Charles sits in a tattered recliner in the living room of his dirty one-bedroom apartment. A small muted tube television airs sitcoms from the fifties. He looks down at his watch. 12:58 AM. Sighing, he picks up a lit cigarette and takes a final drag from it before stabbing it out in an overloaded ashtray. “Any minute now,” he says to no one in particular.
All at once, the power in his apartment goes out. The small television goes dark, and the air conditioner sputters a final gust before going silent. It doesn’t take long for the heat from the summer evening to chase away the remnants of the cool air in the room.
He wipes the sweat from his brow and fidgets with his tie, deciding to remove it altogether. As he places the tie on the arm of his recliner, the footsteps begin—starting behind him then moving quickly above him. The loud stomps and bangs ultimately surround him from every direction, continuing for hours.
Charles gritted his teeth and tolerated the assault, just like he had every night for the last month—a long month of sleep deprivation and torture. A month since that fated night when his eyes met hers as he pulled the trigger, ending her life and beginning his torment. He knew he shouldn’t have taken the job, it was against his code to kill women and children, but financial desperation was a hell of a motivator.
His bread and butter had been low lives, criminals, real pieces of shit. However, those jobs were in short supply as of late, and his bills were overdue. The landlord, banging on his door. Final notice after final notice. It had taken a lot of convincing and self-preparation for him to accept the job, but ultimately he’d acquiesced.
She had been the middle-aged wife of a wealthy and greedy man. Nothing special. The man had taken on a lover—some young gold digger with a rocking bod. He had stupidly forgone a prenup and was unprepared to lose half of everything in a divorce settlement. Thomas Peters, that scumbag son of a bitch, knew his wife obtained enough proof of his infidelities to take to court, and he just couldn’t bear to part with his wealth. So, how had he rewarded his wife’s loyalty, the woman who had been there from the start? He hired a hitman to kill her, as rich assholes did.
As the ashtray soars across the room, scattering ash and cigarette butts in its wake, Charles wishes he had stuck to his rule. Why did he look her in the eyes? Guilt? Had he thought that she deserved more than a quick, anonymous death? Or was he compelled by her, granting her the ability to come to him every night thereafter to haunt him at the exact time he’d pulled the trigger?
Upon meeting Charles in that darkened alley, she’d made it incredibly clear that she knew his reason for being there, but had she begged for her life? No. Instead, she’d belittled him, dared him, even. Her scathing assessment of how low he must have fallen to go through with something so vile, biting, and painful to hear. However, she had been right.
“I’m sorry,” he says in a demoralized plea.
A pained and eerie cry builds in the air around Charles, starting low and ending in a loud wail, sending shivers down his spine and making him weep. She appears, then, in front of him. Her form, ethereal. Her eyes, blackened holes on either side of the bullet wound, a gaping reminder of his misdeed.
“Please,” he pleads, a shell of the man he once was. All that bravado he’d earned in his line of work, gone. A month of sleep deprivation steals the wind from his sails, leaving him stranded and weak. He gazes upon her haunting features, his body trembling and his skin crawling. “What do you want from me?”
“Him,” comes her reply.
He’d known what she would say, knew what she meant, but he was no longer sure he could give her what she demanded of him. His nerves were on edge, his hands, no longer steady. Hell, he hadn’t even so much as touched a gun since he ended her life. He wasn’t even sure if he still could.
“I ca—” he began.
She wailed again, cutting him off and shattering every glass object in his apartment. He shrank back into his recliner, trying to avoid the shards of her anger.
Then she was gone.
Charles was still sobbing as the sun peeked through his tattered blinds. Defeated.
“I have to,” he chokes out as he swallows the last of his sobs. “I can’t live like this.”
The power returns, as always, and he notes that nothing is amiss, as always—no broken glass, and everything in its place. The television airs the morning news. He grabs the remote and unmutes it just as the news anchor begins to speak about some press conference downtown being held by widower billionaire—the man responsible for his torment, Thomas Peters.
Charles eyes a long, black case lying on the floor by the front door, gathering dust.
He gets up, approaches the case, and hefts it up by the handle. He checks his watch. 7:32 AM.
“The press conference starts at 9.”