This story is by Rebecca Lawrence and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
The smell of death filled the room. A dim bulb dangled from the ceiling. A woman, still as a corpse, crouched in a corner. Her dark walnut hair, clipped short, hung about her closed eyes. Her sleeping, childlike face was wide and soft with innocence but her hands were a crusty brown, dried blood. Silence filled the room like a living thing. Her long-lashed eyelids flicked open. The next instant, she started awake and sprang up. In one hand she numbly clutched a book. Wincing, she put her free hand to her head. Red flakes drifted down her face and onto her jeans. She bit back a scream. Her hands were coated to her elbows with cracking blood. She ran to the door, it was locked. No window. The earthen walls closed in. The floor seemed to shrink under her feet. The book she clutched was her only lifeline.
“Where am I?” She blinked quickly and tried to hold back hysteria. “Who am I?” She whispered. She glanced down at the book and her eyes widened in surprise. It was a brown, nondescript journal with leather binding. Her fingers fumbled as she flipped to the first page.
Don’t panic. You may be in a mild state of confusion. She spat harsh words she guessed were curses. Spittle flew over the pages.
Let me explain. Your name is- the next word was obscured by a dark ink splotch Whatever you want it to be. I will tell you your story but first, you must listen to mine. When you have finished I will unlock the door.
The young woman hesitated. Impatience made her hands shake. The room was uncomfortably chilly.
If you remember your childhood in America, the government and the CIA, well, those days are gone. The CIA has turned into less of an intelligence gathering agency than a military force. The government is collapsing and the Presidency has drifted from its original morals. Elections are tampered with and as more and more lines are crossed policies become extinct.
I was hired as a secretary for the CIA many years ago and was drawn into the entire affair. I don’t remember when first I changed. Maybe it was the first time I turned a blind eye to a false report or lied to my husband. Maybe it was when I started to think the CIA’s underhanded grabs for power were justified, or when I was officially promoted from secretary to agent of special purpose. But whenever it was, it wasn’t the first time I killed. No, the first time I slipped poison into my coworker’s coffee, I thought it was the right thing to do. He had received a death sentence for leaking information. I was too far gone to think anything was wrong.
I began to live a double life; a loving wife on the weekends, a paid killer at work.
Determined to keep the title of democracy the CIA director himself helped reinstate a President after the old one disappeared. Everything settled down, but it wasn’t the same. Behind closed doors, unsavory methods of control were still used. Unexpectedly, the new President had been fooled by the facade the government put on. When he learned he was only a figurehead, he went rogue, making laws and trying to change the system back to what it once was. The CIA director chose him because he trusted me, and we both assumed my husband thought like me. When he realized my husband didn’t, he trusted me enough to kill him.
Could I kill my husband? The answer was yes, of course. I had become a cold-blooded killer, I still am. The blood on your hands is the hermit’s whose cellar you are in. I wish I won’t have fresh blood on my hands when I die but I needed somewhere to hide. The hermit is in an upstairs closet; he did not die easily. But the fact remains that I was prepared to kill my husband, the President. Details from that day are burned into my mind.
I remember kneeling on a balcony. The scent of floor wax and fresh flowers wafted up from the state floor below. The crowd beneath me, determined to fix the corruption swallowing our leaders. Looking down the scope, I studied the breast pocket of the white shirt I had ironed for my husband that morning. I thought, when did I stop loving him? My finger tightened on the trigger.
Slow burning hate worked its way into my throat. Hatred that now, after everything, I was the one to plunge the country back into tyranny. Hatred for changing, for forgetting what I used to cherish. Till death do us part, sang a bitter voice in my head. Perhaps that’s what made me miss.
The handwriting grew slanted and quick.
I am glad, now, that I did, though I am hunted as a traitor for it. Still, my soul can never be redeemed. I have murdered. Voices, faces of the dead haunt me. Even now the darkness looms. Hands rip at my clothes. Blood spills. I am going mad. Mad from everything I have done. It will soon overtake me. Violence can’t be unseen.
After my promotion I was given a pill, akin to a suicide pill. Instead of death, it induced permanent memory loss. It was in case of capture.
There was no easy way out of my job, not even death.
You were a wife, a murderer, and a madwoman, for you are me. In knowing my story you know your past but not who you are. From you, I have removed what makes a person, memories. I have given you the one thing that evaded me, innocence. The key is under the door just out of sight. I had to be sure you would listen before running. I gathered enough of the hermit’s money on the kitchen table to buy passage to Australia or Europe.
May you never remember what you once were.