Home > Cemetery Boys(7)

Cemetery Boys(7)
Author: Aiden Thomas

His mom brushed her cool fingers along the side of his face, pushing his hair from his eyes. It’s okay, she’d said, like she knew it, too.

His mother hadn’t been able to patch the cat back together completely. The backfire had done damage not even she could repair, but the cat wasn’t in pain. They took her home, and Yadriel diligently went to work making sure she was well fed and taken care of. Even now, she slept in his room every night, and Yadriel always snuck her bits of chorizo and chicken after dinner.

Yadriel’s mom had affectionately named the cat Purrcaso, after the famous artist’s crooked paintings.

Purrcaso was more than a cat, much closer to a companion. When Yadriel missed his mom, it was like Purrcaso knew. When he got that dropping feeling of guilt in his stomach, Purrcaso would curl up in his lap, loudly purring. She was ball of warmth and comfort in which his mother’s magic still lived.

Purrcaso curled up against the toe of his shoe. Yadriel rubbed the soft fur behind her ears until her amber eyes slid shut.

His mom never pressured him to try healing again. In a community built on such staunch tradition, the news that Yadriel couldn’t heal, to them, meant he didn’t have magic. His quinces was postponed indefinitely.

The brujx thought he was just a product of the dilution of magic slowly working its way through their lineage. But Yadriel and his mom knew the truth.

She bought him his first binder online and helped him tell his dad and brother. It was hard explaining himself and his identity not only to his family but to their entire community. They still didn’t understand, clearly, but at least with his mom around, they were working through it together.

His mom championed for Yadriel to be given a brujo’s quinces, to be welcomed into the community as he was—a boy. She’d taken on the task of trying to explain to his dad that he was a brujo. He was a boy.

He can’t just choose to be a brujo, he’d heard Enrique say from the kitchen one night as he and Camila spoke quietly over sweet coffee.

It’s not a choice, his mother had said, her voice calm but firm. It’s who he is.

She told Yadriel the others just needed time to understand. But Yadriel’s mom, his advocate, had been taken away from him less than a year ago. Without her, there was no one to stick up for him. Now, he was treated as a magicless brujx. Someone who could see spirits and sense suffering, but who would never be a full member of their community.

“What a mess…”

The voice made Yadriel jump. He looked up and found Catriz standing at the door, a cigarillo between his fingers. He looked tired, his expression one of grim understanding.

Yadriel’s posture relaxed. “Tío,” he sighed. His eyes slid back to the door, wondering if maybe his dad would follow his uncle out here.

“Don’t worry,” Tío Catriz said, taking a drag from his cigarillo as he descended the steps. “Your father and the other brujos already left.” He pulled up a plastic lawn chair and sat next to Yadriel. “It’s just you and me.” Catriz placed his hand on the crown of Yadriel’s head and grinned. “Como siempre.”

Yadriel sighed a laugh. A small part of him had hoped his dad would be the one to follow him and apologize. But his uncle was right, it was always the two of them on the outskirts of the brujx. At least they had each other, and Catriz understood Yadriel’s yearning, unlike Maritza, who was entirely uninterested in being a part of the brujx and had no qualms about being an outcast. She seemed to enjoy being contrary.

Yadriel stuffed his hands into the pocket of his black hoodie. “I can’t believe Miguel…” He trailed off, not wanting to speak the words.

Catriz gave a slow shake of his head and took a long drag from his cigarillo. “So young, so sudden,” he said, smoke billowing from his nostrils. “I wish I could help, but…” He shrugged his angular shoulders. “They don’t find me of much use.”

Yadriel let out a short laugh. Yeah, he knew that feeling all too well. “What the hell happened to him?” he asked, repeating the same words Maritza had said earlier.

Catriz sighed deeply. Yadriel followed his uncle’s gaze to the door, beyond which he could still hear muffled voices. “By the sound of it, your dad has already rallied the troops to find out.”

Yadriel nodded stiffly, the earlier exchange with his dad burrowing its way back under his skin. “All the brujos,” he grumbled under his breath, toying with Purrcaso’s tail.

“Well, not all of them,” Catriz pointed out casually.

Yadriel winced at his own insensitivity.

Catriz had long since been left out of the brujos and their tasks. It had been thousands of years since Lady Death had gifted the brujx their powers. At the beginning, the brujx powers rivaled that of the diosa. Women could regrow an entire arm or pull someone back from the brink of death with little more concentration than you’d need to do long division. The most powerful of the men could even bring the dead back to life when their spirits were beyond the brujas’ reach.

But now, with the dilution of power over the generations, such extravagant use of their powers was impossible. Their magic was not a bottomless well. Drawing on your power to heal the living or guide the dead pulled from that well, and it took time for it to fill up again.

Brujx were getting weaker, and there were those who were born with such shallow wells of power they could barely tap them for simple tasks without risking death.

Like Catriz.

Yadriel felt that his uncle was the only one, other than his mom, who really understood him. The brujos treated Yadriel and Catriz the same. Neither had been given their quinces, nor been presented at the aquelarre during Día de Muertos.

Held on the second night of Día de Muertos, the last night the spirits of past brujx spent each year in the land of the living before returning to the afterlife, the aquelarre was a huge party held in the church. Every young brujx who’d turned fifteen and had their quinces pledged to serve Lady Death and help maintain the balance of life and death, as had all their ancestors who came before them. Then they were officially presented to the community.

Yadriel and Tío Catriz both knew what it was like to see others perform their magic, to sit on the sidelines, powerless to do anything themselves.

But now, Yadriel knew he could do the magic.

His tío Catriz had no such luxury. As the eldest son, Catriz should’ve been the leader of the brujx after Yadriel’s abuelito died. But since he wasn’t able to perform magic, the title had been passed to his younger brother—Yadriel’s dad, Enrique. It was an understanding that had been established long ago, when both boys were small children, but Yadriel would never forget the look on his tío’s face when Enrique was presented with the sacred headdress that recognized him as the next leader of the East LA brujx.

Hurt and longing.

Yadriel knew the feeling all too well.

“Sorry, Tío, I just meant—” he rushed to apologize.

His tío’s chuckle was warm and his smile forgiving. “It’s all right, it’s all right.” He clapped his hand on Yadriel’s shoulder.

“We are alike, you and me,” he told Yadriel, scratching his stubble as he nodded with a jutted chin. “They are stuck in their ways, in their traditions, following the ancient rules. Without powers, they see no use for me.”

When he said it, Catriz didn’t sound bitter, just matter-of-fact. “And you, mi sobrino—”

Warmth bloomed in Yadriel’s chest, and a smile dared to pull at his lips.

Catriz hummed a sigh, giving his shoulder a squeeze. “They won’t even give you a chance.”

Yadriel’s smile fell. His heart sank.

The door to the kitchen opened, and Yadriel’s abuelita came stomping into the garage.

Yadriel and his tío sighed in unison. Living in a multigenerational Latinx household meant privacy was always fleeting.

“There you are!” Lita Rosamaria announced with a huff, snapping the hem of her apron with a flourish. Her gray hair was tied back in a knot like she always did when she was cooking. Which was, well, always.

Yadriel inwardly groaned. He really didn’t feel like getting lectured by his abuelita right now. He scooped up Purrcaso, holding her in the crook of his arm as he got to his feet. Catriz remained sitting, taking another drag from his cigarillo.

Lita propped one hand on her wide hip and shook a long finger at Yadriel. “You don’t run off like that!” she chided. Lita was a squat woman, even shorter than him but with a presence that made the cockiest brujo shrink back when she scolded. She always smelled like Royal Violets, which lingered on Yadriel’s clothes long after she released him from a back-popping hug. She had a strong, trilling Cuban accent and an even stronger personality.

“Yes, Lita,” Yadriel grumbled.

“It’s dangerous! What with poor Miguel…” She trailed off, crossing herself and muttering a quick prayer to the dios.

Maybe he was being selfish. He wasn’t trying to make the situation about him. Didn’t he deserve to fight for himself? But maybe now wasn’t the time.

Yadriel frowned. Tío Catriz caught his gaze and rolled his eyes—a grand gesture when Lita wasn’t looking.

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