Home > Cemetery Boys(3)

Cemetery Boys(3)
Author: Aiden Thomas

The only other time brujx used their own blood as a sacrifice was during the quinces ceremony. The offering was made from their tongues to let them speak to the diosa, to ask Lady Death for her blessing and protection.

And that cut was made with their portaje.

Maritza pulled a bundle of cloth from her own backpack and held it out for him to take.

“It took me weeks to make,” she said as Yadriel untied the twine. “Burned myself like eight times and nearly cut off my finger, but I think my dad has pretty much given up trying to keep me out of the forge.” Her shrug was casual, but she stood tall, a proud grin pulling the corners of her lips. Yadriel knew this was a big deal for her.

Maritza’s family had been forging weapons for the men for decades, a trade her father had brought over from Haiti. She had a keen interest in learning how to craft blades from him. Since blood wasn’t used with the blades until a boy’s quinces ceremony, it was a way for her to still be a part of the community without compromising her ethics. Her mom didn’t think it was a proper career choice for a girl, but when Maritza set her mind on something, it was impossible to dissuade her.

“Nothing gaudy and ridiculous like Diego’s,” she said with a roll of her eyes, referring to Yadriel’s older brother.

Yadriel pulled back the last of the cloth to reveal a dagger nestled inside. “Wow,” he breathed.

“It’s practical,” Maritza explained, hovering over his shoulder.

“It’s badass,” Yadriel corrected, a wide smile pressing into his cheeks.

Maritza beamed.

The dagger was the length of his forearm with a straight blade and a cross guard that curved like a sideways S. Lady Death had been delicately painted onto the polished wooden grip. Yadriel held the dagger in his hand, solid and reassuring. He traced his thumb along the thin lines of gold paint that radiated from Lady Death, feeling every intricate brushstroke.

This was his dagger. His portaje.

Yadriel had everything he needed. Now all that was left was to finish the ritual.

He was ready for this. He was determined to present himself to Lady Death, whether or not anyone else approved. But still, he hesitated. Clutching his portaje as he stared up at Lady Death, he sucked on his bottom lip. Doubt crept its way under his skin.


Yadriel jumped as Maritza placed a steady hand on his shoulder. Her brown eyes were intense as she studied his face.

“It’s just—” Yadriel cleared his throat, his eyes sweeping around the room.

Maritza’s eyebrows tipped with concern.

A brujx’s quinces was the most important day in their life. Yadriel’s dad, brother, and abuela should’ve been standing next to him. As he knelt on the hard stone floor, the emptiness pressed around him. In the silence, he could hear the static of the uneasy candle flames. Under the hollowed eyes of Lady Death, Yadriel felt small and alone.

“What if—what if it doesn’t work?” he asked. Even at nearly a whisper, his voice echoed through the empty church. His heart clenched. “What if she rejects me?”

“Escúchame.” Maritza gave his shoulders a tight squeeze. “You’ve got this, okay?”

Yadriel nodded, wetting his dry lips.

“You know who you are, I know who you are, and our Lady does, too.” She said with fierce conviction. “So screw the rest of them!” Maritza grinned at him. “Remember why we’re doing this.”

Yadriel steeled himself and spoke with as much courage as he could muster. “So they’ll see that I’m a brujo.”

“Well, yeah, but other than that.”

“Spite?” Yadriel guessed.

“Spite!” Maritza agreed enthusiastically. “They’re gonna feel real stupid once you show them. And I want you to savor that moment, Yads! Really”—she took in a deep breath through her nose and clasped her hands to her chest—“savor that taste of sweet, sweet vindication!”

A laugh jumped in Yadriel’s throat.

Maritza smiled. “Let’s do this, brujo.”

Yadriel could feel the goofy grin back on his face.

“Just don’t screw it up and make the diosa shoot you down with lightning or something, okay?” she said, backing up a few steps. “I can’t carry the responsibility of the family black sheep on my own.”

Being transgender and gay had earned Yadriel the title of Head Black Sheep among the brujx. Though, in truth, being gay had actually been much easier for them to accept, but only because they saw Yadriel’s liking boys as still being heterosexual.

But Maritza had certainly earned the title in her own right as the only vegan brujx in their community. One year younger than Yadriel, she’d gone through her own quinces when she turned fifteen earlier that year, but she refused to heal because it required the use of animal blood. One of Yadriel’s earliest memories of Maritza was of her crying inconsolably when her mother had used blood from a pig to heal a child’s broken leg. Early on, Maritza decided she wanted no part of healing if it meant harming another living creature.

In the dim light of the church, Yadriel could see her portaje hanging around her neck—a rosary of pink quartz that ended in a silver cross, but the concealed vessel remained empty. Maritza explained that, even though she refused to use her powers, she still respected the diosa and their ancestors.

Yadriel admired her for her convictions, but he was also frustrated by them. All he wanted was to be accepted—he wanted to be given his own portaje, treated like any other brujo, and given the same responsibilities. Maritza, on the other hand, had been offered every right of the brujx, but she chose to reject it.

“Now, prisa!” Maritza said, waving him on impatiently.

Yadriel took a deep, steadying breath.

He tightened his grip on his Hydro Flask, the metal cool against his sweaty palms, as he exhaled through pursed lips.

With a more steadied resolve, Yadriel unscrewed the cap and poured the chicken blood into the bowl. To her credit, Maritza did her best to hide a look of disgust.

As the deep red liquid mixed with the tequila, a gust of wind blew through the church. The candle flames flickered. The air in the room felt thick, as if it were crowded with bodies even though, except for him and Maritza, it was empty.

Adrenaline coursed through Yadriel’s veins, and excited chills raced up his arms. When he spoke, he did his best to keep his voice steady and deep.

“Santísima Santa Muerte, te pido tu bendición,” Yadriel said, calling upon Lady Death to ask for her blessing.

A rush of air brushed against his face and dragged like fingers through his hair. The flames trembled, and the statue of Lady Death suddenly felt alive. She didn’t move or change, but Yadriel could feel something pressing toward him.

He lit a match and dropped it into the bowl. The liquid caught, bursting into flames. “Prometo proteger a los vivos y guiar a los muertos,” Yadriel said, vowing to uphold the responsibilities of the brujos. His hands trembled and he gripped his portaje tighter.

“Esta es mi sangre, derramada por ti.” Holding the dagger, Yadriel opened his mouth and pressed the tip of the blade to his tongue until it bit into him. He winced and held his portaje out in front of him. A thin line of red glistened on the edge of the blade in the warm light of the candles.

He held the dagger over the burning bowl. As soon as the flames licked the steel, the blood sizzled and the candles blazed like torches, their flames tall and strong. Yadriel squinted as a rush of heat hit his face.

He removed his portaje from the fire and spoke the final words.

“Con un beso, te prometo mi devoción,” he murmured before brushing his tongue over his lips. Balancing the hilt in his palm, he kissed the image of Lady Death.

Golden light sparked at the tip of the blade and raced down the hilt to his hand. His skin glowed as the light shot down his fingers and up his arm. It traveled down his legs and curled around his toes. Yadriel shuddered, the thrilling sensation robbing him of his breath.

As quickly as it had appeared, the thick thrum of magic in the church dissipated. The candle flames extinguished themselves in the same pulse. The air in the room went still. Yadriel pushed up the sleeve of his hoodie and stared at his arm in awe as the golden light faded, leaving his brown skin unadorned.

He stared up at Lady Death. “Holy crap,” Yadriel breathed, pressing his hands to his cheeks.

“Holy crap!” he repeated. “It worked!” He felt his chest, the thunderous beat of his heart pulsing against his palm. He jerked to look at Maritza for confirmation. “Did—did it work?”

The fire in the bowl glinted in her eyes, a huge smile on her face. “There’s one way to find out.”

Laughter bubbled in Yadriel’s throat, relief and adrenaline making him half delirious. “Right.”

If Lady Death had blessed him, granting him the powers of the brujx, that meant he could summon a lost spirit. If he could summon a spirit and release it to the afterlife, then he would finally prove himself to everyone—the brujx, his family, and his dad. They would see him as he was. A boy and a brujo.

Yadriel got to his feet, holding his portaje carefully against his chest. He sucked in his lips, tasting the last traces of blood. His tongue stung, but the cut had been small. It hurt about as much as when he burned it trying to drink café de olla fresh off the stove.

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