Día de los Muertos

You might recall that last year I had a story published in Horror Novel Review’s anthology, “One Hellacious Halloween” (available wherever fine books are Amazon.) Well, for your reading pleasure, here’s the story! I’d still encourage you to pick up the collection, though. Support the starving authors of the internet, as it were.

It was the sound of voices calling to each other from across the apartment that summoned Javier back to consciousness. “–this fucking place? It looks like a goddamn horror movie. Fucking black candles and bones and… Jesus Christ, I think these are real! What the fuck black magic voodoo bullshit did we walk in on?”

“Don’t be a bitch. Find the drugs so we can kill the motherfucker and get out of here.”

The hell you will. Javier twisted his head, trying to look around and assess the situation. Texan accents. Probably meth heads. They’d tied him to a chair they’d dragged over from the dining table. At the moment, they were tearing apart the altar he and Ángel had built in the corner of the room, knocking over the candles and the bottles of tequila, scattering the marigolds, checking the life-size statue of Santa Muerte for compartments or hidden stashes and throwing her robe-clad, bony form to the ground when they found none.

Javier strained against the ropes. He tried to stand up and couldn’t. It was no use. The knots were sloppy but effective. He tried again, and the chair thumped heavily against the carpeted floor. The two men turned to look at him.

“Well, look at that. Our little friend’s waking up.”

Javier closed his eyes, took a breath, and did his best to look as frightened and pathetic as possible. He sized the two men up from behind his feigned terror. They were armed, one with a pistol, the other a pipe wrench. They wore ski masks, coveralls, and gloves. They might not have been professionals, but they certainly weren’t amateurs either. The only things distinguishing them from another were their weapons.

They flanked Javier. “Alright, wetback,” Pistol said. “Here’s the thing: this is not your day. It is, however, ours, so let’s make this real fucking simple. You tell us where you’re keeping the drugs, and we leave.”

“¿Drogas? ¡No hay drogas aquí!”

“Cut that shit out. We know you speak English. Your hombre told us everything after we did a little persuading.”

Javier’s expression hardened from fear into anger. They killed Ángel. He closed his eyes and tried to make himself look frightened again. “Please, my brother and I were just in town visiting family for Día de los Muertos! Just let me go!”

“Look at that!” Pistol said with a laugh. “He speaks pretty good English for a wetback, doesn’t he?”

“He doesn’t speak it that good. I guess nobody told him that today’s Halloween. In America, we celebrate Halloween on Halloween, not some made up voodoo bullshit.”

Javier’s anger got the better of him. “I speak English better than you, pendejo. And go fuck yourself. I was born in Laredo.”

Pistol and Wrench were both silent for a moment. Without a word, Pistol smashed the barrel of his gun across Javier’s mouth. Javier tasted metal and blood.

“Our mistake,” Pistol said. “You were born in Laredo. Now, then, Laredo. Where. Are. The. Fucking. Drugs?”

Javier spit two broken teeth from his mouth. Blood and spittle ran down his chin. “There are no drugs here,” Javier said as calmly as possible. “And there never were.”

“Bullshit!” Wrench shouted. He lowered his face down to stare into Javier’s eyes. “You think we don’t know cartel goons when we see them? You think your little boyfriend didn’t tell us everything?”

Javier matched Wrench’s gaze, held it. “We’re here to kill a rat, not to peddle meth. And even if we were, you think we’d use two fucking guys with no backup? That’s fucking amateur.”

It was Wrench that hit Javier this time, hard, on the knee. Javier screamed. Darkness crept in again at the edges of his vision.

“This is ABT territory,” Wrench said, “and you will show some fucking respect.”

“Help me carry him over to the table. We’re going to make him talk.”

Javier’s gaze drifted over to the fallen statue of Santa Muerte. Her skeletal gaze met his own. Those dark, eyeless sockets seemed to have pity and love in them. He could almost imagine them weeping for him. Santa Muerte, I have given you offerings of tequila and marigolds, blood and marijuana. I beg you, save me. Save me, or at least strike down my enemies.

Javier closed his eyes and recited in his head the prayer his grandmother had taught him when he was only a child. Santísima Muerte, I beg you, see me. I beg you, punish my enemies. Those who for evil, for heartbreak, or for money want to hurt me, to curse me, I beg you, make them pay for their sins.

Santísima, protégeme. Protégeme. Protégeme.

* * *

Just before midnight, the two men took a break from their bloody work. “Hey, Laredo,” Pistol said. “You ready to talk yet?”

Javier looked up from the ground, his eyes nearly swollen shut. The man before him was a barely distinct blur, and it was all Javier could do to spit blood in his direction.

“Heh. Alright, then. Happy fucking Halloween, I guess.”

Javier let his head slowly fall back down his chest, too heavy for his beaten body to support. That was when he saw it. He thought it was a trick of his eyes, a blink at the wrong time that made a bony hand look like it had moved. But then it moved again. The skull turned on the ground to look at the two men in their coveralls, and Javier saw anger in those empty, eyeless sockets. Fleshless hands pushed a fleshless body off the ground, and Javier thought he was hallucinating it all until he heard Wrench scream.

Oh, Santísima, Javier thought. You heard me.

Javier grinned through the pain. “Midnight,” he whispered as Santa Muerte glided forward, bony fingers wrapping around soft pink throats. “It’s midnight. It’s not your day anymore, gringos.

“It’s mine.”

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