Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
Shivering, Jay’s fingers tightened around the tall, frosted glass, seeking comfort in its coolness as he settled into the worn armchair across from his father. The crackling fireplace warmed his skin but not his heart. The house that once exuded calmness and serenity suddenly turned against him. He was in a prison with his own thoughts and he had just received a visitor from the other side of the bars; his father. The water in the glass trembled in his grip, mirroring the turmoil within him like the restless waves of an ocean on a stormy night.
His father’s presence helped but the gap between the two was clouded by mist. For them to speak of The Ghost was to touch on something taboo and troublesome for both of them. Jay wasn't the only one running from his trauma. His father, being his instructor for archery, felt responsible for providing his son with the tools and the power to embark on that monstrous path.
After taking a soothing sip from the glass of water, he placed it on the coffee table with trembling hands and met the concerned gaze of his father.
The old man took a deep breath. "Let's start from the very beginning. What happened?"
Over the next twenty minutes, Jay explained his entire day thus far to his father who listened attentively. Though some aspects were difficult to revisit and the constant audience of his ghostly hallucination was distracting, Jay narrated everything.
“Why now?” Jay’s voice quivered with a mixture of frustration and uncertainty. “Ten years have passed since that day, and now he comes back.”
“Triggers,” he stated with a sigh. “They have a way of sneaking up on you. Today, Jason, you’ve had a lot of them.”
A wave of anxiety washed over Jay’s features as he struggled to comprehend his next steps. “So what do I do now? How do I get these voices out of my head?” His voice trembled with a raw vulnerability.
His father met his gaze. “I wish I knew, my boy,” he admitted, his voice heavy with the weight of their shared burden. “What I can tell you is that trauma doesn’t just vanish if you try to run from it. You have to face it and choose to live with it. Healing is a long and difficult journey, but by acknowledging you need help, you’ve already taken the first steps.”
Jay’s voice quivered as he wrestled his guilt. “But Dad... It’s not like losing someone or recovering from an accident. There’s more to this than just me. There’s everyone I’ve killed whose names I don’t and never will know. They’re all... dead.”
“Does Marty have the case files of the people you’ve killed?” he inquired gently.
Jay’s brow furrowed, confusion mingling with skepticism. “Why would I need that?” he asked.
Leaning forward, his father’s gaze dug deep into his soul. “As difficult as it may be to accept, you need to find out exactly who you killed and why. And then, my son, you need to find their families and seek their forgiveness,” he explained, his voice steady and stern. “It won’t be easy. It may be awkward, painful, and disappointing, but showing them you’ve changed is the only chance you’ll ever have at finding peace.”
“But have I truly changed?” he questioned. “If I were to put that mask back on and venture into the city, will I inevitably slide down the same treacherous slope I did all those years ago? Will I truly be different?”
The old man reached out, placing a comforting hand on Jay’s shoulder. “I can tell you this, my son: the Jason sitting in front of me now won’t harm a fly unless he absolutely has to. Whereas the Jason from ten years ago... he might have killed a man for something as petty as a hijacking,” he affirmed. “If that isn’t a change, I don’t know what is.”
Jay’s gaze flickered between his father’s earnest eyes and his clenched fists. “I... I don’t know, Dad,” he confessed.
A small smile graced his father’s lips. “You need to have hope, Jay,” he said gently, his voice filled with encouragement. “Hope that you can do this. While everyone else can cheer you on from the sidelines, you’ll never finish the race if you don’t take that first step.”
Jay’s gaze dropped to his trembling hands, and he clenched them into fists, determined to change his situation...somehow. “How do I start, Dad? How do I find the courage to take that first step?”
“Don’t focus on climbing the entire mountain in one go,” he advised. “Just focus on the next step right in front of you. Take it one step at a time.”
Jay inhaled deeply. “Okay,” he murmured.
As his father rose from the armchair, shuffling toward the fireplace to tend to the crackling logs, Jay couldn’t help but feel a mix of gratitude and frustration. His father’s words held a sense of wisdom, but they felt vague and distant as if he knew the answers lay within Jay was guiding him to discover them. Unfortunately, his father underestimated Jay's emotional ineptitude. He was an expert at concealing his emotions, but absolutely lost when asked to confront them.
His father turned, casting a tender gaze upon him. “For now, stay away from that bunker until your imaginary friend disappears. You are far too emotionally wrecked to go there right now,” he said.
Jay’s response was a mere whisper, layered with a mix of resignation and determination. “I didn’t like it there anyway.”
Jay opened the green gate to the range once more. One step at a time, right? If he was to confront his trauma he would have to revisit the places and do the things he had once given up. Archery was the very last thing he put down when he walked away from the city. While he was an instructor, he didn't actually shoot an arrow himself.
If he could systematically work his way through each thing he gave up and found the courage to do it again, he would eventually be able to confront his biggest challenge; the basement. By going down there, he attempted to throw himself into the deep end and then realized he couldn't swim.
From the distance, he saw another archer lining her arrow up with the buttress. Her blonde hair was tied neatly in a bun and she wore a bright blue cap to shield her face from the mid-day sun. Jay noticed her elbow sticking out of line as she drew her bow.
Katie, he surmised. He often recognized his students by their traits as an archer. Every beginner had a quirk to their form ranging from downright dangerous to barely noticeable.
"Katie! What are you doing here after class? Don't you have to go back to the city?" he asked.
Katie, completely engrossed in her shot, nearly jumped out of her own skin, dropping her bow and the arrow in her hand. "Oh, my God!"
Jay raised his hands in surrender. "Sorry if I scared you. Just here to take a shot myself, y'know?"
Katie's brows furrowed. "That's odd. You rarely shoot." She scratched her chin, deep in thought. "No, you never shoot."
"I haven't knocked an arrow in ten years. I guess even in a desert gets it occasionally rains," he replied with a smile.
"Ten years? You'd think a man who's so passionate about what he teaches would be obsessed with it himself," she said.
"Shooting a bow brings back a few old memories that aren't so nice. Nevertheless, I enjoy watching my students do what I no longer can," he replied as he picked up a club bow from the table, stringing it swiftly. He stood in line with Katie as he pulled out the arrow from his quiver.
"Nice wouldn't be the word I'd use," a playful voice in his head uttered.
The Ghost walked out from behind the buttress in front of him, curiously examining Katie's arrows. "We can do better than her, can't we?"
"Mr. Stones? Jay?" Katie asked repeatedly.
Jay turned away from the buttress. "Sorry, what were you saying?"
"And I thought I was fixated on my shot," she muttered. "Don't worry about it, honestly. It's good you didn't hear."
"Okay..." Jay replied with some uneasiness in his voice. "Does it have something to do with why you're here on a Sunday afternoon? I thought your dad would have wanted you back in the city."
She sighed, lowering her bow after releasing her last arrow in her quiver. "That's what I thought too. Then he told me I could stay at the village for the night. I've got nothing else to do here so I thought I'd put in some extra shots."
"And you planned to do that all alone?" Jay asked.
"I still am," she said nodding her head to Jay's untouched quiver. "You going to shoot or what?"
Jay stood in parallel to his target, his hands trembling as he nocked an arrow. But as he raised his bow, the haunting image of one of the victims he had killed hung from the buttress like a crucified body. The apparition sneered, its eyes harboring only anger and sorrow.
The Ghost threw his arm around Jay's neck. “What's wrong? Target panic?” the Ghost taunted, its voice whispering in his ear. “What’s stopping you this time? Can't you feel the draw to your target? You're resisting your nature, Jay.”
Jay’s heart raced, and he felt beads of sweat forming on his forehead. His mind was a battlefield, torn between the temptation to succumb to the illusion and the knowledge that he had sworn never to kill again.
“No,” Jay muttered, his voice barely above a whisper.
The Ghost laughed. “But you’ve tasted blood, Jay. You didn't drop the bow because you wanted to. You dropped it because you didn't want to face reality. You miss having the power of a life in your hands, playing with it like a toy.”
Jay’s grip tightened on the bow, his knuckles turning white. He took a deep breath.
It's not real, it's not real, it's not real.
As Jay approached the buttress, his steps felt heavy, weighed down by the burden of his hallucination and the toll it had taken on his mind. He reached out to retrieve the arrows, his fingers trembling. Katie tilted her head to the side, her brow furrowing with confusion as she examined the grouping of the arrows.
“Is it just me,” she began, her voice laced with confusion, “or do your arrows seem to form the outline of a person?”
Jay’s breath caught in his throat as he took a few steps back to view the buttress from a different angle. The apparition of his victim, though faint, still lingered in his vision. Every shaft was embedded in the leather pads of the buttress mere millimeters away from the contours of the person he had once taken a life from.
Silently contemplating Katie’s observation, Jay nodded. "I guess I can kind of see it."
1. Is the conversation between Jay and his dad realistic?
2. Does jay's arrangement of arrows show his proficiency with it as well the trauma linked to it?
3. Are the hallucinations confusing to read or can you follow what is real and what isn't well?