Home > Cemetery Boys(4)

Cemetery Boys(4)
Author: Aiden Thomas

As Maritza gathered the candles, pointedly steering clear of the flaming bowl of blood, Yadriel approached the statue of Lady Death. At a little over five feet, he had to crane his neck back to look up at her in her alcove.

He wished he could speak to her. Could she see him for who he really was? What his own family couldn’t? Yadriel had spent years feeling misunderstood by everyone except for Maritza. When he had told her he was trans three years ago, she hadn’t batted an eye. Ay, finally! she’d said, exasperated but smiling. I figured something was up, I was just waiting for you to spit it out.

During that time, Maritza had been his reliable secret keeper, smoothly going back and forth between pronouns when they were alone, versus when they were around everyone else, until he was ready.

It took him another year, when he was fourteen, to work up the courage to come out to his family. It hadn’t gone nearly as well, and it was still a constant struggle to get them and the other brujx to use the right pronouns and to call him by the right name.

Other than Maritza, his mother, Camila, had been the most supportive. It took time to relearn old habits, but she’d caught on surprisingly fast. Yadriel’s mom had even taken on the task of gently correcting people so he didn’t have to. It was a heavy burden, small instances piling up, but his mom helped him shoulder some of the weight.

When he felt especially raw, from the constant fight to be who he was—either at school or within their own community—his mom would sit him down on the couch. She’d pull him close, and he’d rest his head on her shoulder. She always smelled of cloves and cinnamon, like she’d just made torta bejarana. As she gently ran her fingers through his hair, she’d murmur, Mijo, my Yadriel, slowly coaxing the pain away to a dull ache that never completely vanished.

But she’d been gone for almost a year now.

Yadriel sniffed and dragged his fist across his nose, the back of his throat burning.

This would be the first Día de Muertos since she’d died. Come midnight, November 1, the church bells would ring, welcoming back the spirits of passed brujx to the cemetery. Then, for two days, Yadriel would be able to see her again.

He would show her he was a true brujo. A son she could be proud of. He would perform the tasks that his father and his father’s father had as the children of Lady Death. Yadriel would prove himself to everyone.

“C’mon, brujo,” Maritza called gently, waving him forward. “We need to get out of here before someone finds us.”

Yadriel turned and grinned.


He was about to bend down and pick up the bowl from the ground when the hairs on the back of his neck prickled. Yadriel froze and looked to Maritza, who had also stopped mid-step.

Something was wrong.

“Did you feel that?” he asked. Even in a whisper, his voice seemed too loud in the empty church.

Maritza nodded. “What is it?”

Yadriel gave a small shake of his head. It was almost like sensing a nearby spirit but different. Stronger than anything Yadriel had felt before. A sense of unexplained dread swarmed in his stomach.

He saw Maritza shiver just as he felt a tingle shoot down his spine.

There was a beat of nothingness.

Then searing pain stabbed into Yadriel’s chest.

He cried out, the force knocking him to his knees.

Maritza fell, a strangled cry lodging in her throat.

The pain was unbearable. Yadriel’s breath came in sharp bursts as he clutched at his chest. His eyes watered, blurring the vision of Lady Death standing above him.

Just when he thought he couldn’t stand it any longer, that, surely, the pain would kill him, it stopped.

Tension released his muscles, and his arms and legs went limp, heavy with exhaustion. Sweat clung to his skin. His body trembled as he gulped air. Yadriel’s hand clutched his chest, right above his heart, where the throbbing pain slowly faded to a dull ache. Maritza knelt on the floor, one hand pressed to the same place. Her skin was ashen and covered in a sheen of sweat.

They stared at each other, trying to catch their breath. They didn’t say anything. They knew what it meant. They could feel it in their bones.

Miguel was gone. One of their own had died.


“What happened? What the hell happened?” Maritza panted at Yadriel’s side as they raced through the cemetery. She kept saying it over and over again, like a haunting mantra.

Yadriel had never seen her so shook up before and it made everything so much worse. Usually, he was the one panicking under tense situations while she just shrugged things off with a joke. But this was no laughing matter.

There was no sign of Tito. Yadriel could hear frantic voices across the cemetery. They sprinted past a couple of confused-looking spirits.

“What’s going on?” Felipe called to them, anxiously gripping the neck of his vihuela as they ran by.

“I don’t know!” was all Yadriel could say.

Because the brujx were tied so closely to life and death, to spirits and the living, when one of their own died, they all felt it.

The first time it had happened to Yadriel, he was only five years old. He woke up in the middle of the night, as if from a nightmare, with only the thought of his abuelito in his mind. When he got out of bed and crept to his grandparents’ room, his abuelito lay motionless. His abuelita sat by his side, holding tightly to his hand, whispering prayers into his ear, tears streaming down her wrinkled cheeks.

His father stood on the other side, Diego tucked under his arm. His dad’s expression had been stoic and pensive, a deep sadness in his dark eyes. Yadriel’s mother folded him into her arms, gently rubbing his back as they said their goodbyes.

His abuelito had died in his sleep. It had been gentle and painless. The only thing that had woken Yadriel was a sudden sense of loss, like cold water dropping into his stomach.

But this was different. Whatever had happened to Miguel was not a gentle passing.

There had to be some sort of mistake. It didn’t make sense. Even though he’d felt it, even though he knew exactly what it meant, there was no way Miguel was dead.

Miguel was Yadriel’s cousin and only twenty-eight years old. Yadriel had just seen him earlier that night when he stopped by the house to snag some of Lita’s concha before he started his graveyard shift.

Had there been an accident? Maybe Miguel had left the cemetery and had been hit by a car? There was no way he could’ve been killed while in the cemetery, was there?

They needed to get home and find out what had taken Miguel so violently from this life.

Maritza’s legs were longer than Yadriel’s, and his binder hugged tight around his ribs, making it difficult for him to keep up. The weight of his portaje tucked into his backpack felt especially heavy.

They rounded the corner and ran into chaos unfolding. Loud voices. People running in and out of the house. Shadows moved back and forth behind the curtains.

Maritza wrenched open the gate in the chain-link fence and bounded up the stairs, Yadriel right on her heels. He nearly got knocked over by someone rushing out the front door, but he managed to wedge his way inside.

Their house was small enough to begin with, and in the weeks leading up to Día de Muertos, “cramped” was putting it lightly. Every surface was used as storage for the impending celebrations. Precariously stacked boxes full of prayer candles, silk monarch butterflies, and hundreds of colorful, meticulously cut papel picado were piled on the worn leather couch. The dining room table had been pushed against the wall and was covered in white sugar skulls waiting to be decorated.

It should have been a scene of preparation for their most important holiday of the year, but instead it was frenzied panic. Maritza clung to the back of Yadriel’s hoodie, sticking close as they got jostled around.

Miguel’s mother, Claudia, sat at the dining table. Yadriel’s abuelita was at her side, flanked by other brujas. They rubbed her arms and spoke gentle words in Spanish, but Claudia was inconsolable.

Grief rolled off her in waves. Yadriel could feel it in his bones. The deep wails of primal mourning made him wince. He knew those cries all too well. He had experienced them himself.

Yadriel could only watch as his abuelita worked her magic.

She continued to speak calmly into Claudia’s ear as she pulled her portaje from under the neck of her black blouse embroidered with colorful flowers. It was an old rosary of wooden beads with a pewter sacred heart hanging at the end. With deft fingers, Lita unscrewed the top and smeared chicken blood across the sacred heart. “Usa mis manos,” she said in a soft, steady voice, calling to Lady Death. As she murmured, the rosary shimmered with golden light. “Te doy tranquilidad de espíritu.”

Lita pressed the end of the rosary to Claudia’s forehead. After a moment, the sobs began to subside. Claudia’s pained expression ebbed away, smoothing the pinched lines in her face. Yadriel could feel Claudia’s pain slowly fade to a dull ache. Her shoulders sloped until she sat back in the chair, limbs heavy. Her hands came to a rest in her lap, and though her face was flushed and tears steadily fell, her suffering was far less severe.

The glowing light of Lita’s rosary faded until it was back to pewter and wood.

Yadriel’d once asked his mom why they didn’t just take all of someone’s pain when they were sad. She had explained it was important to let people feel grief and mourn the loss of a loved one.

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
» Beautifully Broken series
Most Popular
» Cemetery Boys
» Sweep of the Blade (Innkeeper Chronicles #4
» Sweep with Me (Innkeeper Chronicles #4.5)
» Emerald Blaze (Hidden Legacy #5)
» Sapphire Flames (Hidden Legacy #4)
» Always Crew (Crew #3)
» Rich Prick
» Enemies