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Perils of the Hunt

My pistol rang out, jarring in its loudness, the shock of its discharge hitting me like a punch to the gut. In the darkness I saw eyes glimmer, a cold red that shook me with their feverish glint. I could swear I saw teeth drawing up into a bright grin.

“Holy nine Hells…” was all I could mutter before slumping to the floor, my hands tracing the warm spot on my chest.

I sure wished that pistol was in my hands when it went off.

***

I had been tracking the thing for days now; first in Tucson, then following its trail  through the Coronado, and now in a small town just south of Nogales. It wasn’t real hard to follow, if you knew where to look, and I did. Not always a good thing, mind you, seeing some of the things I did; could make a man right pale.

I pushed off the horse, figuring I’d need to walk into town. Even the best horses won’t go near one of these damn things, and I wasn’t about to push my luck, such as it was.

I tied him up at a small tree stand, by some thicker grass, pulled ammo from one of the bags, and checked my weapons. My flintlock, smooth wood grain and hand-worked metals, was a thing of beauty in its holster; the special knives, strapped at my belt, crafted to wound beasts that ordinary weapons couldn’t. Nodding to myself for no particular reason, I headed south.

The town wasn’t much to look at, just a few small buildings down one dusty strip of road. A small market, a hardware store, saloon and metal shop, that was about it. The whole town had an aura of disuse surrounding it, and I was quick to notice that only a handful of people wandered the strip. Made me real curious as to why the beast had come here; not a normal-looking feeding ground, to be sure.

I stopped short of the hardware store, making sure I wasn’t spotted by any townsfolk. It was always best to stay hidden; no questions meant no answers. I felt under duster and shirt for the cord around my neck, pulling out the attached stone. It always made my hands feel clammy when I touched it, and this time was no different. I got goosebumps, felt a surge of power, like how I imagine those folks must feel when they turn on their electric lamps, lighting up whole rooms with naught but a switch. Crazy world.

Keeping my fist tight around the stone, I closed my eyes and looked. I can’t really explain it any other way, my eyes were closed but they were also open, and I could see things that normal folk couldn’t. I scanned the town and its buildings, and I could see the ghostly hue of walls, doors and stone, but I could also pierce through them to what lay beyond. The townsfolk, what there were of them, stood out as living tissue, my sight picking out the dull thud of heartbeat and pumped blood.

But something else stood out, down at the end of the strip, in the saloon. It had an unnatural aura, shifting colors and a hazy signature that spoke of malevolence. No blood coursed through it. It was also not alone. Two more forms, the same smoky presence, near the saloon.

Well, shit.

Eyes opening slowly, I took my grip off the talisman at my neck; it took a second for reality to make its way back, visions of what I’d seen running around the edges until my head cleared. Never something I had easily gotten used to, but that was my hand and I had no choice but to play it.

I was pretty certain they hadn’t seen me yet, so I’d have a chance if I could get a bead on them before they could react. It’d be a ghost’s chance if they saw me first. Slowly, I loaded the flintlock, taking special care to be as quiet as I could.

I moved quickly once I was loaded, shifting behind the buildings until I had a good angle on the saloon. It wouldn’t do to barge in and announce my presence, and I sure didn’t want innocent blood on my hands, so I kept myself to the back of the building.

Raising the flintlock to my head, feeling the warmth of it close, I grasped the talisman with my other hand, and drew a big breath. Magic time. I closed my eyes, saw into the saloon. There it was, in a corner; I didn’t think it even knew what was coming. I lined the damn thing up, held my breath, and squeezed the trigger.

Now, my pistol was no ordinary gun, and the balls I used no ordinary ammunition. I couldn’t tell you how it worked if I tried, but it shot in the same world that I could see; in that ghost world, all blurs and echoes, that flintlock was deadly as sin. And I was deliverance.

The round tore into the beast, chest-high, and I watched it howl once and then sag into nothingness. One down.

I nearly panicked at the sight of the other two loping towards the saloon, their forms keening something awful, and took the chance to reload. I took my hand off the talisman, cringing as the world came back into sharp relief. My hands ran on instinct, reloaded the pistol in seconds.

Cupping the talisman, I plunged back into their world. The beasts were getting close, their guttural sounds impacting my sight, and I forced myself up and into the saloon; I passed through the ghostly walls like butter. I leveled the flintlock at the door as the two creatures burst through, which was a bad time for everything to go wrong.

The stone in my hands went cool, and reality closed in. My fingers closed on themselves; a foul beast held my flintlock, aimed square at me. His teeth shone as I saw that he held a small talisman.

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