What better time for a bit of magic than the winter solstice? Today's story is from the October 2022 issue of Worlds of Possibility, and it's full of magic, healing, community, and lucha libre! You can listen to Héctor González narrate this story on Spreaker as part of the OMG Julia Podcast, and you can also read the full text below.
Content note: This story depicts trauma, injuries, and grief for loved ones lost in a car accident. It also refers to the violent death of a young woman in the distant past.Listen to "Magic Lucha - a story by Pedro Iniguez" on Spreaker.
by Pedro Iniguez
“It’s like magic,” Abuela said, waving her hand across the powder blue sky. “The cheers of the crowd, the electricity in the air. Anything can happen. Can you see it?”
An entire world came alive in Julio’s mind. Masked heroes tangled with their nefarious counterparts inside a giant ring as the crowd roared and blue flashbulbs popped off like fireflies in the stands. A wave of elation rippled through his body and for a moment he could’ve sworn he even felt it surge in his legs.
It had been two years since the car crash took both his parents and his Abuelo. Julio lost his ability to walk, leaving him only his Abuela— who hadn’t been in the car— grief, and memories.
Some though, were very special memories. Those were the ones that still made him smile. Since he was a little boy, for instance, his Abuelo had enchanted him with tales of lucha libre; the mythical clashes, the gravity-defying stunts, the larger-than-life characters. Sometimes stories like that had been enough for a ten-year old boy like him
He was suddenly conscious of the sun stinging his face again, the heat evaporating his daydreams into the ether. He wicked the sweat from his head and turned to Abuela. She had been doing her best to keep his spirits up while helping him maneuver his wheelchair over the dusty road leading into Oaxaca City. While he usually propelled himself, the rough terrain made it difficult for him to manage without help.
They’d trekked past the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains and down into the verdant Central Valley, and every minute that brought them closer to the city made Julio’s heart thump a little faster. The excitement over his first lucha libre match was something he found difficult to contain. Abuelo had talked about his love for wrestling as long as Julio could remember. The athleticism, the spectacle of good versus evil, the crowds cheering alongside you. Julio had pictured it all his life. He’d even staged fake matches with the neighborhood kids before the car accident.
His mind wandered again, as it always did, to thoughts about his parents. About Abuelo. His legs. Sometimes he’d have trouble processing that it really even happened at all. He also couldn’t help but feel sorry for Abuela, old as she was, pushing him along in the August heat. But it didn’t matter to her. She would just shake her head and tell him everything was all right. To her, the destination made everything worthwhile.
“I think I see Oaxaca,” Julio said shielding his face from the sun as he gazed ahead. “How much longer until we get there, Abuela?”
“Not much more,” she said squinting. In the distance, the mangled outlines of cathedrals and radio towers loomed like giant sentinels in the hot air. “The arena is on the fringes of Ndua.”
Ndua was the old Zapotec city that became Oaxaca. A world of brave warriors and sage priests. A wondrous place that must have been, Julio thought. Sadly, those times were long gone.
Abuela stopped to readjust the tote bag slung over her shoulder, making sure her lilies didn’t spill out onto the road.
Occasionally, they’d come upon fellow travelers and Abuela would ask if they were interested in purchasing a lily for a loved one, or perhaps a bendición, a blessing. Some would politely decline. Others would look away while keeping their distance, as if she were contaminated.
“Why do they avoid you like that, Abuela?”
“Because they think I am a bruja, mijo.” She smiled, the sunlight beaming off the twin silver braids draping over her shoulders and down her long, embroidered blouse. Her smile gave way to a laugh and the turquoise beaded necklace around her chest clacked like marbles. “I should be flying us into the city on a broom. Or perhaps I should turn us into bats.”
“Areyou a bruja, Abuela?”
Abuela stifled her giggle with one hand and wiped the slivers of moisture from her eyes with the other. She then wagged a long, wrinkled finger. “No, Julio, our family descends from a long line of Zapotec healers and mystics. These days though, people aren’t keen on the distinction between healer and witch. Take my flowers for instance. They are meant for healing, not for cursing.”
Julio eyed her bag, the white lilies like stars atop green stems. “What’s so special about lilies?”
Abuela gazed into the distance as she plumbed the depths of her mind. “Back in the old days, the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs that used to live in this valley were at constant war. One day the Mixtecs captured the beloved Zapotec princess Donají to ensure that peace would be upheld between both nations. But, the Zapotecs attempted to rescue their princess and in an act of vengeance, the Mixtecs slayed their captive and buried her where no one would find her.”
“I don’t get what this has to do with flowers,” Julio said.
“I’m getting there, mijo,” Abuela said. “Many years later, a shepherd boy walking near the Atoyac River found a single lily sprouting from the ground. The exotic flower— which was not known to grow in the region— had grown from the buried remains of the princess.”
Julio shook his head. “I still don’t understand.”
“You see,” Abuela said. “Sometimes something beautiful can grow from the remains of something tragic. That’s what the lily represents. Hope. New beginnings. Rebirth. Magic.”
Julio thought about the wreath of lilies Abuela had left at the side of the road where the car had crashed. Flowers were nice, but he’d much rather have his parents and Abuelo back.
After some time, the dirt road gave way to the cobblestone streets of Oaxaca. A hodgepodge of cathedrals, markets, and colonial dwellings made up the eclectic veneer of the city. Julio had only been here a handful of times on trips with Abuelo to pick up supplies for his pottery shop.
When Julio saw it, he smiled. Arena Donají jutted from the earth like an ancient coliseum, its dusty, cracked walls showing the effects of solar and wind-whipped erosion. Abuelo would drone on about the small open-air venue and how it had housed many sporting events over its long history. Though he had lamented that the venue had long lost most of its business to modern stadiums, it still hosted the occasional circus act or boxing match, which had made him happy. Anything to keep the place alive.
“Your Abuelo used to come here as a boy and watch every lucha match his parents could afford to bring him to,” Abuela said, meeting his gaze. “Then when we met, he’d take me along with him. We’d bring your father as a boy as well. I wish they were with us now.”
Julio thought of the lily wreath at the crash site again, feeling a tug at his heart. He wanted the same thing. Today more than ever. “Can’t you bring them back?”
Abuela arched an eyebrow. “What makes you think I could do that?”
“Well, don’t you practice magic?” he said with a hint of frustration in his voice.
Abuela pressed her lips into a frown and ran a gentle hand through his hair. “No magic can bring back the departed. Even if I could, fate is not something that can be tamed like a horse or altered like a garment. Like I said, I’m not a witch, mijo. I’m a curandera.”
Julio looked at his legs. He wanted nothing so much as to be able to backflip off his fence and onto a table in the backyard, his parents watching, cheering. As a surge of irritation riled up inside, he wondered what a curandera could heal; what the scope of their powers were, exactly. Clearly resurrections and miracles were out of the question.
Abuela began to help Julio toward the arena, but Julio put up a hand and said, “Thank you, Abuela, but I can take it from here.” She smiled and paid at the small box office as Julio followed her into the arena. The walls were plastered with the peeling posters of luchadores as they kept watch over the spectators rushing to their seats. They were wrestlers he’d never heard of: El Diablo. El Monstruo. El Caballero Bravo.
“These men used to be celebrities,” Abuela said. “This country used to revere the sport and families would flock to every match. Now, the wrestling organizations scrape by with small traveling shows in any town that will host them.”
“Who’s this one?” Julio said pointing to the portrait of a wrestler at the end of the hall. His turquoise mask had black trim and small red rhinestones dotting the cutouts around his nose, eyes, and mouth. His muscular arms were crossed around his chest in a pose reminiscent of a comic book superhero.
“Oh,” Abuela said, smiling, “that’s El Rayo Místico.” There was a sense of pride in her voice; of a forgotten joy recaptured. “He was a national hero about twenty years ago. He stopped wrestling and faded from public life when he accidentally ran over a little boy in Mexico City.”
Julio gasped. “What happened to him?”
“No one really knows,” Abuela said as they made their way through the stands. There, a group of spectators hovered around a tall, slender man in sunglasses. His guitar case was littered with crumpled pesos and betting slips.
“Is that man taking bets?” Julio asked.
“Ignore him, mijo. Best to leave games of chance alone.”
Inside, the undercard was underway. Julio had seen their faces up on the walls outside. Mascara Diabolica was battling Chico Atlético. Julio and Abuela took their seats in the upper rows, Julio sitting next to Abuela in an empty wheelchair-accessible space. Together they looked out over the arena.
Amidst an ocean of empty orange seats, the few spectators in the arena raised their beers and flailed their arms or waved tiny Mexican flags.
Above, the sun began to sink below the open roof turning the sky dark blue. A soft breeze rolled in carrying with it the smell of beer and cinnamon. Of sweat and aftershave. The scents of adulthood. Of Mexico at night.
Inside the ring, the two men traded blows; Mascara Diabolica, the big, brutish heel, walloped the smaller, curly-haired hero into the ropes with a string of chest slaps. The crowd whooped and hollered as he side-kicked Chico Atlético in the chest, sending him tumbling to the canvas with a resounding thud. Before Mascara could pin his opponent, a faint red glow flickered on a dark amulet around Chico’s neck just before he rolled out of the way. He sprang up on his feet and clotheslined the bigger man onto the floor. Chico pounced on Mascara Diabolica and pinned him. The referee gave a quick three count and Chico Atlético claimed the upset victory.
The crowd jeered and booed, some of the fans pulling at their hair.
Julio gawked in awe as he leaned forward in his wheelchair. “No way!”
“It appears people lost a lot of money on this bout,” Abuela said.
“Mascara Diabolica had this match won,” Julio said, throwing up his arms. “How did Chico Atlético get up so quickly? And did you see that light glowing from his necklace? Like you said, Abuela, it’s like magic!”
“Something is different,” she said scanning the crowd. “Something is wrong.” Her eyes narrowed on the bleachers on the opposite side of the arena. “I see someone I have not seen in many years. Someone not entirely pleasant.”
“Who is it?”
“Doña Mirela Maldonado,” she said scowling. “A witch with bad intentions.”
“A witch?” Julio followed her gaze until he spotted an old woman draped in a black shawl. The woman threw her head back and appeared to cackle when the man with the sunglasses approached her seat and handed her a handful of cash. She stuffed the money into a fanny pack and rubbed a shiny black pendant hanging around her neck.
“She was banished from the pueblo many years ago for practicing unconventional medicine and magic.” Abuela’s tone became grave, serious. “Something some of us healers call Blood Magic.”
“It is a wicked, nasty sort of magic. It involves harmful spells, potions, and trinkets used for personal gain or to inflict harm on others.” She turned to Julio. “She tried to pry your grandfather away from me using its twisted power. Only a warped mind would find gratification in its uses.”
The announcer approached the center of the ring. “Damas y caballeros, please put your hands together for the main event of the evening. First, from Guanajuato, the terrible and greatly feared El Malvado!”
A muscular man sporting dark, shoulder length hair wearing nothing more than boots and a pair of underwear charged down a ramp and somersaulted over the ropes, landing onto the ring with a loud thump. He closed his eyes and raised his fists, as if feeding off the energy from the cheering crowd. An obsidian amulet hung around his neck, similar to the one Doña Maldonado and Chico Atlético were wearing. Like some ancient scrawl, his chiseled chest was scarred with odd symbols.
“That amulet. Those marks on his body,” Abuela said. “Those are the brands of a bruja. She’s controlling some of the luchadores like puppets to rig the matches in her favor.”
Julio peered over at Doña Maldonado. She stared intently at the ring, a toothless grin adorning her face.
“And lastly,” the announcer said, “this man ranks as among Mexico’s greatest champions, here now, in his thrilling return! Please welcome back El Rayo Místico!”
Julio’s eyes widened just as the crowd let out a collective gasp. El Rayo walked down the ramp in his signature turquoise mask and trousers. The camera flashes went off as he ducked slowly under the ropes. Rayo waved at his adoring public, his arms flapping like jelly, his tummy jutting out like a loaf of raw dough. The crowd roared. His time away from the ring was showing, but he was still a legend.
“He’s back, Abuela!”
Abuela nodded as she peered at Doña Maldonado.
A swell of fans rushed the lanky bet taker, waving handfuls of cash in his face. The Auditorium broke into chants of “Rayo! Rayo! Rayo!”
The bell rang and the luchadores squared off, each cautiously circling the other with outstretched hands, their fingers curled like talons. Rayo Místico moved first, his delayed windup telegraphing his punch. The amulet around El Malvado’s neck flickered like a burning ember, and the heel sidestepped the blow, countering with a backhanded slap to Rayo’s face. Whack! The hero staggered back a few paces, recovered, and shoved El Malvado into the ropes. The heel bounced off the ropes like a rubber band and sprang forward. He clutched Rayo’s neck, lifted him up off the floor, and slammed him down.
Julio winced at the sound of Rayo’s body slamming onto the canvas.
Rayo looked dazed, crawling on his belly like an infant. He reached for the turnbuckle and pulled himself up. El Malvado bounced himself off the ropes again and sprinted into a leaping kick which landed square on Rayo’s back, sending him flying out of the ring.
The crowd got on its feet, watching as Rayo writhed on the grimy floor. The luchador dragged himself across murky puddles and empty beer bottles, his teeth clenched in pain. Julio could hear his groans from way up where he sat in the nosebleeds.
“Abuela, can’t we do something?”
Abuela bit her lip and nodded. “The people have a lot to lose tonight, mijo. Let’s see what we can do. Stay put.” She patted his head and made her way down the old concrete stairway.
Doña Maldonado shot out of her seat and scowled as she spotted Abuela descending the steps. The witch rubbed her necklace between her thumb and forefinger, a wicked smirk etched across her face. She leaned in and appeared to whisper something into the pendant.
El Malvado’s amulet began to flicker like a flame beneath shattered glass. His eyes rolled back into his head and his feet slowly came off the ground until he was levitating over the ring. Arena Donají fell silent, the only sound was the subtle scraping of the wind against its old walls.
Abuela shuffled her way toward Rayo Místico, waving off a pair of confused security guards. She knelt beside the downed hero and placed both hands on his cheeks. She tilted her head against his, closed her eyes, and uttered something Julio couldn’t hear. She draped her beaded necklace over his neck and plucked a lily from her bag. She delicately touched the flower to his shoulders, like a queen knighting a squire.
Everyone oohed and ahhed as El Malvado hovered over the ropes and down the ring.
Rayo Místico gazed into Abuela’s eyes and nodded. He shot up on his feet and turned toward El Malvado, who was already levitating above him. Both luchadores exchanged a few heated words Julio couldn’t make out. Like a supervillain, El Malvado closed his eyes and burst into a fit of laughter. While he was distracted, Rayo hopped up and grabbed Malvado’s legs, pulling him to the floor.
Abuela reached under the ring, retrieved a metal folding chair, and tossed it to Rayo who grabbed it and swung it at El Malvado’s head, sending him stumbling backward into the ring. The crowd erupted in a bout of screams and hollers.
Rayo slid under the ropes and raised his arms in the air. The cheering grew louder, electric, just like Julio had pictured it. Everyone in the arena got on their feet.
El Malvado crawled toward the ropes and lifted himself up, his face flush with anger. His amulet flared like a wildfire. The heel balled his hands into fists, his biceps bulging. El Rayo ran up behind him, wrapped his arms around his waist, and suplexed him onto the canvas. El Malvado squirmed on the floor, his mouth spewing a string of vulgarities. El Rayo got back on his feet and dropped, his elbow coming down on Malvado’s solar plexus.
The men in the audience removed their hats and waved them in the air. El Rayo yanked on Malvado’s pendant, breaking it off his neck. He stomped on the amulet with his boots, shattering the obsidian into a dozen shards.
El Rayo quickly pinned El Malvado into a three-count. The roar of the crowd swelled until it filled the building. El Rayo Místico faced his audience, arms raised in triumph. The crowd rushed into the ring, many tossing lilies at his feet. Children reached out to get a glancing touch of their famed hero. A pair of men hoisted Rayo on their shoulders and paraded him around Arena Donají.
Julio’s arms ran electric as the hairs on his skin turned prickly. He felt moisture pooling under his eyes, and for a moment his Abuelo and his parents were sitting beside him, basking in the victory with the crowd.
He turned toward Doña Maldonado. Her seat was empty. The man with the guitar case was swamped with people trying to collect their winnings.
Abuela shuffled back up the steps, the bag of lilies now empty. She stuffed a few crumpled bills into her bag and smiled.
“How did you do it, Abuela?” Julio asked. “Were you controlling El Rayo like Doña Maldonado?”
Abuela shook her head. “I cannot change fate, Julio. I merely convinced him that he was worthy of himself and of the people watching. Sometimes healing begins with believing you are capable of the impossible.”
Julio nodded. Her words settled in his heart. Like magic.
“Curandería is really neat,” Julio said looking over the faces of elated fans. Their happiness filled him with happiness. Sometimes, he supposed, feeling hope and joy was the best medicine. In that way, lucha and curandería were not that different. “Could you teach me, Abuela?”
She smiled. “It would be my pleasure, mijo. First, you have to learn how to sow the seeds that will sprout into the most beautiful lilies. Tomorrow, we’ll plant some.”
Julio nodded. The prospect of tomorrow could not come soon enough.
Together they watched as the people celebrated its hero. Rayo beamed, a joyous look on his face as the crowd carried him outside. Out on the road, as the sun finally sank below the horizon, Julio replayed the entire evening in his head. He couldn’t wait to come back another day. Ndua really was a neat place. A place of wonder and possibilities. He smiled, elated that the people had their new champion, and he got to go back home with his.
About the Author
Pedro Iniguez is a speculative fiction writer and painter. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Helios Quarterly, Tiny Nightmares, Star*Line, Space and Time Magazine, Speculative Fiction for Dreamers, and Hexagon Magazine, among others. Apart from his personal work, he has also been a sensitivity reader and has ghostwritten for award-winning apps and online clients. He resides in Los Angeles, where he is currently working on his second novel.
About the Narrator
Héctor González (he/they) is a nonbinary Mexican speculative fiction writer living in Austin, TX. They often explore traditional Mexican cooking as gateway narratives on his Instagram @mexicanity as Abuelite Héctor.
If you are interested in reading and listening to more of Héctor's work, you can check out their earlier contribution to Worlds of Possibility, 16 Poemas Después de la Muerte.
Special thanks to our sensitivity reader for this story, Jennifer Lee Rossman. If you are looking for a sensitivity reader with any of the areas of experience they cover, I highly recommend them! I was delighted to see a story with a disabled child as the protagonist, and it was important to me that we treat that representation with respect. Pedro was one hundred percent on board with this process, and it was a delight to work with him and Jennifer to make sure Julio's experience as a wheelchair user was as realistic as possible.
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