Secrets are a funny thing.

You keep them bottled up, hidden thoughts nobody else hears. It makes it hard for others to get close to you—for them to ever really know you—when you hold the deepest parts of yourself back, only letting people graze the surface.

But some secrets, I think, are better left unspoken.

Sometimes secrets have the power to kill. The power to destroy. We each hold nuclear weapons inside of us, our fingers always hovering over the buttons for detonation. Most of us press them. Some of us don't.

I wish I had that kind of restraint.

I envy those who keep everyone at an arm's distance.

I'm weak.

Too fucking weak.

I let her get too close to me.

I heard this saying once, long ago, that I've never forgotten: three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead. I've spilled many secrets in my life, secrets that always ended up with somebody dying. Sometimes because of me, and other times... well... because of me. I think about them when I lie in bed at night, see their faces when I close my eyes, relive the moments the buttons were pressed and everything around me imploded.

I'm a haunted man.

Darkness surrounds me.



It's dark.

It's that heavy sort of darkness, the kind you can feel when you breathe, the denseness filling your lungs and slowly suffocating you. There's no relief in this darkness… only more torture. Sweat coats my skin as the summer humidity clings to the air, making it hard to find a shred of comfort. I toss and turn, restless, in and out of sleep, losing seconds, minutes, hours...

Every time I look, the clock in the bedroom reads something different, the glowing red numbers taunting me.

11:43 pm

12:11 am

1:45 am

2:09 am

Rolling over onto my back, I squeeze my eyes shut, throwing an arm over my face, trying to force myself to stop looking at that damn clock. It dictates my life and I hate it. I fucking hate it. The silence is strained, the noises from the old house settling exaggerated to my ears. There's nothing peaceful about it.

Another creak.

A wooden floorboard groans.

The bed shifts suddenly.

I move my arm and open my eyes, my gaze hitting the ceiling when I'm jolted. I find nothing but darkness above me, the glow from the alarm clock in my peripheral.

Slowly, turning my head, I look at the time again.

2:45 am

Another noise.

A loud click.

My heart skips a beat before hammering hard in my chest.

I know that sound.

It's not normal.


The cocking of a shotgun.

I sit up, blinking rapidly, desperately seeking out whatever's in the darkness, but it takes too long for my eyes to adjust. No, her eyes adjust before mine, and she sees it… she sees the predator.

She realizes we're the prey.

"Naz!" Her voice is a panicked scream. "Oh God, Naz!"

I'm frozen. It's only a second. Just one second delay until my vision finally adjusts. I stare at the familiar face—a face that smiled at me hours ago, like there was nothing but love between us. A face, I realize, of a man who held secrets. A man I didn't really know.

The face of my best friend.

It's only a second, but it's a second too long.

A second of hesitation that takes away everything I love.


The noise explodes into a fiery light that jars me, thrusting me to consciousness. I sit straight up, once more smothered by the darkness. I gasp for air, sweat pouring down my face. I blink rapidly, the scene greeting me again and again every time I close my eyes.





No matter how much I try, I can't forget it.

I can't stop seeing it.

I can't stop reliving it.

The bed beside me shifts, and for a moment I convince myself it wasn't real. It was just my imagination. That's it.

It didn't actually happen.

I'm okay.

She's not dead.

But when I look over, it's not Maria's eyes that regard me, not her face I see, and reality comes crashing down all over again.

It wasn't a nightmare.

No, it was a memory.

Karissa eyes me cautiously in the darkness, but she says nothing. She doesn't try to console me or ask what's wrong. She doesn't have to.

She probably already knows.

She knows me.

Sighing, I look away from her as acceptance sinks in, instinctively glancing toward the stand beside my bed, seeking out an alarm clock I haven't owned in twenty years. I wonder what time it is now… wonder if it even matters anymore.

Time stopped at 2:45 am that day.

I've been stuck in the darkness ever since.

I'm going to tell you a secret.

A secret I've never told anybody.

I, Ignazio Vitale, have always been afraid of the dark.

If you tell anyone that, I'll kill you.

My life is a case study of gluttony.

If you're looking for an apology about that, you'll want to look elsewhere. I'm not sorry in the least. Everything I do, I do it in excess; everything I have, I have more of than I'll ever need.

What can I say? I don't deny myself anything.

I've killed over a dozen men in my life. More than two dozen, if we're being honest here. I stopped counting long ago. I kill, and I hurt, but until recently, I only ever really loved once.

Maria Angelo.

I thought she was it, thought she was the only one who would ever reach me, the only one to beat through this battered armor I wear. I thought my ability to love ended with her, and I was fine with that. I live my life in excess because it leaves me satisfied. Love, on the other hand, hurts like a son of a bitch.

I know.

Believe me, I know.

I watched love die right in front of me, gasping, struggling for just one more breath life wouldn't grant. I decided, at that moment, that I'd rather just die than feel that again.

But then she happened.

I pause in the doorway of the kitchen and casually lean against the wooden doorframe, watching as Karissa cooks. Or tries to cook is more like it. Oil splatters into the air from a pan on the stove, some chicken frying away, the outside of it blackened nearly beyond recognition. A pot in the back boils over, the burner hissing when the liquid hits it, as smoke rolls out from inside the oven.

"Shit, shit, shit," she chants, popping the pink earbuds out of her ears and draping them around her neck. Grabbing a set of potholders, she yanks open the door, trying to fan away the smoke. It quickly consumes the air around her the same time loud beeps start blaring through the room.

She casts an angry glare at the nearby smoke detector before pulling out a baking sheet and throwing it on the counter, spouting another string of curses at whatever it is. Biscuits, I assume, although they look like lumps of shit.