I’m not good at being a witch.
To say that I’m incompetent wouldn’t even cover it. My witchcraft is an amateur cocktail of earnest internet searches and a few conferences on Hoodoo which turned out to really be crash courses on homeopathic remedies for self-care. I have no idea what I’m doing and figure I will most likely get the whole thing wrong and not survive the ritual. At least it’s a nice night.
I love Día de los Muertos. Ever since the trip I took to Mexico after the funeral, I’ve been a little obsessed with the idea of walls breaking down so that different worlds can touch. My belief is that people love so fiercely they can do it across space, time, realities, dimensions, and differing planes of existence. They bend the rules of the universe because the truth of the universe is that it’s designed for that, and all anybody has to do is love enough.
I, Luz Bautista, love enough.
I became sure of this when the cold blunt email announcing that my mother’s grave would be moved to a new location due to real estate development found its way to my inbox. There was a list of reasons given but, honestly, I don’t remember because all that stuck was that folks were totally okay with building a new life on the graves of other people. So, I did what anyone would do, and became a witch in order to raise the dead.
That brings us to the here and now.
I spread a ring of ash around myself and the tombstone, put down my mother’s necklace, and a lock of baby’s hair I cut off one of the toddlers in the daycare I worked at. This last item had cost me the job, but I was already tired of the diapers, the low pay, and the total lack of respect for my time. Nothing has felt the same since my mother died and I know that if this doesn’t work people will just say I’ve gone crazy from grief. They wouldn’t be wrong.
I close my eyes to concentrate fully on my desires and how far I’m willing to go for them. Magic isn’t about words, I discover, but about intention and having the will to see it through. I take a deep breath and let everything go quiet in my mind. Then, with no fanfare, I bring the dove’s blood to my lips and throw it back. It tastes like liquid copper and my torso goes hot instantly. As I swallow the last drop, the circle of ash ignites and I can feel the warmth on my cheeks from the small ring of fire that surrounds me.
Before I get the chance to celebrate my success, my whole body jerks and I fall forward as if being pulled by my guts. All my courage disappears and the terror starts to set in. ‘What was I thinking? Who do I think I am?’ I dig my nails into the dirt and brace for impact.
The trembling in my body intensifies and spreads until I feel wetness trickle down the inside of my thighs.
“Oh shit,” I grunt to the stoic tombstones around me.
I lift my autumn dress to find blood, and a wave of cramps brings me down to all fours. The bleeding doesn’t stop and I figure this is probably the end. I wrote two notes, one of which is in my jacket pocket and the other I left in my apartment, making sure that my mother would know why she had been brought back, and what to do.
The dirt underneath me begins to bubble but I don’t sink. Instead, I watch my blood stretch out and mix with the earth as it travels inward and shapes itself. A forehead followed by a nose, a mouth, and a chin, stretches up toward me. Hands grip me by both wrists as its eyes snap open. No mistake, it’s my mom, and a scream rips through me while I continue to bleed. My thighs feel hot and my face is wet with tears. My mother uses her grip to pull herself up from the grave. She opens her mouth and an incredible gasp comes out that takes out the lights on the whole city block. She starts to glow like a deep-sea fish as she moves over to me.
“Luz? Where am I?” She looks around, then lets her new eyes settle on me. ”You look awful.”
I laugh but it turns into a sob almost immediately. We reach for each other and then we’re hugging and the whole world falls away. I forget about the blood in the cup and on my thighs, I forget about the funeral and the painful days afterward. I forget that I’m an orphan and I hold on tight to my mom because everything is how it should be. Moms should live forever and now they do. I don’t need to do anything else.
She pulls back to get a good look at me and I let her eyes trace my face and body. Her gaze stops at my blood-covered thighs.
“Oh, love,” she looks at me with such love and concern that I turn away as shame stretches across my face.
”Nothing is worth the price for this,” she says gently.
Tears sting my eyes but I hold them back and press forward with my plan.
“I command all the souls to rise.”
My mother can do no more than obey, and she springs upwards onto a nearby mausoleum. She begins to shimmer as the dirt ripples out far and wide, and the dead start to pull their way up.
I feel exhilaration as I soar through the night sky. The real estate company’s head office is on the 19th floor of a glistening building located in the financial heart of the city. We crash through the windows into a well lit empty office space and start destroying everything in sight. I head straight for the manager’s office, hoping to find the paperwork that greenlit operation-live-on-the-dead-because-who-cares, and destroy it. Instead, I find the manager cowering behind his desk. My mother jumps onto it to get a better look at him and he starts to pray.
“What’re you doing here?” I demand.
“Please, oh God. God, help me,” he continues to whimper.
“Where’s the files that let you move graves?”
His eyes move from the animated glowing corpse to me. It takes him a moment to focus and then a flicker of recognition flashes across his face. His bottom lip begins to tremble like a child.
“I’m sorry. It’s too late. The-the-the construction…umm..they’re gonna move everyone starting tomorrow. I-I-I didn’t do it, it wasn’t me. They told me-”
I can’t hear the explanation over the sound of my blood rushing into my head. My face feels hot and I’m tingly all over from rage. I order my mother to grab him, and I watch as she slowly lifts him up by the neck until his feet are dangling above the floor.
“I don’t care. Don’t care if it’s your job, don’t care if you’re sorry. No one’s gonna take my mother’s grave. No one’s gonna take anything, ever again.”
I watch his body go limp before deflating onto an office chair. I thought I’d be exhausted, but instead I feel awake, horribly awake, and a warm sensation spreads out from my heart to the tips of me.
“Luz, please,” my mother says softly, “forget about my grave. Just leave.”
“And then what?” My voice is cold, even to me, and my mother shivers at the sound of it. ”We need to set an example. It’s the only way this type of thing will stop. No one steals from people they’re afraid of.”
“What do you want?”
I pull myself up to my feet as my mother and all the dead listen. I turn to look out at the city, my city, one last time.
”Take out everyone that helped them do this.”
“And what will you give?”
Dryness coats my throat and I have to swallow before answering. To ask for something like this comes with a hefty price and the intention has to be clear.
“I give up all my ties to creation in the name of vengeance.”
The dead levitate all at once and smash through any windows that haven’t already been broken. I gaze out as darkness falls on the city one mile at a time. I can hear cars crashing, horns honking, and finally, people screaming.
“I’m staying with you,” says my mother.
I’m grateful and try to smile but the pain takes over immediately. I spit up a tooth and get the chance to stare at it in my palm before my breasts begin to compress and shrivel. The taste of pennies fills my mouth as more of my teeth fall out. My mother hovers near me as I fall to my knees in anguish. I’m bleeding from my crotch again and this time it’s really thick. I feel as though I’m being pulled by my tendons and have to lay out on my back.
There’s nothing to be done.
My body caves in on itself an inch at a time until I’m hoarse from screaming. My voice gives, my tears dry, my blood empties out and death takes over. I see the shimmer of my mother before all light disappears.
A stillness fell over the city the morning after, as people slowly came out of hiding from the night of terror. Everyone had to take in the damage and do the math. Buildings had to be fixed, bodies had to be collected, and whole communities had to begin making funeral arrangements.
People thought it was God. No one guessed it was a woman. No one ever connected me to the event or even considered that someone could’ve, must’ve, summoned the dead.
By the time they found my body it was nothing but a husk. I spent months in a cold drawer with a “Jane Doe” tag before anybody bothered to match my dental records with my remains. No one came to claim my body, and I was cremated and tossed into the river with the other collateral damage in a televised memorial.
The reconstruction only took a month but the recovery never came. Folks abandoned their luxury condos, their studios, their brownstones, their apartments, their homes. Downtown slid into emptiness except for those who couldn’t afford to go anywhere else, or just couldn’t bear to give up. Everything slid into affordability as the city stopped being a destination spot.
As for the rest of the nation? They were nostalgic. They created new franchises reliving the night, and they told the story of the once-juggernaut metropolis and its gruesome demise.
But in the city, people mourned together and a tenderness bloomed between them. No one took from anyone, anymore. Ever. At long last, my city found love.
I hope we love enough this time.
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