Ch 41: Meet the Parents
Héctor would have kept screaming if he could have, but absolute terror had stolen his voice away and he was left gasping like a landed fish as he looked frantically all around him. Everywhere he turned there was a new skeleton standing beside him, glowing as golden and as translucent as he was. And he kept bumping into them! Some rattled, some yelped out 'hey!' in protest. Héctor was certain he had managed to knock one's head off of its body. Soon he was too overwhelmed by skeletons that he had no place to move, only to drop down to the ground.
Scooting back quickly until his back was against a headstone, Héctor trembled with fright as suddenly all of the skeletons' attention was turned to him. Their annoyance at being shoved and jostled quickly turned to confusion, then to astonishment as they finally saw that a man, a living one, was able to see them. They all crowded around him, looking at him like he was the abomination that shouldn't exist instead of them, and started to whisper.
"Is that… Héctor Rivera?"
"He can see us?"
"Dios mio, it is him!"
Ave María Purísima, they knew who he was! Pressing himself further back into the gravestone, Héctor could only manage to squeak out a creaky moan of horror. The skeletons knew who he was. Skeletons that were dead. He was dead! He had died and now these creatures were here to drag him to hell. No no no, he couldn't have died! He was healthy! He had made sure of it! Ever since his health scare all those years ago he had made it his goal to be as healthy as could be! No drinking, no bad food, plenty of exercise. He couldn't have just died without warning!
Suddenly one of the skeletons drew in close to him. Héctor wanted to shut his eyes tight, block out these horrifying monsters from his sight, but he found that he couldn't look away. With fearful trepidation he watch as the skeleton knelt down next to him, studying his face carefully. Was this the one who would be taking him to the underworld? He panted faster as the figure raised a grotesque bony hand up, reached deep into his jacket. Dios what was he doing?
Then, achingly slowly in Héctor's terror-filled mind, the monster pulled out…
"Señor Rivera, I am a huge fan!" the skeleton grinned widely. "May I have your autograph?!"
It took a few seconds for the question to force its way through the mind-numbing horror, but slowly Héctor's panting stuttered to a halt and the words finally registered. For a brief moment he was able to see past the nightmarish ghouls in front of him and unbelievable predicament he was in to fully see how… that was the absolute last thing he was expecting a glowing skeleton with eyes and hair to say to him. And the stupidest.
"WHAT?!" He managed to finally scream out in pure exasperation. But it didn't stop there as more skeletons began to crowd around him, each holding their own writing utensil and scratch pieces of paper.
"Me too! Me too! Ooh, Prima Lula is going to be so jealous!"
"Can you make it out to Fidelio, por favor?"
"Oye Héctor! It's Manuel Fernandez, remember?! Your first customer! Your wife leaves a new pair of boots every year on my ofrenda. Tell her I said 'Gracias'!"
"Ay, I don't have any paper! Can you just write on my sternum? Sideways is fine!"
Their clamoring didn't stop, as more and more excited skeletons grinned their toothy smiles and shoving pens in his face. Héctor backed further and further into the gravestone, sharp corners digging into him painfully, but he didn't notice it much. His brain was overloaded with surging emotions: Fear, anxiety, annoyance, and more fear. He was just about to let out another scream when suddenly a bony hand clamped around his wrist. And he did scream at that, in an embarrassingly high-pitched shriek that could have come from a small girl instead of a fifty-year old man, when a voice briskly.
"Lo siento, Señor Rivera is not handing out autographs at the moment. Please check back a later time."
Héctor found himself yanked back to his feet and pulled away from the groans and complaints of the skeletons, forced to run as the mysterious figure led him further into a more secluded corner of the cemetery. As they got closer and closer to the end of the gate Héctor finally decided he'd had enough and tried to skid them both to a stop. Jerking back his hand hard he tried to dislodge himself from the figure's grip… And succeeded in popping the figure's arm off straight from the socket. Still clutching him around his wrist.
"AAAH!" Héctor screamed and flailed his arm around, trying to fling the bones off. "GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF!"
"Héctor, please! Calm down, mijo!"
A soft pair of hands gripped his shoulders and Héctor gasped, freezing in place. His whole frame still trembling in fright, the bony hand let go of his wrist and then the whole arm hopped away from him towards the figure. The arm bounced off the ground and slipped in cleanly through the sleeve of its shirt, and Héctor could see it was yet another skeleton. Rotating and working out the kinks of his newly reattached arm, the skeleton had the gall to glare at him.
"You've got a lot of explaining to do, cabrón." The skeleton snorted in disgust.
"Shh. Mi amor, please!" The voice behind him shushed and then made it's way around to face him. It was a female, and unlike the male standing before him she was smiling at him. A small, sweet smile, trying to keep things as calm as possible. But as Héctor continued to draw back away from them in terror she could tell it was in vain. "Héctor, we need you to calm down for a moment."
"Stay back!" Héctor cried out, swiping his arm out and managing to make the two skeletons flinch back. "Stay away from me! Don't come any closer!"
"We're not going to hurt you, Héctor."
"What do you want from me?!" Héctor squeaked out, past the point of reasonable thought as hysteria clouded his mind. "Am I dead? Is this how death works? Are you going to eat me? Are you going to eat my skin?!"
"Ugh, no!" the male skeleton shuddered at the thought. "I came here tonight to eat menudo."
"Just stay away from me! Someone! I need help! I need- AAH!" Suddenly something hot a wet slid up his cheek all the way to his hairline in a split second, and a cheerful bark burst through his eardrums. Turning he saw Dante happily smiling at him with his tongue lolling on his shoulder, and Héctor gasped in surprise. "Dante?! You can see me?!"
Dante barked again and made to lick him again, but Héctor pushed him away and began to smile madly. Tittering in near hysteria, Héctor grabbed Dante by the jowls and turned him toward the skeletons. "Good boy! Dante! Dante look: Bones! Get them! Get the skeletons, get the bones! Sic 'em! Sic 'em, boy!"
Dante whined in confusion and looked between his master, gesturing wildly and screaming at him while looking like he was on the verge of collapse, and the two skeletons, sighing and palming their faces in their hands. They seemed more composed than Héctor at the moment. So, with a small chuff he hopped away from him and stood by the woman's side, earning himself a soft rub on the head while Héctor let out a moan of dismay.
"Dante, you dumb dog!" Héctor yelled out, causing the poor to shrink back and whimper. "Don't let it pet you!" Running his fingers through his hair and ranking hard, Héctor didn't notice that he was rocking jerkily back and forth as he began to babble. "What's going on?! What happened to me?! I-I-I don't know what to do! What happening?!"
"What are you asking us for?" The skeleton grumbled while crossing his arms. "Dios, can't we have a normal Dia de Muertos for once? First Miguel's birth, then that concert fiasco with de la Cruz, and now this?! Honestly, what is the deal with you, yerno?"
It took a few moments for his words to run it's way through Héctor's addled brain, but once it did he slowly stopped rocking and his panting ceased. He hazarded another look up at the two glowing skeleton and the wheels began turning again. "Y-yerno?"
Héctor started to look closely as the two. Past all the candy-like swirls of purple and silver on the man's skull, other facial features started to stand out. The slicked back hair, the thick mustache, and his eyes. Those same hard, judgmental eyes that always seemed to look down on him, even from beyond the grave, every time he looked at that foto on the ofren-
"…P-… Papa… Gaspar?"
"Hmmph." Gaspar grumbled. "You can just call me Gaspar. Otherwise you'll make me feel old."
"Amor, you are seventy-three years old."
"Nooo, I died at twenty-five, and so I will stay at twenty-five. Forever!"
As the woman laughed, a sweet yet hearty laugh that reminded him so much of Imelda, Héctor finally started to relax a little. Her features were familiar too. The same long face as Oscar and Felipe, the prim little smile like Imelda. "Mama Mirasol?"
Mirasol smiled back at Héctor, leaning down a little to meet his eyeline. "Hola, Héctor. It is so nice to finally meet you."
Héctor blinked back dumbly. "… N-nice to meet you too…"
Now that he knew their names, knew who he was talking to, it made him feel less panicked. Imelda had told him enough stories from her childhood to know basic information about her parents. Gaspar was a great farmer who was able to grow a pumpkin once that was so big he had it fashioned into an actual carriage for Imelda when she was a toddler and pulled her around in it like she was a princess.
Mirasol made the best dishes out of whatever fruits and vegetables Gaspar didn't sell. She was always constantly drawing on scraps of papers and napkins, some of which Imelda still had in box with other precious items. Her favorite one was a handkerchief that Mirasol had sketched the actual likeness of all three of her children when they were newborns, each child on three corners and 'Mis amores' on the fourth.
He was stern yet clumsy, she was sweet yet soft-spoken.
And they had both let their young children take the limited medication that the town had that saved their lives during a malaria outbreak, while they themselves went without and had died young.
"You calmed down now, payaso?" Gaspar asked. At Héctor's slow nod, he held out a hand to him. "Good. Up you get, then."
Héctor took Gaspar's hand, wincing a little as the loose bones shifted unnaturally in his grip, and allowed him to hoist him off the ground. Gathering himself and trying to look as dignified as he could after his embarrassing meltdown in front of his in-laws, Héctor smoothed back his unkempt hair and mumbled, "Gracias… I-I can't believe it. Imelda's parents… I've always wondered what you both were like."
Mirasol smiled. "Ay, Héctor. We've also always wondered what it would be like to finally meet you. This is a little unorthodox, you not being a skeleton, but still. There's so many things we always wanted to thank you for: Being a loving husband to our daughter, a wonderful father to our grandchildren, a great provider-"
"Sí sí, that's all very well and good." Gaspar interrupted. "But first things first. There is something I've been wanting to do for the last thirty-three years, and I hope you'll oblige me Héctor."
Héctor gulped a little and managed to bring up a corner of his mouth nervously. "O-okay. What do you want-"_
"AY!" Héctor reeled back and immediately grabbed his left cheek as it stung harshly for the second time in one night. Managing to force a watery eye open he saw a boney finger pointing directly at his face.
"That is for getting my teenage daughter pregnant out of wedlock, you perverted little-"
"Gaspar! Ay Dios mio…" Mirasol grabbed her husband by the shoulders and forced him to back off, giving Héctor a weak grin. "I'm so sorry, Héctor. He's been clamoring about that for years."
Héctor nodded, eyes wide as he brought his hand back down. "I-I'm sorry! I didn't mean- That was an accident! I would never- AY, CARAJO!" His abused cheek was struck for a third time, and this time the finger pointing at him was Mirasol's.
"Don't ever call our little Coco an accident, niño!" Mirasol barked out, her sweet timid voice all of a sudden sounding as loud and forceful as her own daughter's. But the moment quickly passed and she pinched her nasion in shame. "Ugh, I'm so sorry Héctor. We are not making the best first impression to you."
As Héctor rubbed his reddened cheek, wondering why everyone who had slapped him happened to be right-handed, Héctor managed a chuckle. "Heh, it's all right. I always thought that if I ever did meet my in-laws they'd want to slap me. I remember when Coco first started dating Julio I was- WAIT A MINUTE!"
The two skeletons and Dante flinched as Héctor started to rave again. "What the hell am I doing?! Chatting with two people I have never met before, and who have been dead for nearly half a century! I'm seeing skeletons everywhere I turn, no one can see me, I'm glowing, and Miguel thinks I'm… Oh no, Miguel! He's thinks-! He's been taken away! I have to go get him!"
"Héctor he'll be fine!"
"No!" Héctor brushed Mirasol off of him and tried to walk back to the exit. "He's in trouble! I have to save my-erk!" With a jolt Héctor stopped in his tracks. Looking down he saw Dante had grabbed him by the hem of his jacket, teeth clamped tight around the fabric. He tried to yank it free, but the dog refused to let up.
"Miguel is fine." Gaspar said, his hand on Héctor's shoulder. "He'll be with his family tonight. They'll take care of him. The one you need to save is yourself, tonto. Because what's happened to you is not normal, and we need to find out what it is exactly."
His word sinking in, Héctor nodded a little and Dante released his jacket with a happy snort. Looking down at himself, he patted his chest and groaned at the eerie glow he was emitting. This was definitely not normal. "So, what happened to me? Am I dead?"
"No." Mirasol shook her head emphatically. "No… I don't… think."
"That's not very reassuring."
"You aren't dead, Héctor." Gaspar affirmed. "Believe me, you'll know you're dead when you're filling out enough paperwork to make you wish you'd die again. No no, this is something different. Now I'm no expert on the matter, but if I were to guess I'd say whatever has happened has to do with that guitar."
"Wh- guitar?" Looking down Héctor was astonished to see that, during all the craziness and emotional scarring that he had been exposed to in the last ten minutes, he had been clutching Ernesto's golden guitar the entire time. He had not even noticed that he had still kept a grip on the blasted thing. "Why am I still holding this?!"
"Well it is a beautiful guitar."
"No no! I want nothing to do with-wait…" Héctor stared into space for a few seconds, the gears slowly turning. "I grabbed the guitar. Then the flowers went crazy, flying in the air. That's when-" With a gasp, Héctor smiled widely and pointed at the guitar giddily. "That's when it happened! I got all glowy and see-through-y! It's because of this pinche guitar!"
"Isn't that what I just said?" Gaspar grumbled. Next to him Dante whined in worry at Héctor's train of thought. Why was he fighting this so hard? This was becoming more difficult than this simple dog could handle.
"So, it comes to reason that once I let go of the guitar… Then everything will turn back to normal! Ha HA!" Héctor held out the instrument at arm's length and gave a slight bow. "Well then, so long Señor and Señora Rivera. This has been a de-lightful visit. But I must go back to a world of living, breathing human beings and sanity. Adios, and I hope you enjoy the offerings. And as for you, you useless instrument- Begone!"
Releasing his grip from the neck, the guitar dropped to the ground. Good, this nightmare was over. Now he could go home, forget this whole ever happened, and go on liv-
There was no clanging of wood against the ground. It hadn't even made contact. It had stopped less than a millimeter away from reaching it and then had magically flew back up into Héctor's hand. Dante panted happily as once again the plan was back in motion. The other three, however, blinked for several seconds as they gawked at the guitar. Again, Héctor let the guitar drop, only for it to come back. Again. And again. Finally Héctor was practically chucking it to the ground, each attempt more frenzied than the last, and panting hard.
"Wow." Mirasol couldn't help but giggle as Héctor kept trying to force the guitar out of his hands. "It's like a big, oddly shaped yo-yo."
Héctor stopped what he was doing to glare at his in-laws, who were both snickering to themselves. "This is not funny! I'm trying to get back to my family, to my life, and you're laughing at me?! This is bad! Really bad! What am I going to do?!"
"I don't know, Héctor. But maybe someone else will be able to tell us." Gaspar said before turning to Mirasol. "If he can see skeletons, then he might be able to cross the bridge. Then we can take him to Marigold station."
"The Department of Family Reunions?"
"Stop having conversations without me!" Héctor shouted. "Bridge? Department of Family Reunions? Where's that?! Where are you taking me?!"
"The Land of the Dead, mijo."
Héctor was taken aback from that. He looked at the two of them in shock. "The Land of the?-… No… No no no no…"
"No!" Héctor shouted, pointing at them both wildly. "No! You said I wasn't dead! I'm not dead! I'm not going there, especially with people I have never even met before in my life! I'm not even convinced this is real. I'm dreaming or-or hallucinating or I have a huge tumor growing in my brain, all of those are more believable than this basura you're spouting. I'm not going anywhere with you, so you and this dumb guitar can go straight back to hell together!"
With a mighty heave Héctor flung the guitar as hard as he could into the air. The sight of it spinning freely and high through the night sky was enough proof that he was finally rid of it, and with a mighty whoop of triumph he turned tail and started sprinting towards the exit of the cemetery. He heard Mirasol and Gaspar shouting after him, but he paid them no heed. He was not going to come back, not going to stop, not going to duck or whatever it was they screaming at him. He was going home! And nothing was going to stop-
Several skeletons shouted in alarm as all of a sudden a large clanging sound shot through the air and a tall, gangly man went head over heels tumbling down their path. The body performed several impressive yet dangerous looking somersaults before crashing hard against one of the many protruding tombstones, resting into a mangled heap of long limbs, dust and mud. Héctor let out a small high-pitched whine as he collapsed onto his back and then was still. The only thing seemingly undamaged was the beautiful golden guitar as it magically shimmied itself back into the unconscious man's hand like it was always meant to be there.
Gaspar and Mirasol caught up to Héctor, placating the nervous crowd with uneasy smiles. "Ah, lo siento everyone." Gaspar chuckled. "This is a small family matter but we're going to deal with it. J-just go about your business and enjoy the holiday, bueno? Bueno."
The other skeletons were still skeptical but murmured in agreement and went back to their families and offerings, leaving the dead Riveras standing over Héctor. Dante came over and licked wet trails thick with slobber all over Héctor's cheeks, his hair, even into his nose and mouth. Héctor didn't even flinch, but he was still breathing normally.
Héctor was out cold.
Gaspar sighed. "So… This is who our daughter decided to marry."
"I blame myself." Mirasol replied wearily. "She gets it from me, I'm afraid. We both have strange tastes in men."
"Sí, I guess you're right… Hey!"
Ignoring her husband's offense, Mirasol bent down to place her hand on Héctor's forehead. "Gaspar, would you be a dear and go fetch Dr. Rosales? He'll be either at his home or Imelda's museum, but I'd check the museum first. I'll stay with Héctor in case he comes to and ward off anyone else who gets to close."
Gaspar winced a little at that and groaned. "Him? Are you sure?"
"Well, Héctor is obviously very traumatized by all of this, understandably. Trauma is his specialty, after all."
"Ay, all right." Gaspar started to head off, but paused and wavered a little. "Hey, um… should I tell… um…"
"I don't know." Mirasol said. "Maybe not. It might be to much for him, it might push him over the edge. Ask Dr. Rosales first about whether… she should come."
With a quiet, sad nod Gaspar left his wife alone with Héctor and made his way out of the cemetery. As Mirasol quietly stroked Héctor's hair and spoke softly to him, she didn't notice Dante staring them both down.
Dante huffed in annoyance. He may not be the smartest dog in the world, as the little weird looking dog that guided his boy's mate always told him, but he knew enough. They were not going along with the plan at all! Whatever the plan was. Did he even know the plan? Well whatever. Dante knew that his boy was scared and sad and angry. And if he was ever going to go to the world of the delicious bone people, he would not go with these bone people who scared him. No.
But he would go if he were to be reunited with his puppy. His daughter. His Leti.
So, like any good dog would, he would go and fetch his Leti for him if no one else was going to do it. With a yip he bounded out unnoticed by the bone woman and raced off to find the boney puppy.
Yes, Héctor would love to see his Leti! After all, Leti was the best girl-boy in the world!