He wakes atop a fresh grave in the rain.Â He’s muddy and achy, and he can barely see through the gloom.Â Fortunately, there’s the near constant flicker of lightning, and a continuous roll of thunder with violent punctuations.Â The flashes are blinding.Â The rain feels like bullets.Â He knows what bullets feel like.Â He’s cold, and he’s stiff, and he’s not exactly sure how he got here.
Between lightning strikes, he reads the tombstone: Armando Luis Salazar.Â Name means nothing to him.Â But since he doesn’t even remember his own, that’s no surprise.
Faces watch him from the shadows, hiding behind the trees and mausoleums and gravestones, some closer than others, but there’s nothing real out there, nothing substantial.Â These are ghosts, mere echoes of memories.Â He approaches one; it fades, and others appear in alternative hidey holes, behind other stones, on the other side of the iron fence.
The rain has soaked him through to the bone.Â His clothes, torn and dirty, are a total loss.Â No shoes.Â Wallet, yes.Â Inside, he finds money, albeit not much, a few pictures, credit cards, a license, all in the name of Armando Luis Salazar.
He knows that’s not him.
He also knows he’s no grave robber.
The license offers his only clue: an address.
He doesn’t know what city this is, but he knows the streets well enough, and he finds his way rather easily.Â Too easily, he thinks.Â Something’s amiss, but he’s not sure what.
The license leads him to a row house between a dozen others.Â It’s stands three stories, sports a steep roof, gutters overflowing with rainwater, two windows on the ground and next level, one at the top.Â Light escapes around the drapes of one of the second floor windows.Â The porch, though small, is the first relief he’s had from the rain.
Besides the wallet, he found nothing in his pockets.Â He feels the jamb above the door, and is rewarded with a shiny silver key.Â It opens the door.
The foyer is small, dark, and claustrophobically filled.Â Coat rack, chair, semi-circle table against the wall, oversized plant and a book on it; stairs straight up, doors on either side, one straight ahead; an umbrella stand, even a tiny mirror beside the door with three pegs for keys.Â A set hangs from only one.
He doesn’t bother with the doors.Â One will be a closet; it’s too close to the house next door.Â The others will lead to kitchen and living room, but not to answers.Â He leaves a trail of watery steps up the wood stairs.
At the landing, a short hall leads to the front.Â There’s a door right here, closed, two more leading to rooms with windows facing the street, and a bathroom halfway down the hall.
Cautiously, he pushes open the door on his left and enters the room with the light.Â It comes from a single lamp between the window and a reading chair.Â Pictures hang on the walls and stand on the table.Â There’s no bed here, but a series of books in shelves carved directly into the wall.Â There’s a closet with sliding doors.Â Heavy drapes over the window.
It takes all of two seconds to see there’s nothing to be seen, but it’s too long.Â He feels a sharp jab into his kidney, the cold barrel of a pistol.Â A woman’s voice whispers a question: “Who sent you?”
He hasn’t tried his voice.Â It’s dusty, despite the rain.Â “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
His hands are up, and if he moves them he’ll catch a bullet.Â He says, “Wallet.”
She reaches into his back pocket, extracts the wall so expertly he barely feels it.Â She flips it open, pushes the gun deeper into his back.Â “Armando Luis Salazar,” she says.Â “He’s dead.”
“So I gathered.”
“In the room, in the chair, let me look at you.”Â She shoves with the gun, as though he didn’t know which of the single chair in the room he was supposed to choose.Â He walks slowly, but doesn’t have enough pieces to put anything together.Â When he reaches the chair, he turns and he sits.
She’s still at the doorway.Â Gun aimed directly at him.Â She wears jeans, a tee shirt, nothing special or overt, but she’s sexy as hell.Â She’s also the only woman he ever remembers seeing.Â Short dark hair, gleaming eyes, maybe green, maybe blue, hard to tell with so little light.
She throws the wallet back at him.Â He catches it, but makes no other move.Â The gun’s still aimed, and though the rest of her is calm and cool and collected, her finger looks twitchy.Â Maybe it’s just the weapon.Â He’s fairly sure he’s had guns pointed at him before.
“Who sent you?” she asks again.
“Gave you all I got,” he says.
“Who are you?”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Means I’m not sure.Â I don’t know.Â I don’t remember.”
She grins.Â It’s a grin that says she doesn’t believe him.Â “What do you remember, smartass?”
“I remember waking up in the cemetery in the rain.”
“Yeah, you and everyone else.Â We’ve all done that.Â What else?”Â Strange thing for her to say; he’s fairly certain that particular memory is rather unique.
“I had his wallet.Â So I came here.”
“You’re a fool.”
“I imagine I ain’t the only one.”
“You’re also stupid,” she says.Â She’s relaxed, but she hasn’t lowered the gun, won’t lower it, can’t completely trust him.Â “You look like him.”
“Salazar?” he asks.Â “Maybe he’s my brother.”
“You hungry?Â Thirsty?Â Tired?”Â She’s asking as though she might care, but she doesn’t, she can’t, and it makes him uneasy.Â The answers shouldn’t be what most people would answer.”
So he tells her, “I ache.”Â He does.Â Every muscle.Â As though he’d been beaten with baseball bats.Â No bones broken, no lacerations–at least, none he’s aware of–but stiff and somewhat tired.
“You’re a mess,” she tells him.
And he tells her, “You were expecting me.”Â No question.Â A statement of fact.Â He’d not made enough noise to alert her.Â Didn’t even squish when he walked.Â How long had she been sitting in the dark, waiting?
“Of course we were,” another voice says.Â Behind her: a man, older, fit and broad, with goatee and an ingratiating smile that will completely annoy anyone within three minutes.Â Salesman, except in a better suit, with an unnatural twinkle in his left eye, as though the left eye were the only one that mattered.Â He steps in past the woman.Â “And she should’ve introduced herself.Â This is Penelope.Â She knew, what did you call him?Â Salazar.”
“Gerald.Â Gerald Maker.Â It’s Welsh, the name, and very old.Â Older than I am.Â The real question tonight, my boy, is what do we call you?”
He’s crossed half the room before stopping.Â He swings his hands when he speaks, wide sweeps, thick expressive fingers.Â Penelope hasn’t moved, hasn’t lowered the gun, though her eyes have shifted to Mr. Maker.Â He bends over, looking more closely at the man in the pistol’s firing zone.Â “You are something of an amazement, even I must admit that.Â You say you remember nothing?”
“Do I know you?”
“No, my boy,” Mr. Maker says.Â “It was Penelope who called me in.Â You weren’t here.”
“Where was I?”
“Would you believe me if I said you were dead?”
“Well, perhaps you should.”
“No.”Â The simple denial seems untruthful, misleading.Â There’s no vehemence behind it, no emotion at all, and he wonders if his forgotten name is, in fact, Armando Luis Salazar.Â He wonders, but he doubts it.Â He decides he can’t believe a thing Mr. Maker says.
“Anyhow.”Â Mr. Maker turns to Penelope, though he’s still close enough to be grabbed, punched, kicked, strangled, whatever.Â Mr. Maker’s not worried; she’s still got the gun trained on the chair, and he’s walking past her to get out of the room.Â “I believe I’ve proven my worth, Ms. Penelope.Â Shall we get on to the real thing?”
She says, “Yes.”
As he disappears into the gloom behind her, he says, “Then take care of him.Â Don’t worry.Â There’ll be no blood.”
She hesitates, but only briefly, then it’s three shots, a triangle in the chest.Â He looks down at the wounds, sees Mr. Maker was right, there is no blood.Â He tries to stand, but his legs falter and he drops noisily to the ground.Â He’s still covered by aches, but the bullets holes hurt like lava.
She’s already turning away.Â “I didn’t mean to doubt you, Mr. Maker.Â It’s just such an extraordinary claim.”
“No worries, my dear,” he’s saying, but he’s almost too far away to hear.Â “Corpse-raising isn’t exactly a widely practiced art.”
Penelope’s walking away.Â The burning bullets are melting into the regular aches that cover him.Â He knows his name wasn’t Armando Luis Salazar, but he doesn’t know what it was.Â He was practice.Â The real thing, presumably Salazar, is next.Â But there’s a problem.
He needs to use the chair to support himself, but he does manage to stand.Â His legs are weak, but not dead weight.Â There’s no blood.Â And, to be perfectly honest, getting shot now didn’t hurt near as much as when he’d been alive.Â And, since he’s not alive, not really, since he suddenly realizes he’s not been breathing, he’s merely a collection of over-stimulated nerve endings, three bullets or a hundred wouldn’t make him dead again.
He peeks out the window.Â They’re walking through the rain, toward the cemetery.Â That’s okay.Â He can wait.Â When they get back, he’ll be waiting in the dark.Â And while he may have no gun, and his strength isn’t what it was, that’s okay, too.Â There’s a kitchen downstairs, and he’ll find a knife.