Sara’s smile widened as she held tight to his hand and opened the door to the guest room.
“What do you think?” Her voice was a perfect blend of concern and confidence he knew so well. “Dad helped with the painting and border, but I had to make some decisions so we could get it done before the baby gets here. I’m sorry I didn’t wait, but I wasn’t sure you’d make it back in time.” Her blue eyes searched his face anxiously, seeking an answer before she even asked the question. Only after she read the answer did she ask, “Do you really like it, Jack?”
He walked slowly into the guest room turned nursery, absorbing every detail. Soft clouds bordered the pale blue walls. Not many frills, simple and practical, yet radiating love and care. It mirrored Sara and he loved it, just as he loved her.
“If it’s a girl, I thought she’d forgive the blue when she finds out how much her daddy loves the sky.”
Wrapping his arms around his wife and pulling her tight, Jack was rewarded by a sharp kick that brought a smile to both of them. “It’s perfect, Sara. Just perfect.”
They walked towards the crib and looked down. The soft cotton sheets were perfect, just waiting for the arrival of the baby. Happiness welled inside Jack, until he thought he would burst. God, what had he ever done to merit this favor? A wife who loved him more than he ever deserved, a baby on the way, the best of friends, a great career… He had it all. He was the luckiest guy in the world.
Suddenly he noticed something out of place on the pristine purity of the crib, a dark irregular spot. Reaching down to brush it away, Jack was startled when it crawled quickly across the bedding and disappeared under a comical stuffed bear sitting in the corner of the bed. He jerked his hand back. Shit, what the hell was a roach doing in the baby’s crib?
Jack turned to look at Sara and noticed with alarm that her face was covered with a fine sheen of sweat and she had turned ghostly pale.
Fearing she might faint and hurt herself, or the baby, Jack reached for her hand, but she backed away from him, her eyes wide and frightened.
“Don’t let it upset you Sara. It’s just a stupid bug. I’ll kill it.”
Jack snatched up the grinning bear, searching for the elusive insect. He was completely unprepared when suddenly not one, but dozens … hundreds … an army of writhing masses of insects blackened the crib.
Horrified, Jack watched as the happy features of the bear were obscured and Teddy drowned beneath the undulating waves of carapace. And then they were dripping out of the crib, a few at first, like a slow leak in the faucet, but soon the leak ruptured and a flood of seething bodies began to crawl towards him, driving him away from the crib and towards the door.
“Sara, we’ve got to get the hell out of here!”
Jack grabbed his wife’s hand and ran for the door, away from the nightmare that had infiltrated and destroyed this perfect place. He threw open the door, thinking only of escape, before he and Sara were buried alive.
But there was no escape.
A man stood blocking his path. A dark man with black dead eyes that sent tremors of fear pounding through Jack’s soul. The man held a gleaming knife and as Jack tried desperately to push past him, to allow him and Sara to escape, the man smiled and brought the knife down on Jack’s hand, severing it at the wrist, even as Sara clung tightly to it. Sara’s scream silenced as the door slammed leaving Jack at the man’s mercy. And as he stood there trapped, mute, and helplessly holding the ruined stump of his hand, Jack could see there was no mercy in the man’s soul.
Jack awoke with a hoarse cry, sweating and shaking with fear. Disoriented from the intensity of the nightmare, it took him a long moment to determine that he had indeed been dreaming. He ran a shaky hand across his grimy face, the stubble scrapping like sandpaper, and then massaged his tired eyes with the heels of his hands. Pushing himself up into a sitting position in the corner of his rough bunk, Jack worked to calm his ragged breathing.
He stared at the bars of his cell, as his mind played for bits and pieces of the nightmare, refusing to let go of the images which haunted him.
Sara, oh God, Sara.
And suddenly he realized he had never felt so helpless in his entire life.
And desperation clawed at him, shredding his training and determination and leaving him as a tattered flag ready to be burned.
The uncertainty gnawed away what defenses he had erected and like an infinitesimal tear in a parachute, he knew the rent was only the beginning of the end. It had become a race in time between plummeting helplessly or reaching safety and God alone knew whether he was going to make it.
God alone knew whether or not he was going to survive the next round of questioning, the next round of torture, Vicente had planned.
Jack buried his weary head in his arms and tried to imagine a way out of this mess, but he could no more escape from his thoughts than he could from the dream.