(a short horror story, Los Angeles 2019)
I’d love to describe to you in detail what it feels like to be the victim of an acid attack, but the fact of the matter is that I don’t really remember it. It was one of those things where the body and consciousness just totally shut down — your memory goes hard-reboot and just starts deleting itself; a last ditch attempt to preserve sanity and any semblance of there being good in the world. Room-temperature wetness hits your face, your eyes go black and start melting, you just feel for a few seconds — an agony so intense that it almost feels warm and comforting in its totality. You smell burning flesh until it takes your nose off, and then everything just goes “…”
Sometime later you wake up in a hospital and there are a bunch of concerned faces all around, and you still can’t really feel anything. They have you hopped up on so many anesthetics and anti-panic meds that you just feel ‘kinda okay’ about where you’re at, which is really disorienting when everyone who looks at you appears to be trying desperately not to vomit. It’s not like they have what’s left of your face on display, mind you: it’s an open wound for Christ’s sake. But the bandages are red and splotchy and there’s no bulge where your nose should be and my goodness the human mind can just imagine so much. People would visibly jump whenever I tried to speak, like seagulls on a beach. One loud clap and there they all go, up into the air.
My initial thought during the attack was that I had been blinded, but I somehow managed to keep one of my eyes. I attribute this to the attacker being right handed, and me taking the brunt of the substance on the left side of my face, but I don’t know. Like I said: I don’t really remember, but the important thing was that I could still see. I wouldn’t be attending a 3D movie anytime soon, but at the very least I had the anatomy remaining to bide time. I waited one day until all the doctors were out of the room and I dragged myself to the bathroom down the hall — the closest mirror in the hospital. I unwrapped all my bandages and with my one remaining eye, I took a good, long look at what remained of my flesh.
And I screamed.
And I understood why they jumped.
And I suddenly wanted to remember.
I clenched my hands until my nails bit into the flesh of my palms. I raged. I hated. I knew I had to destroy them all. Raze the ground and salt the earth. I wouldn’t just survive their assault, I’d come back and tear their penthouse fortress down brick by bloody brick until I had a piece of mortar large and violent enough to bury in the skull of every human being that had a hand in doing this to me.
My eye burns and my breath is acrid hate.
I have no face and I must kill.
* * *
I didn’t know much about my parents, an account of being mostly raised inside of orphanages and halfway homes, but I know this much about them: they were fucking nerds.
I’m Scotch-Irish, blonde of hair and blue of eye, and my parents had the wherewithal to name me after a fucking anime character: Haruhi McLeery. I’m sure there was some sentimental value attached to it for them, but whatever it was, I’ll never know. They’re long dead, which is fine. I’m not sure I’d want to meet the kind of yuppie 20-something white people that would name their daughter something ethnically Japanese and morally ‘pervy and gross’.
An organization that calls themselves ‘The Source’ is my employer. Their Tor site describes them as “a circle of clandestine assassins working in and around Southern California”, which manages to make it both sound much more grandiose than it is, and somehow like an ad for a Realtor. In reality, ‘The Source’ is about six to ten people, only one of which I know personally. His name is Eddie and he’s a fucking dumbass, but he’s the man that comes with the money after I complete a job. He hands it to me personally so that there’s no postage trail. Just a shitload of cash in a Staples envelope. It’s all very lo-fi, but what do you expect from a business run by some guy out of his basement on the dark web?
I was recruited seven years ago, when I was 15. Eddie had seen me fight a guy off twice my size down near Skid Row who didn’t want to pay for a trick. When Eddie approached me afterwards, I kicked him in the balls and almost broke his arm before I understood that he was offering me a job. No regrets there. Eddie Dominguez is the kinda guy that deserves to be kicked in the balls — often. Turns out him and the other guys (girls? idfk) in The Source needed a honeypot for some sicko movie producer. My cut was almost $30,000 — cash. It sure beat giving blowjobs for $50 a pop. I fucked the guy. I killed the guy. Eddie agreed to be the guarantor for my first apartment, which was far and away the coolest thing he’s ever done in his entire stupid existence. God, that guy sucks.
Anyways, being an assassin is hardly the life of luxury and excitement that you see on TV and in movies and videogames. Agent 47? Give me a break. Media needs to be exciting, and actually killing people and getting away with it is decidedly not. It’s mostly poison, honestly. Did you know that you can boil a few packs of cigarettes in water, spread the translucent paste you create on a doorknob, and if someone touches it in the next ten minutes they’ll probably have a heart attack and drop god damn dead? That’s like, my move.
It sounds so obvious, but the idea is to actually not attract undue attention — to blend in. I got very good at doing my job because there is very little remarkable about me besides my name. I’m not homely, but I’m hardly a looker. Average height, average body size. I wear Vans shoes and a 34B cup from Victoria’s Secret Pink. Throw a Dodgers cap and an Abercrombie sweatshirt on me, walk by me in a hallway and try, just try, to describe me for a sketch artist.
My face, or lack thereof, suddenly got remarkable when Eddie passed me the job to kill a prince from somewhere in the horrible mess that is the Middle East.
* * *
Samir al-Eldin. I don’t know what country he was the prince of — I never bothered to ask. I probably wouldn’t know where it was anyway. I’m a 22 year old girl, do you really think that geopolitics are high on my priorities list? Whatever stupid, backwards theocracy he hailed from, what’s important is that he was the Joffery Baratheon of the family — the enfant terrible. Eddie gave me the dossier, which contained a laundry list of approach vectors, detailing every one of Samir’s vices, both true and alleged. Eddie salivated like a weirdo and suggested I go for the honeypot again, which of course he did. I chose my to be janitorial staff. Nobody pays attention to someone in a housekeeping uniform, and if he wasn’t that used to being in America, he probably wouldn’t think it was weird that I wasn’t Mexican. I hedged my bets and put on the apron.
Here’s the number one thing I’ve learned, being an assassin: carry yourself like you’re supposed to be somewhere, and you can get away with just about anything. Yes, even in the most prestigious, high class establishments. In the scenarios where I’ve imagined myself being captured, I’ve always thought that probably the first thing the police would ask is “How did you get in?” You just do, dude. You literally just walk in. Don’t make eye contact with the doorman, nod politely at any ‘co-workers’, and just keep walking. No one will question or stop you, I promise.
So I walked inside, I stole a cart, I waited until another housekeeper was walking out and I asked her in rudimentary Spanish if I could use her FOB, because it was my first week and I left mine in my car, you see. Another tip: a mother tongue is a valuable thing in America. It’s respectful, it shows deference to someone’s struggle. Seemingly 90% of all wait staff in Los Angeles speaks Spanish, so if you want to curry favor, then you start speaking Spanish reeeeeaaaal fast. If you have to be remembered on a job, be remembered for being nice. There is a solidarity in the blue-collar class of this city that inherently fucking hates the cops. You think that this woman in her 60s, barely making minimum wage cleaning the shit and vomit of the rich is gonna tell the police about the blonde white girl that spoke ‘okay Espanol’? Fat chance. Poor people ain’t no fucking snitches.
She buzzed me up with a maternal smile. Penthouse — he’d rented out the entire floor.
The crux of my plan was to slip in as the help, switch out Samir’s toothpaste with the one I’d laced with arsenic, drop a baggy of coke laced with arsenic as an obvious culprit, offer him a complimentary bottle of wine from the management, and get the fuck out. He’d eventually have to brush his teeth or he’d just want to get high, and by the time he had a heart attack and dropped dead, I’d be long gone. And that cocaine? Well, the prince had a reputation. That could have come from damn near anywhere.
I’d scoped out the place for a week beforehand, and Samir and his entourage usually hit the clubs around 7pm, so I arrived at 8:30, just to be safe. I obscured my face from every camera I could, I knocked politely, and I was as shocked as anyone when one of Samir’s bodyguards opened the door to reveal the prince himself on the bed with two bimbos about to have a threesome.
They were escorts, I think. They had that smell to them, and judging by their nonchalance at engaging in a menage-a-trois in front of about six armed men, I guessed that they were very well used to this kind of shit. Funny thing about the prince, though: even with the platinum blonde’s hand down his pants and the Dior model sucking his earlobe, he looked the opposite of turned on. He looked bored.
Then I saw the switch turn, and I immediately knew something bad was going to happen. Hair raising on the back of your neck: the animal hind-brain telling you that it’s fight or flight time. I saw excitement in his eyes, not because there was a hand on his cock or a tongue in his ear, but because he had just discovered a brand new, unexpected toy: ‘the help’.
What, oh what could he do with me?
I’m not ashamed to admit I tried to run.
* * *
There are a few things I want to make absolutely clear about why I want revenge.
First of all, I was never very remarkable looking, so the cause is not vanity. I’m not much of a people person, and I’ve never felt that burning desire to couple-up that seems so endemic to most people of my generation, so it doesn’t have to do with that. No, my face was good for one thing and one thing only: doing my fucking job.
And I enjoyed my job. I’ll be the first to tell you that planning a hit, executing it perfectly, and walking away scott free? Jeez, there’s nothing like it.
A murder is just a puzzle: it’s fun. Not the part with the death. I’m no psychopath, but I love puzzles. That New York Times crossword shit? I got the app. I do that every day. An assassination is just a big Sudoku puzzle that you have to fill in the blanks on, and if you do it right you get about $40,000 USD in cold hard cash. I could work five, six days in a year and make enough to live for the next ten. I’m not a girl with expensive taste. I have no outstanding addictions or hobbies. My apartment in Echo Park is like $1600 a month, tack on another like four-hundred-ish a month for all the random life bullshit, and you do the math. I liked the death business. I liked it a lot.
A girl without a face is the most memorable thing in every room. There is no conceivable way to do a job unnoticed.
So first and foremost this fucker cost me all of that. I never bothered getting my GED, I never went to college. What else can I even do, face or not?
Secondly, I wanted revenge on Samir because this sorry fuck was rich. In my line of business, you meet a lot of rich people. Almost anyone paying forty grand a kill wants a rich person dead, and you very quickly learn that they come in a variety of flavors. There’s the guilty rich that tips well, there’s the nouveau riche that spends too much too fast and desperately hopes their newfound wealth will bring a semblance of meaning into their lives, there’s even the ‘I’m not like other rich people’ who will try and engage you in conversation because see we’re not all bad… there’s all variety.
Samir was fuck-you rich. He was the kind of rich person that thinks they own the world, and that their money can make any manner of problems just disappear. He was the kind of person that might kill a hooker or two because they know they can pay off the family, the kind of person that will just buy a business if they ask him to leave, the kind of person that would get you addicted to heroin and dump you because they don’t see you as someone’s child. They don’t really see you at all. The next time you encounter a member of the fuck-you rich, I want you to notice something for me: they never look you in the eyes. Even when they attempt, their gaze is skirting beyond you, somewhere lurid and warped.
You are less than a ghost to them. You are a sentence on a computer screen to be rewritten and deleted as they see fit. That was Samir.
I remember being held down by the body guards. I remember the call girls sitting on the bed and laughing, realizing they were too fucked up on whatever to totally realize what was going on. I remember Samir taking out some weird cup, I remember wondering what was in it. All of Samir and his men were speaking in Arabic or Farsi or something, so whatever they discussed was between them, but there was a lot of laughter. I remember Samir positioning the cup over my face, and for one blessed second, wondering if he really wanted to do it.
Then one of the guards finally said a phrase I understood, in English: “basic white chick.” And there was a big round of laughter. Samir poured. I remember smelling burning, and I remember that as my vision permanently lost its stereoscopy, I also started to laugh. Then I woke up in the hospital.
To be fair, it was pretty funny.
* * *
I don’t even know how many months I was in that hospital. I had started casing Samir back in February and by the time I stepped back into my apartment it was mid June. I hadn’t seen Eddie since the dossier, and I was certain that I never would again. I had failed the mission, spectacularly. You don’t get paid to attempt a murder and get all the soft flesh on your face burned away. My electricity was off, due to unpaid bills, and so I shuttered the blinds, I lit one of the candles I had, I removed the bandages and my clothes, and I looked at myself in my full-body mirror.
I used the mirror to prepare for a job, normally; to make sure that every single part of me looked as inconspicuous as any girl in the prime of her youth could. This time, however, in the candlelight, I forced myself to see my entirety. I studied my legs, my stomach, my breasts. I looked at the way the light danced off the soft pink skin on my arms — I studied the way the little hairs stood up on end, at attention in the coolness of my room. Neck down, I looked perfect. Neck down, I could post on r/gonewild and get all the upvotes, but the mirror showed everything, and that included what was above the neck.
The doctors had taken some skin from my thighs and back to try and repair it, and while I’m sure they did the best they could, it was honestly a horror show. The corrosive acid had taken my nose, my eye, my ears, myself. Most of my scalp looked like the surface of the moon — all uneven pockmarks and strange grooves like trenches, leading to nowhere. Patchmarked flesh was stretched translucent tight over the bone, not so much giving the illusion that I had skin, but rather that someone had painted a skeleton skin-colored. They had even stretched some of the flesh over where my left eye used to be, as if to suggest that all was fine — there had never been an eye here at all. The top row of my teeth shone out brightly for all to see — my upper lip having completely been eaten away, with the nose. The bottom lip was an asymmetric cleft pallete, looking like someone had just taken a chunk of it between their fingers and just ripped some out. Without the flesh of my nose or lips to trap air, all words escaped my mouth as a sibilant-s. Everything glowed an angry, infected red. I moved closer to the mirror and watched the blood pump through my veins, racing around in a circuit, keeping me alive.
I placed a finger on the glass of the mirror, when suddenly a large explosion of air escaped my teeth. It took me a moment to realize I was trying to cry. The acid had taken my tear ducts, so the sobs came out more as rasping barks. My throat was dry all the time now. It hurt to even express my hurt.
There was one happy thought though, there in the candlelight. Finally, I thought, I had a physical feature as incongruous and bizarre as my first name. Samir never knew my name, but I was Haruhi god damn McLeery.
And I had work to do.
* * *
It’s a very different thing to plan a murder without the intention of escape: a statement murder. You get to go big or go home. You get to get ironic with it.
You get to use Amazon a lot.
I didn’t get paid for the Samir job, and honestly I shouldn’t have. For all my woes and sorrows, I had failed the job. Nothing ever came of the spiked toothpaste in the cart, and god only knows where the drugs ended up, but it certainly wasn’t into Samir’s nose.
Oh shit, wait… I can’t ever do cocaine again.
Oh well, anyway: I had a lot stowed away from previous jobs, so I took a one-way dive into my savings and started to shop. When you know a job will be your last, money really is no object. I did some digging and by wonderful coincidence, I discovered that just last week, Samir returned to Los Angeles from some time in Switzerland. He was in a new hotel in a different district of the bougie part of town, but there he was — a fruit ripe for the taking. I had to prepare double quick.
Did you know you can buy a burka online? Turns out that it’s like $50 on etsy. I chose one that was a deep maroon color, because it just felt right somehow. I tried it on and looked in the mirror when it arrived, turning and clutching it behind my back to see how it hugged the shape of my body. I looked incredible — a vision, really. I looked like one of the Emperor’s Guards from Star Wars, and I liked it.
Funny thing about wearing a burka around in Los Angeles: people are suddenly just so polite to you. They would hold open doors, no questions were asked if I had to write something down instead of say it, no cat calls, no hobos asking for money. It was a god damn revelation. I should have been doing this shit for years.
I googled what saw was the best for cutting through bone. I watched YouTube tutorials on how to make a tourniquet. I went to the Home Depot and got everything I would need, saws and ropes and rubber tubing. $254.78
Samir was about as devoutly Muslim as I was ethnically Japanese, but I figured that a bit of the home country would probably awaken something in him. Schoolboy crushes die hard, and I was willing to hedge my bets that little Samir had popped a proto-boner at a burka or two in his day, and boy was I ever right. It wasn’t even hard. It truly was so easy.
I used what was left of my savings to rent a room at the same hotel. After that, all I had to do was sit in the lobby and read. Samir and his entourage would exit almost the same time every day, and all I had to do was be seen by him. I figured that eventually this capricious asshole would take notice of the only woman sitting in the lobby covered head-to-toe in lusty red, and some part of his bizarro brain would spring to action. I had gotten my room for a month, but it only took four nights. A little past midnight on the second of July, I looked up from my Kindle and saw one of Samir’s body guards approaching me.
“Sister,” he said, bashfully. “My employer was wondering if you would do him the honor of spending some time with him in his room?”
I tilted my head, glancing beyond the guard at Samir. He had both hands shoved in his pockets, posing so as to look more virile, more non-chalant, more fuck-you rich. It was supposed to be ‘a moment’ for me I’m sure. The prince! I was supposed to think. Surely the prince couldn’t mean moi??
In reality, he looked like what he was: a rich prick that tortured women for fun. I nodded my head in the slightest of inclines. I would acquiesce, but I wanted to freshen up in my room first. I communicated this by writing on the kindle, turning it into a coy little game — only the prince would hear my voice. No one questioned it. I returned to my room, I hid my supplies under my burka, and I waited for Samir’s body guard to come fetch me.
When we arrived at the penthouse suite, Samir greeted me with spread arms and a big grin, because he was just so sure that this would be a night to remember. Everything was perfect in his life. He was rich, he was handsome, and he was about to get his dick wet.
And truly, can you blame him? What was not to enjoy about this moment, when a mysterious woman in red garb steps into your room for a sexual tryst? Surely, what about this moment could go wrong?
If I still had lips, I would have smiled.
* * *
Did you know you can buy LSD online? Seriously. It was cheaper than the burka.
I didn’t even have to go to the dark web for it, I shit you not, I just googled “where to buy LSD” and this site in Denmark popped right up. They sell it for ‘clinical experiments on rats’, and all the comments are very facetious double-entendres about how much the customers’ ‘rats’ seemed to enjoy the product. It was $25 for a sheet of 10 tabs — ten pharmaceutically perfect trips. For under thirty bucks, you and nine of your pals could be out exploring the cosmos for twelve hours.
I spent over $1500. Next day shipping, baby.
Here’s something that might surprise you, but I don’t much go for drugs. They’re all fine and good, but drugs to me are a lot like sex: once you get over the initial shock of the new, it’s actually not all that exciting. Anyone who needs drugs to have a great time is someone that I inherently tend to think of as a person without much imagination.
So naturally Eddie loved them. I had dropped acid once or twice before and it was fine I guess, but Eddie was a psychonaut for sure. He would talk to me sometimes about his trips when he handed me my payments — laddish and full of I’m-so-naughty braggadocio. Most of the time I tuned out his endless prattling and counted the money to make sure he hadn’t pocketed some for whatever the flavor of the week was, but one time was different. He started to talk about a bad trip — the worst he’d ever had. He looked haunted by it, even though it had apparently happened years ago, when he was near my age.
“It was the worst night of my life. I’m not even joking,” he said, with a thousand-yard stare into nothingness. “You ever had a dream, where you just knew something, even though there’s no way it could actually be like that?”
“Like what?” I asked, intrigued for once.
“Well, like… like you see a chair or whatever, and somehow you just know that chair is your dad, and of course that don’t make no sense, but in the dream you’re just like ‘oh okay, that’s my chair-dad’. You ever had that?”
I nodded. Eddie looked forward, all hints of warmth and mirth fled from his face.
“It was like that, except the thing I knew — with every fiber of my being I just knew it — was ‘You’re on fire.’ Just like that. No questioning it, no nothin, it just was.” He looked back to me, haunted. “And I wasn’t, I was fine. But I spent about six hours in a shower, because no matter how little sense it made, no matter how untrue it was, I had to put the fire out.” Eddie shook his head.
“What prompted it?” I asked. Eddie shrugged.
“I dunno, maybe I looked at a candle or something. I took too much, that’s for sure. Never again, Haruhi. I wouldn’t wish that night on my greatest enemies.”
It was the most sincere moment I ever shared with Eddie Dominguez, and the only useful thing he ever told me. It was the moment that I realized that he was probably, through process of elimination, my closest friend.
Even a stopped clock, right?
* * *
They say that adversity inspires the greatest art, and the night of July the second, I was an artist. I had three strokes of genius, which I know is a bitchy thing to say, but I’m the kinda girl that likes to call a spade a spade.
Firstly, I knew that getting rid of the body guards would be top priority. I wanted to be alone with this fucker, and I would move heaven and earth to do it. I passed the prince a note, asking if everyone could turn away for me to disrobe — to preserve my womanly modesty, of course. He laughed and waved his hands, telling his five body guards to stand against the wall and face it. He looked charmed. He wanted me to be the pure Muslim girl. All the better for him to fuck in the ass within the hour, right? The guards acquiesced, turning to the wall and putting their hands in front of their groins.
Turns out all you need to clear a room is a ‘bashful proper Muslim’ act and a submachine gun. I raked it along the wall just once, but once was enough. Five people dead on the ground like a gangland massacre — the killing of the Romanovs. I was willing to wager that the hotel had sound dampened its penthouse, and besides guns don’t sound like people think they do, anyway. A burst from an uzi could be a chair scraping across the floor upstairs. It could be damn near anything, but certainly not cause for alarm in the room of a famous, rich, troublesome playboy.
And so, in less than the amount of time it takes for you to read this sentence, I was alone with Samir al-Eldin. I popped him once in both legs so he couldn’t run, and then I got to the real fun.
The second twist of genius was the burka. I mean, just come on, how cool is that? I have no godly idea if you’ve ever worn one of those things, but let me tell you, they have pockets for days. You can store all manner of goodies inside of your burka, whether that be hardware store supplies, a bunch of rope and tubing, or a simple mason jar that you dissolved approximately six hundred tabs of Danish LSD into. It’s enough to make a girl want to convert to Islam.
The third stroke of genius, of course, was my own acid attack. I smashed Samir across the face with the butt of the uzi and I poured the entire fucking thing down his throat. Then I smacked him with the handle of the gun until he passed out. Whack whack whack goodnight.
By the time he woke up, I figured that the acid would be taking full effect and that he would be dreaming such sweet dreams of his own that he wouldn’t remember who I was or where he was or even what country he was the junior monarch of.
In a sense, you could say Samir al-Eldin was dead.
Dead men don’t need legs or penises. Come to think of it, there are a lot of body parts that dead men don’t need, and that a Weston 47–1601 Stainless Steel Butcher Handsaw from Home Depot can cut through, given enough gumption and elbow grease.
$34. It was on clearance.
* * *
“My name is Haruhi McLeery. I’m 22 years old, and I am waiting for you with Prince Samir al-Eldin in the penthouse of the W on Hollywood Boulevard. He is my hostage. I have a loaded IWI Tavor 7 machine gun, and I am not planning on coming out.”
I said all this into the telephone and hung up. I’m sure the 911 operator only understood about every third word, on account of me sounding more like a snake than a girl, but I know that they’re trained to respond to every call, and one that came from the penthouse of a hotel would raise some eyebrows. Soon, a team would be on the way, and fast. ‘Hostage’ is apparently a word you can still say pretty good without lips.
I saw that what was left of Samir was starting to stir in the chair I’d bound him to, so I locked the door to the room. I undressed until I was a naked as the day I came, leaving the burka in a heap on the floor next to my underwear. I pulled up another chair, and sat down in front of Samir, just as his dilated eyes started to open.
And oh, what wonders he saw, that legless, armless, dickless prince. I know because some things transcend any language, and a scream of mortal terror is one of them. There was no calming him down, there was no escape, there was only the horrors of my face and the drugs and the realization that this was never ending, this would never end, this would be his forever.
I used my tongue to wet the front of my teeth, and as clearly as I could manage, I said: “Samir, why are you on fire?”
I think that was the moment he lost his mind, but I’m not entirely sure. I’m not even sure the real Samir survived the pistol whip. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening when you watch someone tripping out of their mind on LSD. From the outside it looks like they’re experiencing everything all at once. He seized a few times, which I thought was funny. Without legs or arms to shake, he just kinda vibrated in the chair like a phone on silent.
I laughed at him, at us. What a pair of ruined things we were, and we were here sharing this beautiful moment together. I knew that even once the drugs wore off — if they ever wore off — the nightmare wouldn’t really end for our little prince. He hadn’t known it when I walked in the door dressed as a housekeeper, but Haruhi McLeery was going to be the most important person in his life, and no amount of hush money or fuck-you prosthetic limbs were going to take away this memory, this treasure. This was ours, eternal.
This was forever, baby.
I was still in the chair when the cops burst in and started screaming, too.