Home > Cemetery Boys(10)

Cemetery Boys(10)
Author: Aiden Thomas

“Santa Muerte,” Maritza gritted through her teeth.

A semicircle of dusty candles in ornate golden holders stood at various heights. In the center stood a figure in a dark shroud. The skeleton was covered in a black robe. The linen material was moth-eaten, and gold thread accented the hems and sleeves in lacy patterns.

Yadriel only realized Maritza was gripping his arm when she let go.

Uneasy relief had Yadriel chuckling as he grinned over at her. “You’re real jumpy tonight.”

That got him two swift punches to the arm.

He leaped out of her reach. “She’s just the original Lady Death from when this place was first built,” Yadriel said, lifting the lantern to cast the lady in bluish light. It was an older representation, one that incorporated the more ancient symbols. A very real scythe was held in one hand, and a clay orb rested in her upturned palm.

The skeleton itself was smooth and yellowing. Her jaw was open wide, and she was missing a few teeth. Yadriel wondered if they were real bones and she was an actual skeleton.

But he was distracted by the headdress she wore. Layers of spotted-owl feathers made up the smaller inner semicircle. These were sewn together and fastened with small plates of gold in the shape of crescent moons, almost like buttons. The feathers layered under the owl’s were the unmistakable plumage of the sacred quetzal bird. They were an iridescent green with hints of blue, like peacock feathers but twice as vibrant.

“Why would they just leave her here?” Maritza asked from somewhere behind him.

“I don’t think she was abandoned.” Yadriel shrugged, gently brushing cobwebs from Lady Death’s shoulder. “I think this church is just her home.”

He found himself smiling. He liked this classic version best.

Yadriel moved in closer, and he could feel energy swarming beneath his feet, like standing on a geyser, water rushing just below ground.

“Do you feel that, too?” Maritza asked.

He nodded. “It’s stronger in here,” he said. Whatever spirit had led them here was close.

Yadriel took a step back, and something crunched under his shoe. Hopping to the side, he found a silver chain with a small pendant lying on the dusty floor.

Maritza moved in. “What’s that?”

“I think it’s a necklace,” Yadriel murmured, setting the lantern on the ground.

Carefully, he picked it up. As soon as his fingers made contact, a shiver rolled through his body. He held it up to the light. A medal hung from the chain, barely larger than his thumbnail. The edge of the medal read SAN JUDAS TADEO across the top, and RUEGA POR NOSOTROS along the bottom. In the center stood a man wearing long robes with a book held against his chest and a staff in his hand.

The medal was in bad need of cleaning. The silver was tarnished, but it certainly wasn’t old enough to have been abandoned in the old church all this time. Only the raised form of St. Jude himself was bright silver, as if it had been polished by someone rubbing their thumb against it over and over.

Yadriel reached for the medal, and as soon as his fingers touched the cool silver, electricity flooded through his veins. He sucked in a sharp breath. Something pulsed under his feet in rhythm with the thudding of his heart.

“What’s wrong?” Maritza demanded as Yadriel tried to catch his breath.

“It’s a tether,” he said, and a spike of adrenaline made him feel light-headed.

Once a spirit was attached to a tether, they couldn’t venture very far from it, which was why things like haunted houses existed, but there weren’t many stories about a single ghost who roamed an entire city. It was only when the spirits were free of their earthly bindings that a brujo could release them and help them pass peacefully to their eternal rest.

Yadriel had never actually held a spirit’s tether before. They were incredibly powerful. Some of the brujx claimed mishandling a spirit’s tether would get you cursed.

But Yadriel had never heard of anyone ever actually getting possessed, and he had no intention of disrespecting this tether.

“But it’s not Miguel’s, that’s not his portaje,” Maritza said, reaching out as if to touch it before thinking better.

“It could be Miguel’s,” Yadriel tried to reason, his hope of finding his cousin fighting against logic. He squeezed the medal in his hand. Warmth spread through his palm and up his arm.

He turned to Maritza with a smile. “There’s only one way to find out.”

Maritza gave him a skeptical look.

“I have to try—what if Miguel’s spirit got tethered to this instead of his portaje?” he said, twisting the chain between his fingers.

“It might be attached to someone who’s gone maligno,” Maritza said, casting a pointed look around the dilapidated church.

“Then it’s a good thing I’ve got this, isn’t it?” Yadriel said, pulling out his portaje.

Maritza eyed the dagger but then grinned. “All right, brujo, work your magic.”

The rush of excitement made Yadriel feel giddy as he knelt before Lady Death. Maybe it was the feel of the dagger in his hand or the magic he now knew flowed through his veins, but for someone who usually erred on the side of caution, Yadriel felt recklessly brave.

He dug into his backpack and pulled out the clay bowl. Quickly, he poured in the rest of the small tequila bottle and some chicken blood, then grabbed a box of matches. He stood and tried to take a deep breath, but he was too excited, practically buzzing. His palms were sweaty, making it difficult to light the match, but it finally caught.

He glanced over at Maritza, and she nodded encouragingly.

Yadriel had seen his father summon a spirit. He knew what to do and how to do it. He just needed to say the words.

The flame inched toward Yadriel’s fingers. There was no time left to second-guess.

He held out his arm, the medal hanging from the chain looped around his hand. It glinted in the dim light.

“Te—” Yadriel cleared his throat, trying to breathe around the lump that had formed. “¡Te invoco, espíritu!”

He dropped the match into the bowl. For a second, it sizzled in the blood and alcohol before there was an explosion of heat and golden light. Yadriel sprang back, choking on the smoke.

The fire in the bowl burned calmly, casting orange light over a boy. He was doubled over on his hands and knees before the statue of Lady Death, clutching his chest.

Yadriel could hardly believe his eyes. “It worked!”

The spirit’s face was screwed up tight in a grimace, his fingers knotted into the material of his shirt. He wore a hooded black leather jacket over a white tee, faded jeans, and a pair of Converse.

“That’s not Miguel,” Maritza tried to whisper, but she’d never had a very good inside voice.

Yadriel groaned and dragged a hand over his face. On the bright side, he had actually summoned a real-life spirit.

On the not-so-bright side, he had summoned the wrong one.

“Obviously,” Yadriel hissed back, unable to look away from the boy as he gasped for breath, the muscles in his neck straining. He had that translucent quality around the edges, like all spirits. The boy’s eyes swung to them. He had a handsome but very angry face, his grimace now more of a sneer.

“Well, at least it’s not a maligno spirit?” Maritza offered.

The boy staggered to his feet, upright but unsteady. “Who the hell are you?” he snarled, dark eyes blazing, sharp as obsidian.

“Uhhh” was Yadriel’s unhelpful reply, suddenly unable to form a coherent sentence.

“Where am I?” the boy barked, head tilting back as he took in their surroundings. “Am I in a church?” His attention swung back to Yadriel and Maritza with an accusing glare. “Who let me in a church?”

Familiarity prickled at the back of Yadriel’s mind, racing to place his strong features and booming voice.

“Uh—well—you see,” Yadriel stammered, not really sure how to explain their situation, but he wasn’t given the chance to finish.

The boy’s eyes snagged on the necklace still dangling from Yadriel’s hand. “Hey!”

Yadriel saw the anger swell, hunching his shoulders and propelling him forward. The boy stomped up to him. “That’s mine—”

He reached out to snatch the necklace, but his hand went right through it. He tried again, and when his hand slid through it a second time, he froze, blinked, and waved it back and forth.

The boy’s eyes went wide, and he let out a strangled shout, stumbling back. “Wh-what—” he stammered, looking between his hand and Yadriel and Maritza, “the hell is this?”

“Wow, this is really awkward,” Yadriel said, scratching at the back of his neck.

Maritza seemed less worried. “Well, there’s no denying you’re a brujo now,” she said, circling the boy with keen interest.

He scowled at her. “Who are you, and what are you doing with my necklace?” he demanded, looking to Yadriel for answers.

“Well, uh, I used it to summon you,” Yadriel tried.

The boy arched a thick eyebrow. “Summon me?”

“Yeah, we thought it belonged to Miguel.” What was the gentlest way to tell someone they were dead?

“Our cousin,” Maritza specified.

The boy didn’t seem at all interested in who Miguel was. “It’s mine,” he insisted with a growl. “It’s got my name on it, see?” he said, fingers curling in demand.

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