Lifting the bottle, I glance at the clock. It reads 12:15 A.M. My deadline is in seven hours. I empty the bottle of 1800 tequila into my half full glass. I’m never going to finish this article, so what does it matter if I try to finish it drunk. Hell, I might as well not even show up to work. I can hear my boss, Harper now.
“What in the hell is this shit! I gave you twenty-four hours to come up with something on the Cliburn massacre and all you have is this fucking paragraph?! My eight year old can do a better fucking book report! Get your ass out of this office, you’re fired!”
I look at the photos from the scene of the massacre. My hand trembling as I pick up the glass of tequila. It’s not a drunk shake. These photos scare the shit out of me. Remembering being in that room scares the shit out of me. Even though the the bodies were gone, they couldn’t get rid of all the blood. Only a few journalists, ones with the right contacts in the police force, could get into the Bass Performance Hall.
We could see how haunted the few police and forensics people were. One of the journalist, Mason, had to run out. I could hear him losing it just outside the door. I’m surprised the sound of him throwing up didn’t trigger me to follow.
We looked around, sans Mason. Asked questions, some to a few of the forensics team (they’d apparently been told they couldn’t say anything) and to the officer in charge. We’d gotten a few answers, mainly “we have no suspects at this time” and “there was no possibility of animals involved” to “it could have been gang related”. I noticed off to the side a name written in blood “ron” just behind a seat and made a note about it.
“But sir..” one of the other journalists, I forget his name, chimed in “with a lack of blood and no evidence markers near the door, does that mean there was no forced entry and no one tried to run?”
This made the officer straighten quickly and decide there would be no more questions.
I went home immediately and started contacting people. I received a list of everyone at the private concert. Performers and audience alike. There were just over eighteen hundred people in total. But from the looks of the concert hall, as horrid as it was, there was no way almost two thousand people died in that room.
The next day I phoned the police station to ask my contact if there was any information he could give me about how many bodies were found. It was the usual “I can’t release that information at this time.” spiel. Someone was definitely monitoring him. He said a peculiar good-bye, telling me to have a good time at the party. It was the code for meeting me at the zoo.
It had been about thirteen hours since I’d seen him at the concert hall. I didn’t know someone could get this disheveled in such a short amount of time. Sure, maybe he changed out of his uniform in a hurry. But he looked like he’d been drinking for days. Even some of the hairs around his temple were starting to whiten. I didn’t pay that close attention earlier, but I don’t recall the white hair at all. His speech was even a bit frantic, he kept mumbling something, and he was looking around as if paranoid he was followed. He’s been my contact for years, but I’ve never seen him this phased by a case before.
He handed me an envelope. I tried to ask him if he was alright but it’s like he didn’t even notice I was talking to him. He excused himself as we passed the restroom. He kept mumbling, all I could make out was something about someone named Ron, as he walked through the door. I could have left. Instead, I decided to wait. I wanted to make sure he was going to be okay. Perhaps drive him home. But after about fifteen minutes, I was starting to worry. Another fifteen passed and I was almost afraid to go into the restroom. I knocked on the door calling his name. There was no answer. I slowly opened the door. He was standing in front of the mirror. I walked in calling his name again. He spun around and greeted me as if talking to me for the first time today. No shaking, no paranoia, nothing. He was so relaxed I was beginning to worry. He clapped me on the back as we walked back outside, and said he needed to get back to work. I tried to ask him if he was okay, but he shrugged it off and walked towards the front gate.
I walked around for a bit, eager to get home and look inside the envelope. Standard procedure meant we couldn’t leave at the same time and that I wouldn’t open anything he gave me until I was alone. It all seemed so cloak and dagger, it was a bit exciting every time. One of those small perks that helped keep me going.
The first moment I sat down at the computer and pulled out the photos, with a list of names, was the last time I felt sane. There were only five hundred and twenty-eight names of identified deceased. The police were working extremely quickly on this case. Though, all of these bodies probably had identification on them. The odd thing was that there were one hundred thirty-eight unidentified bodies on the list. All of them children. I couldn’t hold in the shivers. Though, the list did nothing to prepare me for the photos.
Mutilated bodies where they sat, eviscerated from neck to groin. But it was the bodies in front of the first row and down the main aisles that made me run to the toilet. The hundred and thirty-eight children all laying on the floor. If the ones I saw in the one photo I looked at (before running to the bathroom) were any indication, they’d all had their throats slit. No sign of the other thousand people. I couldn’t immediately go back to my desk. I had to get out for a few hours to clear my head. Finally, I returned home around midnight only because I had a deadline.
I was starting to see how my contact had grown so disheveled so quickly. And that’s what brought me to this point. Drinking the last drops of tequila from my glass, staring at the photos again, not able to write anything. I peel my eyes from the photos after a few minutes and notice the time, 7:03 A.M.
My eyes go wide. Have I been staring at these photos for almost four hours?! My computer screen is on, and I notice my email has been pulled up. I select the “Sent Items” and find an email titled “The Last Concert: Hundreds of Men, Women, and Children Slain By Suspected Cult” sent ten minutes ago to my boss. I open and begin reading it.
I can feel the uncontrollable shiver cause tremors throughout my body. As I read the first paragraph. The shivering doesn’t stop as I feel the sweat and tears begin to run down my face. My eyes stinging as the salty liquid enters them. But I’m so transfixed by this horrid article that I don’t even involuntarily close my eyes as they start stinging. When I finally reach the end of the article I’d written while blacked out (as I can only assume because it had all of the nuances of my writing) there was one line in a language I didn’t speak at the very end. Not even a language I recognize. The odd thing is that I understand it.
“Ya athg sll'ha Gurathnaka ch' y'bthnk hupadgh lw'nafh ron”? Something in me snaps. I can’t take it anymore. I notice the photo I’d been holding was a picture of those same words written in blood. I shove the photos back into the envelope and half soberly stand up. Still shivering, I stumble my way to the bathroom and turn on the water.
“Ya athg sll'ha Gurathnaka ch' y'bthnk hupadgh lw'nafh ron” I repeat. I keep repeating. My whole body shivering. The alarm on my watch goes off, startling me. 7:06 A.M.
“Ya athg sll'ha Gurathnaka ch' y'bthnk hupadgh lw'nafh ron” I repeat. I keep repeating. I’m going mad. The steam from hot water starts clouding up the mirror. I raise my hand to wipe the condensation away.
“Ya athg sll'ha Gurathnaka ch' y'bthnk hupadgh lw'nafh ron” I can’t stop saying it. I look into the streaked mirror. I see the horrid look on my face as I notice someone grinning just being me….no, not behind me. I’m grinning. My mouth unmoving as I repeat “Ya athg sll'ha Gurathnaka ch' y'bthnk hupadgh lw'nafh ron” one last time. Then I realize I’m not looking at my reflection. I start to bang my hands against the mirror. It doesn’t shatter, it doesn’t make a noise. I watch the person on the other side of the mirror fix his hair, smile, and turn to walk away.
I yell, but all that comes out is an incomprehensible scream as I watch the last glimpse of me...my body...leaving forever.