If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t care much for the whole e-mail process anymore. I know this is going to sound terribly hipster or whatever, but I think it’s already outdated as a means of communication. It just feels clunky and slow, kind of like the way real mail started feeling as soon as the internet was first becoming a thing.
So that is my peremptory excuse for what I am about to tell you. I just feel like I needed to get that explanation out of the way. Because, as a friend, I really fucked up. Big time.
It must’ve been several months prior to yesterday that I had checked my inbox, so a lot of stuff had happened in that interval. My sister married a guy as super religious as she is and became pregnant with a baby whom they might actually think is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. And one of my cats died, so that pretty much ruined my life for an entire month. Cats are a pretty big deal.
Also, one of my best lifelong friends, Charles, wound up committing suicide. I guess I shouldn’t say “best,” or “lifelong,” because we were those kinds of friends who bounced in and out of communication with each other over the years. But every time we would start talking again, it was like no time at all had passed, and nothing had changed. Even after several years of silence, we could pick back up on inside jokes that were going on several years running.
I barely even recognized his mother’s voice when she called. She sounded hoarse, like she was losing her voice. And I’m not sure why, but she kept calling me “son.” I was hesitant at first, but I somehow brought myself to ask her the question that had been nagging me the whole time.
“How did he do it?” I asked.
The line fell silent for what felt like hours, punctuated only by her raspy breathing.
“Why do you want to know something like that, son?” she asked. “Did the cops tell you to ask me that?”
“What?” if she was any less hoarse, I would have thought she was joking.
“Did that detective Thurman put you up to getting information out of me?”
“Why would they need information out of you?” I asked. “You said he took his own life, right?”
“My… baby…” she groaned, and fell to sobbing so loud I was almost tempted to hang up the phone.
There was another eternity of her just wailing into the receiver like that. Suddenly the whole thing was starting to make me feel a little sick. I was sad at first, and almost even felt like crying myself. But the more she just wailed into the phone, and the more I thought about the police thing, the more disturbed I felt.
So I just hung up. I apologized to her and ended the phone call before she could say anything else. I don’t even know if she heard me or not. As the day went on I started getting calls from some of the other guys in the group. Word was spreading, and as it reached me, I started realizing that the nature of Charles’ death was in question. It looked like a suicide, but there was reason to suspect something else.
Still, the question was nagging at me. How did he kill himself? No one knew how. Apparently it was information that the authorities were keeping confidential.
So I made up my mind to take some vacation time from work and get a plane ticket back to Arizona. I felt like it was my duty or something to be there and help in any way I could. But I was still unsure of how to approach Charles’ mother after what happened on the phone.
Luckily, I never made it that far. I had to sign up for a new account on a ticket website, because I’ve never done much flying. So it was right then that I needed to check my e-mail, for the first time in months in order to get the confirmation link. And when I opened up my Inbox (with 2,030 new messages, mostly spam) I saw Charles’ name three rows down, from a week ago. The subject line read:
“Luke, please read.”
I felt a chill crawl down my spine. My best friend, who had just committed suicide, had sent me an urgent e-mail only days before his death. I was almost too scared to open it. I had this guilt burning in me, like I had betrayed him or something. Even before I opened it, I convinced myself that I could have helped him if I had just fucking checked my e-mail a little sooner.
After staring vacantly at the computer screen for an eternity, I opened the e-mail.
I’m not really too sure how to start this thing. We haven’t spoken to each other for a while now. But I couldn’t just go talking to Alex about something like this. He would just laugh it off like he always does.
I’ve been having these memories, Luke. Like when I wake up in the morning I remember things about the past that never even happened. I know what you’re thinking… I’m sure they aren’t just dreams. Fuck you for thinking cynically like you always do. I know the difference between a dream and a memory. And these feel like memories.
I know that because it’s disturbing to me, the way I feel about them when they come. It’s sick. The shit that I am remembering, it’s so sick and I know it never happened, but when I see the images in my head I get this rush in my stomach. It’s like a shot of adrenalin and it hits me like I was really there when the things were happening. But they’re not real. I know they’re not.
This morning, when a new memory came to me, I saw Adam. He looked exactly like he did that last day of school before he went missing. Except that this clothes were torn. And I… He was looking at me like he was terrified. No, not me. He was looking at whoever these memories belong to… or maybe they belong to no one. How could I possibly be remembering something that happened to someone else? I must sound like a lunatic right now.
I saw Adam die, Luke. I know this is hard to hear, but I think I know why he went missing. It’s gruesome. In my memory I was holding a big two-sided axe, like the kind that my dad used to keep in his garage. He was backing away from me and I was walking up to him.
Do you remember the last thing he said to us before he left school for home, Luke? He said he was going to meet someone he met online. But he never said where… yet I know. I think I know. He was by our old clubhouse, two miles into the forest west of your house. I know I saw the big Cedar tree that we belt it into.
I killed him, Luke. Jesus Fuck, not just him. These memories. There have been so many people that I have killed, and I have to relive every single one of them. But why me? In my head I’ve killed Adam, Teresa, Garett, and Paul. I never even realized we’ve had so many friends go missing throughout the years. Did you? And now all I can feel is sick, like I’m the one who did it.
These memories only started like a week ago. I told my mom about them, but she thinks it’s just because I stopped taking my medication a little bit ago. She’s certain they are nightmares from resurfacing emotions that the medication has been suppressing. Some shit like that. But I know what I need to do now.
I need to go out to that clubhouse, where I saw Adam murdered. His body was never found, so what if I find it there? That means… I don’t know exactly. Or maybe I don’t want to know. But I’m going to find out. I’ll write you again once I find out what’s going on.
I miss you, man.
So he committed suicide shortly after that. The realization was like a knife in my chest. We used to always get into mysteries with each other when we were younger. If I was there, I would absolutely have gone with them. But then what?
Still, as the days wore on, I couldn’t stop obsessing about something. I was rooting through my old Facebook photos, the ones with Charles in them. There were some with all of us hanging out when we were very young, before Garett had died and Paul and Adam went missing. We were intact.
But for some reason I felt like I was suddenly seeing a look on Charles’ face that I had never seen before. His eyes seemed darker, almost sunken. Then I found a photo of just him, a candid one I had taken. I remember bursting into his bathroom hoping to embarrass him with a photo of him taking a shit, but I just found him staring at himself in the mirror. On the counter I saw a small prescription bottle. I don’t know how I never caught that look on his face before, as he was staring at himself in the mirror. He looked so dark.
Suddenly I started wondering what kind of medication he was taking. Reluctantly, I took up the phone and called his mother again. It was awkward at first, but she pretended like nothing happened. I didn’t waste any time getting to the point of asking her what kind of medication he used to take. I knew I was getting closer to the truth when she hung up on me without another word. She’s scared.
Then, several hours later, I got a call. It was Marcus, another old friend of ours whom I had spoken to shortly after I heard the news about Charles. He was drunk, like always.
“Hey man, I totally forgot to tell you,” he said, sounding out of breath. “Charles called me the night before he killed himself.”
“How the fuck did you forget to tell me that?”
“Sorry bro, but I remembered that he asked me to tell you something. He said he didn’t have it in him to write another e-mail. He wanted me to tell you, ‘I had another memory this morning. In that memory, I looked in the mirror. And I saw myself. I saw my own face looking back at me.’”
I was speechless, frozen. I wanted to say something to him, but I couldn’t find the words.
“Oh, also,” he continued, “he said he found Adam… isn’t that sick, man? What does that mean?”
“Nothing,” I said, instantly, remembering how strange his mother had been with me on the phone. “It doesn’t mean a thing.”