I write character-driven dark fiction.
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"To whom it may concern,

It wasn't my fault. It was Max. I went along with him, but that's all I did. I swear.

I think.

There are bead necklaces on my table. Four necklaces, four colors. Mardi Gras souvenirs I'd give anything to get rid of. I've tried; they keep coming back. The blue one was Max's. The Mardi Gras trip was his idea, and it was fun until he brought out those damn pills.

"C'mon, Phil," he said. "You need to relax and get into the Mardi Gras spirit!"

We all took them. I didn't want to look uptight, did I? God, that sounds like one of those After School Specials on 'peer pressure', doesn't it?

I woke in our room the next morning and staggered into the bathroom, my underwear sticking to my skin. I flipped on the light, and I started screaming. In the mirror I saw myself wearing only boxers and a string of gold beads - and covered in blood. Most of it was dry, spattered across my legs and chest, but it seemed thickest beneath my boxers. The guys woke up and started freaking out. All but Max, though he was in the same condition as the rest of us. All of us wearing beads and blood. The blood wasn't ours, the beads weren't ours - and none of us could remember where any of it had come from. Max actually got the giggles. I think he was still on something.

We all showered, frantic (except for Max, who took his time) to get clean. Max said he was hungry and went for some take-out. He was wearing his blue beads when he left, fingering them thoughtfully.

The rest of us stayed holed up for the day, struggling to remember what happened after we took Max's pills. That was the last thing we all recalled clearly, taking those damn pills. Then Ted remembered the girl.

"You guys remember the girl with all the beads?" he said. "I just remembered the girl with the beads. Like, a ton of those necklaces - a real party girl."

He stared at his own beads, green and shiny, with horror.

"I just remembered her. Do you guys remember her?"

Marty's eyes widened.

"Marylin! Her name was Marylin, right? Or something like that? I can't remember..."

Ted thought it sounded right, but wasn't sure. That's all they remembered. A face and a name. I couldn't even remember that much. We looked at each other, wide-eyed. What the hell had we done? We waited for Max to come back, wondering if he remembered anything. We waited.

And waited.

It was almost midnight when the police called. A hit-and-run, they said. A truck, or bus, they said; very messy. If not for his driver's license they might never have identified the body. It was while we were getting ready to go to the station that Ted found the beads. Max's blue beads, the ones he had been wearing when he left, piled in the center of Ted's bed.

We spent the next day dealing with the police about Max. We were all terrified they would start asking us about a woman named Marylin, what we had done and why, but they never did. Maybe they took our twitchy fingers and staring eyes to be shock over Max. I don't know. I do know it was nighttime when we got back to the hotel. Marty and I stopped at the hotel bar, but Ted went right up to the room. He looked exhausted. Marty and I sat in the bar until the screaming started. There was a commotion out in front of the hotel; we ran to see what was going on.

Ted was easy to identify; he had landed on his back. His face was unmarked -- strange, since the impact had spread the back of his head like pancake batter on a hot skillet. The police said he had jumped from the roof, 10 stories up, to make an impact like that. We insisted that Ted couldn't have -- he was terrified of heights, couldn't even look out a 3rd floor window. They wouldn't listen.

Another day with the police, worse this time, getting back after dark again. Marty didn't care that the police had ordered us to stay in town, he was going home. It was the beads: blue, green, and his own red, waiting on his bed when we returned.

I left with him.

The red-eye to Boston was less than four hours. Half-way through the flight, Marty got up to use the lavatory. Once the door locked he started screaming. It went on and on, screams that stopped just as they forced the door.

Marty sat there alone and dead, terror stamped on his face.

I didn't wait for any investigation, but took off as soon as we were on the ground. I came home. Unpacked. Found them in my suitcase.

Beads. Red, blue, green and gold. I tried to get rid of them. I threw them out the window. I put them in my neighbor's garbage can. I 'forgot' them on a cross-town bus. Each time I got home I found them. Waiting.

While I was contemplating the beads I saw the news. A Rhode Island co-ed on a trip to Mardi Gras, found brutally raped and beaten to death in her hotel room. I knew the girl in the picture. Knew her though I couldn't remember her. Still can't.

Marylin Hereford.

They said the police are following good leads. Maybe they're on their way here now, I don't know. But they won't get me. She'll be here first. I wanted to write this down, though. So people would know that I'm sorry. And it wasn't my fault."

Phil put the pen down and pushed the paper away. He stiffened at the sound of the door opening behind him, then relaxed in resignation. His eyes closed, and tears, long held in check, began to flow. He spoke in a murmur, without turning around.

"Hello, Marylin."



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