We made our pact last summer. 

The sun crept over our skin, leaving us sticky like syrup, but we sprawled on the grass overlooking the beach, our shoulders touching, our mouths full of possibility. I was out of breath from playing in the water, my chest heaving up, down, up, down, but Liselle scooted closer until there was nothing else of my world but the bright sky and Liselle next to me. 

“I’m glad you got me out of the house,” I said. I pushed my body farther into the ground. Closer to Liselle. “I wasn’t in a good place this morning.”

“I know,” she said, and I could hear the smile on her lips. “It’s no problem. I know what it’s like.” 

And then it hung in the air. The idea formed, and then it escaped me, an inevitability I could not fight. 

“If you ever need me,” I began, and then I sat up, because sometimes you have to make eye contact to show that you mean it. “Just call. Or text.”

“Need you for what?” Her face scrunched up.

“A reminder of how great you are. The company. Just … my presence.”

She laughed, and her eyes sparkled in the late afternoon sun. “We really are two depressed motherfuckers, aren’t we?” 

I grinned. “I’m serious!” I said. “I mean it.”

Liselle searched my face. “I know.” She pushed herself up, stuck out a hand, her pinky finger aimed at me. “Let’s swear to it.”

I looped my pinky around hers. “If you ever need me,” I said.

“If you ever need me,” she repeated. 

“Just call me.” 

“Or text me.” 

“I’ll be there,” I said.

We linked our fingers. 

We said our promise. 

And then we lay back into the grass, under a sun that was unforgiving but devoted. Our shoulders touched, our skin browned, and then she began to hum. A melody I recognized, too.

“You reminded me of that song,” she said, and she pulled her phone out of her pocket. Seconds later, the Spinners sang to us.

Anything and everything felt possible. 


* * *


Liselle texted me today. 

Hey, Beatriz. I need you. It’s bad today.

That’s all it said.

It’s all I needed. 

I gave Mamí a peck on the cheek as I rushed out of our home. “¡Cuídate!” she yelled after me, and I blew her a kiss from the driveway. She stood and watched me drive off, her hands crossed in front of her, face stitched with concern. I sped through our neighborhood, past homes that were faded and filthy and full of generations. They were alive like we were, worn down over the years but determined to stand upright. 

I fidgeted in my seat at a red light. I was ten minutes away from Liselle’s house when another text came through.

Hurry. Something’s wrong.

I glanced up at the cross-traffic light. Still green. I shot back a quick message: OMW 

My nerves danced in my stomach, a waltz of expectation and dread. Liselle and I were not identical in how our minds turned against us. I tended to bury myself in cobijas and sadness. To refuse to get up from my bed, to shower, to eat, to treat myself as if I was worthy of any sort of care and affection. That’s what Liselle offered me: a chance to escape from my brain, to see the world outside my bedroom, to experience a life other than the dark, shadowed existence my illness painted for me.

But Liselle disappeared. She would stop responding to texts, stop showing up to school for a couple days, and when she would come back, she would smile at me. “I’m okay now,” she would say, and I told her once that she could talk to me if she ever needed it.

Her mouth curled up softly at the corners. “Maybe not yet,” she said. “But someday.” 

Someday had arrived. What was different? Why had she invited me in?

What was I going to do for her

I crested the hill in the Heights, and the view gave way to avenues lined with palm trees and cars. My heart raced in my chest as I descended. Liselle’s place was over the next rise. Once more up, once more down.

My hands trembled on the wheel. 

What if I wasn’t good enough?

What if I made her worse?

I sucked in a deep breath. 


No, I couldn’t go into this with that kind of energy. I was not going to let my mind sabotage me. My car climbed the next hill, and at the top, I let those insecurities go, urged them out beyond the roof, into the sky.

They floated away, and I allowed positive thoughts in.

I am a good friend.

This is what good friends do. 

I will help her.

And I love her. 

A spark flared in my gut, sent a jolt up into my chest. I had ignored these feelings for so long, and I would have to for longer. Now was not the time. 

I descended once more. 

Her driveway was empty. No car meant her father was still at work. The lawn was disheveled, grass growing in random spurts while in other spots, there were dead zones, devoid of all life. 

If I wasn’t so freaked out, I’d probably find a neat metaphor for that. 

I pulled up in front of the garage, the paint peeling away, another sign that the people who lived here were too busy or too sad to do anything about the place. Or perhaps both. Weren’t we all these days? Liselle’s father surely was. She once told me that her Papá passed along his dark eyes and hair, and his sadness. Two people struggling to stay afloat in the same boat, she called it. 

Was I the third?

Would I lift Liselle up, or would I sink the boat?

I slammed the door shut as my keys jangled in my hands. “Liselle!” I called out, rushing to the stoop of her one-story home. “Liselle, I’m here!”

I tried the door.


I slammed my palm against the wood, then tried to peer through the glass panel to the left of the door.

I saw shapes. 




I knew she hated the sound of the doorbell, but maybe she hadn’t heard me. I rang it twice, the high-pitched noise echoing beyond the door. 

My phone buzzed. I looked down.

A text …  from Liselle?

don’t come in

I stared at it. Pressed my face against the glass. Was that her outline in the kitchen, her shape bathed in the morning sun that poured into the room? 

Maybe she couldn’t bring herself to come to the door. I thought of the day we made the pact on the beach and how hard it was for Liselle to get me out of the house. She had stood outside of my window for nearly an hour, just talking to me, never waiting for me to respond. She told me how I made her feel. How she would forgive me for listening to bad emo music because sometimes the feelings matter more than the context. How, after graduation, she wanted us to take a big trip, to some place far and strange, because it would be terrifying and exactly what we needed. 

Her dedication had pulled me out from under my cobija that day. It got me to splash water on my face. Put on deodorant. Pull my hair back with a small band. When I walked out the front door, Liselle was sitting under the window, her back pressed against the wood paneling of my house. She was still talking into her phone. 

The day we made the pact, she helped remind me that I was worth the effort.

So would she be the same? I didn’t know. The burst of doubt spiked in my chest again, and it crept up toward my brain, threatening to branch out, to steer me back to my car, back to my home, back to the shadowed darkness of my room and the cobija with the lion on it. To the comfort and certainty of my own depression.

It was time to escalate this. Now or never. If I didn’t do something, I wouldn’t be able to hold up my end of the bargain. 

We never talked on the phone; it was either text, Instagram, or we met in person. But I rang her cell then.

Heard the muffled ringtone in the other room.

She picked up.

“Liselle, I’m outside,” I said breathlessly. “Open up.”

“No,” she said, her voice small. Terrified.

“What’s going on?” I stepped away from the door for a moment. “You said something was wrong.”

“There’s something here with me.”

The line went silent. I didn’t breathe, the air stuck in my throat. I moved back toward the door, toward the glass. But I couldn’t bring myself to look.

“Do you need me to call someone?”

“No!” She nearly cut off the end of my sentence. “No, please don’t.”

“Did someone break into the house? Lis, just—”

“No, just listen to me.” 


And then a growl. Low and guttural. I let my phone drop to the side, and I pressed my hand against the door. I could feel the vibrations passing through it, up my arm, deep into my bones. 

I quickly put her on speaker. “Liselle, what the fuck is happening? What is that?” 


Then steps on tile, a light rhythm that came closer to me.

A hand on a pane of glass. 

Stained red

“I’m fine,” she said, her voice muffled by the wood and glass. 

“Like hell you are,” I shot back, and I put my phone on the concrete I stood on, then tried the door with both hands. “Get out of there!” I screamed. 

“I can’t.”

I looked up, and her hand was gone. All that remained was a bloody print smeared at the bottom. 

“Where are you?” I pounded on the door. “Liselle?!”

Something fell to the floor and shattered. That low rumble passed through the door again, and I began to yank on the doorknob, willing it to open. All that came out of my mouth was her name. Over and over and over again. 

“Beatriz!” Her voice wavered on the other side of the door. “Please, just stay there.” 


The ground shook.

“I need you to do something for me.”


“Anything,” I said, and I crouched in front of the door. “Please, let me help you.”

“It’s here again,” she said. “But it’s never been this big.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s why I stay home,” she continued. “Why you can’t see me when it happens.”

I lowered myself onto the cool concrete, leaned my back against the door. “You don’t need to be embarrassed,” I said. “You know how it is for me.”

“But you don’t know what it’s like for me,” Liselle countered. “What I go through.”

A silence fell. An embarrassment bloomed. She wasn’t wrong. I had never seen her during an episode. I knew she struggled, too, but … was it fair to assume it was the same? 

“I know,” I finally admitted. “But I’m here now. And nothing you say will make me want to leave you.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t know how it is.”

“And it isn’t going to turn me away.”


Her voice cracked on the last syllable. 

“I promise, Liselle.”

I kept my voice even. Steady. Dependable. I kept it what she needed. 

“It usually comes out at night,” she began, and her words were carefully chosen, deliberate. “That’s when my episodes are worse.”


“Sometimes, I can fall back asleep out of exhaustion. But most times, it’s so … heavy. So heavy, Beatriz.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. Sorry because she did not deserve this. Sorry because I felt I should apologize for a world like this. Sorry because there was nothing else you could say to that. 

“It holds me down,” she said, and her voice was now detached, like she was telling a story about someone else. How could she be so calm at a time like this? “It presses me into my sheets, digs into my skin, makes it so hard to get back up, and so I just stay there, letting it take over.”

She couldn’t see me nodding, but I did it anyway because I knew what she was describing. “You’ve seen me like that,” I said to her. “Where you have to physically pull me out from bed or else I’ll stay there all day.”

“No, you don’t understand,” Liselle said. “It’s not like that.”

“Then tell me what it’s like,” I said. “I want to know.”

Silence fell again.


“It’s real.”

“I never doubted that for a second.” And it was the truth; I had dealt with that too often from Mamí, for years even, before she finally accepted that I was not going through a phase. “Please know that I believe you.”

She made a sound, one I could not recognize at first until a sob broke free from her. “No, it’s actually real, and it’s here with me.”

It ripped through my ears from above me, a deep, caustic sound of metal tearing into wood, and Liselle screamed. I bolted upright as the door shook back and forth, and I pushed my face against the glass and I screamed her name and I saw

two shapes

Something towered over Liselle, a dark form that swirled into new arrangements, that jabbed a jagged claw into the door and ran it up and down, and she was calling out to me. 

“It’s never been this bad!” Her voice rang clear, distraught. “Please, make it stop!”

“What is that?” I shrieked. “Open the door! Please let me in!” 

“I can’t let it have you, too! I won’t let it!”

It stopped. The sound, the violent motions, and the shadow drifted back, back toward the kitchen, and I looked down at the outline of my friend, and she pushed herself upward so that her back rested against the door. 

“Liselle, please tell me what’s happening.”

“It comes out at night,” she said. I thought she was going to repeat herself, but then she looked up at me, through the cloudy glass, and locked eyes with mine. “It tears away my skin. It sends its feelers deep into my body, and it pulls out the memories. It pulls them out and puts them on display, and I have to relive them, over and over again, the same mistakes, the same awkward interactions I just want to forget.”


That was me. She was describing the same shame, the same cyclical obsession with every awkward, terrible moment from the past. But…

There was something in there with her. 

Did we fight the same monster? 

Did mine have the same life as hers?

Something jerked in my peripheral vision, and I started to turn my head, but Liselle slammed her hand on the door. “Don’t look,” she said. “Don’t let it claim you, too. Keep your eyes on mine.”

Even though I did, I could still sense it. Feel it squirming and twisting, deciding on its next move. I focused on Liselle, on her dark skin and the twists in her hair, on the way she held determination in her eyes. 

Those dark eyes, that dark hair, her Papá’s sadness. 

But it was mine, too, wasn’t it? 

Didn’t I have the same monster living inside me?

I felt it. I felt that thing staring at me, even though it did not have eyes of its own. 

It recognized me.

It found a kindred in me.

And then it awoke inside

Not just the shame, not just the sadness, but the living thing, the monster that lived in my brain and in my heart, the terror that tried so hard to bring me down.

“Don’t look at it.”

Liselle’s voice was hoarse, like boots on gravel, like sandpaper. 

“Tell me why you’re here,” she said, clear and loud.


“Tell me the truth. Tell me why you came.”

I couldn’t pull my gaze away.

It wouldn’t let go of me.


It was pulling me closer.

“Liselle, please,” I said softly. “Just open the door and get out as fast as—”

“I can’t let it out!”

And then it snaked forward, one long, black appendage, something swirling and alien and alive, and the end of it sharpened into a point, and it touched the edge of her right cheek, piercing the skin, drawing redness to the surface that began to trickle down. 

The spell was broken.

This thing was hurting her. 

And even then, as fear overwhelmed me and I began pounding on the door, the realization still swelled up.

This thing hurts me, too.

“You have to get out!” I yelled. 

“Not yet,” she said, ragged. “Tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“You know.”

The words were lodged in my chest as I watched the thing trace a line over her face, arcing toward her ear, and she trembled just so, the line in her skin like an EKG. 

I did know.

I always knew.

The pact.

“You have always been there for me,” I choked out, my mouth so close to the glass that I was fogging it up with each word. “Whenever I needed you to pull me out of the abyss, you always came for me.”

It moved. It heaved forward, a terrible darkness now just out of range of vision, and my stomach sank. Liselle cried out as she whipped her head, about to stare at it, and this time, it was my turn.

“Look at me!” I commanded. 

She whimpered as more stalks flung toward her.

“Look at me, Liselle!”

Her head turned slowly, and she lifted a hand up, palm facing toward me, and placed it against the glass. 

“Don’t stop, Beatriz,” she said.

It roared. 

It surged.

And it pierced her hand.

It went straight through the glass, and I tumbled backwards as Liselle made a sound I had never heard from a person before, something high and tortured, and I leapt right back, right up to the door. I couldn’t stop the flow out of me. 

“You’re so beautiful,” I blurted out. “And I don’t just mean physical beauty.” 

She pushed her back against the door and used the leverage to push herself up. 

“You always know the perfect song. Or the right movie to watch. Or the right book that I need to drown myself in.”

She looked at me. There was blood all over her face, and she looked so stunning. 

“You make this world feel magical.” 

She ripped it out of her hand, and her agony was short-lived. She wielded the black blade, the piece of her monster, and pointed it forward. 

“You make life livable.”

Her blood dripped off the edge of it. 

“No longer,” Liselle said. Not to me. To it.

And she burst forward. It screamed as it swallowed her up, and I backed away from the door as the din rose. They crashed. They fought. Something slammed into the ground, and the glass panel cracked right down the center of the bloody handprint. My chest ached as the chaos exploded within Liselle’s home. I wanted to look, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t let it claim me. Maybe I wouldn’t ever be able to banish it from my body. Maybe it would always hibernate within me. 

Liselle’s voice rose.

A battle cry. 

An inspiration. 

Because we fought the same monster. 

We were warriors. For ourselves and for each other.

The silence returned. 

Then there was a small noise, the clink of a lock turning. 

The door opened. 

A putrid mixture of some sort of liquid and blood dripped down her cheek, ran down the front of her pajama shirt. She clutched her left hand to her chest, and she was shivering, and I just ran to her. I didn’t care what I got on me or where it came from. I held her, sent my words into her body.

You’re here.

You’re alive.

And I am so glad you are. 

She pushed herself away from me. “Wait here,” she said. And then she darted back into her house, and the front door drifted open.

It was in the kitchen, pulsing, shrinking. Shadows and nightmares and gore. 

I looked down at my own clothes, at the Bombón shirt and faded jeans I wore, and the dark stains were fading, too. 

Maybe this episode was over. 

She came back, a hoodie pulled over her clothes, gauze wrapped around her hand, and she stood upright. Like she was taller. She shut the door and locked it, and then she extended her uninjured hand.

“Take me away from here,” she said. “I just… I just need to get out of the house for a bit.”

We climbed into my car. We said nothing. 

What could I say? That I now understood? That while our minds were different, there was far more in common than I could have ever known? We were locked in battle with a creature, with an invader, but … this was a victory, wasn’t it? Not just for Liselle, but for me, too. 

We had made a pact.

And together, we survived.


We survive.

I started up my car, and when I looked over at Liselle, she was deep in concentration, staring at her phone.

The music started.

I smiled.

It was the perfect song. Because of course it was.

We let Hayley Williams sing to us about rock bottom. We got further and further away. Liselle held my hand the whole time, and we said nothing and everything over and over again.


“Pact” was born of a particularly difficult depressive episode I had at the end of 2018, one that felt just as invasive and frightening as those written of in this story. It is through a fantastic support network that I’ve found catharsis and release, and I wanted to write about depression in a way that felt honest but hopeful. If you are struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please consider reaching out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, which is free, confidential, and available 24/7.

{ Edited by Trisha Tobias. }