Home > Cemetery Boys(8)

Cemetery Boys(8)
Author: Aiden Thomas

“Make yourselves useful!” Lita said, crossing to the shelves as she dug through the boxes.

“¿Dónde está?” she grumbled to herself, talking so fast in her thick Cuban accent that the s’s at the end of her words got left behind.

The garage held a plethora of artifacts and items. Glass display cases and sturdy wooden boxes held ancient weapons and carvings. Sacred regalia and featherwork were kept in the house in fancy containers away from light until they were taken out for special occasions, like Día de Muertos.

Yadriel often got tasked with climbing into the rafters to take down boxes for whatever very specific item Lita was looking for.

She pushed aside a box of chachayotes in her search. The hard shells, sewn onto leather that were worn around the ankles during ceremonial dances, rattled. Purrcaso’s ears perked where she sat in the crook of Yadriel’s arm. She leaped down to help investigate.

“What are you looking for, Mamá?” Catriz asked, though he didn’t move from his seat.

“¡La garra del jaguar!” she snapped, as if it were obvious. Lita turned, consternation pinching her wrinkled face.

Yadriel knew about the claw of the jaguar, mostly because Lita would never let him forget it. It was an ancient set of four ritual daggers and an amulet in the shape of a jaguar’s head. The ceremonial blades had been used back when the dark art of human sacrifice was still in practice. When pierced into the hearts of four humans, the daggers used their spirits to feed the amulet, giving the brujx who wore it immense—but dark—power. Lita liked to pull the daggers out on special occasions—including Día de Muertos—to scare younger brujx and lecture them about the treachery of abusing their powers.

“Have you seen them?” Lita asked.

Catriz quirked an eyebrow, his expression placid.

“Aye, yi, yi,” Lita said, flapping her hands at him dismissively.

When Lita looked to Yadriel, he simply shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t particularly feel like being helpful.

She sighed heavily, clicking her tongue. “Your father is under a lot of stress right now, nena,” Lita said solemnly.

Yadriel cringed at the offensive word. Navigating pronouns was a minefield when language was based on gender.

“Ay, poor Claudia and Benny,” Lita lamented as she fanned herself with a hand, not even noticing his reaction.

Anger simmered under Yadriel’s skin again.

She fixed him with a stern look. “This is a job for the men, and we need to leave them to it. Ven!” Lita waved him toward the door. “I have pozole in the kitchen, come warm up—”

His deadname slipped from her mouth.

Yadriel flinched and took a step back. “¡Soy Yadriel, Lita!” he snapped, so suddenly that both Purrcaso and Lita jumped.

Catriz stared at him. Surprise quickly turned to pride.

Lita blinked at him for a moment, a hand pressed to her throat.

Yadriel could feel his face grow hot. The knee-jerk reaction to apologize was on the tip of his tongue, but he bit it back.

She sighed and nodded. “Sí, Yadriel,” Lita agreed.

She stepped closer and gently cupped his cheeks in her soft hands. She planted a kiss on his forehead, and hope lifted in his chest. “Pero siempre serás mijita,” she told him with a chuckle and a smile.

But you’ll always be my little girl.

The hope came crashing down.

Lita turned and went back into the house, leaving Yadriel on the steps.

He scrubbed his hands over his face and clenched his jaw to keep his chin from wobbling. He should’ve been out with the rest of the brujos, searching for Miguel. He wanted to use his portaje, to show them that he wasn’t powerless. He could help them find Miguel. If he could just show them—

“I’m so sorry, Yadriel.” His tío’s hand grasped his shoulder.

Yadriel dropped his hands to his sides and looked up into Tío Catriz’s face. His uncle’s expression was pained. Even though they were outsiders for different reasons, Catriz was the only one who could understand what Yadriel was going through. He was the only one, aside from Maritza, who put the work in to understand him. The rest of the brujx seemed to ignore him. They were so worried about calling him by the wrong name or gender, they would avoid him altogether.

But not his tío.

“I wish your mom were still here,” Catriz confessed.

The crushing ache of missing his mom filled every space in Yadriel’s body. Sometimes it was dull, just enough to prickle if his mind wandered too far. Other times it burned.

Without her, Yadriel was floundering.

“What do I do?” he asked, hating how desperate and defeated he sounded.

“I don’t know,” Catriz said.

“¡Catriz!” Yadriel heard his abuelita call from inside. “I need más frijoles!”

Catriz exhaled through his nose. “I’m just useful for reaching things on the top shelf, apparently,” he said dryly. Catriz opened the door, and the smell of chicken and chilies wafted from the kitchen.

Before he went inside, Catriz paused, giving Yadriel another tired smile. “If only there was something we could do to show them how wrong they are.”

Yadriel stared at the closed door after Catriz went inside.

His hands tightened into fists.

He went back into the house and cut through the kitchen without looking at anyone and went straight up the stairs.

“Yads!” Maritza called after him, but he didn’t stop.

The small lamp on his bedside table was the only source of light in his room. Yadriel tossed his backpack onto the unmade, full-size bed shoved in the corner by the window. On his hands and knees, Yadriel dug his arm under the bed, searching for his plastic flashlight.

He heard Maritza walk in behind him. “Yads?” she asked. “What are you doing?”

“Grabbing supplies,” he said. His fingers closed around the flashlight, and he yanked it out.

She frowned at him, her arms crossed. “For what?”

“If I have to prove myself in order to get them to listen, then I will.” He clicked on the light to make sure the batteries still worked. “If I can find Miguel’s spirit, figure out what happened to him, and release him to the afterlife in time for Día de Muertos, they’ll have to let me be part of the aquelarre.” Yadriel turned the beam on Maritza. “You coming?”

A large grin curled her burgundy-painted lips. “Oh, hell yes I am.”

Yadriel smiled back. He felt dangerous and electric, adrenaline tingling through his fingers. “Good.” He tossed her the flashlight, which she easily caught out of the air. Yadriel stuffed an LED camping lantern and box of matches into his backpack and double-checked that the candles, bowl, and the rest of the tequila were still in there.

He pulled his portaje out and removed it from the leather sheath Maritza had fashioned for it. He turned the blade over in his hands, feeling the even weight, running his thumb along the painting of Lady Death.

In a few short days, his mother would return for Día de Muertos. He would be able to see and speak to her. He would show her his portaje, and she would see he’d done it. All that was left to do was find Miguel.

Yadriel turned to Maritza. “You ready?”

She smirked, tipping her head toward the door. “I’ve got your back.”


By the time they went back downstairs, all the brujos had dispersed to help search for Miguel. While Lita was back to work in the kitchen, a handful of women remained gathered around Claudia. They were all too happy to look the other way as Maritza and Yadriel bolted out the front door. The brujx cemetery was right in the middle of East Los Angeles, surrounded by a tall wall that concealed it from prying eyes. Yadriel could hear dogs barking in the distance and the thudding bass of reggaeton blaring from a passing car.

They passed by some brujx still looking for Miguel.

“Anything yet?” an older one asked.

“Nothing behind the eastern columbaria,” said another.

“No sign of him near his family’s mausoleums, either,” said the spirit of a young bruja, a worried but determined expression on her faintly transparent face.

“What’s the plan?” Maritza asked, her long legs easily keeping stride with Yadriel. She wove between tombstones, careful to step around flower vases and framed pictures.

“Find Miguel’s portaje, summon his spirit, find out what happened, and release his spirit before Día de Muertos starts,” Yadriel said as they started jogging through rows of brightly painted tombs. “That way, he can come back to celebrate with the rest of the brujx, and I can be in this year’s aquelarre.”

“Uh, there’s a lot of gaps in your plan,” Maritza told him.

“I didn’t say it was a good one.”

“Where are we going to look?”

“His parents’ house.” Clearly the brujx weren’t having any luck finding Miguel in the cemetery, so where he lived was the next logical place to look. The quickest way there was over the abandoned back gate in the oldest part of the cemetery.

The closer they got to the original graveyard, the older the tombs and headstones became. By the time they were in sight of the old church, the cemetery was mostly a collection of simple, cross-shaped tombstones. On most of them, you couldn’t even read the names.

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