by G. W. Thomas and Nicholas Dollak © 2002

Silver Davis had been dead a week when the first bounty-haunter showed up on Melrose Avenue. Tall, black, deer-headed, its antlers were two dark spears. Davis didn't notice the killer until it noticed him. A shotgun blast tore past his head like a swarm of angry bees.

"Shit!" cursed the dead man. Unlike the bustle and activity around him, the shoppers in the open market, the young girls hanging around the Gypsum Theater in the cold February night air, the gunshot had substance.

That was the first week. The two after that had been filled with close calls. A dog-headed 'haunter almost had him while he strolled through Kensey's department store. Only a quick retreat through the ladies' change rooms saved him.

Then there were the staircases. Because of the latter, he never entered any building that had more than two steps. He had learned of this trying to get on the subway one day. He had had a yearning to see Logonda Street and its cafes along the ocean. Forty minutes by train and he could enjoy the sea air, listen to the sea gulls, maybe even get away from the 'haunters for a while.

But with his first step down the subway stairs, the air around him grew hot. The second step he could see a bright orange flames burning below, no subway but a torrent of hell-fires. The third step and he knew he'd be gone, sucked down into that place where the bounty-haunters came from, to some fate too horrific to imagine. No, he stayed away from stairs.

Silver Davis sat under a porch on Whillingham Street, too afraid to leave the quiet darkness. No less than three 'haunters were stalking him, dark creatures with shotguns and crossbows. One even carried a huge two-handed sword. Each animal-headed, dog, deer, pig, they all hungered for the temporary succor of Davis' escapee soul.

Death had turned out quite differently from what Silver had expected. Actually, he’d never given the matter much thought while alive; but he’d had some vague idea, learned in childhood, that good people went to Heaven and bad people went to Hell. He certainly had not expected to find himself wandering like a vagrant in the city where he’d lived and died, able to see, hear and feel the world of the living, but unable to affect it or make himself known to others. And the bounty-haunters were something he hadn’t imagined even in his nightmares.

Silver had never hunted. Having lived in the city all his life, comfortable at his office job. Hunting – the entire concept of stalking and killing living prey. Simply wasn’t a part of his experience. But now he was prey. Despite his intelligence and resourcefulness, whenever the 'haunters appeared, like shadows among the thicket of living beings, he became confused, frightened prey. As a human, he recognized the animal-headed creatures as menaces, he knew what their guns could do to him. But where could he hide? Like a rabbit, he ran, not knowing where to go, or even if any place was safe. All he knew was that downstairs was definitely the wrong way.

Boredom set in. The desire to get up and stretch became overwhelming. How he wanted just to wander over to the cafe next to the bookstore down the way and read the newspaper over people's shoulders. He could talk to the ignorant eaters, tell them anything from rude jokes to his life story, though no one ever replied. Maybe he could hide in the Gypsum Theater, watch “Touch of Evil,” and puzzle over the poster advertising an upcoming Hitchcock film called “North by Northwest.” Or perhaps he'd stroll the park. He loved to listen to the band play.

But there would be no time for Mozart or Debussy today. A bounty-haunter stood on the street in the direction of the park, its back to Davis. It waited, invisible to the living. Occasionally someone would pass the silent, brooding thing, their forms cutting through the insubstantial body of the killer.

Silver Davis turned to run. Another. And the other. All three. He was surrounded. Davis backed up onto the short porch. The house offered him his only escape. They were coming. Davis had no other chance.

Silver ran, through the open doorway into a foyer that ended in two separate exits. He was being offered a choice. Beyond the first portal was a set of seven stairs leading down into a basement floor. The other, up to a second set of tenement dwellings.

He placed a foot on the first step down. Instantly he felt the heat in the air. There was no use going any farther. He knew the stirring of that most horrible place. Instead, he returned to the foyer, looked out the open door. The killers were close, close enough to see the features of their ugly, animal faces. In seconds, they would have him.

Davis' eye fell to the other staircase. If he went up, the evil ones would follow him. He would be cornered, cut down, torn apart. But what else could he do?

The bounty-haunters were in the doorway now, furtively shoving each other from their prey, each wanting to quench the unquenchable thirst. Dog-head bit territorially at deer-head and received a gun-butt in the jowls. Stung, he recoiled, then barked and bit more ferociously. Deer-head lashed back, his antler gouging dog-head’s eye deep into its socket. Blinded and whimpering, dog-head dropped his crossbow and staggered away. Piggy, driven into frenzy by the fight, then lunged at deer-head, slicing his throat open with his sharp-edged tusks. With a gurgling screech and a flailing of human limbs, deer-head collapsed at the boar-headed killer’s booted feet.

Now free of competition, piggy hefted his broadsword and strode into the foyer, ready to claim his prize.

Davis was gone, not merely upstairs, but vanished, the last beams of white, healing light, scented with angelic music, dying out before the killer's own eyes.

x x x

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