Blackout by K. Monroe: Cover Reveal and Excerpt
By Crime HQJune 14, 2021
01| Begin / End
The last thing I remember is noise.
Images are hazy, and they only come in flashes. Most of them are dark, dripping with night, and impossible to make sense of—a glimpse of a tree branch here, a wiry crack in the glass there. Bloodstained fingers. Fragmented pieces of my reflection gazing back at me.
But the noises are vivid, and when I squeeze my eyes shut, I can still hear them. It begins with tires squealing, struggling to gain traction on damp pavement, followed by the devastating crunch of metal connecting with metal. A car door clicks open, and the melodic chime of keys being left in the ignition resonates through the air, layered with frantic voices melding together. One of them sounds similar to mine, warped and laced with pain.
A desperate urge to flee the scene propels me forward, but my limbs fail, and I fall to the ground.
When I wake, I no longer know my own name.
The abrupt shake of a pill bottle makes the present come back into focus.
Dr. Meyer sits across from me, holding up the bright orange container, and the room is quiet, all eyes trained in my direction. Outside, thick, menacing clouds on the verge of bursting hang low, peering over the canopy of evergreen trees in the distance. There’s a garden adjacent to Dr. Meyer’s office, a courtyard that must bloom with color later in the year but looks stark and barren against the backdrop of early spring.
After a month of staying here, I’ve learned that the neurology wing is the nicest place in the Pender Falls General Hospital, significantly more inviting than the room I first woke up in—the one where I was called a name I didn’t remember and was surrounded by faces I’d never seen before—or the one in which I spent weeks learning how to use my body again. This meeting is the last checkpoint I have to complete before getting out of here for good.
“Sorry. I lost focus for a second.”
“That’s all right.” Dr. Meyer’s smile is gentle, practiced. “This is a lot of information to take in at once, that’s why we have your family here with you. The more ears, the better.”
Sofia—my mother, though it’s far too early to call her that—studiously scrawls notes on the lined paper of the notebook in her lap, while my sister, Audrey, sits on the other side of me, fingers resting on my leg gently, in a show of support.
“As I was saying, you’ll continue taking these in order to help with your awareness and memory. Over the counter pain meds like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be taken for headaches and any muscle stiffness you may be feeling.”
“How long does she need to take them?” Sofia gestures to the pill bottle. The words are firm, demanding, and I don’t know if it’s motherly instinct or a desire to be in control of the situation.
“We’ll monitor her progress in our follow-up appointments and reassess. For now, she can continue to take them daily before bed.”
“Do you think I’m stuck like this?”
The attention shifts back to me, an air of discomfort settling over the room.
“You’re not stuck, Alina,” Dr. Meyer begins, setting the clipboard on his desk. “It’s still very early. There’s always room for improvement, and it’s likely your recovery won’t be linear.”
A crow lands on a branch near the window, taking cover beneath the overhang as the rain begins to fall. My mother and sister remain silent.
“How does a brain just forget everything it knows, anyway?” My grip tightens around the thick fabric of the sweater I hold in my hands as I watch the bird.
“Your procedural memory is perfectly intact. Once you’re back in your normal environment, I’m confident more things from your life, your past, will come back and be familiar.” He sets the bottle on his desk, then leans back in his seat. “The mind is a wondrous thing. It’s not that your brain has forgotten everything it knows, rather, those memories are locked away, and you can no longer find the key. You may find that key again someday, and you may not. My goal is to give you the tools to cope with either outcome.”
A wave of nausea builds in my belly, and I don’t know if it’s an aftereffect of smashing my head against a steering wheel, a reaction to his words, or a delightful mixture of both. Waking up to a life that feels brand new, and being told you were in a deadly car accident you’re lucky to have survived is harrowing. I don’t feel lucky. I feel cursed.
The details of the accident were explained to me in simple terms: I was at a party. I left the party. I crashed my car into a tree. I was found by someone out on a run hours later, long after the sun had already risen, though the sounds I remember make it seem as though it all happened in a matter of seconds. Every time I hear it, it feels like nothing more than a story about a stranger, something tragic you’d tell someone in passing, not something that belongs to me.
“I think we’re finished here,” he says. “Unless you have anything else you’d like to discuss.”
Despite the fact that there are about a million burning questions on the tip of my tongue, I shake my head, and we all stand, heading for the door. I wander farther down the hall, drifting and ghostlike, while Sofia gets a final word in with Dr. Meyer, speaking in hushed timbres. Audrey stands next to them, shooting me concerned glances every few seconds.
Our physical resemblance reassures me that they truly are my family—we have the same intense brown eyes, dark hair, and tawny skin—but I have no recollection of our life before these hospital corridors and neurology appointments. I don’t even know what they think of me.
After several moments of watching the rain fall outside the large windows of the hospital entrance, they join me, and we make our way outside.
A raindrop hits my nose, and Sofia does her best to cover us using her bag as a makeshift umbrella, but it doesn’t provide much shelter. My hair is damp by the time we reach the car. As we roll through town, my eyes melt into the landscape of cookie-cutter houses backed by lush mountains and my fingers curl around the strap of my seat belt as I listen to the whir of tires gliding through rainwater. The sun hasn’t shone in Pender Falls since I woke up.
Sofia tells me we’ve lived here all our lives. Years of bouncing around British Columbia led her to settle down in a small town in the Interior, somewhere she deemed appropriate to raise a family.
“That’s your elementary school,” she says as we drive by a blue building with children’s artwork pasted to the windows, rain battering the weathered jungle gym.
It continues on like this, as she points out the shadowy park I used to frequent as a child and the church we attend on special occasions, next to the cemetery. Audrey fills in the gaps from the backseat, accompanying every place with an amusing story. With each one we drive past, it feels like I’m seeing it for the first time. I have no doubt their intention is to help me become familiar with my surroundings, but it only makes me feel like more of an outsider.
After turning onto Seymour Avenue, we pull into the driveway of a house a little ways down the street. It’s large, built of red bricks, with sprawling vines creeping up the front and wrapping around the white pillars on the porch like something out of a storybook. Sofia kills the engine, and nobody moves for a second.
“This is home,” she announces tentatively.
I’ve been dreading this. Even though Audrey and Sofia were constantly with me in the hospital, it’s an entirely different thing to actually live with strangers who are supposed to be family. In reality, they feel about as familiar as the doctors and nurses who milled about the hallways during my stay, coming in and out of my room to bring me medication and rouse me from my sleep.
Sofia pushes open the front door, and I follow her inside.
Immediately as we enter, a barking dog bounds in my direction, and my pulse kicks into gear. The animal, a black and white border collie, jumps onto my legs, growling maliciously, and Audrey scrambles to grab its collar, easing it away.
“I’m sorry!” she exclaims. “Scout isn’t your biggest fan, but she’s usually better than this.”
“Audrey.” Sofia chastises her. “I told you to take Scout outside before we left.”
“Parker must have let her in.”
Audrey looks at me apologetically as she struggles to wrangle the animal, expression sincere. She’s older by a couple of years, but I’ve been told we were often mistaken for twins when we were young. Now, I seem to favor our mother more than she does, bearing the same slender nose and defined cheekbones.
Sofia takes hold of Scout’s collar and pulls the dog to the French doors, releasing her into the backyard. A boy scrambles into the kitchen, looking flustered. His features are kind, black hair a few shades darker than his skin cropped close to his head.
“This is my boyfriend,” Audrey explains. “He’s living with us for the time being, until he finds his own place.”
He extends a hand toward me. “Parker. My apologies for the dog.”
My shoulders melt in relief. He’s the first person who hasn’t been obviously uncomfortable about having to reintroduce themselves to me. “Nice to meet you,” I say, shaking his hand, before adding, “again.”
“It’s good to have you back,” Parker says.
I’ve heard a lot about him already—he was the subject Audrey gravitated toward to keep the flow of conversation going whenever we hit a lull, but he never came with her to the hospital. Parker watches me for a beat too long, and my face grows hot under his scrutiny.
Sofia touches my shoulder, oblivious to the exchange. “Come, I can show you around.”
Leaving them behind, she gives me a brief tour of the house. It’s cozy and lived in, family photos adorning the walls, throws draped over couches, and comforting tones of burgundy spread throughout the rooms. In a way, it feels a bit like a cabin, woodsy and warm. She saves my bedroom for last, stopping outside of a door at the end of the hall on the second floor. The short journey up the stairs is enough to make my body feel weary.
Subconsciously, my breath hitches as she twists the doorknob.
A string of fairy lights hangs on the wall above the bed, bright and twinkling, and a diffuser sits on the nightstand, emitting wafts of lavender and relaxing my shoulders. There’s a desk in the corner, a surge of intrigue sparking in my chest at the sight of the laptop on the surface, as it’s likely to be a treasure trove of valuable information. Across from the bed, a myriad of photos are stuck to the wall, snapshots of someone else’s life.
The room is beautiful, but it doesn’t feel like it’s mine.
Any hope of my memory making a reappearance is rapidly snuffed out, and disappointment presses heavily against the backs of my eyelids. “It’s nice.”
“I’ll let you have some privacy,” she offers.
“Thanks, Sofia.” It’s the first time I’ve addressed her by name, and I don’t realize the magnitude of my mistake until I see the look on her face. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right,” she says, her voice wavering. “I’ll be downstairs if you need anything.”
She leaves the room in a rush. I gravitate to the wall of photos, trying to move past the interaction. The level of awkwardness has apparently been upped now that we’re trapped in a house together, and it’s hard to imagine a time when it won’t feel this way.
There are so many pictures it’s hard to focus on one at a time. The majority of them have been taken in crowded living rooms, and I’ve usually got a red Solo cup in hand, surrounded by the same handful of people—a beautiful blond with a dazzling smile, a curly-haired boy most often showing me some form of affection, and a stocky guy wearing a letterman jacket and a goofy grin.
A slew of faces with no memories attached to them. I don’t know if I can become the person in the pictures.
A knock sounds on my door, startling me.
“Come in,” I call, taking a seat on the bed.
The door clicks open slowly, and Parker pokes his head inside. He sees the look on my face, and hovers in the doorway, sticking his hands into his pockets.
“Hey.” He greets me.
“Hey,” I respond evenly.
He takes my greeting as an invitation to enter the room, then sits on the bed a short distance away. “How are you doing?”
“You know, I’ve been asked that question so many times, and I don’t think I have an answer.” A beat of silence hangs between us. “Even if I did, I don’t think I’d be able to put it into words.”
“I can’t even imagine.”
“Do we know each other well?”
“We do. You’re one of my closest friends.”
“Is that really me?” I gesture to the wall of photos with my chin.
“For the most part, yeah,” he says. “You were always out. Always. Out with your boyfriend, out with your friends, out doing God knows what. I think you liked being unpredictable.” I stare at a photo of me laughing, my arms thrown around the people on either side of me. “But you clashed with your family a fair bit. There were a lot of arguments around here before.”
“Wow, I sound great,” I say sarcastically, causing him to break out in a grin.
“You are,” he reassures me.
“At least we get along. It’s good to know I wasn’t public enemy number one.”
He ducks his head, coughing to cover a laugh. I can’t explain it, but being around him is the most relaxed I’ve felt in the short amount of life that I can remember. I believe that we were close, before everything happened. It makes him feel more familiar than anyone else. Maybe the relationship with my mother and sister truly was strained.
“What’s it like?” he asks suddenly.
“The whole amnesia thing?”
“Like I’ve stepped into somebody’s life and now I’m picking up where they left off, except I have no idea what happened before I got here. Everyone is going to expect me to be that girl,” I say, pointing at the photos on the wall, “but I don’t even know her. All I’m going to do is disappoint everyone. I have this constant feeling of guilt—”
“Stop right there.” Parker interrupts me, his hand on my arm. “You have absolutely no reason to feel guilty. This isn’t your fault. You didn’t choose this.”
It’s the first time I’ve heard the words, and I didn’t realize how much I needed them until now. “I don’t know why, but I feel like I can trust you. I trust that you’ll tell me the truth.”
“Of course,” he says, reaching out to squeeze my hand. “You can always ask me anything.”
“Thanks.” I look down at our intertwined fingers.
“I’m so glad you’re home,” he murmurs, letting go of my hand.
In the next second, he’s cupping my face. A jolt runs down my spine as he leans closer and I freeze, but it only takes a second for me to come to my senses.
Placing my hands on his chest, I hurriedly push him away and stand up. “What the hell are you doing?”
Parker looks equally shocked, mouth floundering to come up with an explanation. I wait for him to speak, and he runs a hand over his cropped hair, cursing under his breath. “I’m sorry—that wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“You’re Audrey’s boyfriend.”
“I am,” he confirms, his voice low.
“Then what was that?”
“Something that shouldn’t have almost happened again, especially right now.” He looks at me remorsefully. “I’m so sorry, Allie. I thought I had more self-control than that.”
“Again?” The urge to vomit is suddenly sharp. “You’ve done this before?”
Parker is silent for a few beats. “No,” he says finally. “Last time you kissed me. But—”
“This is so messed up!”
“It won’t happen again.”
“You’re right, it won’t,” I say, gritting my teeth. “You should go.”
Without another word, he heads out the door, closing it gently behind him. Once he’s gone, my face crumples, and I press my fists against my forehead, mumbling a string of curses like a mantra. What kind of person would do this to their sister, to their boyfriend, to anyone?
Minutes ago, it had felt like I had someone in my corner. Now all I feel is the sting of betrayal.
Removing my hands from my face, I stare at the wall of pictures, automatically drawn to a photo of Parker, Audrey, and me. I wonder what other secrets lie behind the multitude of faces, and how long it’ll take before they all start coming to the surface.
Copyright © 2022 K. Monroe. All rights reserved.
About Blackout by K. Monroe:
When Allie Castillo wakes up after a terrible car accident, with head injuries and zero recollection of who she is or what happened, the one thing that haunts the edges of her mind is a singular voice whispering, Sleep tight.
Her body still bruised, she returns to a life she doesn’t recall, to a house that’s unfamiliar, and to a family that doesn’t feel like her own. School is another minefield—her boyfriend wants his girl back, her best friend wants to carry on their old partying ways, and the mysterious guy at the back of the classroom wants nothing more than to unlock the door to her forgotten memories.
As Allie learns about her notorious past, she grows to dislike who she was preaccident. She’s determined to change, determined not to repeat the same mistakes. But when her life is put in jeopardy once more, Allie realizes that her only chance at survival is to remember who she used to be—even if that means abandoning who she wants to become.