Rayna Martin stood outside the door, feeling her heart pound in her ears. She had no idea why she was sweating and struggling to catch her breath – it was only two flights of stairs to get from the street to her best friend's apartment. Of course, she had no idea why her hand was frozen inches from turning the door handle, either.
Hannah still wasn't answering her phone, and it had been almost a full day since the last time that she and Rayna had spoken. Their friendship didn't require that they speak to each other every second of every day, but Hannah had gone out on her first date with Bryson last night, and she had promised to call Rayna with all of the glorious, intoxicating, romantic details as soon as she got home. Her car was in her parking spot. She was home. But Rayna had no juicy details.
She just had the worst nagging, gnawing pain in her gut.
She took another deep breath and tried the door, relieved to find it locked. She knocked softly, praying for a glimpse of a very hung over Hannah. She knocked louder, shifting her weight from one foot to the other and back again. She set the cardboard drink holder containing two giant, overly sweet, highly caffeinated, mostly chocolate pseudo-coffees down on the floor and pounded on the door with her closed fist, pressing her ear to the cool metal, straining to hear any hint of movement, or nausea, or sex, or anything.
Rayna slumped her shoulders and cast her watery green eyes to the ceiling. She fished around in her plaid purse until she found the crystal paperweight connected to Hannah's door key that she had never returned in all of these years. She wished that she still had someone to pray to as she unlocked the door and stepped inside.
Everything was perfect in the living room, the way Hannah always kept it. Fresh wildflowers on the coffee table. Neatly stacked magazines under the lamp next to the huge red armchair. Not a speck of dust on the television screen. Her purse and keys sitting on top of her neatly folded, classically neutral jacket on the edge of the kitchen counter closest to the front door. The curtains were closed, but the insistently bright sunlight of the beautiful late summer's day outside crept in anyway, lighting the room in a strange, warmly beige, and slightly otherworldly glow.
Rayna tried to call Hannah's name, but no sound escaped her lips. Just a dry croak that in no way sounded like her best friend's name or her own voice. She gulped hard but swallowed nothing but dry air, briefly wondering why she no longer seemed to have any spit in her mouth. She left the front door open and forced her feet to advance, one after the other, dragging herself through the living room, around the corner, and down the shadowy hallway.
The bedroom door was ajar, and Rayna couldn't remember if it was usually open or closed, but she knew Hannah wasn't really a half-open sort of person. It was too disorderly, and Hannah was not a fan of any sort of disorder. Rayna's feet stopped moving, and all she could do was listen, but there was nothing to listen to. No rushing water from a refreshing shower after a long night out. No bouncy music from the CD player by Hannah's bed to celebrate after a great first date. No coughing from a sudden summer cold. Nothing at all but Rayna's own rapid, raspy breathing making the hallway feel too narrow and claustrophobically low ceilinged.
Rayna looked over her shoulder, sure that she felt eyes on her back, but there was no one there. No sign of Hannah, just back from a quick trip to the store with a rustling plastic bag of groceries and a tinkling laugh at the frightened look on Rayna's face. No glimpse of Bryson wrapped in a towel, bringing back chilled champagne from the kitchen. So she turned back around, reaching a trembling hand out to touch the bedroom door, willing herself to push it open, repeating over and over that she was just being silly. Worrying over nothing. Maybe even a little paranoid.
Hannah was in bed, lying naked on top of the sheets. Hannah's severed head was on the nightstand, wide-eyed in shock and terror. And Hannah's blood was everywhere, splattered like abstract expressionism on the walls, the carpet, the mirror, the curtains, the furniture, the ceiling…
Rayna screamed. She screamed and screamed until the neighbors noticed, until the super walked into the apartment, until the police arrived. She screamed until she couldn't breath. She screamed until she had no voice left. She screamed until her tears came, and then she cried until she thought that she would never stop.
Her best friend Hannah was dead, and all Rayna Martin could do was wail in anguish, unable to banish the dripping blood and lifeless, unseeing stare of Hannah's dull, dead eyes from her mind.