I awoke in a small room, no lights, faint taste of dust in the air. I couldn’t remember how I got here, or where here even was. There was a sliver of moon just visible through a drawn window shade, tracing a pale line over the room. I was in a makeshift bed, sheets and cover up to my neck. I shifted and felt a sudden stab in my chest, like my heart was on fire.
I fell back into darkness.
“Son? How you feeling?”
I stirred, eyes watering as they opened, a haze of light and blur flooding my vision. A dull roar sounded in my ears. It took me a moment to realize it was my own heartbeat, the blood pulsing through my veins.
Blinking a few times, the fog finally faded, leaving behind the faint traces of sleep and confusion. The room was the same, but the shade over the window was up, and bright daylight lit the room now. A small wooden dresser stood next to my bed, dusted from disuse; set on top was a small wash basin and some dirty rags on the lip of the chipped wood.
“Good to see you awake, son.” I turned my head to see an older man sitting on a cracked chair beside me, grey hair in tufts on his head, rimmed glasses framing firm, piercing eyes. “Thought maybe you were a goner after all.”
I tried to answer, but all that came out was a weak cough. I wondered just how long I’d been out. He nodded at me, producing a flask and a metal spoon out of a coat pocket. He poured a clear liquid into the spoon, and brought it to my lips. I would’ve fought it, asked what the hell he was giving me, but I could barely move as it was. I feebly opened up. It was cool water, felt like a slice of Heaven running down my throat.
“Better, right?” The old man smiled. “Name’s Levi.”
I nodded my head, opened my mouth and managed to get a small creak out. The slightest suggestion of movement sent sharp pains into my chest, but I managed to get my arm up, out of the blankets. I put up a finger. One more please. The old man gave me a look, like he was tossing it around, but he gave me another spoonful of liquid gold.
“T-Thanks,” I whispered, my mouth working like I was wrestling a Grizzly. “H-How long?”
“Well, that depends on how you look at it. The saloon barman found you, but he couldn’t quite tell just how long you’d been dead.”
Dead? What the Hell?? My throat pinched again, the words not willing themselves out, the shock surely written all over my face.
“Yeah, son, I can see the wheels turnin’ up there. He found you dead as the floor he was standing on, but I knew different, once I seen you for myself. Because dead to us isn’t quite the same thing, is it?”
Might’ve just been me — after all I’d just found out I was a dead man walking — but I hadn’t a clue. I vaguely remembered a small town, and pain, but I couldn’t grab the details. It was like a bad dream, one that you wake up from and the important parts are all on the tip of your memory, but they dash away at the last second.
I mustered up what voice I had. “D-Dead? You bring me back? Y-You a priest?”
Levi sighed. “Oh, I’m no priest, son. Time to show you, I s’pose.”
He opened one of the small drawers in the dresser, pulled out a charm, held together by thin leather that wrapped around; a necklace, from the look of it. Before I knew it, he had it over my head, the stone resting on my chest, a comfortableness, like it was natural that it be there. Levi grabbed my hand with a strength I hadn’t expected, and wrapped my fingers around the cool stone charm.
“Relax son. Just close your eyes and relax.”
Not an order, but Levi had a presence, a charisma, so I did as he asked. I held that charm, closed my eyes, relaxed my mind, and everything fell into place. I saw the room, through it, and beyond into streets and further. Levi was a living thing, his blood moving, heart pumping, and I could see it clear as day. It all came back, in a rush of memory and sharp, prickly suddenness. They’d taken my talisman, my flintlock, and sent me into darkness. A cold certainty rose in my gut.
Haunts took other things too.
“They have your soul, son. That flintlock of yours, those bullets, they work on us just like they do them; those damn creatures shot a hole into your chest and took your soul after you fell.”
I nodded, noticed that my chest didn’t hurt quite as much now. “I remember. I remember everything. The training, hunts, the demons, monsters that give normal folk nightmares. The damn Haunts that killed me. I remember it all.” I held out my hand. “Galen. Galen Winter.”
Levi took my hand, a firm grip. Maybe he wasn’t so old after all, or maybe he was even older than I could imagine; he’d already shattered my notions once. “That’s a good name, son. Let’s get it all back.”
He stood over my bed, and that’s when I noticed the flintlock at his belt. Like mine.
Levi had another flintlock, he said he always carried extra. I promised I’d take better care of it than my last one. I took my time getting up and dressed. We both knew where we were headed, and I’d need the strength that death had taken from me soon enough.
Still feeling the soreness in my chest — and something else, not really a pain, but an absence, a gap, that I knew was much, much worse — I holstered my new flintlock, following Levi out the door. I felt for the talisman under my shirt, and walked into the brightness of daylight.
It was good to be alive again.