The Scene of the Crime

Submitted into Contest #140 in response to: Write about a character with an unreliable memory.... view prompt

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Crime Mystery LGBTQ+

I open my eyes with a throbbing headache, sticky fingers, and vague images of a lifeless corpse following me from a nightmare I’ve just woken up from. There’s red all over my pillow, and as I sit up I see that it’s on my hands. The sheets roll down my torso and reveal that my shirt is covered, too. I want to massage my temples to quell the awful aching, but stay frozen in disgust looking around at what can only be blood. It’s everywhere. Is it my period? Do I need to drive myself to the hospital? I start putting the pieces together. The corpse. The blood on my hands. I stare down at them in a panic. What did I do?


Someone barges in. The sound makes me wince. 


“Dude, I told you to wash the blood off your hands. Don’t want any incriminating evidence,” the guy says with a chuckle, as if this is somehow funny. I stare at him because I know I’ve seen his face hundreds of times, but my brain seems to be processing things slowly today. Probably because I was recently involved in a murderous tussle, and it seems I took quite a bit of damage. Obviously not as much as the other person. It takes me a moment, but I recognize him, my brother. His name is escaping me at the moment, but there’s a “J” at the tip of my tongue. 


Regardless, he seems bizarrely nonchalant, if not supportive of my evident role in a murder. “I’m gonna go grab you an ice pack,” he says. “You look totally out of it.”


I am totally out of it. I don’t understand what kind of motive I would have to kill someone. I have and would never understand anyone’s motive to take someone else’s life. My nameless brother heads out of the room and his absence encourages me to start freaking out again. I once again take into account that I am covered in someone else’s blood practically head to toe, and more importantly, that I’ve killed someone. My heart is racing. The blood rushes to my head. I do need an ice pack. And an aspirin. Mostly a time machine. 


My phone is on my bedside table; evidently I overall suck at covering up a crime. Maybe because I’ve never committed one before. Swiping a chapstick when I was 12, sure. Something as horrific as murder, no. My eyes and my head don’t like the bright light from my phone, but the screen confirms my terrifying theory. A dozen texts from my girlfriend. Are you okay? Are you badly hurt?


I was hurt, temporarily, but I thought I’d gotten over it. I mean, it was just a little fight. More than a little, worse than our usual squabbles, but I thought we’d worked it out. I feel tears in my eyes. I would never put hands on Lena, not that way anyway. What possibly could have happened? Did I drink something that’d gone bad? Did I smoke something laced? Is she dead? Is she dead because of me?


I try to scan the timestamps on her messages while smearing tears across my face. The last one is at 2:37 am. My other chats seem rather orthodox: Mom, 7am: Good luck!; Dad, 3pm: Remember to take it easy!; Jared, 2am: I’m on my way to pick you up. My entire family is deeply disturbed. I desperately scroll for something else from Lena, but the text ends there. There aren’t many preceding it besides exchanges about groceries and budgeting. You don’t need to text that much when you spend so much time together.


“Where was I at two in the morning?” I croak, trying to make myself heard.


“At the scene of the crime, duh,” Jared answers back. “Bastards,” I hear him mutter.


All I can do is sit frozen in place, staring into space and squeezing my phone. I kind of wish it would explode. Reality would explode, none of this would be real, and I would wake up with Lena by my side.


I rush to the bathroom and dry heave over the toilet. Nothing’s coming up. I wish I could claw through myself and unwrap myself from the inside, away from this existence. I killed my girlfriend. I murdered Lena in cold blood. Over a stupid fight. What was I on? Apparently my entire family was in on it, too, and we’re all lunatics. I want to smash my head on the toilet. 


I don’t remember turning on the water, or stepping into the shower, but I’m standing under the water fully clothed, watching pink water circle down the drain. I don’t have the energy to scrub the blood from my body, so I stare, hypnotized, until the majority has slid off my skin before I step out and back towards my bedroom.


From the bathroom doorway the blood-stained sheets are perfectly framed and perfectly nauseating. I go to leave the bedroom and find a note from Jared: Gone to grab aspirin, called doctor


I know I’m not really one to talk, but I think he’s lost his mind. He’s basically an accomplice to murder running around like I deserve to be taken care of. Next to the note is a hoodie. I put it on, trying to cover up the now-pink stains on my shirt. It smells like Lena. I can feel something bubbling in my throat, a scream maybe, but nothing comes out as I swing the door open, walk down the hallway, and out of the apartment building.


The bright daylight is anything but forgiving, just like the dozens of pedestrians immediately knocking into my shoulders rushing to their mundane jobs as I walk numbly around the sidewalk. Lena and I fought about a job. She thought it was dangerous. Apparently I was more.


I pick a direction and keep walking, sort of hoping I’ll stumble into traffic and be hit by a car. I stay on the sidewalk but neglect to check both sides before passing a crosswalk, earning a few angry honks. The sun hurts and my vision goes blurry just as I make out a blue figure in the distance. The details start to clear – the badge, the belt – my heart rate picks up. I turn around, hands in my pockets, inhaling the familiar scent of the hoodie as if Lena would want to be comforting me right now. Why am I trying to run? I should turn myself in. I stop and turn, ready to march up to the officer, but someone else keeps walking right into me. It still takes me a moment, but this time it takes my brain a little less time to recognize him.


“What are you doing outside? And why are you all wet? Come on, this can’t be good for you,” Jared says, grabbing my arm and pulling me back towards my apartment. He fumbles with a pair of keys with a drugstore bag hanging off his wrist. I’m shaking as I turn to make eye contact with the cop. 


Take me in. I’m guilty. 


He looks at me with the intimidation of anyone in a position with too much authority, but then keeps walking and gives the next stranger the same look. I keep watching him walk casually down the street, probably making everyone nervous like when you leave a store without buying anything, or go through airport security knowing there’s nothing dangerous in your bag. But I know I’ve done something terrible, and I deserve terrible consequences.


I’m dragged back into the apartment. Jared shoos me towards a couch. “Go, sit. None of this is good for your head. Mom basically wants you on bedrest; I just have to get your sheets in the wash.” He pulls a bottle out of the plastic bag and shoves it in my hand, heading into my room. I stare at the pills, a cocktail of emotions stirring in my stomach. Can you overdose on aspirin? Selfish. I should live with what I’ve done.


A phone starts buzzing from my room. I look over and see Jared peeking back out towards me. “Sit. I’ll get it.”


I do, because I’m not sure what else to do, and stare at the kitchen set up on the other side. Just the other day Lena and I were laughing, making soup. It might even have been last night. The timeline feels blurry. Jared is mumbling to someone in the other room. He sounds upset, then stops stalking and keeps shuffling around.


The doorbell rings. I jump up. It’s them. I’m ready to turn myself in, confess. There’s nothing I can do to make this better; I can’t bring her back. I finally do something with intention and pull the door open only to be met with the face of a ghost.


Lena’s expression is concerned, anxious, upset. Angry? In a whisper shout, she leans past me and says, “Jared, why the hell is she up? She should be lying down!”

Jared shouts back, “Her sheets are all bloody and she won’t change out of her clothes! Plus she seems super out of it, she won’t do anything I tell her. She took a fucking shower and the floor is soaked, I need a mop, and-” He keeps grumbling but it’s difficult to focus on what he’s saying right now.


Lena looks back at me, and I look back. She shakes her head and then pulls me in for a hug. I hug her back, sobbing. 


“I’m sorry.” 


She responds, talking a mile a minute, not making any sense, neither what she’s saying nor why she’s not angry and seems to be haunting me rather sympathetically.


“You have nothing to be sorry for. The production studio seriously fucked up. I have Advil, soup, some cold neck packs and compresses; my mom helped me put the basket together. You really need to lie down. I’ve already talked to my dad, he’s not available but he’s setting up another really good lawyer on your case-”


“She won’t need a good lawyer. Any judge with their head on straight would see the studio was in the wrong,” Jared calls from the other room, his voice still grating. Is he a hallucination, too?


I’m so confused. Lena is rubbing my back, or her ghost is. I feel cold in her embrace. The blurry corpse and the blood are all I can see when I close my eyes. I step back to look at Lena’s ghostly form again and she says, “Come on, let’s get you on the couch. I’m gonna grab you some clean clothes and run a bath or something. Jared, grab her what she needs from the basket!”


I just stand there, staring at her as she starts moving about. I think I’m losing it. Her’s and Jared’s shadows flicker in the corner of my vision. I think I vomit. My vision speckles with dark spots before I fall back into a dream.


I wake up to more painful lights. Fluorescent lights, and a single tile above my head showing palm trees surrounded by sterile white. There was no nightmare this time, just Lena, expressive and concerned. The snap of a clapperboard, over and over again, like she was playing a ghost in a movie. Or acting alive in reality.


After scanning the room, my eyes land on Lena once again. Her eyes are hollow and her skin pale. I guess I am being haunted. I hadn’t considered that as one of the punishments.


But her hand in mind is warm, and she’s staring at me intently, full of care. She says my name, squeezing my hand and I squeeze back, feeling her aliveness.


“Are you okay? Do you want me to get a nurse? Technically I’m not supposed to be here since I’m not family, but Jared had to step out for a bit. He’s calling your parents, they’re supposed to be on their way. Totally freaked out. We all are, you really scared us.”


I don’t know how long I stare at her without saying anything, but the concern grows on her face.


“Oh my God. Do you know who I am? Do you remember who I am? The doctors said you might have temporary amnesia.” Her eyes start welling up. “Please tell me you remember me.”


Amnesia. I let out a long, heavy sigh. It seems to make my headache let up a bit. 


“Lena, I have no idea what the fuck is going on.” I try to make direct eye contact, although focusing my eyes seems a bit difficult at the moment, and ask the question. I feel more comfortable with the answer now. “Are you dead?”


Lena shakes her head, brows furrowed, then laughs a bit. Then furrows her brows again. 


“Do you not remember the accident?”


“The accident.”


The mangled corpse, bloodied clothes. I see it now: the jugs and jugs of fake blood, the hot set lights dangling weakly above my head, making me sweat under their heat as I tried to focus on the scene. The one I kept a side-eye on because it seemed particularly poorly attached to the beam. Lena doesn’t elaborate, appearing to see me piece the story together on my own.


“I don’t think now is the right time to say I told you so but, please never work for sketchy companies again, okay?”


What can I say, being a struggling actress is hard. I don’t really want to move my head, so instead of nodding I just smile. 


A blue curtain shuffles and a nurse walks in, angrily staring Lena down. 


“I said family only.” Lena shifts in her chair, but stays put. She looks ready to say something when Jared passes through the curtain, catching the nurse off guard. He’s holding flowers and a teddy bear.


“They’re fiancées. The wedding is very soon. You can see how this whole accident is very untimely.” He faces down the suspicious nurse for just a moment before she looks at me. 

“I’m getting you some water. The doctor should be in soon,” she says, swishing the curtain behind her.

Jared sighs, setting down the stuff. 


“Well, I’m glad to see you’re alive, dude. Doctor says definitely a concussion, but he wants to check to make sure he didn’t miss anything. Mom and Dad are on their way.” He looks between Lena and me, rocking forward on his toes. “I’ll leave you two to it, then,” and he disappears like the nurse. 


For some time, Lena and I just smile at each other. A playful expression dances its way up to her eyes. 


“What exactly did you think had happened? I know you were all concussed, but when I came over you looked like you’d seen a ghost. You had the same look when you woke up just now.” I aim my eyes downwards, face burning. 


“The blood everywhere, the headache. All I could remember was this dead body …” 


I can tell she’s stifling a laugh. “That cheap dummy they insisted on using? Jared kept saying how shitty it would look on camera before they kicked him off set.” Her tone shifts. “You probably wouldn’t have gotten hurt if he’d stayed. Or … if I’d been there.” She looks down. “About our fight, what I said-”


“You were right.” She shakes her head. 


“I still said some stuff I shouldn’t have.”


“But I still got hurt. Maybe for the best, because I can’t remember what half that argument was about.” Lena smiles and finally makes eye contact again.


“You shouldn’t have gotten hurt at all. By me or that dumb crew.”


Maybe she’s right – she usually is – but for now, I’m just glad to be holding her hand.


April 08, 2022 02:41

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2 comments

15:47 Apr 12, 2022

Well done! Great use of the prompt :) You did a great job unfolding the story as it happened keeping the reader guessing along with the main character about what happened.

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Amber Versailles
16:25 Apr 12, 2022

Thank you!

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