Death was nothing like Hector had imagined.
Not that he had imagined dying all that often, oh no, but he had heard plenty about it growing up from all kinds of people and now he knew they were wrong.
He wished he could feel smug about it.
He wished he could feel anything at all.
Wasn’t he supposed to be scared? Sad? Angry? Confused?
Dying was a BIG DEAL and yet there he was, dead and...wait...where was he?
As if answering to his thoughts, his surroundings revealed themselves little by little. First, a light. Cold and pale, yet strong enough to illuminate the yellowish walls of the cave he was in and the turquoise water surrounding him.
A cenote, then.
As his eyes adjusted to the light, more and more details became obvious. The stalactites of all shapes and sizes hanging from above. The dark stones he was standing on and the long path they made over the water. The skeleton waving at him at the end of said path. The fat drops of water sliding down the stalactite-
A startled scream tore its way out of him before his mind had time to fully register what he was seeing and it was only the water surrounding him in almost all directions that kept him from running away.
That and the skeleton looking back at him when he inched closer to the water looking for a way to escape. A skeleton that looked suspiciously like himself.
There was no confusion after that. Hector knew he was staring at his reflection with the same certainty that he knew he was dead. With the same certainty that told him he would never be able to go back to his family. To his Coco.
...perhaps not feeling wasn’t so bad after all.
“Oh good, you’re aware!”
Right, the skeleton was talking. Why not?
Now that his mind wasn’t stuck in ‘Skeleton! Waving skeleton!’ mode, he could actually take in the details.
The large hat on top of the skeleton’s head. The white blouse and heavy, long skirt. The two bandoliers hugging its shoulders...her shoulders, he realized suddenly. He was standing before a soldadera.
A soldadera that was impatiently waving at him.
“Hellooooo?” She repeated, taking a few steps closer to him. “You are aware, aren’t you?”
Aware? He wanted to ask. Aware of what? That his life was over? That he was never going to see his daughter again? That he was now a skeleton? That he had been killed by a pinche indigestion?
“Yes” He said instead. “I guess I’m aware.”
“Good, then follow me.”
“Wait! Follow you where? Where are we? What is this place?”
The skeleton, who was already walking away, stopped and stared at him for a few seconds before snapping her fingers.
“Right!” She approached him again, looking bashful. Or as bashful as a skeleton could look. “Sorry, sorry. It’s the first time I volunteer to do this. I forget not everyone is used to being dead when they first arrive here.”
Again with the here. It would’ve been a lot easier to understand what was going on if he only knew where ‘here’ was.
She seemed to realize her mistake soon after, though, as she straightened up and rested her hands on her hips. “Right! We’re in the Land of the Dead. You died and now you’re here.” The bright smile that followed lasted only a fraction of a second before continued so fast Hector almost missed what she was saying. “Not that this is all there is to it! No no. There’s much more to see. This is just a starting place. A quiet place. A place where we can become aware of our new reality.”
“A waiting room for the dead” Hector supplied helpfully, understanding what she was saying.
“No, that’s down the tunnel.”
Realizing he wasn’t going to get a complete explanation by just talking to her, Hector decided to just follow her. She seemed to know what she was doing. Mostly.
“Just lead the way.”