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The Mystical Story of La Garita del Diablo

When I was little, one of my favorite things to do was walking through the streets of Old San Juan with my abuelita. A city full of love and horror stories, San Juan, the second oldest city in the Americas, has seen each of these stories through the decades. Future generations are responsible to pass on legends and tales to preserve the culture. Within these stories, there is one that still makes my skin crawl, and I would like to share it with you. This is the legend of “La garita del diablo” or “the Devil’s Sentry Box.”

The city of San Juan is a walled city, created for military security purposes and protection from possible enemy attacks. At the time of the Spanish colonization, the sentinels were distributed in each one of the Sentry boxes (garitas) of the wall. The sentry boxes are architectural works in the form of a tower protruding from the wall with enough space for one or two soldiers. Each one has a small window through which it is possible to look towards the horizon. There are still several in San Juan, but the protagonist of this story is the most remote of all; the sentry box that nobody wanted to take custody of: the sentry box that was right in front of the “La Puerta Roja,” known as the City Gate, in Spanish “La Puerta de San Juan” at the end of the “Paseo de la Princesa.”

Legend has it that one afternoon, after the guard positions were assigned, the sentinel Sánchez, popularly known as Flor de Azahar, was instructed to watch the last sentry box. Sentinels used to exchange warning screams to keep each other awake at night. It was like playing the game of secrets, but yelling loudly so that the neighboring sentry box could hear you. “¡Centinela alerta!”  the sender shouted.”¡Alerta está!,” answered the receiver, and so on and so forth until the scream reached the last of the sentry boxes.

The night Flor de Azahar stood guard at the last sentry box, strange things took place. Legend has it that, during that same night, Flor de Azahar was presented with the most beautiful spirit he had ever seen. The closer he got to it, the more he was drawn to the mirage. It got closer and closer and just before making contact, the spirit took with it the body and soul of the sentinel Sánchez.

When it was time to give the round of alert screams, Flor de Azahar’s companions realized that something was not right. “¡Centinela alerta!,” his closest neighbor yelled uselessly. Not having an answer, he continued screaming in despair and in fear that something had happened to his partner. “¡Centinela alerta! ¡Centinela alerta! ¡Sánchez, contesta!,” but nothing changed the cold silence of that dark night. No one dared set foot near the sentry box until dawn.

The next morning, everyone, filled to the brim with fear after hearing the news of the sentinel’s disappearance, slowly and silently set off to investigate what had happened in that sentry box during the night. To everyone’s surprise, they found his clothes and his weapon, but not his body. Everyone was confused and kept looking for him nearby, but their efforts proved to be completely useless. The sentinel was nowhere to be seen, and one of the sentinels present yelled, “¡Se lo llevó el diablo! ¡Se lo llevó el diablo!

¡Se lo llevó el diablo! ¡Se lo llevó el diablo!

To this day, no one knows what happened to soldier Sánchez that night. While some swear that in the late hours of the night, they hear the cries of Flor de Azahar in the distance, others claim that his spirit still stands guard there at night… The only given was that he disappeared and his belongings were found the next morning, in the same sentry box he was assigned to guard that afternoon; known since that day as La Garita del Diablo.

Paola is a young writer who enjoys sharing advice and helping others. She is currently finishing a BA in Statistics and likes to use her spare time to have fun with friends and family.
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