The Returned – Prologue


William Boulard was walking down a familiar street, but he couldn’t remember how he got there. In fact, he couldn’t remember much of anything, except darkness; he remembered darkness. Sure, he knew his name, that he was in New Orleans, and countless other details—but he couldn’t remember anything about his past.

He kept walking, though he wasn’t sure why or to where. Inside his head a voice whispered, almost too soft to hear.

“Go home,” it said.

Home? Yes, that’s where he was going. He was going home. It was late, and he needed to go home. The realization brought him some peace and comfort, like he was fulfilling the very purpose of his existence.

The night was hot and muggy, but he wasn’t sweating. Shouldn’t he be sweating? He noticed then, for the first time, that he was wearing a suit. It seemed like, especially in a suit, he should be sweating right now.

Wait, why was he wearing a suit? Surely there must be some reason, but like everything else, it was lost in darkness. He tried to remember, but whenever a memory started to rise to the surface, that voice returned and the memory vanished like smoke on the wind.

“You lost, son?” an old man sitting on his porch asked.

“I have to go home,” William said and kept walking.

“You don’t look so good,” the man said, following him.

“I have to go home,” William said again.

“I don’t know what you’re on,” the man said and put a hand on William’s shoulder to stop him. “But it looks like it’s got you all kinds of messed. Let me help—”

Anger, pure and undiluted, rose up in William. He couldn’t be stopped! He had to get home! He spun and drove his fist into the man’s stomach.

“I have to go home!” he yelled and hit the man again.

“No, please!” the man asked as he crumpled to the ground.

“I have to go home!” William yelled over and over, kicking the man with each shout. He was trying to stop William from getting home, stop him from doing what he had to do.

William paused, his leg drawn back for another kick.

Why was this what he had to do?

“You need to go home,” the voice said yet again.

Every word rang through William like it was spoken by God, resonating in his soul. It was the truth, absolute and indisputable. Nothing else mattered. In fact, there was nothing else. Why didn’t matter. He had to go home.

William blinked and glanced down at the man on the ground in front of him. The man’s face was bloody and broken, and a wet gurgle came from him as his chest rose and fell. William looked at his hands. They were covered in blood, the knuckles broken open.

The wounds slowly closed.

William turned and continued walking. Time had no meaning. Nothing had any meaning. There was just the voice, his purpose.

He arrived at his house and climbed the stairs to the porch. The door was locked and the lights were off, but he retrieved the key from its hiding spot and let himself inside.

“Get your gun,” the voice said.

William walked through the dark living room, avoiding the furniture by memory, though he couldn’t really remember remembering. He pushed the door open to his room and looked around. Was this his room? It didn’t quite look like his room. The furniture was there: a dresser, nightstand, a small bed. But they were all bare. No sheets on the bed, nothing on the walls, no stereo, no TV, nothing. Hadn’t there been a TV and a stereo? There were boxes, a dozen of them, stacked around the room.

“You need to get your gun,” the voice said again, louder this time.

William went to the corner and pushed some boxes aside so he could get to the vent duct in the floor. He lifted the metal cover and reached inside until his fingers brushed cold metal. He pulled out his pistol, which was covered in dust. He wiped it clean and looked it over.

“You need to change your clothes,” the voice said.

William opened the drawers but found them empty, so he started tearing into boxes. When he found his clothes, he stripped off the suit and hard shoes. The suit was split up the back, so it was easy to take off.

He put on jeans, a shirt, and bright white sneakers. As he slipped them on, something about them struck a chord inside him. He remembered them, his mother taking him to buy them and how proud he was of them. On instinct, he reached down and wiped them clean.

“You need to go see the Royal Skeleton Brigade,” the voice said.

Again, everything else vanished and there was only the voice and his purpose. He turned, knocking over several boxes, and left his room.

In the hallway, a light came on.

“Who’s there?” a woman’s voice said.

It was familiar, like he should know it, but he knew it didn’t matter.

“I called the police,” a woman said as she stepped around a corner at the end of the hall. She was holding a pistol in her shaking hands. “I’ve got a—” Her words died when she saw William.

He knew her, but he wasn’t sure how.

“William?” she said. “Baby, is that you? How?” She walked toward him, a trembling hand held out in front of her. When she touched his chest, she fell back and put her hand over her mouth.

“You need to go see the Royal Skeleton Brigade,” the voice said.

But something didn’t sound right.

“Mama?” William said.

“Oh, Jesus brought my baby back,” she said through tears and approached him again. “Thank you, Jesus, thank—” When she saw his eyes, she stopped and froze.

“You need to go,” the voice said.

“Who are you?” the woman asked, her voice shaking as much as her hands. “You’re not my baby.” She shook her head over and over. “You’re not my William! You’re not my baby!” She lifted the gun and pointed it at him.

“You need to take the gun,” the voice said.

William reached out and took it.

The woman didn’t fight. Instead she collapsed to the floor and began praying through sobs. The words of the prayer filled William’s head with visions of going to church in uncomfortable clothes. It was hot, and he was sweating. His mother kept chiding him to behave. Then the singing began. He liked the singing.

“You need to go, now.”

“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,” William sang as he turned and left his house.

As he walked, he continued to sing. No one stopped him this time or even spoke to him.

No one except the voice.

“You must avenge,” it said. “You must make them pay for what they’ve done.”

Memories rose up from the darkness, and it was like seeing God. William was riding in the back of Little M’s car. They were watching the shoot-out between the Scarlet Enigmas and the Midnight Boys.

Four-Stroke gave the word, and everyone got out. All the Royal Skeleton Brigade was there.

Then they just started shooting.

Scarlets and Boys started dropping. A few ran for the factory the Midnight Boys used as a crash pad.

William kept shooting. He didn’t even hide when they were shooting back at him, not even when the AK came out. He wasn’t William then; he was Pit Bull. He was cold, hard, and one of the baddest gangsters in NOLA.

He remembered turning and seeing someone in a house across the street, watching. Pit Bull shot at the window, breaking the glass. The screams from inside the house made him smile.

“Vengeance and retribution,” the voice said. “A reckoning.”

That was his purpose. He felt the fear and anger and pain of those who’d witnessed that night: the loss of the survivors as they watched their loved ones die, the rage of those who wanted justice.

No, he didn’t feel that. He was that. He was rage, he was fear. He was loss.

William looked up and saw the Royal Skeleton Brigade crash pad across the street. The house was boarded up, covered in tags marking it as an RSB house. Music thumped from inside, and he could hear voices singing and laughing.

He crossed the street and climbed the steps to the front door. When he reached out to open it, he remembered he was still holding the two guns. Those went into his pockets, and he opened the door. The smell of smoke, cigarette and weed, hit him almost as hard as the pounding music. No one noticed him as he walked inside, headed toward the living room.

The faces were all familiar, and he saw them again, laughing and smiling as they killed. But he was lying on the ground, watching as they set fire to the warehouse.

“Pit Bull?” someone asked.

He looked up and saw Four-Stroke staring at him with wide eyes.

“You need to kill them,” the voice said. “All of them.”

William pulled out the pistols, raised one, and shot Four-Stroke three times in the chest.

People started screaming; others dove or went for guns of their own.

William turned in a circle and just kept shooting. A sense of completeness filled him as every new body fell dead to the floor. Some only cried in pain as they grabbed at the wounds in their legs, shoulders, or chests. Those he shot again until they stopped.

Something smacked into his back, hard, and he stumbled forward. He turned and shot Killer-Magic in the face. Another shot hit his shoulder, and another in his back. William turned and kept shooting till his guns went empty.

He bent down to pick up another pistol when something hit the side of his head.

He fell to the ground, and once again, the darkness returned and took him away.

Chapter 1