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Like a Gentle Refrain

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"I'm sorry, Señora Rivera, but I don't know how much help I can be."

"Don't give me excuses. I've known you for too long and I know that you are a competent médico," she snapped. "Dr. García, you have a patient in front of you. There must be something you can do to help him. You have to at least try."

The skeleton didn't even flinch at her sharp tone. His home within the Land of the Dead was just a short distance down the street from the Rivera family. He knew them already. He'd even bought shoes from them on occasion. He'd witnessed the force of nature that was Imelda with a goal in mind. She could no longer shock or intimidate him.

And he had also treated hundreds of people, in life and in death. He'd faced furious and desperate and scared family members of patients before. She knew that even as the words came from her mouth. He was not a man to be intimidated nor was he a man to hide from the facts, no matter how kind or cruel they might be. He may try to soften the blow, but he would not hold back. His facial markings consisted of short and simple green lines along the cheekbones and little else, as practical and straightforward as the doctor himself.

He wasn't making excuses. He was speaking the truth. There might not be much he could do. Imelda just didn't want to admit it.

"Señora, I understand that this is a stressful situation, but you need to understand," said Dr. García. "This… This does not happen. I do not know of anyone who has come this close to the Final Death and have it… stop."

Imelda reluctantly glanced at the figure lying limply on her bed. Regardless of the fact that all of them were long dead, he was the one who looked absolutely lifeless. No matter how mixed her feelings might be towards the man, seeing him like this felt wrong.

As soon as they sent Miguel home with their blessing, it was like the boy took the last of Héctor's rapidly fading strength with him. He managed to barely stay awake long enough to see that Miguel made it, that the boy left before it was truly sunrise. He even managed a weak smile at her, as if he was about to say something. But then his exhaustion overwhelmed his stubbornness, the frequent spasms of golden light that gripped his body giving way to a steady glow. He fell the rest of the way into complete unconsciousness. And none of their voices nor pleas could reach him.

They'd known what it meant, that he would be dust in a matter of moments. That he was succumbing to the fate that befell all who were forgotten by the living. And yet… he stayed. Glowing as the Final Death tried to claim him, he somehow didn't disappear.

None of them understood what was happening and how he managed to remain, but Imelda knew one undeniable fact. They couldn't leave him. He died once, far from home and with no one. No one except possibly Ernesto, which was almost worse than being alone. At least when Imelda passed away, she was surrounded by her family. He was denied that the first time. If they could do nothing else for him, they would at least ensure he wasn't alone.

But they couldn't stay on the balcony backstage for long. Rosita and Victoria admitted to turning the camera on to expose Ernesto's crimes to his audience (though at least Héctor's position was off screen the entire time). Eventually, curious people would come looking and the idea of so many strangers crowding around while he remained so vulnerable sparked unpleasant emotions in her. With no better ideas, Oscar and Felipe helped lift the glowing figure onto Pepita's back and they took flight for home.

Part of her didn't expect Héctor to survive the journey. He looked like he was on the brink of collapsing into dust at any moment. Imelda kept an arm wrapped around him to keep the limp figure balanced on Pepita's crowded back, but she didn't dare put too much pressure into the hold. His bones felt so light and fragile beneath her hands. Like eggshells. Like they would shatter if they didn't take care.

But they managed to land in the courtyard and even carry him inside without disaster. Not knowing where else to take him, Imelda directed her brothers to set him in her room. It was the closest place with a bed, so it was a practical decision rather than an emotional one. They settled the tall and limp figure on her comforter with as much care as they could. But Héctor showed no signs of improving or finally succumbing to the Final Death completely. He remained balanced on the very edge, glowing steadily and yet not dissolving into dust.

She could barely look at the glowing figure on her bed. It wasn't just the golden light that came from his bones or even the decades of hate in her warring with new knowledge. He was too silent and still. He was too fragile and brittle. And he felt… empty. Like he wasn't really there.

Imelda knew it didn't make sense, but he seemed more like a dead body than anyone else in the Land of the Dead. They were all dead. That was the point. He just seemed more so. Like all that was on her bed was an empty shell and the real him was already gone.

But that was impossible because they knew, she knew… It was impossible because they disappeared with the Final Death. And Héctor was right in front of her. No matter what it felt like or how empty he seemed lying there, he wasn't gone. He couldn't be. Something was keeping him there, if only barely.

He hadn't left her. Not this time. Not yet.

Julio was the one who suggested that they bring in Dr. García to see if he could help. None of them had any better ideas. And he was probably their only hope of finding someone who might know what was happening or how they could help.

There wasn't much work for a médico in the Land of the Dead. The illnesses and most injuries that plagued the living couldn't affect the dead. Minor broken bones, more common for those not as well remembered, were often set without help using splints sold for the purpose. More serious breaks, however, were often left to a médico to properly set.

And sometimes, when they could afford it or someone else took pity, médicos would do what they could do to relieve the symptoms from the approach of the Final Death. Nothing could stop it except the living remembering the poor soul, but they could still try to ease the suffering.

But Héctor had stopped. His body still emitted the bright and unnerving light, but he hadn't disappeared. He was still with them. There must be something that they could do. Imelda refused to consider otherwise.

"I can give you my best guess on what is happening to him, Señora," Dr. García said, setting his leather medical bag on the bed next to his patient. "And I can give you my best prediction of his prognosis. I make no promises that I am right, though. But I will do what I can."

Resisting the urge to give in to her frustration with the entire situation, Imelda said evenly, "Fine. Why is he like this?"

"I don't know the exact details or circumstances, but it would seem that he was forgotten and started succumbing to the Final Death. And yet, when he was about to disappear completely, I believe that someone suddenly remembered," he described, reaching for Héctor's right arm. "It kept him from the Final Death, but he'd already come too close. Far closer than anyone else has come without being lost. People don't suddenly remember once they've forgotten enough that the dead reach this point, not without something very strong sparking their memory. But as I said, it appears he came too close. The Final Death takes away their strength. He barely has the energy to remain with us and I believe that's why he's in this state."

Coco. Imelda closed her eyes briefly. Somehow, Coco somehow managed to remember. She knew that her daughter's memory had been failing for years. She'd see it the last several Día de Muertos when they visited. It hurt to see her daughter so quiet, so sad, and so lost in her fading mind. But somehow Coco remembered her papá at the last moment, anchoring him before he could slip away. And Imelda suspected that Miguel was responsible for that minor miracle.

"There are a few possible outcomes that I can see," continued Dr. García. "I do not know which is more likely. But I know that he's been fading for a long time. I know the signs when I see them. Even through the glow, I can make out the discoloration of his bones. That takes time to occur. A great deal of time with only the faintest and barely intact memories to sustain him."

With great care that still managed to make Imelda nervous (he was so fragile and brittle), Dr. García gently tugged on Héctor's arm. The limb didn't even resist before it surrendered to the light pressure, popping free at the elbow.

Imelda tried not to cringe as the médico slowly unwrapped the tape from around the bone near the joint. While any of the dead could fall apart under the right conditions and pull themselves back together again, it normally required far stronger pressure. He didn't even have to try. Héctor shouldn't separate so easily.

The Land of the Dead ran off memories. Memories kept them from fading. Memories held them together, keeping their bones connected when their flesh had long since vanished. But Héctor only had Coco's memories to keep him whole.

It wasn't enough. The fading memories of a woman who last saw him as a toddler wasn't enough. But they were all that he had. Those memories were the only things that had kept him from disappearing sooner.

Placing the old duct tape aside and pulling out a thin wooden splint from his medical bag, Dr. García said, "And this crack is further evidence that this has been an ongoing condition." Studying the damaged ulna with clinical detachment, he positioned the splint and started wrapping the gauze around the bone with practiced ease. "The wear around the edge of the break suggests this happened months ago at least. This is an old injury. It should have shown signs of healing by now. But those who are being forgotten heal slower. Or not at all."

Once he seemed satisfied with the newly-wrapped ulna, Dr. García carefully reattached the arm before moving around the bed to the other side. He shook his head briefly before working on the mess holding his leg together.

"I understand that he's been on the brink of being forgotten for quite some time," Imelda said, trying not to think about why that was so. "But what does that mean for him now?"

"It means that you should prepare yourself for what might happen," said Dr. García gently. "Señora, this man is barely remembered. Whoever still holds memories of him and stopped the Final Death… it may not be enough. Perhaps he will eventually recover his strength and wake up. That would be the ideal outcome. But his condition is not promising, Señora."

While the break to his ulna didn't look too bad, his tibia fell apart into two separate pieces once the médico removed the duct tape. And yet he and Miguel walked all across the entire city last night. Imelda found herself wondering how he managed that. It was easier than considering médico's words.

"And he's been running around on this?" muttered Dr. García, staring at the damage. "What was he thinking? Even if he managed to set it straight the first time, trying to support his weight on this would have shifted it too much and just made it worse. He had to be putting excessive stress and pressure on his fibula, maybe even popping it out of place with each step." He shook his head slightly before reaching back into his medical bag. "Señora Rivera, it is not just the glowing from the Final Death. Look closely at him. He is too still. He is not breathing. We may not die if we stop, but our bodies behave mostly based on memories of life. We eat, we drink, we sleep, and we breathe. When someone has weakened so much that their body no longer has the strength to breathe, that even that subconscious memory is not there, then there is very little left to him. In any other circumstance, he would be dust not long after he stopped breathing because you are only that weak when you have been forgotten."

Imelda turned away from the médico as he carefully aligned the broken tibia pieces so that they actually fit together properly. Now that she knew to watch for it, she knew he was right. Héctor's ribcage never rose or fell. He wasn't breathing. He hadn't been since the golden light changed from the violent flashes that shook his body to the steadier glow that should have signaled the end. He was too still.

That was why he looked so empty. That was why he reminded her of a dead body. It was why everything about him seemed wrong now. She'd subconsciously noticed what was wrong while most of her mind refused to admit what was happening.

"Perhaps he will recover in time and wake up. I hope that he will," said Dr. García. Bone pieces aligned to his satisfaction and splints positioned to support the break correctly, he began to carefully wrap the entire tibia. "But he may also never regain consciousness. I told you that I've never heard of someone being forgotten so thoroughly only to be remembered at the last moment. I cannot give you any promises. He came very close to the Final Death and there may be consequences. He may never regain the strength it stole from him. He may never recover. You must be prepared for that possibility."

She glared at the médico, but he didn't even look at her. His focus was solely on his patient. Once Héctor's leg was properly bound, he moved up to Héctor's ribcage. He tugged one of the suspenders aside, exposing yet another broken bone that he must have noticed earlier. A cracked rib, but with no duct tape to serve as a patch job like the other old injuries. A splint wouldn't be necessary for this one though. Dr. García pulled out a roll of medical tape to address the issue.

Héctor would be all right. If there was no hope for his recovery, the Dr. García wouldn't take this much time to set his bones so carefully. Imelda tried to focus on that thought stubbornly. She had no interest in considering any other possibility.

But she had to.

"So he may or may not wake up in time," she said evenly. "You have no idea which it'll be. So what are you telling me? That he may spend the rest of his existence lying on this bed?"

He glanced at her with something resembling pity, causing her temper to flare. She hated pity. She'd received enough of that after it became clear to the rest of Santa Cecilia that her husband would never come home, long before she admitted it to herself. It took several battered skulls, courtesy of her newly-developed talent at crafting shoes, before they learned not to pity the single mother raising a daughter and running a business. Imelda never needed pity. She could handle everything without their pity.

"There is another possibility, Señora," said Dr. García gently. "He was forgotten briefly. Even now, he is barely remembered. Whatever managed to spark that lost memory at the last minute may not be a permanent solution. They may forget again. Today, tomorrow, or even within a few seconds of now. There is no way to tell. Especially without knowing who remembers him or what caused them to remember this time."

Imelda started to argue, but the words didn't come. He was right. Maybe Miguel managed to remind Coco somehow, but how long would it last? Would Coco even be able to share those memories? Miguel would try. Imelda knew he would do what he could to save Héctor, but with no foto and Coco's fading mind… She might not be able to tell him. She might not even be able to hold those memories until nightfall. Héctor's existence depended on that frail memory from childhood. There was no one else to remember.

She pushed away the prickling emotion that thought caused. Imelda didn't have time for that. She needed to focus on more immediate matters.

"Is there anything that can be done? Or are you telling me that all we can do is wait and see if he wakes up or if he turns to—" Imelda said, breaking off suddenly when she heard her voice waver slightly.

Straightening up and reaching for his bag, Dr. García said, "There is not much we can do to help him recover the strength that approaching the Final Death stole from him. Nor can we ensure that the living remembers him. The most we can do is keep him as comfortable as possible."

He reached into the bag and pulled out a green glass bottle. The handwritten label and the thick cork jammed in reminded her of receiving similar containers when Coco grew sick as a child, so different from the more modern orange tubes of pills that she'd glimpsed the older members of her living family possessing. Dr. García handed the bottle over to her. It felt heavy, both of her hands wrapping around the smooth surface as liquid sloshed around inside.

"I've been called a few times when someone is being forgotten, when the Final Death is approaching them and remaining loved ones are desperate to help somehow," he continued. "There is nothing I can do to prevent it, but there is no reason why they should be wracked with pain until exhaustion leaves them numb. I don't know if he feels anything right now, but I will leave you with this." He gestured at the bottle. "The directions are on the label. Whether he begins to recover or if he does not, watch him for signs of distress. The medicine will ensure that he doesn't suffer. It will take care of any pain."

Imelda nodded, staring at the bottle a moment longer before setting it on the table. It wasn't much, but at least it was better than nothing. Especially since the idea of Héctor in pain, of him suffering just like when his bones flared up with light and sent him collapsing in front of her last night, caused Imelda to feel a tight lump where her throat once existed.

"Gracias, Dr. García," said Imelda, remembering her manners despite everything. "I appreciate what you've done."

"I wish that I could do more for… I'm sorry, Señora, but I don't believe that your son-in-law told me who the patient is when he fetched me. A friend of the family?"

She hesitated a moment, part of her uncertain how to answer. It was one thing to call him "the love of her life" in a moment of anger as she struck that lying asesino. She spent ninety-six years denying any relationship to him, even avoiding his name. But now she knew what happened, what Ernesto did. She was still struggling with those realizations. She'd barely had time to think during the events of last night and she needed deal to with so much new information. Her heart and mind were too mixed up to know how to respond to any of it. She wasn't certain how she felt about the man anymore.

But they were in this situation because of how much she denied even the memory of him in life. No more. If nothing else, she could be honest about this much.

"His name is Héctor," said Imelda slowly. She looked at the glowing figure on her bed, still glowing brightly with that unnatural light and lying as limp as a broken doll. "And once… he was my husband."

Dr. García gave her a questioning look, but was wise enough not to comment. Those who knew the Rivera family knew the story of how the business started, of how her musician husband left and never returned. A story that explained why music was banished from their home and lives, something that people noticed in life and death. A story that she now knew to be incomplete.

"I don't know if any of what I said will happen. I have only given you my best guesses," he said finally. "Let me know if there are any changes, for good or ill. His condition may shift in unforeseen directions. Remember that my home is just down the street. I will be happy to call upon this household again if my skills are necessary, Señora Rivera."

"I will keep that in mind. And once again, gracias."

The médico slipped out of the room. A moment later, the rest of the household crowded their way through the doorway. It was almost laughable to see them all try to fit in her room without getting too close to the bed.

While they'd expanded and added on to both their shop in front and their home at the back half of the property as their family grew, Imelda's room was part of the original building. Her room felt cozy and she kept everything tidy. There was her bed, her wardrobe, a small side table with a lamp, her vanity, and a chair. A few treasured belongings and offerings from the living were displayed on the dresser, as were a couple photographs. Her most frivolous feature was an elegant glass door framed by thick purple drapes she could use to block out the light. It led out to the large balcony, one normally used by Pepita to sunbath on. There was enough space in the room for what she might need, but it wasn't a particularly large bedroom. It certainly wasn't built with the idea that seven people might want to fit inside all at once.

But they managed to squeeze in anyway, keeping close to the doorway. Their eyes kept being drawn towards the still figure and the unnatural light that tried to claim him. He didn't seem to fit the room. He wasn't neat and tidy like everything else. Her thick and heavily-embroidered comforter only seemed to make his ragged clothes and battered bones all the more noticeable. No one knew how to react to his presence. Julio eventually ended up shuffled to the front of the small group, holding his hat in his hands.

"What did he say, Mamá Imelda?" he asked, as if they weren't all hiding out there and eavesdropping the entire time.

Smoothing out her dress briefly took a moment. Giving each of them a steady look took a little longer. She wasn't delaying this conversation though. Imelda was not someone who hesitated over difficult topics. She merely needed to collect her thoughts.

"He had no definite answers," said Imelda carefully. "There is not much known about what might happen to someone who came so close to the Final Death. Dr. García said that he may wake up in time. Or he may not."

"I'm sorry, Imelda," Oscar said quietly as his twin gave her a sympathetic look.

She pretended not to hear her brother, a task easier with how low he kept his voice. Acknowledging his words would open up the entire emotional mess that she was still trying to ignore. Oscar and Felipe were the only other people in the room who knew Héctor before last night. They remembered running around as boys, teasing their older sister about "that musician" who kept following her with a charming smile and an energetic song. And they remembered her heartache, tears, and fury when he disappeared and she finally realized he wasn't coming home like he promised. If anyone had an accurate prediction on what her current feelings towards Héctor might be, something that not even Imelda herself could claim at that moment, it would be her brothers.

"What are we going to do then?" asked Victoria. "If Dr. García has no advice, what do you think we should do now?"

"Close the shop for the day. Try to get some sleep if you can. It's been a long night for everyone," she said firmly. "There's not much else we can do for the moment."

Her family shifted awkwardly, exchanging looks. Imelda stared them down, making certain that they understood that there would be no debating her decision. And perhaps if she put enough force into her gaze, none of them would ask the obvious question.

"But Mamá Imelda," said Rosita cautiously, "if he's on your bed, where are you going to sleep?"

Well, there went that small hope. Imelda turned towards her vanity and pulled out the chair. She moved it over to the bedside. She then smoothed out her dress and took a seat.

"I'm not quite tired yet," she said firmly. "I think I will sit up for a little longer."

Felipe opened his mouth, but silenced himself when her stern expression turned to a full-on glare. Imelda continued to stare sharply until her family reluctantly filed their way out of her room. Then she listened to their footsteps as they finally obeyed her instructions and headed off to get the rest that they deserved.

Imelda's shoulders dropped as she slumped further into her chair. She didn't like lying to her family, but she was tired. Bone tired. In more ways than one. But she also knew that wouldn't be able to sleep right now. Her mind was too turbulent to settle down. There was just too much.

And she couldn't keep herself distracted any longer. Sitting silently in her room, there was nothing left to occupy the time except the glowing figure lying lifeless on her bed and the swirling thoughts that his presence caused.


He'd been falling. Or floating. Or something.

He couldn't tell. There was no up or down. No directions. No light or dark. No sounds.

He had no weight. No body. And no memories or real thoughts.

No name.

Did he actually exist? Shapeless, weightless, no senses, no voice, no memories, and nameless. Did he exist? Was any of this real?

Did it matter?

…No. It didn't. Not anymore.

It wasn't always like this. Even without memories or an identity, he somehow knew it wasn't like this before. There had been cold, pain, exhaustion, regret, and sadness. Now there was nothing. Whatever happened Before was very, very, very far away. And it kept getting further away so quickly.

At least, at first.

Something had reached out towards him, latching onto the shapeless and nameless thing. He didn't know if that was good or bad. He didn't want that pain again; not existing seemed easier. He should have pulled out of the weak hold, but that would require actual thought. And there was a familiarity to it.

He couldn't see or hear whatever tried to keep him existing. He couldn't remember. But whatever caught hold of him was something familiar. He didn't know how long he focused on the weak grip anchoring him in place. It was the only piece of realness within the nothing. And he wanted this familiar connection. There were no understandable words, but the feeling of I want you, I miss you, I love you, please come home wove through it like a gentle refrain in a song that he knew by heart.

A song. Music. There was something about a lullaby…

And memories… Memories holding him…

Other tentative grips, new ones that weren't as familiar to him, eventually reached out to join the first. Grasping him. Remembering him.

And they started pulling him back. Back towards existence. Slowly. It was so far away though. And they were trying to take him back where there was the pain and weakness from Before.

But there had been good things before that. Before the nothing and before the pain, there had once been love and comfort. And the first gentle grip, the familiar one that caused part of him to cry out míja even without a voice or understanding of the word's meaning… He needed to return to whoever or whatever it was. He had to go back, no matter what.

So he let them anchor his existence and slowly pull him back.

But it was so far away… Could they really pull him back that far?


They listened to Mamá Coco speak for as long as possible, her eyes and words as clear and bright as Miguel could ever remember. She knew them. And she remembered her papá, recounting her childhood memories to her enraptured audience. She told her family about how Héctor would scoop up his daughter and pepper her face with kisses, how he would tease Mamá Imelda out of a foul mood with a quick "did you at least leave the idiota his head this time, mi amada?" before strumming her favorite song to coax out a smile, how he would show his little girl that his guitar shared his smile (something that Miguel quickly confirmed, pointing at the painted gold on the tooth of the guitar in his hands), and how Héctor wrote a song just for her. Mamá Coco smiled with each precious memory and Abuelita smiled as her mother looked happier than she could imagine.

When the stories began to slow, Miguel decided to take a chance. A quick look through the old letters and he spotted a couple meaningful lines, confirming his suspicions that Ernesto de la Cruz really stole all of them. He plucked out the opening notes of "Un Poco Loco" and Mamá Coco started laughing so hard that tears streamed down her wrinkled cheeks. Rosa and Abel didn't seem to know how to react to that, but Abuelita was literally crying with happiness as Papá Franco placed a hand on her shoulder. When she calmed down enough to speak again, Mamá Coco explained how she used to love yelling out the nonsense answers at the beginning of the song, which always made her parents chuckle. And she explained that while "Remember Me" was made for Mamá Coco, Héctor told her that he wrote "Un Poco Loco" for Mamá Imelda.

She talked about how only her mamá and papá never mixed up Tío Oscar and Tío Felipe, even when the two of them tried to trick people. She talked about how Héctor would brag about having the two most beautiful girls and the most talented dancers in the entire town, Coco bouncing excitedly to the music as she tried to mimic her mamá's graceful movements. She talked about how people in the town would ask him to play at weddings, quinceañeras, and so on and he always seemed happy to make people smile with his music. And she mentioned how in the picture that Miguel was carefully taping back together as she spoke, her papá wanted to look extra nice for the special occasion since taking photographs was not a common event and that she remembered how Héctor charmed and coaxed her "Tío Ernesto" into letting him borrow his white charro outfit for it.

The last story made Miguel's stomach churn, but he listened. He memorized every word she spoke with the same dedication that he used to learn the fingerings on his cobbled-together guitar. They had to remember these stories. Stories of Héctor from someone who knew him in life. They had to remember him. They all did. But while the rest of the family would listen to Mamá Coco because they loved her and wanted to hear her talking and recognizing them, Miguel understood the importance of what was happening.

The more people remembered Héctor, the harder it would be to forget him. And then Miguel would get to keep his promise. Papá Héctor would get to see his daughter again.

But after a while, Mamá Coco trailed off with a tired expression. She kept smiling and certainly seemed more aware than normal, but it had also been a crazy morning. At her age, this much excitement was exhausting. Abuelita quietly ushered the rest of the family out of the room to let Mamá Coco rest.

And as they shuffled out of the room, quietly talking among themselves about how amazing the transformation to Mamá Coco was, reality set in once again. Unfortunately, reality included the fact that Miguel ran away the night before and scared his family to death. Now that the initial shock had passed, the worry and anger over his disappearance came out in full force. As did the questions.

What was he thinking? Did he have any idea what he put them through? Was he hurt? Where was his red jacket? They looked everywhere for him; where was he all night? Where did he find that guitar? How did he know that Mamá Coco would recognize that song?

Most of the questions his mamá and papá asked him weren't ones that he could easily answer. His parents wouldn't believe him if he just told them that he ended up stealing the guitar from Ernesto de la Cruz's crypt, found himself in the Land of the Dead, ran around trying to find his great-great-grandfather only to learn that Héctor was actually his mysterious relative, and almost ended up trapped there and Héctor was nearly forgotten. He loved them and knew they would listen to his explanation, but they wouldn't believe him. They would think he dreamt it. It would sound like a fantasy.

But they eventually dropped that entire line of questioning. Maybe they saw how tired he was after his long night or they remembered how he broke down in tears when Miguel thought Mamá Coco wouldn't remember. Regardless, Papá eventually fell silent and just pulled him into another hug. The boy practically melted into the embrace. And once the hug ended and his mamá pressed a kiss to the top of his head, they sent him to his room to get some sleep.

He knew he was grounded. There was no way he was getting out of trouble completely. They just hadn't made it official yet. There would be plenty of time for that later.

Miguel wanted to sleep. He'd been up the entire night, running all over the Land of the Dead and getting hit with all those overwhelming discoveries. His emotional state ended up as a chaotic mess after everything. Sleep would help. But he still needed to do one last thing before he could rest easy.

He waited, sitting on the edge of his bed. He fought to keep his eyes open and tried to ignore how heavy his body felt. He quietly counted the minutes until he believed that enough time had passed. Then, being careful not to let the door or the floor creak, Miguel slipped back out of his room.

A lifetime of loving music in a household that didn't allow it meant that Miguel knew how to sneak around the place without being noticed. Especially with everyone worn out by a night of worrying and searching through the streets of Santa Cecilia for their missing boy. They were almost as worn out as Miguel. It left their home quiet and his stealthy journey back to Mamá Coco's room undetected.

He crept inside, thankful to see that Abuelita was gone. Even better, Mamá Coco was still awake and seemed clear-headed. She blinked in surprise at his return, but seemed pleased to see him.

"What is it, míjo?" she asked.

Walking over and sitting on the bed next to her, Miguel said, "Mamá Coco, I want to tell you about what happened last night. After all, I tell you everything and you're probably the only person who'll believe me. And I think you deserve to know and he would want you to know the truth."

"Who would?" she asked.

He smiled at her and said, "It's a long story. But it all started yesterday when Dante knocked over the foto on the ofrenda and the frame broke. And I saw the rest of the picture. I saw the guitar and I recognized it."

"Papá's guitar," she said.

"Right," said Miguel with a nod. "But I didn't know much about your papá. I didn't know what he looked like or even his name. But the guitar was something that I'd seen before. I knew it. You see, there was a famous musician from Santa Cecilia by the name of Ernesto de la Cruz…"