Friday Flash: Day of the Dead

Maria Vega kneels before her husband’s grave, burning herbs in a rusted coffee can. As an offering, baskets full of his favorite food and sugarcane whiskey line his grave.

The night air is sharp and drastically cooler, though the pungent odor of fresh marigolds still hangs heavy around her. Maria slips on a wool rebozo and pulls a blanket over her littlest one, who’s already fallen asleep on her mat. The child stirs briefly as a loud group of tourists—sloshed on tequila—stumble too close, knocking into the decorated arch over her husband’s grave. It wobbles. One slurs an apology before snickering and shushing the others.  In the flash of wide-eyed tourists’ cameras, Maria sighs and resumes her prayers. A bell rings at the entrance of the graveyard. It’s a call to the spirits. She wonders if her husband can hear them.

******

Among the light of thousands of candles, three men stand behind a knot of swaying tourists and locals, watching the Dance of Old Men play out on a crude wooden stage. They are tall and lithe with pale skin that glows orange in the candle light.

“The bells, the flora, the food…it’s all meant to lead their dead back to them?”

“It is their way of conquering death?”

“To bring the living and the dead together for a night, maybe.”

“We can help them.”

“No.” The tallest one says. “Come, we will view the fishing men in their butterfly net rituals.”

*******

Chickie sticks his sweaty face in front of the camera just as the flash goes off. He snorts at the tourist’s frustration. “Hey, I got a picture for you, lady!” He shoves a dirty hand between his own legs.

“Come on, Chickie, don’t ruin the fiesta!” His friends lock arms with him and drag him down the hill, through the graveyard laughing and singing loudly. Overturned candles, crushed petals and silent curses lay in their wake.

“Wait, wait…” Chickie says. “I gotta take a piss.” He sways, barely standing. The women and children around the graves look on in horror as his stream falls on one lit candle after another, extinguishing the flames with a hiss. “It’s like shootin’ ducks!” he yells to no one in particular.  He’s mumbling to himself as his friends back into the shadows and disappear.

Maria Vega is staring up at him in disbelief, pan de muerto bread in one hand and the other covering the eyes of her eldest daughter. The three tall tourists have stopped and are surveying the scene. After Maria’s youngest starts to cry, one of them slides forward and bends down next to her. He lays a large hand on the wet dirt on her husband’s grave and begins to hum.  Like some magic trick, the candles flicker back on and Maria feels a slight tremor beneath her.  Satisfied, the tourist stands and returns to his party. They begin to argue.

Suddenly, Maria Vega screams.

The bones of her husband, Raul, push through the earth. She falls back, pulling her children with her and frantically crossing herself. Fruit and bread tumble from the baskets, candy skulls are crushed beneath real skeleton feet as it steps forward and brushes the earth from its shoulders.  More screams fill the clear night air as people stumble and flee.

Chickie is standing there with his pants still unzipped and his mouth open, face to face with the inhabitant of the grave he just pissed on.  “What in the hell…”

In the distance the ringing call to the spirits sounds. Raul Vega snaps off the middle finger of his left hand, steps forward and stabs Chickie in the eye. They both collapse in a heap.

Maria Vega faints and the last thing she sees, as her head hits the earth, is Raul’s bleached grin flickering in the candlelight.

23 thoughts on “Friday Flash: Day of the Dead

  1. yearzerowriters

    “What in the hell…” indeed and he’s come to take you back down there with him pal. Colonial arrogance of the economic tourist in all its ugliness. A lush palate.

    Marc Nash

    Reply
  2. Olivia Tejeda

    Sickening behavior by the tourists, but Chickie got his in the end (and in the eye). Great story and wonderfully told as always. Thanks for sharing it, Shannon. ~ Olivia

    Reply
  3. V.R. Leavitt

    LOVE this story. I remember doing a report on Day of the Dead in grade school and some of the students laughing and making fun of the idea.

    Glad to see Chickie got what he deserved!!

    Reply
  4. soesposito Post author

    Thanks guys! I admit, I had a good giggle at giving the big FU to the obnoxious tourist. This is actually a true story…well, at least the part about tourists peeing on the candles. Nice, eh?

    Reply
  5. John Wiswell

    Statler and Waldorf moment: “Maria Vega kneels before her husband’s grave, burning herbs in a rusted coffee can.”
    Statler: My wife can’t make coffee either!
    Waldorf: Doohahahaha!

    Sorry.

    This is plenty creepy. I just had to make the joke.

    Reply
  6. dannigrrl

    I’ve been Dia de la Muerte festivals in Mexico and they’re beautiful – fortunately the cemetery was far from the tourists. Nice piece. I loved how the rotten Chickie met his demise and I’m curious about the three witnesses as well.

    Reply
  7. 2mara

    awesome story. I loved everything about it.

    I like how so much preparation is put into bringing people back from the dead, but when they actually return… people are freaked out.

    What did you expect? geez…

    😉
    ~2

    Reply
  8. Joanie

    Too bad this doesn’t happen in real life when someone is blatantly disrespectful. I was intrigued by the three mysterious strangers who brought back the dead. Aliens? I really like the atmosphere you painted. I could see everything very clearly in my head, though I wish I could wipe the image of Chickie peeing on the candles from my head, ack! It’s sad that actually happened! : Great story!

    Reply
  9. Pj kaiser

    Sorry I missed this last week – I *loved* it! We lived in Mexico for six years and I love the details you’ve included here. Day of the dead has always intrigued me 🙂

    Reply

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