Día de los Muertos

By Roger Ley

sfgenreIt’s a Mexican thing. You have to be Mexican to understand the mixture of sadness, joy and resignation we associate with death. We don’t want to die, but we respect our relatives who have gone before us, we cherish them, they are not forgotten. The 2nd of November the Día de los Muertos. Not the Carnival, the colourful, exuberant, uninhibited celebration in February. Not Halloween, the childish western celebration. No, the Day of the Dead is older than that, thousands of years older, first celebrated by the pre-Columbians, and now in many Spanish-speaking countries. Here in Mexico it’s a big event and when did us Latins need an excuse for a fiesta? Unfortunately, somebody has to keep a watch on the festivities, and this year my number had come up.

The night-time streets were crowded with happy, slightly drunk people, perfect conditions for the predators, the pickpockets, con men; all sorts of criminal activity would be going on.

I was in plain clothes as usual, following the crowd past the cemetery, the dead centre of town. There they were, a typical gang of disaffected teenagers, hanging around the wrought-iron gates, climbing on the pillars, looking for the weaklings in the herd, skateboards at the ready and mischief in mind. I was impressed by their costumes, but then the new digital fabrics make almost anything possible. They were dressed as skeletons, as was traditional, but they were very convincing. You could still tell the girl skeletons from the boy skeletons by the way they moved. They all left faint residual splashes of stardust as they walked. It was exquisite, ethereal and they were unusually quiet for that age group.

Some of the crowd were entering the cemetery, the men carrying the makings of the altars they would build on their loved one’s graves, the women carrying food and drink for the deceased. They even had sugar toys for dead children. The majority were making their way to the cathedral for the special Requiem Mass. There was a lot of singing and laughing, and noisemakers, bocina horns, football rattles. The ‘Skeletons’ los esqueletos pushed off into the crowd and I moved faster, trying to keep up with them. Some were skating, some boarding and the rest free running. Where do they get the energy?

They grabbed at people as they passed them, pulling and poking them, turning and taking liberties with women’s breasts, licking people’s faces. The Skeleton girls were cupping men between the legs, but people mainly ignored them, shrugged them off or brushed them away.

We arrived at the cathedral and I lost track of them, they’d gained on me. I hung around with the people standing at the back, smelling the incense and listening to the service. Ah, there they were, hanging under the mezzanine floor, where the choir sat, or perched on top of marble statues. There were two on the altar mimicking the priest and crossing themselves, laughing and shouting to each other, although I couldn’t hear them over the ambient noise. Two more were pretending to copulate on the altar, while the priest ignored them and chanted his way through the Mass, calling out the prayers, waiting for the responses. The Skeletons meantime were drinking the communion wine, toasting each other’s health, pulling skeletal faces at the congregation.

Two of them, one taller than the other, walked up the aisle hand in hand and stopped at the altar rail. A third, wearing a black biretta on his head, seemed to be performing a wedding ceremony. The boy skeleton placed a ring on his partner’s finger and the rest of the gang applauded enthusiastically. Again, I couldn’t hear them, the choir were singing a hymn, and the congregation were joining in. The mass ended and people stood and gathered their belongings. The Skeletons were off again, running, leaping, skating, boarding down the aisle and out through the main doors. It was lucky they didn’t knock anybody over. I followed but they soon outdistanced me again. The crowd moved on towards the plaza but the Skeletons had headed back towards the cemetery, against the flow. I made my way as fast as I could, showing my badge and easing people out of the way. The Skeletons were already there when I arrived. Most of them were climbing on the gates or sitting on the gate piers, kicking their heels. Just the two who were newly ‘married’ walked up to the gates, still hand in hand, moving slowly, looking into each other’s eyes. Es muy romantico, I might have allowed myself a few tears if I hadn’t been on duty.

They stopped before entering the graveyard, and seemed to speak in sign language, their hands animated, shedding whorls and streaks of stardust as they ‘spoke.’ The boy took the girl’s hands, and they stood silently, while the rest of the gang dispersed over the wall and through the paths between the graves. They kissed and held each other for a long time then turned and walked in. I followed them along the path as the boy led the girl to a grave decorated with sugar skulls, sweet bread, and flowers. After a few moments he dropped her hand, kissed her forehead, turned and walked away. She stood watching him as, head lowered, he walked towards a more elaborate grave about twenty metres away. As he reached it and paused for a moment looking at its decorated altar I looked back, but the girl was gone, so was the boy as I returned my gaze. He must have slipped behind the polished marble stonework.

I walked over to read the inscription, and suddenly remembered. It had been about ten years ago, while I was still in uniform, driving a black and white, a motorcycle accident, the two riders killed. He was from a well-to-do family and thus the Harley Davidson. Too much, too soon. It had been big news at the time. His name was Martin Riley, his father owned several golf courses outside the city. She was Estella something, not exactly trailer trash but definitely from the wrong side of the tracks.

I walked to a bench some distance away and sat thinking about my report, it was routine really, nothing untoward, no damage, no crime, no accidents. Just the usual youthful high spirits, and now the excitement was over for another year. I lit up a cigarette and stared at the grave ahead of me. The headstone read, ‘Police Lieutenant Arthur Rodriguez, hero of the state, shot in the line of duty.’ There was an altar with a sugar gun and holster, a sugar police badge and a blaze of orange marigolds decorating it.


The sun edged over the horizon, its early, near horizontal rays probing the cemetery, highlighting the altars festooned with colourful, pierced paper decorations, now blowing across the paths. Feral dogs, tramps and bag ladies were already eating the sugar skulls, sweet breads and piles of tortillas left on the graves for the occupants. Crows hopped as close as they dared and picked at the discarded food.

A homeless man picked up a half-smoked cigarette from where it lay on the ground near the empty bench, he took a grateful pull. A last swirl of stardust lingered, but the sun was too bright for him to notice.

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About The Author

Roger Ley

roger ley2 200Roger Ley was born and educated in London and spent some of his formative years in Saudi Arabia. He worked as an engineer in the oilfields of North Africa and the North Sea, before joining the nuclear industry and later pursuing a career in higher education. 

Roger's short stories have appeared in a dozen ezines this year.

His time travel novel ‘Chronoscape’ protects causality by using a branching model for the Timestream. If you go back and change things you start a new branch, simple.

Find him at <rogerley.co.uk>.

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nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

“Nuke”, who it turns out loves editing more than writing, lives in the New South Wales North Coast holiday destination of Nambucca Heads, where he is self-employed in IT training, computer support, desktop publishing, editing, writing, and website implementation. He is also the resident tech-head, skeptic, and board member of community radio station 2NVR, where he produces a number of shows including The AntipodeanSF Radio Show.


mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name.

One of Mark’s very best forms of writing procrastination is to produce the eBook series for AntipodeanSF, which he has been doing since issue 175.


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In The Next Issue...

Coming In Issue 243

A Cat Amongst
by Louise Zedda-Sampson

A Perfect Plan
By Gary Estcourt

Breathing Space
By Tim Cadman

Date Night
By Kevin J. Phyland

By Debroah Sheldon

Five-Second Button
By Eugen Bacon

Not Glaring, But Certainly Noticeable
By Loren Johnson & Douglas J. Ogurek

By Roger Ley

The Diner
By R.J. Sadler

The Last Supper
By Austine Osas

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AntiSF's Narration Team

mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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carolyn eccles 100

Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom — a visual arts practice with videographer Sean O'Keeffe.

(Photo by Jeremy Belinfante) 

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timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and NewMyths.com, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <timothygwyn.com>.

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pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

She enjoys writing short fiction, plays for radio and stage as well as her own brand of weird poetry.

She hosts the 'Off-Beet Poetry Slam' held bi-monthly in Katoomba,

And is a theatre reviewer for 2SER FM in Sydney.

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david whitaker 200David Whitaker is originally from the UK though has travelled around a bit and now resides in India. He has a degree in Journalism, however decided that as he’s always preferred making things up it should ultimately become a resource rather than a profession.

His stories, covering everything from sci-fi to philosophy, have been published across the globe and links to each can be found at <wordsbydavid.com>

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

She is the author of The Butterfly Stone (available now).

You can read more of her work on her blog Look for her on Facebook <www.facebook.com/WriterLaurieBell/> or Twitter: <@LaurienotLori>

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

You can read examples of Garry's fiction on his website <https://garrydean.wordpress.com>

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SF News

SF News

At Corflu 35 in Toronto (2018) the Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Bruce R. Gillespie. Congratulations Bruce.

Read about the Corflu Fan Activity Achievement Awards (FAAns)Awards <http://corflu.org/history/faan.html>.


Upcoming Aussie Cons

Oz Comic-Con Brisbane — Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, Merivale St and Glenelg St, South Brisbane, 22/09/2018 - 30/09/2018.

Conflux 14 - The Unconventional Hero — Vibe Hotel, 1 Rogan Street, Canberra Airport ACT 2609. 29/09/2018 - 01/10/2018. More Information: <https//conflux.org.au>. AntipodeanSF will be at Conflux 14.

Oz Comic-Con Sydney — ICC Sydney, 14 Darling Dr, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia, 29-30/09/2018.

Nullus Anxietas VII: The Australian Discworld Convention – will be held in Melbourne on April 12-14, 2019, and is themed on Going Postal. More information: <https://ausdwcon.org/>

Continuum 15 Other Worlds (Natcon 58): Continuum 15 is the Australian National SF Convention, to be held in Melbourne on June 7-10. More information and memberships <https://continuum.org.au>. AntipodeanSF will be at Continuum 15 and celebrating Issue 250 of AntiSF!

For more up-to-date Aussie SF info join the ASFF: <asff.org.au>

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antipod-show-50The AntipodeanSF Radio Show delivers audio from the pages of this magazine.

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SF Quote

We should grant power over affairs only to those who are reluctant to hold it and then only under conditions that increase the reluctance.

Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune