Guilt Trip: Part 1 by Sarah McKnight

She’s back.

Standing at the bright bay window, trembling fingers holding the sheer curtain out of the way, Hailey locks eyes with her best friend.

June stares back, unblinking. She stands just outside the little wrought iron gate guarding Hailey’s tiny but pristine front yard, meticulously maintained by the kind-hearted, if a little neurotic landlord. She looks even worse, Hailey thinks, and she swallows the bubble of stomach acid forcing its way into her throat.

It didn’t take nearly as long this time, and the realization sends a burst of anxiety ricocheting through Hailey’s chest like a stray bullet. Broken down boxes are still sitting in a pile by the front door, waiting for recycle day. The bedroom still smells like fresh paint, and the faint scent of bleach still clings to the bathroom thanks to the landlord’s promised scrub down before move-in day.

She’ll have to leave again, and soon by the looks of it. June has found her – their endless game of hide-and-seek declaring her the winner once more, and Hailey is exhausted.

Her fingers tighten around the edge of the curtain as she forces herself to look, really look, at the thing her best friend has become. June, once bronze-skinned and bright eyed, with silky soft black locks that curled perfectly at her shoulders, is now a bloated husk. Green patches mar her once flawless skin, ringed with purple and peeling at the edges. Three deep, twisted welts have shredded the arm of her moisture-wicking jacket, and a black ichor oozes onto the fabric, permeating the air with the putrid stench of rot.

Hailey got close enough to smell that awful odor radiating from her best friend only once, and the phantom stench still wormed its way into her memories, becoming a tangible, nauseating thing.

June’s leggings have begun to rot away. Hailey can now see threadbare holes over the knees, exposing reddened flesh. Against her will, her eyes trail further down, and the gleaming white bone protruding from June’s calve like a spear, sharpened and ready for battle, holds her attention. She sweeps her gaze back up to her best friend’s dirt-smeared face. Clear liquid seeps from June’s yellowed eyes and cuts clean trails down her swollen cheeks. Her tongue, purple and nearly unrecognizable as it’s become coated in some thick, fuzzy substance, lolls out from the side of her mouth, dangling uselessly in the air over where her jaw once belonged.

 Yes, Hailey thinks. She definitely looks worse now.

With a shuddering breath, she lets the curtain fall closed.


The sun beat down on the asphalt patch that served as the trail’s parking lot, urging wispy plumes of steam to rise and return to the atmosphere after the previous night’s heavy rain. June was already waiting when Hailey pulled into the lot, perched on the trunk of her aging Civic and thoughtfully chewing at a protein bar that likely tasted more like cardboard than the promised chocolate brownie.

“Hey!” June called loudly enough to be heard through Hailey’s closed windows and blasting air conditioner. She hopped down onto the pavement, waving her free arm in an exaggerated arc, and Hailey couldn’t help but roll her eyes.

She nosed her Kia in beside her best friend’s car and stepped into the muggy heat, her backpack in her hand. “Do we have to do this today? It’s so hot,” Hailey moaned as she slung the bag over her shoulders.

June brought a hand to her forehead, squinting up at the sun. “I was sure last night’s rain would cool things down, but,” she paused to shrug, “whatever. We’re already here.”

With a heavy sigh, Hailey followed her best friend’s gaze and noted the puffy, gray-tinged clouds rolling in from the west. “Maybe we’ll get a little shade.” She readjusted the straps on her bag until the weight rested comfortably on the small of her back. “The view better be worth it.”

“Aw, don’t worry.” June pulled her own backpack on and slung an arm around Hailey’s shoulders. “Christian hiked this trail last week. Did you see his pictures? They were gorgeous, and that dude can’t take a decent picture to save his life.”

“All right, all right, we’ll take some pictures that’ll do it real justice,” Hailey said with a laugh, shrugging June’s arm away. She glanced up at the sky once more. “I just hope it doesn’t rain on us.”

“Nah.” June pulled the zipper of her pink, moisture-wicking athletic jacket down just enough to expose her black sports bra. “I’ve checked, like, three times. We’re golden.”

Continue to Part 2.


Sarah McKnight has been writing stories since she could pick up a pencil, and it often got her in trouble during math class. After a brief stint teaching English A picture of Sarah unruly middle schoolers in Japan, she decided she wasn’t going to put off her dream of becoming a writer any longer and set to work. With several novels in the making, she hopes to tackle issues such as anxiety, depression, and letting go of the past – with a little humor sprinkled in, too. A St. Louis native, she currently lives in Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband and three cats. Find Sarah at:


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