Disclaimer: The characters of The Magnificent Seven belong to MGM, Trilogy, etc and are used here without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.
Bright sunlight beat down upon him causing the ruckus in his head to pick up in intensity.
His stomach roiled with displeasure and with a herculean effort, he manage to roll himself up onto his hands and knees before the heaving really began.
A while later, eyes still closed, he managed to fall to the side of the mess he left in the dirt and drop a leaden arm over his eyes.
"You really managed to do it this time, cowboy," a soft, raspy, entirely unknown voice informed.
Survival instincts he had never been able to over-ride regardless of how much alcohol he imbibed, instantly kicked in and he had his gun pointed at the source of the voice before his eyes ever cracked open into the merest slits.
"Guns don't do much good without bullets," the amused voice pointed out.
Chris's eyes opened wider before squinting against the bright morning light and the pain in his head. Checking his gun he noticed that the barrel was empty.
Turning his attention to the other man, he blinked a few times before the hair on the back of his neck began to stand on end. He could see through the man.
Memories of childhood tales of restless spirits raced through his head as he quickly backed away.
An amused smile appeared on the spectral face and his blue eyes sparkled with amusement.
"What are you?" Chris demanded.
"A guide, a signpost, a kick in the.. Well, I'm sure even your alcohol-addled mind can understand that much."
"And why do I rate such an honor?" the angry gunslinger asked picking up a stone and throwing it as best he could at the image's head.
Much to Larabee's disappointment and the apparition's amusement, the stone passed straight through without so much as a ripple.
The spirit's face grew more serious and his eyes took on a distance that caused a chill to race down the gunslinger's spine.
"Not so much you as someone else," the spirit informed before seeming to focus back on the man before him.
Adam. When the Larabee saw the apparition nod he felt his anger rise. Why isn't he here? What did you do to keep him away?
I didn't do anything, the ghost stated calmly. You only need to look in the mirror to see who did. Would you really want him to see you like this?
The words hit Chris harder than any fist he'd met since he lost his world. A small voice that sounded suspiciously like Sarah's prodded, the truth will do that.
Ignoring the man's internal battle, the apparition continued on with his message. I'm here to get you going again and after this latest spectacular idiocy, you can use all the help you can get."
"What are you talking about?" Chris demanded.
"You managed to do the one thing that no other person ever has. You caused Buck Wilmington to give up on one of his friends."
Larabee felt the words like a blow, but did his best to hide his discomfort. He had known Buck for years, knew him as well or better than he knew himself most days. The thought that he had finally succeeded in pushing Buck away for good didn't offer him the cold comfort he thought it would, didn't erase the heartache or pain from the loss of his family. In fact, all it did was leave him feeling old, tired and very alone with an ever deepening well of dark despair he couldn't see a way out of. How? the question escaped, barely more than a breath and against his will.
There's a reason your gun's empty, the apparition said.
Chris lifted horrified eyes to the spectral face.
He's alive and will survive well enough, the spirit assured. Course, it'd be real nice if you did too. He waited for the gunslinger to meet his eyes once more. You were never meant to ride alone, Chris Larabee. But the madmen who destroyed your world took you off the path you all were on and changed it rather drastically.
Sarah, he choked out, anguish rendering the word almost unintelligible.
The spirit merely nodded and waited for the intense emotion to subside. Among other things. I'm here to put you back on that path.
Why should I care? Chris sneered, still hurting and needing to make someone else hurt as badly.
If you plan on seeing your wife and son in the hereafter you should take the time to care.
The gunslinger's eyes focused on the far-off distance. Not sure I believe in the hereafter. And if I did... his eyes met those of the apparition. If I did, I doubt I'd be going to the same place as Sarah and Adam.
The ghost shrugged. That's really up to you, but if you follow the path you're meant to, you'll get there regardless and bring a few brothers with you.
My brothers are all back East...
There's family by blood and family by choice.
Silence descended on the clearing as Larabee thought over the words.
What's your concern in all this?
A small, lopsided smile appeared on the apparition's face. You'll figure it out when the time comes. The blue eyes shifted away from the blond's. Be the man she knew you could. Take the good that she found and use it to shape your destiny. Stop letting someone else force you to live by their rules, for their goals. And keep your eyes open. You're not meant to be alone. When you see them, you'll know.
With those last words and before he could ask any questions, the apparition faded away in the brightening light.
Chris stared at the spot for a few minutes longer before shaking his head and immediately regretting it. What did they put in the whiskey last night? he muttered to himself as he struggled to his feet.
Despite his attempts to convince himself he imagined the meeting, the words stayed with him.
Two months later
A bullet whizzed through the window, shattering the neck on the bottle of whiskey.
A lone shard of glass floated to the bottom of the bottle.
Pouring the liquid into the moderately clean glass he had been given, he drank the liquid, relishing the burn and knowing he wouldn't be having more.
Ever since his little see-through visitor, no, ever since discovering he'd chased off Buck, he refused to drink more than two drinks a night. If he did have more, he paced himself to make sure he didn't get drunk.
Slowly, without the haze of anger and alcohol coloring his every waking moment, he began to find those pieces of himself that Sarah had seen, drawn out and enjoyed. Chris Larabee was slowly coming back to himself.
Stepping outside, he took in the chaos of the street, passed a few words of conversation with an old-timer and nearly gasped when he spied the flesh and blood version of his ghostly visitor across the street.
As the other man looked his way, Chris could see the differences between his visitor and the young man across the street, but realized they could only be father and son.
Chris nodded in the direction the rowdies had taken the healer and soon found himself walking side by side with the son of the ghost.
The brief words exchanged on their way to the cemetery brought back all the words the apparition spoke to him in that clearing; words of destiny, words of family, words of hope.
He felt the corners of his mouth lifting as he realized the rightness of this situation and knew he wouldn't be riding alone any longer.