Joe Welch opened his eyes feeling like he had never done it before. Light blinded him as if the sun burned in the middle of the ceiling instead of a few light bulbs. He tried to raise his arms to his eyes to partially block out the blinding brightness, but his arms wouldn't move. He tried harder, keeping his eyes closed against the light. His arms still didn't budge and he finally opened his eyes.
"Welcome back, Joe," a voice to his left said.
His eyes moved from the duct tape on his arms to the voice, panic rising with every passing second.
The man standing to his left, the one speaking, was a ghost. Not human, but something from the ether that had somehow made its way into reality. A bald head, as white as the underside of a sting ray. His eyes were a pale blue, like a dead angel. His body so thin that he couldn't have tied Joe to this easy chair. He couldn't even have pulled the tape from the roll, let alone held Joe down while he did his business.
Joe watched as the man walked to his chair, watched as the man's hand pulled back, and then felt the world around him explode. The slap sounded off into the room around him and he heard Patricia cry from somewhere.
"Focus, Joe. Focus now. I want you to be awake for a few minutes."I'm here! I'm focused!
His mind screamed at the apparition.
All that came from his mouth was, "Mmhea. Mmfohusd." The tape across his mouth blocked any sense someone might have made out of his words.
"No need to speak. I know what you want to say and I'm going to make sure those cops outside can't hear it."
Joe turned his head, looking through a small crack in the blinds and seeing the police car at its normal spot. Out there, not in here. Out there where there was no goddamn apparition.
"HmmHaricia?" Where's Patricia.
"Not too good at listening, huh? I guess that might happen if you grow up without a father. But I am going to need you to listen to me now, because I want you to know exactly what is going to happen here, okay? Your wife, if you turn your head as far as you possibly can to the right, you might be able to see her. She's behind you, taped up the same to a kitchen chair. Go ahead, give it a look."
Joe was already turning, trying to turn his neck and body against the tape that felt as strong as Superman's grip. He could see her, just like the apparition said, see the silver tape around her mouth and her hair hanging from her face. Her eyes were bloodshot and pleading with him, begging him to get up and come over there, to save her from this.
"No, no. Let's not beg. Not for her, not for you, and not for your child. Let's not do that."Jason. Where was Jason?
The apparition walked behind him and Joe did his best to turn and follow. The man grabbed the chair Patricia sat on and dragged it across the wood paneled floor.
"Your father took all I had from me. My ex-wife turned me into the police. My son is dead. Everything I had. You understand that right? He took it and then got away with it. Well almost. I made sure no one got off completely." He set the chair down about five feet in front of Joe, where he and his wife could stare at each other. More tears spilled from her eyes. "So, I'm going to take everything from you, Joe. I haven't had any of what I lost returned to me. Not a single thing. They even took my freedom and I finally just got that back. So by taking from you, Joe, I'm going to begin to regain my life. That's fair, right?"
Joe shook his head. He wanted to speak, wanted to beg for this man's mercy. This apparition who had lived in his dreams so many years ago, who had taken his own father, and who Joe had been daring to show up here, was now touching his wife's hair.
"I haven't felt my lover's hair in fifteen years. You can't imagine what that's like."
Joe shook his head harder, back and forth like a child telling his parents no.
"Jason is gone, Joe. It's important for you to understand that. He's not dead, but you'll never see him again. You will probably hear a lot about him on the news, but that will be the closest you ever get to seeing your child again. Your wife though, I'm going to let you see her as long as you can possibly stand. Would you like that?"
Tears came now to Joe, crying for the first time in years. Sweat was dripping off his head despite that the fan spun above and the air conditioner pumped in cool air. Still shaking his head, he struggled again, raging against the tape that held him down. Grunts and caged screams came from his taped mouth, but not a sound was heard outside of the living room.
"Go ahead. Struggle all you want," Brand said, walking into the kitchen.
His wife's eyes opened and looked at him, stopping him in his fit to get loose. He watched as her fingers stretched out from beneath the tape and reached towards him. She wouldn't ever be able to reach him, but she tried anyway. Joe's tears flowed freely and he reached his own fingers out to try and touch his wife.
"Alright, Joe. I hope you're ready for this. I know I am."
Brand stepped in front of Joe and his wife, blocking them off and forcing Joe to stare at the apparition's back. He watched the man's arm jet forward.
Patricia screamed, and the arm came back, then shot forward again.
Back and forth.
Back and forth.
His wife screaming through that sticky, gray tape covering her mouth.
Brand moved away from Joe's wife, revealing what he'd done.
Bloody holes stared out at Joe. Holes that leaked blood down her shirt, down her breasts, onto her legs and then fell beneath her chair. Her eyes were wide open, staring out into the room but seeing nothing. He watched as her upper body hitched, trying to gain air through the lungs that suddenly had new openings in them. Her head twitched, up and down in short motions like she was agreeing with something Joe had said, and a low moan came through the tape. A raspy sound, like the moan was being pulled across a rough patch of concrete.
His wife expired with her blood pooling beneath her.
"There. Now I won't take her away from you like they did me. You can sit here and look at her until your heart's content. That's fair, right?"
The apparition left Joe staring at his wife with eyes that would not stop crying and voice box that didn't seem to work any longer.