Home > Cemetery Boys(5)

Cemetery Boys(5)
Author: Aiden Thomas

Yadriel respected his grandmother, and all the brujas, and the incredible powers they possessed. Those powers had just never been his.

Hiccups racked Claudia’s chest as Lita removed her rosary, leaving a smudge of red on her puckered brow. One of the brujas handed Claudia a glass of water, another dabbed gently at her cheeks with a tissue.

“Día de Muertos is only a couple days away,” Lita reminded Claudia in her heavily accented English. She gave Claudia’s hand a squeeze with a small smile. “You will see Miguel again.”

She was right, of course, but Yadriel didn’t think that would provide Claudia with much comfort right now. Lita had told him the same thing when his mother had died. He understood they were lucky in that way, to be able to see their dead loved ones again, but that didn’t make him feel better in the moment. A visit for two days once a year could never make up for the loss of having them around all the time.

And there was another problem: If Miguel hadn’t passed to the land of the dead—if he was still tethered to this world—he couldn’t return during Día de Muertos.

What had happened to him?

Someone rushing out of the kitchen bumped into Yadriel, and the sound of his father’s voice snagged his attention. He tore his eyes away from Claudia and wove through bodies to get to the kitchen, Maritza following close behind him.

Inside the kitchen, a handful of brujos stood in a group, their eyes on Yadriel’s father. Enrique Vélez Cabrera was a tall man—genes that Yadriel had decidedly not inherited—with an average build. He had a bit of a gut, which pressed against the red-checkered shirt he wore tucked into his jeans. Enrique had kept the same modest haircut and bushy mustache for as long as Yadriel could remember. The only difference now was the salt-and-pepper hair at his temples.

After Yadriel’s grandfather passed away, Enrique had taken up the position as leader of the East LA brujx. Lita was his right hand, serving as the matriarch of the family and spiritual leader. Enrique was well respected and looked up to. All the men in the room gave him their undivided attention, especially Diego, Yadriel’s older brother, who stood at Enrique’s side, nodding vigorously at every instruction his dad gave.

“We need to find Miguel’s portaje. If he hasn’t passed on to the land of the dead, he’ll be tethered to it,” Enrique told the group, gripping the edge of the small wooden table. His voice was low and gravelly, his eyes intense. Yadriel looked around, and every brujo’s face held varying degrees of shock.

“People are already searching the cemetery—he was on shift tonight—but I need more to go to Claudia and Benny’s house,” Enrique told them. Even though Miguel had been in his late twenties, he’d still lived at home to help his disabled father. Miguel was kind and patient, and he’d always been good to Yadriel. A lump lodged in his throat. Yadriel tried to swallow it down.

“Someone get one of Miguel’s shirts and go wake up Julio; we might need his dogs,” Enrique added, and another brujo ran off.

Julio was a cranky old brujo who raised pit bulls and trained them to track by scent. It was a skill that came in handy for locating bodies and tethers of lost spirits.

“Search everywhere!” Enrique stood upright, his eyes searching the crowded kitchen. “Has anyone seen—”

“Dad!” Yadriel pushed his way to the front.

Enrique’s head snapped to him, shocked relief hitting his face. “Yadriel!” He grabbed Yadriel and crushed him to his chest, squeezing his arms around him tight. “¡Ay, Dios mío!” His rough hands cupped Yadriel’s face as he pressed a kiss to the top of his head.

Yadriel tensed, automatically resisting the sudden physical contact.

His dad gripped his shoulders, looking down at him with a frown. “I was worried something had happened to you!”

Yadriel stepped back, pulling free of his dad’s hold. “I’m fine—”

“Where were you two?” Diego demanded, his light brown eyes darting between him and Maritza.

Yadriel hesitated. Maritza gave a useless shrug.

There was a reason they had performed Yadriel’s portaje ceremony in secret. A reason that Maritza spent so long making his dagger without her dad knowing. The brujx practices were built on ancient tradition. Going against those traditions was seen as blasphemous. When Yadriel had refused to be presented to Lady Death for his quinces as a bruja, they wouldn’t let him go through it as a brujo. It was out of the question. It wouldn’t work, they’d told him. Just because he said he was a boy, that didn’t change the way Lady Death gave her blessings.

They wouldn’t even let him try. It was easier to hide behind their traditions than to challenge their own beliefs and understanding of how things in the world of the brujx worked.

It made Yadriel feel ashamed of who he was. Their blatant rejection felt personal because it was personal. It was an outright rejection of who he was—a transgender boy trying to find his place in their community.

But they were wrong. Lady Death had answered him. Now, he just needed to prove it.

Orlando rushed into the kitchen, pulling his dad’s attention.

“Did you find him?” Enrique asked.

Orlando shook his head. “We’re still sweeping the cemetery, but there’s no sign of him yet,” he said, taking off his baseball cap and wringing it in his hands. “We haven’t been able to sense him or anything—it’s like he just vanished!”

“Dad!” Yadriel tried to make himself taller. “How can I help?” Everyone’s eyes went right over his head.

“More of you start searching the streets, fan out from the front gate,” Enrique said, a heavy hand still resting on Yadriel’s shoulder. “He wouldn’t have just left his shift for no reason.”

Orlando nodded and headed for the door. Yadriel moved to follow, but his dad held tight to his shoulder.

“Not you, Yadriel,” he said, calm but firm.

“But I can help!” Yadriel insisted.

Another brujo slipped into the kitchen, and Yadriel felt a pluck of hope in his chest.

Tío Catriz was his father’s older brother, though, just looking at them, it was difficult to tell. While Enrique Vélez Cabrera was broad and rounded, Catriz Vélez Cabrera was lanky and angular. He wore his long black hair looped into a knot at the base of his neck. He had high cheekbones and a hooked nose. Traditional, flared plugs made of jade and the size of a quarter adorned his earlobes.

“There you are, Catriz.” Enrique sighed.

“Tío,” Yadriel said, feeling less outnumbered.

Catriz threw Yadriel a small grin before turning to his brother. “I came as soon as I felt it,” he said, a little winded. His fine eyebrows pulled together. “Miguel, is he…?”

Yadriel’s dad nodded. Catriz gave a slow, somber shake of his head. Several brujos in the room crossed themselves.

Yadriel couldn’t take all the standing around. He wanted to do something. He wanted to help. Miguel was family and a good man—he helped provide for his family and had always been kind to Yadriel. One of Yadriel’s favorite childhood memories was of riding around on the back of Miguel’s motorcycle. Yadriel’s parents had explicitly forbidden him from going anywhere near it, but if he begged enough, Miguel would always give in. Yadriel remembered how his helmet was way too big and heavy as Miguel would give him a ride around the block, barely going ten miles an hour.

Realizing he’d never see him alive again hit Yadriel with a fresh wave of grief.

“What if we can’t find him?” Andrés asked, breaking the quiet. He was a skinny, freckle-faced boy, and also Diego’s best friend.

The muscles in his dad’s jaw tensed. People exchanged looks.

“Keep searching. We need to find his portaje,” Enrique told them. “If we can summon his spirit, we can ask him what happened.” He rubbed his fist across his brow. Clearly, his dad didn’t think Miguel had died and simply passed peacefully to the afterlife. Yadriel agreed, he just couldn’t see how that could’ve happened with how violently his death felt. “Hopefully, it’ll be with his body.”

Yadriel’s stomach clenched at the idea of finding Miguel’s lifeless body lying somewhere in their cemetery.

Andrés’s face turned an impressive shade of green. Yadriel couldn’t believe he used to have a crush on him.

Enrique picked up his portaje from the counter. It was a hunting knife, much larger and more severe than Yadriel’s, but still understated compared to the style of the young brujos’ portajes.

Like Diego’s and Andrés’s. Their knives were longer, with a slight curve, too big to be practical or easily concealed. They got their names engraved into the blades and added flashy charms. A small cross hung on a one-inch chain from Andrés’s hilt. Diego’s had a gold-plated calavera. “Gaudy,” Maritza called them. Adornments were impractical and completely unnecessary.

“We need to get going,” Enrique said, and everyone started to move.

This was it.

He would help them find Miguel and lay his cousin to rest in the brujx graveyard. This was the duty of the brujos, so he would do it. Now that he had his own portaje, maybe Yadriel could even be the one to release Miguel’s spirit to the afterlife.

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