“The time is zero-six-hundred, Jacob. It is time to wake up.”
Jacob’s eyes opened.
Where am I? The police station? It’s so bright… oh so bright.
It took a few minutes for his vision to come into focus, and when it finally did, he saw that it wasn’t a room that he was laying in at all, but a cell.
The cell door looked like the kind banks used for vaults. Steel rods lined the inside , the two-inch thick ends disappearing into the steel door-frame.
“The time is zero-six-zero-five, Jacob.” The voice coming from the speaker in the ceiling sounded like it came from a woman. There was no emotional tone to the voice. It sounded as if she was reading from a script. “Please stand by the inside of the door and prepare to receive your tray.”
“Where am I?”
“The time is zero-six-zero-five, Jacob. Please stand by the inside of the door and prepare to receive your tray.”
“There’s been some kind of mistake. I need to talk to Detective Shields.”
An electric current charged up his arms, locking his wrists together. Jacob screamed and slid off of the cot. He hadn’t noticed the two rings around his wrists before, but when they locked together and sent electricity surging up his arms, they were all that he could think about.
“Okay!” he shouted. “I’ll take the tray!” The electric current stopped. He stumbled to the cell door and waited, staring down at the rings around his wrists.
Where the hell am I? Have I been abducted or something?
A rectangular strip of metal slid to the side and a tray appeared. Jacob grabbed the tray and pulled it inside the cell.
“I need to talk to Detective Shields! There’s been some mistake! I don’t belong here!” The slot closed.
He spun her around the dance floor. She had wanted to go to a less ritzy place for their anniversary, but Jacob had insisted. He bought her a new gown for the occasion and was delighted when her face lit up. He knew by her smile that had made a good choice. A slow song came on and he pulled her close, one hand in hers, one caressing the small of her back.
I’m going to tell her tonight.
He saw the pregnancy test a few weeks ago while taking out the trash. She hadn’t told him yet. The slow song ended and a faster one came on.
“Let’s sit this one out,” He said and led her back to their table.
At the table, he leaned over and took her hands in his.
“I know about the baby, Elise.”
She stared at him in silence for a long time. He could feel the wheels of her mind turning, trying to determine how he had found out. Then her eyes grew wide with revelation.
“The garbage?” she asked.
She was my everything. Why would they keep me locked up like a criminal when that bastard is still out there?
“Please approach the door and prepare to deposit your tray through the slot, Jacob,” the voice commanded.
Jacob moved to the door, carrying his tray of half-eaten spaghetti and empty carton of milk.
They’re certainly feeding me like a criminal.
The slot opened and he slid the tray through. An unseen hand pulled it through the slot and the cover slid back in place. Jacob went to the center of the cell and stared up at the mounted speaker in the ceiling.
“What am I supposed to do in here?”
“What am I waiting for?”
“Can I speak to Detective Shields?”
Tears welled up in his eyes and he wiped them away with the back of his hand.
“You’re wasting time,” he said. “I don’t even know where I am or why I’m here. Why am I here?”
His question went unanswered.
They were going to have a baby. Elise wanted to wait to tell him until after she had her first ultrasound, but now that the news was out, they had spent the remainder of the dinner going over names and guessing what their baby will look like. After the plates were cleared away, Jacob paid the bill and led his wife from the restaurant, whispering into her all of the things he was going to do to her when they got home. She was still giggling when they reached the car. Jacob opened the passenger door for her.
“I love you, Baby,” Elise said, and gave him a long kiss, before climbing into the car.
“I love you.”
Before Jacob could close the door, a masked man spun him around, slammed him against the car, and pressed the barrel of a pistol under his chin.
“Your wallet, her purse.”
“Sure…sure” Jacob said, lowering his right hand to his back pocket. “I’ll give you whatever you want, just don’t hurt us; okay?”
The gunman pressed the barrel harder.
“Great! You’re a smart guy. A regular Einstein. Just don’t turn into Superman and neither one of you will get hurt – got it?”
Jacob retrieved his wallet and held it out to the gunman. Just then, a police cruiser passed by on the street. The gunman lowered his pistol, and Jacob attacked him.
Jacob hoped that the pistol would be knocked out from the gunman’s hand. He landed on top of the masked man and, seeing the pistol was still in his hand, struggled to pry it from his grasp. They scrambled on the blacktop, then a shot rang out. The gunman, taking advantage of Jacob’s sudden shock, rolled him off and ran, leaving Jacob staring at his wife, at her ghostly white face, at her hands, which were pressing against a blossoming rose at the center of her chest.
When the police arrived, Jacob did his best to give a description of the gunman. In spite of his grief, the description came easy – it was a face that he would never forget.
“The time is twelve-hundred, Jacob. Please stand by the inside of the door and prepare to receive your tray.”
He had been sleeping. There was nothing else for him to do but sleep – sleep and dream of his sweet Elise, and the baby that would never be. Fresh tears covered his face as he stood and approached the inside of the cell door.
Is this my punishment? Am I being punished because I couldn’t save her?
The slot opened, the tray slid through. One look at the soggy hamburger and soggier fries was enough to tell him that he wasn’t going to eat his lunch. He took the tray and carried it back to his bunk.
“How long are you going to keep me here?” he asked, setting his tray on the floor next to his feet.
“Until the end.”
“Yeah, you said that before. How long until it’s the end?”
“That’s for you to decide.”
“Am I being punished for something?”
“For what? What did I do?”
Jacob gawked up at the speaker.
“Murder? Are you kidding me? You idiots think I shot my own wife?”
“You murdered Elise Evans.”
“Bullshit!” He kicked the tray of food. It slammed against the wall, scattering its contents to the floor. “You people got it all wrong! The bastard’s still out there! You’re letting him get away!”
“We’re not wrong.”
He pressed his hands against the wound in his wife’s chest.
The operator said to keep pressure on the wound until the paramedics arrive.
It seemed like the harder he pressed, the more the blood would ooze between his fingers. Elise was conscious, but barely. A whistling sound came from her throat and every time she drew a breath, Jacob felt suction against the palm of his hand. A couple of times, she tried to speak, but only managed to cough. A line of blood began to trickle from her mouth and run down her chin. Jacob wiped it away with the sleeve of his coat.
“Don’t try to talk baby. They’re coming. Just hold on; okay?”
When the first emergency vehicles arrived, the paramedics found Jacob sitting on the ground next to his car, his wife’s lifeless body across his lap. He was running his hands through long brown hair and muttering, “Just hold on, baby… just hold on, baby… just hold on…”
Tears flooded down Jacob’s face.
I can’t do this. I just can’t do this.
He went to the center of the cell and got down on his knees. He stared up at the speaker, his hands clasped together as if in prayer.
“I know why I’m here,” he sobbed. “If I didn’t attack the mugger, she wouldn’t have died. My baby wouldn’t have…” he trailed off. “It’s all my fault.”
“You are paying for your crime,” the voice said. “That is why you are here, Jacob.”
“Don’t you people think that knowing that I caused her death is suffering enough?”
“I’ve lost the only person in the world that I ever truly loved. I’ve lost everything. What more could you possibly want from me?”
“Three Hundred Life Sentences.”
“Three hundred life sentences? This is fucking stupid! What are you going to do about the real killer, huh? He just gets to run free?”
“It’s your debt.”
“Fuck you. I’ve paid my debt.”
He pulled the blanket from the cot and began to carry it to the cell door.
“I’m not doing this shit.”
“What are you planning to do with the blanket, Jacob?”
“You’re not going to get him.”
He tied one end of the blanket around the highest steel arm.
“Why bother sticking around?”
“Cease your actions, Jacob.”
He wrapped the bottom end of the blanket around his neck.
“Cease your actions, Jacob.”
“Shove it up your ass, if you even have one.”
He tied the blanket around his neck. From somewhere an alarm sounded. His wrists locked together, electricity flowed up his arms, his legs buckled.
Four faces peered down at him, two men, two women.
A doctor in surgical scrubs appeared at Jacob’s head.
“How long has he been conscious?”
“Not long,” one of the women said, “a little over a minute.”
The doctor lifted Jacob’s head and disconnected something from the back of his neck. Jacob couldn’t see what it was, but the pain made him cringe.
“Hand me the red cable,” the doctor said. One of the males passed a bright red cable in front of Jacob’s face. The doctor took it and lifted Jacob’s head again. Jacob cringed a second time as the new cable was inserted.
“Okay,” the doctor said; “we’re ready to re-boot. How long was he under this time?”
“Just over six hours.”
“Jesus,” the doctor said. “What’s the record?”
“Eight and a half.”
The doctor whistled. Then he leaned over and gave Jacob a couple of light slaps on the cheek.
“Do you understand me, Mr. Bradley? Just nod your head if you do. I know you can’t speak with the equipment attached.”
Mr. Bradley? Who do they think I am?
“Just nod if you can understand me,” the doctor repeated.
“Mr. Bradley, It is my duty by law to inform you that you have just completed the first part of a three thousand life sentence. You were found guilty of murder by a jury of your peers and sentenced under the provisions of the law. In accordance with the Eye for an Eye Act, you have been implanted with the memories of one of your victims and must serve your sentence as them. In this case, we’re using the husband’s memories, a Mr. Jacob Evans. When your sentence is complete, you will receive your memories back. Do you understand, Mr. Bradley?”
What the hell are they talking about? Mr. Bradley? Who the hell is that?
“I need to know that you understand, Mr. Bradley? Just nod if you do.”
Jacob shook his head.
What the hell are they talking about? My wife was murdered! Who the hell is Mr. Bradley?
The doctor produced a mirror and held it in front of Jacob’s face. The face of his wife’s killer looked back at him with an expression of shock and horror.
No…it can’t be. That’s not me. That’s not me! Elise!
“Okay,” the doctor said, “he understands enough to proceed. On the count of three, re-boot the system and slip Mr. Bradley back inside the prison program. We’ll see you in a few hours, Mr. Bradley. One…two…three…”