Chapter 1: The Second Option
Hector gripped tightly at his stomach, doubling over in pain. He felt weak, his breathing growing rapid as he sunk lower and lower to the ground. He felt the hand of his friend on his shoulder, trying to comfort him and help him stand.
Hector looked to him, a pained look in his eyes.
"Ernesto… I… I don't feel so good…"
Ernesto patted his back, holding one of his hands to help him stand up a little… or rather, taking the guitar case he had in said hand.
"Perhaps it was that chorizo, my friend."
Ernesto pulled away, Hector dropping his suitcase that was in his other hand.
Why did he let go? Wasn't he going to do something?
Hector's breathing became weaker, the man dropping to his knees as his body's strength began to wain. He glimpsed at Ernesto one last time, noting the man seemed to be smiling, standing aside, doing nothing. Hanging on tightly to his guitar case.
"H… Help… Amigo..." He whispered, before his eyes slid shut, falling to the cold ground.
And then… everything went dark.
Hector opened his eyes slowly, finding himself in the place he had passed out in. Ernesto was gone with his guitar along with his luggage. It was still night but the town looked a little different. There were buildings he hadn't seen before and the buildings he did recognize looked a little older. The only thing that looked somewhat the same was the train station. The train ready to go like he remembered.
He decided to shake his mind of the differences, feeling relief that the train was still there. Ready to take him home. Sure, his guitar and luggage were gone but he didn't really care at this point.
My family means more to me than that. I'll get a new guitar when I get home.
He narrowed his eyes a bit at what he assumed happened to his belongings.
Ernesto, I swear if I ever see you again I'm taking one out of Imelda's book and whacking you upside the head with my shoe several times over.
He sighed, reaching his hand into his coat pocket to check to be sure he still had his train ticket… only to find his coat wasn't even on him. Confusion came to his eyes before he looked down at himself, shock soon replacing the confusion as he realized he wasn't in his charro suit anymore. He was in a set of white clothing he didn't recognize in the slightest.
He fingered at one of the sleeves of the shirt, trying to somehow figure out how he wound up in such an outfit. Ernesto wouldn't have done this. Sure, they had played jokes on each other from time to time but this was out there even for Ernesto and if he had done it, it wouldn't be the simple white outfit Hector now found himself in. It would've been something outrageous, he was sure of that.
Hector felt panic starting to creep into his mind. He didn't have his ticket so he couldn't get on the train and he didn't have money on him to pay for another one. He was alone.
I… I need to get help. I-I'm sure someone around here would be willing.
Hector decided to make his way back to the place he and Ernesto had been staying at. The people there had been kind and he was sure they would be more than happy to help the mariachi who had brought them entertainment. Least, that would be the hope.
As he walked down the street, he took note of some other people passing by and… none them seemed to pay mind to him. With the outfit he was in he would think he would stick out to them like a sore thumb but… no one seemed to notice.
Maybe they're just staying focused. He reasoned.
He was soon back at the inn. He reached for handle of the door to enter, only for his hand to go through the knob, a sharp gasp escaping his mouth. He backed away, looking at his hand.
Did… that really just happen?
He tried again and sure enough, the same result. The panic from before was starting to flood his mind. He looked around, trying to see if there was anyone he could ask to maybe open the door for him. He saw someone walking by and rushed over to them.
"Excuse me! Por favor I need a favor-"
Another sharp gasp left Hector as the person went right through him, not even phased at what had occurred. He tried grabbing for them but just like with the door knob, his hand went right through them.
Hector was trembling, panic now taking complete hold of him.
"W-What's happening to me…?" he asked out loud, no one being able to hear him.
His legs gave out as he fell to his knees, bringing his hands to his face.
"Wake up, Hector! Wake up! This... This is just a dream! Wake up! You gotta wake up! You need to go home! I need to go home!" He broke into a sob, doubling over. "Somebody… Anybody… Por favor… HELP ME!"
I need to get back to them. Imelda… Coco… They're waiting for me… I need to go back.
"Excuse me, Senor?"
Hector didn't look up at first, until the person who spoke to him laid a hand on his shoulder and didn't have their hand phase through him. He looked up, shocked, eyes going wide.
"Oh you poor thing, you didn't even know."
Before him was a young woman with light brown hair and amber eyes. She was wearing a green dancer dress and wore a necklace that had a heart shaped charm on it.
She had a sad look on her face, bringing a hand to one of his cheeks, tipping his head up so their eyes were looking right at each other. Hector stared at her for another moment before speaking.
"W-What's going on? W-Why… Why is everything that's happening, happening? How can you see me? I…"
"Shhh…" the woman stroked his cheek. "Easy. It's a lot to take in but we can't have you panicking now. Deep breaths."
It took Hector a few tries before he was finally able to do so, his body still shaking.
"I just want to go home…" He whispered. "But… I can't… not… not with how things are looking right now… Can you please tell me what's happening?"
"Of course." She frowned. "Hector Rivera, I'm sorry to inform you but… you've sadly passed away."
Hector felt all air leave his lungs.
"W-What? No… That… That can't be!"
"I'm sorry but it's true. You died from poison."
The man shook his head in disbelief. He couldn't have heard that, right? Had he?
"Pardon?" He asked, seeing she had a serious look in her eyes. "... You're kidding me right? W-Who would do that!? Why!?"
"I wish I knew, Hector but I don't. I only know that's how you died because as a Corpse Whisperer I can see cause of death on a soul. I just sadly can't tell the details of why it happened since I wasn't present when you died. For all I know it might've just been something in whatever you was you ate or drank or were exposed to. There's a chance it was murder but I don't know and I'm sorry. The only thing I can state as fact is you are now dead."
"No…" Hector brought his hands to his head, his fingers tangling in his hair. "NO! I… I was supposed to go home! I… I…"
The woman moved her hand to his shoulder, giving a squeeze."
"I'm so sorry, Senor, but what's been done has been done and now… you have a choice to make."
"What choice?" Hector asked, not looking at the woman. "What choice does a dead person have!? I'm pretty sure the only choice I have is going to the Land of the Dead where I won't be able to see my family until Dias Los Muertos and they hopefully put my photo up on an ofrenda so I can see them! What choice!?"
The woman remained unphased by the outburst.
"That is true for most but not you, Hector Rivera. You have a second option if you choose to accept it. An option that would allow you to see your family again and not have to wait until Dias Los Muertos or even need your photo on an ofrenda."
Hector gave her a curious look, tears in his eyes.
"What is it?"
She gave a gentle look, holding her hand up as a small golden gear formed in it.
"The second option, is to become a protector of the living. A being known as a Remembered, who is destined to protect their loved ones through their lives and keep watch over them."
"I… I could do that?"
"Yes. Under a contract though."
"... What are the conditions?" he asked.
The woman gave a gentle look.
"The rules are simple. You are only allowed to reveal yourself to three people of your choosing. Beyond that and you break the contract. You are to protect and not fight out of blood lust, only for the sake of protecting your loved ones should you fight and not abuse the new powers you will gain. Follow these rules and the contract will last until you feel you have served your purpose. When the contract ends or is broken, you will then cross over to the Land of the Dead."
"And… that's it? No drawbacks? No payment?"
"No. Only rules to be followed. That is it." The woman offered the gear to him. "This gear will become your Anchor Gear if you choose to become a Remembered. It will keep you grounded to the Earth and will be the source of your powers and energy and new body. Think of it like a new heart. Make sure to keep it safe and intact and everything will be fine. Now… what will it be, Hector Rivera?"
Hector looked at the gear, his thoughts drifting to his girls. His dear Coco especially.
"Papa! Papa! Please play your guitar for me! It always helps me sleep!"
"Alright, alright, Princessa. I've got just the song then that I made just for you."
A determined look came to Hector's eyes.
"I have a little girl I need to get home to. She needs her Papa.." He reached out for the gear taking hold of it. "I accept the terms."
"Then so be it." the woman closed her eyes as the gear floated over to Hector.
The gear shined brightly, a symbol forming in the center of it that resembled two guitars crossed together. Energy came off from the gear and wrapped around Hector's body, changing his attire. The white clothes became tan slacks, a white collared shirt, a red bandana tied around his neck and blue colored suit coat. He felt a sense of being alive again as the glow faded, the gear turning into a ring that slipped onto the ring finger of his left hand.
"The contract has been made." The woman smiled. "Hector Rivera, you are now dedicated to protecting the lives of your loved ones. You have new powers that will develop with time but I am sure you will master them as they come to you."
Hector grinned a little.
"Thank you, Senorita. Heh, all this and I don't even know your name."
"Well then, Miranda, thank you. I can't wait to get back home to my girls. I've missed them."
"And I'm sure they missed you. Take some time to adjust before doing so though. Alright?"
"Good. Now, go."
Hector nodded, before running off. The feelings of panic were gone now, replaced by excitement and a new energy flowing through him he never felt before in his time of being alive.
But what matter most of all in this moment was one crucial thing.
I'm going home.
Chapter 2: Broken Home
Santa Cecilia never looked more beautiful as the train Hector was on pulled into the station. It was strange boarding a train without a ticket but he was a ghost and well, since he had a limit on who could know he was around, he figured there was no harm in doing what he did. Not like he took up space. In fact he hadn't even been in the cart, sitting in any of the seats. He had been on the roof the whole time.
Had to hang on sometimes but that was one heck of a ride.
He jumped off the roof, floating down and making a gentle landing. That was something he was still experimenting with. He had discovered his new ability to float during the ride, finding himself sliding a bit on the roof till he firmly grounded himself… then he got the crazy idea to see what would happen if he let go entirely. Never in his life did he think FLYING would be something he could without some kind of harness and chord like they did in stage plays.
Oh, I can't wait to show Coco that! She'll love it!
He grinned to himself before running from the train station, jumping into the air and taking flight again for a moment before landing again, heading straight for his target destination.
While Miranda had said it would be best to get acquainted with his new powers he figured he could do that and catch up with his family. He had the flying and floating down so figuring out how to become visible and tangible shouldn't be too difficult. He had the latter of the two down he just had to figure out the other one.
I just can't wait any longer. I need to see Imelda and Coco now. I'm done being home sick.
The complex was soon in view. Hector picked up his pace, making another jump into flight again that landed him at the entrance. He smiled to himself as he looked at his home… before a puzzled look came to his face. The complex was the same but… some things were different.
The buildings, while some had been freshly painted when he left, looked a bit more worn now. There was noise but unfamiliar.
He walked in, looking around, confusion in his eyes. The record player he had kept in the living room was missing along with his whole collection. His extra guitar was nowhere to be seen.
Hector walked by the mantle before doubling back, his eyes widening as he stepped back.
The portrait on the wall, containing an image of him and his family just before he left had his face torn out of it.
Imelda… I know you were mad but… why?
He shook his head. He would make it up to her later. Right now, he had to find her and Coco and tell them he was there.
Imelda surely would listen if he just told her, right?
He heard the door slam open.
"YOU CAN'T KEEP DISCONTINUING SHOES JUST BECAUSE DANCERS BUY THEM!" A young girl's voice shouted. "And this is getting ridiculous!"
"Coco do NOT take that tone with me! I don't want you around those music loving-"
"Ay-yai-yai! Mama, this ban is getting old! When Papa comes home he's not going to stand for it!"
"Coco, how many times do I have to tell you, it's been four, FOUR years since he left us! He's not coming back! If he truly loved us he would've come back then!"
Hector went cold.
F-Four… Four years!? I… I WAS OUT THAT LONG!?
"You don't know that!" Coco narrowed her eyes. "Tio Ernesto might have done something to keep him away! You know how we both felt about him talking Papa into touring!"
Imelda sighed, crossing her arms.
"I do know and you know Ernesto and I never saw eye to eye. He was good to your father but he was very pushy… but the fact is your father could've also said no."
Coco rolled her eyes.
"Mm-hm... " She sighed. "I'm sorry… I shouldn't have snapped. It gets really boring sometimes."
"I know Mija but you'll understand when you're older. I promise."
"Now, finish up your chores and remember, we do not speak of THAT man again. Understand?"
Coco left, a sadden look in her eyes that she kept hidden from Imelda as she made her way for her room.
Hector was reeling from all this.
I-Imelda… I… I really made you that upset…?
He looked at his wife, still beautiful as he remembered her. Sure, it had been four years but she still looked the same. She looked to the photo of their family, shaking her head.
"She'll forget you eventually… So she'll stop hurting like I am."
She sighed, turning to head out. Hector was half tempted to reach out to her and place his hand on her shoulder but it seemed his powers reflected how he felt. His hand went right through her, his nervousness getting the better of him.
I… I couldn't possibly face her now… Not with her THIS upset with me.
He followed after Imelda, seeing what the woman was up to.
She left the main part of the house, heading into what used to be his studio. Instead, it was filled up with sewing machines and work benches. Hector looked around, confusion in his eyes, taking note it was all to make shoes.
"Hmph." She sat down at a machine, starting to work, her posture becoming relaxed as the now familiar motion of shoemaking came to her. "She'll understand one day when she's a mother herself."
Hector stood behind her, a frown on his face, guilt creeping up.
You did all this to provide for her… Oh Imelda.
He backed up, looking around more, sighing.
I guess she threw everything out when she found out.
… But a ban on music…? I really caused that much damage?
Hector looked back at Imelda, seeing she was already in her own bubble. Nothing outside of what she was doing mattering. Just like he knew her to do back when she was on a cleaning frenzy or when they were spending time together.
Would… she even be happy to know I came back?
He sighed, deciding to back out of the room, figuring maybe now was not the best time to reveal himself.
Not sure when but there's got to be some point when it will be fine for me to tell her. Right now though…
His head turned towards where Coco had gone to. He followed after her trail, poking his head through walls till he found her in her room. Just like every other place, her room had changed too. A new bed since her old one had been too small and some other pieces of furniture. Though despite the bed being bigger, it was decorated in a way Hector recognized. She still had her old pillows and now had a few new stuffed animals to accompany them.
The little girl was holding a journal in her hands, a sad look in her eyes.
"Oh Papa… I wish you were home. Maybe Mama wouldn't be so sad sometimes."
Hector gave a puzzled look.
Sad? Seems more like she's mad.
Coco frowned at her journal, hugging it close to her.
"She seems mad a lot but she's just hurting. She doesn't like showing it, y'know. Even if we fight sometimes and I shouldn't be fighting with her I know but… I miss music and I miss how she used to be so happy about it."
Oh mija… Hector went closer, peering over her shoulder, a bit curious. His heart broke a bit as he realized what it was.
His picture, the part that was torn out of the portrait was tucked into it, held in place by a paper clip.
"P-Papa…" Coco whimpered, tears streaking her face as she hugged her journal close again. "I miss you. Come home. Por favor…"
Hector wasn't sure what to do. He still had no idea how to make himself visible. He could make himself tangible but… it wouldn't mean much if she couldn't see him.
"Remember me…" Coco sang softly. "Though I have to say say goodbye… Remember me…" She choked on the words. "Don't…" She fell over, burying her face in her pillow, sobbing. "Papa… Papa…"
Hector frowned, sitting on the end of her bed, his hand hovering over her shoulder. He was hesitating just like he did with Imelda but… he couldn't stand seeing his daughter like this. He had to do something.
He rested his hand on her shoulder, feeling an energy course through him that Coco herself could feel. It was warm… a sense she always felt whenever Hector held her in his arms. Hector took a deep breath before starting to sing, hoping maybe… she could hear him.
"Don't let it make you cry. For even though I'm far away I hold you in my heart. I sing this secret song to you each night we are apart."
Coco froze up, her eyes opening wide as she looked around, taking a deep breath.
"Re-Remember me… Though I have to travel far, remember me, each time you hear a sad guitar.. Know that I'm with you the only way that I can be… Until you're in my arms again…" She sniffled, wiping at her eyes, wondering if she had heard that right or was just imagining it. But even so she didn't want to stop in case it made the voice stop too. "R-Remember… Me."
Hector harmonized with her, not realizing he had now become visible for Coco to see.
She gasped as she took in his image, rubbing her eyes to be sure she wasn't seeing things. He was right there. So close she could reach out and touch him.
She reached up her hand, grasping onto his tightly.
Hector was shocked at her reaction, bringing his other hand over hers.
"C-Coco… C-Can… Can you see me?"
She had tears welling up in her eyes again as she gave a nod.
"Si, P-Papa." She squeezed his hand tighter. "You're here… You're back."
"I am… Oh Coco." He opened his arms to her. "C'mere, mija."
Coco jumped up and into his arms, squealing as she did. Hector brought his arms around her tightly, spinning her a bit. She had gotten so big since he had left but he still could pick her up at least.
He could finally have her in his arms again.
"Papa! Oh gosh you're home! You're home!"
"A little different now… but home." Hector peppered the top of her head with kisses. "Oh mija. Te amo. Te amo."
She giggled, leaning up and kissing his chin.
"Te amo, Papa!" She buried her face into his shirt, taking in his presence. She hadn't seen him since she was four but all of those memories were still there, as if it had just happened.
Papa's home.. Oh goodness, he's finally home!
Hector smiled gently, looking at his daughter. She may have grown older but she still had those bright brown eyes he loved so much and that little smile. He held her closer, the glow around him brightening in accordance to how happy he felt to be with his daughter again.
His dear Coco.
"I missed you so much." he whispered, stroking her hair. "So much it hurt."
She nuzzled his hand sighing happily.
"I missed you too, Papa. It hasn't been the same since you left." She kept close, not wanting to let go just yet. "Where've you been?" She looked him over, taking note of the glow. "... Something happened, didn't it?"
"Unfortunately… yes." Hector sighed, lowering his head. "Coco… I… I meant to come home sooner but… I…" He closed his eyes, wincing as he remembered the moment. "... I died…"
She frowned, leaning up, nuzzling his cheek.
"It's okay Papa. You tried. I'm not mad. I'm sorry this happened though." She frowned, hugging him tighter. She had wanted him home so badly but she never thought it would be like this.
Hector held her closer, resting his head against hers.
"Not your fault, mija… I just… can't be what I used to be anymore." He pulled back a little, holding his left hand out, the ring on it turning back into his Anchor Gear, showing it to Coco. "I'm… what's called a Remembered. A spirit guardian of sorts. I made a deal for this to happen under the condition of only three people knowing I'm here and that I am to use my abilities to protect my family."
Coco nodded, eyes wide in wonder as she brought a hand up near the gear seeing a familiar symbol in the center.
"Then I'll keep it a secret. I won't tell anyone. I promise!"
"There's my princessa."
Coco giggled, her hand touching the gear, feeling a warmth spread through her.
"So… you're like an alebrije?"
"I suppose save I'm not a guide and I'm not a weird looking animal… relatively speaking."
She grinned, giving his nose a tap.
"Gotcha!" She giggled.
"Noo! I've been booped!" Hector flopped over on the bed as best as he could, giving a fake dying look. "I… I don't know if I can go on. The mighty Coco has defeated me!"
Coco squealed as she busted up laughing at her father's antics.
"Always will! For I am Princesa Coco Rivera!"
"Yes… And I'm…" He got up, scooping Coco into his arms. "Your noble knight!"
Coco laughed, hugging him tightly, nuzzling her father.
"The best knight ever!"
"Si… Si… And…" Hector got an evil look. "El Monstruo de Beso!" He started peppering her head with kisses again.
Coco squealed, squirming a bit, giggling up a storm.
"Papa! You're so silly!"
"Ah yes, but as are you, mi princesa." He stopped, holding her close again, sitting down on the bed, sighing happily. "Oh Coco… you have no idea how happy I am right now."
Coco laid her head over where his heart had been sighing in relief.
"If it's anything like how I feel right now, I think I got an idea." She brought her arms around him, her hands clinging to the fabric tightly. "You're here to stay and no stupid Tio Ernesto to take you away again."
Hector rocked her gently, leaning back against the wall her bed was next to, closing his eyes.
"I have no idea where he is now but as far I know far far away from us and he doesn't get to know the secret. Only you and eventually, Mama will know."
Coco nodded, closing her eyes, relaxing against him, curling up a bit.
"Good. Do… you think she'll let us play music again if she knows you're here?"
"I have no idea, mija. We can try though."
"M-hm…" Coco relaxed entirely. "Are you going to tell her now?"
"Not yet. I think now is not the best time. Right now, I just want to be with you."
Coco nodded, nuzzling.
"It's what I've wanted since you left home."
Hector kissed her head, stroking her hair once more.
"You've gotten so big mija. I got four years of birthdays to make up for you know."
"I think we can arrange that." She giggled, sighing happily. "You already are. You're here. That's all I kept wishing for."
"And I'm here to stay. Just for you."
Coco smiled, completely content in her father's arms, feeling his warmth. She yawned a little, feeling herself drifting.
"You can rest if you want, mija." Hector said, taking one of the smaller blankets off the bed, wrapping it around her. "I won't be going anywhere soon."
"And you'll be here when I wake up?"
"Every single time."
"Good… Can you hum? Please?"
Coco smiled, making herself comfortable, feeling sleep take over as she heard the gentle humming of her father. Oh how she had missed it. If she didn't know better, she would think this was a dream already but… it wasn't. This was real. Very real.
Hector smiled as Coco's breathing slowed, the little girl fast asleep in his arms, content. He kissed her head one more time, relaxing a bit himself but not closing his eyes. Had to be careful in case someone decided to come in.
But for now… he just wanted to enjoy as much as he could of this moment. There was a long road ahead of him of things he knew he had to fix. Things that would take time and a lot of work.
But if it means I can have my family back then I'll do whatever it takes.