DENA: I still have this picture of us from that day. See? That’s the three of us, sitting on the sand a little bit out that way. Cassi is the one on the left, Sam’s the brunette in her swimsuit. And that’s me, sitting on a bit of driftwood. It’s been… God, it’ll be fifteen years this summer. I’m older now than Sam ever was. Has it really been that long?
We, uh… We were all coworkers. We all worked at [REDACTED]. Remember those? (LAUGHS) I guess I’m showing my age. But, uh… Cassi and I, we were both just kids then – we went to the same college, actually. Sam was a bit older than the two of us, but you couldn’t really tell by the way she acted. The two of them worked together for a bit before I came along. I transferred to that location a little less than a year before that photo was taken.
(SIGHS) If we only knew…
I’m sorry. It’s… It’s been a long time, but it hasn’t. Ya know?
Anyway. The three of us were close, I guess. We talked a lot. We even went out for drinks after work, especially if we all got stuck working the night shift on a Friday or Saturday. You start doing that, you get to talking and sharing. Sometimes a little bit more than you probably should. Sam shared – a lot. But she never said much about her husband. With everything she told us, Cassi and I knew Sam like a sister or a… or, her gynecologist. Ya know? I knew more about her body than my own. I knew the name of her high school boyfriend – that I still remember. But I couldn’t tell you her husband’s name.
One night while we’re locking up, Cassi asks Sam why she’s been looking so tired all the time lately. And that’s when Sam told us her husband left her.
An hour later, we’re drinking and talking. And Sam tells us how she found all these messages and photos on her husband’s phone. They were watching TV, and he left to use the toilet. And he just left his phone there, with all this opened up for anyone to see – he was that checked out. And as she’s looking at all this, he comes back and sees her looking at all this. And she said that’s when he told her he was leaving. Just like that. He said that, turned around, packed a bunch of his things, and walked out. She hadn’t seen or heard from him since.
The three of us didn’t work together for a while after that. It was just the way the schedule came out, I guess. At one point, Cassi got to thinking Sam had asked not to work with us anymore. But I don’t think Sam would have done that.
After a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months, we all worked the same Friday night together. Cassi got there first. And as I’m clocking in, we both see Sam walk through the door, looking like the living dead. She must have lost twenty pounds in just a few weeks. Her hair looked thinner. We asked if she was feeling sick, and she just sort of waved at us and said it was a bit of food poisoning.
I don’t remember who suggested the beach first, if it was Cassi or me. It was warming up lately and we’d been throwing the idea around for a while, but our schedules hadn’t lined up in forever. But at some point that night, Cassi looks at the schedule and sees we all have that Saturday off. So, she and I start talking about maybe going to the beach first thing in the morning. A minute later, Cassi shouts across the store, “Hey, Sammy! You wanna see me in my bikini tomorrow morning?”
Sam said, “No,” actually. (LAUGHS) But, uh… Cassi eventually convinced her. Somehow.
I only saw Sam two more times after that day at the beach. This is the way I like to remember her.
Sam emailed us that and a bunch of other photos later that same night. She was so happy to use this expensive looking camera of hers, with all these lenses and accessories. The way she ran all over the sand and tide pools, snapping a photo of the waves and seagulls and starfish, you’d never think anything was wrong. Like, everything that had been pulling her in every direction let go all at once. Even if only for that morning. She didn’t even realize she’d cut her foot on something until after she sent the photos.
I didn’t see Sam again for another week, but Cassi worked with her that Tuesday. Cassi actually called me up during their shift, asking me to keep an eye on Sam, telling me how Sam somehow looked worse than ever, that she was hobbling around on one foot and complaining about an infection on the other. By the time I saw it on Friday, the skin above her ankle was all red and tender, with these blistering sores that oozed and stuck to her socks. Sam said she was taking antibiotics and left it at that.
I was scheduled to work with Sam two nights later, but she never showed.
A week passed before anyone started asking questions. Two weeks passed before Cassi and I agreed to visit Sam’s apartment after work.
Sam lived in this cute little one-bedroom with her husband, just a block away from the store we all worked at. (LAUGHS) It was a five minute walk, but she still drove every day.
We knocked and knocked at her door until one of Sam’s neighbors stepped out and told us nobody had been in or out lately. They figured she’d run off or something. But the way they described Sam… they said she was a loud girl, always fighting with her boyfriend. Even after he’d left, they still heard Sam crying and screaming day and night. But now it’d been silent for a day or so.
We, uh… Cassi, that is – she managed to get us into Sam’s apartment.
It was dark. Very dark. All the lights were off, the curtains were drawn and pinned shut. And warm, so very warm with the way the doors and windows were closed up. But the smell… It smelled like dead fish and sea water. You could hear the hot water running from every faucet – in the kitchen, in the… in the, uh…
I threw up immediately, just as soon as Cassi opened the door and that thick, moist wall hit me in the face like a brick.
Cassi went in ahead. A minute later, I heard her screaming.
The carpet was so wet I almost slipped while walking down the hall to her bedroom. I remember that too. I took out this little setup she had there, with these photos of her dog and sister and mom. Knocked all of that to the ground.
There was… blood… blood and, uh, rotting flesh. Everywhere. The carpet, the walls. Like it had melted and dripped all over the place.
I’m sorry. I just…
No. No, I’m okay.
Cassi is just… She’s screaming in Sam’s bedroom. Screaming and screaming and screaming. And it’s so hot and wet everywhere. And I’m still trying to catch my balance. I had to throw my shoes away after that, they were just soaked and caked in all of the, uh… They were ruined. Just ruined.
But I get into the bedroom, and there’s this leg on the floor. Like, just sitting there. Right there on the carpet by the bed, like it had fallen off in her sleep. Like it had melted off.
And then we looked in the bathroom.
I turned on the light, and we found her. We found Sam.
Most of Sam was floating there in the tub, in this… (SNIFFS) this soupy mess of salt water, blood, and, uh… (CLEARS THROAT) and everything else. One of her arms was missing from the shoulder down. The other was a half-melted glob of goo. And her… Her other leg was floating in a puddle on the tile.
I remember screaming, and then not much after that.
I still dream of that day on the beach. It’s the rest I wish I could forget.