Can You Keep a Secret?

by The Cowl Editor on September 3, 2020


Wall covered in polaroid photos
Photo Courtesy of

by Kate Ward ’23

“Can you keep a secret?” he asked, looking over the edge of his coffee mug. I was surprised at the sudden question; we had been sitting in silence for an uncomfortable half hour while this coffee date dragged on. 

Slowly, I looked up and dipped my chin in an anxious nod. “Yes?”

“Good.” He didn’t tell me, he just kept staring, quietly sipping his drink. I looked down at the table, the names etched in it. Cameron, Brit, Yakob, Mark, Gregory, Mariela. Were these people couples before the fall? Were these people dead or alive? Who were they? What were their stories?

“Come with me, will you?” He tapped my hand, which I quickly withdrew. “I know this is just a coffee date, but I want to show you my home.”

I shook my head. “No thank you, I need to get home and feed my…fish.” A complete and utter lie, but I needed to get out of here, away from his piercing grey eyes and platinum blond hair, his odd looking skeletal fingers and hawk-like nose. 

His voice dropped into a low growl. “Come with me.”

When I turned to signal the barista for the check, my face met with one of his hands, forcing my eyes to his. “We are leaving. You will be coming with me.” 

I nodded slowly, giving into his tone and his forcible motions. 

He dropped my face and nodded, clearly satisfied with his coercion. “Let’s go.” 

He placed a twenty-dollar bill on the table and stood, wrapping an arm around my waist, guiding me from the cafe and out onto the street where his moped was parked. I should’ve taken the moped as a hint—what kind of self-respecting 30-year-old drives a moped? He set the helmet on my head and buckled it, tapping my head gently with a charming yet cruel smile. He knew he had succeeded in trapping me. “I promise once we get to my home, I’ll tell you the secret, but you have to promise you can keep it.”

“I promise I won’t tell anyone.” I swallowed tightly, feeling my chest beginning to close, growing far too tight for my liking. He got on and revved the little engine before pulling a U-turn and starting the ride back to his house. I remained silent, unable to make my lips move out of shock and anxiety. I didn’t make a sound as we crested a hill and sped down into a gravel driveway, the small pebbles kicking up and hitting my calves and ankles. The engine died and he turned, taking off the helmet and helping me off. I wanted to scream, “I don’t need the help,” but again my lips were locked.

All of this started with a drunken swipe right on Tinder and now here I was in this stranger’s immaculate home, glistening in all its silver and white glory. “It’s very…medical in here,” I commented as I looked around the living room and kitchen.

“Yes, I know, I really like the clean aesthetic despite the dirty outside,” he said, his lip curling with disgust as he mentioned the wood-panelled exterior of the home.

“Enough about the house, let’s talk about what we’re really here for—the secret. Could you tell me now?”

“Yes…yes.” He nodded and took my arm, bringing me into a side room.

On the wall laid a collection of photos, various faces all connected with a brown string. On each photo there was a scrawl of handwriting. It looked strangely familiar. “Is this your secret? Am I missing something?” I asked, peering up at him.

“Think about the table in the cafe we were sitting at” was all he said.

It came together. All the names on the table, these were them. “Who…where are they?” I touched one of the photos, my heart beginning to race.

“They’re right here.” He moved my hand from the photo and swept them all off the wall, each fluttering to the ground with their tacks. Behind the photos and the faux wall was a glass fish tank the size of the wall. Six corpses were floating in the water, chains around their hips, attaching them to the bottom of the tank. Their bodies were naked and unmarked aside from an etching of their names. 

I looked back at him, mouth agape, eyes stinging with tears. “What is this?”

“That table was my list. I’m surprised you didn’t realize that I had scratched your name into the surface. You were so taken aback by my appearance and my words that you didn’t realize.” He clicked his tongue and secured his hands around my neck.