Home > Cemetery Boys(9)

Cemetery Boys(9)
Author: Aiden Thomas

Yadriel and Maritza slowed to a stop. The old church loomed before them.

When the first brujx immigrated to Los Angeles, they had only built a small church and graveyard. But as the community expanded, so did the cemetery, and eventually, the original church was just too small to hold them all. Finally, a couple of decades ago, the new one had been built, along with Yadriel’s home.

In comparison, the old church looked like an ancient ruin. Wild vines had overrun the two brick walls that met behind the church, giving the building a backdrop of dense, shadowy green. There weren’t many street lights nearby, but it was East LA, where the sun never seemed to set. Hazy pollution and city lights washed everything in an orange glow, even in the middle of the night.

The church itself was made of a variety of differently shaped and colored stones, all patched together with clay. There was a small bell tower on the roof, directly above the wooden door, that didn’t seem to house an actual bell anymore. A small wrought iron fence about waist-high surrounded the church. A few headstones lined the inner graveyard.

“Mira, there.” Yadriel nudged Maritza and pointed to the back wall. There was a spot through the veil of ivy where the old entrance to the cemetery was located. Yadriel couldn’t help but grin as he jogged around the edge of the fence to the gate.

“See?” Yadriel shoved a fistful of ivy out of the way. The iron bars towered over them. Two handles met at a very sturdy-looking lock meant to keep non-brujx out, and their secrets safe. “Shortcut!”

Maritza let out a low whistle. “Good thing I’m not in a skirt,” she grumbled to herself before wedging her foot onto a crossbar and hoisting herself up.

Yadriel tightened the strap on his backpack, ready to climb up after her, when he got the feeling someone was behind him. It wasn’t an all-at-once realization, more like a slow creeping on the back of his neck. Yadriel turned, but there was only the old church and graves. The hum of traffic and the far-off sound of a car alarm drifted from the distance.

With a shake of his head, Yadriel turned back to the gate. He needed to focus on the task at hand. He gripped the ornate handle to pull himself up, but as soon as he applied pressure, it turned.

He scrambled out of the way as the gate swung open. Maritza yelped. Yadriel clamped a hand over his mouth, laughter leaping from his throat as Maritza nearly toppled off. When the gate groaned to a stop, she was halfway up and holding on for dear life.

“It was unlocked?” she hissed angrily through the ivy, her face pressed between the bars.

“Guess so?” Barely contained chuckles shook Yadriel’s chest, but his brow furrowed. He examined the lock, jiggling the handle up and down. “Wait, why is it unlocked?”

The brujx went to great lengths to keep outsiders from getting into their cemetery.

Maritza landed next to Yadriel, a little less than graceful. “Some idiot probably forgot to lock it up,” she grumbled, bottom lip jutting into a scowl.

“But why would anyone even use this gate?” Yadriel asked. People were supposed to come in or out of the cemetery only at the main gate by his family’s house.

Maritza turned to him, arms folded across her chest, an expertly lined eyebrow arching. “Uh, you mean aside from sneaking out in the middle of the night?”

Yadriel threw her a withering look. “But—”

A chill dropping down his spine sucked the breath out of Yadriel’s lungs.

He and Maritza spun toward the abandoned church at the same time. Yadriel’s eyes skipped across the windows, half expecting to see someone staring out at him, but they were just black, empty cutouts in the wall of stones.

“Did you feel that?” Maritza asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

Yadriel nodded, unable to pull his eyes away from the church, afraid to blink and miss something. The hair on the back of his neck prickled and goose bumps ran down his arms.

Maritza shifted closer to his side. “Is it a spirit?”

“I don’t know,” he murmured. “It doesn’t seem quite right…”

It was normal to feel spirits: the cemetery was crawling with them, after all. It became background noise, kind of like the hum of Los Angeles traffic; after being around it long enough, you stopped noticing.

But this feeling was something else. It was an odd tingling, one that felt like the presence of a spirit but also pricked at that certain spot in his head, suggesting pain.

“Is it Miguel?” Yadriel wondered, squinting as he tried to latch on to what he was sensing.

“I’m going to go check it out,” he told Maritza, heading for the church. Even if it wasn’t Miguel, whoever it was—a spirit or the living—might be in trouble.

“If I’m a brujo, then it’s my responsibility to help lost spirits cross over, right?” he said over his shoulder as he hoisted himself over the small fence.

Maritza didn’t look so sure, but she followed him anyway.

Yadriel searched the leaning headstones, trying to catch sight of movement, or a clue, or anything as they crept toward the old building. The tingling sensation was now a steady buzzing under his skin, like when he got phantom sensations of his phone going off in his pocket.

“This place kind of gives me the creeps,” Maritza whispered at his side, rubbing her arm. “What if it’s haunted?”

Yadriel huffed a laugh. “Of course it’s haunted, this is literally a cemetery full of spirits,” he said, trying to use sarcasm to calm his own nerves.

Maritza punched his arm. “I mean like a monster or something.”

“There’s no such thing as monsters.” Yadriel went to one of the tall windows, but, even after wiping at it with his sleeve, he still couldn’t see anything but blackness inside.

Maritza stopped and stared at him, wide-eyed. “You didn’t just say that—did you really just say that?” she demanded before throwing her arms in the air. “That’s classic start-of-a-horror-movie dialogue you just threw out into the universe!”

“Oh my God, you are so dramatic,” Yadriel told her. “I’m going to check it out,” he said, more to himself than anything. “You can wait out here alone or go inside with me,” he told Maritza.

He got all the way to the front steps of the church before he heard Maritza cuss under her breath and chase after him.

The wooden door to the church was dark and warped. Yadriel crept up the steps, barely catching himself from stepping on a long, rusty nail. He swept a few more scattered nails to the side with his shoe and noticed some boards in a stack to the left.

He tried the door handle, and it turned easily under his grip. He lifted his eyebrows at Maritza, and she scowled back. With effort, he pulled the door open. The wood groaned as it dragged over stone.

Through the doorway, darkness yawned into the depths of the church. The odors of dust, wet soil, and mildew tickled his nose. Before Yadriel could dig the lantern out of his backpack, Maritza flicked on her flashlight. Yadriel’s fingers brushed against the cool steel of his portaje and he pulled it out. The weight of it in his hand was reassuring. If there was a malevolent spirit haunting the old church, he would need his portaje to release it.

And if it was a criminal on the lam, well, it’d come in handy for that, too.

“After you, fearless brujo,” Maritza said with a grand gesture.

Yadriel cleared his throat and, with lifted chin, went inside.

The lantern doused everything in a cool blue light. The beam of Maritza’s flashlight swept back and forth between several pews that stretched toward the front of the church. When Yadriel closed the door behind them, it became oddly quiet. The heavy stone muffled the constant thrum of noise that came with living in the city.

Yadriel tried to ignore the strange pressure in his chest, like someone had tied a string to his ribs and was pulling him farther into the church.

A carpet ran down the aisle. At one point, it had probably been red, but time had turned it coppery brown. Lancet windows lined the walls, set in intricate molding. Wooden beams arched high into the apex of the ceiling where the light of the lantern couldn’t reach.

“I haven’t been here in ages,” Maritza said, her voice uncharacteristically soft as they moved between the pews.

“Me either.”

Up ahead, several glass prayer candles winked in the blue light from the altar. “Not since your mom caught us playing hide-and-seek and we got grounded for being ‘disrespectful,’” he added.

Maritza laughed fondly. “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that,” she said, her beam of light now focused on a door to the left of the apse. An identical one stood to the right.

“If Bahlam appears and drags us down to Xibalba, I’m going to be pissed,” Maritza hissed.

Yadriel rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’m sure Bahlam, the jaguar god of the underworld, is hanging out in this old church, waiting for a couple of teenagers to—”

The feeling in Yadriel’s chest tugged more urgently, cutting off his words.

Something dark stood in the middle of the altar, but Yadriel couldn’t quite make it out.

He nudged Maritza. “What’s that?”

“What’s wh—”

The flashlight’s beam swept to the altar. Hollowed eyes stared back at them.

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