Tartarus

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The dream shattered into shadowy fragments and Brandon Gibson’s eyes shot open.  A scream—whether his own or someone else’s he couldn’t remember—echoed in his ears.  His nose burned with a fetid stench, like the smell of a dead animal that had lain on the side of the road for days.  When he tried to swallow, a coppery tang filled his mouth.  The way his senses still reeled from the dream, Brandon knew it was more than a dream, but when he tried to recall even a single image, the dream slipped out of his grasp like a phantom.

He rolled over in bed and found the spot next to him vacated.  He bolted from the bed and dashed into the bathroom and when he saw that it too was vacant, a cold lump formed in his stomach.  He pounded down the stairs and into the living room, where he found only unopened boxes and furniture still wrapped in plastic. 

Slipping through the empty dining room, his heart raced as he imagined the grim possibilities.  The pregnancy had become too much and she’d committed suicide.  She’d grown tired of his lengthy business trips and left him.  The truth, he discovered as he swung open the door to the kitchen, was more horrible than either scenario.

Daphne lay on the floor, a pool of blood from the hole in her forehead forming a halo on the white tile floor.  Her blue eyes were wide open, unfocused, and when he knelt down beside her, he felt the coldness of her pale skin.  He pressed her head against his chest and ran his hands through her sticky red hair.  Tears poured down his cheeks as he rocked back and forth and mumbled incoherent syllables.  “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Her eyes continued to stare up at him, pleading with him, but she was long past saving.  He closed her eyes and eased her back onto the floor as though she were asleep.  When he saw her belly bulging against the pink maternity gown, he thought of the child Daphne carried within her.  If he hurried, maybe the paramedics could arrive in time to save the baby.

As he stood, he heard the back door creak behind him, followed by the echo of footsteps on tile.  Brandon turned and found himself facing a man in a dove gray trench coat and black ski mask wielding a 9mm Beretta pistol.  “Who are you?” Brandon said.  “What do you want?”

The gunman lifted up the ski mask enough for Brandon to see his face.  He recoiled in horror and tears sprang to his eyes.  “Why?” Brandon said.

“I have a job to do,” the gunman said and squeezed the trigger.  The pistol’s silencer wheezed and spat a single shot that drilled into Brandon’s chest.  He collapsed next to the body of his wife and, as the world turned black, he groped to find her cold hand—

The dream shattered into shadowy fragments and Brandon’s eyes shot open.  A scream—whether his own or someone else’s he couldn’t remember—echoed in his ears.  His nose burned with a fetid stench, like the smell of a dead animal that had lain on the side of the road for days.  When he tried to swallow, a coppery tang filled his mouth.  The way his senses still reeled from the dream, Brandon knew it was more than a dream, but when he tried to recall even a single image, the dream slipped out of his grasp like a phantom.

His heart thumping in his ears, he rolled over and found the familiar softness of his wife’s plump body next to him.  The terror from the nightmare subsided as he stroked the broad expanse of her back.  Though it had been six years since Erin’s birth, Daphne still looked nine months pregnant.  At his touch, she groaned and her eyes fluttered open.  When she recognized him, her chubby face lit up with a smile.  “Where were you last night?” she asked and tucked strands of red hair behind her ears.

“I had to work,” Brandon said.

“On Christmas Eve?”

“I know, but it was important.”  He kissed her on the lips.  “I promise I won’t let anything interfere with our plans today.”

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