If there’s one thing to ruin your appetite at lunch, it’s finding a fresh corpse outside your office. The lifeblood of my faceless colleague pooled around the spring planters of the little courtyard; a close-range gunshot had ensured he was no longer identifiable.
I looked away to stop myself from throwing up or screaming, and in doing so noticed an old-school camera tripod setup nearby. It was focused on a man spray-painting a tag beside the body. There were three men in total, all wearing dark hoodies. Once they saw us watching, two of them scarpered.
Myself and Jess acted as if we’d seen nothing, but climbed up onto the statue podium in the centre of the courtyard for safety. The remaining man watched our movements. He made no attempt to hide his identity. I saw every detail of his face with clarity; the enormous crooked grin and dark-eyed pupils wide with pleasure.
An older man exited the office and was met with the barrel of the pistol. The gun barely made a noise, but his pale pink shirt darkened instantly. I held Jess to me so she couldn’t see any of it, but the man didn’t once stop watching me. A woman followed shortly after, and with sickening grace he sprung on her. She whimpered and pleaded, struggling against the prison of his arms. The man’s eyes bore into my soul, daring me to try something. He looked almost disappointed as several seconds later he rammed the gun into her mouth and pulled the trigger. Her body dropped like litter.
Somehow she was still alive and looking at me, choking on her own cries for help. Blood cascaded down her face in silk ribbons, body convulsing as she tried to breathe with what was left of her mouth. Jess broke free of my shielding and saw. She sobbed.
“Please,” I begged. “We saw nothing.”
“You’re damn right,” he growled, pointing the pistol at me. “And you tell no-one.”
He disappeared, and it was apparent that we had to do the same.
I made sure Jess got home okay. We didn’t discuss it, but agreed with silence that we would tell no-one. This man was not ordinary. He would find us.
By 6pm the murders were all over the news. After three showers I sat naked on the sofa, hugging my knees. Several of my belongings were covered in blood, some of which I knew could prove vital in catching the killers. My white T-shirt was stained red, and for some reason bits of cardboard I’d dragged home were damp with blood too. This is someone else’s blood, I thought. The last of it. I couldn’t wrench my mind from the image of the woman as her face half-exploded. I’d seen it plenty of times in TV programmes and games, but reality…
Needless to say I didn’t sleep that night. Luckily the office was closed until further notice, so I didn’t have to worry about work. The hours passed in a haze of nothingness, until Saturday came and brought with it my birthday celebrations. People arrived a few at a time, and I plastered on a big smile. Jess was there, but refused to meet my gaze. We had cocktails whilst waiting for the latecomers, but the small talk didn’t block out the bad thoughts.
The restaurant district had a gigantic pool in the middle, so as the images resurfaced I went for a swim to clear my mind. The pool was full of people of all ages, enjoying the freak heatwave with their rubber rings and colourful Speedos. Somehow, I became topless. I swam up to the Turtle Bay pool bar, looking at the menu for ages, but not properly taking it in. The bartender was really nice, but I could see she was getting irritated with my lack of ordering.
Before I knew it, two hours had passed. I made my way back to the cocktail bar my friends were inhabiting. Miraculously they were still there, but they were far from happy. After months of planning they’d spent time and money to celebrate with me, and I’d ruined everything. I apologised nonstop. “I’m so sorry,” I choked. I caught Jess’ eye and whispered, “I just keep thinking about that day.”
“Don’t you fucking dare,” she said between gritted teeth. I burst into tears. The rest of the group came back from the bar and looked at me with disappointment. I hugged them all and began the next round of apologies. This was not the night I had promised them.
We stuck around until they finished their cocktails, with next to no conversation to improve the mood. I sat alone on a sun lounger, sniffling until we went our separate ways.
It felt as if all my clothes had been soaked in hot, sticky blood. I went back with a couple of friends to their house, where I asked if I could be cheeky and use their washing machine. There was already a load on, which was five incredibly long minutes away from being done. I stood there watching the clock, wearing the clothes my friend had reluctantly lent me.
After a while he went off to meet his gaming friends, seeing as the disastrous night was already over. I looked at my watch; it was only eleven. This night was still salvageable! I decided to message everyone so we could regroup and still go to our Airbnb. There I would snap out of this stupor, forget the whole incident (with enough time and vodka) and enjoy myself.
I washed the blood from my hands, and the images from my memory.