y vivir loco

In popular culture

  • Que Viene el Coco, (1799) which shows a cloaked, menacing figure, was painted by Goya.

  • Dominican
    Dominican Republic
    The Dominican Republic is a nation on the island of La Hispaniola, part of the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean region. The western third of the island is occupied by the nation of Haiti, making Hispaniola one of two Caribbean islands that are shared by two countries...

    Salsa music
    Salsa music is a genre of music, generally defined as a modern style of playing Cuban Son, Son Montuno, and Guaracha with touches from other genres of music...

    -Merengue musician and singer Cuco Valoy
    Cuco Valoy
    Cuco Valoy is Dominican salsa and merengue singer. He is the father of Ramón Orlando with whom he formed the band Los Virtuosos...

     makes several humorous references to the myth in some of his songs (¡ahi viene el cuco, mama!).

  • In the novel Thief of Midnight, the main adversary is El Cucuy, a psychotic, power-hungry bogeyman
    A bogeyman is an amorphous imaginary being used by adults to frighten children into compliant behaviour...

     in the form of a dead child.

  • In a season 4 episode 2 of the popular children's television series Wizards of Waverly Place
    Wizards of Waverly Place
    Wizards of Waverly Place is a Disney Channel Original Series that premiered on October 12, 2007. It won "Outstanding Children's Program" at the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards in 2009...

     Cucuys are portrayed as wealthy Latino versions of a Boogey Man.

  • According to social sciences professor Manuel Medrano, popular legend describes cucuy as a small humanoid with glowing red eyes that hides in closets or under the bed. 'Some lore has him as a kid who was the victim of violence ... and now he’s alive, but he’s not,' Medrano said, citing Xavier Garza’s 2004 book Creepy Creatures and other Cucuys."