I just saw the Book Of Life (Which you should watch, if you haven't), and noticed that it had several nods to Mexican legends and folklore, and decided that I should share one of the stories that were alluded to. This story has three versions as far as I know, and I'll tell them all. After all, they're just extended versions of each other.
So, today, I am going to share the story of a man that played a mind game with death, won, and Death decided to give him a boon for it.
The tale of Macario.
Macario was a country man, who worked the fields. He was a simple man. He had a wife and a boy and daughter, wasn't greedy.
Macario, in short, was a boring man.
Every day, before dinner, he would pray, and ask that he would once in his life have the chance to eat a whole turkey on his own. He couldn't afford it, and he knew that any food he should share with his family, so even if turkey was in the menu, he knew he couldn't have it.
So, his wife started saving money. Slowly, she saved enough for the turkey and spices to cook it to perfection.
One day, when the kids were at school, and Macario had returned from the fields earlier, his wife surprised him with the turkey.
"Go back to the fields." she told him. "So you can enjoy this turkey on your own. If the kids come, they'll want some too. I made this for you alone."
Macario thanked his wife, and left for the fields, carrying the turkey he had so much longed to eat.
Deep in the fields, he sat under a tree, and started getting ready to eat.
Shortly, however, a man in a very rich outfit with gold buttons and fancy hat walked by.
"Hey, I'm really hungry. Would you mind sharing some food with me?" he half-ordered.
Macario, however, had waited too long to share.
"I'll give you one of my golden buttons" the man insisted, "if you let me have some of your turkey"
"If you give me that, if anyone sees me with it, they'll think I stole it, and I'll be sent to jail. Now leave, and let me have my turkey in peace."
The man left in a huff, but as Macario was about to pull one of the legs from his turkey, an old man with a cane came by and interrupted him once again.
"Son, I've walked a long way, and I am terribly hungry. Would you mind sharing some of your food with an old man like me?"
Macario felt bad for the old man, but his desire for the turkey was too great.
"I'm sorry, old man. I have waited too long to eat this turkey. The town is nearby, and you can get food there. Now leave, and let me have my turkey in peace"
The old man nodded, and left Macario to enjoy his meal.
Macario, however, was soon interrupted by another person. This time, it was a hooded woman.
"Greetings. I see you have a large turkey. Would you mind sharing it with me?"
Macario sighed and, grabbing his machete, chopped the turkey in half, and let the woman have half of his turkey.
"I find it curious," she noted as she sat down to eat with him "that you didn't share your meal with the devil, nor with God, but you would share it with me."
Macario took a bite of his food, and after a pause replied.
"God can provide for himself, for He owns the land. He could eat the dirt itself and it would be the greatest nourishment. The devil would've tricked me out of my whole meal, and I would be left with nothing."
She nodded as he said this.
"So, why me?"
"Because if you came, it means my time has come, and I wouldn't be able to bargain for time to eat any at all, unless I shared, in which case I would get to eat at least half of my turkey"
At this, she laughed a long, hearty laugh.
"You're a smart man."
This is where one of the versions ends, with Macario being found dead under the tree, his turkey chopped in half.
The other two versions, however, continue on.
Death was so amused by Macario's little gamble that she offered him a boon.
"Grab the pumpkin you hold water in, and fill it with water from the nearby stream. Fill it as much as you can, for you'll find that a single drop of that water will heal any illnesses and wounds. You may use it to heal yourself, or others, but only if I am not present. If I am there, you are not to use this. Do we have a deal?"
Macario was a simple man, but he knew that this was a chance he would never have again, so he agreed. After the shared meal, Death bid him farewell, and left. Macario carefully carried the pumpkin back, and carefully stored the water away. As soon as his wife found him, however, she told him that his son had fallen sick.
He approached the bed his son had fallen ill in, and upon seeing his son's high fever, decided to put Death's boon to the test.
Carefully he poured a drop on his son's lips, and immediately the fever receded, and the child awoke as if from a nap, not a care in the world.
Upon seeing the miraculous recovery of the child, the town started going to Macario whenever anyone fell gravely ill.
Macario started charging a little money for every person he healed, but he always made sure to heed Death's warning, and whenever he saw her in the room where the ill person was, he did not use his medicine on them.
Soon enough, Macario was a rich man, and was able to provide for his family, get a large house, live in luxury. His fame as a miracle worker reached far and wide, and he was often called far away to heal the infirm.
One particular time, he was called by a very rich and powerful man. The man's daughter had fallen sick, and would not move from her bed.
Macario prepared his bags and his water, and made the trip. Upon seeing the child, however, he saw that Death was kneeling at the girl's bed. He knew he couldn't do it. He stepped out to give the rich man the grave news. The man, however, did not take it well. He knew that Macario had brought people back from much worse illnesses, and he demanded that Macario save his daughter, else he would spend his entire fortune discrediting Macario, and would blame him for the death of his daughter.
This is where another version ends. In this version, Macario begs Death to let him heal the child, lest his own family would find nothing but disgrace in the future. Death instead, offered to undo all that had happened after she gave him the water, and take him when his time had come.
Macario accepted, for he would rather have his family live in a small house and with just enough money to live, than to have his family be scorned because a rich man could not accept death.
Once again, Macario was found lying under a tree, dead, in the fields he had worked all his life.
The final version, however, has Death do something different.
"Your children will have to come to a cave near your home, one then the other, if you truly wish to save this child. But know the price will be steep."
Macario wanted his family to be safe, and didn't want to be sent to prision himself, so he agreed, and used the water on the child, who made a miraculous recovery. The rich man thanked him, and Macario made his way back home.
He dreaded to send his children to Death's cave, but soon after his arrival he fell ill, and knew that he had to fulfill his side of the bargain.
He explained to his son and daughter what had happened since his meal with Death, all that time ago, and asked them to go to Death's cave, one then the other.
His son was against the idea, but knew that if all of it was true, he had to go, or worse things would befall them.
He entered the cave, and deep inside found a chamber full of candles. In there Death waited for him.
"I'm glad to see you've come." she whispered "Every candle in this room represents a life. Long candles have much time left in their lives, while short candles are nearing their end. What I never told Macario was that candles would shorten by a small amount every time he used my boon. Since he used it when I told him not to, one candle had to become much shorter."
As she said this, she pointed at a candle that was nothing but a stub, nothing but minutes left in its life.
"This is yours."
He pleaded, but Death was unmoved, and after a few minutes had passed, he fell to the ground, and didn't stand up again. Death embraced him, and took him to the afterlife.
Without news from her brother, Macario's daughter entered the cave in look for her sibling.
Deep within she found the same chamber, where Death waited for her.
"I'm sorry it had to come to this" she began, "But these things happen when you deal with Death. Your father has passed, as has your brother. Now, it is your time. But I will give you a chance to do different. Will you aid me in my task as the one that collects the souls of the dead? Or would you rather simply pass away now?"
And that is where the story ends.
Whether Macario's daughter accepted to become Death's helper or not, is not known.
What would you choose?