Content warning: Blood, cursing, violence, sexual violence
My head throbbed, demanding pain killers. Irritation flooded through my body. Only sleep cured my migraines, so waking up with one felt hopeless. With a sigh, I sat up and swung my legs over the edge of the bed. Then I realized I couldn’t normally do this. I kept my bed pressed against the wall, because I liked confined spaces. I looked down at the thick white comforter that also wasn’t mine. Where am I?
I didn’t recognize this room. Clothing, used dishes, food wrappers, and CDs covered the floor. The place was a mess. Noticing a man next to me, I jumped. What happened last night? This looked like a drunk hook up, but that wasn’t my thing. I didn’t even drink. Did someone drug me? At least my clothes were still on. Who was he, and how did I end up in his filthy apartment?
I reached down to scratch an itch on my ankle and felt something box shaped. It looked like an ankle bracelet for someone under house arrest. I tried to rip it off, but couldn’t get it to budge. Fear prickled my skin. Who was tracking me? Him? I turned to the man again. He hadn’t moved. Must be a heavy sleeper. I needed him to wake up. Someone needed to explain this to me. I couldn’t think through the pain. Then again, maybe I didn't want to know what he had planned for me. Unsure whether to wake him or run, I roamed around looking for clues or aspirin.
I stepped into the bathroom. The bathroom light flickered like a strobe light, which stabbed sharp shards of pain through my brain. My stomach tossed. If I didn’t find pain relief soon, I’d throw up. The toilet looked like a cleaning product had never touched it. The rest of the bathroom looked worse. Lines of yellow soap ran down the bathtub, which was speckled with black hairs. A carton of ice cream laid on the floor. At first I thought black liquid melted out of it, but it was millions of ants. Who lives like this?
Used condoms filled the small trash can by the toilet. No way that guy was this lucky. Did he ... another wave of sickness rolled through my stomach, but I wasn’t going near that mold infested toilet. The sink didn’t offer a better option. Something red coated it. Blood?
I needed to get out of there. Officially too many giant red flags here. It smelled so bad I’d faint if I didn’t get fresh air. I’d find pills for the headache elsewhere. I’d accept never knowing how I got here. All that mattered was getting far away from this man. Then finding someone who could cut this thing off my ankle. I’d rather pee outside, anyway. It’d be cleaner. With both my head and bladder threatening to explode, I stumbled through all the junk on his floor.
I ran to the exit and pulled on the handle. The door wouldn’t open. It didn’t have a normal lock. It wanted a code. Shit! I had to wake him up. What if he was a total psycho? How did I get here?
The last thing I remembered was getting coffee with my friend Tonya. She ordered the drinks, added sugar and milk, and carried them to the table. I wasn’t watching my drink the whole time, but it was coffee. Only Tonya and the barista would have touched it. A barista would never get away with drugging drinks. That would be stupid. The man in the bedroom wasn’t the barista, either. Three teenage girls were working there. I remembered that because teen girls put me on edge with all their whispering and giggling.
Thinking Tonya might help me, I pulled my phone from my pocket. Luckily, I still had it on me. The battery was close to dead, but I pressed her name in my contacts. The phone rang, but she didn’t answer. “Please pick up!”
I wanted to call the police, but I didn’t know how that would go. I didn’t know where I was, why I was there, or if anything wrong had technically even happened. Maybe if I woke up that guy, he’d just give me the code and let me leave. Clearly, something wasn’t right, though. Someone drugged me or something. I pinched myself, hoping it was a bad dream, but I felt it. Please call me back, Tonya.
I’d get a weapon before waking up the man. His kitchen was worse than the bathroom. The trash was overflowing with takeout containers and buzzing with flies. Dishes piled in the sink and smelled of something rotten. I grabbed a knife. Something, cheese perhaps, covered it. A cheese covered knife could still stab, and he deserved to be stabbed with dirty dishes for letting his apartment get like this. I kept praying nothing happened between us, but it didn’t seem possible for this to be nothing. People don’t really drug people just to let them sleep for a while.
I walked into the bedroom, taking deep breaths. My legs shook so hard I could barely move forward. “Hey, um. Hey, I need to leave.”
He didn’t move. I knew my voice was too quiet. I forced myself to be louder. “Hey, man. Hey, wake up.”
He didn’t move. I pushed his shoulder. His skin felt weird; somehow wrong. I couldn’t breathe. Panic seized my heart. Is he dead? I slammed my fists into his shoulder. Nothing. I pulled the blanket off him and saw a large knife sticking out of his back. Red pooled around him. What the fuck? My vision blurred and my cheeks dampened with tears. I froze to the ground and gasped desperately for breath. How did I get here? Why am I here? Who is he?
Something about him looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it. I pulled out my phone and called Tonya again. She worked in a courtroom, so it was like calling the police. Except she’d believe me and if I called the cops, this might look weird. I woke up next to a dead man, unable to remember how I got there. That sounds a bit like I could be the killer. Was I? Did he drug me and I fought back?
Tonya didn’t answer. Admittedly, the last time we talked hadn’t gone well. When she invited me for coffee, I thought the purpose was for her to apologize. She actually thought I should have.
Finally breaking my feet free of the ground, I stumbled to the door. I needed to get out of here, even if it meant punching in every number combination I could think of. I failed several times before wondering if a window would work. The only window was in the bedroom. I didn’t want to go back in there, but I closed my eyes and pushed myself to.
Outside the window was a fire escape. I pulled it up and pushed at the screen. Then I heard what sounded like a door opening. No way this guy has a roommate, right? As much as I wanted to run for the door, and hopefully out of it, I held myself back. That person could be anyone. What if this person killed the man and was coming back to kill me? I didn’t know why they’d take a break midway through killing, but none of this made any sense. I pulled open the closet door. Absolutely nothing was inside it. I jumped in and pulled the door most of the way shut. I left a little crack to see through.
What if Tonya calls and the ringing gives away my hiding spot? I pulled out the phone to make sure I had the ringer off. I knew she was mad, but I needed her. We had been friends forever. Obviously, we were going to get over this silly argument one day. Why couldn’t she just answer me? All of this over–
The dead man. He was the one she talked to that night at the bar. The bar I hadn’t wanted to go to. I hated bars, hated drunks, hated going out, honestly. I had always been a homebody, and it drove Tonya crazy. When I got a promotion last week, she insisted we needed to actually celebrate. She dragged me to this creepy bar with an annoying country singer. I sat there uncomfortably while she downed shots. It wasn’t like her. She partied more than me, but not like that. I had never seen her really drunk before. She was obnoxious! I couldn’t tolerate it. I went to the bathroom to work up the nerve to tell her enough was enough. When I came back, she was all over some man. What a great way to celebrate my success? Bring me to a place I hated and ditch me for a stupid guy. I was pissed and walked out. I didn’t look at that guy too much, but he looked a little like the dead man here.
The new person entered the room. I held my breath, pleaded for someone to help me, and nervously glanced through the crack. Tonya? I smiled. She knew I was in trouble and tracked my phone. She was the last person I remember seeing last night. Maybe she saw this guy hit me over the head and drag me into a van or something. My head really hurt so badly. I put a hand to it, suddenly aware the pain might not be from a headache. It felt tender to the touch. I opened the door and ran over to hug my rescuer.
Tonya didn’t hug back. Her body tensed. There was a dead man in the room, after all. “You came to save me. I don’t know what happened. I woke up, and I didn’t know where I was.”
“It’s an awful feeling, isn’t it?” Tonya asked. Her voice sounded bitter. Cold.
I pulled back.
“Especially finding yourself in this place. There’s something really wrong with this guy,” Tonya added. “You’re lucky though. He was dead before you got here. You have no idea what he would have done to you if he wasn’t.”
“I–I’m really confused.”
She sighed. “Maybe if you cared about anyone other than yourself.”
“What’s going on?” I stepped away from her.
“I told you I wanted to get coffee because I had something really important to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen.”
I thought back to the coffee shop. I was annoyed with her about the whole bar thing. Not only did she ditch me, but she hadn’t said a word to me for days after. Then she invited me for coffee. I thought she wanted to apologize, but she sat there acting all weird and silent. I asked about the guy she bailed on me for and she got really upset. She said I left her with him and asked how I could do that. I rolled my eyes and told her not to blame me for her poor choices. Then tried to leave. She insisted I stay and let her get me a coffee so we could talk it out. I didn’t remember anything after that.
“Did you kill him?” I asked.
“If you actually knew what he did, you’d know he deserved it.” She sounded so eerily calm.
“Oh my god.”
“But everyone will think you did it for me.”
“What?” Chills ran down my spine. This wasn’t the Tonya I knew.
“I’m giving you a chance to be a better friend. Take responsibility.”
“What the fuck is your problem? What is this?”
“You left me alone with that psycho! If you had stuck with me like a friend should, I would have never seen this awful place.”
“Look, I don’t know what happened to you. I didn’t mean for anything to happen.” Tears flooded my eyes.
“I never drink like that, and you just left me. Didn’t worry about me?”
“You were being so annoying.” I cringed. Giving this whole situation that sounded petty. Leaving her while she was that drunk was stupid of me.
“I lost my job that day. I was freaking the fuck out and didn’t know what to do. I wanted to talk to you, but you were so excited about your promotion. I was happy for you. I really was. I think I just wanted to forget my whole day. I wanted to be happy with you. I went overboard, I know. I didn’t think you’d leave me. With him!”
“Tonya, this is so stupid. Like all our fights, this is a big misunderstanding. If I had known, I obviously wouldn’t have left. You should have told me what happened.”
“I’m tired of always being the downer. The big loser.”
“You’re not a loser.” You are a murderer. I closed my eyes wishing all of this away. “I’m sorry. I thought you were having fun.”
She glared at me. Then walked over to the dead man. She pulled the knife from his back and stabbed it into him again. “It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore.”
“Don’t say that. We’ll get you help. You can heal from this.”
“I killed someone.”
Panic froze me in place. My head spun wildly. “What if I help you hide the body?”
“We can just bury him somewhere. No one will know. How would anyone tie you to this creep? You don’t actually know him. Let’s put this all behind us.” I didn’t know if I could put this all behind us. How could I ever trust her again after she acted like this? When someone is stabbing an already dead body and glaring at you with icy eyes, it feels safe to tell them what they want to hear.
“You’d really do that?”
“Of course. Haven’t you seen those memes about how real friends are the ones who will bury a body with you? You’re my best friend.” The best lies are ones told with some truth. “Wrap him in a sheet. We can throw him down the fire escape, I think. I’m not sure what the area looks like. Let me check it out and get a feel.”
Tonya was crying now.
“This isn’t your fault. Anyone would have done this in your position. He deserved it. I’ve been a terrible friend.” I did actually feel guilty about that.
Tonya nodded. “I can’t believe we’re doing this.”
“Yup. Can’t say I ever saw this in our future.”
“It’ll be a funny story one day.”
“Uh-huh. I’ll see if he has a shovel too. Probably not, but who knows?” I needed to get away from her for a few minutes.
“This doesn’t mean things are good yet. You need to stop seeing me as a doormat. I’m so sick of everyone doing that to me.”
“I know. We’ll talk more later, but right now we need to get this situated first.”
She nodded and turned back to the dead man. She seemed lost in some kind of trance, and I felt sorry for her. Then she pulled the knife out again, and worrying she might stab him more, I fled. The door was open, so I hurried to the hallway. I pulled out my phone. I’m a really terrible friend. That’s all I could think as I called the police, and ran as far as I could get. I stopped for a moment, and turned back. I wanted to be a better friend. I always meant to be loyal. I wanted to be there for her in her time of need. I understood everything that happened to her was bad, and I had failed her. Still, things change a little when murder's thrown in. Is unwavering loyalty really the best answer? Sirens wailed and I ran further. I felt the ankle bracelet pinch my skin. She must have expected this from me.