I woke up without any idea where I’d been the night before. No headache. No stomachache or stinging behind the eyes. Just a pain in my chest. When I wobbled to the mirror (my legs were strained, like I’d been running), there was a bandage peeking out from my pajama top.
I plucked the collar of my Sherlock tank and glanced down. There was a dressing covering my entire chest, blood beading it.
I stumbled back to bed to grab my iPhone. Last night, I was supposed to meet up with Rachel and her brother (my boyfriend) Rich, that much I remembered. Maybe we got drunk. We must’ve gotten drunk, even though what I was experiencing was unlike any hangover I’d ever had before. I’d have to ask them about it.
But when I clicked on my messages, I saw a blank screen. Not a text from Rachel or Rich or my mom or my ex, which was odd, because I never deleted my text messages. I left them on there until I was forced to delete them, until my phone slowed down from all the data. Even then, I’d save a few threads.
I needed answers, and Rich worked early on weekends, so I dialed Rachel. No ringing… It went directly to voicemail. Just my best friend’s voice saying, “I’m busy! Send me a text like a normal person.”
Okay. New plan: Toss some cereal into a bowl to silence the growls in my stomach, and then try Rachel again. In the meantime, I checked my email. Not for clues. For a distraction.
But the first heading I saw said, “BLACKOUT.” I usually did my best to avoid clicking on spam, but what if it was the name of a club we went to? What if I had one of those electronic bills sent to me?
Ding ding ding. When the email opened, there was a heading that read: “Blackout: The night you’ll never remember” with a big number at the bottom. A charge of $999.00 with the last four digits of my credit card to the side.
No fucking way. I don’t care how drunk I was. I didn’t spend a grand on drinks. Even if we ended up at a strip club or a hotel or a fucking casino – no. That number didn’t add up. It must’ve been a mistake.
I dialed the ten digits written in microscopic print at the bottom of the email. No answer. Not even a busy signal or a robot playing elevator music. Just an automatic voice telling me that the number was disconnected.
I grabbed a bowl out of the cabinet with one hand and searched BLACKOUT on Safari with the other, but all I found was a page describing what the word meant, information about some haunted house in another state, and self-help articles for alcoholics. I tried adding THE NIGHT YOU’LL NEVER REMEMBER, but then it kept autocorrecting blackout to black market.
Damn it. No reviews. No Facebook pages. Not even any milk in the fucking fridge.
And my chest was itching now. Bad. I needed to replace the bandage. To give my cuts some air. If they were cuts. I could’ve had a tattoo under there, for all I knew. God… I prayed there wasn’t a tattoo under there.
After entering the bathroom, I peeled the bandage off slowly. Slooowly. Revealing one letter at a time. R and A and C and something that looked like a lowercase T. No… No, it was an unfinished H.
But it wasn’t written in fresh black ink. It was carved into my skin. Crude, ragged letters with some edges angled the wrong way. Dried blood was crusted over the message, and I had to pick it off with the tip of my thumb, because it wouldn’t rub away with a cloth.
After giving myself a good ten minutes to breathe, to push my heartbeat back into place, I thought about what the message could mean. RACH. I was clearly spelling Rachel. My best friend since second grade that was letting all of her calls go to voicemail, Rachel.
I opened Safari again. Dove into the black market info – because I had a feeling that BLACKOUT was part of the black market. It took me a while, but I found the company. They mimicked blackouts. They found a way to prevent neurons from interacting with each other like they were meant to… blah blah… the part of the brain that was disrupting long-term potentiation… blah… Basically, they found a way to make you blackout without the alcohol. To erase certain memories.
But what memory would I pay a thousand bucks to have erased? Maybe Rich broke up with me, but that was worth fifty bucks at most. Maybe someone in my family died? Maybe I watched them die? Maybe I helped them die? Rachel… It had to be Rachel.
I called her number again, texted her, Snapchatted her, and checked to see if she was logged onto Facebook, but there was no sign of her. There was a photo on her Instagram from last night, around dinnertime, but it was a throwback. She was wearing a strapless red dress, dark red, blood red — I could imagine it spilling down her arms and legs, splashing up to her face, the crimson swallowing her entire body.
Did I do that? Did I hurt her?
I called Rich. Screw work. I needed to talk to him. To see if his sister was in the house when he woke up this morning.
He answered on the first ring. “Yeah, babe?”
“What happened last night?” My voice came out in strings, like I’d been screaming. “Where’s Rachel?”
“Ah, don’t think about last night, all right? You had a little too much to drink. No big deal.”
“You have to tell me what happened.”
“You got wasted. You blacked out. If you don’t remember the rest, there’s probably a good reason.”
“No.” My vocal chords shook, along with my jaw and my knees and my fingertips. “No I did not black out. I was given a black out. There’s this procedure. I looked it up online. There’s this company and I think it’s illegal but I paid for them to erase something and I need to know what.”
He was silent.
“Rachel’s name is carved into my goddamn chest, Richie. Just tell me if she’s all right.”
He cleared his throat, and when he spoke, he sounded like a different person. “Meet me at my house in a half hour,” he said. And he hung up.
I could picture it. Killing her. Grabbing her red curls and yanking her backward. Taking a broken beer bottle to her doll-smooth cheeks. Sliding it across her pierced lips. Shaking and slashing and stabbing — and then chopping pieces apart while she was still warm.
She was always so manipulative. Jealous. Controlling. She was the reason I started dating Rich, even though I viewed him as more of a friend. The reason I majored in archeology, even though I wanted to be an artist. The reason I became the person I was instead of the person I planned on becoming. I loved her, but she had all the traits of a psychopath.
Not that it meant she deserved to die.
I didn’t realize I’d slipped into jeans and a hoodie, let alone that I’d walked several blocks, but suddenly there I was. At the house Rachel shared with Rich.
He answered before I even knocked. Pulled me inside. Pushed me against the basement’s wooden door and tried to kiss me on the neck.
“Let’s forget about last night. Okay? Rachel’s fine. Everything’s fine. She’s upstairs.”
I shoved him, hard enough to get my point across. “No. No way. I’m not going to drop it.”
“Come on. If this thing you’re talking about is real, if you paid that much money to erase some memory, do you really want to relive it? That’s just throwing money away. I thought you were saving up for grad school?”
“Money isn’t the point right now. Something happened. Something huge. Something I paid a thousand dollars to forget about.”
“Damn it, Lucy.”
That wasn’t him. That was Rachel.
“Oh Jesus. Thank God,” I said as I turned to hug her. She looked fine. Yawning and baggy eyed, but as beautiful as ever. “I thought you were… I’m so glad you’re here.” I refused to let go, squeezing her tighter and tighter as I spoke into her ear. “If you’re okay, what the hell happened last night? I don’t know if Rich told you yet, but there was this place, Blackout, and I called the number but they wouldn’t answer and I’m worried that –”
“You’re right. She’s not going to drop it,” Rachel said to Rich over my shoulder. I heard him sigh.
And then I felt a warmth spread through my body. Not from the tenderness of the hug. From the blood. It was pouring from my stomach now. From a slit Rachel made with the knife I never knew she was carrying.
“Why do you have to be such a stupid fuck all the time?” she said before shoving me down the basement steps. Rich must have opened the door for her.
I woke up (ten minutes later? fifteen?) with my head on the basement floor and my legs angled up the steps. My back and neck were craned to unnatural angles. Painful as fuck angles.
I grabbed the railing and tried to pull myself up. No sense trying the door. I knew they kept a lock on it and my muscles were screaming. I needed to rest.
No. No, I needed to look around for a weapon. For a hammer. For a chainsaw. For a goddamn nail. Something to defend myself with.
But as soon as I started searching, I found two legs and a torso. There was someone, an armless someone, down there with me. Their ankles were tied. Their skin was flaking. Their crotch was stained.
It took them a few tries to talk (their mouth was so dry their lips kept sticking together) but they managed.
“They brought you down here. Last night. They wanted you to be part of it. Because you’re all so close. They wanted you to be part of it.” It was hard to understand the voice in between their dry coughs. “They thought you’d say the bodies were cool. But you said you’d call the cops. That you didn’t want to tell on them, but you had to. So they tied you up.”
A memory flashed through my mind. Of standing against a pillar – of being tied to that pillar — with a rope scratching against my stomach. That was why my legs hurt. I’d been standing for hours.
“They didn’t know what to do with you,” the voice continued. “They didn’t want to kill you. They offered to take you someplace. Make you forget.”
They really needed to enhance their procedure, because I was starting to remember bits and pieces. I could remember agreeing to get my memory wiped, because I thought it would buy me some time. That it would save me from death.
I could remember asking to use the bathroom before we left and cutting into my chest to remind myself of what happened. I could remember being pissed that I couldn’t finish carving Rachel’s name, because they were wondering what was taking so long and were getting impatient. I could remember the fear.
I could remember wondering how my best friend and my boyfriend would decide which one got the duty (the honor?) of killing me.
“They didn’t want to hurt you. But now they have to,” the voice said. “I think yours will be quick though. Quicker than me.” Another long, dry cough. “I guess I’ll meet you in heaven.”