A floorboard creaked.
Byron Franks woke up. Something, some noise, pulled him out of his sleep. The slightest sound did that now. His rest was rarely deep and undisturbed. He blamed the job, the hours. Stress continually built inside him and it became increasingly difficult shutting it off when he was home, and then turning it back on while working. Instead, it stayed on twenty-four-seven. The darkening bags under his eyes was proof enough. He knew the copious amounts of coffee he consumed wouldn't help any, but he needed something that would cut into the near constant fog he found filling his head all the time.
He patted the mattress. Janice wasn't beside him, which might be why he'd stirred in the first place. She usually did her best keeping quiet. His wife knew he wasn't getting the rest he needed, and he desperately needed much more sleep than what little sleep he got. Her tiptoeing out of the room sometimes wasn't enough. It wasn't her fault. He didn't blame her. She tried. She always tried making his life easier. He didn't deserve such a caring and loving woman in his life. Guilt festered inside his chest from the list of mistakes made. Guilt might have added stress; a contributing factor for lack of sleep. She wasn't aware of the list and this could be why she still tried all of the time, rather than just walking out on him.
Franks wished every slight movement made—every floorboard creak—didn't wake him. Out of place noises became his nemesis. However, he knew the value of wishes.
He passed his hand over the empty space on her side of the bed. The sheet still warm. She hadn't been gone long and he figured she'd either run to the bathroom, or down to the kitchen for a drink (or for something to eat. Last night's dinner was baked chicken, and there were juicy breasts left over. The idea of pulling one apart and making a sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and mayo did sound kind of good right about now). If it was down to the kitchen for water, then in another hour or so she'd probably disrupt his sleep again when she snuck out of bed to go to the bathroom.
He rolled onto his side. The alarm clock, set for 0500 hours, let him know the opportunity for another two hours of sleep still existed. The key word, of course, being opportunity. The chance was there if he could close his eyes and fall asleep. It seemed unlikely, though, because now he had to use the bathroom, and a glass of water sounded good, too. Not to mention, the idea of a chicken sandwich was firmly planted in his mind; it wouldn't easily dissipate on its own, at least not without feeding the desire.
He sat up and swung his legs over the edge with an accompanying small grunt, and groan. He was too young for the aches and pains thrumming through his body every time he got up.
Getting up in the first place was detrimental. More than likely he'd end up doing what he did most mornings after using the bathroom or getting a drink. He would stay up. Brew a pot of coffee. Read the news on the laptop in the family room and see what he missed during the few hours spent in vain attempting a solid night's sleep.
Franks used the toilet, flushed, washed his hands, and then switched off the light. Halfway down the stairs, he stopped. For only a brief moment he thought he might be dreaming. He closed his eyes, and shook his head, certain what he saw could not be real.
Fastened with zip ties in kitchen chairs sat Janice and their eight-year-old son, Henry. Gags were plunged into their mouths and were secured around their heads with bandage wrap.
Janice's face was coated in a sheen of sweat. Her terror was visible in her wide opened eyes. Strands of hair stuck in her mouth with the gag and were also tucked under the bandage. She shouted, and screamed, but every sound made came out muffled.
“You will see a pair of handcuffs on the last stair.” The man wearing a black ski mask stood behind Henry; a bowie knife pressed against Franks' son's throat. “Have a seat and secure your arms around the banister. No sudden moves. This knife is sharp as hell, and I'm not afraid to admit, I feel a little jittery right now. Never done this kind of thing before, and my nerves,” he held out his left hand, and it trembled, “you see what I'm saying?”
Tears ran down Henry's cheeks. He tried crying, but the gag prevented sobs from escaping.
“It's okay, Henry. Don't worry. It's going to be okay.” Franks turned his attention onto the intruder. “You don't want to do this. This is a mistake. I'm not sure if you know who I am. Why don't you just let my family go, set them free, and I'll stay right here with you. Keep this between you and I. Okay?”
The man fisted Henry's hair, tipped his head back, and re-gripped the bowie handle. The meaning not lost on Franks. It was a show of control, depicting who was the one actually in charge.
“I'm not here for you to apply some psychology one-oh-one on me, okay? Now, why don't you just do what I said? Sit down on the last stair there and cuff your arms around the banister. Please, please, don't make me ask you a third time.”
The man nicked Henry's chin with the blade. Blood dripped. Franks lifted both hands in the air in surrender. “Be cool, man. Okay? Relax. I'm sitting. I'm sitting.”
Byron Franks sat on the last step. Every muscle in his body taut. His jaw set. It was an unnatural move. All his training shouted like voices inside his head. Charge the intruder! Against his better judgment he ignored the mental taunts and picked up the handcuffs. This was his family. His wife, and his son. If he charged the intruder and something went wrong, if his son was injured, or worse … he wouldn't be able to live with himself. He always told victims who didn't fight back they had done the right thing.