Forum: Arts / Fiction

Now He Knows: a short story
By Heartmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Sat Jun 23, 2012 06:28 AM

This is a short story I submitted to my college's literary magazine. This is based on a true story. It's a suspenseful mystery / some horror.

TRIGGER WARNING: Seriously graphic content. If you don't think you can handle it, don't read it. This gets disturbing.

About five pages long, single-spaced, in Word.


Spoiler: Show
He should have known. He should have known.

No one had heard from Tim in 7 days. A whole week.

The last time Elliot saw him was in his biology class. They were going to meet up at their favorite bar for drinks on Thursday. “I’ll text you then,” Tim said with a smile, waving as he turned around a corner. Elliot went straight through the main doors of the building that opened up to warm spring sunshine and the wide, bustling quad.

It wasn’t weird when Tim didn’t text him back, and it was only sort of curious when he wasn’t there Thursday night with the gang at the Railroad Brewery. Jordan hadn’t heard from him either, but Matt just shrugged. “Maybe he has a test or something.”

Elliot called Tim on Friday to see if he wanted to go to a party, but it went through to voicemail; on Sunday, Tim’s phone was turned off. Tim wasn’t in Biology on Tuesday, so Elliot had to team up with the cute girls who sat next to them, the brunette with sharply parted pigtails braided so tight you could see the white skin of her scalp between them. Elliot had been crushing on her hard, wanting to run his fingers through her chestnut locks, to have her full, undivided attention, not just a simple nod while her eyes were trained on her lab report, scribbling an answer while pushing him the rack of clean test tubes.

But today he couldn’t concentrate. He wasn’t making a good impression on the studious pair. Elliot was distracted, bouncing his knees, tapping his pencil on the desk, watching the clock tick down the last minutes of the block, oblivious to the sharp, disapproving looks from his pigtailed object of affection. When the professor dismissed them he dashed out into the hall, punching Jordan’s name in his cell phone with his thumbs.

He answered on the first ring. “What’s up, dude?”

“Was Tim in your lit class on Monday?”

“No… why?”

“He wasn’t in my biology class today, either.”

“Huh. Is he sick? Did you try his cell?”

“His phone’s been off since Sunday.”

There was a pause while Jordan thought about this. “And he wasn’t there on Thursday.”

“And he didn’t text to say why.”

“Wait, so when was the last time anyone saw him?”

They discussed it as a group in the common room of their dorm that night. “Not since Thursday before last,” said Matt, a dark, handsome member of the intermural rugby team. “But I don’t usually bump into him during the week.”

“He lives off-campus,” added Elliot, “so it’s tough to say.”

“Lit only meets on Mondays,” said Jordan, seated on the floor wedged between the coffee table and the sofa. He was waif-like and thin, seeming perpetually nervous or perhaps terminally ill, with dark shadows under his eyes and nearly concave cheeks. In reality, though, he was surprisingly level-headed and quite sharp. “He was there last week. He seemed fine, he wasn’t sick or anything.”

A rock was congealing in Elliot’s stomach, and a darkness began creeping in on the corners of his vision. Dread, deep and heavy and pure, loitered on the edge of his consciousness. He tried to brush it aside.

Seated there, Indian-style, on the exposed-wood-frame dorm sofa that seen too much, it was rapidly becoming apparent that he was the one who knew Tim best. They were the youngest kids in their freshman class – they were both only 17, too young to get into even the most lenient clubs in Ames. So while their unsympathetic classmates made their weekend bar crawl, they met up at Tim’s off-campus apartment, with six-packs of Keystone Ice from the Circle K with the cashier who looked the other way. They passed each other blunts, ate handfuls of shrooms, or chugged bottles of NyQuil and lay on the carpet laughing at the shapes that danced across the wall. They talked long into the night, about stupid shit, sure, but some important stuff too.

“I’m sure you’re over-reacting,” said Matt’s blonde girlfriend, Lisa, an upperclassman. She was wearing the shirt announcing her gymnastics team’s victory last spring, mindlessly picking at a chip in her nail polish. “We’re not his parents or anything. He’ll turn up in a few days, and you’ll feel silly for all this worrying, Elliot.” She popped her gum, punctuating the thought. “It just happens with friends sometimes. You’re not used to letting people know where you’re going to be. He’s just off on a family trip someplace and forgot to tell you.”

“Then why is his phone off?” Elliot insisted.

Lisa sighed and brushed a stray hair back behind her ear. “I don’t know, dude. Maybe he’s somewhere where he doesn’t have service? Maybe he forgot his phone charger? Who knows!” She threw her hands out, and her bracelets jangled. “All I’m saying is it’s not our responsibility to keep track of him.”
A silence fell after her speech, and the small group of friends contemplated the floor.

Matt, slightly embarrassed at his girlfriend’s outburst, was the one to break it. “I see Lisa’s point,” he said, cutting his eyes over to Elliot in a wordless apology, “but it’s not like it’s just been a long weekend, or something. I think – if you’ve got a gut feeling, Ells, that something’s off, why don’t you take it to Public Safety or something? They can just stop by his apartment and see if he’s there.”

Elliot clenched his teeth, turned his gaze to the vending machines in the corner. It was like a voice was chanting along with his pulse: it’s not right, it’s not right, it’s not right.

Lisa pursued her lips. “That might be all right…” she hesitated.

Elliot sighed. “The cops, though?”

It was a douchebag move to call the cops about anything, whether your intentions were pure or not. Even Lisa had to concede that. They all smoked pot, and had dabbled in other things; who knew what Tim had in his apartment?

“He’s our friend,” Jordan insisted. “We can’t send a bunch of cops to his place. That’s not cool, man.”

“What other choice do we have?” asked Matt.

“We could go,” Elliot volunteered.

It made sense. In fact, it seemed silly not to. Surely Tim would be there, maybe blowing his nose, having caught a cold, laughing at their concern. Or he wouldn’t be, gone to a trip with his family without telling them. He would show up, tanned and tugging a rolling suitcase up the stairs to his apartment door. Or maybe his apartment had been broken into, robbed, leaving him without a phone? In fact, it seemed silly to even be having this whole discussion without having stopped by to check.

All the same, Lisa didn’t want to go. “I have practice,” she said, breaking off another spec of her nail polish, not meeting anyone’s eye.

Matt thought they should wait. “Give it until Friday, maybe he’ll turn up.”

Elliot knew that he had to go. He wanted to go right now, even though it was nearing 1:00 in the morning and the streets would be dark as sin, punctured only by shallow pools of sight from the streetlights.

Jordan sensed his irritation, and picked himself up from the floor, assembling scrawny limbs and baggy sweatpants on the couch next to Elliot. “We’ll go tomorrow,” he said, putting an arm around his friend. “In the afternoon. Deal?”
They shook on it.


They were just kids. What did they know? They should have left the job to the campus police, or to a concerned instructor; to Tim’s parents or his landlord, to someone who might have had a clue of what they were about to see.
Tim’s apartment was in an out-of-the-way neighborhood, not exactly a bad part of town, but not on the streets near the university where off-campus students usually found housing. It was a converted brownstone, fallen into disrepair; here and there a stone was missing from the face, and something moldy seemed to be growing along the far wall. A disintegrating sofa sat in the front yard, its seat bowing down, returning to the earth.

They didn’t have a key, and of course no one thought to contact the landlord to ask for permission. Why would they? Elliot studied the wall, and with Jordan keeping watch, crammed his toes in the notches in the rock and pulled himself up to the window of Tim’s second-story room. It was unlocked, and Elliot eased it up with the trembling fingers of his right hand as his left palm grew sweaty and his toes and calves cramped.

Determinedly not looking down, he inched himself over the sash and dove in, arms and torso first, legs kicking wildly out the window, until he tipped his center of balance and somersaulted in, landing with his nose in a pile of dirty boxers in Tim’s bedroom.

Putting up mental blinders and ignoring the goosebumps down his arms and up his spine, Elliot made his way through the hall and across the main room and opened the door for Jordan.

“Man, this is really creepy,” his friend murmured, fidgeting more than usual, flicking his eyes every which way. “Are you sure we shouldn’t call the cops?”

“We’re here now,” Elliot announced with false bravado. His heart was in his throat, his pulse a rapid staccato: NOTRIGHT NOTRIGHT NOTRIGHT. “Might as well finish what we’ve started.”

Forcing his brain back into his body, Elliot turned his back to the door and stood shoulder to shoulder with his friend, surveying the room.

The creepiness making their skin crawl couldn’t be found in the way the room looked. It wasn’t that the room was dark or gloomy: it was early afternoon, and the sun was streaming in from the two large windows on the right wall, facing the opposite side of the house from where Elliot had clambered in. It was a combination living room and kitchen, with TV, sofa, and egg-crate coffee table in the center, and stools pulled up to a tall center island to their left. Nothing was ransacked (any more than one would expect a teenaged boy’s room to be), nothing even seemed out-of-place.

What was creepy was that everything seemed normal, like Tim was going to pop his head out at any moment and ask them what the hell did they think they were doing. Like Tim was there. But he wasn’t.

“Tim?” Elliot called out hopefully, anyway.

Jordan elbowed him in the ribs and nodded to the counter beside them. An open bottle of Jack Daniel’s sat there, only a pale amber sliver left at the very bottom. A familiar assorted collection stood at attention beside it: Seagram’s and Smirnoff and that shitty tequila Lisa’s mom brought back from Mexico…

A dying fly was twitching in a puddle beside the whiskey bottle.

“Why don’t you check in here?” Elliot said brightly, turning to Jordan. “I’ll look in his bedroom.”

Jordan’s Adam’s apple worked, but he nodded his head and turned his attention to the pile of slightly crumpled papers on the coffee table. It seemed an eternity before Elliot crossed the floor and stood at the entrance to his best friend’s bedroom.

It was once the master bedroom of the house, so the bathroom was in here, on the right-side wall at the end, near the window where Elliot had faceplanted. Tim’s room was littered with piles of dirty clothes interspersed with textbooks and notebooks near his desk, and his bass guitar and amp in the far corner. On the bedside table he picked up Tim’s pipe, a classy piece he’d inherited from his dad – it was metal and what looked like real leather. There was still a hit or two left in the bowl. A big, fat bud sat in an orange pill container with the label ripped off.

Elliot didn’t think his stomach could drop any farther.

He tried to methodically work his way across the room. Tim’s laptop was at his desk, closed, with the finest of fine layers of dust across its top. Here was Tim’s wardrobe, his bass with that stupid Avalanches sticker, a large deep red stain on the hardwood floor, his backpack…

The stain was coming from beneath the bathroom door. Whatever it had once been, it was now dried.

All rational thought left Elliot. He screamed for Jordan and leveled the bathroom door with two solid kicks.

There was blood everywhere. It dribbled in trails down the sink, formed dark fingerprints on the two bottles of empty Robitussin, one sitting behind the faucet, the other fallen into the basin; it covered the floor in swooping smears and shouted too brightly from the walls, the bathtub, and God, was that a handprint on the ceiling?

It was. There were handprints on the wall leading up to it, like he’d been reaching higher and higher. There were splatters like he had been swinging his arms around, blood on the floor smudged like he’d been spinning in a circle. There were deep pools of blood in the bathtub, and God, no, God, no, he didn’t want to look but he couldn’t turn away –

There was writing, the letters clumsy and scrawled, dripping but still legible,


written on the on the mirror,


below the towel rack,


on the far wall,

and something smeared and illegible near the bathtub, near the figure sitting with its knees pulled to its chest, head resting on its arms, leaning against the edge of the tub, bloody-soled feet pointed towards the door, face not visible but clearly no one other than his friend, his best friend, his late friend, dead.

Jordan was gone from his side, retching in the kitchen sink, stomach heaving and heaving with nothing coming out.

And Elliot, Elliot with the photographic memory, Elliot who would never forget the layout of that room, who closed his eyes when I asked him what words Tim wrote, reading them off the insides of his eyelids and reciting them to me, Elliot backed away from the door, walked slowly into the main room, and stood there seeing nothing but blood.

He should have known.


Jordan, he says, was never the same. He just couldn’t handle what he had seen. He dropped out of school. Right now he’s a bagger at a supermarket. He can’t keep a girlfriend. He is haunted.

As for himself, Elliot says he is over it. He says the nightmares are gone, the ones where he is locked in that bathroom, with the words and the blood and the bottles of Robitussin, pounding on the door but unable to get out. He says Tim is gone, and he is okay with that. He blames himself for Jordan’s fate, fielding his late-night phone calls and giving him encouraging advice.

Despite his claims of having healed from the shock, Elliot never told this story to anyone. He told his parents and his friends that he and Jordan called the police when they found the bloodstain under the door. He never told anyone what he saw in that room except for me. This is the first time the story is being repeated.

I am telling you because I am haunted. Because the pain is too great not to share. Because I can’t forget the look on his face when he stared straight ahead and told me, “There was blood everywhere… everywhere.”

2 Replies to Now He Knows: a short story

re: Now He Knows: a short story
By schuhplattlerPremium member
On Sat Jun 23, 2012 12:03 PM
Structurally and grammatically excellent, and quite well organized.

Correct the typo. One does not pursue lips.

One question: Why should Elliot have known?
re: Now He Knows: a short story
By SiyoNqobamember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Sat Jun 23, 2012 02:34 PM
Edited by SiyoNqoba (34789) on 2012-06-23 14:34:43
Edited by SiyoNqoba (34789) on 2012-06-23 14:41:53
You are wonderful. This is the second short story I've read of yours, the first was about the girl who could jump, which I read when it was too old to comment on. I loved that one, and I love this one too. I have no suggestions for improvement. I just think it's amazing.


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